Why

This month, we’re doing stuff differently.

I’ve been blogging in various forms for nearly a decade. Just writing that down sends a shiver through the soul: ten years. I’ve been out here for all that time and still, most days, my family doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about. The number of people who enquire about stuff which is clearly recorded here and on other blogs, via social media and elsewhere remains staggering. All these words, and stories, and now poems that most people who say they know me don’t have the first clue about, or comprehension of.

It’s all here, but honestly, who is really listening?

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A survey conducted by the BBC and which forms the basis of a Radio 4 series on Loneliness is fairly damning in the understanding that many of us feel as if nobody is there and supportive when it matters. It’s a constant source of amazement to me that after so long pouring out my heart online, people will still say they have no idea of how I think or feel. The problem, in essence, is complexity: most of us only cope with the basics on any given day, and emotional depth can often be difficult when you’re struggling yourself.

Still here millions of us are, carrying on, in the vain hope that someone might comment with agreement, or at least register the notional understanding of how soul-destroying being alive can be when existence is lived largely internally. It is no wonder that so many 16-24 year olds are feeling exposed: their entire world is laid bare for all to see via Social media. When nobody notices that you exist on that stage, it is understandable why such emotions will be generated.

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I look to more high profile people on how they address such issues, and am continually left wanting. Take the famous author I unfollowed this weekend, whose fortune is being made on challenging people’s notion of self. This man complains that he gets grief on Twitter and so prefers Instagram, because there’s less emotion to deal with, yet this is what he writes about in his self-help books. Watching his Twitter exchanges, he receives abuse for his ideas which in many cases appear to be intentionally fuelled.

Trying to manipulate your environment is what many writers love to do as a means to continue interest, and it works: we’d all far rather enjoy other people’s drama than keep recycling our own. The irony of watching American women argue amongst themselves this weekend over what is the best way of protesting injustice is a perfect example of how, by not actually listening to each other, things never improve. Life slowly degenerates into echo chambers, and everyone believing they’re ‘the only one who feels like this.’

You’re not, really.

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I am a terrible listener. My family’s quite right in this regard, and my aim this month is to not be that person. It’s tough sometimes: my son is 18 in two weeks time and I still remember him on my lap as a baby. It is not the other person who is solely to blame for a communication problem, both of you can do better. I’m also going to do my damnedest to listen to other people too, which is why there’s some hashtags in my post not normally used.

Changing circumstances can be hard, but speaking from experience, the rewards from doing so are considerable. You’ll be amazed at how much in common you can have with other people if the time is taken simply to sit and listen. If you’re reading this and have never commented before, I’d appreciate therefore knowing you’re here, because that alone is the impetus to keep writing and continuing to be motivated. It appears self-serving because, as of today, it is.

Time to start asking questions of the people who I live with, to see what answers come in response.

The Race

Last night, there was a minor epiphany over my gaming lifestyle. In the past year or two I’ve bought a handful of games, none of which have been played with any seriousness, or indeed at all. The reason, of course, is simple; not enough time to do the things that really matter, and still fit in the writing, because most of the titles picked are not easily put up or downable. They take hours to get right and master, and then to retain relevance require you to keep playing. In effect, they consume existence.

It took a blast from the past to remind me of what matters most for gaming as relaxation.

Although some of my friends would argue otherwise, doing modern gaming properly ends up as a job. Even casual playing requires an investment of time and attention that is often enough to drive the sane, rational minded individual away, because they grasp how important it is not to be lost in pixels at the expense of actual reality. I am looking for a part time, voluntary position when it comes to enjoyment right now, and as it transpires a bunch of old DOS games on Steam are probably the simplest solution, because I’m the one who decides what matters and not a group of my peers.

This way, nobody gets hurt.

If you wonder what I’ll be doing as relaxation across the Summer Break? It is time to rediscover the past without destroying the present.

Road to Hell

I knew something was up with Patreon (I think) on Thursday, when someone who I support via the crowdfunding platform started making noise over fee changes. What I wasn’t expecting was the subsequent universal meltdown when it became apparent that my initial understanding of what was going on turned out not only to be the truth, but an intended part of the company’s business plan. I’ve spent a bit of time reading corporate forecasts over the years and know that you don’t lie to your investors if you want to remain a viable concern. This, to my eyes, is a company prepping itself to either a) get bought out by a larger concern or b) make more money than they already are. They are, in essence, a beautiful metaphor for what is considered ‘successful’ online.

