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I'm not sure what people think of blogs, but I thought I'd give it a go. I tend to write or at least think this stuff anyway, so I thought I might as well put it out there in case anyone is interested in reading it. The thing is, I have always been very opinionated about things, but I believe it important to base opinion on facts otherwise the opinion is worthless. If you have anything to add to anything I write, email me at contact@catherineionegray.com and I will post any appropriate comments accordingly.

09 June 2014

Freedom of Speech

For Americans and Britons (although in a much more reserved manner, I grant you), freedom of speech is sacrosanct. But where Americans fall down is in the implementation particularly when dealing with politicians. We should not allow corruption to hide behind the First Amendment.

Freedom of speech was created, as most amendments included in the American Bill of Rights, to defeat tyranny and retain freedom for all American people. Whether it is the freedom to worship, to assemble, or for a speedy trial, the freedoms codified by the American Founding Fathers were ones to ensure freedom for the populace.(This is neither the time nor the place to address issues of race or sexinequality, but rest assured I am not ignoring them.)

In Britain in contrast, the Human Rights Act (HRA) and European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR) do not strictly codify Ďfreedom of speechí but rather words the freedom differently. ĎFreedom of expressioní, and its other constituent parts, is just another phrase to mean the same thing, but what is does differently from the American model is that it makes it clear that this is not an unqualified freedom.There are times when the freedom can be restricted, such as:

  • In the interests of national security
  • For territorial integrity or public safety
  • In the prevention of disorder or crime
  • For the protection of health or morals
  • For the protection of the reputation or the rights of others
  • In preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence
  • For maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary

Of course the ECHR and HRA were not entered into until two hundred years, give or take, after the Constitution was drafted therefore those writing up the European freedoms had ~200 years more history to refer to when deciding what was important and what sort of desecration is likely knowing that people are not perfect and some always look to misuse whatever is available.

In the US there are also qualifications to freedom of speech. Entering contract, for instance,expects due diligence from parties and requires no misrepresentation on the part of the seller otherwise the buyer is liable to be recompensed. But for whatever reason the Founding Fathers in the United States did not seem to envision how freedom of speech, in particular, would end up being monstrously perverted by the very corrupt officials it was created to prevent from taking office in the first place.

A famous GOP celebrity in the last few years touted how he never Ďcheatedí but he certainly spread Ďmisinformationí. This is not an eye-opener for those of us who pay attention, but it is frightening. Freedom of speech protects all speech, so it protects the rights of people to lie. But this is foolhardy.

The problem with unqualified rights is that people are able to and tend to take advantage of them. As a teenager in the 80s I remember the hubbub over mud-slinging in politics. I remember how up in arms the constituencies were about the possible lies that were being told. I really truly thought, obviously naively, that that would be the end of it; that people knew that it was wrong and they would hold politicians accountable. But they didnít, and today it has gone too far.

If you ask people today about politicians, they call them liars. Why? Because they are. They are allowed to lie without ramification and they make every use of it. Not all of them do, but does it matter? Just like knowing one priest touches children inappropriately or one nursing home worker abuses patients makes one worry about all the rest too. So people question the integrity of each individual when one in their profession has been caught doing something untoward.

Yet corruption in government is the very issue the Founding Fathers were trying to prevent with many of the Constitutional Amendments, particularly freedom of speech and freedom of the press so that citizens were able to speak out against corruption to ensure a properly functioning democracy. But as time has gone on, it has become clear that there are too many corrupt politicians in the USA and this has given rise to the American public being disillusioned with politics entirely. The pseudo-free capitalist democracy that was created by those that were disillusioned by the highly religious, monetarily-centred monarchic Britons has created a society of apathetic, listless sheep that are more worried about what movie starís shagging what other movie star rather than the lies they are being told regularly by their media outlets, politicians, and others that tout knowledge without actually having any.

The true price of freedom should not be a dumbing down of society which is contributed, in part,to people refusing to believe information because they are perhaps subconsciously aware they are being lied to by some and cannot discern who is reputable. How can the public trust anything when they know most of those purporting to disseminate information has carte blanche to lie?

I thought with widespread use of the internet that things would get better. I thought that with people being able to look up information to fact check it, it would bequite easy for anyone to understand which organisations lie regularly and which were to be trusted. But unfortunately people seem even more confused than ever.So they refuse to believe what may be slightly unpalatable for them to believe,and pick and choose what reality they wish to have. Since they canít be certain which is true and which isnít, I canít blame them for accepting that which confirms their own beliefs and desires whilst simultaneously rejecting anything that negates them. But this means that we are left with a large portion of society that is uneducated, ill-advised, angry, and often dangerous.

So how do we change things? Through legislating, of course. The only way to ensure society responds the way society should is by making laws that will punish those that refuse to comply. But we canít go against the Constitution: freedom of speech is the most important, I hear my American friends yell angrily. They are lying to us, I would respond. They are trying to get away with knowingly misleading us for their own ends and I for one don't like being lied to. I wouldn't accept it from the person I love most in the world and I certainly won't accept it from a stranger.

Besides which, itís not against the notion of freedom of speech to make people responsible for what they say (just as gun control isn't the same as a ban on guns). They still have freedom to discuss issues, bad mouth the government if they wish, and point out the mistakes of others no matter where they are in the echelons of society. The freedom to say or think what you like is protected. But if someone knowingly lies for their own gain, they should be held to account for those actions, just as they are within contractual relationships. Perhaps they shouldnít be forced to share a cell with Bubba the sex-starved Ďitís not homosexual but needs driven sex in prisoní lifer, but they certainly should have to apologise and give the correct information. But if they are found to spread lies, the Ďmisinformationí, regularly, yeah, they should have to face the consequences just as if they were 15 and were found to be misleading their parents regularly about who they were spending their time with on the weekend,when, where, and to what ends especially if they are caught out on a Saturday night drunk and bullock naked in the city streets. They wouldnít get away with lying to their parents without ramifications, why should they be allowed to getaway with it as adults?

To be clear, Iím not talking about opinions. Anyone has the right to have an opinion about something, no matter how ill-conceived or absurd their stance. But what I am talking about are the assertions that are said with authority, that are based on facts and therefore are researchable. Such as, ĎIf it's a legitimate rape,the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.í Or, President Obama was born in Kenya. Not even five minutes of research and either of those are either proved or disproved,easy peasy lemon squeezy. If it was Cletus down at the local Arbyístalking about either of those to his sister and mother (same person), and that he Ďbelievesí the President wasnít born in Hawaii, well it makes no difference what he says, but when itís a public servant itís not acceptable. These points do not change like an opinion, they are either true or they arenít true. The difference between Cletus and the local public servant is, Cletus has no power therefore what he believes is irrelevant to me as he cannot legislate his stupidity into my life. Public servants, however, are (or should be) held in higher regard. They should have to do the research, confirm the facts, and provide citations for the shit they shovel. Otherwise, what the hell are we putting them in office for anyway? To tell us the sky is chartreuse when we know itís blue? Itís their job to know the truth about important matters or to keep schtum on the topic, and we should hold them to account if they use their job to mislead the rest of us. People talk about the sanctity of marriage, I think what's more important is the sanctity of the truth. Facts are not 'in the eye of the beholder'. Facts just are.

