One Year On

A year is a long time.

On the 16th of December last year, I was on Facebook. Nothing unusual about this (I spent and indeed, to a slightly lesser extent, still spend rather too much time with that little blue f in the top corner of my screen), especially given that it was the run up to Christmas and I was bored, and neither was the precise content of the bit of Facebook I was looking at- an argument. Such things are common in the weird world of social networking, although they surely shouldn’t be, and this was just another such time. Three or four people were posting long, eloquent, semi-researched and furiously defended messages over some point of ethics, politics or internet piracy, I know not which (it was probably one of those anyway, since that’s what most of them seem to be about among my friends list). Unfortunately, one of those people was me, and I was losing. Well, I say losing; I don’t think anybody could be said to be winning, but I was getting angry and upset all the same, made worse by the realisation that what I was doing was a COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME. I am not in any position whereby my Views are going to have a massive impact on the lives of everyone else, nobody wants to hear what they are, and there was no way in hell that I was going to convince anyone that my opinion was more ‘right’ than their strongly-held conviction- all I and my fellow arguees were achieving was getting very, very angry at one another, actively making us all more miserable. We could pretend that we were debating an important issue, but in reality were just another group of people screaming at one another via the interwebs.

A little under a week later, the night after the winter solstice (22nd of December, which you should notice was exactly 366 days ago), I was again to be found watching an argument unfold on Facebook. Thankfully this time I was not participating, merely looking on with horror as another group of four or five people made their evening miserable by pretending they could convince others that they were ‘wrong’. The provocativeness of the original post, spouting one set of Views as gospel truth over the web, the self-righteousness of the responses and the steadily increasing vitriol of the resulting argument, all struck me as a terrible waste of some wonderful brains. Those participating I knew to be good people, smart people, capable of using their brains for, if not betterment of the world around them, then perhaps a degree of self-betterment or at the very least something that was not making the world a more unhappy place. The moment was not a happy one.

However, one of the benefits of not competing in such an argument is that I didn’t have to be reminded of it or spend much time watching it unfold, so I turned back to my news feed and began scrolling down. As I did so, I came to another friend, putting a link up to his blog. This was a recent experiment for him, only a few posts old at the time, and he self-publicised it religiously every time a post went up. He has since discontinued his blogging adventures, to my disappointment, but they made fun reading whilst they lasted; short (mostly less than 300 words) and covering a wide range of random topics. He wasn’t afraid to just be himself online, and wasn’t concerned about being definitively right; if he offered an opinion, it was just something he thought, no more & no less, and there was no sense that it was ever combative. Certainly it was never the point of any post he made; each was just something he’d encountered in the real world or online that he felt would be relatively cool and interesting to comment on. His description described his posts as ‘musings’, and that was the right word for them; harmless, fun and nice. They made the internet and world in general, in some tiny little way, a nicer place to explore.

So, I read through his post. I smirked a little, smiled and closed the tab, returning once more to Facebook and the other distractions & delights the net had to offer. After about an hour or so, my thoughts once again turned to the argument, and I rashly flicked over to look at how it was progressing. It had got to over 100 comments and, as these things do, was gradually wandering off-topic to a more fundamental, but no less depressing, point of disagreement. I was once again filled with a sense that these people were wasting their lives, but this time my thoughts were both more decisive and introspective. I thought about myself; listless, counting down the last few empty days before Christmas, looking at the occasional video or blog, not doing much with myself. My schedule was relatively free, I had a lot of spare time, but I was wasting it. I thought of all the weird and wonderful thoughts that flew across my brain, all the ideas that would spring and fountain of their own accord, all of the things that I thought were interesting, amazing or just downright wonderful about our little mental, spinning ball of rock and water and its strange, pink, fleshy inhabitants that I never got to share. Worse, I never got to put them down anywhere, so after time all these thoughts would die in some forgotten corner of my brain, and the potential they had to remind me of themselves was lost. Once again, I was struck by a sense of waste, but also of resolve; I could try to remedy this situation. So, I opened up WordPress, I filled out a few boxes, and I had my own little blog. My fingers hovered over the keyboard, before falling to the keys. I began to write a little introduction to myself.

Today, the role of my little corner of the interwebs has changed somewhat. Once, I would post poetry, lists, depressed trains of thought and last year’s ’round robin letter of Planet Earth’, which I still regard as one of the best concepts I ever put onto the net (although I don’t think I’ll do one this year- not as much major stuff has hit the news). Somewhere along the line, I realised that essays were more my kind of thing, so I’ve (mainly) stuck to them since; I enjoy the occasional foray into something else, but I find that I can’t produce as much regular stuff this was as otherwise. In any case, the essays have been good for me; I can type, research and get work done so much faster now, and it has paid dividends to my work rate and analytical ability in other fields. I have also found that in my efforts to add evidence to my comments, I end up doing a surprising amount of research that turns an exercise in writing down what I know into one of increasing the kind of stuff I know, learning all sorts of new and random stuff to pack into my brain. I have also violated my own rules about giving my Views on a couple of occasions (although I would hope that I haven’t been too obnoxious about it when I have), but broadly speaking the role of my blog has stayed true to those goals stated in my very first post; to be a place free from rants, to be somewhere to have a bit of a laugh and to be somewhere to rescue unwary travellers dredging the backwaters of the internet who might like what they’ve stumbled upon. But, really, this little blog is like a diary for me; a place that I don’t publicise on my Facebook feed, that I link to only rarely, and that I keep going because I find it comforting. It’s a place where there’s nobody to judge me, a place to house my mind and extend my memory. It’s stressful organising my posting time and coming up with ideas, but whilst blogging, the rest of the world can wait for a bit. It’s a calming place, a nice place, and over the last year it has changed me.

