datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Month: June 2017

Weekly Links #21

Another bunch of links. An interesting  mix this week, from Star Trek to abortion to patriotism and finally to the question of who should the Left, in the UK, cater for. That question appears in the last two links. They are somewhat in opposition though not written in opposition as such. It’s a subject that interests me a lot. As a very recent mover to the Left, I am enjoying grappling with what I mean by ‘a recent mover to the Left,’ just how Left have I moved and what is the Left. Then my brain hurts and I remember there’s always Star Trek. But it will be new Star Trek. Will it be dark and challenging as one expects from a good drama in this Golden Age for TV or will it be Star Trek, replete with easy answers? I don’t even know what I want to be honest. Which makes my brain hurt and then I go back to solving the World’s problems from my keyboard. It’s a full life really.

As always, feel free to subscribe to my blog and perhaps even have a look at some of my published works on Amazon.

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“Showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg — working from a creative roadmap laid out by executive producer Bryan Fuller — are delivering a Trek saga that gets rid of one the franchise’s decades-old limitations in an effort to evolve the series.” Star Trek: Discovery to ditch a long frustrating Trek rule

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“DS9 frames terrorism differently especially since we have a character that is a regular member of the crew. Kira is in a moral grey area in this episode. It makes that a difficult place to be in as she is with the provisional government and works with Starfleet.” Star Trek Redux: Terrorism on DS9

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“There has never been a day since Alan’s birth I haven’t thought of him. Not one. His beautiful face is always before me even if his photographs aren’t in my wallet or at work. I could be enjoying a meal with my wife and friends, on holidays, at work, reading a paper, and I see him. I never want to forget him because his life broke my heart and taught me some valuable lessons about life and people.” A death in the family: The short life of my beautiful son Alan

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“She said these contraceptives are reliable and don’t rely on people’s actions for them to work, like condoms and the contraceptive pill do. Family Planning is hopeful more people are getting education, as well as hoping more people are delaying their first time having sex, Ms Edmond said. Other countries are also showing a decrease in abortions on an annual basis, she said.” NZ abortion rate lowest in over 25 years, with long-term contraception said to be influencing factor

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“Anniversaries give rise to wistful reminiscences that tap into what Perry Anderson once termed “the history of possibility”: none more so than the Russian Revolution of 1917, though the allure of “October” has greatly diminished since the collapse of the state it spawned. The global triumph of liberal capitalism has distilled the revolution – and the idea of revolution more generally – into a single frightening adjective: totalitarianism.” Red mist – the legacy of the October revolution

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“Labour has to build a new labour interest out of these estranged class and ethnic cultures. But Labour’s membership has been increasingly concentrated amongst the higher educated and in the globally connected places of the economic winners. As the party has become more socially liberal it has grown more culturally exclusive, and so has found itself estranged from the class it once represented.” A Labour politics of belonging

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“The contemporary debate about Britishness is framed, of course, by the political and cultural transformation being wrought by Brexit. For opponents of the EU, Brexit allows the nation to take back sovereignty and reassert its identity. Opponents of Brexit deride such desires as xenophobic, driven by a compulsion to turn away from the world. Neither side seem willing to grapple with the entangled character of our identities.” for common values, against patriotism

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On Noveling: World Building

Well I finally finished the planning portion of ‘Hidden Messages’ and have begun the actual writing part. And it is going well. While it was frustrating to plan in such detail, I’m glad for every hour spent in that process. The amount of unnecessary time and words it is going to save me (wait for the blog post where I discover the planning was a waste of time, that’ll be a doozy) will, in my estimation, be enormous.

So, now I can write a little bit about one of my favourite components of novel writing, World Building. I like writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, so World Building is something I either get good at or just don’t bother writing. I think however, even if I wasn’t determined to be a writer, I’d still indulge in World Building. Ever since reading ‘Lord of the Rings’ I’ve imagined other Worlds. I’ve populated them, given them cultures and religions, and then made things as difficult as possible for them, just to see what happened.

Good sinister fun, but daunting to transmit with words. When I began writing I had two ways to deal with how intimidating and technically challenging this was. In ‘The Easers’ I imagined a very small World and told the story within that small space. In ‘The Bucket’ I told a very small story, within a much larger World. The World of ‘The Bucket’ is one that is almost fully realised inside my head, but at the time of writing ‘The Bucket, I didn’t feel able to visit it with tens of thousands of words. Thus, the brief visit, in the dark, that was Captain Yilda’s time in the dungeon.