People like Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, and Bill Maher work hard pointing out the ridiculous hypocrisy in politics. I admire Jon Stewart in particular for his even-handedness when he is faced with guests who are obviously intelligent enough to know that what they spew is factually incorrect, but who spew it anyway in an attempt to confuse the populace. Because they know it works. To me that indicates a maliciousness within the person confirming the contempt they must have for the rest of us if they believe itís perfectly acceptable to lie about anything so long as they are spreading their own ideology. The dubbedĎWar on Christmasí springs to mind, along with all of the venom and lies spewed about that obviously ridiculous notion. I would never be able to be as calm as Jon Stewart is able to remain. If I tried, my head would likely explode like a watermelon thrown off the top of a hospital, though not as pleasingly.

As I have said above, there are already laws protecting people against lies. Banks, car sales,houses, and other capitalist contracts cannot mislead or misrepresent the goods or wares without there being recourse. A bank cannot tell you they will give you a car if you take out a loan with them and then never give you the car but demand you repay the loan with interest. They can say it, but they can be sued over it and they would lose. I fail to understand why politicians are not held accountable for the lies they tell. In Britain they are, although not to everyoneís satisfaction. But the political party itself looks bad when one of their own tells a porky pie; so either the liar will apologise or may well be ostracised from the party. It doesnít mean they lose their job or leave government, but it could mean that. Or they might be prosecuted, like Chris Huhne who was given an 8 month jail sentence for having his wife say she was the one speeding, not him. They are not and should never be allowed to think they are above the law.

The main point is there is a rule of law in both the US and the UK. The reason for the rule of law is that everyone, including politicians, have to abide by the laws of the land. But the rule of law only works when there is a law preventing whatever it is that we believe people shouldnít or should do. Lying outright or through negligence jeopardises society and politics in particular. People choose to vote not for the best candidate but the lesser of two evils, or worse,the one that is able to spin the greatest yarn. How is that for the betterment of society?

Of course not all politicians should be painted with the same brush but they undoubtedly will be until being honest in public office is seen as sacrosanct as being able to bitch and moan about the President being something he obviously isnít. People have the right to their opinions, but when in public office if someone asserts something as a fact, they should have to back that fact up with proof. Theyíd have to if they were in elementary school handing in a report; without citations, theyíd fail. What Iím saying is politicians should be held to the same high standard that 6th graders are held to. Does it frighten you as much as it frightens me that currently theyíre not?

05 June 2014

Character

Making unrealistic demands on others is absurd. In terms of readers/writers, demanding that all relevant characters in a work are fully developed is insane. Characters in stories do not have to be fully rounded individuals. How many people do we meet everyday that are fully developed? We meet people for only moments at a time and whilst we expect that there is more to each person than the few minutes we see, when do we see more? Sometimes never. And how can we be sure that every person is as deep as we are at any rate? Some people are just shallow caricatures even once we get to know them better.

To create a world with all rounded characters seems to me to be a fallacy that I am unwilling to partake of. We do not know everything about each other. Ever. Even after 20 years of living with my husband and spending almost every night of those 20 years (minus a few weeks) with him, I still donít know how he will react in many situations. I doubt he knows how he'll respond most of the time! Itís impossible for anyone to know anyone so thoroughly, even ourselves. I believe the phrase is, ĎSometimes I even amaze myself.í We donít always know ourselves thoroughly enough to know how weíd react in all situations, how can we possibly know everything about everyone else?

Perhaps the problem isnít the demands of characterisation in novels, but the reality of this point sinking in in our daily lives. We can never fully know anyone as we can never even fully know ourselves. This is why the local serial killer when heís found out is always a surprise to his neighbours and friends. Because people see what others allow to be seen. We canít see the full person most of the time, but we see the faÁade of the person only. And some people work very hard at creating a frontage to hide what lies beneath.

I do not believe in building up all main characters in a novel. That is absurd since if every character is built up there will be very little space for anything else. How drab a story is when it wallows in characterisation! The only person, even as an omnipotent author, that I can know truly is the main character. I can know limited information about all the others, but only from the view of my main. (Itís possible to have more than one main, and therefore the thoughts and knowledge about others can come from all of them, but even that is pushing it for me.)

Each book, for me, is a story. Each life is a story. When I write about Mary, the world that I write is from her perspective. She might find out things from others, but she can only find out from their conversations or actions. She cannot know what they truly think or truly mean; she can only know them through their faÁade. Ergo, the reader can only know the other characters in a shallow way, the way that Mary knows them.

Not knowing every detail about a character doesn't make or break a story. Some stories are the main characterís story and hers alone. As in life, the focus is on the individual. There are others that are important, but none that can be known as well as the main. We are the focus of our own stories; if we focus on trying to know each person that has significance in our lives down to what breakfast drink they have regularly, we would never have time for ourselves. We must remember that we are the writers of our own stories, not simply a supporting character in someone elseís.

13 May 2014

Ignorance is Bliss

I woke up today much earlier than usual. I came downstairs and had breakfast (mmmm, vegan pizza) and then sat on the couch with my cat on my lap watching Judge Judy (don't judge me!). The world was peaceful (well, perhaps not Judy or her minions, but you know what I mean). I switched off the tv and just listened to the dawn chorus happy in the knowledge that the little blighters hadn't disturbed my sleep and happy that there was still seed out there for their hungry little stomachs.

After a while I wandered back upstairs as my husband was still sleeping. I was very naughty and I kissed him on his nose and his lips hoping to wake him. But he didn't stir. I even tried the 'kitty paw' to his face, only I used my own hand. (Our cat loves to wake him up this way, so I thought I'd give it a try and put my hand on his forehead.) But he didn't stir. Eventually the warmth of his body lulled me back to sleep, now with a kitty on my hip and my arms around my husband's warm slumbering body.

My brain came alert sometime later when my husband kissed my nose and then kissed my lips. He then leaned down and kissed my lips again and again and again, softly and surely. It made me smile inside, although I tried to act like I was still sleeping just to see what else he might do to wake me up. When we finally came downstairs, I told him how the world seemed a little bit brighter today. The sun, though not shining at the moment, seemed to be shining on us. And I smiled. I couldn't imagine a better life than this one, living here with him and our little Lily.

So I opened my work for the day. I'm editing a novel at the moment and hoping that today I shall finish my work on it. The sun is now shining and my husband is working from home. I can see him across the lounge and every so often I whisper, 'I love you,' which is promptly answered by an, 'I love you too.' Lily is asleep on his lap and all is right in the world.

Until I look outside my box.

The fact that the harpy Ann Coulter is trying to commandeer the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian children into right wing idiocy sends my blood pressure to Mars. She is, I presume, a vomit covered hairball having been expelled by Rush Limbaugh after one of his weddings. In any event, Ann Coulter is venom in human form. She is given far too much airtime for a bleach blonde nitwit that is the epitome of a queen bee in trying to take rights away from everyone 'beneath' her, but never once relinquishing them herself. Perhaps it has to do with money and corruption and all that. Personally, I think she's just a sad hag that probably hasn't had an orgasm in her entire, very long and obviously quite hard, life. But I digress.

