Why I Am An Optimist

Optimism-Breeds-OptimismMy previous month of no news was certainly interesting. I’d call it informative, but the truth is I’ve enjoyed being far less informed than usual. I have no idea what’s happening in Ukraine (there were rumbles of a nuclear accident?), no clue where the fight against ebola has progressed (though I’m guessing you don’t know either as no new white people have been infected), and I know diddly squat about UK politics for the month of November – I count this as no big loss.  It’s not as if I managed to stay news-sterile for 30 days though. I read the occasional headline on reddit, and tumblr came alive with the anti-racist police (or is that anti racist-police) riots and protests that have erupted across the USA, but generally I’m out of the loop. And I feel great.

Sure – go ahead – bury your head in the sand, Andy. Cut yourself off from all the crazy that isn’t happening to you and you’ll feel fine! Well, now that you mention it, that’s a pretty sound idea. What do I gain from reading about the murder of children, violent disease, extra taxes, paedophile MPs, civilian casualties, and the Islamic State? A burning anger? Over tweaked paranoia? A general sense of dread? All of the above and more, I’d imagine.

This all weirdly coincided with a tiny life event that made me realise what it is I really want. Or at least, one thing I truly value in people. I had to genuinely ask someone to be nice to me. He was so caught up in his (admittedly humorous and expertly crafted) put-down jokes – I believe the kidz call it “banter” – that he had forgotten that a human resided at the barrel end of his quips. No, I don’t think he’s a bad person. Yes, he was nice generally and had a nice face, but I think when you have to ask for someone to be nice then you’re on the tail end of whatever it is that’s happening.

We love negativity as a species. We LOVE it. Thrive on it, crave it, create it, and despise positivity. We then wonder why so many of us end up with brains hard-wired to think the worst and to ignore the happiness. As a guy who’s a sarcastic dick at heart, I want to just throw my two pence out there and reveal my life changing choice: I am going to try my best to be nice, to reject unkindness, and aim for joy.

I only have one life. And my one drive is to make sure I am happy.

And here I reveal that – hold onto your hats – we as humans can think and believe two opposing things at the same time. I can be positive and not be in denial that bad things happen.

Exhibit A: Tom Cruise is great and I love him. Tom Cruise is also awful and I never want to be near him. Exhibit B: Alcohol makes me feel great therefore I love it. Alcohol makes me feel awful, therefore I hate its effects. Exhibit C: Nobody cares about politics. Everybody cares about policies that affect them. Exhibit D: Nobody likes taxes. Everybody likes what they pay for. I could go on.

Yes it is possible to choose the positive over the negative and not ignore things. I mean hey, most of you choose the negative over the positive and you’d never accuse yourselves of the same short-sightedness. And why on earth is it so jarring to choose to err on the positive side of things? If the two sides are equal in importance (or at least in prevalence) then why is it that I seem to suddenly be going against the grain? Am I mad? Quite possibly. But I believe I have a duty to myself to stay in the healthiest frame of mind possible. Negativity does not help me in this.

And here’s where my writing runs into a conundrumatic* wall. To continue with my train of thought will be to delve into the negative, to berate, to decry, to be negative about negativity. How do I get my vague point across without becoming preachy? Without being just another whiny internet commentator mewling “Why can’t everyone just be nice?”. I think the answer is simply to inform you of my decision, and leave you to think what you want. My guess is that you dislike being told what to do as much as I do anyway.

Perhaps we’re all just different. Shocker, I know. But if I make one person feel a smidge better by not telling them why the thing they like shouldn’t really be liked, then I think this makes me happier than informing the plebeian masses on how right I am about everything. After all, you’re probably tired of hearing that from me by now.

So that’s it. I’ve been a negative person for too long. Perhaps this is my official conversion to optimism or something, and I have no intention of regressing. I now value kindness as the most valuable human trait, not excellent sarcasm. I’ll read about things that make me happy, over things that make me sad. And while I’ll keep a vague eye out over what’s going on – I want to know what happens with 2015s UK elections and 2016’s US elections (come on Elizabeth Warren!) – and I’m not going to avoid all news sources like I did, I think now I’ll just not be a slave to them.

