Tag: Ideas

Spelling numbers

(the kids aren’t alright)

As I spend a lot of my time with kids, I’m exposed to Kiddish – the garbled, innocent language of the recently-literate – quite a lot. And while the majority of Kiddish is inane garbage, I was treated to one marvellous concept today; a kid asked me how to write a five-digit number, by did so by asking ‘how do you spell it?’

At first I was confused, as this child has failed to understand that numbers and letters and fundamentally different things, and must be referred to with different language. Obviously!

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the kid had a point. From where they’re coming from, not yet brainwashed by our adult culture of arbitrary rigid lines, letters and numbers are one and the same, as scratches on a page used to indicate meaning. And that’s certainly true; whether you write ‘five’ or ‘5’, you’re still turning that written symbol to a verbal one, and beyond that an idea with a defined meaning.

Maybe the kid was on to something bigger; maybe we shouldn’t be dividing the mathematical and the written, particularly in schools and places of education. The world is how we perceive it, and if we can break down these barriers perhaps our image of the world may become more whole, and more beautiful.

Or maybe the kid was just a moron.

The Blogger Recognition Award

(I’m certainly a blogger; not sure about being recognised though)

You know those boss battles where you’re down two party members, have run out of PP on your designated healer and your jack-of-all-trades protagonist is suddenly left isolated, their weaknesses exposed and their lack of specialisation hamstringing, as your HP dwindles yet you guard and physically attack for a desperate last few turns; and then you get three critical hits in a row out of nowhere, find a perfect recovery item in the lining of your knapsack to revive your heavy-hitting mage, and suddenly you’re launching fireballs like a pyromaniac on speed as the battle music picks up at an eerily appropriate time? Well, I had the blogging equivalent today; I couldn’t think of an idea for a post, only to stumble into the welcoming awarding arms of this cleverly-named blogger.

With that in mind, let’s get on with the award, shall we?

Select fifteen other people or blogs to give the award to

Fifteen!? Alright then.

  1. Dan Marino
  2. Littlekuriboh
  3. Joseph Stalin
  4. Noodle from Gorrilaz
  5. Egil Skallagrimsson
  6. NicePeter
  7. Gandhi
  8. God, as portrayed in Milton’s Paradise Lost
  9. Amen from Lordi
  10. Rick Astley
  11. Anton LaVey
  12. Nona from the awesome Bowling For Soup song
  13. King K. Rool
  14. Duck Dodgers
  15. Your mum

Write a post to show off your award

Nah, I’ll get to it next week.

Give a brief story of how your blog started

I’d been interested in writing since I was literate – seriously, my shed at home is 90% full of old exercise books I scrawled worlds and little stories into – and wanted to pursue writing as a career from when I was about fifteen or so. When I was seventeen, having written nothing but school essays, I decided to broaden my range of writing, and start writing things regularly that I liked. On the 5th of October 2013, I set up a WordPress account, on the two conditions that I’d write whatever I felt like, and would post every day, exams, hospitalisations and fatigue providing. I’m still here two years later, and while this blog isn’t my most important creative outlet any more, it’s been the springboard for almost all of my larger projects, and remains one of the closest projects to my heart.

Give a piece of advice or two to new bloggers

Write for your ideal audience. Obviously, hearing people disagree with and suggest improvements to your work is a vital part of writing – and being creative in general – but it can’t all be criticism, criticism, criticism. Most of the ‘writing’ process consists of being bogged down on a miserable afternoon in February bashing your head against a laptop as rain clangs with a discordant crackle outside your window, and you feel like shit. Having a perfect reader, one who gets your references, likes your style of writing, and finds you the greatest of god’s creative gifts, really helps get over that hump.