Even ‘Hidden Messages’ is not a World wholly spun from my imagination. There are aliens but not as one might imagine, and that’s all I’m saying about that. The novel I will write after this is set in Kerry but the one after that, Gandalf willing, will be a full length novel set in Captain Yilda’s World. And the reason I’ve put it so far into the future is because I need to get a lot better at World Building.

There are two aspects to World Building. The first is all about inventing to the full extent of your imagination. And then imposing rules, consistency and a relatable logic on the World you’ve invented. It’s fun. And depending on your particular interests you’ll either concentrate on languages (Tolkien) or politics, cultures, relationships, economics, military conflict and magical systems etc. But no matter what gets you going the most, all the sociological, anthropological, geological and a dozen other ‘ogicals’ have to be accounted for. I bloody love it.

The second aspect, however, is where the writing skill comes into play. In planning your novel, you have to decide what is the barest of barest minimum of information the reader will require to understand the World in which your story is being told. Just think Tolkien, then do the opposite. Anyway, if your novel is a huge success you will get silly money to write books that contains all the World Building stuff you had to leave out. Console yourself with that. Until then, minimum of information necessary is the key. And even then, it is a lot of information to have to relay.

I recently read, ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet’ by Becky Chambers and I was thinking about ‘Hidden Messages’ a lot at the time. I found myself examining her World Building. It was flawless. It was seamless. It was smooth and sneaky and surreptitious and it was delicious. Alien Worlds, future humans, alien species, interstellar conflicts, technology, economies and cultures all drip fed, while the reader is getting on with the story.

That’s the skill, insinuating your bloody enormous info-dump into a story, while avoiding the dreaded ‘e’ word. For exposition is death. Yes, Tolkien expositioned like it was 1999, but that was Tolkien. Even Terry Pratchett didn’t expect his readers to endure exposition and he was writing about the Discworld. We did end up buying the maps, cookbooks, atlases and encyclopaedias though.

And to make it even more difficult, you need to avoid exposition while also finding a way to pack the necessary information into the opening few paragraphs, pages and chapters. You have to find a way to situate the reader in the World you’ve invented without overloading them with information, because otherwise they will simply leave.

Most importantly, however, it’s fun. I’m surprised that I think so, but it is. In ‘Hidden Messages’ there is so much I know about the World that is informing the story but you’ll never see it. I, as the writer, get to decide that and then live or die by those decisions. It’s heady stuff to be honest.

So, that’s my take on World Building. I hope you enjoyed it. I have no idea what I’ll wrote about next week. Hopefully it won’t be a whiny 500 hundred words on why I can’t write novels. But it is a possibility.

PS Just in case you’re wondering, I love Tolkien. I write because of Tolkien. It’s just that he did everything wrong.

Previous: Want to Write Now                    Next: There Be Progress Here

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Weekly Links #20

I’ve been meaning to get back to this ‘weekly links’ series of posts for some time. I think it is now the right time. My mental health has improved immeasurably and I’m making actual progress on my novel. So, I’m re-committing myself to this links round-up. Beats a whole bunch of retweets I suppose. One of the things I love most about twitter is that I get to read articles I would never have discovered for myself. The following are the ones I found most interesting this week.

And feel free to subscribe to my blog and perhaps even have a look at some of my published works on Amazon.

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“Even as this incredible academic story nears its climax, darkness shrouds the manuscript itself. In 2015, as Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen, the manuscript’s caretakers in Sana’a fled, locking the manuscript in a secret safe that can only be opened if all of them gather again. The longer the manuscript remains in the safe, the more rapidly it will deteriorate: climate control is essential to its preservation.” Decades after earliest Quran was discovered, scholars to share full text of the Sana’a manuscript

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“IN THE UNITED States, Gay Pride marches were triggered by the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which were a huge turning point for LGBTQ history. After ongoing harassment by police, a group of LGBTQ people (who were predominantly transgender women of colour) took a stand at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village.” Why we need to reconsider how we view Gay Pride Festivals

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“The House-passed version of the American Health Care Act would strip $834 billion from Medicaid, deprive 23 million Americans of health insurance over a decade and spike premiums in the individual insurance market by 20 percent in the first year alone, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.” WTF Is Going on With the Secret Senate Version of Trumpcare?

