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…

Night Boat to Cairo

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It is almost August. How did that happen?

I am now down to my outstanding Patreon list fitting on a Post It note. This means that I’ll be up to date August 1st, when the process has to start again: however, I have adapted a very great deal in the last four weeks. It is a learning process that has thrown up more than a few surprises, and an understanding that, with thought and effort, anything really is possible. That is the biggest takeout: these tasks are no less relevant or significant than  anything else done before. The fact people now give me money to ‘work’ is just the way it always is in the early days of establishing a business. The difference here is that I’m just coming to the whole experience later than maybe would be normal. That’s great however because it allows an awful lot more experience to accompany me to the table.

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However what is most satisfying right now is the understanding that what is written doesn’t matter as much as what that allows other people to get from the experience. This appears to be the case with the growing use of Twitter Polls in my feed as a writing tool: I make no bones about using the service primarily as a basis to spark unprompted conversation. When opinion is not the reason why something happens, just facts reduced to a simple choice, it allows people the ability to discuss and explain their own feelings and experience. Currently, the Internet is mostly opinions clashing, points of view in dissonance. Sharing a common ground yet allowing diversity to thrive within is, in my mind at least, a far better way of promoting discussion.

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There’s also been communication in a manner I’ve not seen since I began this journey. People are spontaneously (and unprompted) suggesting new topics, and thanking me for the discourse. Normally, when I start a conversation on the Internet like this, it has ended in tears. However, I realise that a lot of that historical trauma was as much about how I dealt with the responses than anything else. Also, my ‘don’t tweet to anyone for the first hour of the day or until you are fully awake’ rule really is beginning to make a tangible difference in how contention pans out. It is the understanding that yeah, I have my part to play in all this, but only to a point. That whole ‘two people to argue’ thing is absolutely true. If someone ignores you, there’s normally a lesson to be learnt.

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However, the Internet doesn’t change. The dicksplashes remain, because their own Community ‘bubble’ allows that toxicity to continue unchallenged. Very few people are either willing or bothered to vilify such behaviour, because in most cases these people are normally functioning members of society. In fact, as long as the current President of the United States can utilise Twitter as a policy tool to push forward intentionally divisive and damaging administrative choices, nothing will change. Legions of white men will be encouraged to be utter morons and treat everybody else who disagrees with them like dirt, women to assert only the impression of independence guided by often fundamentally floored visual prompts which further act as restriction. If you don’t fit those two gender groups or their traditional notions of sexuality? You’re on your own.

So, how do you ever make progress?

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However many times I tell my daughter I love her regardless of what she wears, the spots on her face or the thickness of her thighs, it’s never 100% certain she understands or believes me. That’s the benchmark, in my mind: you do it one person at a time. Start with yourself, and then try and make other people understand what you’re trying to say. Make sure that, when you do, it is accompanied by an openness and honesty that allows you to be clear and concise. Effectively, it means opening yourself to ridicule and scorn, and for those of us who are sensitive to personal attack, that can be a tough ask. However, to survive in the Real World, that’s what it takes. If you decide to put yourself out there, the consequences are just this. You want to make a difference? You will get hurt. Then you have to decide if that’s worth the effort or not.

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If there is one consistent takeaway from all of this, it is that you can forgive others if you wish. However, there are situations and relationships where it is absolutely, positively the best thing for both parties that you never see each other again. Blocks are what they are, court orders and everything else exist because one day, you will encounter the person for whom reason, common sense and decency simply do not exist. There are all the shades in between, but just because your mate’s now great friends with their ex does not mean you are the same. Life works for everyone in a different way, and the trick it seems to me is how you manage to accommodate everything, rather than excluding all the stuff you hate.

I doubt I’ll ever work it out, either.

Sabotage

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The Internet is a great place, we all know this. However, like any massive playground where mob rule will undoubtedly apply if you screw up, there is NEVER a guarantee that people will play nicely, follow rules or indeed do what you want them to. That means that, if you’re trying to exploit any section within that playground, you need to do your homework REALLY carefully. Twitter’s been making new strides into ‘selling’ their marketplace this year, after disappointing previous attempts to find consistent ways of making money from the platform. Their latest adventure, on paper, looked like it might have some merit.