Also, share your crap all over social media. You’ll feel like The Person Who’s Whoring Their Inane Shite Over Facebook for a bit, and this is certainly a part of your identity you’ll have to get used to, but presenting things for people to read, and broadening your pool of potential readers, is never a bad thing. Don’t headhunt people, asking them specifically if they’ve read your stuff, but remind people that you’re still artistically relevant, which is a big challenge for even ‘successful’ creators; look at Game of Thrones, which is struggling to still be entertaining and shocking five years into its run. This year, around 1/5 of all my views have come from my mates clicking on the links I post on Facebook every day.

Thank whoever nominated you and put a link to their blog

Thx m8 (y)

Attach the award to the post

‘Attach’? What is this, an email?

Happy Edge Day!

(I’d have brought cake but it’s probably full of evil substances like eggs)

Straight edge isn’t really a movement. I described it as an anti-movement over on Public Pressure – link here for your perusal – and it’s certainly true that the anti-drugs, anti-cruelty mentality hasn’t really translated to the basis of a collective identity, certainly since the end of the 90s. That being said, my ironic pursuit of excessive non-excessiveness is one of the most important parts of my identity; and while it’s fun to draw crosses on the backs of your hands and take a knife to the sleeves of your Minor Threat shirt because you’re so bloody hardcore, there are more meaningful reasons for me avoiding alcohol, drugs, meat and produce.

The first reason is simple mindless altruism; animals suffer (i.e. die) if we are to eat meat, so eating less meat reduces the extent of this suffering. I know that I won’t single-handedly bring the meat industry to its knees, and my constant preaching bitchiness about the industry will probably push my friends to eat even more meat just to spite that tracksuit-wearing wanker with a blog, but to me it feels like I’m making a difference.

Perhaps the lifestyle is less altruistic than I like to pretend, therefore, as I cut down on meat not to realistically protect animals, but to make myself feel good for not increasing demand for their slaughter. And personal satisfaction is certainly a big part of being straight edge; I refuse drugs and alcohol simply because I don’t like what they do to my body. I’m even hypocritical in this regard a lot of the time; I quite enjoy watching my friends become tipsier and funnier as nights drag on, meaning I get the hashtaggable joy of a friend passing out at McDonalds from the comfort of my ethical high-horse.

I realise that, thus far, being straight edge hardly sounds like a morally sound lifestyle, and it’s certainly not very physically satisfying – I do enjoy bacon, and the lack of it in my life is an issue. But my assessment of my engagement with the doctrine screamed in an 80s punk song is just that – an assessment; the point is that I’m caring about what I’m putting into my body, even if the reasons behind them have logical loopholes.

I said in my Public Pressure article that the ‘movement’, such as it is, is more about personal choice than adhering to a single philosophy, and that’s certainly true; I called myself straight edge when I was just abstaining from alcohol, and I’m calling myself straight edge now that I’m vegan too. There isn’t pressure to be or do y to be ‘accepted’ as straight edge. I consider it to be a means, not an end; it’s a method of caring about one’s health and the wider implications of it, rather than a set of criteria and rules to bend and break one’s life into.

It’s easy to define and assess ourselves by the outcomes of our lives, to look at a well-marked essay as evidence of academic genius, or a lowly-ranked one as indicative of academic uselessness, when the reality is often far more complex. It is the actions that we do and the intentions that we have, not the final results, that define us as people, because any act of God can stop you from getting that job, but only you can decide how much work you put into preparing for the interview. So being straight edge, for me, isn’t a pretentious calling-card, one of crosses on my hands and loud t-shirts to prove how much holier than thou I am; it’s a lifestyle choice that makes me think about my lifestyle.

And I don’t know, yet, if I’m a success as a writer, or a student, or a person; but I’m starting to think about it at least.

You tell me I make no difference,
At least I’m fucking trying,
What the fuck have you done?

Night-Walking Pro Tips!

(the not-very-long awaited!)

As someone who bumbles around London well after the sun has pissed off to the safety of its flat, presumably up near the Waitrose on Holloway Road because the sun can’t really afford a more central property but hails from the sort of family where shopping at Waitrose is considered the norm, I’m quite good at not being murdered while doing it. So I’d like to give you some advice on walking in cities at night, advice that is to be taken with a pinch of salt, but may actually be useful. Blimey, I’m doing proper advice now.

