Warm sticky goo phase

After feeling much improved yesterday I hit an uncomfortable reminder that saying something don’t make it so. I should have worked that out before, but unfortunately a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this therefore because of this. Let me explain.

For the past few weeks I have been under the weather, courtesy of a cold (possibly two on quick succession) that has taken a while to shift. Even now, four weeks on, my throat is feeling a bit flemmy. Despite my best efforts and wishes this has an impact on functioning, as I became mired in mucus, both literally and figuratively. I even took time off work, which I almost never do.

In addition to my general working, my writing has also taken a knock. I had assumed that this was due to the cold, and as my energy returned so too would my creativity. Alas, this is not the case. 

My intent was to embark on a new writing project – a novel in fact – and though a little ambitious my aim is try and come out with a draft of at least one, maybe two if I can keep up the NaNoWriMo in November. I have an idea, and semblance of plot and story, but recently getting th subject matter off the ground has been hard. I’ve barely managed a few hundred words in an evening, which is very poor.

Admittedly, just getting something written is a step in the right direction (300 words a day for 100 days is 30k words – half a book almost). I am making progress, even if slow going. I guess my wider problem is that it’s too slow, and is stemming from a difficulty formulating the story. 

My approach had been to have a rough idea and go from scene to scene and casually find my way through a narrative. I could have opted for a more detailed plan, but I was wary of this becoming a structured way of procrastination. So my preference was something more off the cuff.

Truth is, it’s not working. I’m a little mired in the first section, and perhaps I need to break free from that into something else. In addition, though not a sizeable plan, I need to prep each day with some notes of what I plan to write. I can probably do 2000 a day (2x 25minute sessions) if I know ahead of time what I intend to write about. Maybe more on a weekend day. So this is the approach I intend to try. With luck the productive writing habit will follow from there.

Like yesterday never happened

Where did Monday go? I feel as though there was a day of activity, but at best seen through a haze of uncertainty. I might have said it was like trying to recollect a night out after being really, really drunk, but there’s no uncomfortable after effect. No hangover, headache, or sense of shame. Monday happened, but I think it happened to other people.

This is, of course, not the case. I do remember very distinctly sections of yesterday, but for the most part I felt more observer than participant. Joints ached, mind muddled; not exactly conducive to effective operation.

Today though, feels better. Slept well, up in good time, body feels relaxed, mind active. 

I guess it was fortunate yesterday was quiet. Then again, maybe that’s why it was so difficult to get in my groove. I don’t work well when there’s less activity. It doesn’t mean I want to be rushed off my feet every moment, but having the hum of activity in the background gives me energy. Helps motivate.

On a slow burning day it might seem like the perfect opportunity to progress some projects. Unfortunately, the slow burning is from me. It’s akin to self motivation, propelling action. Yesterday, though notionally productive, just felt, well, a little bit…meh.

So today I have a bit more vigour. Take the opportunity to kick start Some ideas I have, clear up my slightly pudgy task list. 

It’s also about personal wellbeing. Need to exercise today – my lunchtime routine is horribly lacking. Probably why I’ve been getting more tired than normal. A busy weekend probably contributed – my body has had less time to recover.

I need to get the creative juices flowing. I tried writing last night, but could only manage a few hundred words. Two 25 minute segments should be yielding 1500 words at least, and top up at the weekend. 

So I’m feeling a lot more motivated today is the long and short of it. Here’s hoping it carries through the rest of the week.

Photography desire

So, the other day, while on my daily commute home, I had cause to take the train home since I had missed the various buses home. I decided it was quicker to take the train rather than wait for the next bus.

On stepping out of the train at Perth station I had a view of the concrete block next to the art gallery. It was fading light, and normally the bland concrete would simply blend with the dull steel grey of the darkening sky. This time though, sunset light fell upon the building and delivered sharp contrast and lines against the background. The building was transformed under the orange glow, and simple concrete turned into vibrant urban visage.

At the time, I was moving quickly to get to my next train, only had iPhone on hand – at that distance a hopeless task of photography. The thought that occurred to me was along the lines of wanting a camera lens (and obviously camera) to get the shot. The actual words in my mind were ‘that’s the kind of view I want to make love to with a camera lens.’

