Is There Anybody Out There?

It was three months ago now that I got lucky enough to be named as a contest winner by the Poetry Society. Ever since then, it’s easy to work out who on my friend’s list wasn’t aware of the fact. There’ll be a retweet of my pinned post (presumably as they went to my profile after an absence) normally followed by a couple of other retweets of notable stuff. It happened twice yesterday, and that dissemination of current thoughts caused, for the second time in less than a week, an interesting crossover of disparate lives.

It has set me thinking this morning about who is actually listening .

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Conflict can be quite difficult to instigate, if truth be told. You might have a five digit follower count but if the majority of those people don’t give a fuck over your latest personal crusade, it can be quite hard to motivate your ‘army’ into battle. There’s a lot of luck involved in viral involvement too: I didn’t realise this for a while, but there’s entire networks of users whose sole task in life is to favourite and retweet each other in the hope that one post gets the legs required to become a trend.

This was also the principle behind an abortive Twitter app I was using a while back: social media is a game, and therefore can be flipped and resold just as is the case in the Real World. Speculation with words however is a lot less predictable after a certain point: undoubtedly there are levels of success, but absolutely nothing beats the unscripted, unscheduled rant or the brilliant piece of visual gold that turns the normal and mundane into a viral sensation.

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The concept of ‘virtual stock’ has already been gamed to within an inch of it’s life: Klout and all the other variants of online kudos only work if you’re prepared to completely buy into the lifestyle. For someone like me who won’t touch Facebook ever again, there’s no point in even bothering with any of this stuff regardless. I’ve already burnt the all-access bridge. Instagram as a result is just a lovely place to post pictures. Twitter’s usefulness remains as research tool and chat channel long before brands or products are involved.

Looking at how little people actually read about my stuff isn’t a surprise or disappointment, its completely normal. In fact, in that regard I’m really quite pleased, because it means that there’s nobody potentially to worry about in terms of stalking or compulsive behaviour. Right now, obsession with self is abundantly and often painfully obvious, which means that the best tool when dealing with contention is undoubtedly silence.

It is very tempting as a social media user to, the moment people pop up and lay contention to your assertions, to have a rage at them. In fact, the more I think about it, the more likely it is that there’s a subset of people for whom this platform’s sole task is to facilitate such anger. Any opportunity to remind your readership how ignorant other people are, or to reinforce how smart and clearly enlightened you are compared with others is seized with often celebratory glee.

That’s all well and good, but there’s a crucial point that is perennially overlooked: people get the right to do this. No, this isn’t a free speech rant, it’s just a fact. If you disagree, that’s perfectly fine. If 1000 other people all weigh in with likes that you disagree, also great, but without the OP deciding to argue the point? There’s nothing. It’s just a statement. If your thought is fundamentally harmful or based on untruths, expect there to be a bit more friction.

It’s that whole thing about Opinions and Facts all over again.

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John’s point is spot on, and it goes both ways: Opinions are NOT Facts. However much you want to argue that someone clearly doesn’t understand how you feel and therefore you must be right as a result, that’s not how this works. It’s not how ANY of this works. People can say stuff, and unless they have the facts to back it up, it remains simply an opinion. You can disagree all you like, but it won’t ever be an argument unless that other person chooses to make it one.

It is why the silence of one person on my timeline right now speaks volumes. If you know you’re wrong, keep quiet. If you don’t want to start an argument when provoked, keep quiet. I think of all the famous people who probably voraciously ingest social media using aliases all the time but would never in a million years use it as their real selves. I think of those with interesting enough lives to not even need it. Then there’s consideration of those who do use it without the first clue of how to protect themselves and others, and there’s a rabbit hole you may never emerge from…

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Detaching yourself from immersive things can be hard. Cultivating the personality of ‘someone has made a mistake on the Internet and I must fix it’ mindset’s really tough too, because if there’s enough of a reciprocal relationship going on between you and it, reality will inevitably warp around the virtual with far more force. Undoubtedly that’s because most of us, in one way or another, are here to escape something. If you’re solid and well-adjusted, Twitter’s just a diary. Not your agony aunt or your soapbox. Definitely not a place for sexytimes, absolutely not as useful as being outside.

