My idea of fun.

My idea of ultimate fun is to pack a backpack with whatever I need for my immediate survival and hit the road. No fixed plans, though a destination, however temporary, is useful because otherwise it’s hard to get going. It’s not about where I’m going. It’s not about what I’ll do when I get there. It’s is literally only and solely about hitting the road/path/whateverthehell, and seeing where it takes me. That’s the whole point of it.

I have no illusions whatsoever as to the fact that “reasonable” or even “sane” people don’t do that kind of thing. Maybe they’re not even tempted to do that kind of thing, I don’t know; they sure don’t talk about it. Maybe the risk/reward ratio just doesn’t stack up for them. For me, though, it does. And yes, I am fully aware of the risks. Every time I’ve hit the road I’ve known that there was a chance I would not come back, or I’d come back dented. But I’ve found nothing else that comes even close to making me feel that good.

I could try and explain how it feels, but I don’t really have the words for it. I feel my blood singing. I feel every concern and care and niggle evaporate, and one clear, overarching purpose take over. I feel every part of me is working at full efficiency, to the point that I don’t have to think or feel – to the point that whatever I think of as “I” disappears – because I’m in the right place at the right time doing what I’m meant to be doing. Conscious decisions are no longer required of me. Identity is no longer required of me.  I’m doing the one thing I’m made for. My fangs come out, and they are happy.

And if any of the above makes any sense to you, good luck.

I also know the drawbacks. It’s tiring. It’s grimy. It’s increasingly difficult to do safely, in this time and place, because our idea of safety is about banning every damn thing that could cause anyone a boo boo, instead of making people more capable of dealing. It’s heinously dangerous. It’s not my drug of choice – it’s not the drug I would have chosen, had I been given a choice. There’s got to be a better way to feel alive; a way that is less likely to make you dead. But I’ve not found it yet.

Because I’m cowardly/sensible (take your pick), I’ve always modulated my impulses. In the olden days, before I put a yoke around my neck, I used to play the game with two basic rules: have enough money on me that, if everything went totally wrong, I could get home; don’t go further than the aforementioned money would take me. Those were my safety lines, or my tethers – I’ve never been good enough at hair-splitting to be able to tell the difference. I was fully aware that having a home to retreat to and the means to get there meant that I was cheating. I was pretending to live that life. I was a goddamn tourist. But those parameters allowed me to shut up that part of my mind that is endlessly reciting unassailable wisdom long enough for me to get a foot on the road. Three steps in, the rush would hit and I couldn’t even pretend to give a damn.

That was all in the past. For the last decade and a half, I’ve had dependants of various species. I’m not going to drag my dogs into that kind of caper. I don’t give myself that right. I’m also not going to take that level of risk with myself when I have human dependants. When I am part of something, the risks I take don’t stop with me. By putting myself at risk, I’m putting the whole at risk; and while I know that I’m fully replaceable, I have no intention of playing that kind of game with the lives of anyone I care about.

So, for the last 15 goddamn years, I’ve scaled everything down. I hit the road at previously-arranged times carefully carved out of my otherwise suffocating schedule (any schedule that keeps me from hitting the road when the fever comes upon me being intrinsically suffocating). Instead of hoofing it, I go in a vehicle. That makes the entire endeavour infinitely more comfortable and much safer, as it gives me a little portable home with a roof and locks and stuff. But it’s methadone. It takes the edge off my urge, but it’s just not the same. It’s good enough, just, but it’s not good.

Most people in my life have agreed with that assessment: it’s not good. But they don’t think it’s good for completely different reasons. They don’t think it’s good that I can’t see how ridiculous it all is, how intensely unnecessary. That I choose to be sleeping illegally in a van with only dogs for heating when I could be in a campsite, or a hotel. That I can’t see that if I organised my excursions I could see and do a lot more. Worse of all, they don’t think it’s good that I’m not growing out of it.

It was supposed to be a phase. Kids take a year out, go backpacking, then come home having realised how much better “normal” life is and knuckle under. They don’t carry on for the rest of their lives intermittently gazing out the window at the open road, listening to its whispers, and refusing to look at it because it just hurts too damn much. They don’t hate themselves for forcing themselves to live a normal, safe, sane life when all they want to do is drop it all, drop the entire unholy pretence, and go off where they can breathe and feel and be. They don’t look at their lives’ achievements and loathe them for the mockeries they are.

It kind of sucks when the people you love and who love you treat a major part of you as something you’ll eventually get out of your system.

It sucks even more when you do it to yourself.

I realised this only recently. All my life, I’ve treated the one thing that makes me feel the most alive as an unfortunate defect to be worked around and hopefully eventually overcome. Instead of trying to structure my life so I could facilitate my proclivities within safe boundaries, I’ve deliberately engineered situations to prevent myself from making that leap. I’ve not shown myself any trust, respect, or consideration for my feelings. I’ve treated myself like a problem, or at least like a problem child. When anyone else does that, it infuriates me. But I’ve done it to myself, and told myself that it was for my own good.

The road fever thing is just an extreme example of a phenomenon. I don’t know how deeply this attitude runs, how pervasive it has been. I ‘m willing to bet that I’ve done the same exact thing towards other aspects of myself. My plan, as it stands, is to work out where it lingers, and to kill it with fire.

 

 

 

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Virtue signalling.

“Virtue signalling” has become a common buzzword in the self-defence world. The term is often throw about without much of an explanation or any words of caution, which I think is a problem. But then, I’m painfully biased on the subject. I grew up a short bus ride away from a concentration camp that was active within my mother’s lifetime. That’s coloured my views on a few subjects.

Virtue signalling is defined as:

the expression or promotion of viewpoints that are especially valued within a social group, especially when this is done primarily to enhance the social standing of the speaker.

If everyone stuck to that definition, many issues would not arise. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Accusations of virtue signalling are often launched whenever someone speaks on behalf of a group they don’t belong to, or against an issue they’re not directly affected by, regardless of context.

