The Test

Some of you know me very well, and have done for many years. For others, this is the beginning of a new ‘relationship’: you took a chance on an unknown woman and clicked on the website, wondering what might be hidden amongst the words. In a reality full of people shouting at you from various platforms, how on earth do you ever find the confidence to stand up and take a step in the dark? Reality in 2017 is a pretty hard sell: I’m watching people I thought knew better effectively pretending life isn’t happening and moving further away from social media. I realise that for some, the only way to cope with the chaos around us is to effectively retreat, and I can’t say I blame them one iota. Once upon a time, that would have been my coping mechanism too, but not any more.

Life right now is a test of how capable we all are of moving forward.

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Finding a personal balance is never simple, and inevitably involves pushing out of comfort zones. Whatever the new age gurus might try and sell you, or the clean eaters plus any of the new generation of spiritually aware, there is never just one answer that solves everything. Because everybody is different, pretending you have the cast iron solution to change someone’s existence is no different than being a charlatan. The Internet, often described as the Wild West by those who’ve not lived here nearly long enough to understand the reality, does however possess more than a fair share of Snake Oil pushers. There may well be gold in them thar retweets but if you want peace of mind as well as your fortune, taking part isn’t enough.

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I get frustrated when people describe me as quirky and confrontational, just because I won’t use the established rule book. After a lifetime in computing, in one form or another, I have a fairly unique perspective of what it means to be a woman in lots of differing places. I have no doubt the real world is both differing and similar to these experiences, and I’m never stupid enough to assert that my truth is any more or less important than the next person. The fact remains that in the current version of reality we live in, the Internet allows everyone to shout at each other pretty much without consequence, unless you’re lucky enough to have the cash/patience/backup required to make your point of view in court. Then, and only then, can you prove you’re right without an argument. That means, like it or not, pretty much everybody else is pissing in the wind.

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The trick to real success, it seems to this mind, is twofold: either never talk about anything personal or difficult ever and just get on with life, or sell yourself for all that you’re worth and become famous for being just that. On reflection, I can talk about what I am now without much fear, because I understand what libel is, and what you should never do in public. My past cannot be changed, but is reconciled with the present. Really, all I have now is a blank page and the next day, with the fundamental understanding that I may never reach it. If I died right after this blog post was written, if it were my last testament to what I am and what I have worked towards, I would be happy. Sure, I would have liked to have had some of my works published, but as my husband likes to point out, many of the most famous authors only became revered after death anyway, so what does it matter? It doesn’t. Living each day well, making solid progress on goals, being a better person, looking after your environment… all of this is how you become happy. You don’t drink a shake or run a mile, you don’t just pray or hand over some cash. Life is to be lived, in the best way your environment and circumstances allow, and that’s what I intend to do going forward.

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If you don’t know me yet, I hope that can change. I’d like to help you write better, to think about life even if it is hard, and to try and help other people. That means today I ask you to take a small amount of extra cash, if you can spare it, to help those with nothing in east Africa, which is in the grip of a major famine. That’s all: today, you help somebody less fortunate than yourself, for no other reason than one day, this could be you.

This way, maybe, we eventually all help to make life easier for everybody to live well.

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Brown Eyed Handsome Man

The first album I remember hearing as a child was by Chuck Berry. I should write more about this, but today’s plans involve minimal naval contemplation and maximum effort. For too long I’ve sat and commentated on what I should be doing in life without making that a reality, and today is when that changes.

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If you want me, I’ll be over there, doing what I said I would. Have a great Sunday.

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Before I sat down to write, I took a rubbish sack and a food recycling bag and removed everything bad with an excessive carbohydrate count from what is known in this house as the ‘treat’ cupboard. No, it won’t cure me or anybody else in this house of their sugar addiction, but it draws a line in the sand for my tolerance. If I was living with a bunch of virtuous, healthy and happy people then I’d argue the approach would be different. It is time to move forward.

I’m not doing this to make me happy. What ails me is nothing to do with comfort eating. I am well aware of where the shortcomings are in my life and, like it or not, many of them will never be mine to fix. I can simplify gaming to make it more relaxing and act as a substitute for sugar, but again this doesn’t deal with the addiction. I can continue to lose weight and move forward but until I deal with the causes of anxiety, I’ll always be on the back foot. That means today, I’ll make a phone call.