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For most ‘normal’ users, bots are annoying and frustrating things in your timeline, but now they’ve being used to ‘sell’ products through the wonders of interactivity. The concept’s sound enough: create a personal enough experience and people will engage with your campaign, and might end up buying the product as a result. What’s far more likely however, is that people will find a way to exploit your bot and make the company (and your lack of thought plus understanding of the marketplace) appear enormously stupid. This is exactly what happened to a multinational last week. On reflection, they really should have seen the issue coming.

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Sabotage is not the right word here, NetImperative. I really doubt this was individuals approaching a promotion with the agenda of conscious destruction. Walkers allowed people to upload photographs, assuming people would only want to use their own image as a ‘selfie.’ There were no checks and balances that pictures being provided were suitable. Using images of convicted criminals is what will happen when people grasp you didn’t think through the consequences as a company, and the Internet decides to show up your stupidity.

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I find it increasingly frustrating how the Internet is portrayed as the enemy by people who don’t grasp the first clue about how it works. Politicians assuming that this is where extremism happens don’t grasp that terrorism isn’t just undertaken by one easily identifiable group of individuals. If all you see is isolated, unrelated problems having single solutions, that the only way to fight to be right is to defeat those that are wrong… it is like the arguments I have with my kids. They don’t do subtle: I either told them to do it or I didn’t, asking them to consider subtlety is largely lost. However, on platforms such as the Internet, reality is no longer about one thing at a time. If you can’t multi-task, or consider that some people will be doing four or five things simultaneously whilst at the same time looking for ways to exploit your lack of foresight? You’re going to get burnt, just like Walkers.

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Ironically, talking to friends on Twitter, we saw this coming. Maybe there is money to be made in the future being a Freelance Provocatrix, driving my three wheeled tricycle from company to organisation, warning them of the dangers of not thinking your marketing strategy through online. However well you think you know the Internet?

They’ll always have the capacity to surprise you.

Time

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My life is coming to a fairly significant crossroads. In just over a month, I commit myself at 50 to becoming my own arbiter, attempting to create a new career as a 21st Century Nonconformist. In a World where so many shout their mantras into the ether, which some believe rotates far too closely around circles of electronic Hell: will I be seen as any different to the heretics and fools that embrace diversity, speeding us all towards the World’s end? This historical period is as close to chaos as many will remember, but for me I am reminded first of the early 1980’s and before the 1970’s: the Cold War and the Three Day Week are memories I carry a world away from what now passes for normal daily life. If the last few days of dreams are any indicator, my subconscious grasps only too readily that these are turbulent times ahead.

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I have always been considered as a troublemaker: however, I never really wholeheartedly embraced the concept of rebellion until I hit my late twenties. I’ve come to most things later than others, I realise now because of the ability to properly grasp implication behind those actions involved. With the benefit of time, an environment was created which allowed me to both develop and evolve at a pace that suited mind and body, and that was not dictated by circumstance. Only now is it becoming apparent how useful that has become in order to be able to see a larger picture. It is also a daily reminder of just how lucky I am as a white, middle-aged woman to have the opportunity to begin with.

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If I went to the Bank on June 1st and asked for a loan to become a full-time digital writer, they’d laugh at me. I could submit articles to a hundred online sites and be rejected for every single one. This is a profession that is so subjective as for it to be impossible to quantify what matters on any given day: the way in which we devour, create and even transmit our communications alters sometimes on a daily basis. My online newspaper of choice doesn’t simply provide written commentary any more, there are short video ‘articles’ peppered amongst the headlines. If you want a novel to be a success, having robots recognise your website is as important as a set of good reviews. My ability to communicate in 140 character bursts is as important as long form mastery, and textspeak. It isn’t about being ‘down with the kids’ and more either, there are languages for every part of the Web. If you don’t know your Deplorables from the Untouchables? You won’t last long in the Digital Wild West.

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What I bring to the table in this Digital relationship is time: not only have I been here since inception, but I’ve grown with trends and diversification. I am very much anti Facebook and pro Twitter, but it doesn’t mean I don’t grasp the commercial implications of both. I may avoid SnapChat because of the filters and vanity, but it doesn’t take an idiot to grasp how significant the platform is for a generation of users, for whom instant information is key. Learning how to be a better person might seem a waste of time in a place where nobody needs to know who you are, but when you’re willingly giving away personal details to anyone with a contact form? Consequences will matter. In fact, there will be a generation of Internet users for which the repercussions of digital immersion will only truly become apparent if we can survive the next forty years without the Planet disintegrating around us, mostly because lots of people failed to pay attention to Science when it mattered. Of all of this, in the digital world around us, a grasp of Biology, Physics, Chemistry and every sub-branch in between is more important now than it has ever been.