The vast majority of the time I see the term in play, it strikes me as nothing more than the right-wing version of the “check your privilege” trolling staple that’s so painfully ubiquitous on the left. It’s used to shut people up altogether, to undermine their opinions based on the “fact” that they don’t have a right to be involved in a subject, or to accuse them of having nefarious motives. There must be something inherently wrong with them, something decidedly fishy about their intentions; otherwise why would they be speaking out about something that doesn’t affect them?

I find it hard to look at this as just another poor rhetorical device; just another way to cheat at debates. I understand that my bias is affecting me, but I don’t really care. The bottom line is that I could be accused of virtue signalling for saying that I have a wee bit of a problem with the fact that the authorities in my town rounded up people of Jewish descent and sent them to Auschwitz to die. Yes, I’m playing the Nazi card; yes, that is an extreme manifestation of the phenomenon; but that doesn’t make it untrue. The fact that the vast majority of the times the arguments posed are not as extreme doesn’t make them benign; it makes them insidious. They can slip through without being challenged, or even noticed, and cause serious damage.

I personally consider this phenomenon malignant, for a bunch of reasons. First of all, it stems from and reasserts the belief that our differences are more significant than our shared humanity. For instance, I shouldn’t speak out for “gay rights” because they’re none of my business. In my head, that’s precisely the wrong way to look at both the issue and my involvement. Way I see it, some people are deprived of their human rights because they’re gay. The fact that they are gay isn’t the issue; not for me, anyway. It’s just the reason some people are picking on them. I’m not campaigning for gay rights: I’m campaigning for human rights irrespective of sexual orientation. As I’m almost certainly a human, that’s well within my bailiwick.

The hair-splitting that this attitude can devolve into is rather staggering, too. I’m not neurotypical. Depending on how you choose to classify such things, I may or may not be regarded as having a disability. We could then spend endless time and effort in territorial disputes as to whether that gives me the right to have an opinion about all disabilities, only about my specific disability, or anywhere else in between. Not only this would be intensely tedious, but it would also detract from the actual issue: that some people with disabilities are being discriminated against. That happens to be what I care about.

Accusations of virtue signalling can do a lot to effectively stop or derail conversations. They can do something even worse, though: they can make people feel bad for getting involved. They can make people believe that being an ally is a bad thing; a sign of their own iniquity, and an offence towards the group they would ally themselves to.

Not only this, yet again, affirms that we’re gay/women/disabled/whateverthehell first, and people second. It can actually seriously impede the progress against prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.

Prejudice, discrimination, and oppression are more than just words. They can have serious practical implications for the groups affected, one of them being that those groups tend to have less clout. The Jews in my town could have rallied against the Fascist government’s antisemitism (they probably did: I never looked it up); however, that same antisemitism made it both pointless and dangerous for them to speak up. Their voices quite simply did not count. In an infinitely less obvious manner, the same kind of thing can apply to other groups subjected to discrimination. I can speak up to my little heart’s content against misogyny, but a true misogynist will not be able or willing to hear me.

I’m going to leave you with a recent “experiment” carried out on Twitter. The numbers are not fantastic, so I wouldn’t take this as “data”, but it is a good representation of a common social dynamic. The way in which a message is received and acted upon is affected by the nature of the messenger. If a messenger who falls within a discriminated group speaks out against that discrimination, that can easily backfire.

Maybe we should give accusations of virtue signalling as little weight as we do any other form of trolling. I’m not entirely sure of a good response formula yet, though. Maybe none is warranted. Maybe the best option is to just let such statements lie untouched, like turds in the sun, and carry on as normal.

 

 

Pussies.

I keep hearing complaints about the “pussification” of the current crop of men. Apparently men are no longer “RealMen©” – they’ve all been rendered effeminate and ineffectual by some kind of nation-wide conspiracy (nature of the conspirators varies depending on who’s telling the tale). Instead of fighting and hunting and waving swords around and shooting and changing their own tires and working in STEM fields/down a mine, they’re spending all their time putting their beards in curlers and waxing their backs or whatever it is that “pussified” men do.

While that’s going on, there seems to be an increase in the number of women who fight and hunt and change tires and work doing whatever the hell they want to be doing. This increase it taking place regardless of the fact that women aren’t precisely encouraged by mainstream society to do any of that.

Now, I’m an easily confused person, ill-suited to theoretical thinking. Sometimes I need numbers, or a graph, or a flow chart, or anything concrete-ish to guide me through a chain of thoughts. But I look at the above two paragraphs, and, try as I may, I can’t make them stack up. I can’t make the equation work out. Thus far, by tweaking various variables, I’ve come up with three options.

 

Option 1: Society (or the government) is pressuring people into being “pussies”. The goal is to drive Real Men into extinction, because they can’t be tamed or controlled, and turn everyone into sheeples.

That means that women and men are both pressured into being women-like, because women are inherently sheeply. Equal pressure is being applied to both groups. Yet this is somehow resulting in the men becoming “pussified”, while at the same time the women are becoming unbecomingly “manly”.

I’m not a physicist or a chemist, so I don’t know the right technical terms; but know a lot about smashing things with hammers, so I have a practical understanding of strength. If I’ve got two different materials, I smack them both as hard as each other, and the first one breaks while the second one flips me the finger, I would tend to conclude that the second one is stronger than the first (or, at the very least, more resilient; which, for me, is a pretty damn important component of strength).

This theory seems to suggest that men are inherently weaker than women; yet they’re being made weaker by being forced to be more like women. And that just doesn’t stack up.

 

Option 2: Women, who are naturally weak, are now becoming unnaturally strong, thereby causing men, who are naturally strong, to become unnaturally weak.