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However, I anticipate a significant wait (as has always been the case) and so, whilst that happens, here are other things that can be done. One of them is to try and stop stressing about the stuff I cannot change, and to focus on the positives I already have. It’s all very #FirstWorldProblems stuff right now, which is why it feels a bit bad and wrong to discuss it as if there’s more relevance… but it matters to me. Decluttering will help, as will tidying generally. Getting out with the camera is another way to help alleviate stress that I’m not taking full advantage of, and with better weather on the way, I should be out more.

In the end, becoming the arbiter of my own destiny was always going to come with a catch. Nothing is ever smooth or perfect in its execution, and anyone saying otherwise is an all out fraud. This is a new journey, only just beginning, becoming one with all the other places I am moving towards, and I will find the means to fit it into the fabric of my existence eventually, but until I do? I promise not to complain, or indeed to mention it again. Needless to say, stuff doesn’t get fixed unless you work to do so. Bodies are no different to brains.

I’ve got this too.

 

Walkaway

It is important, as we mentioned last week, to be able to step back and be objective when living in any space whose rules are defined not just by us. Obsessing about anything can be both destructive and ultimately dangerous, and nowhere is that more true than in an environment where it is easy to shout into the void and never experience dissent. The ‘echo chamber’ concept of social media’s used as a stick to beat me with on an almost weekly basis, and I thought it bore more investigation after the latest incident where someone cited the concept as the reason why a relationship had failed.

Wikipedia considers a media echo chamber as ‘a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system,’ which in this case will be your own feed and blogs. Effectively an individual ignores basic points which are obvious to those outside the space as not being fairly represented within, if at all. It is a basic concept of curation but executed at the expense of truth: as you remove people from a space which you can and should control and organise, it can appear from certain angles to be censorship of those who disagree with points of view or who cause contention when doing so.

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Since the US Election, I’ve made a point of being more politically active, and this has upset a significant portion of my existing readership, enough to cause many of them to leave of their own accord. It also happened in the run up last year, when it became apparent that being disparaging of Republican ideas and sentiments was going to get me into trouble, and yet I’ll still peddle this line regardless. The key here is that I’m not singling out anyone in my feed as an issue, but by being disparaging of a wider viewpoint, those who hold it as sacred will logically assume I’m attacking them. The same feeling is undoubtedly true when I won’t agree with people’s views on Warcraft, feminism, cosplay, breasts, chocolate… and the list goes on and on.

At no point do I ever single someone out as being unreasonable until the Unfollow button gets hit, and only then does it becomes personal. The very act of removal is confirmation to them that something has happened that I don’t like. That’s why Mute can often be considered the coward’s solution to a problematic follower: far easier just to remove them and kop the flack. In fact, it would be fair to assume that had I been more careful and considered my choices to begin with, then there wouldn’t be an issue, but it is often hard to form considered opinions of people when they’re not standing in front of you: that’s why Facebook’s friends of friends concept is such an addictive one. If person X knows you and two genuinely close friends, their choices will be people who mesh with you, right?

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The truth is, of course, utter bollocks. That’s why some of us refuse to allow Facebook to dictate terms, and will reassess ‘friends’ on an almost weekly basis. That’s even more true when there’s a contentious issue: I am more than happy to disagree with people, and that happens with predictable regularity. What I’m not prepared to entertain, at any point, is someone else deciding a) what I am thinking and b) what I should do as a result of this. We can not vote the same way, like the same music or even agree on anything at all. I am able to do civil and polite with the entire planet right up to the point where someone points a metaphorical finger at me and states what I have to do because this is what is wrong.

That is the moment when trust is lost, but not always for good.

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I’ve disagreed with people before, but if when engaging them in dialogue I can believe that there is still a basis for communication, that’s how it works. Everybody can not see eye to eye from time to time, after all. If it becomes apparent that there’s no point in trying to communicate because what I believe isn’t considered either relevant or important, then it is time to reassess. Maybe it is not just my outlook exacerbating the situation: this same person isn’t listening to others either, apparent by the interactions with others I can read and see taking place around us. If their interest is unnecessarily obsessive, or inward facing, or they’re just a shitposting troublemaker? Time eventually shows up the flaws.

If you wait, everybody fucks up eventually, and it is how those moments are dealt with that becomes the real measure of their online persona.

