Category: Blog (page 1 of 23)

Why do experiences we’ve never had feel so real in dreams?

I had this weird thought last week after I dreamt that I was licked by a cow in Venice.

Shudder!

This is what I posted up on the old Facebook that morning (because of course everyone in my immediate circle, my Dunbar’s number and beyond, my mum, my son, someone I crossed paths with in 2014 for a week and the people I went to school with needed to know).

My dream

When I woke up, the memory of the sensation of being licked in the face by a cow in Venice was very real. I woke up feeling slightly disgusted. I could still ‘feel’ the sensation of the warm, solid yet a bit fatty tongue moving slowly across my cheek. The tongue (and the cow’s breath) smelt of digesting grass. I could still smell it in the back of my nostrils as I opened my eyes that morning. I could vividly recall the wetness on my cheek after I was licked. It was as if I really had been licked by a cow. The Venice part isn’t so important perhaps. I haven’t been to Venice for over 20 years, whether that is of interest or not I don’t know.

My weird thought is as follows: since I haven’t actually ever been licked by a cow in the face (in Venice or in any other town, city, village, metropolis, or countyside location), how is it that I can recreate it in my dream so well and now describe it as if it really happened? What is it about my imagination that can form such an experience in my head, as if it actually happened? How are we able to ‘remember’ how something feels if we haven’t ever actually felt it in real life?

This also applies to those sorts of dreams we don’t like to talk about in polite company. What I mean by this is dreams where we get a little too familiar than we’d like to in real life with people we have never met perhaps, and certainly, even if we have, never entertained the notion of, familiarity. In my case, I have a list of such ‘lucky’ people: Billy from EastEnders, Jeremy Kyle, a smattering of people I know in the real world who in waking life I wouldn’t ever entertain the notion of a lingering hug never mind anything else, and, lastly, Gordon Brown, the ex-leader of the Labour Party.  So how is it that I can imagine what special hugs with Gordon Brown would feel like if I’ve never met the guy or even partook in special hugs or any other type of hugs with him? How does my brain create sensations which to me are quite sophisticated and detailed, to the extent that in my logical head (the tiny part of the my head that is logical) they need to be experienced to be recreated in the imagination? The mind is a fascinating beast if it has this talent. If we take it as given that the mind really can create (note, not recreate) an event such as being licked by a cow or Gordon Brown in great detail then we really are clever. And therefore can we trust our minds? Is there not the risk of a dream being mistaken for a memory at some point in the future? Will I lie on my death bed and tell my great, great, great grandchildren about the time I met the leader of the Labour Party? I hope not.

Phwoor!

What do the scientists have to say about this? I couldn’t find anything on the World Wide Web to help me here. However, I found one website that claimed that vivid dreams are a sign of mental illness.

I do suspect there is something deeply troubling going on inside my head. But I’m not going to go there, right now. Ignorance is bliss and anyway, I’m tired now.

Washington D.C.

Wide streets
Silent crossings
Relaxed walking
Missing the frenzy of New York
Without the speed walking of New York
No need to rush here, I don’t know why (when politicians seem so frenzied and the running of a country is achieved by workaholics)
Pompous buildings
Neo-classical kitsch? Dare I say that?
Yet it works, it is Washington
‘Look at me!’ the neo-classical buildings scream, so I do and say ‘wow’
Honking horns
Red hand up
Loud, enormous huffy puffy lorries (trucks)
A sense of Trump but a greater sense of neo-liberalism
Speedy taxis
Trees and pavement
Green
Clean
Except the Metro which is grey, grimy and smelly
Intelligence
Hipster bookshops
Bearded hipsters
Skinny ladies who lunch
Bars and good food
IPA with a hint of orange
Books and beer – a good combo
Earnest, young intellectual Americans
Discussing college, work and the books they love
Science and study, not so much art
Health, running, fitbits
Lots of Saturday morning health on display, sweaty pits
Coffee
Homeless friendly, jangling their cups, one man ironically wearing a Trump t-shirt
Dads running with strollers, whooshing past me, sweaty backs, bouncing babies
iPhones
More coffee
Ridiculously pretty houses
Shutters
Georgian style with a authentic yet not at all ‘English’ prettiness
Reminiscent of Anne of Green Gabels and other strong-willed all American young heroines
History, steeped
Politics, leading
Autumn leaves and bright sunshine
The odd cicada in the trees
American drawl, oh so cool and chilled
Shorts, sunglasses, take out coffee
Classical modernist art, not so much contemporary
Heat, so hot, in September
Turrets, so many turrets, why?
Amercan TV – hypnotic – could watch for hours
Medical adverts – sublimely surreal to the point of hilarity
The joy that is people watching
People who interest me, who are they?
I’m not a conversationalist here, there’s too much to see
Do I really need to go back to Newport tomorrow night?

