Tag Archive | imagination

Time

Been a long time since I posted. So I thought I might explore time itself as a concept.

clockThe turning of the earth, the changing of the season, the wrinkling of the skin and greying of the hair. We talk of Father Time, of Chronos and chronology. But what really is time? Is it a living, breathing being? No. Is it a form of energy? No. Can we perceive it other than by the position of the planets in relation to the earth’s rotation? Not in any instant manner. Does it even really exist?

When we say I didn’t or don’t have time, yes we do. What we really mean is that during the spell in which I am awake and able to complete tasks of any nature, I may not be or was not able to also complete the task of which you are talking. Time is a concept in the physical mind of the human being.

Have you ever seen an elephant look at its watch and say “oh, time for a bit of grazing before I see the giraffes this evening.” Probably not. An elephant notices the changes in the atmosphere, the difference in the light, but doesn’t seek to explain it in any more detail than is necessary. Elephants are vastly intelligent, self-aware and emotional beings. They could easily have developed the concept of time, but see fit not to. Elephants have specific places where, if they are able to, they go to end their days. They are clearly able to appreciate beginnings and endings. A respect of age and seniority are also among their understandings, but they don’t ascribe hours and minutes to anything.

So why does the elephant ignore the minutiae of measurement in relation to passing days? The answer – the elephant has nothing to gain by it. Time and motion is a strictly human concept that makes no sense to any other creature on earth. Yes, a dog learns that when the light changes to a certain level, or perhaps when hunger reaches a particular point, the humans will be home again. But it has to learn that from observation of human behaviour over many changes in the light. Were you to ask the dog how many minutes or seconds had passed, what would it say? It would shrug and say it really wasn’t concerned about how many wags of a tail it took but that now it was ready for dinner, thank you.

Having looked at it from the perspective of different species, does it still make sense to refer to time? Why do we insist on putting that pressure on ourselves? That society would cease to function is not really a valid argument. Were we to stop putting measurements against the turning of the earth, society would still function, just differently. It would be less stressful. We’d get paid by the quantity, quality or size of the body of work we had produced. Viewed like that, is time a socialist concept then, forcing all to accept the same payment regardless of merit? Was the concept invented by someone who worked for longer but produced work of a lesser quantity or quality than the next person? Maybe that’s it.

Surely everyone has experienced the phenomenon where one day takes longer than the next identical day to pass. Those days where you get lots done but upon consulting the clock, it has barely ticked round at all. Disappointing sometimes, edifying at others. If we were paid by the amount we achieved, those days would be very lucrative. Paid by the hour, however, it hardly seems fair.

Time itself though, not that it has a self. If the past exists, why can we visit it only in memory and recorded memory of others? We know innately that only the present truly exists. Look at this way: you are beside a fresh-flowing stream and want a glass of water from it but somebody insists it must be a glass from half an hour ago. Can you obtain that? Maybe, if you were to somehow travel far enough before the water did so that the water of half an hour ago from where you were is where you are now. But then they change their mind and want it from now. Where do you stand, having chased the stream so that now for the other person is not the same as now for you? And could you know the water of now from there when it reached you, because the water from now where they are is tumbling towards you but it’s not delineated and might not be the same water as they were looking at. In that light, can we really ever say ‘at precisely the same time’? Can we ever experience the exact same moment as anyone else? No. Time is a matter of perception, yet we seek to measure it. But to what end?

We say ‘I love you to the end of time’. To the end of what time – yours, mine or the universe’s? News flash: time itself can never end. Only those who seek to measure it, and we only do that because we have a physical human brain conditioned to do so.

So if the past only exists in memory, and yes the earth itself provides a record so has a memory of sorts, what of the future? Everyone has at some point said “in future I will do things differently.” The future, though, does not exist except in imagination and predictive measurement. It can’t exist because it has not yet reached our perception. The water of half an hour from now, in that analogical stream, is still miles away and beyond your reach. It’s even less available than the water of half an hour ago.

The water of now is the only water on which you can have any effect. Ever. You can take steps to prevent the water of the future becoming something you do not want, but only by acting in the now, although it might be a now that has yet to occur. But when someone says do it now, that now has already gone, swallowed up by their statement. Now also doesn’t really exist. By the time you perceive now, even say that one syllable, it’s already too late!