I could go into all the horrendous things I see in the news today. But I won't. My happiness of this morning has been disengaged and I am now in what I consider to be my 'normal state'. I am angry. I am sad. I am hopeful. I am excited. The world isn't entirely a horrible place, after all I even got Jerry to say how much he enjoyed the 'cute' I posted on my page the other day. ;) (Esoteric, I know, but we all have some friends that actively deny the cute, now don't we?!) It's not all good, but baby, it's not all that bad either.

I'd rather be on an even keel and filled with information, truth, and knowledge, than deny reality and live in a world where puppies chase rainbows whilst cotton candy falls from the sky. When people say ignorance is bliss, they are right. Not because the ignorance per se is bliss, but it is just so much simpler to be happy with what you have if you aren't aware of all the atrocities going on in the world. But without knowing the ills, how can we fight them? The world isn't blissful and ignorance ultimately isn't either, for someday, we must encounter reality. And if we deny it for too long, we might not be able to recognise it when we finally have to face up to it.

02 May 2014

My Writing Laws

I have some simple guidelines that I always write by. They are not laws that I studiously researched, but are points that I have always thought about whether when writing, reading, or watching productions; but they are my 'laws of writing' nonetheless. But, of course, no law is ever entirely absolute.

1.) Only red shirts die.
This is of course a Star Trek TOS reference where any time the main characters in The Original Series of Star Trek would go on an away mission, it was likely the unknown crew member in the red shirt would have something sinister befall him. I believe in this very strongly because, even though I do not write rainbow and puppy stories, I prefer happy endings. Even when those happy endings are accompanied by the annihilation of an entire race, the death of all but one of a party, or the knowledge that the worst is yet to come. But the main characters (if, they are indeed, classified as such) should not die. Most of the time.

2.) No character is more important than the story.
I appreciate that some writers wallow in characterisation and some readers enjoy this. I do not. I've never been a reader that wanted to know 100% about a character. I don't even want to know my husband like that (well, probably not, anyway). I don't need to know how a character will respond in all sorts of different situations, I only want to know about the situations of the story. The story is tantamount; if my character reveals something of her/himself during it, it's because it's important to the story. Probably.

3.) Write to read.
I have no intention of writing dross that I personally would slam shut within the first few pages of picking it up. That doesn't mean, of course, that what I read will appeal to everyone. What it does mean is, I write what I would prefer to read. And if I would like to read it, I am sure, there are others that would like to too. Perhaps.

4.) If it's illogical, there is no room for it.
Of course this must be hugely qualified as some things may appear illogical to the reader, but not to a particular character. It is okay that when we know the killer is hiding in the closet, that the main character goes to the closet and opens it up to get her coat; she doesn't know he's there. It's not illogical for her to do so, it's just... unfortunate, at least for her. As such, some things may be illogical to some characters, but perfectly logical to others. Logic is important, but there must always be the understanding that even if the reader does not see the logic, that doesn't mean that it is illogical to all involved. Most likely.

5.) A story should only be as long as it needs to be.
I firmly believe in a beginning, a middle, and an end, although not always in that order. I personally enjoy denouements as well; sometimes those can be the best part of a movie/book particularly if the rest of the story was tense, the denouement can be a sort of 'after glow' of happiness that things are no longer tense. But the reader should never be bored whilst the story is being told, nor should the reader find her/himself irritated by extraneous information. Of course no one can please everyone all the time, or even come very close to that, really. But I'd rather read a story where I was left wanting more, than finding myself putting a well written 500 page book down after page 252 because I feel the last 20 pages + were a waste of my time. KISS.

Even my favourite authors have on occasion broken one if not all of these 'rules', as have I. And though I don't necessarily agree with the old adage that says, rules are made to be broken, it is important to remember that even when it appears one of these rules is broken, it might not be. Tara is a good example of this, although I will admit that Joss Whedon has a lot of my tears he should apologise for making me spill. But I'd allow him to tell me a story anyway, over so many poor story tellers who simply manipulation emotions through trickery rather than weaving a good yarn.

01 May 2014

Peace

It is a dangerous fallacy to believe that in order to understand something you have to live through it. That is denying intelligence, extrapolation, and empathy. You do not have to have children to be able to understand the difficulties and triumphs parents go through when raising their young. We were all children once, and we remember our childhood on varying levels. The mere fact that we were children has given us an insight into how parenting can work; what worked for our parents and what didnít is firmly ingrained in our being.

But further than that, we do not have to live through a tragedy to feel the grief that accompanies that tragedy. No one can ever understand exactly how someone going through anything in their life feels. But most of us are not deaf, dumb, and blind to human interactions. We know what it is to suffer. We know what it is to lose and to have lost. We do not need to lose our arm to be able to empathise with someone who has lost theirs. We have the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another. We have the ability to take a minute to think about how we might feel if things were reversed.

We have the ability to understand what others are going through. It doesnít mean we know exactly what they are going through. It doesnít mean we know how we will definitely act in the same situation, but it gives us a good idea. Because we are intelligent creatures; we can understand more than just the tactile. We do not have to wait to experience something first hand but can learn, feel, and remember through the actions of another. We do not have to make our own mistakes, but we can allow ourselves to learn from all the mistakes made and not continue to repeat the same actions expecting a different result.

Empathy brings understanding and with understanding there can be peace.

13 June 2013

Anthropomorphisms

A wonderful woman recently told me that she tries to get people to understand animals and not 'humanise' them. I understood this to mean that she was against us anthropomorphising, that is: imbuing animals with human traits. And I agree with this for the most part. What we should do is try to put ourselves in their hooves, so to speak. So, I thought about a story.

On a walk by myself in a beautiful part of the country, at a time when I decided not to take my mobile phone with me so that I could just enjoy nature without any interruptions, I accidentally slid on a wet clump of grass and fell into a massive great chasm filled with water. The chasm was much too deep to climb out of, especially since the sides were sheer and offered no handholds.

Desperate to find a way out of the cold water, I screamed for help. But I was pretty sure there was no one else around and soon I stopped my crying and focused on trying to help myself. I swam first to one end of the chasm and then the other; the place felt like it was miles and miles across. I've never really been all that used to swimming either, so I soon found my arms and legs heavy with exhaustion. No where could I find a place to climb out of the water nor any shallow areas that might help me find some respite from the deep, deep water. I was stuck.

At this point I found all I could do was tread water hoping for something to help me get out of this mess before I became too tired to even keep myself afloat. Of course being in this situation I had also started to think about where I actually was and realised that there were other creatures that lived in such places; creatures that could hurt me. Whether through fatigue or the effects of adrenalin on my brain, I started to imagine that the dark areas in the water beneath me were moving. My panic started to rise as I presumed the dark patches to be those frightening underwater creatures coming straight for me. All it would take was one sharp-toothed predator to pull me under water and I'd be done for; I knew I hadn't the strength to fight anyone off after all of my time in the water.

