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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Well Done

Success is an odd concept. Too often it is defined by somebody else and not you: parents, friends, colleagues. I remember as a child my main desire was to look and feel relaxed, that kid who wasn’t perennially awkward and uneasy in her own skin. I was bought a book, or maybe I bought it myself, I don’t remember: How to be Cool. It had lots of film stars on the cover, most of them in shades, because that was how you cultivated a persona that radiated confidence. In the ignorance of youth (and boy was I naive back then) all you needed was the physical tools to become famous, and that’s how it worked. Not much has changed in 40 years: all you need now is to break 1000 Followers on your online medium of choice and suddenly, BOOM, you’re the person to know. Except success shouldn’t be defined by other people’s beliefs, at least if you want to try and attain some notion of personal peace.

Only now do I begin to understand why ‘do it for yourself’ matters more than any other goal you’ll ever set.

If you don’t enjoy sport, you won’t understand why last night’s PSG v Barcelona game was such a big deal. Barcelona, effectively buried at home in the first leg of their Champion’s League tie by French opposition, did what is normally considered impossible and came back to win 6-5 away from home, with a display of determination that saw their win effectively sealed in the last five minutes of normal time plus time added on. Success sometimes means not assuming you’re beaten, that the opposition is fallible. It also helps if there’s some luck in the mix (one of Barca’s goals was the most amazing of deflections) but mostly you never give up until the game is over.

When history and your critics have condemned you to failure before the whistle is blown, there’s nothing left to lose, and here is where success is never defined by anybody else except the people playing the game. The reason I love football (and I do as a spectacle, because it is) is if a group of players believe enough in themselves and the task to be surmounted, it will happen. That was the case with Leicester City last season, and it will be again, as I’m confident that group of players will survive their relegation battle, but only now because they are fighting adversity on their terms. But I’m not here to pretend I’m a pundit, because success is knowing what you’re good at and not trying to be everything at once, and I’m straying from my own point.

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Success is not what other people tell me it is. I define the parameters, from start to finish. That’s because, when all is said and done, I am the team here. Nobody else edits the Blogs or produces the graphics. There’s no writing team producing the words ever day. If an idea is created or developed, there will be input from other people, but the final production and ‘manufacture’ of the articles from those discussions falls into my lap. Effectively, when you are your own production company, PA and publicity teams? It makes satisfaction a lot easier to both quantify and gauge. There’s also far less stress because being beholden to other people in process can often be enough to send you batty. This means that creative freedom and inspiration don’t get stifled nearly as much as can be the case in collectives. It also allows me the opportunity to pick and choose what gets done and when.

The flip side to this of course is that there is often a temptation to do everything at once, because it is hard to work out what’s the most worthwhile idea in a pile of potentially great projects. That has been the hardest lesson of all to learn, but now I’ve cut things down to small, workable ‘blocks’ of time, it is becoming quite manageable and attainable. What that means in practical terms is as after this post is written, I’ll get a cuppa and a flapjack and spend a couple of hours setting up webpage frameworks for the back end of the Warcraft site, and looking to add a couple of new headers to the Writing one. What I’ve often overlooked is foundations in my projects, and without solid bases on which to build long term projects, things can have a habit of collapsing around me… but not any more.

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I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity to define my own rules going forward. It means that nothing is ever a bind, or a chore, even the stuff that seemed so before because it didn’t appear necessary. Once you realise that EVERYTHING, even the mundane shit, is a way forward, your life can shift about quite rapidly. It is, in effect, understanding that your half empty glass means you’re still not thirsty and it could be so much worse. This has taken many years to comfortably grasp, and there will still be days when I struggle to remind myself that backwards is the last resort. As long as the words keep working that’s great, but now there’s the acceptance that there needs to be more, too. That means the photography is becoming more important, alongside the exercise: a range of interests and not just an obsessive focus on one thing alone.

Fortunately for me I’ve picked a medium to work in where all my interests can effectively mesh. Now it is just up to me to make that happen.

Yeah, I can do this.

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.

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.