How you use this place isn’t about who’s really listening, its all to do with how it fits into an extremely subjective notion of reality. That means for the vast majority of people you read, you post, that’s all it is. For every person who emotionally invests too much, there’s another just staring at people’s genitalia for kicks. What you do with content’s irrelevant, until you break laws. In ten years from now a lot of people will wish they never came here, and freedom will look an awful lot different than it does now.

The blame for those changes will be everybody’s to shoulder.

Shake it Off

On the way to School this morning, the youngest got quite emotional over some fan-art that had been drawn for her. It’s something that has happened to me a couple of times in the past, but now I pay for other people to draw me for the headers because, let’s be honest, flattery is a very emotive subject. What is awe in one person’s mind can often become discomfort in another’s. It’s like the aboriginal fear of having a picture taken: your soul is captured without permission, and can never be salvaged.

I heard a theory today that the key to reliable knowledge is constant self-doubt. Just because something was right and true a year ago does not mean that is the case today. The almost continuous flood of online information allows us to re-assess what matters and what doesn’t, and influences are a constant and never-ending means by which the environment around us is redefined. All it needs is someone to come along and upset the apple-cart of familiarity and BOOM the world view changes forever.

I’ve spent a portion of my life using pedantry as a defence mechanism. Now it’s been elevated to a spectator sport, means by which cheap views can be garnered and indignation ignited. It is also the catalyst for an increasing number of Fandoms to spontaneously combust/implode/explode depending on the particular revelations presented. Some are welcome, cleansing fires, whilst others are the worst kind of dumpster trash.

My daughter’s advice to me was amazingly simple this morning: just be nice and do stuff for other people. After decades of being worn down to smooth, painless interactions where nobody gets hurt because no-one actually gives any part of themselves in the process, the concept of offering myself to the current Internet is, let it be said, quite a frightening prospect. However, that’s really how this works. You gotta get out there and interact, or else how else does anything change?

The problem, of course, is that there is no control over outcomes in the Wild West of unsolicited interaction. It is why so many people block and mute the inopportune out of their feeds, why Discords are the new Forums where you only invite who you want to talk to, and that everybody tries on certain days to shut out the bad news when actually, it needs to be heard. I appreciate reasoning for those people who leave when the going gets tough, but at some point, somewhere, a stand is required.

Day Two of the New Regime therefore is asking people who are reading this who’d like to develop dialogues to leave a comment. My daughter might argue I’m trying to hard by encouraging people to respond but honestly, this is the only means by which progress takes place. To encourage this, your comment will now instantly appear when posted, I’ve taken screening off for the first time in years.

Let’s see who is listening…

Somebody that I Used to Know

There has been very little time to sit and consider the achievement of last week until now. I will be applying for the Ballot for the 46 when it is open, with no desire at all to complete the 100. Knowing what’s involved, having had to deal with the virtual versions of both hills, that’s not what will ever be considered enjoyable. I’m not sure a lot of the 46 was that much fun in the rain, but it would be a lie to say the overall experience wasn’t satisfying. Next time however I’m determined to complete the thing on more than three hours sleep.

Sitting here in a foreign country, this is the first opportunity there’s been for a while to think generally away from what counts as normal life since before I started race training. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that on my return there will be much more of the same, with a probable increase in frequency: not because there needs to be improvement, but because there’s more enjoyment whilst doing that than was previously realised. Exercise has stopped simply being for a purpose, and has evolved into a genuine form of relaxation, which may sound odd, but is 100% accurate.

