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Imagine, if you will, that you are in the corridor of an old fashioned plush hotel. The deep pile carpet feels warm nestled against your knees. You are breathing deeply but are unaware of this. The focus of your attention is the keyhole in front of you. Beyond the thick door is the object of your attention. A beautiful couple perhaps. Engaged in passion. Your ear, close to the grain of the door is devouring the soft sounds of their embrace. Your eyelash flicks the metal surround of the keyhole, its classic shape framing sections of the moving bodies, partially clothed, lost in passion, within the room.
Then, almost inevitably, you become aware of footsteps padding down the hallway…how do you feel in that moment?
This is my imagining of a scene suggested by the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in order to illustrate his view of self-awareness. The voyeur is completely unaware of his or her self whilst staring through the keyhole. Whatever their motive for taking the role of ‘Peeping Tom’ at that moment they are only conscious of of the object of their senses – the couple beyond the door.
The point being that they only become self-aware once they realise that they are the object of someone else’s gaze, the knowledge that someone else coming along the corridor can see them. And at that moment the voyeur will think of themselves in terms of what they perceive the other person will be thinking about them. They may think that the person in the corridor will be thinking that they are a ’peeping Tom’ or voyeur.
In a way what Sartre suggested was that we can never be truly self-aware. Our ’awareness’ can be a reflection of others.
In his book ’Being and Nothingness’ he says this:
“Consciousness is a being such that in its being, its being is in question, in so far as this being implies a being other than itself,”
The implication of this is that consciousness is dependent on awareness of an OBJECT. To be conscious you have to be aware OF something. When it comes to being conscious of the self, what happens is that we project a version of our ’self’ (the object) in order to be conscious of it and think about it. What this means is that the ’self’ we project and think about is not our true self but merely an image.
Often what happens when thinking of our ’self’ is that it is a reflection of what we think others think about us. Hence the voyeur thinks about the observer seeing them as a ’peeping tom’ and feels the associated guilt and shame. Before being observed the voyeur is not self aware at all.
So when we think about ourselves we generally tend to view it through a lens. We think that we are happy/sad/good/bad people because that is how others think of us.
When I think about this I realise how much of the time that we are not self-aware. How much of the time we are absorbed in something else. Like watching tv or reading a book. Even when we are engaged in an activity (me writing this for example), one can be thinking of other things on multiple levels, but not aware of anything around us.
I guess my question is whether we can ever truly ’know’ ourselves? I am not sure that we can because as humans we are continually moving and changing like shifting sands in the desert. The dunes of the sahara seem so large and full of form that they appear solid. The reality is that they are shifting waves; an ocean of sand sweeping ever so slowly, unseen, across North Africa. As people we are like these oceans of sand.
People often say ’it’s not in my nature’ to do this thing or that thing. Or they say ’I don’t have that kind of personality,’ or ’that person isn’t my type,’. As if the kind of person we are is somehow fixed in our DNA.
The truth is that I am not the same person I was yesterday, or last week, or ten years ago. If a boatbuilder repairs a wooden boat and replaces every single plank and mast and nail, is it the same boat? It has the same shape but surely a different essence.
What can we learn from this? I am not sure. Except to say that as humans we have choices and one of those choices is how we view the object that we project of our self in our minds. Too often we choose the negative view. If someone gives you five compliments and one throwaway negative comment (perhaps about how they don’t like your sweater) you go away remembering the bad thing. We should be mindful of this and when we think about ourselves attempt to keep the positive.
Sartre argued for an existentialist viewpoint. The only thing that exists is the here and now. The past is gone. Over. The future hasn’t arrived yet. There is only now. Right now. Therefore we can choose to interpret our past actions and feelings however we like. And we can choose what kind of person we think we are going to be in the future. Endless possibilities there!
Finally, back to the voyeur. If we are honest most of us should admit to being curious about what was beyond the keyhole. A glimpse of stocking perhaps? Can any of us truly say that we wouldn’t be tempted to look?
What do you think?