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Why do I do all this navel gazing, I hear some of you ask? I learn from it and it helps me understand how this part of the World works. It allows me to grasp how human beings react in certain situations. Many people, often without realising, reveal sides of themselves online I suspect they wish weren’t as public as are currently the case. It is a delicate balancing act, which most of the sane and sensible individuals deal with by not pressing Tweet or posting on Facebook to begin with, because their real lives are more important than the virtual one. As a writer I balance between disparate worlds on a daily basis, and sitting here trying to find the right sentences to use becomes another part of the understanding process. To communicate successfully to others is no mean feat, I am now discovering, and to make the best job takes far more effort than may people ever really grasp.

It is never an easy task to shout anywhere; to have confidence in a virtual space is not as simple as many would believe. What matters more is to find a voice, and once that is accomplished to learn the best means by which you can explain yourself to a wider audience than just yourself. It is a vital part of human development, and without that internal belief it can be a hard and painful journey to take alone. More importantly still, thinking why things happen and to understand you are as responsible for events that happen around you as anyone else is an important means by which one defines your overall significance (or otherwise) in the communities you are a part of.

The people that surround you are as much a measure of your personality as you are yourself, and knowing that means a constant reassessment of your aquaintances can never be a bad thing.

Gett Off

This is not the post I was going to write today.

I made a conscious decision early in the week to reduce the number of people I’m following. It appears that between 800-900 follows is the limit of what I can cope with, if everybody is polite and I’m capable of assimilating what I’m reading with a dispassionate air. However, if people start getting bolshy, this is hard work. I’m well aware that my mindset isn’t the same as a number of other people right now, but assuming everyone is civil and pleasant, it doesn’t matter. When that changes, and I get grief for refusing to engage, not agreeing with an outlook or generally feel uncomfortable talking to someone? Stuff needs to be done. In the interests of transparency, I will share my deselection process, and then explain why.

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First, a follower gets muted on the screens I use for daily work, but not on phone or tablet, so I can still see interaction if/when it happens. If I’m having a particular issue with someone I will keep half an eye on their feed too, as a lot of stuff gets said ‘out of earshot’ that can often be an indicator to someone’s current mood. Yes, I check up on people when I care about them, so what? Then, if when I take that mute off and it appears nothing has changed, I’ll quietly unfollow. Once upon a time I’d tell people, but now with 3k of them in the mix it becomes largely unhelpful, especially for the drama that creates. Occasionally, as has been the case today, I’ll know full well there’s trouble coming, which is all the more reason for not making a big deal about what you’re about to do.

The problem, and it is always this, is that people form unreasonable attachments to other people online. Over time, if you’ve done this with someone, I can guarantee it will go one of two ways. You’re either adults about it, or you’re not. Sadly, it doesn’t work if one person tries to be a grown up and the other one has a massive meltdown. However, if that makes you feel better in your feed, go right ahead, but there’s a good chance if that’s directed at me that I will read it and one of two things will happen. It will either mean a) that my decision to stop following you was completely justified or b) I’m glad I got out when I did. Of course, that subtweet saltfest could have been at someone else and I’m just assuming its directed at me, but if you’re going to do this to anyone who leaves quietly without trying to highlight this whole sorry episode to begin with… I still made the right choice.

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However, and this is directed at anyone whom I’ve unfollowed, if you feel that there’s merit in talking to me directly and trying to sort the problem, I’m all ears. No, seriously, if you wanna talk, you know where I am. I’ve made some Class A howlers in my life over the years with good people I’d love to still be talking to, and I have been responsible for quite a few horrendous personal choices in my time. If it matters enough to you then maybe we can sit down and talk the whole thing out. I will admit I wish I could do this still with a few people that have long since departed my sphere, but life isn’t just what I want. It remains a complex set of interactive variables which you can choose to try and grasp or just use for your own ends. The choice is yours.

Everybody needs an occasional reality check from themselves. I absolutely count myself in this process, and that’s why I’ve written this post. I believe I know people well enough on Twitter now to grasp who is likely to respond well to being unfollowed, who I can expect to leave eventually of their own accord and who’s here for the long haul. Setting a 900 figure on interaction right now is doable and acceptable, but if that changes you can rest assured I will let everyone know ahead of time that stuff will alter. This is my writing tool, after all, and without a level of comfortable interaction it becomes really hard to do the tasks I have set myself up to attempt to execute. That means trust as a two way process. Needless to say, if you think I take any of these decisions lightly or without considerable thought, you really don’t know me at all, because I am well aware of the consequences of pissing people off on the Internet.