Washington is bizarrely full of turrets

Why I love flying

The nerves
The fresh feeling that doesn’t last the first hour
The seatbelt that must have housed a really skinny Minnie before me
The free newspaper smell
The novelty of crappy airline magazine
The spring loaded pocket
The we aren’t moving
I can still use my phone ‘I’m on a plane!’
The safety bit (I won’t listen, I’m in denial)
The safety bit (I feel like I’m at school so I’ll appear to listen yet will secretly think about rude things)
Phones off. Oh no!
Moving slowly
Like a car
Slowly round, then the bloody hell acceleration
Going up
Sucking sweets with fury
Mesmerising view
Like a child
Or the first time
Bumps
My legs jiggle involuntarily
I grip a hand (anyone will do)
The plane levels
The anxiety eases
Food smells so soon
High heels start marching
Pounding the plane carpet
The bright sun above the layer of white
Like a perfect day that is always there yet rarely seen
Like heaven to a child
Feeling on holiday with constant sunshine
Perfect yet nasty food wrapped in perfect yet nasty plastic
The leftovers from the 1950s – impeccably made up waitresses and beautiful waiters
With neck scarves (who wears those now besides these high fliers)
The tiny round windows with frost on the inside
The wind (am I the only person who suffers from aeroplane wind?)
The luxury of back-to-back films
What to watch first?
The comfort of Big Bang Theory
The knee ache
The elbow ache
The lull of the engine
The excitement of a film that is still in the cinema (even when it is crap)
Sleepy yet no sleep
The extra production of snot (see point above re. wind)
Tiny swoosh toilets that smell of old men’s wee
Curtains
Metal cabinets
The 24-hour day that follows you
The glint of sunlight on the wing
The steadyness
Bumpiness when you’re trying to eat like those scouts on Jim’ll Fix It
The morning people who look like death
The middle bit (five hours plus)
The drag
The boredom
The what ifs
The hypnotic phase I won’t remember
Then I’m conscious
The hell which is 2 hours 55 minutes to go
The map
I LOVE the map
The stats: altitude 12,191 meters, time to destination 1.24, headwind -15mph, outside air temperature -67F, distance travelled 3,909 miles, distance to destination 921km, ground speed 524mph, altitude 39,000ft, distance to destination 584 miles
The little plane inching at 550mph passing towns with interesting names (such as New York)
The smelly feet
The chance to read for 8 hours yet I never do
Eating when told
The trays
The person in front of you leaning as far back as they can (they always do to me)
Wondering about the lives of the other passengers (is this their first time?)
The anxiety (yes, I even secretly like that)
The pull-down window blinds that remind me of my childhood Fisher Price plane
The historic sick bag (are they ever used?)
Earphones that hurt like hell
Nearly there
Not yet
Constant thirst
Yet free wine!
Food again?
Another film?
The boredom
And anticipation
Jostling in my emotions
The journey as adventure, the philosophy of motorcycle maintenance
Plastic cups
Sleeping people with mouths agape
Crinkly pillows
Slippers and tooth brushes
Thin pointless blankets
The between nations feeling
The lawless feeling
Yet you must behave or risk coming straight home
That would be embarrassing
The culture of the airline (Korean Air loves Mr Bean, United Airlines The Big Bang Theory)
The really nearly there
Gentle bleeps
Seatbelts
Eating polo after polo to stop the ears
Prepare for landing
I need a wee
Floating through clouds
Suck a mint or seven
Down
Bumps
My legs involuntarily jiggle
Down
Swing sideways
Cityscape
Wow
Closer
Closer
Suddenly land takes you by surprise
Relief
Phones on
Facebook withdrawal
Scroll, text ‘I’m here’
Update ‘I’m here!’
Waiting
Takes ages to get off
I can’t wait to do it again
First, sleep

Free wine

Why I love waiting

Today, I had to wait for 45 minutes for something in a waiting room full of people in a place that was too hot with small windows. To most people that probably sounds quite tedious. However, I didn’t mind. I like waiting. That is strange. But I really do.