Yes, negative cynicism can be funny. But positivity makes me happy. I know which side I’ll choose.

 

*Yes, that’s a new word. You may use it. 

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Zen And The Art Of Mythological Maintenance

ZenPerhaps it’s my hesitant dabblings in yoga and that one time I managed to properly meditate*, or maybe it’s just I finally stopped caring about making sure everyone knows I’m right all the time, but I’ve slipped into an incredibly Zen way of life and thinking these days. Ok so I’m using Zen in the sense that I’m a placid lake of happy-go-luckiness who just rolls with the punches rather than a student of the 6th Century strain of Buddhism. But I’m sure you get the picture. Things just seem not to matter as much any more. Not that I’m becoming deadened to emotion or anything, I mean more that I’ve chosen not to care as much about things that I can’t change or things that get me nowhere in life.

Now I still geek out excessively. If you want to see me animated then just mention the upcoming Star Wars films in my presence. Words cannot hope to faithfully describe just how gosh-darned PUMPED I am for those things. Same with most geekery across the board if I’m honest. I enjoy being slightly manic when I feel like it. I still get worked up when the moment calls for it. Truth is though, I’ve realised that very few moments do call for it.

I guess it was a side-effect of being 18 and intelligent that I felt the need to hammer home just how correct I was and how wrong you all are at every available opportunity. It’s fun being right – I still believe that (ask any of my exes – I am an irritable correction freak) and I enjoy knowing stuff and churning out interesting facts to people – it’s just not a driving force of my life any more.

Some of you may remember my tempestuous departure from Christianity that went down a couple of years ago. I was an arrogant cynic who felt so intensely angry at so much about my previous life and I felt that I should be angry at someone but I had virtually no individuals to pin my butt-hurt intellect on. As a friend of mine commented “It’s just so hard because for twenty two years I’ve had this utterly amazing imaginary friend and now I have to come to terms that he’s just not there listening any more”.

I spent far too long reading as much as I could about how silly the very notion of God was. What fools! Hahahaha – look at those religious LOSERS! Tell you what, while it may be wrong to pick on a group of people for what they believe, it is undeniably fun. But yes, I was an insufferable prick.

And then came along the realisation that none of it actually mattered. Yes, I’d stopped believing in God, and yes, it was a big woop. Yet after the cosmic dust settles on the theological headstone I’d fashioned for good old Yahweh, I realised that nobody cared. Perhaps it came from my evangelistic days where I was used to going out and shoving my opinion in other people’s faces, or it could be that I just felt proud of my achievements in besting what I had believed to be the ultimate power in the universe, but just how people are awkward around the shouty men in the street who talk about how I’m going to Hell, people get annoyed at people who feel it their mission in life to pounce on any vague theological argument. People want to be able to think what they think without jarring flap-mouthed loons weighing in with their two-cents.

It’s funny actually. The times when I was most spoiling for a fight, I was sending out all the signals that I was singularly the worst person to engage in any sort of meaningful debate about higher things. Simply from an intellectual point of view I wanted to have a debate about atheism and Christianity – I still do in fact – but being a furry little ball of self-righteous rage, all my Christian friends exercised the wisdom of Solomon and stayed away, far far away. I honestly think that was the best call. Thank you all for not allowing me to embarrass myself. I’ve enough moronic moments in my life to deal with already without adding more.

But the worst part is that I never got to have a sensible conversation about things I truly wanted to talk about. I honestly don’t think that anyone of my Christian friends has any idea why I now don’t believe that God exists, and that’s weird considering the fact that I can rattle off the reasons and life events that led many of them to believing in God, and then sort more of them according to denomination and how many points of Calvinism they adhere to.

