Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Things That Annoy Me, No 1

People’s General Inability to Have a Discussion

I can be articulate on paper, or screen.  Here, if I’m lucky.  I am often told I speak in an articulate way.  (When I'm not flustered.)  But here, I can make a point, move from A to B in a sensical way, and so on.  I cannot argue, or debate, when talking.  (You should hear, I fall over myself. It’s very embarrassing.)

This is partly because people are often at cross purposes when talking.  If someone asks me about something that I know more about than they do, because I have done whatever it is (for example), you would expect them to listen to what I say when its about direct experience.  I might colour it with my own perception.  Well, of course I would.  But as a person who had done a thing they hadn’t, you would expect a listen, wouldn’t you?  As I would listen to them, I hope.  As you listened, you’d be naturally disentangling what you knew of the person’s biases and temperament from the information they were relaying.  We all do this all the time.  I don’t think we naturally swallow whole whatever we’re told, by whomever.

That’s a simple scenario.  When it comes to ideas, things like, say, ‘climate change’; it all gets ridiculous and complicated. The first thing is to establish whether everyone understands the same thing by the phrase.  That needs to be made clear before people in a group start talking about it.  Of course, it hardly ever is.  (We aren't going to talk about climate change by the way.  That was just an example of something people get very opinionated about, often knowing very little about.)   People just dive in to big issues, unaware that semantics are going to get them very cross any minute.  (Semantics are what we agree by a word or phrase; what we agree its meaning is as a group.  Hence needing to know what we are talking about when we say 'climate change'.)

Then there’s why people are discussing whatever it is at all.  Whether they understand what a discussion is.  The Cambridge Online (Essential British English) Dictionary, says:

A discussion is ‘a talk in which people tell each other their ideas or opinions:  e.g. they were having a discussion about football’.

So this would be an exchange of views on a subject.  An exchange, note.  Not a persuasive exercise at all.  Each viewpoint gets to state their reasons and be heard.  Each viewpoint holder tries to understand the other side’s views.  To see if there’s merit to them.  People nod and think, and ask clarificatory questions, to aid their understanding.

Then there’s a debate.  According to the Cambridge, a debate is:

Talk or arguments about a subject: e.g. there has been a lot of public debate about the safety of food’.
This is the start of where we get problems here, or anywhere Western, really.  It’s when we state  standpoints and reasons for, but with a view to persuading the other side toward our own position, by techniques known as rhetoric.    (This is from ancient philosophy. It’s a long standing thing.)  I don’t have a problem with rhetorical techniques when used politely and well.  People often don’t though.  (I read a funny and chatty American article on this that will amuse even people who immediately want to go to sleep on hearing the terms Pathos, Logos and Ethos.  It explains, quite nicely, what rhetoric is and how to use it in a very basic way to put forward a view in an argument.  A way that goes beyond insult and opinion. There is also a amusing video reference to jell-o.  One day I am going to ask An American to explain to me the fascination for jell-o.  Its a good word, anyway.)

Now, you instantly have a problem even just amongst two people, if one thinks they are having a discussion, and one thinks they are having a debate.  Someone is going to start feeling mocked, or picked on, or simply not heard.

Our whole society is based on an adversarial system when it comes to deciding important things.  Lawyers in court cases.  Politicians in parliament (in between all those off-putting farmyard sounding sheep noises, there is generally some ‘debate’ going on).  I’m not treating you like an idiot with this last paragraph - or this whole post.  Course you knew all that.  It’s that people don’t think about it. 

Whenever I think I am having a discussion, quite often, I am instead being debated with, by someone determined to change my view – not listen, or exchange ideas.  The worst part is when you get someone who thinks they are a brilliant debater, though what they are is an argumentative idiot with a basic grasp of a few rhetorical techniques, but often misapplied (see that article I mentioned: some very common misapplications of ‘pathos’ techniques within; especially in InternetLand). 

In real life, I tend not to get into discussions, as people mostly seem to be debating or arguing instead.  It’s very Annoying.  The only people who win at those games, are those who love to argue and can think very quickly on their feet (like Stanley, who is very good at it).  Whatever they are actually talking about is often lost in the fight.  Which is a shame.  I might’ve liked to think on it, learn something.  Tsk.

Meandering with Star Trek and addictive TV

Last Sunday
It’s a strange day, weather-wise, outside and inside.

Outside its properly pouring with rain one minute, and now – this minute – very sunny, suddenly dry, and there’s an unidentified lovely tiny brown bird hopping out of the borage at the side of the garden hedge.

