Christmas in the land of cuts

St Leonards on Sea

The Christmas tree. Somewhat depressing

I shouldn’t complain, I really don’t have the right. I’m lucky in that I live in a country where I’m not in fear for my life because I’m of the wrong tribe, religion or ethnicity. I’m lucky in that I’m not starving or having to walk ten miles to get a drink of polluted diseased water. And I’m lucky in that I have a roof over my head, some food in the cupboard, and an occasionally loving cat to stroke.

So why on earth am I moaning?

Human nature, perhaps. No matter how well off we are we always think we should be doing better. Perhaps Santa, rather than doling out another what-have-you, should swap us around for a day or two: you go to bed, fall asleep and wake up in a village in the middle of Somalia. Would I cope? Frankly, no. I’d like – in a very Hollywood action movie sort of way – to think I’d cope, but realistically I’d be screaming in terror.

Anyway, enough about my weird fantasies and onto the picture. Admittedly it’s at night and raining, but it’s not much better in daylight. A few years ago there were loads of decorations and lights strung across the street as well as a splendidly lit tree. Now, most of the shops have closed and the powers-that-be either can’t afford more lights for the tree or they’re worried about the electricity bill.

It’s 2013 and the must have gift is a tablet (not the pharmaceutical variety) whilst there are more homeless than ever.

It’s 2013 and the cost of living has gone through the roof, the population is growing at an alarming rate, there aren’t any jobs and yet (oddly) the unemployment figures are shrinking.

What will 2014 bring?

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Happy Solstice!

Earth - the pale blue dot.

Earth – the pale blue dot.

I get depressed on the summer solstice as the days begin to get shorter and the year winds down. Daft really, considering the summer solstice is in June, but I can’t help it. Conversely, on the winter solstice I’m a grinning lune! Yep, daylight is in short supply, but ever so slowly they’ll be more of it as the days begin to get longer. Peachy.

I could have put up a pretty picture of the sun over Stonehenge, but I thought the pale blue dot was apt. Taken by Voyager in 1990 as it left the solar system traveling at 40,000 miles an hour, the pale blue dot is where we live. All of us. All seven billion of us. There’s nowhere else to go, so let’s make sure our planet survives. Hmm?

Apt too is the following message from Carl Sagan.

Happy winter solstice! 🙂

Reality vs Imagination and the Pale Blue Dot

I often sit here at my desk and write fiction. Writing is a hobby – though, like many others writers, I’d like to make a living at it. Fantasy is my genre of choice rather than gritty realism, mystery, horror, or any other. Earlier today I was wondering why. Why fantasy in particular? It’s not easier than any other genre–although it might appear to be–in fact done well fantasy is a good deal harder: what with world building and language creation.

When the writing fit is upon me I use the internet a lot: to read, research, check facts, odd spellings and so forth. Out of all the sites I use Wikipedia is right up there with the best. I use it a lot as it’s by far the best resource for general research. Recently, I signed up to edit (I’d found a few typos). Today, while trying to work out how you begin to get properly involved, I stumbled upon a quote from Carl Sagan about the ‘Pale Blue Dot.’ It rang a bell in my memory vault so I explored some more.

On September 5th 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1. The mission was designed primarily to study the outer solar system and then, for as long as the craft lasted, to travel on and study interstellar space (as of right now it has been traveling for over thirty five years). Voyager 1 is the farthest away from Earth that mankind has ever been, which is a pretty sobering fact if you think about the vastness of space and the billions of other galaxies there are out there.

After it had finished its primary mission NASA got Voyager 1 to turn around and take photographs. And here is one of them. A photograph that will, if you have any imagination at all, blow your mind.

It was taken on the 14th february 1990, when, after traveling at 40,000 miles an hour for some twelve years, Voyager 1 was 3.7 billion miles away.

At first glance it’s not a terribly impressive picture … but look halfway down the light reddy/brown stripe on the right of the picture and you’ll see a tiny blue/white dot. See it? That’s Earth. It’s not imagination, not fantasy, it’s as real as it gets. And yet it’s so science fiction as to be almost unbelievable. That speck is where I am and except for vivid dreams and wild flights of fictional fancy I really ain’t going anywhere else.

It answers why I like writing escapist fantasy and why reading it appeals so much. It also gives us all the best possible reason for getting our collective acts together and sorting out the planet before it gives up on us…. Because we haven’t got anywhere else to go.

Carl Sagan says it best in his book ‘Pale Blue Dot‘:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Am I mad?

Art. what is it?