Why do I like waiting? That is today’s weird thought.

British people are good at waiting. We don’t mind, or we don’t show that we mind, to a point. If we do mind or get to the point when we start minding, we complain but only in a very jolly British way. We complain with humour. We complain apologetically. That is, if we complain at all. Mostly, we just put up and shut up.

People waiting

I am British and I love waiting. I have my reasons. Firstly, if I am waiting then I am not engaged in real life. This is especially so if I have no phone signal (as was the case today). Nobody can get hold of me while I am waiting. They can wait. Bliss.

Secondly, waiting gives me thinking space. All I can do is think while I wait. Thinking is healthy. We all should stop and just think now and then. It’s amazing what your mind can come up with if left to just think.

Thirdly, I love reading really old copies of Women’s Weekly. Who doesn’t?

Fourthly, I love reading the random signs and notices that are always present in places of waiting: the adverts for coping with dementia, what to do if you think you have an STD, how much water you should drink a day, where the local support group for people with random unusual disease meet or the signs that tell you ‘please be patient if you have been waiting a long time’.

Finally, and most importantly, I love people watching and eavesdropping on those people. So for me, waiting is like being in the sweetie shop.

Today, while waiting, I heard all about one woman’s issues renovating her house (and what happened when the curtain rail fell down). I helped an elderly lady of 85 work out what day it is today. I amused a random man with my desperate need to know what a ‘Tilt Test’ is (he asked the receptionist for me, she wasn’t sure). I exchanged mutual carparking horror stories with a lady called Julie Davies. I watched as a doddery old man with a thatched head of pure white hair called John Thomas (the man, not the hair) was called into his appointment. I observed a lady called Florence Proctor amble past to her appointment shortly after John Thomas. I created a life for her in my head (lives in the country, higgldy piggldy house, too many books, cats, loves Radio 4, eats crumpets). I saw a youngish man called Paul with a hat get called into his appointment. I amused a random couple with my grammatical pedantry. I enjoyed waiting. It can be fun, if you make it fun.

The sign that I read about twenty times this morning

If only I had had my sketch pad today, the adventures my pen and I would have had. As it was, I decided that an hour in a random waiting room would make for a great Radio 4 play or Samuel Beckett story. It is an existentialist’s dreamv- waiting for something you don’t want to experience, and waiting patiently at that, and more importantly, being forced to consider your mortality and meaning on this planet while waiting for that thing you don’t want to happen. Arguably, there isn’t anything more exentialist as that.

When my time waiting came to an end, 45 minutes after it began, I hate to admit it but I was sad. And I will miss my new friends: John, Julie, Florence and Paul to name but a few. Perhaps our paths will cross again, in another waiting room somewhere else.

The sadness of defriending

Previously, I’ve blogged an awful lot about Facebook and what it does for me. I’ve also blogged recently about a pathalogical need to be liked, which I seem to be afflicted with. Today, I am thinking about both Facebook and being liked.

Just now I happened to notice that someone has recently ‘defriended’ me on Facebook and my reaction is to feel terribly sad. While I was cooking dinner, I was wondering why I hadn’t heard from this person for a while and so I looked her up. To my shock, we are no longer ‘friends’. I never knew. I didn’t notice it happening. I feel so sad.

My response since then has to worry that I’ve said something bad, stupid, annoying or just been an annoyance in general (I’m rather good at that, I fear). I’ve tried but I can’t think what I might have said specifically to upset this person. I don’t see her anymore. Her child and one of mine used to be classmates. When our paths used to cross on the school playground we always had something to talk about. I like(d) her. So why does she no longer like me? And, more importantly, why do I care so much? Her reasons might not be that deep. She might just consider that since we don’t see each other we don’t need to stay connected.

A couple of months ago I noticed another ‘defriending’ and as with this time, I became quite bothered. This wasn’t a person I had ever met. She was someone I ‘met’ on Mumsnet a few years ago. Our paths had crossed online in our mutual grief over losing a baby. We were Facebook friends for months, years even. Now we are not. I don’t know why. It wasn’t my decision.

A while before that I spotted yet another ‘defriending’. Again, someone I had ‘met’ on Mumsnet. We’d both had babies in November 2009. I had thought we’d got on really well, ‘online’ at least. We nearly met up once. What did I do wrong? I thought she was lovely.