So. For the second day running, delightfully, I have a day off. I am a teacher so I am experiencing the joy that is the ‘Snow Day’. I know there will be many who are perhaps jealous and feel that us teachers get an easy ride, what with all those long holidays and finishing at three. I will always counter any of those arguments with the fact most teachers work damn hard, as hard as any one else I would say. I would also counter it with this; why can’t everyone have long holidays and snow days? There is no real reason apart from those at the top who are convinced in the efficacy of the Protestant work ethic, where one is somehow only a virtuous person if you work your socks off. For me, this is a false premise. You only get one life so why should the majority of it be spent in drudgery; where you sell your time to someone else richer than you? Those at the top do not work harder than those at the bottom.
I therefore relish the snow day, as I am sure that anyone would. Apart from savouring that the sky is the deepest blue that you will ever see and the treetops the most magical winter white I can spend a few hours doing something I love. And that, right now, is editing my latest work in progress which is the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo entitled ‘An End of Poppies’.
At the end of November I had hit the magical number of fifty thousand words and it had a full plot with an ending. Now the problem is, as any writer who has done NaNoWriMo will know, fifty thousand words does not a novel make. Most novels are at least twice this length. So I busy myself adding to it, with a vague target of one hundred thousand words. Doubling it if you will.
Now most ‘editors’ advise that you should ‘cut, cut, cut,’ and I am certainly cutting some passages, though I have to say they are small and rare. It sounds odd but there is a certain economy to writing fifty thousand words in thirty days and I seem to be quite good at being concise, making my plot points and not ‘over-writing’ things as it were.
Now though I find myself clarifying descriptions and adding detail, tone and colour. In fact you could argue that I am not ‘editing’ at all, although I do remove typos and change grammar and such. Neither am I ‘re-writing’ because the majority of what I have written I am happy with and find pleasing to read as I go through it. I suppose my version of editing is almost the opposite of what many do and what many would advise. I guess I am adding and polishing.
So, at the end of the day, on this beautiful snow day, I find that I am not editing at all. I am simply writing. How delightful…
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
This is what the second amendment of the United States Bill of Rights says. This was adopted, along with the rest of the bill of rights, on the 15th December 1791. Two hundred and twenty one years ago.
Obviously, like everyone else, my heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and all those connected with the recent horrific shootings in Connecticut. This latest tragedy is sadly another in a long line of such tragedies.
I am an Englishman who lives in a country where there is strict gun control; where our police force mostly do not carry guns, simply because they do not need them most of the time. It seems painfully obvious and logical to me that if you have less guns you will have less senseless death. Most in Europe would agree with this and we cannot understand the logic of America resisting gun control.
I will try to be clear because I know that this post will create controversy amongst some American readers. I am not arguing that gun control is the only solution to such tragedy. It is true that we have gun crime in the UK. It is also true that addressing mental health issues is needed to try to curb such murderous intent. It is also true that we should think carefully about how our societies often glamourise violence and gang culture. All of these need addressing but, for me, controlling guns is the obvious first step.
What I am arguing is that it is patently obvious that if you have less guns you will have less murder. The shooter in Connecticut would not have been able to slaughter so many innocent children without access to guns and ammunition. Neither would the perpetrators at Columbine or any of the other recent shootings in the USA. Any figures you care to look at show that less guns mean less murder. For example:
United States firearm related deaths per 100,000 population in a year equals 9. In the UK the rate is 0.22.
As a European I cannot understand the mindset of those who argue that it should be the right of ordinary citizens to own guns. What is the purpose of such a thing?
For me the 2nd Amendment doesn’t even argue this. It argues for a “Well regulated Militia,” – a ‘Militia’ implies a group of people – citizens – trained to defend a state, perhaps from foreign invasion (e.g to defend against us – the British). I am well aware that congress has interpreted the 2nd Amendment to mean that individuals can own guns but was that really the original intention back in 1791? The US has well trained armed forces and police forces to defend itself. Therefore Militias are redundant.
Some will argue that you need an armed citizenry to defend against a possible tyrannical government. But, like European nations, America has the ballot box and the option of peaceful protest when it finds those in power distasteful. Armed civil war would and should not be a desirable option; just look at Syria right now.
I apologise if my opinions offend any of my American readers; that is not my intention. We are lucky to live in countries where free speech, opinion and dissent are allowed. I do not mean to preach but it all seems so logical and obvious to me.
So be brave America; it’s time to ditch the guns.