…sigh. Yes, weird. 

Setting aside the distinction between badly chosen words and paraphilia, it has in fact opened my mind to a new realisation, about my passion for photography. This last year has been about writing, setting time aside to work on writing projects. I even delayed my degree by a year to do this, but the principle casualty has been photography. It’s not that I have lost interest, or passion, but time I might take for trips and camera walks, has been set aside for literary pursuits. 

I still love photography, but seeing that building reminded of desire. The desire to capture a moment on frame, whether it be film or digital. It is refreshing to be reminded of a core passion, and that moment it was about pure desire to take a photo. 

I’ve still got the love.

Big Block of Cheese Day

Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, famously received a 700kg block of cheese. He allowed members of the public to share in the cheese.

In the fictional series the West Wing, the White House Chief of Staff forces his staff to go through their version of the the Big Block of Cheese day. Organisations that would not normally have the President’s ear are invited to speak to senior staff. These include Cartographers for Social Justice and also campaigners to build a highway for wolves.

The actual White House under Barack Obama has held real life events using social media under the banner of Big Block of Cheese Day. Although in the context of promoting the State of the Union speech, the use of social media to engage the public is very much of the modern times.

All this got me thinking. Firstly, it gave me a craving for cheese and crackers. More importantly though, I have begun to think about how a similar event could benefit my workplace. In this context, I’m not thinking about organisations or people trying to influence government policy. What I am thinking about is creativity, and its impact on the way we think.

I was thinking about different professions and how they operate, and what that could teach us about our own business and way of working.

Architects and designers could teach about increasing complexity of design in the way they work, mirroring the increasing complexity of assessments as we gather more information.

Artists could have powerful influence about interpretation of a subject, analysis and finding new perspectives.

Photographers need to think about the multiple influences on a shot, balancing aperture, shutter speed, film or sensor sensitivity, and the framing of the photo. It’s an holistic approach similar to social work assessment.

By calling on local organisations we don’t normally work with I would hope to encourage some out of the box thinking. It would also be on a micro level. Instead of singular large all staff meetings, it would be small groups of workers, maybe just 3 or 4, meeting with an individual guest. This would allow for more informal discussion and develop personal rapport between presenter and worker. The workers could then disseminate their experience through their own networks in the workplace.

Yes, it does depend on the generosity of professionals giving their spare time to talk to an agency that I doubt crosses their path very much. On the other hand, I see a lot of opportunity for creative application in the workplace, and as experience of learning. So it’s an idea I’m planning on introducing at today’s leadership meeting, to see how far it can get.

Corbyn v Smith – Hobson’s Choice for Labour

Today Labour Party members in the UK begin the process of electing their new leader. I’m going to predict Corbyn – while I think the enthusiasm for his campaign is overstated, I also think Smith has proven to be too lightweight in this scenario. If I were still a member, I’d not vote.

So I write what I think will be the challenge for Corbyn as leader, and for the party as a whole.

1. Corbyn has to make peace with the PLP. While people might argue the Labour MP’s need to give Corbyn greater support for him to improve, remember this not a chicken and egg argument. I believe in the truism that teams reflect the mindset of the leader. Disorganised, argumentative and unruly teams are a sign of a lack of leadership. The MP’s are reflecting their leader.

The general threats made towards MP’s, as well as the (untrue) claims of ‘red Tories’ do little to encourage anyone. I feel genuinely sorry for the PLP. I had no idea of the sheer sense of desperation that had seeped in after Brexit, the final straw to break the camel’s back. Threats of deselection may prove to be meaningless – they think they are going to lose their seats anyway. But these people believe in the party, and they were campaigning for it long before the bulk of Corbyn’s supporters joined.

Corbyn will be hamstrung unless he can find ways to work with the PLP. A man of peace, articulating negotiation over aggression, Corbyn needs to exercise that principle in practice. I’d even suggest a third party mediator if needed (low key of course) to help bring agreement. At the very least, Corbyn needs to find new ways to work with them – his previous approach merely led to him facing another leadership contest.

