EYES ON THE PRIZE

I met a director a few years ago, who worked mostly in television. She'd worked on one of the big shows for the BBC, which starred an actress who'd got an impressive pedigree. The character she depicted had all kinds of stuff going on, as protagonists should, and much of it came to the boil in one episode where realisations would be made, catharsis experienced, and so forth. 

The director wanted to portray the impact of all this with a shot in which the actress would be seen at a distance, the details of the setting providing all kinds of information about her emotional state and the point she'd reached on her journey. It sounded like it would have been a beautiful scene. Only, the actress wanted nothing to do with it. In her eyes, this was her chance to emote like a performer has never emoted before, and she wanted the camera to catch that in all its glorious detail.

In the end, the director got a stand-in to be silhouetted in the space where the actress made it very clear she wouldn't stand. It looked great, but the show never really took off. And the attitude taken by the actress helps explain that.

Filmmaking is a team sport. And that's been proven to me once again by the news I woke up to earlier. I scripted a short film, White Lily. And ran a Kickstarter to fund it, and brought on board the director, producer, actors, and sound design team. Note the recurrence of that word 'team'. It'll come up again, I'm sure.

When we started the rehearsals, actors David McCaffrey and Siddhii Lagrutta slipped into the script with ease. After a couple of run-throughs, Siddhii suggested that they swap roles, so she would play Dave's part, and he hers. They ran it again, and there was a distinct and palpable difference to the performances that improved what director Tristan Ofield and I could see and hear from them. That's the way we settled on doing it for the film, because it's the end result that people are affected by and remember, not the ticklist of who suggested what, when, and how they demanded credit for it.

There were other instances like that along the way with White Lily. Dialogue was changed to fit actualities of the physical set. Sentences were snipped out in the edit. A new line was found to finesse the ending. Comparable evolutions happened within the music, visual effects, and other aspects of the film. The result? This morning I woke to find out we'd pretty much swept the boards at the Focus International Film Festival. White Lily won Best Film, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Design.

Filmmaking is a team sport. It can't be played with people who insist on things being a certain way. I met a guy who'd been involved with a well-loved Christmas feature from years ago. He wanted to work with a writer to develop a new project, but wouldn't let me know even what it was about. I don't think it was coincidental that he didn't seem to have done any film work since the festive favourite a decade or more before. 

I developed a feature project that a director loved. As we talked, his input shaped the story. Of course it would - if you want a director to engage with a script, steer it in a direction that works well for the project as a whole. He didn't want or expect a writing credit for this - it was part of the natural process of developing a film. The producer working with us didn't see things that way, wanting a writing credit for two ideas - one genuinely useful, but by no means comparable to the director's considered and ongoing input. That kind of desire for control is more about power than creativity, which became fully apparent when the producer blew up at me - perhaps due to anxiety about working with a director who'd already made one feature, hence putting him a notch above in terms of status and power. Great way to fizzle out a promising project, and dissolve what had been a good working relationship until that point.

There is no better drug than watching a film you've initiated and helped bring to life on a big screen. That's what happened when I got to see White Lily recently at Mayhem Festival at Broadway Cinema. I was sitting next to the man known universally as Boz, who was undisputed man of the match during filming as he made himself invaluable to the activity unfolding in a cold warehouse on an ageing industrial estate that had been transformed into the interior of a spaceship. Making White Lily was and will remain one of the highlights of my life. I look forward to working and playing with some of the same collaborators in the future, and continue to meet talented and generous people who want to share their creativity and expertise in pursuit of further adventures. Maybe we'll even pick up some more awards along the way.

 

 

 

ANGER IS AN ENERGY

When I was a kid growing up in 70s Birmingham, my dad had a friend called Bill. There'd be a card game Friday night when Bill and other cronies came round, to gamble, drink, and discuss plans to renovate houses in the hope of selling them on for a fat profit. Bill was a builder who knew dad through their love of chess, Sean a plasterer who could knock back five pints of Guinness over lunch before getting seriously stuck in at night, and the gang also included a side-burned electrician, and a one-eyed upholsterer.

Bill had no sense of taste or smell. Some accident of army dentistry had robbed him of the requisite wiring. Another man might have taken that accident and turned it to his advantage, becoming a circus freak able to eat or drink anything put in front of him. Not Bill. He ate only those things he was familiar with, meaning gammon and egg, steak and chips, pork pie, and the like. Solid British food basically, though he made an exception for a few dishes that reminded him of time he spent with the army in Cyprus. 

We were pretty adventurous eaters as a family. My parents had some involvement with a wholefood cooperative called Red Beans, and many of our visitors were dad's students. They came from places like Malaysia, Nigeria, and Hong Kong where a fried breakfast was not on the menu. And sometimes they'd cook for us. If Bill was around, he'd be offered some of the food. He'd dutifully pick some up with a fork, raise it to his mouth - and put it down, shaking his head. The man who could eat raw shark lungs if he chose to could not cope with rice or beansprouts, because they didn't look right. Something in Bill feared what the foreign food might taste like, if he could taste it.

Fear is only a goose step away from hate, which I'm seeing a lot of lately. Wind back a few weeks to Nigel Farage, whose amiable incredulity about foreigners seems like blokey banter down the pub but soon became a thick vein of pus in the bloodstream of British public life. The National Police Chiefs' Council says the increase in attacks on migrants after the Brexit vote is the worst spike in hate crime they've ever known. Imagine killing someone because they don't talk like you. The words they speak won't fit in your own mouth, any more than Bill's would accept aubergine - and for that they have to die.

Donald Trump is peddling the same slurry of hate in the American election, against a backdrop of racial tensions rising in a way that hasn't been seen since the sixties. It seems we're wired to hate. At any rate it's easily manipulated by those who would rather we focused on some group declared Other than consider what alternatives there may be to virulence and contempt as ways to go about the day.

If we must hate, couldn't we at least be more imaginative about it?

Instead of homophobia, how about attacking poverty with the glee that some attack Poles?

Why do the same old same old hatred based on skin colour when we could turn our hate on company boards who plunder the pensions of the workers who've created that wealth?

The love thing is all very well, but there's too often a disconnect between people talking about love and actually doing something concrete to realise that vision. We need people who will do something constructive to create change.

Given that more of us seem to excel at hate, and the passive aggressive woolliness of many of the love advocates, I want to see more hate in the world - just please be creative about it, and make your hatred pro-social. Rather than base beliefs on illusion, as Bill did when he turned down food he couldn't even taste, be the Spielberg of spite, the Miles Davis of malevolence, the Bjork of bigotry, and pick on something truly worthy of your anger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY HEART DECLARES A HOLIDAY

There's a thing I've noticed. Sometimes I do it. That thing where you list off the stuff you're doing to indicate what a busy bee you are. And there are times when that's right and appropriate. But it really isn't recommended as an ongoing way of life. Trust me.

For most of the last week, I haven't done much that you could call work. I went to London for a couple of days, caught up with people I care about. A writer friend's first adult novel has been published and it was great hearing the story behind the story (her book, by the way, is The Woman Next Door, a twisty-turny psychological thriller that I was pleased to see at my local Asda). Another friend took me to a full-on London art scene party where I talked to some smart and interesting musicians who were all the more fascinating because their careers had given them a measure of success, but on an appreciable scale rather than the kind of gargantuan whammy that I'm sure can't do the likes of U2 any good. 

The main thing was a workshop about actor/writer/director Ken Campbell, an eye-opening day led by the engaging and insightful Jeremy Stockwell, who had cleverly looked at the multi-faceted creative's ability to make fun things happen over decades and found simple body-focused principles at the heart of them. Captivating, and though I'd have preferred there to be more non-actors present it was a day I got a lot from.

And really...well...that's kind of it.

Since then, I've walked a bit, seen some films, and made notes in a chunky blank-paged book I carry round with me that are gradually becoming the basis of a framework for a comic series. Other than that - not a great deal. Which is fine, because I need to be doing not much of anything from time to time, and would recommend the pursuit of nothing in particular to anyone.