I’ve been abused, Twitter stalked, belittled and attacked before. This is no longer going to hold me back from what I want to do. If you want to discuss choices like an adult, I’m happy to do so, but for everything else my life is too short and there’s better people here who seem to be able to meet me halfway. In the end, I don’t make the decisions to leave, in many cases other people do that for me when it becomes clear that communication has stopped being what matters. 

It’s a tough job to do well, after all.

Ballad of the Mighty I

Sunday is my day for personal reflection, and it is particularly satisfying this week to look back on seven days that have not simply moved my life forward, but allowed me to relax into the process.

#365photochallenge #blogger #photographer It was a VERY good night 🍸🍸🍸

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Last night I was drunk: it took four homemade Margaritas (yup, I’m a cheap date) and the stresses and strains of the week simply got lost in the fuzzy haze of a loving husband who not only suggested I could do with the night off but arranged the Mexican dinner to accompany it. I don’t remember the last time I just allowed myself to relax enough to laugh, sing and smile like this. It has been a journey thus far of lots of work but perilously few rewards and I now grasp that maybe there could be more of that and less running myself to the limit. Having accepted that I can only do so much in certain areas of my life if I wish to excel in others? Now comes the process of rearranging the parts of my life to truly reflect the changes I am now going to make.

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Next week’s gonna be a bit odd: I have two days enforced rest because I give blood on Monday night and I learnt the hard way last time there is NO WAY I’m doing anything major until Thursday at the earliest. That means arranging everything around a Thursday/Saturday Gym routine and then on Sunday, the youngest is 12 and I have a day up in the trees doing climbing and other adult activities. This I’m not 100% looking forward to, I will admit, but as my upper body strength is now better than it was the last time I did one of these and I survived then? I should be okay.

I just hope the weather is better than it was last week.

#365photochallenge #blogger #photographer What's the Fuss, Doris?

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I’m beginning to enjoy planning a daily photograph too for Instagram, now I’ve been doing this for a couple of months it has become habit forming and I’m really pleased with the quality of picture being produced. I am still to do any major work with my camera however, and as it is March next week, it is time to fix that. I’ll be looking for a chance to go to some local spots as the weather gets better and make a point of take pictures.

Lots is planned, now all I have to do is make it a reality.

The Same Old Song

I made my first visit to the USA in 1994. It was arranged, I will happily admit now, using the X Files USENET group. This involved a round trip from a town near Boston to New York, via State College to Washington DC. What happened in 10 days is a story I will save for another day because it involved trusting people that, looking back on the journey, I’d have never in a million years been involved with were I planning to do this today. They were undoubtedly simpler times back then and I was naive enough in my 20’s to believe people might just want to meet me as a friend. The truth, on reflection, was anything but.

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The last seven days, for those of us who have lived online since USENET in the 1990’s, has been pretty much par for the course, all told. However, there is a whole new group of people who are discovering that if they thought modern politics was a swamp worth draining, then the Internet right now’s a nightmare they may not really be prepared to even adequately grasp.

Watching ‘normal people’ grasp 4chan, Reddit or even the depths that Twitter can sink to has only come about because the President of the United States speaks more to his elected populous here than anywhere else. Twitter has effectively become the ‘free speech’ platform used by Government (and not just the US version) in an attempt to lie, discredit and derail anyone who decides that its not doing the right thing. As a tool for good however, it is undoubtedly a massive boost to anyone who needs their message heard. This jungle may be a step up from the swamp, but remains fraught with potential pitfalls. As the adage goes, ‘what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet,’ often for decades after the fact. That means, if I so desired, I could go pull up my lame-assed attempts at early fiction, affiliation to a number of other fandoms, failed relationships with several people I hope never to see ever again… and so on.

When you live your life ‘online’ there are consequences. I’ve done a lot whilst existing here since those early days and so, I suppose, I accept that if you live a certain way, there’s just things you don’t do. Last week a friend (you’ll see his tweet a bit later) pointed out that George Takei (you know, that bloke from Star Trek) broke one of these cardinal rules last weekend and swiftly paid the price. If you ask a question and you don’t get the answer you wanted, the last thing to do is try and pretend it never happened. In fact a sane person will grasp that perhaps their view of the World isn’t as black and white as it at first appeared. In this case however, someone famous online made a mistake and instead of standing up and admitting that, they simply chose to pretend it never happened, and that’s just asking for trouble in a social network that never sleeps.