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There are other changes already being formulated too: my working space is going to alter (and reduce) plus there are thoughts forming that might relocate me completely. The benefit of going away, ultimately, is to allow readjustment of everything that surrounds, and it would be a foolish person (in my mind) that did not attempt some form of reinvention at least on a yearly basis. So, on our return (after a break with its fair share of drama) it feels only right and proper to start as I mean to go on.

The other key to this shift will not be to go out and buy new stuff to fill this space, but recycle what already exists in the house. There is plenty of desk space available to move and shift, and I’m not looking for anything sparkly or ‘new’ to work with. It will be a challenge of an ability to creatively recycle, and that’s something that appeals to a brain which is beginning to grasp that the future isn’t about a relentless process of continual consumption. There are some issues left to address at home too, it would be lovely to try and fix as many as possible in the months that follow, and those within my grasp will be summarily addressed.

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This is a much needed holiday. When I get back, the hard work will begin again, but with renewed enthusiasm.

The Colosseum

One of the reasons why our holiday this year is in Europe was because of me. Italy’s always held a special allure, and with European travel (potentially) becoming a bit of a minefield starting next year (cheers Brexit) it seemed like a good idea to push for this trip before that happened. The fact Rome became a Bond location in SPECTRE is an added bonus (*cough* Florence and Lake Como on the way back *cough*) but this belittles a very important part of my real reasoning for being here. I’m a massive history nut, and the home of the Roman Empire’s been on the To Do list since I first learnt what a Gladiator was, and we’re not talking about the spandex clad athletes on ITV who used to battle with giant cotton buds.

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Our farmhouse is on the end of the Metro line which deposits tourists literally outside the front door: this was Nero’s grand plan, to transform the existing structure on the site to a massive stadium. Begun in AD 69, it became the Empire’s centre for entertainment and spectacle and, most importantly, one of the most famous examples of religious persecution in History. For a city that remains deeply Christian, this serves as the permanent reminder of how intolerance must take place for acceptance to flourish. I’ve never been religious but the multiple significances at play continue to fuel interesting and challenging moral dilemma.

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It is also a RIDICULOUSLY photogenic landmark, which has detail and depth that I suspect most tourists don’t even consider. The regulation in brickwork is frankly staggering, and the skill in construction means that it has survived several major earthquakes (and attempts to recycle its structure) to surprising effect. I will be poring over the books I’ve bought in the next few weeks, and the pictures taken are more than likely to end up in a collage in my working space at home. The place is a testament not only to the people who built the structure, but those who perished within it for their beliefs. This was entertainment, pure and simple, and there are still parallels we can draw from within the walls that mirror our own modern existence.

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There are those who will maintain that history is only useful if it provides the means to make good the mistakes that took place, but monuments like this are the exception to that rule. Here is a structure that mirrors the continuation of religious persecution for entertainment: these guys stuck believers in with lions, we vilify opposition via a global arena. When all is said and done, very little has changed in 2000 years. This monument however has survived attempts to destroy it, reminding us that sometimes, it isn’t about the memories of a place, but the place itself which defines an experience.

Once we’d done here, it was time for a change of clothes and then off to the institution that grew from their humble beginnings as cat-food to utterly dominate the same city that once considered them as heretics…

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You know I mentioned my e-mail address stopped working a while back? Well, yesterday I discovered a quite important e-mail that had gone astray.

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I made it into the Ride London 46 Ballot. Fortunately I’ve not missed anything vital and the participation’s confirmed, though not gonna lie, I’m terrified. It’s exactly seven weeks on Sunday, which is also the day before we go on holiday, and suddenly everything’s become a panicked, anxiety filled mess. This is not how it was hoped such a thing would initially be prepared for and so, as a result, it’s time to take a fucking huge step back at the weekend and quietly consider what is needed.

However, before anything else, it is time to start selling the reason why I initially signed up to do this.