Remember, it is the leader’s responsibility to bring the team to him, and the team need a reason to follow.

2. Corbyn needs to develop a narrative. Ed Miliband had some good popular policies, but he failed to weave these into an effective narrative for the country. The stories haven’t had one for decades (Big Society was the last one and it was a flop). The problem was they could simplify their campaign message to one thing, the economy. Labour were still trying to bang on about One Nation stuff. 

Corbyn’s produced some good policies. He’s calling for the abolition of the House of Lords and devolution to the rest of England (thus I could get behind), but he has to connect this anti-austerity (which most people don’t know the meaning of), and demonstrate an ability to tie in resolute decision making. 

This is a major hamstring. I notice phrases like ‘call the government to account’ and ‘ask questions of the government’. This is the wrong mindset. It suggests passivity and is the language of a social campaign, not a political force. He did the same when ISIN Duncan Smith resigned – refusing to accuse the stories over economic failure. When the Tories slip up, Labour should state what they would do instead and then ask ‘why aren’t the Tories doing this?’ It forces the narrative to be about Labour’s policies, and puts the stories on the defensive. 

3. Corbyn needs to ignore the media. As a Labour supporter, I have watched for decades now the anti-Labour garbage against Blair, Brown, Miliband and now Corbyn. It’s a long standing issue, but one Corbyn has to manage. This comes down to narrative, having something alternative to show people. At the moment, there’s very little. 

The media in the UK have always been slanted to the right – I’ve always found accusations of the BBC being too liberal laughable – so it’s foolish to expect them to change. They are something to be managed, not constrained.

4. Corbyn needs to be categorical about where he stands, but he also needs to refine his principle approach. I have no idea what he said or didn’t say about Russia, but the impression I got was that he refused to say if he would assist NATO nations in the event of a Russian invasion. All he needs to say is that he would consider military action to repel unwarranted acts of aggression or invasion. It makes me wonder what would have to happen for Corbyn to consider military action.

On Russia I find Corbyn’s position all over the place. Putin has committed a war of aggression on Chechnya (not unlike Iraq?) and is likely responsible for the assassinations of political opponents and critics. Russia has embarked on anti-LGBT legislation and policy, and there’s even one Rusdian MP trying to decriminalise domestic violence. I see little reason to be ambiguous about this man. It does not mean the approach of the West should remain uncritiqued, but Corbyn’s ambivalence to such an obvious dictator will be off putting to millions of Britons.

Also, take nuclear weapons. It’s no use just saying he opposes Trident or nuclear weapons. He needs to weave that into a narrative of foreign policy strategy, about how the UK would function nuclear free. At the moment, he just looks like hippy pacifist that would flinch at nasty language. He looks weak.

5. Corbyn needs to stop giving speeches to large crowds. I really mean it. This is killing him in the polls. His supporters see popularity, but I tell you right now the country will see ‘mob’. Tone. It. Down.

Most people don’t follow crowds. Look at Iraq – 2 million estimated protestors in London against the war. Who won the 2005 general election? Who came second? Pro-war parties took over 60% of the vote.

Crowds help if they are following a wider narrative. When Obama shot into the scene he did it with a message of change that resonated for a war weary world. The message came first, the crowds after. I don’t see any expectation of Corbyn doing anything than saying the same things over and over to people that already like him. It can’t work like that.

The U.K. is much more intimate than, say, the US. British people are by their nature socially conservative. Corbyn needs to encourage most people that if he takes over he’ll spend his time as PM addressing crowds not Parliament or, worse still, that a group of socialist whack jobs aren’t going to run rampage.

Appearances matter. That’s why Corbyn opted for smarter clothes.

I don’t hold much confidence that Corbyn will do this. I merely suggest this approach based on my perceptions. I have the advantage of being on the outside looking in. There’s nothing invested for me in practice – I don’t live in the UK. His past approach has failed, and he needs to change, but his capacity to do this is thus far lacking in demonstration.