Time then, although we think we understand it, does not really exist. Chronology exists, the turning of the earth, the changing of the season, the wrinkling of the skin and greying of the hair exist. But not one of them is time. They are simply side effects of the continual flow of the stream of life. A constantly changing, ever mutable thing that we seek to measure to make us feel better; or sometimes worse – nobody wants to grow old! We seek to grow older for the sheer fact that it means continuing survival, but not to grow old.

So, now comes the question that reaches to the heart of it. Do we seek to measure time, a concept of our own invention, because it is proof of that continuing survival? I think therein lies the answer that needs no further words from me.

Is it too crazy?

You know, I have never been so scared for my country in my life (and I’m not as young as I look!). The government has turned on the sick and disabled and the media have got right behind that, demonising people who are by no fault of their own unable to comply with the rigors of the traditional working life.

I had a run in with a taxi driver – those well-known armchair politicians – who was driving me to the hospital for the latest in a long list of appointments. He said I could work if I wanted to. I said live a few months in my life and see whether you could keep working to the pattern set out by someone else while your body is demanding rest. I asked him if he thought I’d walked away from a very good salary because it seemed like a good idea to live on the breadline instead. He couldn’t answer me on that but stopped judging me.

And it occurs to me that there must be many sick and disabled persons in the same situation as me; still sharp of mind, quick of wit, able to live a useful and contributory life if only the flexibility were available. I didn’t want to stop earning and I’m sure they didn’t either. I tried returning and within four months was destroyed because I had to stick to a rigid and inflexible pattern. That could have so easily been different.

With the technology available and the kind of jobs that can be done any time during the day, why is it that those who can prove a genuine need are not able to work as their situation allows? The hours in the day when I am at my best vary from day to day. On this reasonably bright Saturday, I was awake and about early and could be completing a seven hour day of useful work at this moment. Tomorrow I might not be fully functional until afternoon, but I’d be able to do another seven hours then.

Show me the employer who will allow that sort of pattern. Show me the employer who will let me shuffle down the stairs when my situation allows, sit down at my laptop and just work, resting when I need to, but getting the job done. They don’t exist or if they do they are few and far between.

And why is that? Is it because a manager needs to be looking over your shoulder regardless of whether the work is getting done? That’s a little paranoid of the employer. Is it because they’re afraid that people will see that it can work and start asking for greater flexibility? I said if a genuine need is proven. Or is it because there is a tradition that says you must be incapable of doing your job, even under circumstances that empower you to do so? Now we’re getting closer to the mark.

There are many kinds of work where it doesn’t matter which hours in the day you work as long as you do work. You’re hardly likely to see a person with a disability scaling a ladder to mend a roof or rescue people from a burning building I grant you. But crunching data, writing articles, designing all manner of things from websites to automobiles – that can be done at any time within a 24 hour period. Why is that still not recognised?

So many talented people are lost to the working world because there simply isn’t scope to incorporate them. How closed-minded does that make the world? How rigid and thereby brittle? One day, business might realise that people with disadvantages are all the more driven to be the best they can be and give their all to everything they do. So they might not be able to attend meetings. Ever heard of video conferencing? The telephone?

And what I say to governments making it impossible for the disadvantaged to do anything with their lives, if you address employers and maybe even incentivise trying a new flexible approach as described above, you might find a lot fewer people are forced to walk away from a full time working life before it kills them. You might even find a massive boost to the nation’s productivity because of the talent and determination injected back into business.

If you agree, whether partially or fully, share this blog. Give people some food for thought on what could really be done to alleviate both the suffering being endured by the sick and disabled right now and the burden the government are so sure is to blame for everything that’s wrong with this country. Open some eyes and some minds and we might just start to see improvement.

Attitudes need to change. The traditional methods are not working and therefore nor are many people who could be. But we need to talk about it, theorise, explore and pioneer or nothing will get better.

This is just the very tip of an idea. A dream. And if enough people dream that dream, there just might be a chance of making it real. Is that too crazy?

Burble

I was going to post a serious blog about giving to charity and how dreadful I felt having to choose just one to vote for only this afternoon. But that would no doubt make everyone reading feel dreadful too and I don’t want to do that any more than I want to vote for one worthy cause among many equally worthy causes.

So instead, because it’s a dreary October weekend and the cold weather is really kicking in, I thought I’d share a bit of silly fiction instead. All new and expecting parents should take note:

Burble

“Aren’t you getting big?” Yes, but there’s no need to shout. I’m young, not deaf. You only hear baby burble when I tell you. I’m bigger than I was, yes. Still not exactly big though. Unless you’re comparing me to, say, this rusk.