It seems that since the advent of personal computers, and especially since the internet has taken over all our lives, the distinction of ‘art’ has lost its true meaning. To me an artist was a creative, who, if lucky, managed to survive on their imagination. Now everyone seems to be an artist or a ‘media dude’ of some sort or other. And if you can ‘monetise’ your work then so much the better.

You used to have to fight for recognition of your art. Now, with a click of a button and a few well chosen keywords it’s globally accessible, and, if you’re lucky enough to create a meme or latch onto someone else’s, you’re made: with a gazzilion twats liking you on Facebook and yabbering about your marvellousness on Twitter. Fair enough. And fair enough for those who succeed no matter their art form.

But is art truly worth its money? By which I really mean: is a single painting worth so much money that alternatively you could buy an island to retire on; feed thousands for years, or even buy a few thousand shares in Apple computers.

Specifically I’m talking about this:

Abstraktes Bild. A painting by Gerhard Richter was sold by Eric Clapton at Sotheby’s in London on Friday for £21,000,000 (that’s twenty one million pounds for those who prefer text). Ironically before the internet and the BBC’s wonderful news site I probably wouldn’t have known about the sale of Abstraktes Bild at all. I’d probably be minding my own business and reading a book rather than ranting. But FUCK! It was painted in 1994. It’s not even twenty years old! Not that age has anything to do with artistic worth per se. It’s just that for a HUGE amount of dosh like that I’d want some history and age, too: a job lot! The Richter painting PLUS a medieval castle (moat, sheep, a few hundred acres and a recording studio) in Scotland, for instance.

Art is in the eye of the beholder and I don’t much like the painting. Admittedly I haven’t seen it in real life but I feel I could produce something similar without much trouble. Yeah, so that’s probably the same vain attitude that leads me to think I’d easily win Wimbledon, the PGA Masters, a couple of Olympic medals, not to mention the Monaco F1 Grand Prix.

I think my problem is more to do with the state of the planet and where humanity is in its evolution than specifically moaning about this ludicrous, outrageous sale. That we’ve reached 2012 and still seem blissfully unaware we’re fast overpopulating the planet; that there is still starvation, poverty, mayhem and continuing bloody war; that the United Nations can’t seem to make a decision over Syria. It all leads me to wonder if perhaps I’m having a nightmare.

What really upsets is that we have to face facts and do something now, but either nobody knows what to do, or if they do they don’t want to take responsibility for suggesting it. I can see their point. Telling the global population they have to stop breeding isn’t going to be popular. Especially when reproduction is one of our prime genetic instructions.

You’ll have to excuse the rather rambling nature of this post, but I haven’t had time to put ‘all my ducks in a row’ and produce a completely cogent piece. If I had this blog post would probably be a book–nay, a tome–of herculean proportions. It’s a tome that badly needs writing and would contain cheery chapters like: ‘how long has humanity got?’ and ‘how to get disparate peoples pulling together’ and ‘what is money really worth.’

Am I mad? Maybe I am. It depends on your definition. I’m certainly angry that with so many serious global problems someone can still spend a VAST amount of money on a bit of canvas and some paint. I’m also miffed that I’m not in a position to outbid the buyer … not, of course, that I would. 😉

NB and NaNoWriMo 2012

A note to myself reminding me I must get it together (man) and crack on. Not that I’m a couch potato, but I do tend to fritter the hours away.

If I dropped dead tonight – not that I have any intention of it – I’d leave behind unfinished songs, unfinished short stories, and several unfinished novels. ‘Unfinished’ seems a recurring theme.

This morning I got up (as you do) bright as a button. Made coffee, put the rubbish out for the dustcart, staggered upstairs and checked my emails. An hour later, tormented by a HUGE list of things to do, I espied my bed. It beckoned, I resisted: it insisted … a wee snooze never hurt anyone.

So here, as it’s near the end of the day, I can sum up:

  1. I’ve changed this blogs appearance: the previous theme was ‘Modularity Lite’ and now I’m on ‘Quintus’. I also discovered I have 60 categories and, somehow, have to prune them and use tags instead.
  2. I haven’t published the short story I promised myself I would.
  3. I haven’t finished my work web-site.
  4. I haven’t even hoovered. 😉

If I was into that sort of thing I’d give myself a damn good spanking, and stand in the corner for half an hour.

The truth we all face is that we’re only here as sentient beings for a brief smidge of time, and a third of that we waste by being asleep. When we’re gone all we leave behind us are – hopefully – a few nice memories that others have of us, and whatever ‘art’ we’ve produced: be it music, prose or painting.

I don’t want to shuffle of this mortal coil without leaving something behind. Do you?