I will finish with a quote from one of my heroes; Thomas Paine. Paine was an Englishman who was instrumental in the birth of the USA and the American War of Independence. I am an Englishman who grew up in his birthplace and went to the same school that he did. This quote is from his revolutionary pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ and surely now it must be time for common sense to prevail; less guns equals less death. The children of Connecticut deserve no less than common sense. As Paine rightly said:
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
So…now I have completed the first draft of my third novel. Hmmm…yes…indeed.
I did this through ‘NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) where you are challenged to write fifty thousand words in one month (November). For the second year running I am a winner and have miraculously completed that many words and my novel has a start, a middle and an end (round of applause please!).
If you had asked me whether I was capable of such a thing a year and a half ago I probably would have laughed at you in the way that we often laugh off things that might challenge us. The kind of laughter born of disbelief and fear.
Of course there is still lots of work to do with editing my novel and rewriting. I now have two novels that require such extended work. Only the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2011 is in any kind of finished state.
Despite the work ahead it should still be a gratifying feeling to accomplish such a creative feat, and I do feel proud of myself. In a way…
But then, being the miserable bugger that I can sometimes be, I wonder about what it all means. And, yet again, I find myself wondering why I am doing it? The writing I mean…
The first thing, and this is a hard thing to admit, is that it is a bit self-indulgent. If writers (or artists of any kind) are honest, they are often creating to entertain others, and thereby seeking to gain approval from others. We all want to be adored after all? Don’t we?
Although, I have to admit that there is a certain terror when someone I know actually reads something I have written. This is always a difficult thing. If a friend or family member reads your work then aren’t they obliged to tell you they like it, even if they don’t? So you can’t always trust what they say…
Praise from strangers is better. It is a bit like when I play gigs. Singing to strangers is always easier and less precious than singing to friends.
I guess I am just rambling now. My real question is this. Do I dare now call myself a ‘novelist’ simply because I have written some novels? Am I a novelist if no one has ever read my work?
Franz Kafka never had a novel published in his life. He only ever published short stories in magazines (like ‘Metamorphosis’). He later instructed his friend Max Brod to burn all his manuscripts before he died. We have Brod to thank because he ignored Kafka’s request and published works like ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Castle’ posthumously anyway.
Would we call Kafka a novelist if Brod hadn’t published his work and burnt it instead? If we knew he had written novels but no one had ever read them?
I am not sure what I think about this. I suppose if you write a novel (however good or bad?) that makes you a novelist…even if you aren’t published or make a living from it…
Perhaps I will challenge myself over the Christmas period. Often when we meet new people, perhaps at parties, they ask us “What are you?” to which I sometimes reply “I am a human being, what are you?” Or they ask “What do you do?” to which I sometimes reply “I like to lie on the sofa, what do you do?”
Flippant and silly I know, but maybe, just maybe, this Christmas I will be brave and when somebody asks me one of those questions I will answer “I am a novelist…”
Do you think I will dare?
What do you think?
I have not posted so much this month due to being immersed in NaNoWriMo (google it if you are unsure what this means) for the second year running. As it stands I am about five thousand words from hitting the fifty thousand target and am hopeful I will be a winner again this year.
Again I have amazed myself that I am somehow able to write so much in such a short space of time and am hoping that this year’s novel – entitled ‘An End of Poppies’ – will have a start, middle and end to it, just like last years did. I suppose I like to use NaNoWriMo as some kind of mad plotting technique.
Anyway, as any good writer knows you need to have breaks from all those words, ideas and characters that are continually fighting for space inside your jumbled head.
So this year one of my breaks was to write some music. A theme of sorts, if you will, for my novel. I am not sure that this piece of music entirely encapsulates the feel I was hoping for, or reflects the book, but at the end of the day I will leave you to judge it on its own merits.
And just for fun I am not going to tell you anything about my story. Instead I challenge you to come up with your own ideas of what my book might be about from the music (oh and the clue of the title!).
I hope you enjoy it…let me know…click on the link below…
© 2012 Simon Poore
Last week I was lucky enough to have a few days on the Isle of Wight with my mother and five year old daughter. For those of you not from around these parts, the Isle of Wight is that island that hugs the south coast of England.