Women are supposed to be “pussies”; it’s the natural order of things. When they reject their ordained sphere, they turn into rampant feminazis solely devoted to rendering men weak. When the men succumb to the pressure said feminazis put them under, they end up foregoing their natural inclinations – chainsawing and smacking things and wrestling bears – and instead end up engaging  in the weaknesses and appearance-focused traits of the “pussified” individual. As a result, the very fabric of society is rent. Insert doom & gloom.

This kind of makes sense, if you squint. Many women have access to young human beings, who are easily indoctrinated. Women could be unfairly targeting the young males of the species, deliberately sabotaging their natural inclinations in order to render them unnaturally weak, or to prevent them from realising their strength. We know this is doable. After all, elephant trainers used to tie young elephants to a stake they couldn’t move, which taught the elephants that there’s no point in struggling to break free, which meant that even grown-ass elephants could be kept parked by tying them to a tiny stick in the ground. Or so I heard; I haven’t tried.

My problem with this theory is not just that most of the women I know are simply not that evil, particularly when it comes to their own spawns. It’s that most of the guys I know are smarter than the average elephant. Eventually they would catch up.

This theory also seems to suggest that men can only be strong when women are weak like nature intended; yet if women are so inherently weak, how are they are somehow  managing to force an entire generation of men to be growing up weaker than them? That doesn’t stack up either.

 

Option 3: Young men and women are doing whatever the hell they want, regardless of their gender but, most importantly, regardless of what some older people think. And those older people don’t like that because it widdles in their cereals.

Maybe those older people have forgotten that, when they were young’uns, they were quite possibly equally disdainful of their elders. Maybe they expected to reach a certain age and automatically become authority figures, elders of the tribe, only to be rebuffed or ignored. Maybe they’re discounting the fact that young people enter the world that older people have created, and tend to have to deal with whatever they find there; if anyone is to blame for what ensues, it’s often the generation that went before them. Maybe they’re targeting young people to prove that they don’t want to be the elders of this tribe anyway, because the tribe sucks; and that could be true, or it could be a case of sour grapes.

The thing I find weird, though, is that I don’t generally see berating and belittling people as a way to help them shine. Some people may blossom under that kind of treatment, but many do not. In fact, abusers often convince their victims that they are inferior precisely to keep them under the thumb. It seems profoundly weird that people so invested in Manhood© and Strength© and suchlike stuff would engage in behaviours so unlikely to help cultivate those qualities.

 

Option 4: I’m overthinking, again.

Mischa said about this: “Men coming up with excuses to act superior to other men. Same shit, different day.” I think he might be right.

Limits.

I’ve been thinking lately about my languishing Creepology manuscript. I’ve been stuck on it for a while, for various reasons. One of them is the lack of useful terminology, or the fact that the terminology we do have is used differently by different people, rendering it effectively meaningless.

In my current writing endeavours, I’m classing “cock-roaches” as a very specific type of person, namely those who:

  • knowingly and deliberately;
  • with a specific aim (i.e., to cause creeperation);
  • break the rules just enough to get the result they want, but not enough for their behaviour to be actionable.

The fact that their rule-breaking was so minimal is often treated as proof that they’re NotThatBad©. In reality, it is a manifestation of the fact that they are coldly calculating in their actions. It should add premeditation to their list of ‘crimes’; it most definitely shouldn’t mean that they get a pass. But, more often than not, it does.

I got thinking about how common that kind of attitude actually is, and not just in the world of creeps and predators. Way too often situations are evaluated solely on the basis of “how bad it was”, both with regards to methods employed and the final results. The people perpetrating certain acts are seen, and maybe even see themselves, as almost innocent. It’s the same mentality by which doing 40mph on a 30 limit is speeding, but doing 33 somehow is not. If caught, those drivers often claim that they weren’t doing anything illegal, not really; even though they knowingly went faster than the speed limit, and deliberately selected that speed in order to break the law while avoiding detection or punishment.

People display that kind of mentality in all sorts of situations. They won’t tell a full lie, because that could get them in trouble. But they’ll tell a half-truth and, if they are caught out, they will absolve themselves and demand others to absolve them, because they didn’t straight up lie, not quite, nor really. They completely disregard the fact that the half-truth was still designed specifically to deceive. They won’t slip rohypnol in a date’s drink, because that’s date rape. But they’ll happily buy round after round in the hope that alcohol will have a similar effect, even though they were specifically told from the get-to that sex was off the menu, and treat that as if it were ok.

I’m not saying here that we should punish those who commit minor transgressions as severely as those who commit major ones. I’m not convinced that doing that would help. But I’m increasingly convinced that we (or at least I) should be more careful when looking at people who only just barely minimally break rules a teeny tiny wee bit, particularly when they do so all the damn time. It could be that they’re almost wholly good people who just happen to slip up. It could also be that they are demonstrating a huge amount of orchestration and premeditation. That they’re liars or rapists or dangerous drivers and strategists. That they are deliberately arranging circumstances so that they can do a bad thing that they will never have been guilty of because it won’t have been that bad. And if that’s the case, I’m disinclined to play along with their game.

Truth.

I’ve been getting seriously despondent about a conversation I keep having. It crops up with different people, about ostensibly different topics, but with the same underlying pattern and the same poor outcome. The phenomenon is starting to feel less like a script and more like a nightmarish creature sticking its pseudopods through hitherto invisible cracks in my life.

One of the permutations of the conversation revolves around this blog. I keep being showered with advice on how to monetise it. If I did A, B, and C, I could see a return on the time I spend on this. If I did X, Y, and Z, I could sell the damn thing and get some decent money. There’s a fundamental problem with this advice: I don’t want to sell the blog. I don’t even want to monetise it. I’m happy with things as they are.

There are three reasons why I blog: catharsis, external memory storage, and because I actually enjoy writing. That’s it. I try to make sure that what I’m writing is accurate because that’s important to me. Sometimes I even try to make it purty. But the bottom line is that I get my jollies out of blathering about whatever the hell I want, whenever I get the urge to, in whichever manner I see fitting; and the day those jollies stop coming is likely to be the day I stop blogging. If any additional benefits result from what I write, that’s grand. However, it doesn’t change my basic motivations. And if getting those additional benefits meant having to give up the reasons why I blog in the first place, that would make the whole thing pointless.