The rewrite – dialogue

I realise that I had not continued with my pieces on rewriting. Thus far out of understandability, structure, characters, dialogue, style, and polish, I have only reached halfway. The previous rewrite looked at characters, and in particular the conflict between the two central characters in one of my short stories. This time round I am focusing on a critical means of delivering that conflict – dialogue.

Quick recap on the story. Horror genre in a low fantasy setting. A woman is being chased by men from her village. She flees down a haunted path. She meets a stranger who initially offers to help her leave the forest. It turns out the path is haunted and she is hunted by a dark spirit.

In the original draft the dialogue is a little stilted. It’s not real in the sense of how people talk. In fact, at one point it was described as being akin to a 1970’s BBC period piece. The two characters are not formal aristocracy; they are meant to be just farmers. So one aspect of the dialogue I need to change is how they are talking.

The other problem I noticed is that there is little to distinguish the characters. While there are some sections where the character’s voice comes out, most of the time you swap the speech tags and it wouldn’t read much different. Well, the story might take on a odd twist, but the content is not unique to that person is what I mean.

Imagine you are told a story about two people you know, and the person telling the story mimics some behaviours or wording from what they saw. If you knew those two people well you wouldn’t necessarily need to know who said what at every juncture, because their individual personality would come out. 

This story should do the same, bringing out the distinctive voice so that the dialogue seems plausible to who these people are. 

Apologies for the succinct post, having been caught out by some other things and distractions. Normal service, I hope, tomorrow.

The photography passion and inspiration

I was very pleased to discover last night a video from YouTube I had long thought lost. It’s a slideshow of slightly blurry black and white images set to the music of Mazzy Star’s Into Dust.

I first came across this video years ago while searching for Into Fust on YouTube. I loved the video. The abstract nature of the photography really appealed to me. I was probably already playing around with the idea of taking up photography at the time, but this video cemented for me the idea of photos being inspirational.

Of course, I know that photos can inspire, but what I mean is that this helped me realise how photography can inspire me. For an interest to become a passion, there has to be a spark in what you’re doing. The difference between performing a task, and being driven to achieve something great.

I don’t fancy my photography sits in the realm of the greatest photographers, but I like to think that I’ve taken decent shots here and there. It’s fascinating to think about the things that inspire, that set you free to explore. All great passions are exploration, and I have loved this journey since the outset. So enjoy the video, and think about what could inspire your passion.

Back to work after illness

A day and a half off work after being ill, on my duty week. I doubt this is going to look pretty when I get back. At low intensity of work it is manageable, but it was shaping up as quite busy when I went home.

When I return I expect to find a certain level of chaos, but here’s an important thing – the chaos isn’t real. 

Imagine you go for a swim in reasonably choppy waters. As you wade in you are buffeted by the strong tides, and as you get deeper you are hit with the swell a few times. Do you drown? Assuming you are a competent swimmer, the answer is no. You get used to the swell, you start to swim so the waves don’t affect you so much. Try to just float in place will leave you disorientated by the swell, and it won’t feel you’ve got anywhere. You could leave, but then you’ll get buffeted as you get out of the water, and the swell and tides will still be there.

Coming back to work is the same. The first waves of work will be panicky “OMG” moments. If I try to just tread water and deal with what I’ve missed then it’ll leave me bring disorientated. I need to move on and push forward, not getting overwhelmed by what’s waiting. 

First off, I need to review my calendar. What appointments and meetings do I have? How much available time do I have? Meetings that looked important before, are they still necessary now? What about over the next two weeks? How much spare time is building up? I know off the top of my head that the next two days were pretty much booked up before I went off sick. It’s not likely I’ll have much spare time before end of week. In some ways though that may help. It’ll be easier to prioritise work in that fashion, compared to having a glut of spare time. I don’t want to get too distracted with trying to juggle all the priorities and decisions people will come to me with in the first hour. It sounds counter intuitive, but less spare time makes it easier to prioritise and make decisions. So calendar review is the first task.

My next task is to empty my email inbox. This doesn’t mean totally dealing with every email. It means prioritising follow-up (flagging) and putting them in the right folders. I can only deal with so much so I don’t want to overburden myself (and risk further illness).