I had never visited it before and wasn’t sure what to expect, especially in October. But I was pleasantly surprised. The Isle of Wight often seems as if it is a place from a rosy bygone age. It has beaches and cliffs and castles and rolling green hills. I would recommend it for a visit.
So as I am embroiled in NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and busy furiously typing out my third novel I thought I would post some of my photos from the Isle of Wight. Have you been there?
© 2012 Simon Poore
Art and and creativity often leads to more art and creativity. This, I feel, isn’t always incestuous (although it can be) and can be produce some interesting results. Another week and another interesting idea…
This week there is an exhibition by a local group of artists here in Norwich called ‘The Lonely Arts Club’. It is at the Stew Gallery in Fishergate for those of you who are local, and there is an interesting mix of artists and styles. And I love a good gallery.
I write about this because a friend of mine, Jayne Mcconnell, is exhibiting some of her amazing print work. And while I was looking at her pictures and the description that she writes about her work I started thinking, which is always a good thing. Her art-work inspires the writer in me.
Her pictures involve making imprints of clothing. That in itself sounds simple enough, but the print process is a complicated one, full of craft and one that I don’t fully understand. It is almost like a form of alchemy. But Jayne does not just pick any old clothes to print, each piece is carefully chosen and cherished, as she explains herself:
The objects, mainly dresses, are often old or vintage, vibrating stories and histories of previous occupants. Sewn up in these garments is the yearning and fear for the loss of beauty and craft in the production of them. How these garments become special and resonate their own mysteries becomes more apparent when seen as a collective.
When etched, these clothes are often referred to as a black and white negatives, or stills from a retrospective film. More profoundly: having the appearance of X-rays of others lives. These illuminate past histories and life styles, throwing out a rope connecting the waists of the present with that of the past.
Apart from the fact that these art works are things of great beauty, it is this idea that they ‘resonate’ that gets me thinking; that they could be X-rays of past lives. I love the idea that objects from the past could be imbued with the yearnings, fears and maybe even memories of their previous owners or occupants. As if each one of us is imprinting our lives, loves and hopes on the world around us.
Jayne’s beautiful work seems to encapsulate some of that feeling for me, although you really have to see it in person to feel the full effect.
Is the physical world some kind of empathic recording device? I really don’t know…but…yet again that sounds like another good idea for a story; another science fiction story perhaps? What do you think?
To see more of Jayne McConnell’s wonderful prints – click here
© 2012 Simon Poore
So…here is an idea. A science fiction idea? I will let you decide.
It is a fact that the processing power of computers is growing exponentially. And there is nothing to make us suppose that this will not continue to be the case. I still marvel at the things that can be done and continue to be done by computers.
I grew up watching Star Trek – in the early seventies I used to walk around the corner with my brother to my aunt’s house to watch it, she had that most wondrous of things; a colour television. Our TV was black and white and you had to get up from the sofa to change between one of the three (yes only three!) channels.
Anyway, my young self marvelled at the original series of Star Trek. It captured my imagination in many ways. Of course I loved the thought of travelling to distant alien worlds. I grew up thinking that if I ever got into a fight with an alien then the worst that could happen was that my shirt would get ripped and a small drop of blood would appear at the corner of my mouth, just like Captain Kirk. I loved the possibility of the Enterprise and all the technology contained within. Phasers and tricorders and replicators and communicators. All of that seemed so impossibly wonderful and distant to my young self.
And yet, here I sit, typing this on an iPad. Just like Star Trek. I can talk to my phone and it can talk back. Just like Star Trek. I can find vast amounts of information on the internet. Just like asking the computer on Star Trek. And some clever scientists and engineers are building machines now that might even mimic replicators (I will blog about that soon hopefully). I couldn’t have imagined those things would happen. And I can’t imagine the wonders of technology that my five year old daughter will experience in her life.
So, here’s the thing. The ‘Science Fiction’ idea. As I said, the capacity of computers grows ever larger as does the things they can do (compare the computers on Apollo 11 to an iPhone!). If this continues then it is conceivably possible that eventually computers will have the processing power to re-create everything within them. Yes, everything. A future computer could re-create our whole world for example, down to the molecular and sub-atomic level. Every animal, plant, human being and object re-created and modelled. And perhaps, the whole universe too.