Just then, a massive creature poked its head up over the chasm wall in front of me. It darted for me so fast that I didnít even have time to cry out before it scooped me out of the water and into some shallow container. At this point I was literally shaking in my boots likely through fear and the fact that I had been mostly submerged in cold water for countless hours kicking with all the energy I could muster. Unfortunately as the creature carried me to I donít know where, I started to remember the stories I had heard about these creatures and their massive machines that in the past had murdered many of my fellow country walkers.

As the creature boomed low-pitched guttural noises at me, all I could think was that I was either going to end up as its dinner or as its prisoner; neither thought was very welcome. I became aware that there were other creatures nearby beginning to surround my container, which was still being held by the giant, and they were animals that were known to hurt my kind if given half the chance. Instantly my heart started pounding even harder and I was sure that would be the end of me. Goodbye hubby, family and friends; hello oblivion!

But then it happened. The creature dumped me unceremoniously into a box. I fell head over feet into a tall crate at least 5 times my height and probably about the same in width; it felt larger even than the house I had grown up in. Had I tried to escape from the creature previously I might have just made it, but the box I had been moved to was much taller even than the sides of the chasm I had originally fallen into. Despair now gripping me, I realised there was now really no escape. Either death or life-long captivity was my future. The last thought that rose into my head was, when the creature reaches in for me again do I bite, scratch, kick and punch until my last breath leaves my crumpled body or do I just throw my hands up and accept whatever fate it is the creature has in store for me?

That, my friends, is not anthropomorphising about Duckie the hedgehog that I rescued from my pond recently. I honestly don't know what he might have been thinking and/or feeling during his ordeal, but I can imagine what I might have felt in his place. And that is empathy. Empathy is what we should teach each other and to our children. Empathy is the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another. That is how we gain a better understanding of the world in which we live and how we make the world a better place.

I believe creating anthropomorphic characters for entertainment purposes is a great way of instilling empathy in our children. Children can relate to a young elephant dressed in trousers and a pig in a dress much more than they can relate to real animals. But as they grow older it is for us to continue the lesson of empathy through not only to their favourite TV characters, but through to learning about the real emotions real animals experience during their lives. If a person has empathy for all leaving creatures, could they ever drop a live lobster into boiling water and not be moved by its screams?

I would like to see a world infused in empathy. That is how I live my life and yes it contributes to my heart being broken from time to time, as I can feel the pain that others feel during tragic events. But empathy pushes me to treat others the way I would hope to be treated should I find myself in a situation similar to theirs in the future. Not just animals benefit, but non-human animals benefit too. Empathy could change the world for the better, if we let it.

18 April 2013

Nature

I am an avid nature lover. Have been since childhood when Iused to come in with sap covering my hands and clothes and sticking up my hairfrom all of my tree climbing. We had a fabulous pine tree in our front gardenthat had limbs low enough for even a 10 year old to grab and not too manyneedles to impede progress of the climb. My sister was also a tree climber andwe used to have races to see who could get to the top first.

I cannot remember a time when I didnít love climbing trees, runningthrough the forest or going to pick blueberries in the field down the road thatnobody seemed to own. I had my run-ins, donít get me wrong; once I wentpaddling in the creek near my house and came out covered in a maze type rash.Too young to understand run-off from the nearby farm and too naÔve toappreciate that even in the 80ís (especially in the 80ís?) untreated water waslikely to be dangerous, I was simply enjoying Mother Natureís splendour. But Isurvived and held no grudge against Natureís ambivalence towards me.

But nearly 3 years ago, my husband and I moved out of alovely little suburban dwelling into an even nicer rural one. My argument wasthat I wanted more space; having been used to growing up in Michigan, I pine for the forest. ;) Well wedonít have a forest, but there are many trees around our property and even ourproperty, so my hunger for trees has been satisfied. The one thing I didnítcount on was all of the death.

Ever since I was a young child, I have fed the birds. I lovewatching them and the wild mammals in the garden and am more than happy tospend money enticing them all in with seeds, fruits and nuts. In our suburbanhome, we had little variety, although I loved them nonetheless. Watching abird, a squirrel, fox or rat never ceases to bring a smile to my face. I loveNature and her children and feel much closer to the Earth when I have even thislimited interaction with my earthly brethren.

And although I grew up in a rural-type area in Michigan, I do notremember seeing many dead or dying animals on our land as I great up. Believeme, I would remember because any dead animal I found (decomposed or otherwise),I would bury out of some strange feeling of responsibility for an animal Inever met. Some of them even got bunches of wild-flowers placed on their gravesfor months or even years thereafter. I accept I was a bit odd. I remember someof my burials specifically: a frog that had somehow gotten flattened in thegarage, a squirrel that had been a road traffic casualty and every so often abird or mouse that my cats would bring presumably as part payment for their roomand board. But even with those, I doubt that I saw more than a few deaths ayear.

In our new house, the death rate seems rather high. I trynot to count all of the deaths because it really does kill me inside every timeone of my visitors perishes. Murder scenes arenít mourned as much, as a ring offeathers indicates to me that at least in his death, the bird provided anotherwith the sustenance to live. It is the unexplained or accidental deaths thatbreak my heart the most: the unmarked rat frozen stiff on the lawn in themiddle of summer, like some macabre Halloween decoration; the poor wood mousethat climbed into the bucket of water for a drink of water but was unable toescape drowning and the countless birds that fly into any number of our windowsregularly (presumably as the glass turns to mirror with total internalreflection and they see sky where there is only death waiting). I will neverget used to the death, but I accept that it is part of life when we all sharethe land together.

But there is one thing that I am unsure about. And it has todo with my Ďsaverí instinct. When I see a creature that is in peril, I wish tohelp it. Actually, itís more than that, I want to help it, but I also want tolove it. I think it has something to do with my thoughts about the worst typeof death, as many of us may in fact have, thinking that it would be horrible todie alone. I always think that if a creature is going to perish, the least Ican do is show it kindness and love before it does. Although it is not so easywith animals, particularly in the wild, because the very act of kindness cancause them enough stress to send them to the great beyond in and of itself.Animals donít know when weíre trying to give them love; they just see somegigantic animal coming towards them when usually larger animals are only afterone thing: to eat them. So I try to fight my saver-urge. But it is hard.

At the moment there is a bird in my garden, well he was untilabout an hour ago anyway. He has a problem with his beak. He might have canker,although without catching him and taking him to a vet, I cannot be certain. Andcanker is contagious. He is the only bird I have seen with a problem in mygarden and he has been coming for the last few months. His outward appearancehasnít changed much, although I fear he will not live to see the winter. But Iam left with a choice: try to catch him or leave him be.

I have taken much advice about him as his fate weighsheavily on my heart and mind. I have spoken at length to animal rescues, birdspecialists and read up on all the available data. Everything indicates that heneeds to be caught and taken to a vet. But then I look at him as he sits eatingand then hops down the path before flying away. I watch him living his life, asNature intended, and wonder if catching him is the right thing to do. I knowwhat will happen to him if I catch him or if I have someone else come and catchhim; he will be killed. The argument is that it would be an easier death thanthe one that might be waiting for him. The argument is if he dies and is eatenby other birds, what he has will likely pass to them. The argument is I wouldonly be doing right by him if I betray him and take him to his death.

