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  • Archive for May, 2011

    Schedule of Awesome (and the C word)

    2011 - 05.17

    Let’s be honest about this: I am hardly the most qualified person to manage my own life. I’m overly curious, endlessly interested, easily excitable, more easily distractible. Is ‘distractible’ a word? ‘Distractable?’ Whatever. You know what I mean. Attention span of a –

    – where was I?

    Oh, life management. Fortunately, while we may not always have what we want (ie the unflagging ability to self-manage), life does often seem to make sure we have what we need.

    For the Doctor Who fans amongst us… Doctor vs Tardis, Neil Gaiman-style

    Like friends who will wade in when required, roll up sleeves and call us to task. I am blessed with a few of these. They are like a living arsenal to which I can turn when in need, and right now, my secret weapon is The Mann. Hollie Mann.

    Thus far, 2011 has been a perfect example of the old adage it never rains, but dammit it can pour – it’s been the Year of Open Doors. And I’m the first to be grateful. But you must bear in mind that I run to an open door like the Doctor to a terrified scream and so have merrily charged through so many – without thinking to leave myself a trail of string or crumbs by which to find my way home – that I found myself well and truly lost.

    And right there and then is where you need a Hollie to say: “You’re not coping, are you?”

    Adele (thumbing through an ink-black diary, while on mobile, while on facebook, while answering an email, while listening to new choreo): “Whatever gave it away?”

    And that’s where you need a Hollie to say: “Ok. So let’s do something about it.”

    Now in my (admittedly inadequate) defence, I was trying to be awesome. We always try to do as we know best for any given situation, right? Who ever sets out to make a mess of life, the universe and everything? But if we’re trying… and we’re failing… there’s only thing left for it.

    That’s right. It’s the big C word. Run for the hills, while you still can.

    For creatures who are so adaptable, it’s amazing what we humans will do not to change. There’s another wise saying that goes something along the lines of ‘The difference between real people people and fictional characters is that characters change.’ It’s true, right? Great story telling is always abut transformation. Or, in rare and priceless cases, like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, about characters who refuse to change, and these are inevitably tragic figures.

    Sandman: “The King of Dreams learns that he must change or die, and makes his choice.”


    Hope vs Optimism

    2011 - 05.09

    Some years ago, philosopher writer Alain de Botton decided that London needed a new school. A school for adults, a school about living well – something grievously neglected in mainstream education – and he called it the School of Life. I first heard about it at the 2010 Hay Festival; it took me until yesterday to make it there. That’s partly because my life is generally living a life of its own (and is therefore in urgent need of schooling) and mostly because, like similar institution Millers Academy (now defunct, I believe) the School leans towards providing its most excellent education to the noticeably solvent.

    [NB: little local advertising: Notting Hill now has a replacement to Miller’s in the form of new cafe/academy The Idler Academy (of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment), which offers evening sessions from £15-25 pounds. Pity is mostly happens in the evenings – when yours truly is working-working-working…]

    School of Life does however offer the monthly Sunday Sermon, which when priced at £12 does not cause my Finance Minster to require a quick lie down and pinch of snuff the way the bulk of their schedule does. Curiously set up as a sort of Humanist alternative to church, the Sermons take place on a Sunday morning complete with ‘Parish newsletter’ and ‘hymns’ (relevant mainstream songs) performed by the Choir With No Name (comprised of singers with no homes). As with traditional church you are invited to stand to sing, and arm actions apparently are included.

    So this last Sunday I gathered my girls Hols and Jenna to trot along for a sermon by ‘aggressively hopeful’ writer and activist Rebecca Solnit, sermonising (not entirely comfortably) about Hope + Despair. The full sermon will turn up online on the School Of Life site at some point if you’re interested, and several of its key points will turn up at in my various fictions at some point as well, albeit at some point much further away from now. What I want to share in the here and how though is Rebecca’s differentiation between Hope and Optimism.

    You see, I myself have been accused of being aggressively optimistic, and this is true, but I now wish to trade that badge of honour in for a more hope-inclined version. And this is why:

    OPTIMISM – certainty – it will all work out – PASSIVE
    DESPAIR – certainty – nothing can be done – PASSIVE
    HOPE – uncertainty – therefore we can do something – ACTIVE

    And there’s the difference. Optimism is in fact a passive position: an act of faith, if you like. A religion all of its own, or a bonus feature of a mainstream religion (God will make sure things work out. Even if they look bloody awful at the time, He knows what’s going on, the Man has a Plan and it will all work out in the end. Not necessarily for you, but for someone. Probably). According to Rebecca’s proposition, Hope is an active concept. It’s an empowering principle where you acknowledge that things may not work out – that disaster is an option – but choose to take an active role to forcibly determine the outcome of the situation.

    We can’t always act. But I’ll bet – in small personal moments and global arenas alike – we typically surrender our own power to affect change way more often than we search for and find ways to exert it. Refuse to passively accept that something will/will not work itself out for the best/worst, but instead to take the power of hope and transform it into the power of action; to instigate change in your life, the lives of others and even the state of the world.

    As Rebecca invited us, so I invite you to surpass optimism; to defy despair.