In my head, advice on monetising the blog translates to “here is a list of things you don’t want to do, guaranteed to spoil something you currently enjoy, in order to achieve a goal you have no interest in”. Oddly enough, I’m not inclined to take it.

I have recited the above statement so many times I’ve lost count. Every single time, my interlocutors have responded by patiently explaining to me that I’m wrong; that everything I’ve said is purely a rationalisation, and the real cause of my reticence to get with the program is entirely different.

I’m told that I secretly believe that money is dirty and making some would sully me. That I think I’m not good enough to get paid. That I worry that people would judge me negatively for capitalising on my kind of topics. That I am scared of the possible fallout of commercial success. That I am self-limiting or self-destructive, perhaps pathologically so. The fact that I repeat myself is further proof of the fact that I’m lying; I’m protesting too much.

I routinely have opposite-but-identical conversations about my books. They are not precisely flying off the shelves. I’m not surprised by that: I’m an unknown writer covering specialist and rather depressing topics. It’s not as if anyone’s going to buy that kind of book on a whim, for funsies, or as a stocking filler. I never expected to rake in the big bucks; however, the fact that no money’s coming in means that nobody’s reading them. The books weren’t any fun at all to write, but I had hoped they’d be useful. I had hoped they’d make the world a bit less sucky. It’s not about the money, it’s about what the lack of money indicates.

Every time I say that, I’m told that I’m wrong. It is about the money. I’m lying because I can’t admit to myself or to others that money matters to me.

Lately I’ve been messing about with some fiction, and I’ve been loving it. The kind of non-fiction I write makes my head a difficult space to be in. It’s been a real ball to do something so completely different, to hang out in a completely different mental space, with my ideal imaginary people. I really like my brain on fiction. I want to spend more time there. I also want to get the book out; I want it to exist in the world, because somehow that will make that space and those people more real to me. I’m not sure why that is, and I don’t particularly care. I know it will make me happy, and that’s good enough for me.

I’m told that I shouldn’t publish. That the book needs to change if I want it to be a commercial success. Problem is, that’s not what I want. I absolutely will not mind if it sells – I have a limited income and an expensive comic book habit – but that’s not why I’ve written it, and it’s not why I’m publishing it. I’m world-building for myself; I’m writing myself a place where I want to be. If I have to radically alter the world I am creating in order to sell it up, I might as well not be writing.

Apparently, none of that is true. The truth is that I’m afraid of success. That I’m lazy. That I am so scared of failure that I refuse to compete. That I have a too-short attention span. That I’m trying to sabotage my non-fiction.

These are just three writing-related examples. I’ve had the same conversation about why I like driving decrepit vans; why I do my own building projects; why I don’t dress ‘like a girl’; why I don’t join certain clubs or do certain activities. The list is endless. The topics change, but the conversation remains the same. The people I’m talking too cannot accept that I’m actually telling them the only truth I’ve got; that I’m openly expressing my reality, weird as it may be. That possibility is apparently the wrong shape to fit in their heads.

Every time I have that kind of conversation, I feel like going off to live in a cave on a mountain somewhere with only bears for company. I struggled to articulate why I found that kind of miscommunication – misconnection, really – so cutting, until I found this quote by Matthew Stover:

In your world, people say things to test, persuade, seduce, manipulate, deceive, or dominate others. But this is my world. I say things because I think they’re true, and because I want you to know them.

And that’s it. That is it, and the whole of it. If I say something to somebody it’s because I think it is true, and because I want them to know it. It’s not that I’m particularly honest; I just don’t enjoy human interactions enough to bother otherwise.

Every time I tell someone my truth and they throw it back in my face, that tramples on my hopes for a meaningful connection. It’s not that it makes me think that I’m too much of a weirdo for anyone to truly understand me (I’m forced to share a planet with nearly 7.5 billion people; I’m statistically unlikely to be unique). It’s that it forces me to conclude that one of two mechanisms are in place, neither of which I can stomach.

Option one is that my interlocutors believe that I’m engaging in silly games they wouldn’t play because I’m lesser than them. That I’m talking bullshit because bullshit is all I’ve got. That doesn’t make me terribly inclined to befriend them; overcoming their bias sounds like a long uphill road.

Option two is they believe that everyone plays those games because that’s how their world works. In their world people say things to test, persuade, seduce, manipulate, deceive, or dominate themselves or others; in fact, those behaviours are so entrenched that they can’t even conceive of a different kind of world, where different rules may apply. That forces me to accept that at some point I will likely find myself at the receiving end of that kind of behaviour. And the more I think about it, the more I realise that I just don’t want to live like that.

 

 

Power Cuts.

A few weeks back, I received an advice leaflet about power cuts from my electricity company. I took a quick look at it and immediately thought of my friend Toby, who runs Tread Lightly Survival School and also teaches at SHTF School . Toby runs courses on how to prep for and cope with a variety of emergencies in a variety of settings. The leaflet I received purports to be giving people advice on how to prep for and cope with a power cut in their own homes. Different scale of emergency, same topic; an obvious match.

…in all honesty, though, that’s not why the leaflet reminded me of Toby. I thought of him because we’ve had a few chats about what we think of The Way Things Are Going, and I know that reading that leaflet would have caused him to headbutt the nearest wall.

Happy Yule, Toby. Don’t say I never get you anything nice.

The advice contained within the leaflet is as follows:

“Power cuts do happen from time to time, often due to circumstances beyond our control. So we recommend that you are prepared.