Years ago, shortly after I first joined Facebook, I was ‘reunited’ on Facebook with an old school friend. A couple of months later he defriended me (perhaps my first ‘defriending’). This was back in the days when we  could count our Facebook friends on one hand. I was so upset that I actually messaged him to ask him why. He was very polite in his reply. He explained that since we didn’t see each other he didn’t see that it was important that we kept in touch. I was gutted. I respected  his decision though. I was upset nonetheless and I still think about it.

There are others. I’m not sure why I notice  them. I lost another school friend after we fell out over politics. I had thought we’d been having a healthy debate. She obviously disagreed. I was also defriended by a family member over politics. That stung a lot too. That made me reconsider the way I express my passion for politics online. I have since toned it down.

I value all of these people who seem to want to be ‘friends’ with me

But am I strange in caring so much about people I don’t see deciding that they don’t want to have a connection with me anymore? I’m not sure why it stings so much. I think there are people who aren’t so bothered. I know people who regularly have ‘clear outs’ of Facebook. I’ve never done that. In fact, I’ve never defriended anyone. I couldn’t. I like people, even those who might vote for UKIP or support Donald Trump. They have their reasons. They are still in need of friendship and people in their lives.

I think I need to develop a harder skin though when it comes to people deciding it is Bye Bye Becky. I’m not to everyone’s taste and That Is Ok I guess. That is a hard thing to accept. Surely, I’m amazing!

I just want to say to the most recent loss, not that she will read this, that I’m sorry for whatever it was that made you cut off contact with me. I miss your statuses, even if you don’t miss mine.

I’ve no idea who Elie Wiesel is but I will end my mumblings with his words. It might not be quite true (love is very important) but friendship marks a life at least equally as deeply as love.

Wise words from Ms Wiesel

What it means when it feels as if things are plotting against you…

Today I’ve had one of those days when things seem to be just being naughty.

I dropped my money in Costa Coffee, my bag kept falling off my shoulder as I walked around Waitrose looking for six Cornish pasties, six Cornish pasties fell out of the oven and dribbled pastry all over the floor, I bumped into a lamppost while scooting home with pasties in my bag, I tripped over a kerb and Excel crashed causing me to lose an hour’s work. I’ve felt cross and upset at things. I’ve been close to tears (the pasty disaster was pretty bad). I’ve been grumpy and sulky. I’ve withdrawn into my introspective world of negative thoughts. Why? Because six pasties fell on the floor, and the rest.

Now the day is ending and thinking back to my annoying day with the benefit of hindsight, I like the idea that inanimate objects can have such a strong influence on my emotional state. They don’t mean to upset me. They are just stuff. They aren’t really conspiring against me. There isn’t ‘something in the air’. I didn’t ‘get out of bed the wrong side’ (I got out of bed the same side as I always do). It is just what it is. It is what it is. It’s all a big coincidence. But it feels as if there is a purpose to the stubbornness of things. It really does feel as if they have been conspiring and laughing in a Mutley hissy toothy way.

A couple of years ago I came across the Object Oriented Ontology school of thought. This is the idea that things aren’t just things and we are superior to things; things have agency. They have just as much right as we, organic beings, to existence.  They deserve our respect. This idea was influenced by the mighty Heidegger who was big on ‘things’, their interconnectedness and what they mean to us.

Heidegger described this ‘annoyance’ I describe at objects, or the feeling we get when an object causes us distress, as: ‘the being just present at hand, and no more something present to hand’ (Bakewell, 2016, p. 69). In simpler words ‘the way we focus our troubles on the object that has let us down’. We focus on the object that has caused us annoyance rather than the action we were trying to perform with the object. It is the object’s fault in our eyes. And that failure is symbolic.

Martin Heidegger

When an object fails us, the world is no longer running smoothly. Rather, it is in a state of flux and chaos. We see this failure and flux as a metaphor for our personal failures and negative issues with our life’s path. Imagine the day, a ‘bad hair’ day, when things just keep betraying you. Suddenly, your life is awful, your job is awful, your marriage is a sham! Of course it isn’t really. It’s just normal. The empty stapler and the jamming photocopier didn’t cause your life to crumble. They just happened. Your life is ok.

I like this idea because to me it proves that objects have agency in our minds even if we don’t think about this very often and even if in reality they are just objects. They influence our emotional state even if that sounds nuts. Don’t look at this logically; you won’t like what you see. If you look at it from the perspective of experience, it isn’t at all weird. It happens all the time.