Moving On Up

This week, as you will know if paying attention, is the first in which I’ve started doing the writing gig ‘properly’ and by that I mean I’ve shifted my focus towards stuff that is a wee bit more adult. As a result, I went and bought a larger, more flexible monthly planner, and instead of using pencil (which has been my go to medium for a couple of years) I’ve forced myself into writing with a pen: the Uni-Ball Gel Impact (1mm) as it happens, because I’m beginning to grasp there’s a whole cottage industry around people writing stuff on pages and then taking pictures whilst not typing at all. Therefore, today is Day Two of Planning Like a Grown-Up.

#365photochallenge #blogger #smm Small steps into a larger Universe ✅

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Going from pencil to pen is, I realise now, a signal of intent. I can’t rub out mistakes, so everything stays visible. Old ideas don’t vanish but remain to inspire further thought going forwards. There’s the need to stick to plans to allow other things to come to pass. It is a step up from weeks of planning and organising that was focused in one direction, and now I have shifted that to what matters most to me, brain has become considerably lighter. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact gaming is still part of the landscape, but now it is accepted that isn’t where things need to travel long term.

The new direction is far larger and more interesting.

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This does also mean that Drama has the potential to be far more significant, but I think several years in the cesspit of the Internet before Normal People discovered how horrible and unpleasant it is, will be good endurance training going forward. This has been several years in the planning and making, but I only had the confidence last week to push myself past the step where it was all thought and no direction. Now that balance is readjusted, there is only one way, and that’s forward. Whatever happens now, I’m just going to go for it.

I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

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I am not an Expert.

I’ll grant you, sometimes I probably sound like I’m trying to be one. For the record, this is ABSOLUTELY NOT the intention. If you asked me what I’m really good at, I’d struggle to give you a representative answer. I can do a decent fist of writing, if the wind’s in my favour. I take an okay photograph. I’m awful at domestic chores, fail consistently at being both prompt and in remembering significant dates, and my cookery skills remain woeful at best (MUST FIX THAT.) I also fail at being empathetic, sympathetic, understanding and generally spend a lot of time fighting emotional states to maintain a decent illusion of coping. I am singularly, definitely, positively NOT an expert at ANYTHING.

I’m brilliant however at reacting: someone yesterday called me a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of personality and yeah, I will often not really care about how you feel if I think you’re being a Class A Twatface, I’ll just point out the stupid and move on.  However, because I know that empathy is often one of my failings (unless we know each other, then you get double) I do now attempt not to sound like anything at all when I see someone on Social media struggling with a bad time. Then, I watch other people pile in with ‘expertise’ that often makes me want to throw pot plants at them, because in my mind there is NOTHING WORSE than when you say summat like this for a bunch of people to pile in with their own ‘interpretation’ of what appears to have transpired.

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This is the virtual equivalent of ‘if you don’t have anything useful to say, don’t say anything at all.’ I know my Grandma used to replace ‘useful’ with ‘nice’ but in the Modern world, that’s not happening on the Internet to begin with. When I watch someone say summat on their feed which is clearly meant as a explanation of their actions and nothing else, to watch other people dive in to ‘interpret’ that is, I have to say, depressing beyond belief. This, for me, is where the GIF has become a way of me being able to show interest, but not dig a hole for myself, which would often happen previously when I’d have only words to fall back on. That whole adage of ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ is absolutely spot on: that’s why, when I’m done here, I should go find more hug GIFs because that’s what I and others need most right now. That and artistically-photographed cake, beverages, lovely serene landscapes and Mini Dogs. Lots of lovely, fluffy and perky canines to keep me sane when it all goes Pete Tong on my feed.

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I also sense, behind a number of Avatars, a slow realisation that appearing not to care about anything but your own agenda is part of a larger issue that will start affecting more people than just Governments and large corporations. I may appear to operate a fairly 1/0 approach to caring about Randoms on certain days, but I can guarantee that’s not the case. I am passionate about everything, to the point where some days it is mentally exhausting. I’m now reining in the urge to go HAM on your Feed because I can see the difference between something that needs to be commented on and summat the person just needed to say for their own sanity. Just because someone says summat on Social media does not mean you need to respond, and just because nobody answers you does not mean nobody is listening. This vital point has somewhere been lost, and everybody is an expert at everything.

Oh, and as a reminder I’m not claiming to be an expert here.

I’m just pointing out the fucking obvious.