  • Check you have a phone available that will work in a power cut – digital or cordless ones may not work.
  • Keep a battery/solar charger handy so that you can recharge your smart phone or tablet and follow updates on social media and our online power cut map.
  • Keep our telephone number handy or save it into your mobile phone so that you can report a power cut or call for information and advice.
  • Have things like a torch ready (it’s best not to use candles or paraffin lights).
  • Protect sensitive electrical equipment such as computers with a surge protector plug.
  • Keep a wind-up/battery/solar radio ready so you can listen to local radio updates.
  • If you have a mains operated stair lift, check to see if there is a manual release handle that can be used to return the stair lift safely to ground level if it stops working.”

And that’s it.

I look at that list and I wonder what the hell can be wrong with the people whose priorities it reflects. On the one hand, it lists a number of important, basic steps to ensure that people can stay informed, stay in touch, and don’t get stuck halfway up the stairs. On the other hand, it ignores the fact that there’s more to coping with an emergency than staying connected.

If you live in a city, and the power cut doesn’t go on for that long or it doesn’t affect a very wide area, finding out what’s going on may be all you need, I guess. It gives you the opportunity to hole yourself into the nearest functioning coffee shop and eat cake until it all blows over. If you live in a self-sufficient cabin in the woods, you’ll probably not care either way. But I live in a rural area, in a conventional house. My house, like most houses here, runs entirely on electricity. No power means no lighting, heating, cooking facilities, and refrigeration. Given that power cuts tend to happen in bad weather, these kind of things are important. We do have a couple of local shops, but they run on electricity too. I seriously doubt I would be able to go and camp out at the local butcher’s until the emergency passes, and the lady running the vegetable shop disapproves of browsers. Because we’re a rural area, we’re also not terribly high priority for repairs. A friend of mine had a power cut last year that lasted 3 days.

From past experience, being in an unheated house with no edible food in severe weather truly sucks. I suppose it’s lovely to be able to update your Facebook status as the hypothermia sets in, but it wouldn’t be my first priority.

I would have probably just shrugged the whole thing off if it wasn’t for the comment about lighting. That really annoyed me. ‘Torch’, in this country, means flashlight. The advice is steering people away from using flames for lighting purposes. Now, I can’t deny that battery lights are safer to use. It’s supremely hard (though not impossible) to set your house on fire using them. However, it’s also supremely hard to warm up your soup with them. Fire makes heat. Fire cooks food. The control of fire by early humans was a turning point in the cultural aspect of human evolution.

2016, and human evolution has gotten us to a point where we deem people too irresponsible to manage naked flames.

Without the comment about candles, I could almost convince myself that that the power company officials figured that most people are clever and proactive enough to sort themselves out when it comes to food, heat, water, and other insignificant stuff like that, though I’d be wondering why they felt the need to mention that phones need batteries. I wonder if the leaflet has nothing much to do with what the power company officials think is most important in an emergency situation; whether it’s just a reflection of what they feel able to say without getting blamed for any resulting accidents. These days, if they advised people to keep a store of dry biscuits, someone’d be bound to choke on one and sue them. Any which way, I find it disheartening.

Growing up with crazy: Clothes.

My family wasn’t rich, but it wasn’t dirt-poor either. We had enough money for all the important stuff, like food and books and tickets to the opera. We just didn’t happen to have much money for unimportant stuff, like clothes.

Clothes are, well, they’re tricky. You have to dress neatly and appropriately at all times; you can’t be a slob, because what will people think? But clothes are also a sign of vanity, which is a mortal sin. So it’s important to want to dress well, so people will think well of you, but not attractively, because you don’t want to burn in hell. I know this is fact because I was told it is.

And for the love of all that is holy, don’t even think about dressing to be sexy. There’s a special name for girls like that, and it’s not a word we use.

Anyway, none of this was really an issue throughout my childhood, because I mostly wore either hand-me-downs or whatever was in the sales. I’d have a couple of nice things bought for special occasions, but the bulk of what I wore consisted of whatever my mom’s friends’ kids had grown out of. As I was always the smallest of the bunch, I had plenty to pick from. Everything was new to me and in good conditions, so it didn’t really bother me. I might occasionally go to school wearing a golf shirt, tennis skirt, and deck shoes, but that was a look I could totally pull off. With the right shades, anyway.

Things kinda went south when I Became A Young Lady (euphemism). For reasons beyond my understanding, my mother decided that the occasion needed to be celebrated by providing me with a whole new wardrobe. Of course, we wouldn’t just do what other people seemed to do; go to a clothes shop, hand over some money, and return home with whatever clothes I picked. Oh, no. What we did was unearth the clothes my mother wore when she Became  A Young Lady and take them to a seamstress to have them adapted for me.

There were two slight hitches in this plan. The first one was that my mom Became A Young Lady in the early 50s. I went through the same process in the mid-80s. Fashion had moved on a wee bit in the interim.

So while my classmates were looking like this

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I was looking like this

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And no, that wasn’t a look I could pull off.

The second hitch was that even after Becoming A Young Lady, my mom continued to look very much like a Young Boy. I didn’t. I really, really didn’t. So when we got to the seamstress’ and I put on the first of my mother’s cream-and-catshit-coloured flannelette dress, I got stuck. They pushed and shoved me into it, and then they couldn’t get me out again, because certain parts of my anatomy refused to co-operate. I had to be cut out of it – carefully, because one wouldn’t want to ruin the dress. Undeterred, my mother set the seamstress to altering the stuff so I could at least enter and exit it without needing assistance.

I don’t know what my mom was thinking. I know it wasn’t all about the money; a professional seamstress’ time is not cheap. If savings were the goal, sending me to the local flea market would have worked better. I don’t know what she was trying to achieve. However, I know what the actual results of her sartorial decisions were.

Back in the 80s, Italy was a country were fashion was of the utmost importance. Young teens tend to be particularly susceptible to trends. Hell, even unstilish people tend to look askance at you when you’re wearing clothes thirty years out of date. There’s also a general assumption that people over a certain age have a saying in what they wear. Therefore, my schoolmates assumed that I was a weirdo. To say that this put a crimp in my social life would be an understatement.