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I’d love to say that telling stories is the real reason I want to be a writer, and although that is true, I’ve realised in the last few years it isn’t all that now matters. I can still spin fictions in the manner I choose, but not at the expense of ignoring bigger stories. The Internet of Words is my way to do many things at once: fulfil my dreams, yes, but also expand the potential of others, because without learning to better communicate as a planet, we are all doomed to failure. It cannot just be any more that you work towards your own ends, making individual success matter. Without everybody being able to win, frankly, there’s not much left to live for. If you think the future is living in your own, safe and consequence free bubble, I suspect there’s some major shocks coming very soon indeed. One of the races in my favourite computer games have a phrase: ‘Time is money, friend’ and this morning I realised that’s more true on an intellectual level than I’d ever previously grasped. The time I have lived is indeed worth something, what I have left to use so precious that not a moment should be wasted.

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I’m now sitting on a lovely pile of CoPromote reach and on Monday I’ve decided to use the IoW site to officially launch my concept to a bunch of total strangers. I have no idea how this will go down and frankly, I’m not that worried if the interest is minimal. What matters most is having the confidence to stand and fall on an idea, and nothing else. Bringing unique perspective is what I’ve always done best, and I’ve ever been afraid of being unpopular as a result. After all, as I never grow tired of reminding anyone who’ll listen, the reason why you fail is to learn how to succeed. Once you know what not to do, the options become less complex to grasp.

Then all you need is courage to take that first step.

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Rupert Murdoch’s been around a long time. He’s a shrewd businessman and his media empire is, like it or not, as much a part of my ongoing existence as the three times weekly milk delivery and today’s trip to the supermarket. However, I don’t have to like that, and I am now especially dismayed that of all the people that could have been picked to speak on a major US network behalf of London, his organisation decided to choose the woman who, as we have spoken of before in this Parish, is hardly an ambassador for anything. In the interests of balance therefore, and because I hold a public platform, let me put a few things straight.

Some people MIGHT be cowed, but many others are defiant, confident and reassured at the actions of both the Police, NHS and counter-terrorism services. Many people believe that Tobias Ellwood (born in the USA) is an absolute hero, and hope that if we were the one stabbed in a public place, someone as selfless and brilliant as him would be the person who would come to our rescue. However shoddy and underhand Teresa May might have been in Prime Minister’s Question Time mere hours previously, she did a better job of sounding like she was in charge than Cameron ever did in his entire tenure, and her speeches both last night and this morning have a genuine ring of determination. Yeah, she could be a credible actress, but maybe giving her the benefit of the doubt at this moment is acceptable.

Admittedly, there could be those who are afraid this morning too, but not of terrorism. The guy who did this didn’t check his laptop into the hold of a flight from the Middle East to get here. This isn’t someone who appeared out of left field either: the security services knew who he was. This wasn’t terrorism so much as opportunism from someone who will now be remembered for years to come as the man who killed a policeman in the Houses of Parliament. As far as making a name for yourself goes, that’s a pretty terminal approach. PC Keith Palmer was 48, slightly older than my brother. He’d been an officer for 15 years and was part of the Metropolitan Police’s parliamentary and diplomatic protection command. Palmer and Ellwood will be the lasting takeaway for me in all of this: two heroes, in differing guises, who should never have had to have suffered any of what they have and now will as a result of another British born man’s actions.

Oh, and I’m absolutely determined, galvanised and totally united this morning, over quite a few issues. People like Ms Hopkins don’t ever speak for me, at any point ever. Networks like Fox News in the US run sensationalist, often borderline fictional reporting to maintain a reputation for journalism long upheld by Murdoch’s other newspapers and media outlets, and I’m even more determined never to allow that form of ‘news’ to be taken seriously. I’m pretty convinced that if Donald Trump’s son thinks tweeting the Mayor of London over ANYTHING counts as diplomacy in the current climate, he needs to go back to being a male model (or is that not the one who’s NOT sitting on a tree stump in all those memes, I get confused.) Mostly this morning the position is simple: stop doing stupid shit so that people pay you attention.