“Shall we go for a nice walk in the park?” Well, really that’s more fun for you than for me. You’ll be walking and I’ll be lying there in the pram with nothing to look at but the clouds and that stupid smile you put on whenever you look at me. Then you’ll meet someone you don’t even know and they’ll ask if they can hold me and you’ll say yes. I’ll scream and squall because I really don’t want to be pawed at by strangers. They might have all sorts of germs! Then you’ll say you’re sorry, poor baby must be tired.

I’ll be tired alright. Tired of being treated like a baby. Okay, so I know technically I am a baby and I haven’t quite mastered the controls of this body yet, but I wish you’d realise that just a few months ago I was the greatest mathematician in the world who happened to get hit by a bus. Perhaps I should have calculated its speed better. You know that thoughtful look you tell everyone about? That’s calculus that is. Calculus in my head. And according to the contract I’ll forget it all before I can talk. Next time I’ll be ready for the bus.

JAM 2013

The charity vote is here in case you’re still reading. £50,000 pounds for the winner. I voted MS Society because I know them well, know they’re often forgotten and know every penny counts.

Enjoy the weekend!

Taking literacy to a whole new level

It’s not often a project comes along that captures my imagination quite so much as the one I’m about to describe. I’ve recently had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Steve Monosson, Creative Director at Borne Digital, based in New York. Now, Steve’s a nice guy, very talented, makes me laugh and then I asked about the project he’d mentioned in another context.

Stylus screeches across the vinyl, my eyes grow wide and I think “whoah”.

This is not some little creative venture. This is ground breaking stuff taking literacy education to a whole new level. Borne Digital produce books for reading on a tablet. eBooks. But these eBooks are created with multiple layers of content and the level of difficulty adapts to individual learning ability. Kind of like a level-up when you reach a certain stage in the game.

Read MSNBC’s article about this and vote for Borne to get a very important chance to be heard.

We all know how kids thrive in an interactive environment. We all know they’d rather be on the iPad than reading a dowdy old paperback. And quite importantly it is now known that many people with dyslexia are better able to read from eBooks. What Borne have done, are doing, combines all of these factors and more.

Imagine if, when you were learning to read, your books had adapted to meet your ability. Imagine how much less pressured that would have made reading aloud to the teacher. Imagine how rewarding it would have been to see how far you had come in the space of just one book.

Now put yourself in the place of the teacher who, with Borne’s technology, is able to focus more on what matters and less on how to make reading fun and engaging no matter what level individual children are at. Have you breathed a sympathetic sigh of relief yet?

Key quotes from founder Daniel Fountenberry carried in the MSNBC article:

“We want to use technology in ways that empower teachers and that allow all children to reach their full potential.”

“Reading is fundamental to learning, and learning is fundamental to human development. Reading is the basis of all learning, and we all know the impact of not being able to read–what it does to a person’s self-esteem.”

I urge you to read the article if you haven’t already and see what this is all about. And check out the Borne website too.

There are so many benefits to Borne’s work. Most importantly, it changes reading from something children feel they ought to do into something they love to do. That has lifelong positive repercussions. And as if that wasn’t enough, Borne Digital seek to bring reading to the most impoverished areas where it can be of most benefit.

But there are so many potential applications beyond the classroom too, which I’ve no doubt Borne have already anticipated. This is brilliant, potentially world-changing stuff. I can’t help but be 100% behind it and so much hope it finds its way to the UK.

Please vote for Borne to have that all important opportunity and spread the word. Share this blog, share the article, do what you can to make this project the enormous success it deserves to be. If you are, or have contacts that could be, of influence in education, in literacy organisations, in government, in big business that might like to support the project, please let me know and I will pass details on immediately. This is huge. Let’s make it huger!

Bitten

A little flash fiction for your Friday frivols 🙂

I woke up yesterday morning with a bite mark on my neck. Not a tiny mosquito bite, not a flea bite. No, this is a full human-sized bite with a whole lot of teeth. I suppose it could have been the cat, but she has very sharp teeth and would not only have drawn blood but woken me up.

All day I spent trying to figure it out. I mean, the window was open all night but locked in position and no-one could get through without making a hell of a racket. It’s a mystery.