A random pile of annoying stuff

My impressions of Newport, Shropshire

Gentleness.
No hurry.
Pottering.
Endless pottering.
We potter around town.
Eccentricity.
Slow walkers in the middle of the pavement.
One particular old weathered man who sits on a wall, cap on head, watching, amused with eyes glinting as I whizz past him.
Waitrose shoppers everywhere.
Humus eaters.
Cherry tomato pickers.
Coffee drinkers.
Prosecco lovers.
Mothers.
Grandmothers.
Elderly couples with their bags for life.
Rural mothers with their bending over backwards toddlers in shopping trolleys.
Costa Coffee where you have to specify ‘I want it with skimmed milk please’.
Cyclists in red, black and white lycra.
Cyclists  filling out my favourite coffee shop smelling of ionised air and sweet sweat.
Cyclists like cats in a cat cafe, climbing over everything.
A man on a mobility scooter who nods his head at me as I overtake him on my non-mobility scooter.
History.
Victorian facades.
Farming.
Muscly naturally bronzed young men.
Slim sinewy young ladies with swishy hair and take-out coffees.
The pungent smell of chicken poo in the early evening.
Blazers at 4pm.
Blazers everywhere at 4pm.
Blazers filling up Greggs, Subway and Jaspers.
The bread of Jaspers, the best I’ve ever tasted.
The free coffee from Waitrose, too good to resist.
The Den, where I can sit and be pretentious with my book.
The gossip.
The town council.
The old lady coffee shops.
The boundary, which is Aldi.
The this is not Telford.
The air of intelligence and good schools.
The place of a good start to life and a good end to life.
How about the in between?
The edge of creativeness not quite getting it right, a bit too water coloury for my taste.
The cockerel at 4am.
The silence at all other times.
The ironic pull between comfort and constraint.
But most of all the coffee.
There is a lot of coffee in Newport.
The coffee.
That is Newport.
Quirky Newport.
Newport, Shropshire.
The Stars Hollow of England.
The town of three fishes.

Newport

I find comfort in strange names and it works

I’m currently sat writing this on a train, the 18.57 train from Banbury to Manchester Piccadilly. I’m getting off this train at Wolverhampton. I’m making the most of this opportunity (being sat on a train with a laptop and wifi) to do some work. I like working on the train. I find it easier to work on a train than at home (shame I just can’t travel on trains every day I’d be so productive). I ike the noise and commotion that a train provides: the people; the bags; the conversations; the tap, tap, tapping on nearby laptops and the smells of bacon butties and lager.

View from the Train

However, I was just sat here, working away, when something odd about my way of working occurred to me that I normally take for granted. There’s a chap sat next to me also tapping away on his own laptop and I tried to imagine what he would think if he were to glance at my screen. Imagining seeing my screen through another’s eyes gave me that uncanny feeling that things are strange when seen with fresh eyes.

The strange thing I am referring to is the fact that I give my documents, spreadsheets and folders odd names and I think that is normal. However, to the man sat next to me, this is surely not normal. Or, I assume that to be the case. I need to know now whether other people call their folders and documents odd names and organize them as haphazardly as I do. Here is an example of an oddly named spreadsheet.

My timekeeping spreadsheet is called: Copy of Time After Toes July 2017

It’s not called ‘Timesheet’ or even just ‘Time’. That would be sensible. The astute reader of this blog will notice that the word ‘time’ does appear in the name, giving some sense of normality, but the meaning of the rest of the spreadsheet’s name is rather ambiguous. The interested reader may want to know what, or who, is ‘Toes’ and why is it ‘time after Toes’ (what happened before Toes?)? There is a logic to it. After my youngest son was born (who I fondly call Toes) I started a new spreadsheet for my timekeeping for work and called it ‘Time After Toes’ as that is what it recorded: time spent working after the birth of the child called Toes. Subsequently, as I saved more versions of this spreadsheet I started to date them by month, hence the ‘July 2017’ part of the title (although I haven’t been consistent in renaming this every month given that it is now September). ‘Copy of’ I think just appears in the name of a spreadsheet when you save a spreadsheet after it crashes. Incidentally, Toes is now nearly 8 years old.

This is just one example. I could provide more (on request). This naming oddity doesn’t just apply to documents. It also applies to folders.