When I worked at a London ad agency, I'd make a point of sitting there reading a newspaper when there was nothing for me to do. I expected other people to realise that this was a good moment to ask me to do something for them. Instead, I was told that when I had nothing to do, it was important not to let others think I was doing nothing. Somehow, I'd be letting the side down. Only, if I genuinely have no task to occupy me, why on Earth would I pretend otherwise?

Much of what I do is writing. And from some years involved in this on a regular basis, one of the few things I'm confident of is that time beetling about doing nothing in particular is crucial to the creative process. Before ideas come into focus, you have to let stuff float around. Things you've read, watched, noticed, talked about - in a casual way for its own sake, rather than shackled to purpose. Intent is all well and good at the right time, but that time is to be chosen carefully, and not plunged into merely because Stuff Needs Doing.

Some phases of writing a script require consistent effort, for sure. But that is in contrast to another equally valid part of the process, which is more akin to ambient music - allowing thoughts to drift and settle. It's from this flow that new stuff emerges. Without it, what you're left with is the mere mechanics of writing, the stuff most writing gurus go on about. All well and good in its place, but only after a good healthy dose of doing nothing in particular. No sense arranging pieces before something cool has bubbled up. Without something tasty to glom onto, it's just letters of the alphabet. 

THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING

Two of my favourite art forms are uniquely American - jazz and comics. And one way to articulate my enthusiasm for the work of comics legend Jack 'King' Kirby is through talking about jazz. Specifically, jazz in 1959.

In that year, an album was released that changed the face of music. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is a beautiful, spare, and understated masterpiece, as So What continues to make clear. In comics, the equivalent might be the work of Alex Toth, who never drew a line that wasn't essential to convey his intent - look here for some of what Toth was doing in 1959. Every line is about telling the story, nothing is superfluous.

Compare to what Kirby was up to in the same year - he tells the story, but he's captivated by the chance to add detail. Each robot gives him a chance to come up with a new design, and the tech in the background is guaranteed to get a child's mind wondering just what function the switches and buttons have. It's every grown up's caricature of what comics are and why many wouldn't let their children read them, an explosion of grotesque imagination by an uncensored mind.

Kind of Blue is celebrated still. Rightly so - it's a thing of rare beauty. Just as highly touted at the time was the record Ah Um by Charles Mingus. It blares, it stomps, and people whoop and clap - where Miles transforms jazz into something elegant, Mingus is fascinated by its roots in churches and brothels, brandishing them while at the same time bringing different kinds of sophistication than those Miles was then fascinated by to a sometimes raw setting.

Mingus isn't talked about much these days. He's one for the connoisseurs. Something similar has happened with Kirby in some respects. His style went out of fashion at some point in the seventies, and many artists took pride in doing more 'realistic' illustration. But by then Jack Kirby had already created pretty much all the building blocks of what went out under the Marvel name. The Hulk. Captain America. Fantastic Four. Black Panther. X-Men. Thor (in his comics incarnation). Ant Man. Silver Surfer. There are at least a hundred other characters he created for Marvel alone.

Even if you don't follow comics, you'll know those characters, because of the films which they appear in. Sadly, Kirby never got to see the full impact he would come to have on popular culture, and was treated very badly by Marvel, who only now after his death are acknowledging his significance. Without him, Marvel would have a lot less to offer the world. Very few of their characters post-Kirby have taken off, and the publisher is now trying to persuade fans to be charmed by a reinvented version of Jack's creations The Inhumans despite none of the new characters having anything like the kind of weird visceral charm that Jack's originals have.

Jack Kirby would have been 99 this week. He was never remotely rewarded for his work in creating the multi-billion dollar enterprise that his characters have spawned. And that may yet be one of his biggest legacies to creators such as myself who want to create work in comics and other media, and to do so on terms that respect our ability to devise concepts that appeal to audiences and generate income as a result.

Charles Mingus never had to deal with the consequences of vast popularity, but Miles Davis did. He signed with Warner Brothers in 1986, and the contract meant they owned his publishing rights. As a consequence, Miles didn't write new material since he didn't feel he was being compensated suitably, and the reputation of his last few records - written by collaborators - suffers because of that choice. It's one Miles made knowingly and in strength - better that perhaps than to die with little of the recognition that's since come to him, which was Kirby's fate. At least Jack's estate reached an agreement with Marvel, so his family get to enjoy the legacy the artist deserved.

Treating creators fairly is a big subject, and it's got lots of facets. Kirby found he was treated a lot better in the world of animation than he ever had been in comics, and they're both worlds that I'm now beginning to be active in. It's thanks to creators like the ones mentioned in this piece that my generation of writers and artists are in a much better position to be rewarded for what we develop than our predecessors. We face different difficulties too, as audiences are used to getting what they want for free online from digital providers happy to let people have content while claiming to have no legal obligation to recompense its creators. There will always be a new battle, a new frontier for creators in their imaginations and their ability to prosper. I can only hope that I face mine with even a fraction of the imagination and energy that Jack Kirby did.

 

DIFFERENT VOICES, DIFFERENT TRUTHS

Quite a few of the creative projects I take on are science fiction in some form. The comic Dadtown takes place on a space colony, a setting I'm inordinately fond of and is the environment for an animated project I'm developing and can soon discuss, and a lunar colony features in another comic story I'm cooking up at this point. 

I'm not very plugged into the science fiction scene generally, but am aware of controversies surrounding the influence of a group of right wing fans who are angry about the state of the field. They see the greater diversity of people expressing themselves through science fiction as a threat to what they perceive as authentic sf, by which they mean the sort of books I was reared on and have a lot of fondness for.

If those women and non-white authors writing in the genre now described spaceships and aliens with engineering knowhow wheeled on to save the day then maybe the protesters wouldn't be upset. Instead, this new generation of writers often brings to tales of futuristic and alien settings reminders of social and cultural and class issues on the planet we're living on here and now, which spoils the good clean fun of ion engines, blasters, and bug eyed monsters. All I know is I'm reading Lagoon, a tale of extraterrestrial contact in Nigeria by Nnedi Okorafor, and it's all the more interesting for the Nigerian-American author bringing such a story to her family's home country, than seeing such a tale unfold in America yet again. 

You see much the same happening in comics. Muslim writer G. Willow Wilson brings a fresh feel to the adventures of Ms. Marvel, a teenager called Kamala Khan who in her own way is continuing the tradition of Spider-Man - a youngster whose difficulties with family and friends are only complicated by superpowers. What Donald Trump would make of this I can only guess, let alone the fact that the comic Black Panther is now scripted by Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American writer on social, political, and cultural issues bringing a sophisticated take to a character whose adventures have been chronicled by a number of fascinating black writers.  

Let's not get too excited - it's still unusual for a writer to be other than white, male, and straight at Marvel or DC. Fortunately those publishers are not the only games in town, even if their output defines the medium in the eyes of many, whether they read comics or not. 

What we're seeing here is poverty of imagination on the part of readers who don't like the emergence of diverse voices in their reading matter of choice. What many people think of as science fiction, means hard sciences like physics and biology. The idea that social or cognitive sciences could be involved is unsettling, suggesting as it does a connection to things they'd rather not think about regarding the here and now.

We've seen this before. Back in the sixties Michael Moorcock took the helm of New Worlds magazine. It had been a traditional sf mag since the forties, and what he brought to it was an injection of his own era - both its politics, and a sense of wider currents in literature as represented by William Burroughs. The fans of have spaceship, will travel were deeply upset and said so but the work of authors including J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss and Thomas Disch published by Moorcock was and is regarded as groundbreaking despite their tweedy indignation.