I grow tired of the pontificating on Social media by people who talk a good ‘let’s all change the World’ speech but don’t ever push their own boundaries to do just that. So, I’ve set myself a £500 target, and have already contacted Mind, who will provide me with a jersey and encouragement along the way. This seems to me a far better means of making sure that the people who really need help are getting it, because I’m giving money to an organisation who’s sole task is to do just that. Rather than just sitting on my arse saying I care, this is a constructive means of making things better.

If the anxiety ridden depressive can do this, then maybe that will act as an incentive to others.

Stupid White People

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TECHNICALLY the book I’m referring to in today’s title is entitled ‘Stupid White Men’ but after last night’s episode post Gym, plus some other online tomfoolery? All will become clear.

This week, I’ve watched people doing stuff they thought nobody else would notice. It’s happened on social media, in the real world and even in my own house. Not thinking when there’s nobody else around means you’ll only end up hurting yourself, in the end. Doing it in public? Quite a different thing. The level of arrogance and selfishness this week I’ve watched exhibited by people who, in many cases, should know fucking better than this, has been staggering.

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From today’s Guardian.

You can’t tell other people to treat you nicely when you already punched them in the face, Mr Politician. You don’t dismiss other people’s comments over cultural appropriation with a clearly-undisguised arrogance. You most certainly do not cover your own arse with thinly-veiled excuses and a well-paid lawyer anymore. There’s a fucking World of Respect missing around these parts of late and it is really beginning to separate those people who want a decent, well-represented future and those who are just thinking with their genitalia.

It isn’t just men either, but for the sake of the current feeding frenzy in the media, white blokes (in the main) get to be the Bad Guys. I’m really sorry to the large raft of decent men out there as a result. I’m fairly confident I know who these people are in my own sphere, but who I can now trust outside of that is now hugely in flux. Entertainers, sportsmen, media celebrities… anybody who didn’t really do a decent job of being a human being up until this point is potentially about to get swept away in a tide of quite right and proper backlash. If you treat people without respect, especially in the spotlight? There’s no longer anywhere to hide.

However, all of my issues this week have been with stupid white women, hence the ‘people’ referred to in the title. Women who can’t see past their own basic desires. Women whose notion of respect is minimal at best… and the list goes on. Oh, and I utterly count myself as stupid here, because I did something utterly wankstainy this week and will be paying the price for quite some time. The wider point here, that to make society better overall is not just one group of people’s responsibility. Pointing fingers at each other and having someone to blame is all well and good, but what happens afterwards?

How do we as human beings stop this cycle of stupidity happening once and for all?

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30 years ago, the Kings Cross Tube Fire killed 31 people when a lit match ignited a wooden escalator. Because of this horrific event, over the last three decades attitudes to smoking in public have radically altered. Fire safety protocols have changed, the Underground is now full of people trained to deal with emergencies and wooden escalators are all but a memory. Yet smoking still kills thousands of people who don’t ever light a cigarette and tobacco companies remain a massive force in developing countries… and nobody seems to worry about what vaping may do long-term to their health because nobody’s had enough time to do a study.

In your own home, personal freedoms allow you to conduct yourself as you wish… unless you step foot on the Internet, and then everything changes. Except some people quite clearly cannot distinguish where their personal freedom ends and common decency begins. Social media is just making this worse, to the point where it is becoming abundantly apparent certain individuals truly believe their private outlook is what should be the public norm, despite the massive damage such attitudes could have to those who are genuinely vulnerable or susceptible. History will teach us important lessons if we stop and allow it to do so, but the truly innocent around us may already be blighted by bad decision making or stupidity because… well, if nobody’s died, what’s the issue?

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Society’s downfall is everybody’s responsibility to shoulder. Yes, even the people at the bottom of the pile could technically be considered culpable, but you’d have a hard time in my mind apportioning anything but the minimum of blame to any human being who looks at another and, regardless of skin colour, ethnicity or wealth, treats them as an equal. What we do now as human beings is look for blame: it was that actor, that politician, that sportswoman who caused the problem. 