Inside, there’s the very distracting original Star Trek theme  from the living room, and lil’ Tetchyhead being awkward about having lunch.  I don’t need to be in there to know he’s twisted his way out of both of the straps holding his shoulders in place in the high chair, that his mouth is very orange and possibly so too is one cheek and the fingers of one hand.  My partner, Alias Stanley Kubrick is no doubt squinting between the TV and Tetchyhead, which won’t help the food distribution pattern. 

I feel guilty at not being in there, doing it myself, or just being with them, even though now is my time off.  And you really do need time off from whatever it is that you do all day (and all night, if its babies or small children), if you want to remember who you are and why you do that thing all day (and night).

When I was pregnant with Son Number one[1], his father and I used to watch original Star Trek every night on satellite.  We would come home from work (he as a printer, I was doing inventory in a warehouse for a now defunct Japanese designer goods shop in Bruton Street), and I would plop my immensely fat self down on the sofa bed in our box room we shared.  He would make a massive jug of chocolate Ovaltine (which I was very addicted to during the pregnancy), and we would curl up and watch that night’s double bill.  You know when you really really get into something?  I had seen Star Trek all through my childhood, but it wasn’t till I watched it whilst pregnant for that first time that I came to live for it every evening.  That I realised that All That Is Good And Right In Our Western Culture can in fact be found here, in original Star Trek.  It’s like a bible, a manual, for How To Behave In Every Situation.  Now – this clearly needs some backing up, as a massively daft statement.  (I can’t actually do that now – I’ll do it in a later post, I promise – I’d need to re-watch them all, which will take a bit of time; and my opinion will likely have changed – hell, its been 20 years since I watched them that closely.)

The weird thing is, I get that degree of total addiction to many TV shows (without being convinced they are also a manual for life).  Most of them can be blamed on Son Number One.  He’s an absolute connoisseur of finding addictive TV I will like:
Ø      24 (how to live life by running about and shouting a lot, being very definitive and consistently maverick) 
Ø      PrisonBreak (how to live life by running about and shouting a lot, whilst also making very good far thought out plans and giving Robert Knepper  the best role he’s had in ages) 
Ø      Big Bang Theory (I have always thought being a nerd was big and clever, and here is some very funny proof; and here is the actual big bang theory)
Ø      Two and a Half Men (its very scary that Charlie Sheen’s character is mild compared to his recently interviewed actual self – let no man say he cannot act) 
Ø      Buffy (one of the ultimate classics of teenage female empowerment and incredibly well-written) 
Ø      Angel (strangely more grown-up cousin of Buffy, also very well written) and
Ø      Lost (excellent long-running premise including unlikely polar bears, one of the world’s most handsome blonde men and an annoying ending) 

It goes back way further though.  As a rather miserable child who was bullied in two out of her three schools (the exception was the progressive school Prior Weston, where I happily did weaving with different shades of green suede and wool), I remember living for TV shows, or films, simply as a place to be instead of my world.  Flambards (recently re-released by the good people at Network ) I have yet to re-watch.  I almost don’t want to.  How can I find it as mesmerising as I did watching it as a dreamy and lonely child, wishing I lived in the countryside; wishing I had a weedy but brainy boyfriend into planes, and a brawnier love interest into horses?  Most importantly, that I was older and had some sort of control over my life and where I spent my time. 

Much obsessive time was spent watching and re-watching videos, when I hit my teens (which was notably the brilliant era of video-nasties and parents just not being quite aware what you were watching; or weirder, watching unsuitable things with you, like my dad did – later post on these).  I watched Grease, the marvellous Aussie Puberty Blues and Picnic at Hanging Rock with my Jodie Foster triple bill (The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane [yes, ‘school is stultifying’], Foxes  [and ever since have wanted a tattoo on my shoulder of an apple with a bite taken out of it], and Svengali [Peter O’Toole is always magnificent, I feel]) endlessly.  From each one I got ingredients to a world I liked better; or directions round this world that I understood more than interactions with anybody here.

Now see, we could go in so many directions now: about the fact that when you get older, quite often you still have very little real control over where you spend your time – for most of us, who didn’t study triumphantly to become marine biologists[2] and are well-mapped out and wealthy enough to grease our own pathways – the phrase ‘wage-slave’ means something. 

Or it would be interesting to see exactly what I got from each of those films, why I felt the need to escape so much.  (Not that I’m so incredibly interesting – just that many children in this situation do similar things, and it’s an interesting mechanism to look at – and how what they pick to disappear into influences their growth as a person.)

Or why so many parents of bullied children don’t change their schools?  Or try to help the children deal with the issues in any real way….Or why teachers used to accept it as just a normal thing that happens?  (A false understanding of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ as an idea Out There In The Ether underpins a lot of that last).