I can’t find anything online about blood disorders or infections, even of the nasty fungal sort that would cause this pattern of bruising. Imagine you’ve bitten an apple and rather than leave puncture marks, you’ve left little bruises. That’s my neck.

So I went to bed deciding not to worry about it, window open just a crack, and drifted off quite happily. I’d probably been asleep about an hour when I woke up with a start. Something was biting my neck! I shrieked and twisted away.

My attacker jumped back looking rather embarrassed. He stood there, in his black cloak with its standing collar and red lining, white frilly shirt, one hand clamped over his mouth. He pointed at something on the bed and I thought he might burst into tears. A set of dentures had dropped to the coverlet as I pulled away.

“They’re jutht temporary until the cuthtom thet ith ready,” he wailed.

JAM May 2013

The big bang theory

Nothing at all to with TV shows of the same name or indeed astrophysics, fascinating though it is. I need to make a big bang (on paper) and know nothing of the theory.

For some time I’ve had an idea for a story largely inspired by my Granddad. I wrote a quick thought down when it first came to me, intending to come back to it when other projects were complete. It’s one of those ideas though that won’t be quiet and since late yesterday has been taking shape.

Initially I’m writing it as a short story but can see that I’ll come back to it and take it much further. It has the scope to cross decades and continents and it would be a shame to leave it at just a handful of pages. There is one small problem possibly leading to a far bigger problem if I don’t watch what I say and where. I need my main character to blow up a building.

Not so easy for one man who, although he possesses the know how, is travelling from England to Antwerp in 1953. I assume he knows how to make a bomb because I don’t. Perhaps foolishly, I typed it into Google before I even thought about what such Internet activity might trigger. My sane and rational side says at the most my other searches might be looked at by some poor sod somewhere. My highly imaginative side envisages black helicopters, snipers at the neighbour’s attic windows and masked men abseiling down the chimney to arrest me at gunpoint. Please let it be coincidence that my Internet connection slowed right down after the fact. Please let it be that the entire North East only just logged on after the sun went down and volume of traffic is to blame.

What kind of world do we live in now where I find these things occurring to me whether by dint of imagination or not? I mean when my Facebook account browses my cookies and tries to sell me more of the things I already bought (surely self-defeating, Facebook if you think about it), should I not be slightly paranoid that everything I do is scrutinised if not by the authorities by marketeers? Will someone now try to sell me a bomb making kit via social media? I wouldn’t be surprised!

I’ve enlisted the help of a friend who knows about these things (in a licensed and responsible way) because I really am that irrationally concerned about who might get their hands on my search data and although it would all be a terrible misunderstanding, what would happen in the meantime? While it might in itself provide a plot of topical interest, I don’t especially want to be the main protagonist! And if they took a search to be indicative, what of the writing? Would they dig up my yard in case I really did kill Phil? Would they make sure my gas meter had never gone missing?

As far as I’m aware my Granddad, God rest him, never (intentionally) blew anything up. That is not how he came to inspire this story. It touches upon certain aspects of his life and I think he would really like where I’m taking it. That is if he were watching me as well. I wouldn’t be so nervy about that though!

Call me crazy, call me paranoid. My big bang theory is sometimes they really are watching you and there’s no telling what you might spark in the most innocent of circumstances these days. Now I’m about to make a phone call and if there’s a crackle on the line, I’m grabbing the cat and running!

Flash!

I have a new addiction. It’s not chemical, which is no doubt a good thing. It’s Flash. Not FLASH! Ah-ah! of the infamous movie that has over the years made it so that whenever I hear Brian Blessed speak, all I can hear is “Gordon’s alive?”. Nor is it the multimedia software, although sometimes I find a game on a website and I’m there a while. No, I’m talking about Flash Fiction.

So am I any good at it? Well, I don’t know. I’m good at keeping to a strict word count – some groups and competitions set a tight limit of 250 words, others 100. But years of writing limericks and haikus as an exercise in word play and certain other pursuits have fine tuned writing within a limit. When I write to a restricted count, I like to be bang on the total; not one word under, not one over and that, I think, is the addictive part.

It’s the Wiki of fiction. But I was struck by something about it that reverberates with the warnings expounded by one of my favourite novels of all time. Fahrenheit 451 by the late Ray Bradbury tells how the world in which books are burned evolved from a world where people demanded ever shorter, more concise versions of everything.