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” No. Go crawl back to the time capsule you came out of. Ninety-five percent of Americans have pre-marital sex. Nine months of unwanted pain and possibly death is not an acceptable punishment for being unlucky while engaging in an almost universally practiced past time. It is the punishment for 0 percent of men, which is the correct percentage.” WHY A PRO-LIFE WORLD HAS A LOT OF DEAD WOMEN IN IT

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“Instead, pornography trains us to redirect sexual desire as mimetic desire. That is, the sociological theory — and marketers’ dream — that humans learn to want what they see. In porn terms: If you build it, they will come.” Pornhub Is the Kinsey Report of Our Time

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“This transporter room is quite a departure from typical Trek transporters, with large dishes behind each platform. The large dishes are perhaps meant to show that the Shenzhou is older/less advanced.” First Look At ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Transporter Room And Phasers

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On Noveling: Want To Write This Now

The more I learn about writing a novel, the more I realise I don’t know. And the more I realise I don’t know, the more vulnerable I am to trying to know more instead of writing more. Which is leading me to the added problem of knowing so much about the novel I have yet to write, that it may no longer interest me.

This is where I’m heading. Though I do not say this as an expression of regret. While frustrating, it is also proving to be fascinating. My story, ‘Hidden Messages’ is now almost entirely clear to me. I have written three thousand words of plans and summaries. It’s coherent, structured and I think it has the potential to hold the attention of the reader.

The problem is, the more I delve into it, the more I understand how it must follow a certain path. The more I feel bogged down in, if you will, editing before the fact. I am seeking to hone it to perfect sharpness, before forging it.

And I say this again, this is not a source of regret. I wish I had undertaken this process before writing my previous novel. I think it would’ve been a better novel for it. I may have saved myself a year of plodding and dead ends. Or, and this is what concerns me about ‘Hidden Messages’ it may have remained unwritten as I tried to perfect it before writing it.

I’ll say this for the third time, though it screams of too much protesting, I do not regret this. I don’t regret it for three reasons. The first reason being that if and when I write this novel, it will be a novel. It will be a novel that from the first draft to the last, will require less hacking at than the application of polish. The terror of the rewrite need not sap my resolve.

Secondly, the novel I write after this will be better. I already know its name. I already know the characters. And even though it will be more complex than this one, armed with what I’ve already learned, I know how best to grapple with it. Precipitous pitfalls are replaced by scalable precipices.

Lastly and most importantly, I feel like a writer again. For a long time, I felt like an imposter whenever I saw my Twitter profile. Or worse, when anyone asked how the writing was going. I hadn’t realised I was not fully recovered from the disappointment of my previous novel.

I’d always regarded myself as thick-skinned. I’m not. I crave success and recognition. When that didn’t happen, I took it personally. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t realise the bang my ego and confidence had taken. I couldn’t understand why I was finding writing a second novel so difficult.

Intellectually, I knew rejection is nine-tenths of the writing experience but I had no defences against it. The only downside to being a cocky and self-entitled man, I suppose. I know that if and when ‘Hidden Messages’ fails to bring me status and riches I’ll be crushed. But I’ll know it is happening. I’ll be prepared. I’ll have already begun novel three. I have to do this because I already know what novels, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten are. And the only thing, right now, that’s preventing me from writing them is writing this one.

Previous: Still Not About World Building

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A Measure Of Success

It’s difficult to know how to assess the long career of Enda Kenny. He has been a professional politician for almost my entire life. And I’m old. I suppose the fact he managed to keep getting elected for that length of time is something of a success. Though just citing his longevity might appear to be unnecessarily churlish. He did rise, quietly, ever so quietly, to the leadership of his party. And he did manage to survive both the public’s and his own party’s indifference long enough for his only obstacle to high office to spectacularly self-destruct. He was the head of this nation’s government for six straight years. An unheard-of length of time for someone from his party. This is unquestionably something that can be described as success.

He rose to be head of government after his only credible rivals for the position destroyed both the Irish economy and themselves in an orgy of complacent incompetence. He headed a government with an overwhelming majority, tasked with governing a nation that had careered itself into a crisis of existential severity. Through his efforts, eye-wateringly stern compromises with our international friends and swingeing cuts to the living standards of people who probably didn’t vote for him, Ireland survived as an independent (or as independent a tiny nation wholly dependent on trade with bigger neighbours can be deemed independent) nation. The nation retained what nominal freedom to conduct its own affairs that it always had. This is not nothing.

He then faced the electorate with this success as his badge, and they went a long way towards removing him from government. Only retaining his role as head of government by gaining the support of the party that had destroyed the nation’s economy. This resurgent party, whose blithe ignorance of economic good practice had heralded Kenny’s initial rise, now decided that their mess required another term of Kenny to clean up or, at the very least, be erased from public consciousness. A second term, even a cobbled together one, reliant on those who went so close to destroying the nation, is still a second term as head of government. This must be deemed a success.