But none of these will happen this post, as I hear the small Tetchyhead crying bullishly and no doubt very fat tears in the living room, and its been a long day for excellent Stanley K with him. I can feel my need to go and take the baby from him; partly as an act of partnery niceness, and partly as I can’t stand to hear him crying this way (its one of the worst parts of motherhood, listening to this noise of upsetness, it drills my brain and makes me want to cry as well; I often do).  So I’m going to have to go.   We’ll have to call this meander, the one that could have gone somewhere interesting, but really never got there.  I shall have to come back to it all later. (Welcome to Motherhood: Land of Interruption.)

PS - I f any of these links go wonky, tell me, and I shall fix or find new ones, or remove.

[1] …who I used to call Pumpkinhead, purely because I liked the way the sounds of the words went together – he has a head nothing like a pumpkin in shape.  I had this pointed out to me so many times (by other people, not Son) I stopped doing it.  Likewise, ex-hub really hated being called Belovéd Pea Hen…Because the pea hen was the female of the species, was his reason.  He really liked being male.  Again, it just popped into my head and I loved the sound of the words.  I stopped doing that too.
[2] I know a nice girl from school who became a marine biologist; all down to the influence of our geography teacher.  So no offence to marine biologists – I was just trying to think of a specialised and highly trained profession that I actually respected (unlike lawyering, say).

Why I am Bothering Your Brain With This Blog...

Last Saturday
So.  Intro.  I want it quite clear I was nagged into this.  I lost a blinking contest and fell victim to some reverse psychology.  The thing is, you can’t go about the place ardently telling your friends you ‘want to be a writer’ for a very long time, occasionally show some of them your stuff (to mixed reaction), without someone piping up and asking you why you don’t blog.

To these friends (and one in particular), it doesn’t matter that a blog is more like a public diary entry, or an email, in tone, than a novel or a short story (which is what I write).  (Heh, heh, lets more accurately say – short stories, is what I write; a novel is what I want to write when I (a) get an idea that’s both long enough and I don’t get bored with after Chapter 6, and (b) when I get more than half an hour a day to myself to concentrate.)  (I am further aware, that many people will sniff and say, ‘excuses, excuses, my Uncle Popple wrote a huge, massive book with two minutes a day in 1941 while being bombed, in a shelter’ etc etc.  That’s as maybe – as my partner Alias Stanley Kubrick [SK, or Stan] would say.  But I’m not Uncle Popple.)

The person who irritated me into this will soon see the error of his ways, I am sure.  In the meantime, I will bore you – all, er…2 or 3 of you who may pop by to see what I am waffling about on any given day.

I wish it known, I shall be waffling about myself (oh, there’s plenty of irritating introspection to come, fear not).  Also about Things That Annoy Me and Things That Please Me.  I shall waffle about things I am into (e.g. modern neo-paganism – I shall be wonderfully vague about this), or things that worry me, like established religion (I have strict views on the necessary vagueness of this).  Food, animals, astronomy, history, books, music, pub quizzes, TV, films, philosophy, psychology, and my feeble beginner attempts at gardening.  If I have help, I shall not disgrace myself discussing science sporadically.  My arguments with grammar will on occasion be covered.  My disagreement at having it pointed out to me that the word ‘alot’ doesn’t exist. (Piffle – words change, and I say it, write it, and prefer it to the two-worded boring version.)  I really like words.  Not necessarily long or rare ones.  I quite like having lots of them in a sentence; I have a great fondness for adjectives and adverbs, and probably not always in the currently considered correct places.  Stuff will be spoken of.  You know, the usual. 

This is not to say that I know with any degree of certainty or teacherliness, anything about any of these subjects.  It’s all, ‘like, my opinion, man’.  You probably shouldn’t let anyone, ever, lecture-ise you and tell you in a Certain and Concrete Type Way, about anything.  (Except things like: ‘That’s hot!  Don’t touch it; you’ll get burned/scalded!’  Etc.  Then you put your hand near it, to check, and it would likely be giving off heat, so you proved that to yourself anyway, without having to get burned.  But you know what I mean.)  I’ll say what I say, if you haven’t gotten bored and wandered off; and you’ll read it, think about it and then…wander off.  And check for yourself.  Make up your own mind.