My wardrobe shielded me from the bulk of social interactions teens tend to waste their time on. If mother had intended this to protect me from certain temptations, however, then she hadn’t thought the issue through. Due to the differences between our physiques, crowbarring me into her clothes didn’t make me look drab and conservative. It made me look like a stripper going off to a third-rate 50s theme party. I was alienated from the bulk of my schoolmates yet still exposed to all the sexual harassment that tends to come with that time in life. It was great fun.

Of course, back then I had no idea of what was going on. I didn’t know how normal people behaved around clothes, because I wasn’t terribly familiar with normal people. So I assumed the problem was with me. I only worked out what the issue was years afterwards, when I bumped into an ex schoolmate who loudly exclaimed “Ohmygawd, you’re dressed like a normal person!”

 

 

Sometimes I wonder about what my mother was trying to do, and whether she was aware of what she was actually doing. There are a load of wonderfully specific terms in legalese detailing how guilty a person is depending on whether they actually meant their actions to have a given result, or whether they could even anticipate it. Did they do whatever it is purposefully, knowingly, recklessly, negligently, etc.? I could argue that, without knowing my mom’s mind, I cannot determine how responsible she is.

I could argue that, but I don’t. I wasn’t affected by my mother’s intentions; only by the results of her actions. If she genuinely couldn’t think her way through what she was doing, that doesn’t maker her a Better Person©, or a Better Parent©. It just makes her more likely to repeat the same kind of mistake. And given that my challenge is to decide how to deal with the woman, not to judge her, that’s all I care about.

Mind your language.

For the last couple of months I’ve been involved in a writing project that required me to avoid using ableist language. I was under no obligation to do so; quite simply, if I wanted a certain group of people to hear me, I needed to avoid a certain type of language. It was a deal I struck of my own free will in exchange for their time and attention. I know a lot of people would baulk at that, but I can’t really see the problem. After all, nobody owes me their time.

Ableist language, to the best of my limited understanding and for the purpose of this exercise, basically consisted of:

  • Plainly offensive labels used to describe certain disabilities;e.g. spazwit, retard, cretin.
  • Using disabilities to describe other things entirely; e.g. describing an idea as crazy or stupid or lame. Which, if you think about it, is not really any better than describing anything subpar as “gay” or “Irish” or some suchlike stuff.

There’s a lot more than this to the subject, but the two points above met my immediate needs (and, I kid you not, it took me three re-reads to spot that I’d referred to the above as the “idiot’s guide”). In fact, it worked so well, resulting in such significant unintended positive consequences, that I’m pretty damn sold on the concept.

The first realisation was that none of this is new. Although it’s hailed as the triumph of the PC Police, it’s actually not that dissimilar from old-fashioned etiquette. I was cutting out the kind of language that would have gotten me a clip round the ear from my grandma. If anything has changed, is the fact that apparently, at some point in the last century, it became ok to call people names. Now we’re fighting for the right to do so without social consequences. I find that fascinating.

My second realisation was that my internal dialogue is appalling. That surprised me; I honestly thought I had a pretty good grip on that. I’ve put a lot of effort in the past to ensure that my self-talk was both accurate and constructive. Apparently it worked so well that I stopped doing it.

I talk to myself in a way that I would never, ever use towards another human being. Not even in my close social group; our etiquette includes giving each other merciless shit at every possible occasion, but it’s not done in order to run anyone down. When I talk to myself, though, I mean what I say, and what I say is mean.

Spotting that was easy enough when I removed the words “stupid” and “spastic” from my vocabulary. I was left with a surprising number of BLEEPS. Given that I’m not neurotypical, I found this both intriguing and repugnant. I would never consider insulting or belittling anyone for how their brain happens to be wired, yet I do precisely that in the privacy of my own skull several times a day. I’m still unsure as to whether that makes me a secret bigot, a hypocrite, or a bog-standard asshole.

The third realisation was that a lot of ableist language is actually very, very sloppy. When I call an idea “stupid” or “crazy”, I’m communicating next to nothing about what’s wrong with it. All I’m saying is that I disapprove of it, not why. Removing those labels from my vocabulary forced me to be infinitely more precise. I could, of course, substitute one vague label for another (“that’s a bad idea”), but noticing the sloppiness of my original communication actively encouraged me to be more specific (“the timeline for this project is unrealistic”). As I personally don’t believe that vague criticisms are terribly helpful, even when they’re not insulting, I was pretty impressed by that.

It was this last realisation that really clinched the deal for me. I hear a lot of noise about how the push against ableist language is restricting communications. If someone sucks, you should be able to tell them! Thing is, having tried it, it turns out that for me that’s not really the case.

Seems to me that if you have objections to someone or something and the only way in which you can voice them is by using slurs – if you can’t work out or articulate what your specific issues are – then you’re not really adding anything to that conversation. At most, you’re self-soothing by getting your objections off your chest. But when all you can do is throw non-specific labels around the place, I don’t think you can expect your objections to be taken all that seriously.

Cookie monster.

One of the things that vex me about people is their tendency to believe that their experience is universal.

There’s a standard experiment format used to study delayed gratification in children:

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards (i.e., a larger later reward) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel.) In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.

Every time I see this study referred anywhere as some kind of eye-opening revelation about the human condition, I die a little inside. I’m not saying it’s nonsense; however, in my experience, it would have come up with the right answers for the wrong reasons.