As a straight white older dude, I welcome experiencing new voices. A book that made a profound impact on me decades ago was The Motion Of Light On Water by Samuel Delaney. This autobiographical account of life in sixties New York by a queer folk-singing black science fiction writer in an open marriage with Jewish poet Marilyn Hacker opened up my eyes more than pretty much all of the science fiction I've read, and in ways that gave me a sense of wonder about the world just like you'd hope good sf would.

What's at the base of all this, I suspect, is anything that challenges the belief that the straight white male perspective is somehow 'natural'. It's the default setting of much of the media, for sure, and it seems to me that experiencing a different perspective unsettles some audiences. It raises questions about their own assumptions and perceptions, and that's a road not many people like to go down.

For me, that experience of difference is one of the most valuable journeys that can be undertaken. My understanding is not and cannot be that of a Catholic seamstress born in Sri Lanka, a bisexual footballer in Dublin, a Sikh physicist in Calgary. How come changes of perspective of that small degree are feared where tales of hermaphrodite triple-brained extraterrestrials are enjoyed? Perhaps because there's no danger of meeting the latter, while we may encounter any of the former and risk our own beliefs being undermined. 

I'm totally up for adventurous tales that rattle along with conflict and glory. Fiction doesn't have to be demanding, after all. But if the range of fictions we encounter in our media of choice let in some of the light of the world we live in, they can be all the more rewarding. I just enjoyed the first Game of Thrones book without wanting to take a sword to my enemies or dunk a family member's head in molten gold. I'm pretty sure that the worldviews writers of varied backgrounds bring to their work are as relevant for the stories they tell as it was that Ian Fleming's background in naval intelligence contributed to his James Bond books. It's as simple as that. 

 

 

 

 

FLAGGED

A (very) short story, for the first time here.

I like to take stories for a walk, and with this one I went to a Portugese cafe I like, drank coffee and ate custard tarts, and watched and listened. The other inspiration came from Alistair Fruish, who I saw read extracts from a story he'd written using entirely single syllable words.

 

Ruy's foot hurts from the job he did a few days back. A man with a van picked him up and drove Ruy and three more men to a place none of them knew. They dug pits and put tins of stewed meat in them, then piled earth on top of the holes. Ruy saw that the tins bulged and so not to take them but one guy, a Turk, found ways to store some in a bag he brought. With few shared words Ruy knew it would be hard to tell the Turk leave the meat be.

His foot throbs and Ruy drinks beer with his friends. They meet once a week to swap news and see skin and hair like their own. There are black guys here of course, but Ruy and the crew tut that they are not the same. On his own Ruy is not so sure. He talks and works with guys of all shades and they seem much the same. They long for home, and wish they chose not to come here. Since the vote it has changed. One of the van men has a flag at the back that Ruy knows means jobs just for whites. 

The songs they play here make Ruy and his friends smile and weep. Guys and girls come in, move to the pulse. Drums bring new life to Ruy's feet and though the left one aches he lifts both in a slow show of red shoes and bright socks that make him think of loud birds and salt air. 

Cruz brings them more beer and play fights with Ruy. This is part of the night as much as Ruy's red shoes and the song they sing when there is no more cash and thoughts of home swell and bring sweet pain. This is not what they signed up for, and they can hold it just so long.

Cruz is smart, spots the hurt spread and rise. That's when she puts the big screen on, and Ruy and the gang watch their team kick that ball round the pitch. Ruy used to play well - was the star in his town's team - but with his foot the way it is he's not sure now. Best give it a rest. Sleep, and a new van. There's more rank meat to hide. 

Soon, they will go back to the flats and rooms they rent. And dream of Portugal, Brazil, Angola.

MEMORY OF A FREE FESTIVAL

If we're going to have golden years we need a golden dawn and maybe just maybe that's what Festival 23 was about - kick off like that and I reckon we're away like a hairy dog...a week later and these are things I know or at least suspect in the way that I suspect the weekend is here again seeing as right now it's Friday night, Nottingham tome -

Somewhere on the way that ran from home to Sheffield, station to station then on to the site (a journey that cost £11.50 there and the same back by taxi, and you know what that makes the total for the round trip), normal spacetime was suspended and I found myself – or at any rate someone quite like me, only shinier, with tiger blood and Adonis DNA - in a radical mash-up arts portal, constructed by shadow apparatus known only to Anwen, F23’s ayurvedic mama, who with her stalwart crew kicked the tires and lit the fires and while Babylon burned constructed a temporary autonomous zone where monkey pirate dreamlogic and favoured entities allowed the assembled to spend time in the elfin trenches, no time for old paradigm trauma among the charismatic megafauna, leaking into one another through peer contagion pheromones, strummed like meat harps by the bulldozer charm of something bigger than us all, bringing to mind Crowley’s maxim that the eternal mistake of mankind is to set up an attainable ideal –

We need more than that, and it’s happening – SMI2LE and take a candid camera shot of the world today – left and right are doing their squabbly thing as ever, in various flavours – but while the puppet show carries on Elon Musk is planning to put a million people on Mars in our very lifetimes, funding the venture through the sales of electric cars that will soon be self-propelling and generating solar power as they drive – and Jimmy Cauty’s Aftermath Dislocation Principle hovers in the background, another possible future, extrapolated from the entrails of the present, boys in blue patrolling the post-Brexit cityscape –

If these are the end times, they’re no end of fun and possibility, and now I reach into the past, sampling a poem I wrote – that wrote me, put me rite at least temporarily – and which I offer now to bring this jigglesome jaunt to a close –

(For the moment) –

Make an impact -- learn to rupture
Liven up the surface structure
Abandon the planned and
Glad-hand the random
Conscious, unconscious, steering in tandem

The day-to-deity here is Eris
Goddess of Chaos, succulent mistress
Benevolent minx, Hex in the City
Whoop-de-doo wyrdplay, pearls from the gritty

 

XXxxx

'IN ADDITION TO A YES AND NO, THE UNIVERSE CONTAINS A MAYBE' Robert Anton Wilson

A lot of people get upset about grey areas, wanting there to be a definitive yes or no to the questions that concern them. Only, more often than not, life has complexities beyond the options of Stop or Go - the number of voters saying they'd vote differently if asked about leaving Europe a second time is a good indicator.

Whatever impetus went into people voting to leave, the consequences of doing so went way beyond what anyone envisaged. Not long after, we're wandering round dazed wondering where the Prime Minister went. And what happened to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage? They were all about rallying the public before Brexit, and have gone strangely silent in the aftermath.

Owing to our tendency to believe that people either think this or think that, it's possible that you believe I'm a fan of the EU following that opening. And it's not that straightforward - I voted Remain, less out of a passion for a wildly bureaucratic institution that exists primarily to perpetuate its own growth, than because on balance I'd rather have stuck with a not-so-super superstate than risk Britain's chances free of that shelter.

What's this obsession we have with there being two choices? It's factored into so much of what we do. Our default is to think in terms of two political parties, even though there are more - as if the big issues those parties have to get to grips with conveniently sort into two piles, each side standing on top to be clearly identified. 

More than that, it's implicit within the way we code our perceptions. People are either male or female, black or white, straight or gay, freshly labelled for your convenience, to avoid having to expend energy on more detailed consideration. 

Only, that's not remotely how it is.

Our binary tendencies might have served us reasonably well in a simpler world, but aren't at all adequate for the 21st century. Scratch that...it's only 2016 in the Gregorian calendar. In the Assyrian worldview it's 6766, in Korea it's 4349, and if you're Burmese it's 1378 - the year is a function of where you landed when you were born. Same with gender - we favour male and female as the poles, some other cultures suggest three, and more and more biologists are inclined to favour that perspective.

We're wired to think in either/or ways, and can get outside those limitations. Hard to believe, when you see people like Donald Trump banging the drum for whatever hate-filled stuff he knows will strike a chord with his supporters, who having been fucked over by successive governments are willing to grasp for anything that looks like an easy answer and fits with the hurt and bewilderment they feel at a world that no longer seems to need their services.