Perhaps I’d like that debate now. Over a drink somewhere – not on the internet. Internet arguments are without question the worst forum in which to try and talk to someone about anything serious. But then again, I’ve realised that it honestly doesn’t matter. This whole Zen thing has mellowed me out to the point where I know exactly what I believe and I’m comfortable with it. So comfortable in fact, I can listen to people talking about things that fly brazenly in the face of my godless sensibilities, and decide that none of it is worth a fight. You’re my friends and family and I don’t want to push any more of you away because of which books we like to read.

Zen truly is the way to live. Everything is better, everyone is lovely – if you just give them a chance, and the world seems brighter. Though that may just be the new light bulbs we bought for the kitchen – those things are brighter than the sun.

*It was out of this world. I felt like Yoda, Gandalf, and Professor X all rolled into one.

Year Of The Sloth

SlotPretty sure this year’s going to be a slow year. Sure, some crazy stuff will happen around the world, old diseases might be cured, new ones panicked about, some people will get married, others won’t, and blah blah blah. But for me, it’s going to be a slow burn, perhaps even a slog, to December. Not that  waiting for things is necessarily bad, I’m patiently holding out for baby Prince George’s emo phase that I hope is due in about 15 years.

Now I’m not wanting to make this a negative year, I’ve come to detest negativity for negativity’s sake, but rather due to the fact that impatience runs strong in my family, I (perhaps along with my siblings) will find that 2014’s developments come at a slower pace than I’d like.

Maybe it’s the 24 hour news cycle and the fact that I am all but surgically attached to what’s happening in the world (this is different to what’s happening on the streets (streetz?) – I usually catch up to that four years too late) and who’s shooting whom, and why tax X is wrong but tax Y is a vital social necessity and all that boring politicobabble, that I just want my life milestones to arrive within 2014’s first quarter so that I’m settled down by the fire with a husband, two kids, four novels written, a sinfully large paycheque, and a rock solid pension fund by mid-July.

As it happens, precisely 0% of these goals are currently on the horizon, or even in the works. Sure there are plans in my head, but there are also plans for the first habitable spacecraft with synthesised gravity floating about* up there somewhere and I’m not quite sure how to move things from the cranial ether to the real world. As one person put it “I think I have too many tabs open in my brain, and I can’t find the one that’s playing that awful song”.

2013 moved rather quickly as luck had it. I was whisked off my feet then I zoomed round the world and had a marvellous time. Shenanigans left right and centre, firsts at every turn (first time in drag, first time cooking a roast dinner (complete with giant bird), first time being paid for things I wrote online, first sibling in law… the list goes on). I hardly had time to check my bags on arrival 12 months ago but I seem to have meandered into a more thoughtful year and have been randomly selected for the slower queue at the airport of life… this metaphor got away from me somewhat.

I’ve made a number of resolutions already but I intend to share them slowly and not announce them with great fanfare lest I fail so quickly. While I’m still of the opinion that new year’s resolutions should only be things that you enjoy (eat more cake, never refuse bacon, learn about wine etc) I have grown as a human being – and who saw that coming? – to enjoy things that make me better either in my body or my person. For example, one of my first resolutions is to be able to touch my toes by the end of the year.

While some of you may gasp at my apparent inflexitude, May I remind you that there is literally no obligatory activity experienced by the majority of human-kind that actually requires you to touch your toes without bending your knees. Yet on I must plod with such a pointless goal as I’m now yoga-ing on a semi-regular basis and blending it with snippets of Tai-Chi I’ve managed to glean from the shed-load of martial arts films I’ve binge watched. My plan is to be a bit of a Miyagi-lite by December and see if my new and elongated muscles have done me any good. If they have, then I may take continue in my vague attempt at health. Then again, wine calls.

*I totally missed this pun (or is it simply irony) on first typing but liked it so much I let it stay

I Am Dying

ekg_flatlineWhoa there people, hold your horses.