So … why not have a bash at this:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges you to write a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, in the month of November. It’s a global, uproariously fun endeavor, where participants exchange advice and writing tips on the NaNoWriMo? website and in real life, with group write-ins held in coffeeshops, living rooms, and libraries all around the world. In 2011, more than 250,000 people took part in National Novel Writing Month.

I started doing NaNo in 2006, and although I’ve missed the 50,000 twice I can honestly say it’s probably the most fun you can have fully clothed.

If you’re a writer, or even if you’re not a writer but have always wanted to ‘give it a go’, sign up for NaNoWriMo and enjoy!

If you are still unconvinced here are 10 reasons you should do NaNoWriMo

Hubble humbles, a.k.a. talk about insignificant!

Sitting here, writing this, I don’t feel particularly insignificant. And yet in the scheme of things I am. Entirely, as, and I’m sorry to have be the one to point this out, are you.

‘Yeah,’ you might say, getting a tad shirty, ‘but actually we’re not insignificant at all. Where’s your proof of this outrageous statement?’

If it’s proof you want then here, courtesy of NASA and the Hubble space telescope, it is. But firstly I need to set the scene (cue drum roll):

Imagine you’re standing outside in the middle of nowhere. It’s pitch dark and you can see all of the visible sky – remember you can only see a little bit of the sky as you’re on a spherical planet looking in only one direction. It’s captivating. It’s amazing. All those dots of light are stars and they’re so far, far away.

It’s the night of a full moon. The moon is BIG compared to the rest of the white dots and the planets, but still the moon is small in relation to the sky you can see.

Now, look at the picture above. Look at the small square that says ‘XDF’.

Then check this out!

eXtreme Deep Field image taken by the Hubble space telescope

Hubble humbles

This is the proof of our true insignificance. This is an amalgamation of ten years worth of photographs taken by the Hubble of an area equivalent to the small square that’s labeled XDF (extreme deep field). Yet still, still it contains around 5,500 galaxies.

“The universe is 13.7 billion years old, and the XDF reveals galaxies that span back 13.2 billion years in time. Most of the galaxies in the XDF are seen when they were young, small, and growing, often violently as they collided and merged together. The early universe was a time of dramatic birth for galaxies containing brilliant blue stars extraordinarily brighter than our sun. The light from those past events is just arriving at Earth now, and so the XDF is a “time tunnel into the distant past.” The youngest galaxy found in the XDF existed just 450 million years after the universe’s birth in the big bang.” – NASA.

There has to be a point to it all. Surely? But trying to grasp the idea of such vast amounts of time and space is hard enough, without trying to fry your brain and analyse our place in it.

Thus our insignificance. 😉

QED.

Find out more at the NASA XDF site: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/xdf.html

Hoovering and other thoughts.

I hoovered the house today. I’d put it off for yonks but suddenly felt the need – no idea why.

It gave me time to think about the world and my place in it. It gave me time to think about platonic love and friendship, as well as frenemies – a newly coined word to describe complex love/hate relationships. It gave me time to think about the band and why I’m so apathetic about it – to the extent I don’t really give a shit anymore. It gave me time to think about why I’m inveterately incapable of setting goals and achieving them – I’d like to put it down to genetics as my dad was much the same, but that would be feeble.

There are days when I can entirely understand those that walk out of their lives and vanish. There are days when I desperately need some kind of reassurance that this life has a point.

The place where we live. We only have the one.

We inhabit a planet that, to me, seems unique. We’re adrift – without lifeboats – with finite supplies in a universe we are trying hard to understand but don’t. Yet we are doing our very best to destroy the only place we have to live. Overpopulation is now no longer a possibility but a fact, as is global warming, sea level rises, and imminent starvation.

At this point I’d reached the top floor and had to re-plug the hoover as well as berate the cat for snoozing in my chair. Bloody cats! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them: they’re just total sweetie-pies. But I digress.

I plugged the hoover in and continued musing.

A glossy A5 double sided card came through the letterbox this morning. Some chap with gleaming teeth and a white suit who is going to be holding a revival meeting and preaching to the masses next weekend. I think I might go. Not because that sort of church thing appeals, but because I need to make a living and they do say (not entirely sure who they are) that if you want to get rich quick then start a religion. Really, it’s a pity I’m agnostic because I could do with a bit of blind faith as the world continues devolving around me.

Though I didn’t come up with any mind-bogglingly wonderful ideas for saving myself, my loved ones, the planet, humanity, or indeed any of the other poor species we co-habit with and continually fuck over, I did finish the hoovering.

Until the next time, then. Ave.