After six years of Kenny as head of government, Ireland is undoubtedly more stable than it was. It is more prosperous and there is less unemployment. The sort of unrest one would associate with the self-inflicted economic castastrophe we visited upon ourselves never materialised. And during his six years as head of government, Kenny never found it necessary to change anything. As an amalgam of institutions and competing interest groups, Ireland is as it was before he rose to his position as head of government with a huge majority. Maintaining the status quo can be described as a success.

Maintaining the status quo did come at a cost. Though a small one. Those who depended on the state for support were protected from the worst of the economic ordeal being endured. Except those deemed too young to matter. Being rational people they got the message and can now be found sunning themselves in Australia. Poverty did increase. Hospital waiting lists did grow ever longer. Homelessness became uncomfortably visible. Our debasing deference to transnational corporations even turned the heads of judges. But the status quo was maintained. Ireland is now very much as it was and even the desire to change has been successfully enervated.

There were social issues that almost tripped him up. Issues he managed to negotiate without risk nor commitment. Marriage equality took everyone by surprise by not being controversial at all. He made eloquent noises at the Church of Rome while carefully ensuring it retained all its power and access. He used his huge majority to allow 26 abortions a year in Ireland, while offering 14 years in prison for anyone else who dared. And managed a form of filibuster through consultation so as not to have to deal with this issue again as leader of this nation’s government. And he managed to leave refugees asylum-seekers languishing throughout his entire term. So much potential unpleasantness, successfully negotiated. Will his successor, as head of government, be as skilled or indeed as fortunate?

How does one attribute success or failure to someone who is so clearly a success within the parameters he himself has set? Even in this he is a success. He achieved everything a successful politician would deem a worthy ambition. The nation, whose government he led, is under almost all metrics, better off now than it was after his opponents imploded themselves and the country. He was head of government for six years. This is not something that even the most ambitious of his party would dream of. Yet he did it. He left before he was pushed. A rarity for a politician who achieves such high office. How does one attribute success or failure to someone who is so clearly a success within the parameters he himself has set?

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This Is What I Believe

These are some things I believe to be true. Identity Politics is inimical to the progress of our species. Identity Politics is a necessary protection for people who don’t look like me. Our species is doomed. The world could and should be a lot better than it is. The world could be a lot worse than it is. The world is a lot worse for a lot of other people.

I’ve spent a week, many thousands of words, over several failed blog posts, trying to sort out my thoughts on the recent dispute within the Irish left. Some working-class white men (of the left) have attacked Identity Politics. Some women (of the left) have responded by calling on men (of the left) to recognise and accept the privilege afforded them as men. It has become quite nasty. There has even been poetry.

The tag line of my blog is ‘less about the world and more about me’ so please understand this post is just me trying to work out me. I’m a straight, able-bodied, working-class, white man. Until very recently I was on the right of the political divide. Socially liberal yes, but very conservative on the economy. And while I retain the belief that tamed capitalism is safer and better (mostly for me) than either neo-liberalism and socialism, I do now consider myself to be of the left, even if just barely.

When this dispute kicked off I experienced a brief flash of schadenfreude. There go the lefties eating each other again. It took me a few moments to remember that a lot of these lefties were friends of mine, people I respected, agreed with and even loved. It took me a few moments to remember, I’m one of them, even if just barely.

If a gun was put to my head and given three seconds to decide what ideology, in its purest form, was to be imposed on this world for the next several centuries, I would say, libertarianism. That is who and what I am at my most base level. And even though I know intellectually that libertarianism is a one-way ticket to dystopia, it is the ideal that has most influenced my values.

My thoughts on sexual and reproductive rights, gender and sexuality rights, nationalism, police powers, the death penalty and torture all have their genesis in libertarianism. Simply put, I was of the opinion (and still am) that a State that takes for itself the power to say a man may not marry another man, or a woman does not have physical autonomy or we must swear allegiance to a flag, can similarly insist that men with blue eyes are to have their ears chopped off, women over six-foot-tall are to be burned as witches and that we will invade the country next to us because they think their flag is prettier than ours.

It was a libertarianism leavened with Enlightenment universalism and a faith in the perfectibility of our species. I just do not care about your race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, language, gender, ancestry, sexuality, age, physical or mental abilities, ideals, place of birth, place of residence, class or profession. There is one human race, one planet and each of us has but one life. And given the opportunity to thrive, we would do so.