Patreon have made their name by enabling individuals the company do not consider as successful. That’s a pretty significant smack in the face to someone like me for whom their platform has literally become a life-changing experience. Without this ability to sell myself to people halfway across the World, my life would not be as good as it is now. Life changing sums do not have to be in the four figure or upward range. Knowing that more than 20 people would fund me was a revelation. As a number of people withdrew their support from the platform on Friday, each one contacted me privately, pledging they would continue to support me elsewhere.

On reflection, this is how I know Patreon is not needed to move forward.

I’m still very angry, but am not going to start attacking the CEO by name or hounding people via Social media. I can be as indignant as I like: it is very clear to me, looking at the evidence now available, that this is not a decision driven by conscience. It is, purely and simply, the means by which the business encourages those who are not making enough money to leave, or those people unable to organise themselves outside the platform to remain beholden. I saw a company rep suggesting in a message on Friday that Patreon users actively encourage their users to up their pledges in order to cover the fees. I’m not about to start strong-arming people who I know are supplying me cash often simply as the equivalent of moral support to give more.

What happens next however is a lot to do with my conscience and far less to do with the platform itself, which is a change from the situation last week.

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Of the people that I support who use the platform for their own work, all are very much in too deep to easily extricate themselves without serious financial hardship. I am about to hit $1000 made since I started the Internet of Words project. This is a not inconsiderable sum, but it is not huge. What the fuss around these changes is doing is making my low level funders (of which there are many) stop having an interest in the platform. Many will legitimately cite this as a reason for stopping their payments, but for others it will be a convenient excuse to move on. For that reason alone, I think it might be the moment to reconsider what I’m doing and rethink the plan.

I’m fairly settled in what is going to happen next for the Internet of Words. I’ll make a formal announcement tomorrow on the writing blog, knowing that the people that care and wish to support me will continue to do so regardless. That’s the key here: I’m not going to be beholden to someone else in order to secure my success. I want to do this on my own, and am well aware that is possible with the right backing. I won’t judge those people either who choose not to agree with my decisions. That’s not how business works: if I make the wrong decisions, that is my choice to stand and fall beside. In effect, that’s all that’s happened here.

Sometimes, you don’t need to make money to be successful.

Better Days

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A couple of months ago I wrote a letter to my Gym/Health Club, where weekly PT sessions take place, to try and help out my Trainer. I feel she and the other people at the organisation are criminally underused, and the Club itself is not doing enough to educate people generally on how exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. This was also during the quiet Summer period where the impetus for many people to get active is quite low to begin with. I sent off the letter and heard nothing more, assuming (as is often the case) that feedback was simply acknowledged and that was it.

Yesterday afternoon I was getting ready to leave after a long session (more running than ever before, lots of lifting) in the Ladies Changing Room, the (female) Centre Manager approached me. I’m not good in situations like this, gentle reader, and anxiety flared like a fire when I saw her heading my way. In fact, I may have attempted to avoid her. However, I was cornered, and unable to escape became a willing audience.

It is also quite possible I literally ran away after that conversation, made a right mess of certain sections of communicating with the Boss and generally looked like a complete idiot. However, the fact remains that the written feedback did the business. That is all that really mattered, in the end: if I write down something in a structured, sensible fashion and make salient, significant points to back it up, people will listen.

Twenty makes me realise that yes, all these years of constructive criticism over a computer game might have had some actual relevance. In the end the money paid for a service is largely forgotten, I did this to try and help my Trainer get the recognition she deserves and rarely receives. If the amount of praise that the Manager heaped on her in front of me is a genuine indicator of her worth, then the letter was worth the effort for that alone.

It is good to know you can make a difference. I wonder what else I could do with these words going forward…

Moving On Up

People like to tell me stuff.

I don’t belong in a particular group online, and have pretty much ploughed my own furrow ever since arriving in Internetland. This means that my feet straddle a lot of overlapping groups… and inevitably I’m nearly always standing at the fringes, looking in. This is absolutely not a problem, because what it gives is a brilliant level of objectivity. However, inevitably, there are days when this is not the case.