Nobody speaks for anyone at a distance. Those with a proven record of exploiting situations will continue to do so as long as they’re allowed to get away with it. The only sure fire way to ensure people are held accountable is to do that yourself. Yes, you can be kind and understanding, but if somebody says something without thinking and is clearly talking only to deflect interest towards themselves? CALL THEM OUT. You can do this without resorting to libel. You don’t have to threaten anybody ever, either, because if you do that ends up making your actions no more noble than the person you’re throwing rocks at. Everybody has a voice on Social media, so let’s start using those for good and not evil, shall we?

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This is your daily reminder not to believe everything you see on Twitter or are told on the news, and to verify your reports from trusted and approved sources before deciding the Sky is falling. It is a reality check that tells you that home born nationals are just as likely to be as dangerous as anyone who arrived here from overseas. Most importantly, in the era when everybody can speak for themselves, that’s what more people should really be doing. If you don’t think your version of the Truth is being taken seriously, write it down and get it seen. If you don’t like how Netflix has taken Asian manga and turned it into middle class entertainment? Bitching about it on Twitter might get you noticed, but you’re far more likely to gain traction with a blog or Tumblr post that can be read and retweeted in the right places. Let us not forget that the successful challenge to Article 50’s triggering, which resulted in Parliament’s involvement, came about as a result of a blog post.

If you don’t think somebody is speaking for you? Time to do that for yourself.

Up and Down

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the wonderful world of unplanned Interval Training.

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I didn’t go out this morning to do anything other than an hour on the Treadmill, let’s be honest. Normally that involves some brisk walking and a bit of running, but today I decided after a 5 minute warm-up to change things up a bit. I have a Cardio exercise that happens on a Weights day that mixes 300m of running with a 100m ‘rest’ but that’s not stop then start, it remains walking pace, and a brisk one at that. It’s what pro trainers will refer to as active recovery: a way to help you increase stamina during what would effectively be a rest day from intense physical activity. Today however I decided that I’d push myself into something more than just making a token effort. That meant 500m at 6kph and 500m at 8kph, which is less than my new ‘maximum’ speed and has effectively replaced the ‘jog’ I would do when learning how to run correctly.

The first 500m was horrible, as is always the case, and the second (as my heart rate attests) was harder and then on 2500-3000m? It got easier: I hit a Runner’s High and suddenly, amazingly, I was in a place I’ve not managed to reach since the high impact journey began. As I came down to relax I didn’t, as (again) the heart rate demonstrates, because what I could easily have done is do a full mile without stopping. That was a surprise, and the next two 500m bursts were similarly simple, and I pushed hard on both… and then, unsurprisingly, I just ran out of fuel completely. The last plateau is a period of incline just to keep my heart up, whilst my lungs recovered… and then my hour was up.

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It must have been effective because I was dripping with sweat once I’d done, and was asked by a member of staff if I was okay. I don’t look good after exercise: my face, chest and back were still bright red for an hour after I’d done. In terms of active recovery that was probably too much work, but as an exercise in interval training it was a standard I can see myself now working towards every Sunday. My normal Monday PT has been scheduled to Friday next week, to accommodate the first of my son’s GCSE assessments. That gives me a Push day tomorrow and a Pull on Wednesday, but the need to look at active recovery in between. I won’t do this again any more than weekly, but it does now make me consider what can be done in the days in between.

When you go into situations not expecting anything at all, it is often the moment to surprise yourself. I know today an important line was crossed, if only because I stopped worrying about anything except running, and on reflection I didn’t do much of that to begin with. It just happened: I did the miles and nothing was a problem. I didn’t feel out of breath, or uncomfortable. For a moment, I was like everybody else exercising and able to hold my own without my brain scuppering the entire endeavour. Lungs and body combined to produce the best session of off-day exercise I’ve probably managed since I started this journey nearly a year ago. The next step, is to keep doing the same until it becomes habit, and then move on.

You know, I think I might be capable of pulling this off.

The Sound of Silence

Occasionally, I’ll end up in a situation with the kids where I’m forced to make a difficult decision. Inevitably, this will boil down to their word against mine in any given scenario: you were asked to do X, why are we at Y? Once upon a time I’d attempt to assert a measure of authority to remind them that at some point, they will need to deal with contention, and how you react to that is often more important than the argument to begin with. However, you reach a point with a young person where it becomes obvious that forcing a point will only make a situation worse. In fact, you could end up causing more damage in the long term than would ever occur even if the issue is dealt with incorrectly. So, as a parent, you learn to step back. You keep thoughts to yourself. Then, with the benefit of distance, you can grasp what will be the best course of action moving forward.