They are good values. They are values I’d comfortably put against the most socialist of socialists and not feel overmatched. The problem, however, begins with practicalities. I remember when gender quotas were first suggested. For some reason, and I don’t remember how or why, I didn’t rely on autopilot. I did a bit of reading. The logic of gender quotas was, to me, inescapable. Leave things as they are and half the population of this nation would probably never achieve the level of representation and power their numbers would suggest they are entitled to. Someone, and in this case, it would have to be the hated State, must interfere in the natural order, if things were to ever improve.

Because of some of the people I was speaking to at that time, I began to read a little about feminism and intersectionality. I remember feeling very uncomfortable about intersectionality. Again, the logic of it seemed to me obvious and consistent. The problem of course is that it is socialism in its purest form. Shudder. And then I began to read about privilege and Identity Politics.

And the crash happened. The economy was run off a cliff. I’d supported every single policy that led to the crash. I was tempted to excuse and interpret and pretend but the facts were the facts. I could no longer sustain the belief that the State does best when it does nothing. I realised that left to our own devices, we will run the economy over a cliff every fucking time we get the opportunity. You just can’t trust people. I was forced to accept that the State is the least bad entity for interfering with an economy for the purposes of turning it away from that cliff. The least bad entity for using the spoils of that economy to ensure that everyone has a place to live, access to education and health services, and if they need it, extra supports.

You just can’t trust people. And you can’t trust the State. So, who do I trust? That’s been my struggle for the last couple of years. It’s why I am now, a former member of both the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael, on the left, even if just barely.

And yet none of this explains privilege. I don’t like admitting to my several privileges. There was a time I was one of them capital ‘A’ kind of atheists. There’s nothing more appealing to a straight, white man than the opportunity to play at being in a minority. I got to speak in schools and on the radio and write endless blog posts about the oppression I was experiencing. I still shudder with pleasure at how liberating it was to feel oppressed. I don’t care how much empathy or imagination you have, you’ll never know the luxuriant pleasure there is in playing at being oppressed.

And the only reason I’m not now a small ‘c’ conservative, supporting lower taxes and struggling to hide my scorn for those living off of my taxes is that I’ve had to accept that not everyone gets to grow up bullet-proof like me. And I hate it. I sometimes long for that lost ignorance. I hate the struggle to understand that I’m not normal, only fortunate to have been born when and where I was born. And the gender I was born as. I hate struggling to understand that I’m not special, merely the product of what has always existed and continues to exist.

Take away normal and special, all that’s left is result. And that is anathema to ego.

When I was right-wing I had a naive faith in humanity both individually and as a species. A belief that given the correct circumstances, a rational and enlightened self-interest would save our species from its prolonged and unnecessary squalor, both material and intellectual. If we could just shed the nonsensical divisions of nation, tribe, sexuality, religion etc and instead embrace true universalism then our species might finally have a chance at real social progress, end poverty, deal with climate change and stop all wars etc. You know, utopia and shit.

I’m no longer that idealistic. Our species continues to be resolutely nasty and brutish. And I avoid most of that nastiness and brutality because I’m male, white and straight. Yes, I’m working-class, but I have to look very hard and in some very odd places to find myself oppressed.

For most of my adult life I’ve believed in the inevitability of progress; social and material. There was never a time in history that I would have preferred to live in than the present day. Never quite getting that this Golden Age is reserved for only those people who look like me. I require nothing to be sacred, nothing to be safe, there are no words that can wound me and I live always expecting to be treated with the kind of respect I’d thought was everyone’s experience. And I have that dislike for Identity Politics that only a straight white man can have.

I don’t need anything to be sacred, I don’t require safe spaces and there are no words that can wound me. That’s not normal, that’s just my inheritance. I want it to be normal. That desire is now what animates whatever future activism I may get involved with. I’ve given up on utopia, even given up on our species, but I’ve a few more decades left and I’d prefer dedicating at least some of that time to making me and my bullet-proof life normal.

And while I think Identity Politics gets in the way of that probably unattainable goal, I can’t, in good conscious, expect anyone who inhabits those identities to give them up. I’m 43 and I’ve never suffered for being who or what I am. How can I expect people who do suffer for merely existing to shed one of their most important protections just to join me, and people who look like me, in a frankly quixotic attempt to make my privileges the privileges of all?

What kind of madness would it take for someone who doesn’t look like me to try surviving, even in our more liberal West, without someone or something always having your back? I’m white straight, working-class and male. I am so privileged I struggle to even imagine what it must be like to need an identity. I’m a white, working-class man and I’m privileged as fuck.

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