Yet up the road in Canada, Justin Trudeau shows off some of his yoga moves to reporters, and demonstrates equivalent mental flexibility when he tackles a question about quantum computing, giving a succinct explanation of what it means to have digital systems that rather than choosing between 0 and 1 have a third option available. And it's the third option we need if we're going to make the most of the futures available to us.

Just 0.2% of the British public will get to decide who our next Prime Minister is. That's the number of people who as members of the Conservative Party get to make that vote, and they're a gerentocracy: the average age of this pro-authoritarian, anti-EU bunch, is around 60. Many people that age evidence suspicion about the naivety of the young, but my experience is it's exactly that kind of openness that will shape a brighter time to come.

Now, what I'm going to say is purely anecdotal, but it's very much the case that the young people I know are switched-on in ways that amaze me. I come across teens and sometimes work with 20-somethings, and what I encounter for the most part is people accepting of difference in all forms, and who actively contribute to furthering that awareness in their communication, work, and choices.

While silverback politicians gesticulate and point to the imaginary differences between people as evidence of evil to distract voters from the structural causes of injustice, a new world is being quietly created. Its distinguishing characteristic is people who when confronted with something they don't understand, approach it with curiosity and openness, rather than assuming that 'unknown' is synonymous with 'threat'.

 

 

 

HATE MEANS TAKING THINGS ENTIRELY TOO SERIOUSLY

I'd like to think that hate is something I'm not very good at.

Truth is, it's more likely something I'm just not very persistent with.

Give it time, and the right circumstances, and maybe I could hate as well as Omar Mateen, or Thomas Mair, who in recent days killed 49 LGBT revellers at an Orlando club, and a progressive MP in Yorkshire.

I hate. But not for very long, or in a sustained way. There are people I will drop from my life, an almost but not entirely practical response to behaviours I find intolerable. The idea of sustaining an unpleasant feeling to someone on a long term basis seems like a form of self harm. I've always found better things to get on with regarding people I dislike - given the choice between an hour of concentrated hate and a meal with a friend, I know which wins.

It's possible that I don't take things seriously enough. (Other than myself, of course.) You pretty much have to take things with deadly seriousness if you're going to hate at all convincingly. And frankly, I can't be bothered. I can dislike someone enough to make a passing bitchy comment or two, but there's a long road between there and killing them that I just can't be arsed with. Really. Saying you could kill someone for whatever wrong they've apparently done is one thing, actually going through with the planning and execution of such a feat, something else altogether.

And I suspect some of you are thinking I'm not taking hate seriously enough. Possibly even thinking less of me for doing so - but again, falling short of the passion required to eliminate me. Frankly, you're not much of a hater.

Actually though, in my flippant way I'm being deadly serious. It's taking things seriously that makes things serious. And really, I'd recommend just...not bothering. 

Somewhere in all this, there's something interesting about how we hold our feelings and thoughts in our bodies. A deeply wise friend of mine, working with some people she felt usurped her within the organisation where she and they were independently consulting, was using phrases like 'take it to heart' about the situation. And sure enough, it seemed to weigh heavy on her in an uncharacteristic way as she talked about it. I invited her to consider the situation again, and to 'hold it lightly'. Within seconds, the sparkle returned to her eyes and voice, and her comprehension of the people she'd decided to be wary of changed. 

Now, I don't suppose that such an approach could change things all magically with Mateen or Mair had I happened to encounter them before they became known for the lives they took. Some people hone their hate for years, and take it very seriously indeed. The friend I invited to 'hold it lightly' is someone I've known for a long time, and self aware enough that I was confident her investigation of the distinction I suggested would take her somewhere. 

But...

Still...

Who we are is not fixed. We are fluid and multiple and both causal and nonlinear and all of these things and more in and between every moment. Whatever statement we can make about ourselves, somewhere in there we're likely to represent the opposite just as adequately. Some people cope with this better than others. Homophobic Omar Mateen was also homosexual, it seems, and took out his inability to accept those contradictions on people who wanted nothing more than a good night. We don't know yet what drove Thomas Mair, but he apparently identified with fascist politics to the extent that he couldn't accept the existence of Jo Cox, a socialist devoted to global reform. 

If we can't accept paradoxes internally, then we're probably more likely to express our apparent contradictions externally. And there really is no need for that. Whitman expressed it back in the day in his famous realisation 'Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.' Personally, I prefer the way that artists such as Eminem, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar toy with that schism in their music, exploring different aspects of themselves through different personas - Whitman identified the core of it, but never really got down with his bad self.

No easy conclusion here. Why would there be? There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for anything. Better to embrace the multiplicity of reality, maybe play with it using whatever form of self expression appeals to you, than try and make sense of something as various as human experience. The only thing that does seem to make sense is not to take anything too seriously, since whatever belief you might have about something right now, odds are you'll be thinking otherwise soon enough.

 

 

 

HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT TAKE TO HAVE AN IDEA?

There's been some interest recently about the impact that fan communities can have on the work that they like. It's cropped up in the light of how subsections of fans of games and comics have threatened the lives of people involved in creating what they want because of a game being late, say, or a comic featuring a hero doing something they don't believe he should do. And some are speaking of fans who want to see more representation of LGBTQ characters in the same breath, packaging all of those examples under the heading of entitlement.

The way the word 'entitlement' works, it's clearly a bad thing. But that doesn't necessarily square up with what fans believe they're entitled to. When it comes to greater representation of minorities, fans are typically way ahead of the people making decisions about the properties that attract their interest. The recent Star Wars movie had a female lead, but no merchandise for her - a decision made by the middle-aged guys whose tendency when making such choices is to look backwards for precedent.  A few years back, something similar happened with the popular animated show Static Shock, which had a black lead - but again, no toys of him for fans to buy.

Part of what's going on then, is that fans are seeking acknowledgment and representation. In a consumer society, is it any wonder that activism takes the form of demanding that products reflect the world fans inhabit, within the context of the storyworld that they enjoy? To that extent then, it's possible to see both rage at late shipping of computer games, and anger at Captain America apparently being a Nazi all along, as examples of what happens when you use social media to deal with consumers in a new way, and then get surprised when they use the same channels to communicate their frustration. Entitlement is more complex when the flow of communication from entertainment franchises to fans shares or at least emulates their passion, and is more responsive than older more monolithic forms of corporate engagement. None of that excuses death threats etc, but once the dynamic of social media became that of a flow between apparent equals, there were going to be consequences. We're reaping them.

Another strand to all this is the belief that art is purely the concern of the artist. And I'm not sure that's the case. Particularly when you're looking at global brands. But even in my much smaller experience, the idea that stuff emerges fully formed from my head just doesn't capture the reality.

I wrote a short science fiction film, White Lily, which is close to finishing post-production. And when director Tristan Ofield and I did some online rehearsals with our actors Siddhii Lagrutta and Dave McCaffrey, Siddhii made an interesting suggestion. She wanted to swap characters with Dave, which meant a gender swap for the roles. As soon as they did, something new emerged from the dynamic of those characters. The words were the same, but all of a sudden they had a different spark. That's what you'll see when the film is finished.

The comic Dadtown is written by me, with art by Raben White and colour by Jess Parry. Initially, I'd imagined the setting to be a kind of southern gothic on another planet. But Raben's experience growing up in Hong Kong instead shaped the look of the city where some of the story happens. And the meetings the three of us have, where we come up with all kinds of unprintable stuff, are core to the way the story has gone - once we've identified 'the right kind of wrong', then it becomes part of the comic, by which point it's impossible to know where the ideas came from. It emerges from our conversations and interactions, not from any one mind. It comes from practicalities too - we realised we were taking on something bigger than we could deliver, and I had to work out how to condense the story. It's much better as a result.