Perhaps the time is fast approaching where the reaction to such events is not indignation, but action from EVERYBODY. Teach each other, learn from these mistakes, find ways in your own communities and workplaces to stop such things happening. Don’t smile and laugh when someone attacks someone else or simply ignore what you saw. Make choices based on what takes place, discuss these with other people and then approach the people concerned with your issues. Most importantly, if you don’t feel that the person will be responsive or even listen to your argument, warn others of their behaviour, and stop taking snide potshots at them via subtweets on Social media.

If we all try harder, shit might actually start changing and stay that way.

Musclebound

Exercise is bloody hard work. Believing that simply taking protein supplements is going to give you a body like The Rock’s is, like it or not, living a massive delusion. I have to admit, the implication that under 30’s would believe this feels pretty insulting, and without any kind of hard facts that prove the point, the bigger issue is teaching better nutritional awareness. Protein shakes have their benefits: my husband’s using them to very good effect currently as a way to maintain weight, in tandem with what is a stupidly healthy diet prior to another bike race on Sunday. They can be incredibly useful to kick-start weight loss too. The article that started all this talks about what an average body requires to stay healthy in terms of protein: no two bodies are alike, and if you don’t sit behind a desk every day the number of calories needed will vary.

Mostly, the press can only ever talk about health issues in general terms. Studies and reports increasingly are taken out of context to highlight particular issues, headlines created as clickbait. It is quite rare to be presented a whole truth in reporting: like it or not, that doesn’t make for very engaging content. History reminds us however that promising people better bodies using advertising is hardly anything new. This kind of ‘persuasion’ has been going on as long as newspapers have needed advertising: this isn’t about buying anyone into the idea of supplements or aids either, it is convincing the gullible that their physique is flawed. In the modern world, obsessed now with body image in all its various forms, that is probably more concerning that handing over money to companies for anything that could be considered largely pointless if you just amend your diet and exercise more.

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I was asked at the weekend why I’d started weight training by a total stranger. The answer is twofold: it has always been something I wanted to do, because I equate strength with physical fitness. Body image is largely irrelevant, but keeping asthma in check is far more important: I can have a direct and positive effect on managing an illness which, as a child, meant exercise was off the cards… except, now I find myself wondering what might have been different if my parents had encouraged that urge and not suppressed it. I’ll never know, of course, but now I’m in a position where breathing difficulties are the exception due to my own hard work. The sense of satisfaction and achievement that gives is beyond significant.

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The irony for me is that my stomach refuses to process either protein shakes or gels: I can swallow them but they’ll be straight back up in short order. If I want to lose weight and build muscle, it’s good old fashioned food groups: chicken, lean meat and white fish, flapjacks and nuts, or protein bars at a stretch. On days like this when the sugar craving is strong, that can be a hard ask, but my brain’s spent over a year grasping the undeniable truth that you really are what you eat. If protein shakes help people be healthy, honestly, what’s wrong with them? In 40 years, if Global Warming has its way, we could all be eating proteins in powder form anyway. There’s an assumption only one real way exists to be healthy, and that’s simply not true. Sure, you can eat cake and drink coffee but if that’s your life without exercise, it’s as bad in its own way as never eating a ‘healthy’ meal. The key here is not one thing or the other in excess, but balance.

The truth about health is never hard and fast. Reality, as always, depends on the individual deciding to make a change, and then sticking with it. There are many success stories, but for every miracle weight loss or transformation there are the many who can never make it past the scales or the next meal. Like so much else in life, change must be yours to instigate. If you want something enough, it will happen. For myself, I can attest that a healthier lifestyle has transformed my life at 50, but that is only part of a far larger and more complex set of circumstances. Knowing that, I’ll never discourage anyone wanting to start the journey, but it has to be on your own terms.

Decide what you want, and then make a plan to get there in the healthiest manner for you.