Yes I’m dying, but at the same rate as you. Or at least I hope it’s at the same rate as you. Sorry for freaking you all out with my catchy title which is clearly only there to up my blog views which I obviously don’t care about…

I had a weird experience the other day and it’s stayed with me. I was waiting at the train station in Oxford and sat next to me on the rather uncomfortable metal bench was a soldier. A soldier in full soldiery get-up: helmet, camo, kevlar, the lot. The only thing missing was his rifle. He had with him two massive bags – the type you could carry two medium sized people (or oversized children), and I remember being glad that I never chose to go into the army as the mere sight of those bags made me blanch. Eurgh – hard work. Lifting. My hands are made for finer things, like writing snarky comments on my amazing new phone while being thousands of miles away from the hapless recipient of my wit. On the bags was the soldier’s name. I’ve forgotten the soldier’s real name but let’s just call him Harper.

I thought very little about him if I’m honest. I spared a thought for the guys I went to school with who subsequently went out to sandy places to shoot, be shot at, and disarm IEDs while advancing under fire (true story). I then promptly forgot about the whole thing and went back to listening to Bon Iver.

The journey progressed and we arrived at Birmingham, where I was to change one grubby train for another, even grubbier train. I stood, and down the other end of the carriage the soldier stood up and walked out. Exiting the door myself, I glanced down at the luggage rack and saw a massive bag in which one could fit a medium sized adult (or an oversized child). See where I’m going here? On the bag was the name Harper.

He probably left it by accident. Though quite how you’d forget a bag that big I don’t know. Perhaps it was ransom money and he was instructed to leave it on the train or his pet bunny would be slaughtered. I have no idea. But if you think that last suggestion sounded unrealistic, wait till you hear what my brain actually chose to believe for the next ten minutes.

In my mind, that bag – big enough to hold a medium sized adult (or an oversized child) in fact held a titanic sized brick of plastic explosive. My writer’s brain was in overdrive. Every action film I’d ever seen came screaming back to me in one massive download of “You’re going to die in a terrorist attack, a terrorist attack committed by a British soldier against this mass of the unsuspecting (and by the smell of them, unwashed) British public. You’re gonna die sonny!”

Was I ready? I quickly weighed up my options. I knew deep down that the chances of a massive bomb going off were about the same as me winning the lottery without actually buying a ticket, but the topsoil of my cerebral cinema at that moment was awash with adrenaline and what little testosterone my body could scrounge together.

When faced with the (utterly incredulous and entirely fanciful) possibility of violent death (or victorious stardom through helping people through the rubble!) my mind did a weird thing. It just shut down. All I thought was:
“Are you ready?
– Yup
– Really?
– Think so.
– Cool.”

I then emerged from my weird state of death-readiness and realised that there was no bomb, but instead I’d just watched a guy get off a train without his luggage and done nothing to alert him of the fact. In short, I was a dick. In my defence, there are so many announcements telling you to take your belongings with you, I’d like to think that it’s his own ruddy fault.

But encountering what my bizarrely wired brain interpreted as imminent firey death was a new experience for me, no matter how moronic. I was reading Reddit today and came across a story about a paramedic who was in an ambulance treating a guy. The guy was in pretty bad shape and sadly things got the better of him. His last words were “I feel OK about dying now, I’ve had a good life. I danced a lot.”

I’m happy I had quite a zen reaction to death. Had I panicked in any way I would have felt rather uneasy for quite some time. The fact that it fazed me not a whit makes me smile. I’d like to keep this attitude until the day I actually die. I’d like to be lying there and be able to say that I feel ok, I’ve had a good run, and that I danced a lot.

Might need to take dance lessons first though.

To Be Or Not To Be On The Internet

header 1I often wonder why we use social media. Well, aside from the obvious uses of keeping in touch with friends far away, organising events, and things of that nature. I mean, why tweet? Why write that status that you just know will annoy people and generate comments like bacteria swarm and multiply in a droplet of water? Why write a blog? Sometimes I think it all is simply a technological way of grabbing your friends, or indeed complete strangers from the internet, by the lapels and screaming “Love me! I’m important! Listen to my ground breaking opinions which I stole from somebody else!”