A year is a long time.

Advertisements

Failure and Happiness

To anyone who may end up reading this who does not currently have a wordpress blog, please allow me to inform you as to one feature of it. In the top left-hand corner of the screen, there is shown a small graph, demonstrating activity on your blog for the last 48 hours. For the last few days, mine has been empty. I have had no views of my blog.
Now, a blogger’s task is, ostensibly, to attract attention and traffic- the average blog is started by someone with a pressing need for attention and validation, which certainly explains why I’m here, and so this fact basically means that I am failing as a blogger.
So, I thought I might share with the internet something on the subject of failure, something with which I have extensive experience. For example, the rugby side play for are basically out of this year’s league competition having won 5 from 13 matches- this coming after a season in which we won the league, lost only 3 times and were undefeated for around 5 months, while the side I support are currently lying 11th out of 12 in the league and have lost either 5 or 6 games on the bounce, just 4 years after they won the league. From the social front, I can count the number of friends I consider to have had over the years on my fingers, am perpetually single and not long ago finished a period of counselling- this helped, but I now find myself in the midst of even greater psychological issues. My mood cycles between mental and deeply depressed on an annoyingly regular basis and I see little sign of my situation improving. I could go on. I consider myself to have failed, to some extent, in every aspect of my life- and yet as I sit writing this, I exist as a happy person, or if happy appear too strong, then to say the very least I am content.
Why? This seems to make no sense- my reasons for happiness seem minimal. The experienced conscience-attackers among you may like to point to the fact that, from the very fact I am writing this, I have access to a computer, I am able to play and watch sport for enjoyment, have access to psychological support, have a roof over my head, food in the fridge etc, etc, but the kind of people who say these kinds of things have probably been shouted down often enough to know the kinds of arguments that can be proposed against them. But what they have to say does have relevance. You see, to someone without a roof over their head, a house may seem an impossible luxury. To a child who gets one meal a day and is developing kwashiorkor, the delicacies of a fridge may seem unparalleled delights. To the manager of a small business struggling during the economic downturn, the stability and prosperity of a larger, more successful business may seem a cruel injustice- and yet the manager of this business, surviving far easier than it’s smaller compatriot, may consider his stability to be just as bad as his struggling compatriot, compared to the prosperity he may have experienced in recent years. Conclusion- the satisfaction a person shows with their state of existence is entirely relative to their personal experiences.
When you think about this, you know it already, but it is genuinely astonishing as to the amount of stuff that can be understood simply by thinking over stuff you know. For example, any parents or soon-to-be’s reading this, for example, who want my advice on avoiding bringing up the kind of spoilt brat every parent dreads, could well consider this principle. Children who are ‘spoilt’ are basically always wanting more. The reason (it seems to me from my experiences anyway) for this is that their experiences of asking for something are that if they are showered with the modern, expensive, toys, then always having the latest toy or gadget seems to them a normal state of existence. When this changes, and they are not allowed their new favourite, this seems to them akin to an invasion of their human rights, and as such they complain and get the ‘spoilt’ tag (N.B. I know that I am in no way qualified to give this advice, so please don’t treat it as fact- it’s just what seems logical to me).
Now, how then does this relate back to me? Well,  having considered this logic, I began to realise that all my adjudged ‘failures’ were relative to previous experiences. I consider the rugby side I support to be failing, but the side who are in joint 11th with us have just been promoted and their fans are probably glad to be mostly out of the danger of relegation. I consider 5 wins from 13 to be a bad record, but considering the calibre of side some of those losses have been to, I can think of a few teams who would give their eye teeth for that record. And the list goes on- my social life is bad now, and compare to guys I know it’s appalling- but I know that I am a better person, with a better social life, than I was before my counselling- I feel things are bad now because I am not progressing at the same rate as I was previously. As such, I consider all my problems, and realise they are not problems, really at all. And it is this that enables me to consider my life more objectively, remind me of my family, the people I do love spending time with, the epic wins that will stick in my memory together, and the amazing camaraderie of my team- the drinking sessions, the laughs, the mates. And it makes me a happy person.
For one last comment on the subject of failure, I turn to one of the most inspirational quotes I have ever heard, courtesy of Michael Jordan:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”