It was a tiny storm in a massive teacup, but made me stop and think. Almost 69,000 votes and in the sphere of Twitter that Takei functions within (I imagine social media as tons of overlapping circles, like a mahoosive Venn diagram with multiple points of overlap) the split was 49/51. If he wanted a landslide to confirm his opinion it wasn’t going to happen, because there’s an awful lot of very disenfranchised people online right now. Clearly expecting a different result, the poll was deleted, and that’s NEVER what you do online. Even I know that rule, but I didn’t realise there are others that not only exist, but are being handed out quite early on that you’re never going to find in any number of guides to the Internet given out by schools or even parents.

Thanks to @IrishBites, I now have a better understanding of how the Internet is altering to accommodate differing groups of people. I’m also aware that a subset of this group (who are referred to in the original article above as ‘The Deplorables’) were responsible for mobilising social media and, at least in part, can be considered a significant force behind allowing That Man to be elected as President. It occurs to me that a different subset was probably instrumental in Brexit, and when you grasp the influence Social media now has on daily lives and big decisions, it is time to sit up and take notice of the power it wields. For those wishing to cause trouble, rules should not be of significance, but amazingly they are. In fact, once you grasp how this game is played it becomes incredibly simple to grasp how those who don’t think before they act can not only be tripped up but ensnared by their own good intentions:

Remember that press conference after the Presidential Inauguration where Mr S. Spicer used pictures to prove that there were more people attending than the ‘popular’ press suggested was true? That incident could almost have been an Anonymous ‘shitpost’ following every single guideline listed here. The suggestion that arguing with trolls is pointless to begin with is the ultimate win state, of course, because you were the one stupid enough not to think of that before you posted. The true Troll knows when to pick up on weakness and to avoid the fight they will never win. That’s why you’ll see people try to attack certain figures but soon give up, because if you know your own failings and won’t allow others to exploit them, they have no power over you and never will. Ultimately, trolls win when you give them the ammo.

‘Roasting’ has become the new social benchmark for who wields real power, the ‘Thread!’ cry a means by which any idea can find an instant audience without the need to own either domain or website, and Twitter itself has somehow evolved away from what it would clearly like to be in the eyes of the business people who created it, namely Facebook only more profitable. However, I’m betting Zuckerberg would happily sell the remaining portion of his soul to have That Man using his social media platform as a means to practice Government, seemingly unrestricted on a world stage. It is no wonder that 1984’s getting a showing in US cinemas when you have a man effectively dictating what will happen in a country, via a platform with a worldwide audience.

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Except, true reality is not just online, or the ‘version’ of events you choose to consume. Reality is hard work, takes a lot of thought, and understanding that most individuals simply don’t possess. It’s not an insult, but might be if you’re easily offended by truths. The real story behind your 140 characters is a little of the shitpost, a dash of personal need, the slightest sprinkling of conspiracy theory. To understand what really goes on requires concentration and consideration, not confirmation bias. You are not right every time, and your beliefs might matter to you but not for others. In all of this, there is a space to find for each person that allows reality to present what are intractable truths, and it is those that should shape any movement forward. The Clown in the White House is like the Bad Magician in Downing Street: all smoke and mirrors, simply distraction from inescapable facts. This planet cannot sustain us at our current selfish rates of consumption. EVERYONE is equal: not under anybody’s God, but at a basic level of DNA. Race, sex and birth are irrelevant. 

Greed in all forms condemns everyone’s existence to ruin unless change happens NOW.

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I tell you what you do, Jen. Think before you post. Realise that ‘truth’ means more than a set of points on a graph. Be nicer to people, and stop assuming it is all about you, me, or anybody else. Accept fate, and let go of anger. Let nothing surprise you, and be willing to accept everything as ‘normal’ for at least somebody. In effect, that shitty set of internet rules are, like it or not, a decent way to conduct your existence, and having everyone follow a basic set that doesn’t mean that one group can profit off anybody else is, like it or not, a pretty sound way forward. Yeah, we need to make money to survive, but how about if you have more you give it to those who don’t once in a while, just to see how that goes. This is not difficult or complicated, yet it has become the hardest thing to do. Stop having an ego, and allowing it to be bruised, and just live your life as if each day were your last because you know what? At the current rate of stupidity we’re all experiencing, that might yet turn out to be the case.

I can’t change the world, but I can change myself. If we all did even a bit of that, what might that be able to achieve long term?