And I watch him. I watch him grab up the food parcels andlift his head to consume them. I watch him hop to the next feeding station andeven try to canoodle with another bird nearby only to be turned down flat,probably due to him being deformed. But I love him. In my world he is aninnocent, a creature that deserves my love and compassion and one that shouldbe protected; in his world, he might be a jerk, but I canít speak bird. So itisnít so easy for me to choose between catching him and leaving him becausecatching him is an automatic death sentence; leaving him may be a deathsentence too, but then again it may not be.

And I feel like I am torturing myself with this. When I wasa child I would watch nature programs. I loved watching animals living theirlives without the interference of humans, but I remember vividly watching somebaby animals (penguins, I think) that were being targeted by some other birds.The presenter was explaining how if the parents didnít come back soon, thebabies would be eaten and I thought, why arenít they helping? Why would thecamera crew simply watch the babies get killed when they could intervene tosave them? I still feel that today, although Iím much more forgiving of thefood chain than I was. Itís the preventable deaths that donít take food out ofthe mouths of others that I wish I could prevent.

So I sit with my dilemma and with the decision eating me up.Neither decision is a good one. The bird cannot tell me if he is suffering. Hecannot tell me if he has canker or if it is something else. He cannot tell meif he would rather his life be ended now or if he would prefer to fight to thebitter end. Humans are easier to deal with because they can usually say whatthey would prefer. But he cannot say it. Is it worse to kill a creature thatwishes to fight its ailment than not killing a creature that wishes to die? Idonít know. We as a species havenít even agreed on euthanasia for our own lovedones, how can we ever morally make that decision for others that cannot speak theirwishes? I donít know. I just donít know.

20 March 2013

Personal Responsibility

I started thinking about the idea of personal responsibility today when a man who had run up a load of debt spoke to me at length about how the debts were anyoneís fault but his own. I couldnít help but think about personal responsibility and how the man was losing his home not because creditorís were greedy (no more than usual), or because his wife had left him, or because someone had cheated him out of it, but because he had taken on more debt than he could afford to take on and he was now having to pay the consequences in the form of having his house repossessed.

All of us have some sob stories during our lives. Whether illness, death in the family, relationship breakdown or unemployment every single person in the world will suffer from some unfortunate times during their lives. Some even suffer from more than one at a time, which is even more unfortunate. What differentiates people is how they handle it. If I make a mistake, I hold my hand up. Why not? What do I have to lose for being honest about what I have done? I have found I have nothing to lose, but a whole lot to gain. There is a lot to say for personal responsibility. Accepting that our actions have caused or contributed to the situation we are currently facing. When someone takes responsibility for their actions, they are respected for it.

Personal responsibility has been in the news a lot lately, usually in an attempt to convince the populace that the cuts to public spending are justified because the government is trying to Ďundo the damageí of the Ďnanny stateí as created by the proceeding government. The idea that people feel Ďentitledí and therefore they are obviously getting too much support from the state is a fallacy touted by hardcore conservatives in an attempt to pitch the haves against the have-nots. Donít let them trick us. Anyone who has lived on benefits for any length of time knows that no one on benefits feels entitled; sometimes they feel cold because they donít have enough money for heat or a new coat; sometimes they feel hungry because theyíve run out of money before their next payment is due and theyíve already run out of food and often times they feel ashamed for having to get help in the first place.

Shaming people is a ridiculous concept and one that I disagree with entirely. But people do feel shame for having to ask for help. How have we created a society where people can lie about a drug problem and being arrested and still be voted in as President of a country but people who are down on their luck and need to ask for assistance are taught that they are sub-human, a Ďtakerí and abhorrent to society? Even those that have had help in the past denigrate others who now need help, usually without actually knowing the personís circumstances. ĎYou never truly know someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes.í But people forget that. They think ĎIím okay, why arenít you? It must be your fault.í

I believe there is an entitlement culture, but not as the conservatives have painted it. I see it so clearly now. Those who have been given things during their lives believe they are entitled to have things. But that is not a bad thing. I believe humans are entitled to basic fundamental things such as the right to live a peaceful life, the right to be healed if they are sick, the right for their house to be serviced by the fire department if a fire breaks out, the right to the rule of law upholding that no one is above the law, the right to clean air and water, the right to food, I could go on. The importance is to couple the Ďentitlementí with a good work ethic. It is ensuring that rich and poor believe that if they do not have something, they can work to obtain it. But of course work doesnít necessarily mean 40 hours a week earning minimum wage at Frankie and Bennys, but that is a topic for another day.

What I find peculiar about personal responsibility revolves around what sort of person I am. I am not perfect, far far from it. I have so many flaws I stopped counting before my hair reached my ears. But I am, perhaps, different from many. Looking back, I not only had a high sense of personal responsibility, my responsibility went even further. I felt I had a personal responsibility for everything in the world. Not in a conceited, self-absorbed ĎI am all-importantí sort of way but in a way that instilled the concept of Ďif I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problemí. Even before my teens I felt guilt for the things that other people did, like if another student was yelled at for acting up, I felt guilty. I felt guilt for not doing better in my studies, for not recycling more, for not convincing people to do the right thing, for not making everyone around me happy, for not doing more. A child doesnít know why they feel the feelings they feel most of the time and I was no exception. What I did know is, I was willing to take the blame for the world being as it was, because I had not been able to change it.

I donít know why I was like that and for the most part, I have not really changed. I have gained the power to accept the things that I cannot change, but I still feel I should try. I believe that if I am not working for the ĎGreater Goodí (thank you Simon Pegg for making that phrase hilarious every time I think it) then I am part of the problem.

The world only changes when groups of people stand up together and make them change. Otherwise society remains on the same trajectory it was on when set in motion (thank you, Newton). Personally I want a world where everyone is treated with respect and dignity, when justice is not only done but seen to be done for all, when science is questioned and revered over faith, and where animals are treated with the love and respect they deserve. I am willing to take my share of the responsibility for things not changing quickly enough. In the past I have placed my own personal needs above the needs of the Earth. I like pretty things and I work to obtain those trinkets instead of giving back as I should do. But I am human and fallible. I continue to try to change myself so that I make a positive impact on this world to as many people as possible.

If we demand change, change we will have. If we sit on our hands, the world will continue on as it is. Our daughters, sons, domestic and wild animals deserve more. Letís be a force for good in the world, a force for change to leave this world a better place than we found it. The first step is to take responsibility for our own actions. Once we obtain this, we will hopefully be free to take responsibility for righting the wrongs that have been plaguing humans for time immemorial.

7 March 2013

Zombies

I am a zombie fan. I have watched more zombie movies in my life than I could possibly recount, and many of my favourite movies and video games are indeed in the zombie genre. Whether scary or funny, zombies interest me. And that got me thinking about why I am so interested in zombies. After a bit of thought, I realised Zombies are the best enemy.