1) Use headphones to your advantage

If you’re nervous about walking around, don’t wear over-ear headphones, the big clunky ones that cover your whole ears and can’t be worn under a hood. This flags up to potential murderers that you’re likely to be deprived of a sense (sound, which is critical for locating and assessing threats outside of your field of vision), and also affluent enough to afford a stupidly overpriced set of Beats. Conversely, you could use them as a kind of creepy bastard-radar, muting your music to give the impression of idiocy and vulnerability, whereas in reality you’re primed to leg it if that guy who looks like he’s been tailing you for a block makes a move. Although the latter use is generally for ballsy motherfrakkers, so I’d not encourage it.

2) Stick to main roads

This sounds obvious, but light tends to be safer than darkness, and main roads are generally more secure than even cute little residential areas that look harmless during the day. There’s a secondary point here too, that you ought to be confident wherever you walk: attackers tend to lurk in shadows, and so you sticking to them may make yourself vulnerable and make it difficult for a friendly passerby to see you’re in trouble, as opposed to unseen and safe; if you’re stomping up Camden Road in Doc Martens, people are more likely to think you know what you’re doing with yourself, and may avoid you.

3) Dress like a peasant

This may sound like a bit of a contradiction at first – how can I be confident and self-assured if I’m not wearing my favourite jacket?! – but it makes sense; your favourite jacket, while empowering, is encrusted with gold and woven with unicorn pubes, and is a beacon of foolish wealth much like an expensive set of headphones. Generally, dark, baggy attire will help create an aura of ‘I’m angry, young and poor, don’t piss me off’-edness and can disguise your frame if you’re not a particularly well-built individual. Also, this isn’t to moronically de-gender your outfits – everyone knows that wearing a dress doesn’t actually make a person more likely to encounter trouble – as the emphasis is on appearing nondescript and independent, rather than masculine or feminine.

4) Know where you’re going

Getting lost and going for a wander can be marvellous, especially in a fun place and/or with fun people. Just don’t do it at night. I like to march up a main road, then straight back down it again, ensuring I make note or tell others of where I’m heading.

5) Bring a friend

This is the biggest one, and rather covers all the other tips by itself: if you’re with someone, headphones are a non-factor as you’re chatting; you don’t need to make an effort to appear confident as two people have inherently more presence than one; a bodyguard or police-caller is infinitely more effective as a deterrent than a loose hoodie; and you can make even the most tedious of one-way walks amusing with a buddy. Plus, you get to do the whole socialising thing, which is nice, and it’s a decent form of exercise.

Or, you can stay in 24/7 and slowly grow into a lethargic Mario Kart-playing blob. I can attest to the crapness of this latter idea.

Five hours of Mario Kart and NOFX

(they don’t want visitors in … Rainbow Road?)

Today I had a day off. No studying, no work, no flat admin-sorting, no blog-launching, no article-writing, no food-buying, nothing but this post, a walk, and five hours of playing Mario Kart: Double Dash!! while listening to NOFX.

I could make some lofty-ass point about the juxtaposition of an often-political, always-offensive American hardcore band and a fictional realm basically designed for children where the greatest problem is a terrible movie tie-in that no-one mentions, but I don’t want to. I’ve spent today sitting on my arse and trying to avoid making grandiose points about nothing, which is important considering that so much of my life (i.e. my writing projects) is about finding interesting things to say about the mundane, deriving complex pleasures from stuff that’s just a bit of a laugh.

But today was all about those laughs. I don’t get many of these any more, but frak I enjoyed it today.

A Stressful Post About Stress

(stressception. Do people even say that any more?)

With 28 minutes to go until midnight ticks over and this post will technically be late, I think I’m in an appropriately stressed mindset to talk about stress.