So is flash fiction a good thing, or is it the flash point of the fire that burns our literary heritage? As a warm up exercise, no pun intended, it works for me. It takes far less investment of time and deliberation than a traditional short story. It’s far more throwaway. But that’s the thing that scares me a little about it’s growing popularity. In the world of wikis and tweets, will we soon forsake the book? Or is it all just a flash in the pan..?

On the sadness of light

When nights are still light at 8pm, I get a little sad. They’ll soon be light at 10pm and then they start getting darker again. I want it to be perpetually ‘almost summer’ so there’s always warmer weather to look forward to. It’s like eating the first third of a chocolate bar and knowing that there’s not as much left to enjoy later. The spring flowers, late to arrive this year because we haven’t long left winter, will be just as fragile and just as short lived as they always are. My favourite flowers, those early bursts of colour and life, but they also make me sad. No sooner do they appear than they’re gone again and won’t return until we’ve trudged through another long dark winter.

This is not a post about the weather. No, it’s about the passage of Time. Few things highlight how quickly it slips away than the changing of the seasons. Children growing up, people we don’t see often looking older when we meet and the seasons. We turn them into a rite of passage. Baby’s first Christmas is so soon followed by long summer holidays from school and with the passing of every summer another year’s progress. But that all stops and as adults we carry on less governed by the seasons except to bemoan the impact on traffic or the pain of fitness classes in preparation for the beach. We still all fit our lives around the big seasonal events, women maybe more so than men.

Do we really want to wish our lives away like that? Can’t wait for summer or planning for Christmas already? I looked up this evening and it was still light at 8.15pm and I felt a pang. A grieving in advance for the dwindling days and a grieving for the days passed that will never come back. We can’t store Time and it feels like such a swindle.

No, I don’t want the nights to get any lighter. I want them to pause right here, right now, because I know that what is to come will also pass and fade like the flowers only just appearing in the garden. Tomorrow will be lighter still and the darkness another day closer. I leave it to you to decide what that means.

Empty Pages

Empty pages, let us talk a moment here.
You see, you fill me with a most irrational fear.
You scare me half to death with pristine white.
This isn’t writer’s block, it’s writer’s fright!
I’ve tried to work with you in pastel dress
But find the end results are still a mess.
So what am I to do, oh pages clean?
To scratch my pen upon you feels just mean.
It is your purpose, yes I know, to take the word
And let it live to be re-read, even heard
But I look at you, your perfect paper face
And to sully you with ink seems a disgrace.
Have I the right to write upon such beauty?
There are far less dainty forms to fill that duty.
The electronic page can take your place
And then my foolish marks I can erase
But no, those pages cannot be as good
And leaving you for them is simply rude.
There has to be an answer, pages dear.
Perhaps we ought to wait for an idea
That we can share, that flows from my pen.
Yes that’s the way and maybe… maybe then
We’ll work together gladly my old friend
Your surface alive with words up to The End.
No doubt we’ll start again with something new
And there’ll be this chat again some time with you.
Until then I’ll place you back upon the shelf
To be your unblemished, uncorrupted self
And when my words have the power to compare
To your perfection we’ll say at last fair’s fair.
For now my ache to write must rest complete
Upon the knowledge I can always press Delete!

JAM 16/04/13

The Northman is free!!

For a limited time only. Today and tomorrow in fact (10th & 11th April 2013).

The brilliant J.D. Hughes has organised a free download extravaganza on his fantastic novel Northman.

To quote from my own review, Northman is a “tense supernatural thriller steeped in history with some interesting perspectives on life, existence and the meaning of it all.” Even time itself has no power over the Northman. “Hughes writes with intelligence, knowledge and skill to weave a tale that fills many shoes. Decide for yourself whether I mean fits many profiles or makes you that afraid.”

But don’t just take my word for it. Some bites (bytes?) of what others are saying about it:

“The ending is stunning, something I hadn’t predicted at all – isn’t it great when that happens?”

“A delightful work, and I could gladly read it again.”

“The prose reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, John Masters and other writers of the first half of the 20th century, while the explorations of life’s meanings brought to mind Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.”

“A scarily good thriller that deserves a place on your Kindle.”

“If you want to read a good thriller then this is for you! Loved it.”

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Read J.D.’s blog about the giveaway or head on over to Amazon UK / US and get your copy. How else will you know how to watch out for and survive the Northman when he comes?!