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Because everybody is watching everybody else, all the time, potentially nothing is missed, but we all know the truth is a long way from that reality. Some of you will get hugely aggrieved that there’s no response to what you want to talk about, or that when you need help there’s ‘nobody around’ when in reality that often equates to a few people or even a single person of interest. It is the ‘Notice me Senpai’ approach to life that assumes that at any given time, like it or not, you are the centre of the Universe. Well, of course you are, because that’s how Social media works. You make a space, you carve out a niche, and then you sell it (if you’re wanting to make a name) or you find a soapbox and stand on it (if you’re orating to the crowd) and so on, ad infinitum with all the things this platform can be used for. However, how you perceive that space is far more important than the area itself. Unless you clearly define that to other people, or make that obvious via your own actions? You will only have yourself to blame if the wheels come off, and they always will when there’s not an acceptance that definition could ever be an issue.

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You need to be made of strong stuff to stand ‘in public’, when all is said and done. As you get older, vanity and substance should give way to acceptance and understanding, but more often than not you just get more sensitive and less capable. If I am to become an expert at anything in my life, it should be to just being what I am without allowing anyone else to dictate those limits to me. If you don’t like my attitude at first glance, maybe it isn’t just my problem to address but ours to jointly negotiate. Everybody doesn’t need to come down to your level or act as you see fit. Put the expertise on hold for a minute and don’t just think you’re capable of solving all the issues in the World, because you can’t and won’t. If someone refuses to listen? Don’t take it as an insult, and try and understand why. That’s what’s missing more than anything else right now, from every aspect of my life. People don’t want to, or they’re too tired to, or it isn’t what matters any more. That’s a big fat fucking lie.

Understanding is EVERYTHING.

Stop pretending you’re an expert, because you’re not.

The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret

Social media has made everyone stupid. Even the most articulate and sensible of people has a moment, from time to time (I do NOT count myself in this number, I’m perpetually dumb on Twitter) and we forgive them, mostly, because we are generous and kind-hearted rhinoceroses. I’m watching with increasing humour, for instance, as the White House Press Secretary who shouted at the media on Saturday appears to keep his phone in his pants pocket and is tweeting gibberish (or possibly his Twitter password, hard to say…) For some, technology will always be the enemy. It is one of those things you either use or don’t, get or loathe. I grew up with a father who was obsessed with computers, and still is well into his 70’s. It was inevitable that would rub off on me, on reflection, and now I can’t think of a time when I won’t be pottering with something.

Except yesterday, I did my very best to stay offline.

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Some days, distance is the only thing that stops me from putting a foot through a screen. My anger at wanton and often specifically targeted selfishness and thoughtlessness is beyond the limit of my ability to either rationalise or cope. In fact, if I’m fair, since Monday I’ve been dealing with issue after issue where, like it or not, I can do nothing but stay quiet and wait to see what happens next. Last night I didn’t go and play games, I made a conscious decision to go to bed and this morning I went to the Gym with one thought in my head, to just not look at my phone until I’d rationalised the week. Amazingly, it worked. I have a handle on this now. Putting distance between contention and me does make things better. The catalyst, I now grasp, is that what is big up close is actually minuscule at a distance. I’m reminded, unsurprisingly, of the Father Ted sketch.

When you’re used to filling content with stuff that isn’t really significant, the moment a real huge-assed Drama comes along, everything shifts perspective. What was major and life changing a week ago is now small potatoes, when you look at the potential chaos in the bigger World. However much I’d like to make my issues important to a wider audience, I think I’d rather we all got to the end of this whole shit-show alive and in one piece more. That means, it is time for some adjustments. The first one, amazingly, is just to carry on and not collapse in a heap of emotional trauma.

Taking personal time for yourself when the relentless stream of horror shows no sign of stopping is REALLY important. The rules of Personal Care remain largely the same as they did when I was taught them as a child; in fact, this poster remains where I come back to when reality gets too much:

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If you substitute ‘work’ for homework, frankly, this is my start point. All these things suffer when I’m stressed, and having the basic foundation of routine is what is needed to stay sane. It’s the reason why I write every day too, because habits formed then become harder to break and help sustain your momentum. That’s where I’m starting from again today, and once we have all that sorted, then there will be an opportunity to arrange the other parts of existence in a sensible order. I haven’t cried today, despite a number of moments where it would have been entirely acceptable to do just that. Here is the line, and there is the progress.

This is where I realise I need to reassess all of my priorities.