Once upon a time, I was a wee girl living at the edges of a bad neighbourhood, and in that bad neighbourhood I found my friends. Between the ages of 3 and 11, my two best friends (let’s call them X and Y) and I could only be separated by using force. We stuck together like glue in and out of school. We never got put through the experiment, but I can say with 100% certainty how it would have gone down:

  • X would have eaten the first cookie. Her extended family included 2 older brothers and 2 older male cousins. In her house, if you didn’t shove something in your mouth as soon as you got it, someone else was going to swipe it, and if you complained about it you got hit. She wouldn’t have waited because she had very good reasons not to trust the world.
  • Y would have eaten the first cookie. His parents both worked long hours for very little money. He often had to wait longer than his stomach liked for his next meal, and that meal hardly ever included a dessert of any sort.
  • I would not have eaten the first cookie. I would have waited for the two cookies and given them to X & Y. I wasn’t an unusually nice child; I just didn’t care much for sweets, or food in general, and I really liked my friends. I had a god-awful childhood but lack of food wasn’t a problem. When you’ve got more than you want and your best friends are going without, it doesn’t even feel like sharing.

On paper, we would have supported the conclusions of the experiment. X got held back in school twice until she dropped out at 16 without any qualifications. Y finished school as soon as possible with unremarkable results, and then got the first job he could find. I, on the contrary, not only aced high school, but carried on until I collected enough qualifications that I shall never want for wallpaper, and I was top of my class all the way through. Lo and behold, delayed gratification = more betterer children!

…or not. The real reason X failed dramatically in school was that her family was semi-literate and actively sabotaged her studies. She wasn’t given the time or the quiet to do her homework. Also, it was virtually impossible for her to lay her hands on a book. There were none in her house, and we didn’t have a public library. The real reason Y didn’t go to high school is that he needed to earn money. He wasn’t lazy or stupid; he was poor.

Both of them have made up for their lack of formal schooling. They have both excelled in their fields by the simple means of being incredibly intelligent, self-motivated, and good with people. Over the years, they both climbed their way to senior positions within their companies, which required them to take and pass a variety of courses. Both of them now are trainers in their fields. I, on the the other hand, ran off with the circus in my 30s and currently wash dogs’ arses for a living, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The real reason I did so spectacularly well in school had nothing to do with my ability to delay gratification. When I was very young my family pushed me to achieve. I simply didn’t have the option not to do well. Then at 11 or so I realised that the Millennium Falcon just wasn’t going to come and take me away; that I needed to leave home as soon as physically possible, even if that involved hopping off the balcony; and that my only chance of achieving financial independence in my teens was to start getting scholarships. Well, it was that or giving blow-jobs to sailors*; I kept that as plan Z.

The truth of the matter, as it applied to us three, is that we all did as well as we possibly could under the circumstances. Our circumstances, however, were vastly different, and the differences got bigger over the years. Early life choices, not of our making, influenced our options in later life. Our playing field was far from level. Our final results – the shape our achievements took, not how much we achieved – are a direct reflection of the options we had.

Maybe I’m being unfair to the Stanford experiment people. Other experiments were conducted around the first one, indicating that children’s trust in the testers was also a factor, so the researchers weren’t entirely clueless as to the importance of other factors. However, I do wonder whether any of the testers every bothered to ask the children whether they were allowed sweets at home, whether they had to fight to get or keep their shares, whether they were hungry. If those questions weren’t asked, or if the possibly implications of the answers were ignored… well, then I call shenanigans.

 

(*I jest. Thieving and smuggling always seemed more likely prospects.)

Dishonourable discharge.

Yesterday (as I write this, not in real time) I triggered the shit outta myself writing a blog. If you’re offended at my language, sorry and all that. Alas, I’m being literal.

It all started when I got thinking about why I hardly ever train self-defence these days; i.e., about the state of my back. I really don’t want to get into the details of the giant, prolonged trainwreck that is my medical history, but the bottom line is that I’m a lot more broken than I’d like to be, and I’m not going to get better. It is what it is. Shrug.

I found myself writing the following sentence:

I would gladly re-live through every single violent act I’ve gone through in my entire life every day of my life forever in order to undo the moment when I felt my back go.

I surprised myself saying that. It felt true, though. It’s part of the assessment that informs my decision to not train self-defence anymore unless the circumstances make it really, really worth the risk (which is why I haul my carcass over to VioDy whenever I get the chance, and stalk Rory when he’s in the UK). I surprised myself even more realising that I really meant it. I’d sign that contract in a heartbeat.

I don’t allow myself to throw that kind of statement around, not even in my own head; it’s too important a topic to be treated lightly. So I decided that the statement needed looking at. I could be full of it. If I was, I needed taking to task. I thereby proceeded to go through the mental archives of all the various scrapes I’ve been through. That was not the most fun way to spend a morning, but it seemed necessary to the process. Having done that, I still stood by the statement.

I proceeded to consider the various scrapes my friends and associates have gone through. I compared their stories to mine. I’ve led a charmed life. I firmly believe that instead of getting “real” violence, I got the vaccine version; just enough of a dose to give my system the vaguest idea of what’s what, not enough to cause any real harm. Comparing my history to my friends’ reminded me of how lucky I’d been, and how much worse a whole bunch of situations could have gone. I reminded myself that going into all of those situations I had no idea how or if I’d be coming out; looking back, it’s easy to forget that. It didn’t make any difference. The statement still stood.

I considered the issue of damage. Scrapes tend to be somewhat hurty. However, as I said, I’m lucky; I got worse boo-boos from industrial accidents. Provided the damage wasn’t cumulative, it’d make for a less-than-perfect day, but nothing unmanageable. And anyway, I read enough fantasy to be willing to buy into some version of Khryl’s healing:takes every scrap of the discomfort of those months <of healing> and compresses it into five eternal minutes of agony.” That would be convenient, and fitting with the whole time-compression theme we’ve already got going on. I suppose if push came to shove we could schedule the whole thing for later on in the day, so I’d have the night to recover. I didn’t fancy that much, though. It seemed like the kind of undertaking you want to get over it as soon as possible, so you can get on with your day.

Doubts were cast, however, and further confirmation was required. I proceeded to revisit in detail the moment my back went. It’s etched rather vividly in my memory, so replaying that video isn’t difficult. Watching it, however, is. The event itself was disappointingly un-epic and random (straw, camel’s back, skkkkkrlonk). The sensation, though, was memorable. The two years that followed are pretty memorable, too; which is why I try to forget them.