The folder I currently use for everything I’ve worked on since 2013 is called: VSIs for Edingburgh

That name won’t make much sense without some some context. A few years ago I worked on a project for Oxford University Press which involved creating short abstracts for titles in their Very Short Introduction series which were due to be launched online that same year. I then went to Edinburgh on holiday. I needed a folder for the work for this project while I was away. Hence the name. However, after creating that folder, I carried on using it as a general dumping ground for ALL work I did when away from home (so work not saved on the home server). The occupancy of VSI abstracts in this folder is minor.

A Very Short Introduction

At some point, this folder got a bit messy. So I created a subfolder called: OSO Stuff (OSO being Oxford Scholarship Online, a project I spend most of my time working on).

I then  started using this folder as a dumping ground for all away-from-home work (not just OSO – anything and including VSIs). This folder also gradually outgrew its usefulness.

So I subsequently created another subfolder to put new work in with a new name: General OSO

I then went on holiday to Wales.

The next folder within this folder was logically named: Wales October 2015

The same happened again, ‘Wales October 2015’ became my dumping ground. Everything was saved in here.

Wales where I did some work in October 2015 – when I had wifi

A year later I went to Wale again and so along came a fresh, new subfolder: Wales Oct 2016

I am currently still dumping into this folder but I am now already finding this folder really messy, following in the footsteps of its predecessors. I think I need a new folder (perhaps ‘Haddenham September 2017’ might be a good name as that is where I have been today?).

This is file path of all my away-from-home work at the moment:

C:\_Moved\Desktop\VSIs for Edinburgh\OSO Stuff\General OSO\Wales October 2015\Wales Oct 2016

That’s not great, is it? Anyone who is quite tidy will be quaking right now. It is messy, it is disorganzied, but I know where everything is. It works for me.

Organized chaos is a real thing. Long life folders and spreadsheets with weird names. I think life would be boring if things were named to describe exactly what they are.

‘Hell is other people’, or is it?

I’m currently reading a fabulous book on existentialism, and I’ve written about this book in my other blog already. Last night, while reading my book, I came across this Jean-Paul Satre quote from one of his fictional pieces, translated as No Exit.

Hell is other people.

 

My book

Until I read about this quote yesterday, I thought that it meant that other people are hell and solitude rules uber alles. I think that most people may have the same belief. I’ve often heard it used in that context.

At the time, as he was being misinterpreted even while he was still active, Satre refuted this meaning the book explains. Yet, this meaning seems to have stuck even until today.

The quote

What he actually meant with this quote rings very true with me. He didn’t mean that other people are hellish. What he meant was that after we die, we become frozen, or the idea of us does, in the eyes of other people. In other words, once we are dead, our reputation is mummified and we are no longer able to argue against other people’s interpretation of us or prove them wrong should we feel that they are under a false impression of us.

In death, the freedom to redeem ourselves in the eyes of others is taken away from us. This idea kills me, ironically.

I often wrestle with myself after being with other people about what impression I may have left on them. If I feel that I’ve messed up in some way, then I long to see them again to provide a better impression. I think this comes from a desperate need to be liked which I have always had. I know that a lot of people are similarly inflicted in this way and I’m by no means unique here. There is probably some psychological reason for this behaviour. I’m not going to go there here though.

Some people claim to not care whether they are liked or not. I’m not like that. I care. I care an awful lot. I really want to be liked. I admire those ‘I don’t care’ people. I especially admire those who are honest about this aspect of their personality. I mean, they are risking not being liked by expressing that! They are much stronger beings than I.

There haven’t been many people that have openly disliked me, at least to my knowledge (there are most likely those that have kept their disdain to themselves or just to their nearest and dearest). I can think of two people who have been open and persistent in their disregard for my wonderfulness. And I still think about them today.

The first was someone I knew at university. For the sake of anonymity I will name him Chicken Pie. That wasn’t his real name of course. He had a real name (and a really unusual one at that). He was very open about who he liked and respected in his circle of acquaintances and who he didn’t. He was fairly clear that he neither liked me nor respected me. He thought I was unhinged. He didn’t understand me. He didn’t attempt to understand me. He thought such a pursuit was pointless. Chicken Pie considered me a potentially dangerous sociopath. I tried really, really hard to get him to like me. It didn’t work. I didn’t want to give up. I tried for two years. I liked him. He was intelligent and quirky. I cried over his open dislike of me. I spent far too long trying to analyse how he came to his assessment of me. I even concluded that he was right and perhaps I was slightly unhinged and psychotic. His opinion of me (and he was an extremely astute person) was important to me and I believed it to be genuine. I took it seriously. I lost touch with him after university (after all, he didn’t like me so there was no need for us to stay in touch) but I then met him by chance at a party a few years later. He was charm on a stick at the party. Perhaps maturity had made him less honest for the sake of social grace, or perhaps he had decided I was tolerable after all. I hope the latter.