Stress has always been a strange feeling for me because I attribute it to a lack or failure of planning; if you consider that you’re probably going to be awake for sixteen hours a day, every day suddenly you don’t run out of time for anything, you only run out of available time because there are enough hours in the day to do your stuff, you’ve just spent half of them playing Clash of Kings. This is why I tend to take on far more projects than seem reasonable, or even possible, because I know that your time can essentially be limitless if it’s managed properly. While I’d say writing is my greatest skill, I’d put time management and personal organisation pretty high up the list, just after my skill in picking adorable nerdy t-shirts from Teeturtle. This also means that I’ll often come across like a bit of a dick when talking about managing one’s time – and why I’ve not explicitly written about stress on this blog before – because my answer to someone not being able to juggle several responsibilities at once is always a dismissive ‘just manage your time better’.

But this week I’ve been very stressed, as my scheduling has broken down somewhat; a combination of screwed-up sleep patterns because of some inconvenient but actually very sensible doctors’ orders, the boundless enthusiasm of starting a new studying technique and resulting relentless desire to work, and the surprisingly difficult world of starting an ambitious new project from scratch has left me tired, and worried, and pissed off for large periods of the day. I don’t have time to walk every day, I can’t talk to my friends because I need to spend four straight hours with my nose in a book, and I may or may not have ignored my parents’ texts for the last two days. But I’ve not suddenly gotten worse at planning my time, I think I’ve just hit my limit in terms of the number of hours a day I can commit to working.

On Tuesday, for instance, I was up at nine, and didn’t stop working until eleven that evening; on Wednesday I was working from 7am to about 2am the next day (with breaks for playing footy and watching Bake-Off in between), and yesterday I was up for twelve hours, and worked for all but one of them. And I’m still falling behind on a few magazines, and my Old Icelandic work has been shelved indefinitely until I can cobble some free time together.

Hitting my limit has had one significant advantage though, and that is my newfound awareness of stress limits in general. In the past I’d be dismissive of other peoples’ stresses because I’d not experienced hitting a limit in that kind of way, and so found sympathy difficult; now that I know that limits exist, and roughly what mine is, I’m realising that other people have limits, that are very likely reached after different amounts of pressure. So when my mate complains about having worked for hours a day, Past James would have brushed this off because they’d been awake for 2x hours and so shouldn’t be complaining; but Present James knows that their limit may well be x-1 and they’re killing themselves as it is, and my bluntness isn’t helping.

Tomorrow is the last day of my stressful week (hopefully); I’ve made a conscious effort to get ahead of where I should be and – fingers crossed – everything should be sorted by Sunday afternoon, giving me Sunday evening, the whole of Monday, and a total of two nights off to screw around with Until Dawn and see my friends again. Of course now that I’ve said that, my house will be inexplicably engulfed in flames overnight, my notes and computer will burn to crisps and I’ll have to restart everything, but for the time being I’m optimistic.

Incoherent, stressed, and optimistic.

This Decade Is Dead

(that title sounds unnervingly like a My Chemical Romance song)

It’s over. A decade of mine, a ten-year stretch of life full of experiences, achievements and frak-ups, is dead. Not in a particularly broad sense, or even in a numerical sense – I’m currently nineteen, not twenty – but in one very specific sense: for the first time since I was nine, I am going to radically change my working habits. Starting tomorrow.

But I shall start with a little history on my, now former, studying practices. When I was nine, with two years to go until I finished primary school, I started working for the dreaded entrance exams, a series of examinations held independently at secondary schools across London to filter applicants. Not every school was ‘selective’ in this way, most weren’t, and my local one definitely wasn’t, but the ones with the most money and best teachers put on their own exams for students aged 10-11 who wanted to attend, and only the best would get in. Looking back, this created a kind of vaguely meritocratic elitism, that the smartest would be rewarded by being made smarter, while those that struggled would be forever cut off from that world, and forced to do A-level critical thinking. Of course, it’s hard to determine how academically successful a person will be at the age of ten, which is why a blogging buddy of mine went to our local shitty comprehensive and is now at a Russell Group uni, while half of the morons who scraped into my secondary school through the exams are now posting pictures of themselves high, shirtless and alone on the moonlit streets of Wood Green, so it’s an imperfect science. But I wanted to make that cut.