At this point in my thinking, I was starting to feel a bit raw. I therefore proceeded to think through all the other non-violent major negative events of my life. If you’re kicking hornets’ nests, you might as well do a thorough job. I found a couple of events for which the same statement would apply. They were fun to remember, too.

I then realised that there was a major flaw in my thinking; it would be entirely pointless for me to offer to make the switch if the replay of my life’s mishaps was going to take all day. That would be a very poor deal indeed. How long was the daily dose of violence going to take, exactly?

I found that rather hard to work out with any degree of precision. I’m not entirely sure when you’d start the replay of each incident (do you include the build-up, or start the moment when the shit hit the fan?) or which incidents you’d include (all of the near-misses only became so because I’m so damn lucky; nobody plans a failed assault). Also, my time perception goes entirely out the window when I’m properly adrenalised. Everything slooooows dooooooown. I have no objective idea of how long some stuff took. And then there are some bits when my timer wasn’t working because I’d gotten knocked out. Between one thing and another, it was kinda hard to get an accurate figure, but I guesstimated that with careful editing, trimming everything down to the salient bits and replaying it all back-to-back, I could easily cram it all into 4-6 hours, max. [I said I’m lucky, didn’t I? I wasn’t kidding.] That’d leave me 18-20 hours of free time.

Free, uncrippled time.

Free uncrippled time that I shall never get because there’s no deity capable of actually allowing me to make that switch, however much I commit to it. No time machines. No respawn function. It is what it is. No more uncrippled time for me, ever. If I’m very, very lucky it’s going to take me long enough to fall apart completely that something else is going to get me first.

And that is when I got triggered.

[I only use the “C” word – no, not that one; “crippled” – talking to and about myself, because it fits where no other word does. Anyone who has a problem with that is very right to, but I’m not about to self-censor my feelings about myself. I’m not that good a liar. I have no interest in being that good a liar. When I start feeling differently, I’ll talk differently.]

Anyhoo, there I was, enjoying one of the best adrenaline spikes I’ve had in a while, urgently in need of a battle crap and resigned to the fact that I was going to spend two hours riding the sympathetic nervous system roller coaster. That’s how long it takes for me to cycle through the process. As there’s nothing I can do to speed it up or make it go away, I picked up a mental bag of popcorn and sat myself down to enjoy the shitshow.

Of course, if anyone I bother to talk to had just gotten themselves hugely triggered, in any way at all, about any event whatsoever, I’d do my level best to offer them whatever comfort suited them. But because it was me talking to myself, I passed the time visualising this meme:

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Because, come on, I gave myself the shits just thinking about stuff. That’s genuinely ludicrous. And I know that’s how it works for human people; hell, I wrote a book about all that, and about how it’s critical to respect that process and work with and around it, unless you’re an asshole. The problem is that, when it comes to my own internal mechanisms, I am that asshole.

When I realised that I was being that asshole, I spent some time chiding myself about that, too.

…at which point I decided that even though my brain is definitely my circus, populated by my monkeys, it was going to be easier to just let them to sort themselves out whichever way and clean up afterwards.

 

That was yesterday. Today was more fun.

Adrenaline spikes give me muscle tension. Muscle tension plays merry hell with my injuries. So I woke up this morning and I’d lost the use of my hands, again. It honestly isn’t as scary as it sounds when it happens on a regular basis. There’s enough truth in that sentence for it not to be a complete lie, anyway. Sorting myself out took me somewhere between five minutes and an age; until I managed it, I didn’t know if I could. By that point the whole incident had become absurd enough to be genuinely hilarious.

Then I got on with my day, went to work, took the dogs to the beach, and so on and so forth. Now I’m here writing this. It’s been a good day. My face hurts from smiling. Well, showing teeth, anyway.

This episode was brought to you by my brain, doing its thing. There is a kind of moral to the story, though.

 

Marc MacYoung told me a couple of years ago that I should try to work out the answer to the question “How do you recover from recovery?” He said I should write about that. I told him that I couldn’t, for the simple reason that I didn’t know. I had no idea. I still have no clear idea, and I’m increasingly convinced that maybe there is no one answer. There may be as many answers as there are people. I think I’m starting to see the shape the answer is going to take for me, though. I have no idea if that answers Marc’s question, but it’s the only answer I’ve got right now.

My back’s messed up beyond repair. I’m running out of undamaged joints. My head is a three rings circus. Sometimes I run the show; sometimes the show runs me. I’m a sick enough puppy to get a huge kick out of both modes (bring it on). When required, I can exercise a level of control over my reactions while maintaining a level of honesty about how I really feel, but that isn’t always enough to prevent me from spiralling for a bit. And all of that is genuinely ok.

Take anything out of my life (even the back injuries, yes, I know, give me a break, I never said I was consistent), and I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be me. I ‘m positive that the alternative me would take a look at my life as it is and not want to swap, either, but that’s her prerogative. I’m the sum of my scars, and I like myself well enough that I’m happy to take the rough with the smooth.

So maybe I will recover from recovery when I finally stop treating my current state as a phase to be gotten through or gotten over; by truly accepting that I am what I am. Maybe I will recover from recovery by realising that I have always been in flux, to the point that there is no “me” to speak of. Maybe it will be a combination of both things; they’re not mutually exclusive. But right here, right now, it feels as if I’ve already recovered from recovery, and I don’t know when or how or why, and I don’t care. Even though sometimes things suck or hurt. I’m not at peace with that: right now, I hope I will forever raise my little fist to the heavens and shake it mightily when the urge takes me. But I’m at peace with not being at peace. Mostly, I don’t have the time to worry about that kind of stuff, because there’s better stuff I wanna do.

So maybe that’s the trick about recovering from recovering; getting to the point when you’re so busy being you, that you don’t worry about all the stuff you aren’t being or can’t be anymore. Or not. Shrug.