The city where not everyone liked me.

The second person who didn’t hide their contempt of me is someone I went interrailing with. In 1991 I went travelling around Europe with an ex-boyfriend (yes, I know, a strange thing to do) and his female friend from his college. She didn’t like me. I will call her Steak and Ale Pie. She started off the journey tolerating me. She even laughed at my jokes. She gradually grew more and more hostile to me as the month went on. I have no idea (and 30 years later I still have no idea) why. At the end Steak and Ale Pie was downright nasty to me. She told me I was vain (because I bought duty-free perfume) and stupid (because I got lost a lot). She was very open in her disdain. I cried a lot over the death of that relationship as well. At the time I asked myself frequently: I didn’t dislike her so why did she dislike me so much? In the Satreian sense, there was nothing I could do to change her impression of me. Everything I did got on her nerves and encouraged negative comment. We parted without so much as a smile. I went home and made water. I often wonder where she is now. I find myself genuinely caring about what happened to her. She wasn’t a bad person, she was just mean to me.

Steak and Ale Pie hated me in this city

I am now a lot older and I still feel this desperate need to get everyone I meet to like me. I think it is a sign of maturity to accept your faults and realise that you are not to everyone’s taste and move on. So why can’t I do that? I don’t know that answer. I am still the child who wants the grownups to think they are interesting. I think this need is too deeply embedded to change, even if I recognise it as a fault.

Hell is indeed other people.

I hope I don’t die today. I am sure I have much redeeming to do yet.

If we don’t believe in free will then there is no point to existence

This is my current, rather depressing, weird thought.

Currently, generally, humans are firm believers in free will. It is what runs through the core of modern Western politics and society and perhaps spreads further afield. Free will guides us to make the choices that we make. Free will voted for Brexit. Free will voted for Donald Trump. Free will also guides us to carpes diem and follow our dreams. Free will guided me to start an art degree five years ago. Free will is willing me to continue my studies with a Masters. Free will led me into a career in publishing. Free will guided me to end up in Newport (although, interestingly, a Japanese palm reader predicted my current living and working arrangements in 1996 so that is one / nil to the determinists).

If we don’t believe in free will, what is the point of having hope? What is the point of ‘following your heart’ or staring at the stars? You may as well just plod along and take the road more travelled. There’s no point fighting injustice. Accept what is. It is what it is. You may as well just spend your evenings watching Game of Thrones and your days working, or, just existing.

Let’s watch others taking chances on life

My belief in free will is my optimism that good will prevail, personally and globally, eventually.

However, I am starting to worry that my belief in free will is being squeezed into that category of the ‘teeny, tiny theory’ of the unlikely. Scientists have more recently come to believe that our ability to choose our fate is not free, but depends on our biological inheritance. Scientists have started to believe that our thoughts, emotions, hopes, dreams are just the work of neurons and electricity. All that we ‘decide’ and ‘do’ is determined by brain action. We aren’t thinking for ourselves. Our biology is our god.

Helping the scientists in their argument, is the fact that brain injuries and brain traumas can influence our so-called ‘free’ will by influencing decisions and behaviour in certain ways. In addition, mind-altering substances can turn us into irresponsible psychopaths: from the alcohol-induced declaration of love to the drug induced murder. That isn’t our essence that is doing it; it is an artificial influence. It is determined.

The danger of believing the scientists is that we may start to blame our irresponsible actions on our brains: ‘It wasn’t me, my neurons did it.’

Another downside in a scepticism about free will is that we will feel less inclined to be creative or to take chances. There’s no point leaping. It wasn’t in my destiny. That belief will basically depress us. That’s not good.

The paranoid part of me worries that those in power already know that free will is an illusion and they just aren’t telling us. It isn’t in their best interests to let the hoi polloli know what they know. If we find out that free will is a lie then we will just turn into vegetables with no sense of morality and no kindness. We will start to kill each other and we won’t innovate and create.

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m happy to live in my happy cloud where free will reigns uber alles. I am now going to choose to eat a piece of orange chocolate. This is not pre-determined. I don’t have to eat it. I want to. My neurons don’t care.

I will seek the chocolate fix

 

Older posts