All this needs to happen in the first twenty to thirty minutes. I know off the top of my head that my appointments start from 9am, so everything needs to be set to fall back into the normal routine as quickly as possible – start swimming almost as soon as I am in the water.

At this stage most of my team will be in, I’ll have the opportunity to do a round robin and see how staff are going. This isn’t about discussing caseloads at this point. It’s merely tracking how they are doing. I believe that teams reflect the state of their leader. If the leader is ill, then in some respects, I anticipate some signs of disorder or drag. The extent if this depends on length of illness, but also training and state of mind of the team. I’m co fide the in my team, so I’m hoping despite the pressures they’ll be doing pretty well, but there a lot of factors. So I want to be able to assess how the team is feeling, gauge it’s sense of cohesiveness. I need to be disciplined to prevent a flurry of requests for decisions there and then, but I also need to be responsive to any anxieties or worries. Most of all, they’ve got to feel I’m ready to deal with whatever needs attending to.

I’ll also want to catch up with the team leader that’ll have been covering in my absence. I’ll just get the brief lowdown – the profession is rife with story telling (excessively describing case history rather than case situation). My colleague will have made a number of decisions in my absence. I’ll want to know what those are, but under no circumstances will I question them. I have little time for people that second guess my decisions without context, and I give my colleagues the same courtesy. My colleague will have had to take on responsibility for my team at short notice, so it would be unfair and unprofessional to query ‘why’ in this scenario. It’s also a form of procrastination to avoid decisions that need to be made in the future.

There are some bureaucratic issues to resolve, but better to get them done. So personal leave request. I’m also considering an OSH report. I was ill for reasons I couldn’t pin down on an physical illness, but I do know I felt a little better shortly after I left even if some other symptoms developed later that day. I work in a highly pressurised environment and vicarious trauma is common. Yes, I am talking about mental health. An OSH report is the best way to reflect this, and being a social worker I encourage opened about this issue. I am aware of the perceptions (people still call it “stress leave” which to me reflects s form of victim blaming), but the best way to tackle the issue is to call it out.

So that covers it. It sounds like a lot to do in short space of time (less than an hour), but delayed or stretched out process leads to even longer degradation of work. I might as well stay off sick if I’m going to do nothing for the whole morning but focus on the previous two days. In this profession we consistently deal with situations that occur outside of our control; unforeseen crises and dilemmas. The importance in those moments is to absorb the new information, reassess, analyse and make a decision. Personal leave is no different in that scenario as an unexpected event, so there’s no reason to get caught by the swell treading water.

Steampunk Dreams

I remembered a dream I had the other night. It was pretty apocalyptic. At the risk of drawing the attention of the NSA, it featured an attack on New York. Someone or something was raining fire or missiles into the city. I was watching from a hill, stood amongst a collection of small wooden houses and gardens. The gardens were slightly unkempt, with vegetable patches and overgrown hanging baskets. The denizens all struck me as slightly hippy types. I watched the city on fire, but I didn’t feel too worried. I think I was vaguely aware I was dreaming.

I was discussing with my LSP (long suffering partner) about meaning in dreams. It’s ordinarily not something I bother about too much; I trust my subconscious knows what it’s doing. In this case though I wondered if the dream was a variation on a theme, indicating a troubled mood. She pointed out I was judging it on the basis of what I could remember, which is very true. I’ll dream interpretation to fake psychics (btw all psychics are frauds, but I don’t want people thinking that I place any trust or veracity in them by not applying the label ‘fake’).

So, getting back to the subject at hand, I’ve been thinking about dreams I can remember, and how they can create sparks of imagination or feeling.

Dreams like the New York one, or a more common staple of mine about tidal waves. I used to have lots of dreams about tidal waves. Giant rising walls of water above me that crashed down, but Ialways  seemed to find ways to get out of the way.  This usually entailed defying las of physics – I guess you can do whatever in dreams.