Actually, the idea that concepts shower full-formed from the mind is part of the problem with the vision of the singular creator. We are not minds. We are organisms that eat and cry and fuck and run out of cash and fall out with friends and can't find notebooks we'd scribbled killer ideas in. All of those things affect the art that emerges from us. And that's before we get into the considerations of working on a property that's intended for a large audience of young people, which is the case with another project I'm working on.

In that project, we actively welcome the input of people with insights into the cultures of the characters we depict, because as open minded as we like to think we are, we haven't had the experience of growing up in another culture. We're in our forties plus, so when we get the chance to work with a 20-something costume designer who can have input into the look of our characters, we welcome it. And we're thinking ahead to merchandise, because that could happen, and we want it to be stuff that we'd have loved as kids, or that parents we know would like their kids to have.

Besides, people engaging with creators or the companies that represent them at least says they care. OK, some of them care too much and about things those creators and companies don't value in the same way, but that can be a case for learning on both sides. Henry Ford was steadfast abut only offering cars in black. It took General Motors to offer a choice of colours, and we haven't looked back. I suspect that one way to look at the current situation is that we're going through an equivalent period of adjustment. 

WHAT'S UP DOC?

Today has been blissful. I've walked to a shop I don't visit near enough, and bought various vegetables there including celeriac, which got me excited about a dish that I plan to serve a visitor in the next few days. And rather than do my thing of working towards the next milestone, I just enjoyed doing nothing in particular. 

For the last couple of weeks I've either been doing things to reach deadlines for projects I'm already working on, or starting to prepare for new escapades. Not much wiggle room in there for departing from a bunch of habits that I've mistaken for myself.

That's not true of course. But it's a convenient fiction. Whatever you're caught up in, somewhere in there you'll find an escape hatch, pause button, or other convenient metaphor - as long as you allow yourself to notice it.

And that's what happened, as I was drinking a coffee and into the shop walked a friend I hadn't seen for quite a while. Actually, it wasn't Kestrel I noticed - it was her greyhound I spotted first, before seeing who was attached to it. We talked, and kept talking, about a whole bunch of cool stuff, and it was an absolute pleasure to hear stories that captured my attention for many many reasons.

Best of all, Kestrel told me about how Bugs Bunny saved the life of the man who voiced the rabbit. And confirmed for me that whoever selected Bugs to be a Discordian Saint was even wiser than they or I imagined. (Brief rundown on Discordianism: it's an ancient religion disguised as a joke, or possibly vice versa, devoted to the worship - or at very least grudging acknowledgement - of Eris, the Goddess of Chaos known to the Romans as Discordia.)

Anyway. The guy who voiced Bugs Bunny in all those cartoons was Mel Blanc, who did the voices for many more animated characters too. And in 1961, Mel had a car accident which led to him being in a coma. Two weeks later, he was still in it. And wondering what else they could possibly do, a neurologist approached his patient and asked "Bugs Bunny, how are you doing today?".

It took a while for the voice actor to respond. But he did - and in the characteristic if subdued tones of that gloriously pesky rabbit, answered "Myeeeh. What's up doc?"

Mel was absent from himself.

But Bugs was there to receive visitors.

As Mel's doctor later said, on an episode of This Is Your Life devoted to the performer, "It seemed like Bugs was trying to save his life."

Which makes as much sense as anything, if sense is a criterion that concerns you.

What I know is that I just spent a couple of weeks getting by largely on automatic, because there are times that seems like a sensible response to what's happening (there's that 'sense' thing again - I'm learning to be wary of it). And -

An instant away -

A greyhound away -

A friend away -

There is a livelier, lovelier, wilder world waiting to be explored.

Hail Eris XX xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOOKS LIKE THE BEATLES WERE RIGHT ABOUT LOVE

I've been meeting some extraordinary people recently.

On Monday, went for a coffee - tea in fact - with someone a mutual connection suggested meeting over our shared interest in writing. He turned out to be one of the very smartest people I have ever met, and I know some very smart people. 

Smart is not always something that impresses me, not least because it often means someone who's stuck in their rationality. And what this guy does with his intelligence is much more interesting. More so, given that he's also somewhere on the autistic spectrum and thus supposedly has difficulties processing interpersonal matters.

Now, one of the things this chap does is profiling work for people operating in military intelligence. And the way he does it is really interesting. Asked, say, to put together a profile of people active in some or other sect implicated in ugly behaviours, it's heartening to me that he steadfastly refuses to label or judge, and especially not in a negative way. So, invited to pass comment on an Islamic group for instance, rather than define them in terms of their supposed dislike for the West, he instead looks at a uniting factor that works in its own right - say, for instance 'we like to celebrate community with family members of all ages'. You'll note that this pretty much presupposes no alcohol at such gatherings, without making a point of it...because the focus is on 'celebrate community' and not 'refuse to drink the cursed alcohol that Allah forbids'. The starting point is commonality. And I love the fact that this guy does work for people that may cause them to reconsider their assessments of those we label 'other'.

The other person I met is a woman who heads up an organisation that gets results around dealing with loneliness and isolation. It's verifiable that the impact she makes can impact health budgets, for instance - because people who find ways to cope with their social isolation feel better and make different and better choices. For her though, the data she gathers is necessary for stakeholders but not vital in terms of her priorities. What she's about is creating circumstances in which people experience love.

These are interesting times. And one of the things it's very easy to do is to feel bad, and hold some or other individual or group responsible for those feelings. It's called 'othering'. That is, we make fellow humans who we have so much in common with, something less than human. You can see Donald Trump do it in the way he talks about Mexicans, about women, about pretty much anyone outside his immediate family. You can see it in media stories like a recent one about a plane passenger who was taken off a jet because a fellow passenger felt nervous in his presence - all on the basis of his skin colour and the things she hallucinated on the basis of it. A few pointed questions would reveal the ugly thinking that had led her to feel uncomfortable, but right now it's somehow acceptable to go along with that kind of toxic mental activity because it chimes with what some political and media interests would like us to believe.

And...

There are other ways to experience the life we share with the fellow denizens of a rock that's spinning round the sun and getting more densely packed with people as it does. Elon Musk's mass market priced Tesla 3 electric cars have an amazing 325,000 pre-orders. These eco-friendly vehicles can make a real difference with regard to our reliance on fossil fuels. And the solar batteries Musk also makes mean the cars can be charged at home, without the need for centralised power that fossil fuel based distribution is predicated upon.

The ability to control what people do and have access to is based on a model that says someone else knows better than you. Which itself rests on assumptions that people at large can't be trusted. True enough - we are after all the people who implicitly support such a system. And it's not far from there to the dawning suspicion that the whole model of state control rests on a kind of othering made a lot easier when the media - which colludes with the state more often than not - makes it clear who the heroes and villains of the world are, and where our attention should be focused. Or, in headline form - ISLAM BAD, GO TEAM GO, NEW KARDASHIAN PICS.

There isn't a 'them'. All there is, is us. And if people in military intelligence are learning to understand that such a separating out is simplistic, and that action to address loneliness and isolation is rooted in getting people to engage with each other more...

Well - if all that's the case - and it is - 

Then maybe love really can change the world.

OH DELILAH

You've probably heard of Schrodinger's cat. This imaginary creature was the subject of a thought experiment involving a cat being placed into a box which deadly gas would be released into at a random moment. The question was, without looking into the box, whether you can know at a given point whether it's alive or not.

Never mind the details and ramifications of that - the last thing I want to do is add to the body of badly explained quantum physics, a field where my knowledge would barely cover a postage stamp. My interest is in noting that in all the years I've been aware of Schrodinger's cat, not one person has complained about it being an experiment on animals - because this moggy exists only in the minds of those thinking about it.

Meanwhile, there are Welsh politicians planning to ban rugby fans from singing the Tom Jones classic Delilah. Their case is that the song glorifies violence against women. Never mind that Delilah is entirely fictional, and exists in any sense at all only when the song is sung. Real people whose job it is to contribute to the British political process are complaining about the fact that an imaginary woman dies in a song. She's not a flesh and blood person - Delilah is a literary device, allowing Tom Jones to employ his stirring voice in the service of an epic ballad.