Truly no other enemy can be as frightening as a zombie. First having the dead rise again is horrific enough. We learn early in life that death is the end of an animalís physical life on this planet. We bury, burn or flush our dead and we certainly donít expect them to survive the ordeal (not really, anyway). But to have them rise up would send even those with the strongest constitutions to weak-knees-ville. Itís against all that we know about nature and, understating the horror, it makes us feel something isnít quite right.

But with zombies, that is not the end of it. Perhaps we wouldnít care about undead wandering around if they, say, ate all the slugs off our lawns or nipped at the dandelions in the garden. But they are never so civilised. After rising up, the undead begin to move towards the unsuspecting, only to find and sometimes, too late, we realise they arenít looking for love but are indeed looking for living human flesh or brains, to eat. Now anyone still with clean trousers at that stage, would definitely lose their load upon seeing the newly deceased chomping through the entrails of one of their friends.

At this point our revulsion over the dead rising changes to fear and we become a rabbit looking at a fox. As we realise our new role in the world as Ďpreyí, our fight or flight responses activate. Some of us run. Running is easy because (in most cases) zombies are stupid and slow. We can run around them and so long as we do not run around like the proverbial fowl minus a cerebellum, or get surrounded, we will be fine. I always thought that if I was in this situation, I would run with my husband and cats (Ďruní in the sense of Ďleave quicklyí rather than proper knee groinching muscle action) to a marina where we would take the largest boat we could find and moor off the coast as far as possible. Iíve even gone so far in my zombie survival plan to formulate how we would survive year on year without having always to go back into towns to scavenge for food. Needless to say, the plan involves a large floatation greenhouse, plant pots and buckets to collect rain water. It would be the first few months that would be the most worrying.

For those that choose fight, however, the fear gets even stronger. Sometimes the fight cannot be avoided and a knife to the skull or a sharp neck slicing sword seems to be the best weapon of choice, as bullets run out. Of course even a sharp piece of wood or pipe would do. A pencil in the eye, for instance, if merely harming the brain is enough to kill the flesh eaters, is a good impromptu weapon. But the fear is strong during any fight with an undead as a bite, a slight scratch (in some films) or even a drip of infected blood in an eye or mouth (in other films) will kill and turn the fighter into a walking corpse.

But, for me, what makes zombies the best enemy and the reason that the games ĎLeft for Deadí and ĎLeft for Dead 2í continue to be my favourites is that I do not feel guilt for killing a zombie. A zombie is not a human, it has no human traits any longer and no matter how hard the scientists in Umbrella research labs try, the zombieís need to kill has never been eradicated. (The only real exception I am aware of is in the Discworld where zombies can be valued members of society.)

Zombies can look like our loved ones and we might be tempted to chain them up in the shed at the bottom of the garden for a while, but if we do end up having to kill them, we can do so with no remorse. They are killers, that is all they are. They do not kill indiscriminately, but they try to kill anyone crossing their paths. They have no family, not usually at any rate (although it did make for a touching scene in I am Legend that the creature cared for his captured partner). But without a family, without friends, without reasons for their rampages (other than to feed), we can fight zombies without ever having to wonder if we are on the right side. The only side there is is the side that survives.

09 February 2013

Why do Harm?

I have sought two things with particular vehemence during my life thus far: love and understanding (the quoting of Cher done entirely unintentionally, you have my word). Love turned out to be the easiest of the two for me to obtain, although my teenage self would never have believed that even if she had been told it by Buddha himself. After too many years believing myself to be entirely unlovable, I met a wonderful man who proved my initial fears moot. He was not the first or last that showed me love, but he is the one that not only asserted my belief in myself but also my belief in my fellow human beings as he is a great, great man (even if he doesnít realise it). Yet with that dazzling and priceless victory under my belt, understanding still escapes me.

By seeking understanding, what I mean is that I have tried to understand those things that directly or indirectly touch my life. We all go through a phase, I am lead to believe, of finding ourselves. I think I may have gone through this at quite an early age, probably due to the amount of thought I have always given to the subject coupled with the lack of dating I embarked on as a teenager which gave me years to devote to the subject and, perhaps, because I am a simple person. To those outside my mind, I may not appear simple. But I believe I am ruled by a simplicity that has formed my personality and my life. It is a simple thing that rules my life, although I appreciate there are many facets to it. Put simply, I am governed by thought. If it doesnít make sense, it probably isnít true, the angry American Judge likes to intone at her star struck litigants. And I believe it.

So when approaching something that I am trying to understand, I try to gather information about it. I donít simply read about the object but I try to engage with the object in as many forms as possible. If I want to understand sex, for instance, I will read about it, watch movies about it, I want to talk to others about it and so on. Itís not good enough to simply take one avenue but necessary to look at all roads leading to that particular object in order to understand it.

Some things are much easier to understand than others due to the limit of information on said item. There is only so much that can be understood, for instance, about tennis, Futurama or Eddie Izzard. And though I may not ever have a complete understanding of anything (including myself), for most everything has a fluidity that means change is constant and inevitable, I do understand many things at the most basic level which at least allows me to function.

But the understanding that eludes me no matter how much cognitive focus I place on it is: Why do people choose to be unkind? Donít get me wrong, I understand the immediate motivations, ie greed, jealousy, ignorance, pain. What I donít understand is the overriding motivation of humanity particularly with this question. (And for the sake of this, I am equating being unkind to doing harm because I believe that is exactly what it does.)

Ignoring some of the obvious topics under Ďunkind humansí such as war, bullying and domestic violence there are two particular topics that have been on my mind recently that are certainly coloured by people who would choose to be unkind over being kind. One is vegetarianism and the other is marriage.

My base level of kindness informs pretty much every aspect of my life. I am vegan and I do my utmost to harm no creature. But when I tell people I am vegan, there are usually 3 types of reactions: apathy, interest or disgust. I normally donít lead with the fact that Iím vegan as it is a personal choice that my husband and I made long before we were married, but it is something that can arise particularly when we are invited out for a meal or to the pub for a drink (as not all drinks, particularly beer much to my husbandís irritation, are not vegetarian let alone vegan).

Apathy worries me little as life is too short to interact with everything in this world and I completely understand that reaction. The same goes for interest, as I am always happy to talk about my thoughts on the subject. But I find disgust a strange reaction. Why would me not eating animals or animal products cause people anger or aversion towards me? I simply do not understand. But I digress.

I know people that if faced with a vegetarian alternative that is identical to the non-vegetarian equivalent (other than the one main difference that no animals were harmed in the formerís making), they will choose the non-vegetarian option. (And if Iím present when the choice is made, it seems to bring the chooser much pleasure in pointing out how the choice was the non-vegetarian option.) But honestly, I do not understand this. Why would anyone choose to (directly or indirectly) harm another creature for no other reason than to cause the creature pain or death? It makes no sense to me. No matter how many times I roll it around my brain like a ball bearing in a labyrinth, I cannot get the silver bugger to drop down a hole and let me understand.