Now I know this isn’t a new idea (I bet some of you are thinking about ‘The Matrix’). But here’s the part of this idea that gets me thinking; if that will be possible in the future (and we have no reason to suppose it won’t) then how do we know it hasn’t already happened…
I can envisage two scenarios:
1. An alien race has already done this, and our world and universe are part of some vast computer science project.
2. Humans develop computers in the future to do this and they re-create our world in order to study history.
In both scenarios I imagine that we are being watched and observed and studied.
If we are part of some vast computer project, then what will happen when we develop computers fast enough to create and re-create worlds? Worlds within worlds going on forever?
Some of you may think this idea is far-fetched and it probably is. Is this Science Fiction? The truth is that we have no way of knowing. You could be part of a computer generated world right now. And my question is this: what if someone pulls out the plug?
© 2012 Simon Poore
Illness. It’s that time of year again for illness. I am lying in bed as I write this and my head feels like it is full. Full to the brim with mucus and dullness. I have felt like this for about a week and like most people I struggled into work like a foolish martyr, until I realised that I wasn’t actually getting any better and it was time to stop.
So now here I am in that weird place that is ‘the day off sick’. When you have a cold or flu or whatever you want to call it; when you cough and splutter and you are bunged up inside and your head constantly aches – it is a strange place to be. Like some kind of parallel world almost.
Firstly my head feels like it is too full. Like the acres of mucus being produced endlessly by my bodies’ defence mechanisms is squashing my brain into an ever smaller space. My brain the size of a walnut, like a dinosaur. I make no apologies for my graphic description here, the quantities of phlegm and snot produced are astounding. I do often wonder what the purpose of all that is? Is it simply to make the experience even more unpleasant? Who’s idea was that?
This feeling of having ones head filled and the brain squashed has another strange effect. It can almost be like you are viewing the world the wrong way through a telescope. Everything is distant. Yesterday people were talking to me in a crowded room and I couldn’t for the life of me hear what they were saying properly. My ears were full. Well no, it wasn’t exactly like that, it felt like my ears were too far away from my brain and the sound travelling from them was taking too long to register.
It made me wish I wasn’t so rubbish at lip reading. In my job I encounter some amazing deaf students and their abilities at lip reading and signing are both wonderful and ordinary. I am jealous of their abilities but also at the same time thankful that such abilities become part of ordinary everyday life. For example it becomes habit for me to look at them when I speak. I don’t really like the word ‘disability’; it should just be different abilities.
Anyway, I digress. The weird feelings that this cold/flu thing have induced in me have made me wonder. It got to a point yesterday, when I was ridiculously struggling to carry on working, where I actually began to wonder if I was really there. It was like my body was there, present in the room, but my mind was drifting away somewhere else. If I tried to tackle a complex task (or even a simple one!) my mind wouldn’t let me, I couldn’t focus, as if my mind was saying ‘I am too far away to bother worrying about that!’. It was most odd.
It makes me think about the connection between the ‘mind’ and the body or the brain. Yes I know that doctors and scientists can hook people up to scanners and plot which parts of the brain ‘light up’ when we think or feel certain things. Or listen to music, or whatever. But we still don’t know how the two are connected. And maybe the two aren’t separate anyway, maybe there isn’t a dualism between the mind and brain. Perhaps the physical and the ethereal thinking part are one? If that were true then when the physical ceases then the thinking ceases. I am not a religious man but I like to think sometimes that the thinking ‘mind’ might actually be separate and continue after death. Like a ‘soul’, for want of a better word. Where and how that could be true I do not know.
Of course this is just speculation, as it always is. I do know than when I was privileged enough to be present at someone’s death I did ‘feel’ something, some kind of separation if you will. A moment when the physical is changed and no longer contains life.
So, back to my petty illness. I am not complaining (I know some of you out there might be thinking that I am whining – typical bloke with ‘man-flu’ I hear some of you cry!). In a way I am enjoying the odd ‘out of body’ experience it gives me. Maybe, just maybe, my mind will drift so far as to be in a parallel world…That certainly would make a great story!
As ever any comments or thoughts are welcome. Me, I am going to drink tea today and lie in bed…waiting…
© 2012 Simon Poore