Let's be clear - no women were harmed in the writing or performance of Delilah, just as I doubt Nick Cave killed anyone in the process of recording his album Murder Ballads, and question whether Bob Marley actually shot a sheriff. And to suggest imaginary corpses fuel real violence is to go down a road where little is certain, and any alleged evidence is met by equal and opposite counter-evidence.

Thing being, the whole issue is a demonstration of numptiness. Stories and songs are part of the fabric of our imaginations. And in our minds, few of us are rational and operate according to moral strictures. Look at the stories we tell children. Women living in forests cook children in ovens. Grandmothers are slain and wolves take their place (wolves are also serial destroyers of homes in another tale). The stepsisters in the original Grimm version of Cinderella hack off chunks of their own feet so that they may fit the glass slipper.

There is some very curious and dark stuff here about gender and sex and families and violence, for sure. But stopping people from experiencing songs and stories where these themes appear does not change their behaviour. Where attitudes to women are concerned, it's behaviours that make the difference. And one thing we know about behaviours, is that they're a consequence primarily of what we experience around us and mirror in our own actions. Stories shape the world less than they reflect it, and where stories are contentious it's likely to be because they concern matters that right thinking people would prefer their attention didn't go when the lights flicker out...

SAME AS IT EVER WAS

I never set out to be a copywriter. It happened when I was looking for a job following graduation. And it happened because of something daft - I'd had a wisdom tooth removed, and was in pain for a few days afterwards, during which time I was knocking back whisky and painkillers. Which explains why I wrote a job application in the style of classic detective novelist Raymond Chandler. That in turn attracted the attention of an agency called Christian Davies in Hertford, and pretty soon I was a copywriter as a result.

Turns out Christian Davies was one of the names used by a woman who posed as a male soldier in the 18th century, so the name was a good clue to the fact that I was entering a world where deception was commonplace. And so it turned out to be. This was the late 1980s. There were tales of business won by agencies turning up to pitch with new cars that the client was told would be theirs if they were awarded the account. All of this was eye-opening for me, and what clinched my desire to move was shitty behaviour on the part of one of the agency's directors. His co-director Tim was off ill. And while he was away, his colleague took time to ask each member of the agency for their loyalty during the difficult time - oh, and Tim's a great guy etc, but have a look at these expenses he's running up. Tim died a few weeks later, leaving behind a wife and children. Now, I wonder if the guy who wanted to exit him knew that Tim was dying and wanted to avoid a payout to his family.

Though I tried to find other work, eg in publishing or with the BBC, I had no luck. So when I was headhunted to join a London agency, I figured I might as well go along with it to get away from what was happening in Hertford. It couldn't get any worse, surely...

It didn't get worse. Just - different. For the first couple of weeks, I learned about this new agency, its team and clients. And was shown work that had been done to get me used to how they did things. A lot of their work was recruitment based, ie job adverts. So when a thrusting young director showed me some work that took the form of leaflet to put through the doors on behalf of a high-end department store, I asked why they were doing that and not putting an ad in the local paper. He answered simply, "We tried that, but the ethnic response was too high."

I knew he'd said something unusual, but it took a minute to process what he'd said and translated it into what he meant, which is that too many black people had applied for the jobs. Like there was an OK number of non-white applicants which had been exceeded. Hence leafletting a posh suburb where house prices filtered out any inconveniently-coloured candidates.

That was pretty much the moment I realised that me and advertising were never going to get on. I knew there'd be no smoking gun document about the blatantly racist conduct of department store and ad agency, otherwise I'd have passed it on to people who could publicise what had happened. I can easily imagine the dynamic young director and the client having their conversation about what they needed to do, all about the brand of the store, which wasn't in tune with the job applications they were getting, neither of them even half-conscious that they were engaging in racial discrimination.

Ugly as those experiences were, I'm glad they happened. My eyes were opened to what goes on in a very direct way. And that experience has shaped and continues to shape choices I've made since.

What's interesting to me is what people will do on behalf of a business in the name of making money. And one conclusion is we don't need to be given orders to behave in despicable ways. Our ability to act on behalf of an organisation is something we internalise. A company itself cannot act, but the values it enshrines can become behaviours when they're embraced by employees.

Fortunately, there are lots of decent people out there acting in the name of companies with an ethical outlook. But I remember too the experiments Stanley Milgram did, which showed that an alarming number of people will go along with what someone wearing a lab coat asks them to do, up to giving a stranger a potentially lethal electric shock. OK, so it wasn't a real shock in that experiment, and the stranger was an actor in cahoots with the scientist. Similarly, it doesn't need to be a real lab coat - someone in a suit who has an imposing job title can have the same kind of influence.

I'm lucky in that I have nobody else to provide for. If I choose not to work for a particular client, that's a choice I can live with. For people with families it's trickier. For single parents, even more problematic. There's no one size fits all answer. It does help to acknowledge the questions that come up though, and if none of those questions are coming up in the course of your work, you're either lucky, or need to look closer.

 

THE AFTERSHOCK OF THE NEW

There's a disconnect between what people think of as creativity, and what they perceive to be commerce. Some writers, artists, and musicians are sniffy about the idea of creating with an agenda of supporting themselves, while wishing to support themselves with what they create.

There's wiggle-room here, of various sorts. I went to one art show opening, got talking to an artist there, and asked how he got by financially. He looked askance at me, and without ever uttering words involving money implied that he survived on funds raised from arts grants of various sorts. Which is fair enough - I'd rather public money was spent on arts projects than nuclear weapons for instance.

Really, what that means is the artist in question gets his money by filling forms in and having a good relationship with the people reading them, or at any rate an additional layer of paid bodies who exist to go between them. Pretty much like being on welfare, only with the possibility of higher sums being involved. And where there's a distinct skill in using words to suggest that the art you create is somehow aligned to whatever buzzwords a funding body is attracted to. Sometimes it's 'engagement' or 'participatory', and you can never go wrong with 'community'. Nothing wrong with any of that if the actuality bears out the claims.

My background as a copywriter for ad agencies, and subsequently as a freelancer, makes me rudely practical about money. Monthly mortgage payments aren't covered by assertions of the inherent worth of my scribblings or claims that they benefit others, it turns out. And that career history also gives me a different take on creativity than some.

I create work for audiences. And for me to do so, I need to have some sense of who those audiences are, and what else they already like. Fortunately, I like genre storytelling in various forms, and one advantage of genre is it connects creators to pre-existing audiences who've enjoyed stories that share commonality with the ones I want to tell. Well, that's fine by me, and I am of the opinion that work created in genre is as worthy as any non-genre stories, a view which isn't shared by some of those who create work for - as Spinal Tap described their declining fanbase - more specialist audiences. Sometimes book publishing persists in such delusions, as when Martin Amis was given a deal considerably larger than would ever be recouped in sales of his books, because of their willingness to collude with providing his need for a sum matching his self-image. In the media that I'm attracted to - television, film, and comics - the idea that you'd get more for doing something with a smaller audience would be viewed with disbelief. 

Part of my experience in Britain has been that some of the gatekeepers to television have a precious view of its value, and feel that their status is high as a result. What I note is that the UK industry is very small and consequently has little scope for real competition, while being convinced that digital would sooner or later disrupt the scene in ways that would be beneficial for people like me. And that's what's happening.

I had a tentative exploration of the online world for filmed material with a web series that never got anywhere. Hey ho. And since then, the digital scene now means Netflix and Amazon Prime, both creating content that audiences are lapping up, and without the need to involve fusty broadcasters and their schedules and watersheds. Instead, audiences can watch what they want, when they want, as often as they want.