Marriage is another example of the kind/unkind scenario. Logically 2 individuals that love each other and that can enter into a contract (ie compos mentis, age of majority, etcetera) should be allowed to have the piece of paper allowing them to call each other spouses. Seems to me, a foregone conclusion regardless of the gender of each individual. People against the freedom to marry muddy the waters. Ignoring the nonsense arguments brought about by the Ďslippery slopeí of marriage to non-human animals, inanimate objects and children (btw, some nations allow marriage to girls under the age of 10, would you believe) there seems to be 2 arguments used over and over, neither of which helps my understanding in choosing to be unkind: arguments based on religion and on tradition.

Again I digress as I am not making a case for Marriage Equality, although I am willing to do so. This piece again is about my understanding. I simply do not understand why normally intelligent individuals will take the position that they take which, from a logical perspective, causes harm to others. People choose what they believe. Belief is not something anyone is born with. At a certain age, we all decide what we are willing to accept and what we are not willing to accept religion and otherwise. So some religious subscribers will engage in pre-marital sex and the use of contraception, eating of shellfish / pork, or wearing cloth of two materials whilst still arguing against marriage between gay men or women based on Biblical references. Although this article isnít about hypocrisy either, I deem it important to point out the hypocrisy because it really is at the heart of my not being able to understand the motivations behind peopleís actions. And I still ainít gettiní it.

I know the arguments to each of the topics above. But none of them have any force because the bottom line is, you either choose to harm or choose to do no harm. Why would any person choose to harm? Setting aside those that have some deformity of mind that encourages or even enjoys harming others, I do not understand why people choose to be unkind even when the kind choice would not even impact on their lives. But maybe that is the key, maybe it is the impact on their lives that pushes them towards the unkind choice.

There are so many instances of people choosing harm over kindness. I spend hours thinking about why people respond or react to others in the ways that they do and all I keep coming back to is that the overriding motivation behind their actions must be selfishness. They donít seem to be thinking about others or about anything but their own beliefs, prejudices and neuroses. They do not look to understand or to make informed choices. They take a stand regardless of how many others it harms. There seems to be an inherent selfishness to peopleís actions when they choose to be unkind and to harm over being kind and doing no harm. Why do people choose to be mean? When being kind would take the same amount of effort (or less) and result in the same or similar outcome? Maybe Iíll study psychology someday to try to get a better understanding of human nature. Maybe Iíll even figure it out. And on that day I will be crowned Queen of the Milky Way.

24 January 2013

Loss

Seemed like the right time to blog about loss. The world lost a wonderful woman last week, my Aunt, and it seemed right to talk a bit about my feelings and thoughts on the matter.

My Aunt was a beautiful woman. I only knew her for a short time, really, but my memories about her are filled with happiness and love. I do feel quite a heavy sense of loss at her passing, although that loss had started long before she was physically gone. When she moved out of Michigan, we lost her from our lives and I mourned that loss some 30 years ago and again recently when we found each other for only a short time.

I find loss a strange thing. It seems to be an emotion thrust upon us by our own thoughts even when there is no actual loss at the time. I battle with loss almost every day, for my thoughts return to those loved ones no longer in my life for one reason or another. I mourn the loss of those that have passed, and also for those that are alive but just so far away that I cannot smell their hair, hear their voices or touch their cheeks. The internet helps a bit with the latter loss, as emails can be sent and received and Facebook in particular can make one feel that everyone is just a click away. But it is not the same as being able to hug.

As I write this, I have tears in my eyes. Visions of my Aunt, my cousin who was just a baby when they left, my Grandpa, my dogs Damien and Angel and so many others fill my mind with wonderful fond memories and deep pain-filled loss. We are all creatures of loss. We all feel it. We all have to endure it during our lives, some much more than others, unfortunately. Yet we all will continue to feel it. No one can insolate themselves from the pain of loss for even that action brings on a sense of loss itself.

Neither worry nor fear about my own death clouds my mind, truth be known, as I think of death really as just another part of life. I worry about my loved ones dying, parents, sisters, husband or my cats, before me. That brings on another bout of tears for me as I feel the loss that is yet to come. How I wish I could feel the happiness yet to come from the years they will be in my life! But instead, I cry. I cry at the thought of losing them so having to feel the loss at the thought of having the loss.

I donít believe in an afterlife or any heaven/hell scenarios but I believe that we should make every moment of our lives count. I do not always do this and that is when the infinitely ugly, scaly and pimply head of regret rears. I wish I had emailed my Aunt more. I wish I had gone to visit her. I wish I had called her on the phone and let her know how much I truly love her. But I didnít. And that is something that intensifies my loss. But in some ways, that regret will make my world better. I have already started reminding my loved ones of the love I hold for them. It is only a small thing I know, but it eases the burden on my heart.

I love you Aunt Deanna.

05 January 2013

Empathy

I read an article about one of the children that was killed in the Newtown Massacre today. It brought me to tears to think of the poor children that were killed, the families now that will live forever in grief because of their losses and the stupidity of a portion of the American people who seem to think that gun control means the absence of all guns. I put the last down to ignorance and being evil; those who donít understand what people mean by gun control can be educated, those that are evil will continue to fight and promote their agenda despite the truth. But this blog is not about gun control. Itís about empathy.

This is because my husband came into the room after I read the article. He asked if I was okay and I told him of course I was. He said he was only asking because I appeared to have been crying; I still had tears on my cheeks which I quickly wiped away. I explained that I had read this article about a little boy, Noah was his name, and about the pain and suffering caused by the gunman. My husband took my hand, heís a sweetheart like that, and said that it was so strange to him how I could feel their pain. And I do. He said it must be horrible for me to endure everyone elseís pain including my own. It is. He said I shouldnít put myself through it. I said, this is just how I am.

I was 14 when I realised what sort of person I was. Always being empathetic (I bawled when watching ĎHere Comes Garfieldí in 1982 when Odie was going to be put to sleep at the dog pound!), it wasnít really until I was 14 that I understood things in the world. And the older I get, the more concerned I am for the state of our world.

There does appear to be a lack of empathy in the world today. Unfortunately, I understand all too well that this is not a new phenomenon. This is how humans are and have always been. The truth is, there are wonderfully compassionate people out there, but many of them are either stifled due to family/societal pressures or they are corrupted by stronger negative influences or their voices are just not loud enough to be heard over the furore of nastiness. Sometimes a shining light is able to catch the worldís attention, like Malala Yousafzai, and I think perhaps things arenít as bad as they seem. It is important to understand that the Empaths, as I love to see us, are not weak. But what we have sometimes done is believed in, ĎLive and let live.í But evil doesnít think the same way.

A particular pretty Blonde from a Bottle in the US continues to astound me by showing how articulate people can be when touting for the carnage of those they donít dislike. And then there are the posters on facebook calling for, inter alia, mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients. Where is the empathy? Where is the humanity? Where is the understanding that those on welfare likely feel bad enough (many societies certainly try hard to make people on benefits feel like scroungers and second class citizens) yet others donít feel they have been demonised enough. They think, letís force anyone requiring assistance to jump through the most soul-destroying, degrading hoops we can imagine; that way, only those that really need it will make it through. THATíS NOT HOW IT WORKS!