Occasionally however, I can’t avoid being the object of somebody’s ire, and when that happens there is only one meme that works.

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This was the first graphic I ever made for myself when LiveJournal was my home. Ironically I left that place after a Warcraft-related spat which made me realise that some people take that game far more seriously than others. Then came the swift reminder that the only way never to get involved in an argument is to have no friends. However attractive that might seem to be on certain days, it’s realistically impossible to live your life like that online. I have therefore tried my best not to contribute to any more virtual drama than necessary, but yesterday I broke my own rule and told someone something I was cautious about revealing to them when it initially took place, but on reflection I now have no problem now revealing.

It takes time to really get to know people. Social media expects a lot from its users on any given day, that the person you became fast friends with is different to the one who takes time to show themselves. Like life itself, judging everybody with the same set of criteria can often put you on a hiding to nothing. The problem is, of course,  judging anything is bad. Everybody should be equal. You and I know the truth behind that is a long way from reality on most days to begin with, so you accept what there is and deal with it. That means, at least for me that there’s a list of people who I don’t communicate with or consider as important who are very much the opposite for a large number of people in my sphere. Many of these people are muted in Tweetdeck for reasons that I’m not reticent over either. The key is that I don’t spend all day and night reminding people of the fact it is done.

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In the end, it is all largely irrelevant anyway, unless the person you got to know and then subsequently remove/spurn/ignore decides they don’t like this turn of events and decides to retaliate. As a rule, this for me goes one of two ways: brief flare of indignation and then silence, or else it is months and months of petty, vindictive spitefulness in the hope that I’ll change my mind or get deflected from the path forward. This blog is full of observations from both sides of that fence too: I use all my relationship failures as fuel for posts, so as long as you know that’s how I work, I think we’ll get along just fine. For the record, everybody gets treated the same. That’s a problem for some people, that much is obvious, especially when being kind and polite is mistaken for more than it really is. That’s my issue however, and not yours.

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Of course, the reality of virtual spaces is simple. I respect those who return the favour. I can hold a secret for a lifetime, and you’ll never know the real truth. The people who are my friends know this without needing to be told, but love to be reminded, and so I do. Caring and compassion are very simple when the World is not watching, and I’m doing my best work away from your prying eyes, and not using it as blog posts. This is a world of superficial distractions, like it or not, and the good stuff never gets seen unless both parties decide to make that happen. If you want relationships to really succeed on social media, cultivate them away from the screen. Your pocket friends may be brilliant and inspiring, but only if you give back to them as they do to you.

It is a significant relationship only when both real and virtual truly combine.

Simple Things

As today we start a new month and wonder where February went, it is time to make some proper steps forward. I have my writing plans well under control, and yesterday my mate @Broximar pointed me at something he was planning to do for March that immediately made me want to join in with. It is neither gimmicky or pointless either, in fact it is anything but. That means, of today, I’m beginning Spring Cleaning early with the 30 Day Minimalism Game.

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Broximar clued me into The Minimalists, and they do exactly what they say in their bio: live life with less. Whereas I appear to live with three quite keen consumerists in this house, I want for very little in terms of material gain as I move on in life. There’s nothing I obsess over in Wishlists, I’m not staring lovingly at domestic items to make my life better. If I’m honest, there’s some music I’d like and a few t-shirts for my collection but after that? I’m happy to do the business of de-cluttering without issue. So, starting today, here’s how things go, as described by the boys themselves:

This month, each of you must get rid of one thing on the first day. On the second, two things. Three items on the third. So forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day.

My first item out of the door is a real no-brainer, but the Instagram doesn’t really explain why.

I’ve removed large parts of my past from mental memory, but physical remnants are still here, and this ring is one of them. As I type this it is trashed, removed and with it comes an optimism for beginning the house Spring Clean for the year. I took the liberty whilst I was at it of sorting everything out in my jewellery boxes, one of which hasn’t been touched for several years, but contains items which have a sentimental value that remain irreplaceable. For everything else, however, there is a new sense of determination that means that I am focused on recycling, reclaiming and reusing as much as I can whilst at the same time making space: not to fill with new stuff, but to simply reduce my footprint.