This is the main point, really.  Why I said it was a daft idea for me to blog.  I don’t have set in stone opinions on much at all.  Quite a few bloggers seem to.  It seems to be a very opinionated game, from what I’ve seen for the last few years.  Whereas I like for new information to come in and annoy the old information and embellish it or rout it.  (For instance, I had a long and well-cherished notion – we’ll get to ‘notions’ at a later date – that I liked the idea of the Loch Ness Monster.  Why not?  That wasn’t a literal question.  I have partner Stanley for telling me exactly why not for 3 hours, thankyou very much.  I had, after those 3 hours, to regretfully let go of the original idea of the Loch Ness Monster as a possible as yet undiscovered dinosaur, due to some incontrovertible logic.  I was a bit sad, as I didn’t have an idea to put in the place of this.  So I mourned my old idea, and made scrunchy-eyed faces at Stanley for a few days. Then I saw Men Who Stare at Goats [1].  And was cured!  Of course, it’s a GHOST of a dinosaur!!!  How can I possibly be argued with now?!  I am currently unassailable on that one issue.  Then again…it’s still not set in stone.  I may be all wrong about my ideas about ghosts, or imprints, or manifestations of universal consciousness or collective unconscious or whatever we shall call them….plus, yes, it could all be my big wishful imagination.  But I like the idea.  And I will defend it as far as to say – ‘yes, I may be wrong, tell me a better story, I’m listening’.)

There will be footnotes going on here and there.  I know it’s all the fashion to link to everything you speak of in blogs, but I intend to do some book quoting.  And no, not every book known to man or my little collection is on the web.  Or available as an e-book.  (Which are all very well, but bloody hell, don’t you want to hold your books, smell them??  I have a beautiful copy of Charles de Lint’s Moonheart  that I got from a 2nd hand bookshop, in the 90’s.  The Orb edition, with the lovely artwork.  It must have come from a really damp house, as the pages were not only the usual tan, but a bit warped too.  But the smell.  It’s a book about a forest, and the book smelled of the forest.  All the way through, every single time I turned a [magical] page, I got this marvellous foresty smell.  Let me say, there may be a million worthy reasons for getting a Kindle or suchlike: larger print for eyestrain, or free classics to name but two…but they will not, as yet, give you surround forest smells.  Just remember that.)  Anyway.  Specific page quoting from books.  I got into this tiresome habit while doing an Open University  MA a few years back.  My thesis drove me bonkers: talk about a game being played, the whole thesis process; but by the end of it, I was wedded to the idea of checkable footnotes.  Also, if you’ve ever read (especially early) Terry Pratchett , you’ll know footnotes are great fun, too; home to many a spurious and tangential aside.  (Almost as good as brackets.  I like those also.)

Oh yes, the obvious.  I live in England.  I’m a girl.  I should probably say woman, being 40 now.  I have two children. The now 20 year old Son Number One; and the now 18 month old Wonderful Fluffhead/Tetchyhead (depending on mood), Second Son.  I’m at home at the moment, looking after The Fluffhead, and attempting to convince him some things really shouldn’t just be randomly grabbed/ torn up and so on, though the world is clearly a marvellous and much curious place.  Stanley K goes and does the bring home money thing, in a weary way.  Thanks to many factors (some our own fault, some not) we aren’t very well off at all at the moment; so I shall likely moan about money here and there (as well as a good moan about many other things). 

And this is actually how I talk.  I’m not putting on a tone here.  Apart from the footnotes, which can’t really be replicated in speech.  I can, however, do brackets, in speech – it’s all a matter of simple hand gestures.  (When Son Number One was tiny, it was also a matter of special bracket noises.  We still do them sometimes, one of many things that really make us laugh.)  I am quite grumpy, even though I think the world is brilliant .2  This will come across in my tone.  Some days I get very sad.  But we’ll see how it goes. 

The reason this blog is called BlackberryJuniper and Sherbet is twofold.  BlackberryJuniper was the result of a conversation with a sadly now lost ex-friend and fellow blogger  who one day changed his facebook page and suddenly had a brilliant nickname he’d decided upon in the middle of his name.  (You know, like American stuntmen being Joe ‘Slugger’ Hawkins or whatever.)  We chatted away about this excellent and silly development and I decided I wanted to give myself a stupid nickname too.  And came up with BlackberryJuniper, which isn’t stuntman-ish or literary (as his was) at all.  But I liked it, and it’s me in a goodish mood.  Sherbet is me in a sad/bad mood.  That just came into my head one day: sherbet is so prickly and unpleasant and immediate on the tongue (to me – you go ahead and like the taste, good for you).  It seemed to me that was how my sad/bad moods felt.  I do feel like these two are almost separate people in my head.  No, not in a scary literal way.  In that when I am in one mood I have very little understanding of the other mood at all.  Each moody me views the other as stupid and deluded. So that explains that.

Anyone who got this far, in this post that really went nowhere and rambled something terrible, I thankyou.  About time I wrote a proper post now, eh?
Which must mean its lunchtime.  It is 1.30 after all.  Nice to meet you.  I really do hope you’ll come by again.

[1] Apparently, Jeff Bridges films are a major tool of thought provocation.  Try one and see what you think. 

2 I think Paul Whitehouse himself is brilliant, too.  What a versatile comedian.  Apart from those adverts.