A big part of these exams were verbal and non-verbal reasoning papers, which you can see online if you want to know more about them; these tests were supposed to examine a child’s intelligence, without the kerfuffle and padding of English questions or the randomness of Maths questions that some bright kids were unprepared for simply because their primary school didn’t teach that kind of trigonometry. The reasoning papers determined your character’s base HP, if you will, while the subject-based papers determined their resistances to certain attacks, and how fast your PP would regenerate. Critically, reasoning wasn’t taught in primary school, because it would have been irrelevant to the majority of kids who weren’t going for the entrance exams; as a result, my practice (according to my parents) for these exams was me sitting down, aged nine, and relentlessly working through papers for literally hours on end, not satisfied until I could ace any reasoning paper within half the time limit.

In the end, I only passed one set of reasoning papers, but I didn’t care; to me, relentless work over long, uninterrupted stretches of time as the way to get results and, consciously nor not, I rather decided on that method of working for the next decade of my life. I got an A at GCSE maths by completing whole chapters of textbooks at a time, not stopping or checking my answers until hundreds of questions had fallen by the wayside; I got an A at AS French by taking whole pages of the dictionary and swallowing them, learning twenty, fifty, up to seventy words in a single sitting. And it worked, especially for things I didn’t find interesting.

But then, it started to fall apart. I applied the same model to Old English last year, and limped out of the exam with a 55, equivalent to a 2.2, two whole grades below where I know I should be hitting; my revision for my criticism paper revolved around learning books’ worth of quotes, relying on my brainpower to form them into arguments and ideas on-the-fly in exams, and I scraped through that exam with a 57, and another shitty 2.2.

I’ve already changed my work habits; Old English translations are now my most enjoyable piece of studying to do, because I know more about how the language works, and I can understand what I’m doing. But these new habits were still stretched over whole afternoons of study, hours spent picking through fifty lines of Ælfric at once, making notes of every case, of every tense, and identifying the subject and object in every sentence. It’s satisfying, but gruelling, and ultimately unhelpful, for today I hit the wall; I couldn’t get through a bit of Middle English, not in the sense that I was tired, but in the sense that for hours I hammered away at that book, unable to find anything to interest me, a foothold to let me explore the ideas of those pages that some professor somewhere obviously thinks are worth my reading. For hours I worked and, for the first time in a decade, after hours I’d gotten nowhere.

I might have had a brief personal crisis. And I may have vented about it to one too many friends who weren’t prepared nor willing to offer advice, which didn’t help my already self-loathing mental state, as now I was throwing my problems onto other people expecting them to solve them by magic.

But then someone did solve them, the only someone whose relationship with me predates nine-year-old James’ Spartan desire to work until he passed out. It’s the old ‘break tasks up into smaller sections’ idea, but now it makes sense; my degree isn’t a slog (OE translations aside) but an engagement with and appreciation of the ideas held by people from completely different worlds to me; literature isn’t about hammering through a thousand lines of Chaucer in one go, but breaking each section down, repeatedly finding an idea, stopping and then finding new ones to mix with the previous one. I’m stunned it’s taken me this long to realise this, but now that I have, I can align my impression of my degree with the way I’m studying it, and unite the image I have of myself as an English student with the realities of reading Old Icelandic in my bedroom, like a kind of literary vlogger circa 2007.

This may be obvious to you; you may be thirteen years old, and have this all figured out. But I’m determined to the point of blind stubbornness most of the time, and it’s taken me ten years to realise that my studying methods aren’t perfect. So that decade of work is dead, and starting tomorrow I’ll not approach a reading list in the same way. I’ve finally moved on from my nine-year-old self.

I’ve finally got the perceptiveness of a ten-year-old.