Watching The Orange Twat settle into the White House has been at times terrifying and laughable, especially as it has become apparent he’s actively responding to Social media’s comments on his actions. Yesterday it became apparent that the full force of that ‘scrutiny’ is beginning to exert some influence:

It’s the equivalent of the entitled teen who can’t understand why, when he’s the best he can possibly be, that he’s not getting either the credit or the changes he demands because, honestly, that’s all that matters here, right? The self is all, because as President (obviously) you are the centre of your Universe. That works, right up to the point where it becomes apparent that maybe, just maybe, you’ve not been elected for your own reward. You do this not to become the leader of millions of people, or just to feel good about yourself and be cool at places and show off how great you are. It doesn’t work unless you start giving shit back, but more importantly nothing changes if you can’t become a useful part of the place you live in. Assuming the world revolves around you is beyond dangerous. Suddenly, everybody becomes a critic overnight. The more you shut down bad press, the more anonymous sources spring up to discredit… and then you realise the only way to shut people up for good… and nobody wants to even think about where that train of thought might end.

Sometimes, the best thing you’ll ever do is walk away and not have the fight.

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As you do, you hear the person whisper under their breath that you’re a fucking idiot, and have no idea what’s being discussed. How can you understand what’s wrong when you refuse to accept that your point of view is flawed? Isn’t it simply easier to pretend the argument never happened to begin with? Well, yes and no, because when you’re fairly confident that you do have a point and perhaps there is more going on in the World than just this one flashpoint… this is a really tough ask, most days. As a parent you know what growing up was like. You can’t get a child to grasp your view of it because, in most cases, it’s a world away from their own perception of reality. So, do you push it or do you walk away? Sometimes, your inability or reticence to engage can be enough to make your child think that perhaps there is something up. It’s not a given, though. However, after I’d seen Executive orders signed in the Oval Office with a posse of grim male bystanders and watched countless women on Social media hate the decisions made over their own reproductive rights by a bunch of guys… lo and behold, women started showing up in the background of shots. This doesn’t make pillaging native lands or shutting down environmental projects any less galling but HEY we got the memo about needing diversity in the room, so come on, cut us a fucking break already.

There’s a piece of video I can’t bring myself to post here from the Inauguration. It’s when The Orange Twat turns away from his beautiful, elegant First Lady wife and the smile she’s saved just for him vanishes in a heartbeat, like a lightbulb being switched off. It is the moment I realise that even being close to someone is no guarantee they will ever listen to sense or reason. It is the reinforcement of the understanding that in the patriarchy that is now running the USA, women don’t stand a fucking chance. This man’s Campaign manager might be female, but she’s never going to be given anything but a notion of control. There is no equality here. There is simply a desire to roll back any good that the previous Administration did, and stamp agendas to the country that further prove how wonderful the President is, and how much money he will make from being in office. This will not be the most successful Presidency in anything except financial gain. I cannot believe, having watched the last year play out, this man cares about anyone or anything except himself.

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I interact every day with people exactly like this. The world will never revolve around anyone except them. It is depressing beyond belief but inevitably it boils down to someone at some stage in their childhood not pointing out that life isn’t just about what you want. Yes, this matters and it is important, but never at the expense of understanding you are part of a whole, a planet full of people who often don’t have a voice, or are suppressed from even expressing an opinion. The bigger picture matters more, ultimately, than anything you might want or need when all is said and done. It is only a game, nobody makes you play it. You don’t need to be either rich or famous to be happy. Popularity is a game you would be best never to play to begin with. On the flip side of course, people I disagree with see me in exactly the same way. I’m the selfish one. I’m the person who doesn’t care about them.

It’s really easy to blame someone else for your failings, far harder to accept you’re less than perfect. I know my flaws, and I’m never going to be a perfect person. I have to work every day, long and hard, sometimes to even keep my head above water. This isn’t about winning, or who’s the best, and most certainly has nothing to do with belittling anyone else. The problem here is self-awareness. I know what’s wrong with me.

Can you say the same about yourself?