Of course, there is this side to things, and we are all guilty of such narcissistic technological sins from time to time (some more than others that’s for sure) but for the most part I think we can see why some people are like that when it really comes down to it.

But I find that the bigger question is “Why not?” Ok, so let’s all not ask why not when it comes to mind-numbingly moronic Facebook statuses; but when it comes to the question of whether or not to write something and put it out there, if you feel that you have talent as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this tweet “Be uprooted from the depths of my brain and be planted on the internet for all eternity”.

After all, how else can I fully enjoy this hilarious thought unless I share it with hundreds of other mindless internet pilgrims? That, at least, is how I choose to look at the world. I write because I can. I tweet in the vain hope that you find me as funny as I do. I blog because I have bugger all else to do with these words in my head. Yes, I appropriate phrases and sentences from other people to use in my writing (if you didn’t notice, I ripped off both H.G. Wells and Jesus in this one) but as I see it, art is made to be shared. In the words of our great and glorious king Oscar Wilde: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Oh, and if you ever find a typo in my writing, it’s because I’m following another maxim from a literary giant: “Write drunk, edit sober” – Ernest Hemingway

Yet, for all this, there are just some things on the internet that we simply do not understand:

Game On

DiceI think one of the most revelatory moments for me was when I decided to embrace the concept of imagining life as one big game. Not a game where there are winners and losers like Monopoly (though if it were Monopoly I just know I’d be the guy clinging to the hope that although I only owned The Angel Islington, putting a hotel on it would make everything better. Also, I wouldn’t have my first choice of counter – I’d be the sodding wheelbarrow) but instead, I imagine life as one big MMORPG.

MMORPG stands for Massive Multiplayer Onine Role Playing Game. It’s basically for nerds and geeks (and that is fine and I embrace both these terms) but it is essentially life. With magic. On the internet. I feel any extended definition of an RPG is rather redundant I’m afraid.

To illustrate what I mean: Everyone is equal, we all start at the same point, though some people tend to go about things with the wrong attitude. Most people just play to bumble along and advance their story while completing sidequests like mastering a second language, learning to water-ski, and baking cakes just for fun. There are those who take advantage of the newer, less experienced and naive but those are frowned upon. The objective is not to win but rather to play out your particular story and get better and stronger along the way.

To be honest, I could continue to extend the analogy forever but for those of you who play RPGs you already get what I’m on about, and for those of you who don’t then I think I’d only bore you.

In short, while serious things may happen, taking life less seriously than most is a liberating experience. Regarding everyone as entirely equal takes some work but it makes for a better user experience. And when things get a little more difficult in life, it’s rather comforting to think that it’s only because you’ve managed to level up.

Sheesh this blog seems a little heavy. But then again its content isn’t. I think what’s moved me to writing this is that because of how I look at the world, I am increasingly puzzled by those who take things oh-so-seriously and don’t seem to realise that everybody else is just bumbling along the same as them and, in the words of Liz Lemmon: “I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich”.

But then again there’s absolutely no use pretending that we all don’t whip off our clothes and dance like we’ve just won the bleeding lottery every once and a while. Even saying “every once and a while” is also a humongous untruth because we all know that we’d do it every second of every waking minute of every day if we thought we could get away with it. Well, that and sex. But even then, that is just the no-pants-dance done by two people instead of one. And so in a way, finding a partner with whom you can settle down and live a long life of glorious lovelness with is essentially the quest to discover somebody willing to strip off their clothes and move their limbs quasi-rhythmically (we are all not so gifted as the young Thomas Cruise is in the video below) in time to the universal music of unadulterated pleasure. Even if it does happen to be adultery.

Keeping You Less Stupid Than Yesterday

So I’ve been gone a while but I’m back now.