I remembered one vivid dream bordering on nightmare, where I was being hunted by the T1000 (from Terminator 2). In slasher film style no matter where I ran he would appear in front of me. Few of my dreams evoke fear, but this one did, with a sense of helplessness. I even remember that the fear was not directly about getting caught, but a Matrix-like fear of ‘if I die in the dream will that mean I don’t wake up?’. 

The most vivid dream I can recall though was of a giant lake. It was either early morning or close to sunset, with the Dun reflecting off the water. Floating above the lake was a giant steam driven ship. I even named it in my dream, the Behemoth. I saw that I was stood on an island, surrounded by lots of small steam driven automatons and machines. The grass was cut neat and fine, like a putting green in top notch golf course. A little steam train ran on its tracks.

There have been lots of others I remember of course. I merely cite these as examples. The apocalyptic visions of fire and tidal waves help fuel my imagination for writing. That fear of dying in my dream helps me evoke similar fear in stories. At least, it helps me know what my writing should read like. 

And the steampunk. It wa beautifully vivid – I haven’t done it justice in describing the level of detail I saw and remember. That dream actually gave me the idea for a book, which I may sometime come to write. I’m actually thinking about it for the NaNoWriMo this year.

So dreams maintain a potency for the imagination. I don’t write that thinking it’s some new revelation – people have written about dreams for centuries – but in my own writing journey it’s an influence, a very personal one, on my thoughts. I’ll leave the interpretation to others, and make use of the good material.

You have syphilis 2 days early

It’s been a few days, courtesy of me not writing anything. I could blame the longer weekend I had, virtue of a flexiday, and argue I was busy relaxing. Truth is though I opted not to write. I had plenty of time in which to do so, but I preferred the company of Netflix on a lazy Friday, had a roadtrip to New Norcia for a writer’s festival on Saturday, and just read a lot on Sunday.

This was all time well spent, but I could easily have added a blog post here and there.

But I’m back now – whoo!

New Norcia Writer’s Festival. It was not that festive, but I guess that’s what you get for holding an event in what is effectively a giant monastery. I’m not sure I gained a great deal from the event, but it was relaxing, and there was the pleasant enjoyment of a picnic lunch with the missus and resident beagle.

There were four sessions over the day. The first was poetry, but unfortunately I didn’t realise that at first. This was partly due to the readings and their delivery I think. It’s obvious you’re reading poetry because of the way it’s presented, but some poems are difficult to discern when read out. Pity really because it seemed to be about country and landscape in Australia, my favourite subject photographically speaking.

The second session was quite annoying. The author, who is also a script writer, asked members of the audience to read out sections of dialogue from his book. I get what he was going for, but seems lazy to me. Audience participation should briefly supplement a wider presentation, or just be on its own as a separate event. In this case it seemed like laziness. I think the book was something to do with an arsonist being hunted by a fire psychologist/investigator (pretty sure it’s the plot of the film Backdraft). I couldn’t tell you anything about the author.

The third session was from an author called Natasha Lester, promoting her latest book. I had heard her speak before, and saw a sample of her work. I was less than impressed with the writing style. Don’t get me wrong, credit where credit’s due for getting published, but something about the style of writing I find really off putting. One line I particularly remember is “his tongue tunnelled it’s way into her mouth”. How, exactly, does a tongue tunnel it’s way anywhere?

In this particular case, she opted to act out scenes with the event organiser. There was even a guy at a piano playing jazzy interludes (the book is set in 1920’s New York). Unfortunately, like the poetry, the text of the book was hampered by the acting. Having said that, perhaps the acting reflected the nature of the writing. At least she spent some time talking about her process of writing.

The final session was for an author who had recently published a book about emigrating from Iran in the 1920’s. I don’t recall a great deal, being a little tired and distracted at that point. At a different time it might have been more of an interest.

That was the main thrust of that day. Yesterday was spent reading Chocolat, which is quite entertaining. I also made the decision to check my work emails briefly. Good thing I did. I realise it’s a bit like finding out your blood tests two days early – wouldn’t you want the ignorance to last a little longer? – but with work surprises are best left minimised. It paid off since I did all my frustrated exclamations and head shaking yesterday, and having mentally prepared for the workflow today.

See, the title made sense after all.