One of the interesting things about the emerging landscape is how responsive to audiences it is. The superb Amazon Prime show Mr Robot was commissioned for a second series on the basis of response to the trailer for its first. Result - a show that feels like now in ways that an institution like the BBC isn't equipped to produce. I love some of the BBC's output, but a show with such a distinct sense of the now would be next to impossible to create there in a timescale where it still mattered. And I'm much more at home creating work for an actual audience than dealing with gatekeepers who speak on behalf of one, or whose agenda is concerned with the institution they're part of. 

The scene is changing, irrevocably. Joss Whedon made good money as Marvel's director for the first Avengers movie. Yay, Joss. Now the interesting bit: he made even more with a project that he made with friends, Dr Horrible, just for the fun of it, and got a fraction of the audience of the Marvel franchise. And that gave him the confidence to go ahead with his black-and-white take on Much Ado About Nothing. What Joss has done, others can and will do their equivalents of - you can do the Martin Amis thing and get more with a smaller audience if you're more involved with the production process, and paying for any costs yourself.

All of this should round off with an account of my current adventures in new media with some fascinating partners who in addition to -

- only, I can't say anything about that at this point. Except, I've embarked on an amazing adventure with an incredibly high-calibre international team. We have plans.

 

 

 

WHY SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO ME?

I'm ambivalent about being a trainer and coach. While I'm happy - and continuing to learn - about what I do with clients, and the ripples that creates, I'm largely unimpressed by the field I find myself in. The death today of David Bowie has brought that into focus, and helped me realise why I feel as I do.

Bowie's achievements were characterised by an ability to be inventive in any context he was placed. He wasn't just a singer and musician, he was an artist conscious about how he did what he did, always looking for ways to surprise himself. That famous capacity for reinvention is his true legacy, and along the way he created a series of remarkable recordings that will remain memorable for as long as humans listen to music.

I'm willing to bet he did all that without the aid of someone hired to tell him to take massive action, believe in himself, confront his innermost fears, or step into the unknown. And though he did walk into the fire, it was in the context of a collaboration with David Lynch and not the cheesy highlight of a personal development training.

Now, you could argue that the Twin Peaks spin-off where Bowie and Lynch collaborated was not a highlight of either man's CV. But if you're going to work with anyone in the realm of personal development, you absolutely should be asking about their accomplishments. The tragic reality is that the great majority of those encouraging others to take bold steps and achieve great things have done very little of either themselves.

One of the characteristics of my mentors in the training world is that they have made notable accomplishments outside the narrow confines of that scene. Michael Breen was already a well-regarded actor and successful business consultant running trainings internationally before he had anything to do with NLP. He was asked to look at some previously unseen papers of W.B. Yeats because of his appreciation of the poet's work by people who had precisely zero interest in his association with Paul McKenna. Eric Robbie similarly did advertising work that I was aware of when I was growing up, edited publications including Radio Times, published the UK's first newsstand magazine about personal computing, and was active in the NUJ. And way before NLP he was already exploring leading edge psychology with people who came up with it. Those were the qualities that led both to stand out in the domain of training - each had experiences to draw on outside the limited confines of a workshop.

My issue then, is of people claiming that they can help others to put something new into the world without having experience of doing so themselves. And that's why I continue to identify primarily as a writer rather than a trainer or coach. The work I do in the latter contexts is shaped in major ways by my ongoing experiences creating or co-creating work that's so far got out into the world through the BBC, film festivals, live performance, and digital distribution, and is set to scale up this year with the print publication of my first graphic novel, interest in making a feature film I scripted, and with a project I can't yet discuss about to get very interesting. 

If you don't know what it's like to live with the consequences of taking big risks, you have no business telling others to do the same. I'm very aware of the ripple effects of taking a high-risk approach to making my way in the world - how that affects relationships, shapes choices I make every day, what it makes possible or impossible at a given moment. And I'm very aware of the skills I have that go into it all, and which of them are explicitly a consequence of my own training, which come from other parts of my life, and just how useless some of the knowledge I've acquired at great expense is in practice.

This matters. And it matters in particular given some of the fakes and flakes you can run into if you have much to do with the world of personal development workshops. For the most part, what's offered is watered down from someone else's work in ways that would make a homeopath blush. Result is that when a trainer offers something of substance - as NLP trainer James Tsakalos does for instance - people who've done previous classes elsewhere realise to their dismay that instead of expertise they paid someone to make them feel good. And there's a big difference between supposed skills acquired at a seminar, and the reality of working with people outside of that cosy bubble...my skills sharpened through being a support worker at a hostel for homeless people with mental health and substance issues. 

The decades-long experience of being a creator comes first for me. I'm able to work with others in putting their work into the world because it's something I live the reality of for long hours every day. I love what I do, and that love and experience allows me to work with individuals and groups in ways that create difference for them. And sure, I have a bunch of impressive certificates about my own training - but so have any number of people. I might not be the right person to work with you, but please do ask any coach or trainer who you're considering working with just what qualifies them to be in the business of affecting the lives of others.

Only someone as devoted to artifice as Bowie could have achieved such a sincere impact with his death. The nature of his final work, and the timing of its release, showed just what's possible if you really are prepared to take things further than whatever ledge you're perched on. The announcement of his passing acts as a kaleidoscope through which it's possible to perceive the lyrics and videos of his new music afresh. Daring not just to the end, but beyond it, revealing as some old paintings did a skull concealed by perspective. 

 

ONE SHOT DEAL

It's the close of 2015, and I'm conscious of endings right now.

I'm now 50, and could if I wished see my life in two halves, each lasting a quarter century. 

The first of those ended with the death of my brother Nigel. 

That was about as ugly an exit from life as you can imagine,  and typical of many young men - he was in his early 20s, a couple of years younger than me - that a car was involved in what happened.

The effects of Nigel's death were many and varied, for me and for our parents. And one realisation for me was that I had no intention of spending my working life in the world of advertising, which is what I was doing at an ad agency in London at that point. About three months after he was killed, the agency I worked for made a third of its staff redundant. I was the only one to leave with a smile on my face.

That smile is there still, though it's been by no means a fixed feature in the second half of my story to date. That should maybe be stories, since one impact of my brother's death was that I decided to have a good go at writing things that I was passionate about, and not whatever an agency account handler needed doing that week.

Fortunately, it's all working out pretty well. I can't go into the details at this point, but I have every reason to believe that my commitment to writing has taken off in a very interesting way. Next year, I'll find out for sure, both about that big unnamed project, and another one that excites me and also represents a step forward for me as a scriptwriter.

And -

Two people I know and like a great deal are experiencing health problems at the moment. They're both exceptional women who have a knack for being themselves in situations where the majority of people settle for 'me too' and choose not to stand out.

There's every chance they'll both recover and be back on their feet in no time. (Behind me, from the stereo, the lyrics that accompanied my last sentence - 'Just close your eyes, I'll tell you when everything's fine'. Thank you Mastodon.)

And -

This is it.

We only get one shot at whatever it is we want to do.

And we're already however many years into that process, on a rock that's spinning through space, the inhabitants of which spend much of their time swapping pictures of kittens to make ourselves forget about just whatever is happening in Syria, and it's OK you can always watch the new Star Wars if kittens just aren't doing the job...

This. Is. It.

So, what are you going to do with the time you have? About the dreams that you talk about as the second bottle of wine is opened? About the opportunities you wish you'd pursued but have told yourself are long gone now? About the future you talk about with someone you love, aware even as you chat that the conversation is a placebo, and hoping you can get by with that...

2016 can be the latest in a series if you wish. There'll be some good bits, and some lousy ones, and much of it will wash past, one day indistinguishable from another.

It doesn't have to be like that.

On Saturday January 16, I'll be leading a workshop that's all about making 2016 the best it can be for you. It'll be a stretch for us all, myself included, but stretches are how you go beyond where you're comfortable and get into uncharted territory. We'll be looking at making things happen and creating new habits and what it means to act from that best part of yourself on an ongoing basis. We'll be in central Nottingham, and you can find the details by checking out this link

 

 

MAKE 2016 YOUR BEST YEAR YET

Why do we have weeks, and months, and years?