I’ll do a daily Instagram of my progress, but you can expect some rumination here, especially as the daffodils are out on the School Run.

Spring is in the air, and it is time to get busy with regeneration.

Size of a Cow

This is the story of how I FINALLY lost 10 pounds and moved my exercise journey forwards.

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This week, the scales shifted down for the first time in quite some weeks. Fitbit has only recently started registering and tracking weight loss, it never existed when I first signed up. However now, I can see how much has vanished since the new software kicked in. There’s a sad truth behind this 10 pounds that made me stop in my tracks. I didn’t grasp just how many times it has taken to get this far. The problem with apps is that they rarely lie, and that means that, at least for me, five pounds has been a millstone for quite a while.

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I was shocked at this statistic, and went to look at my weight measurements for confirmation. I’ve been trying to lose the same five pounds for close to a year.

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This belittles the work I’ve done to get this far as well, because it doesn’t show the level of effort or that muscle and fat have been swapped with a quite definite regularity. If all you see are the numbers and not physical change, the potential to go backwards is, I know, a fair deal stronger than it would be if all I had was weight loss as my objective. This journey’s become therefore a lot more about self-education: yes, I can read all the gumph in the world about eating to lose weight and what exercises work the best, but none of that is necessarily going to work for me. That’s the problem with the Internet: everybody is out there trying to sell you the best way to do things like they’re a) the only person doing so and b) their way is the optimal path for you, and that’s a bunch of wobbly dumdums. What is best for ME is when I understand WHY things are happening, and I can grasp the relationship between what I eat, how I exercise and how that affects my progress.

This is the new world I now find myself in, and it is amazing.

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I can tell you the key changes that have been made to improve my ability to lose weight: they include stopping with the Special Fried Rice on takeaway night, removing myself from temptation when hungry and not lying to my PT when she asks me if I did all my exercise promised from the week before. However, I hate to break it to you guys, but the #1 overriding reason why I’ve succeeded in losing weight is that I’ve worked myself into the fucking ground. That meant that yesterday, on the back of five hours sleep, I dragged myself out the door, walked to the Gym, ran for nearly an hour and did 30 minutes of weights, before walking home and promptly falling asleep. Yes, exercise is meant to give you energy and vitality, but in a menopausal 50-summat it was enough to destroy me yesterday almost completely.

That’s normally when you want to give up.

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When I look back at myself in pictures, from when I started the serious part of this journey, there’s now an inescapable difference between then and now. Once upon a time I couldn’t see it, and had I allowed myself to be swayed by the fact that nothing (apparently) was changing in my mind at the time, I’d be no further forward. All those years of trying and failing to lose weight had nothing whatsoever to do with how I did it or with whom. The biggest single issue, ultimately, was myself. That’s easier to write now than it has been at any other point in the past too, that there’s come the final grasping of a truth that underpins everything else that I do. When jokingly I’ll mention that ‘people are stupid’ to someone in conversation, I’m talking about myself. This inability to want to grasp the failings and shortcomings that have hindered progress for decades makes the current revelations all the more bittersweet.

This could easily have happened a long time ago, but never did, because until fear was addressed and faced, everything was impossible. Shame and embarrassment are potent shackles in a mind that believes that what matters more than being free and happy is conforming to norms that were never placed on you to begin with, but end up being applied by everybody else. Once there’s the ability to look beyond the constraints of what the rest of humanity tells you is possible or acceptable? The only thing stopping progress, ultimately, is death. I write this sentence for a friend of mine who, right now, is going through the most difficult of circumstances as a reminder: every day is special, each moment to be appreciated and treasured as if it were the last, because that might well be the case. A life not lived well is not really a life at all.

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Now I’ve lost 10 pounds, the next goal is 15. These are hardly real world issues for you or anyone else but for me, this is a journey I am determined to complete. It has become a metaphor for an ability to do what is needed, to allow honestly to underpin everything, and to not be a lie. It is in effect, not clean living but honest living. I don’t need funky foods and stupid fads to be better, just myself and common sense. This then becomes a measure of how the two combine with current circumstances.

I believe I am capable of anything I now want to do.