Well, I say that but we both know that after this blog I won’t be heard from again for a month or two… but anyhow.

If you know me you know that I like to know something about everything, you know? Some might think that “knowledge is power” is my motto but I tend to believe more in the fact that knowledge is knowledge and power is power. After all, knowing that every US president apart from Barack Obama has worn glasses, or that chewing gum was the first product to have a bar code, or that an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain are all examples of knowledge but aren’t really going to boil my kettle and make me my tea.

But if you knew me way back when I first joined Facebook, back when I was an annoying little scratty kid who used to rant all the time about grammar, and who hadn’t the vaguest clue about real life or what I actually wanted out of it, you’ll also remember that I used to blog about interesting facts. And today I thought it high time I returned to form and kept you in the loop with things you’ll never need to know but you might just feel better about knowing. Plus, I was bored. So sue me, or whatever.

1. Myth: There is more caffeine in tea than in coffee
Well actually I’m off to a bad start here because there is more caffeine in tea than in coffee. But what people mean when they spout this spurious factoid is that there is more caffeine in their cup of tea than in your fancy smancy designer coffee. They are wrong.
Pound for pound, there is more caffeine in tea. But cup by cup, coffee wins hands down. This is because much more coffee goes into making a cup of coffee than tea goes into your cup of tea. Therefore, coffee is the better bet when you’re feeling down and need a pick me up.
To be fair, we all knew this was true from day one but we just didn’t know how. Any moron knows that coffee will wake you up more than tea, it’s just when pedantic people shove a graph under your face with sciency numbers it’s a little hard to refute. It all depends on context really. The people who insist that there’s more caffeine in tea are also more likely to insist that it’s “soandso and I were just thinking” instead of the obviously correct “soandso and me were just thinking”. Yes, person x and I is often more right but not all the time. After all, if you came up to me and said “i were just thinking”, I’d expect you to be five.

2 Myth: Your hair and fingernails continue to grow after you’re dead
This is quite simply untrue. Mainly because it’s complete and utter nonsense. Now while it may be true that if you measure a person’s fingernail and hair length at the time of death and then a month later it will appear that they grew, this isn’t actually true, and here’s why.
Think about it, out bodies are some stupid percentage of water (is it 70%? I’m not sure) but as soon as we kick the bucket and decay begins, the water begins to go as well. Losing 70% of the makeup of your body is bound to have a crazy effect on how you look no? One of the main things is that your skin (which holds loads of water) is going to contract and shrink and shrivel and this means that (cue the gross part) your skin will pull back from your nails and also your hair so that while there is a greater distance in relation to where the skin ends and your hair/nails begin, there hasn’t actually been any growth.
This is also something you always kinda knew but never had the science to back it up in the face of those annoying factoid pushers who could really do with spending a week or two on Wikipedia. Since both nails and hair are made of a protein called kretatin, it’s impossible for them to grow after death as your body has better things to do than produce kreatin, namely decomposing.

3. Myth: Spinach has more iron than any other vegetable
Sadly this is also untrue, and that sucks because we’ve been choking down the stuff in the hope that we’ll become Popeye ever since we were little. This little deception is down to a mistake made by a German scientist ages and ages ago when he was recording the nutritional values of different foods. When it came to how much iron was in this particularly green and leafy plant, he slipped with the decimal point and so ended up telling the world that spinach had ten times as much iron in it as it in fact did have. In reality, spinach has about as much iron as a watermelon, and watermelons are far nicer, even if they do have 8 billion seeds.
It’s interesting to note that the entire cartoon character of Popeye is built around this particular fallacy and while I’m happy to leave spinach in the bin with the rest of the rabbit food, I’d quite like to keep Popeye and his ridiculously crazy arms because he is hilarious.

So… I’m going to go now before I bore you any more. But just before I go, I give you a video of the amazing physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson recounting his views on UFOs and what’s actually going on.