It's all down to the advantages of having a cyclic understanding of time. Once upon a whenever, we knew that the sun would be warmer at some points, and to prepare for the return of the cold when the nights began to get shorter.

We're not subject to the demands of agriculture in the same way now, but knowing that February will be back in due course and with it a work anniversary, or if it's the 12th that makes it a month since something special happened, gives us the opportunity to perceive two separate instances simultaneously, and compare them.

That comes into its own with New Year. We make a big deal of the fact that the calendar has changed, and use it as an opportunity to assess just how we are changing. So we congratulate ourselves on the victories we've achieved, and wonder just how we'll move forward with some of the things we said we'd do, but one way or another didn't get round to.

I've got no shortage of methods that I find helpful to make me more likely to do what I want, and find continual amusement in how I fail to make the most of those resources in some contexts. Weight is an issue for me, and I decided a while back that I wanted to lose a chunk of what I'm carrying. I somehow didn't get round to actually doing anything about that goal until I chanced on some coconut water in a supermarket at a price I liked. All of a sudden, I was fired up to get in shape. How come? Well, a previous diet was built around an abundance of cheap coconut water that I invested in, and every day for 3 months I had a smoothie made with the stuff, losing 35 pounds.

Now I have discount coconut water in my possession again - therefore I can lose weight. Sounds stupid when it's put like that, but so it goes. We all make similarly eccentric choices, and I now realise that I can use regular water instead of the coconut version, but for now I'm happy because I'm having smoothies once more and am feeling better for it already after about 10 days.

It's this kind of thing that can make it useful to work with a coach, who can help identify and work with some of the blind spots you have, as well as reminding you of those contexts in which you shine and where else they apply. And I'm fortunate in having experienced a one year coaching programme with Michael Breen, who worked with Paul McKenna some years back and was instrumental in the success of their training business, as he has been behind the scenes in corporate settings, and with some well-known people in the entertainment world.

Getting more of what you want, and dealing with what you actually get, calls for the ability to outwit some of our own habits of thought and behaviour. Often, the key to approaching life differently comes down to some very straightforward basics. Like, using a voice within your own head that coaxes and convinces you, rather than berates and bullies. Like, using language in the way you record your goals and tasks that engages you to perform to a high standard, and not just offer the bare minimum. Like, realising what values drive your choices, and how to engage with them more fully and consistently.

2015 has seen me step up to a whole new level in the nature and scale of the creative work I do, and 2016 is about beginning to deliver the incredible potential of a deal that I couldn't have even conceived of a few years ago.

I don't know what it is that matters to you. I do know that on Saturday Jan 16 in Nottingham, you can join me and a group of other people in spending a day exploring ways in which we can make 2016 our best year yet. Join us, please.

 

 

TRAPPED IN A WORLD WE NEVER MADE

Here's the thing. We have no idea at all about the world we live in.

And that scares us.

We can make guesses, based on the evidence of our senses. But those are the same senses which lead us to mistake one person for another, make faulty assumptions about what the weather is and will be like, encourage us to eat and drink stuff that's bad for us.

So we know we're not to be trusted.

And this is where the problem starts.

Rather than accept our ignorance, we look for a more certain mapping of the world than we can provide for ourselves. So we turn to others. At which point it goes horribly wrong.

We assume as children that our parents have built up more knowledge about the world than we have. And that's true in some respects. But as we grow older we come to accept that there are occasions when the knowledge of those who have brought us into this world is lacking. Someone told me how a two year-old showed their mother how to do some stuff with a tablet device the other day. It won't be the first time that infant realises its parent doesn't have a comprehensive map of the world we live in.

If parents are dubious, school is infinitely worse. For the most part, education is very little about how to understand the world. Instead, we're offered predigested versions of it. You might be lucky enough to encounter some kind teachers along the way, but the institution itself only has an incidental relationship with the spirit of inquiry.

School prepares us for a world that none of us have much clue about by giving us some preset routines for dealing with it. The key word here is obedience. Stay within the lines that are drawn for and around you. Accept what questions can be asked, and which are inappropriate. Accept the answers to those questions since having a consensus means people think more or less the same, at least in whatever part of the world you landed in.

People thinking more or less the same supports the delusion that someone knows something. And the media reinforce that slender grasp on things through messages which reinforce the stuff which school introduced us to. If we're all thinking pretty much the same stuff, and the things we watch and listen to and read support those notions, we're probably doing something right, right?

By the time we're adults, the tentative understanding we have of the world is pretty much fixed. Without it, what is there? We get up early to travel somewhere and perform tasks that are hopefully useful to others in some way, in return for being allowed to get by in a fashion we find acceptable. And if within all that, we find a few people who are special to us, where maybe love exists, even fleetingly - that's what keeps us going. I know it does for me.

Without that sense of connection, of some kind of community, then all the explanations and excuses and dangled prizes and consolations are worthless. Which hopefully tells us something - that the deal we're presented with, in which we broadly accept what we're told and do what we're told...is bullshit.

The more love and connection I feel, the more bullshit I see. The horrors of Paris aren't explained by the idea that evil people are set on destroying our way of life. Start to explore that, and it's not long before you realise that those deaths were caused by people whose false certainties have a different flavour to our own, reacting to the aggression of oil-hungry countries resentful at having to run their bloated economies with resources they don't directly control.

The terror in terrorism isn't just about the chaos and pain it creates. It's about the terror that the stories we're forcefed by schools and government and media are just as arbitrary and nonsensical as the beliefs we mock when they're expressed by people who dress and speak differently to us.

Real terror for me is the knowledge that most of us are capable of appalling acts, just because someone requests them of us. That's the conclusion from the classic experiments in obedience that Stanley Milgram conducted. Just by asking, you can get someone to torture another if you do so while wearing a labcoat. And we've got plenty of people who aren't wearing labcoats asking us to do things that aren't torture, but which we go along with anyway.

The alternative involves experiencing the real fear of finding things out for ourselves. Start with the realisation that the best of what you know is love and connection, and you'll likely find out you're up to the challenge.

 

BUSY DOING NOTHING

Socially, we're encouraged to participate and join in. Sometimes that's for the good of all, and it can also be the case that the way we join in enables us to stand out and be ranked, preferably high in the pecking order. Which is fine - we are after all unique organisms as well as social creatures, and like our uniqueness to be noted.

What this can mean is that we feel a necessity to say or do something when we are with others, to join in whatever is going on. All well and good. But there's a danger in there, particularly if we're interested in discovering who we are, and what else we might be. We've all been in situations where we've noted that at least some of the participants aren't actually adding anything of substance. They might as well be replaced with show room dummies for all they're adding to what's going on. Sometimes, that show room dummy is us.

That perceived pressure to say something means people often overlook what could be of real value - the possibilities that exist within. Be more receptive to what's going on internally, and other possibilities become apparent. One of which is to contribute nothing - a well-judged silence can be a powerful participation. There's a great example in this live King Crimson piece, an improvisation played toward the end of a tour. The players are tired but still listening to one another, responding to the contributions others make with sensitivity. And arguably the most important player in this spontaneous composition is the drummer...who doesn't actually play. He listens, and his response to the music emerging is that it doesn't need embellishment from him. He's noted as one of the piece's creators, and credited with 'admirable restraint'.

That kind of restraint is something I've been exploring. In some one-to-one or group contexts, where I'd typically say or do something, I've been choosing instead to do nothing. And that's been fascinating - not doing what you'd normally do allows someone else to play an equivalent role, the sharing of that role between two or more people, or the realisation that on this occasion there was no need for that role to be played at all. 

Choosing not to say or do what you'd often say or do is revelatory. There's more I could write about this, but in truth it's best to hand over the baton to you at this point. Let me know how you get on.