I so often wonder whether these people ever stop and put themselves in the shoes of those they are demonising. Do people ever think to themselves, to use an often used phrase in the US and other places, ĎThere but for the grace of God go Ií? But they donít. Blonde from a Bottle referred to above is rich. Very rich. I donít hate her because of it. In fact, I actually quite like money. Money can be the answer to many problems: hunger, leaking roof, broken down carÖ What I donít understand is whether it is money that corrupts or do those that are corrupt accumulate money? Sheís a lawyer. Well, Iím a lawyer too. But the thing that she seems lacking in is any sort of humanity. She believes anything that is Ďliberalí is evil. Although, as a lawyer, her arguments are severely lacking in any true justification as to why this is. It is almost as though her arguments end with, ĎBecause I said so.í That never worked for my Mother against me, and she is the person I love most in this world; it certainly wonít work for a woman that I find reprehensible in every way.

But where has her empathy gone? Was it destroyed through years of applying chemicals to her body, that is dying her hair and slapping tons of make-up on? Was it stripped from her in law school where people should be learning how to encourage liberty and justice and not demolish it? Or was it destroyed during her up bringing? Maybe her parents didnít love her much. Maybe her pony trod on her foot one too many times and she got angry. Or maybe she was just born evil. I donít know. But it frightens me. It frightens me because her voice is louder than mine. And her voice is the epitome of all the evils in this world.

I believe in the goodness of people. I believe in humanity. But I fear that those with the loudest voices rein supreme, if we let them. Humans can be the most selfish creatures. And if we donít stop it, selfishness will be the driving force behind every action, law and war et al in the future. Why would people want to leave a world more worse for wear than the one they were born into? The answer is a sad one: They donít care. For them, they are the centre of the universe. Itís all about them. They only look at themselves and what is best for them. They donít care about their neighbours, humanity or the human race, America, the rest of the world or Earth. What they care about is what is best for them. Liberals and conservatives can fight for a better world, and fight we must. They can even agree on many things. But if one side is fighting for only Ďwhat is mineí and the other is fighting for everyone, never the twain shall meet.

I have heard empathy cannot be taught. I would say, try teaching it anyway. Teach it to your children, to your lover, to your peers, to the world. For without empathy, all will be lost.

29 December 2012

The New Year

The new year for me always starts with a Bah Humbug (that technically begins just before Christmas and lingers until people stop greeting me with a ĎHappy New Yearí). I donít mean to be irritable this time of year, but I think it has something to do with the loss of magic upon becoming an adult and knowing better. If I had children Iím sure my feelings would be different, but thatís not going to happen so I will have to just accept my Jekyl and Hyde-type personality trait, with it alternating between Burl Ives and Ebenezer Scrooge throughout December and January.

I have figured it out though, why Iím such a misery guts this time of year: I always shy away from the things that Ďeveryoneí else does at this time of year. Seriously, I am not a joiner which is probably the most evident on New Yearís Eve.

Brits like fireworks on New Years Eve. I stopped enjoying fireworks when I was about 14. That was pretty much when my eyes were opened more than I would have liked them to be, and I started seeing everything in the world and not just the end of my own nose. So I donít like fireworks. Who doesnít like fireworks? They are pretty, they are celebratory, they are fun! I donít like them. Although it is more appropriate to say Iím ambivalent, really.

Part of the problem I have with fireworks that they are used as a tradition: in the US itís the fourth of July and in England itís 5 November (Guy Falkes/Bonfire Night) and New Years Eve. I shy away from most things that make me feel like I am mindlessly following something because I was told to follow it. Iíve seen fireworks; I donít need to see them again. They havenít gotten any better over the years (unfortunately) but are just a repeat of what Iíve seen over and over again. So, they are superfluous to my life. I wonít go into the actual gatherings associated with fireworks (the drunken picnics in July or the sodden piss-ups in November). I donít hate the gatherings, truth be told, I just donít care for the focal points of those gatherings being on the sulphur driven booms and flashes in the sky.

Then there is the noise; it scares my cats. I donít like seeing any creature frightened when I have no ability to explain to him/her that s/he will be okay and there really is nothing to be scared of. For many animals including young children, every Fireworks Night is as if their world is being attacked by insurgents with ground to air missiles and cluster bombs that happen to display beautiful colours in the sky before raining detritus over the land or water. I doubt my cats think the insurgents are actually mice, but in my head they must be; either that or dogs. But whatever you think about fireworks, my cats seem to believe they are under attack for those nights of the year, and it hurts me to watch them shiver with fear and anxiety every time.

I also donít like fireworks because of the damage they do to the environment. I accept the damage is minimal, but seeing as I already have points 1 and 2 above encouraging my irritation about fireworks, number 3 certainly is yet another straw. Not that I think fireworks should be banned; Iím not one to take away othersí fun so long as it doesnít harm any other living creature. It would be nice if the noise of the fireworks was reduced so that it didnít scare so many animals and small children though, but as it only happens a few days of the year usually, Iím not too bothered about them. Iím just not very interested in them either.

Alcohol is another mainstay of New Years. I remember when I was young, my parents would go out for New Years. I never saw them inebriated which is probably part of the reason why Iím the way I am. But what I do remember about them coming home is that they always brought home hats and noise makers, leaving them on the kitchen table for us girls to play with in the morning. I remember wanting to go to those parties; what a wonderful place, to be given such shiny objects! But alas, I do not attend those types of parties. I do not drink nor do I spend time around those that do drink, often. I donít have a problem with alcohol, I just donít like the taste; and Iím not one to force myself into Ďgetting used to somethingí (same reason why I donít drink coffee or tea). So yet another New Yearís tradition that is duly avoided by yours truly.

And I donít like singing Auld Lang Syne nor the British tradition of crossing your arms and holding everyoneís hands whilst everyone sings it. It make me cringe internally when I even think about doing it. I just donít like doing anything for Ďtraditionís sakeí. There has to be more to it for me. Why sing Auld Lang Syne? If it was a nice song, and the dance moves were fun, sure letís sing! But thatís not why itís sung. Itís sung because Ďitís always sung on New Yearsí, or worse still, Ďwe sing it for good luck!í Argh.

I donít believe in luck, good or otherwise. Sometimes I feel I have the worst luck in the world. But I know luck is nothing more than a label to describe a feeling. Everyone has good days, bad days, happy days and sad days. Everyone has near misses and near hits. Everyone has heart stopping moments and moments when our hearts will burst out of our chests. Thatís just life. Some have more good things than others. Some have more bad things than others. No one is lucky because lucky is not something anyone can be. So I refuse to do anything for Ďluckís sakeí. But I digress.

The final bug to add to my Bah Hums is what happens on 1 January every year. New Yearís Resolutions! I get why people make them and I even agree with the base thinking. But they irritate me. If you want to change something about yourself, just change it. Donít witter on about it as if 1 Jan is a magical day that will take all of your bad habits and replace them with good ones. Being Ďgoodí is hard work. I canít do it. Iíd love to be a size 10 with toned muscles and cyclistís legs and have the cleanest house, be the most organised and best prepared for work. But that is all hard work and with everything else in my life, I have to prioritise. (Video games always seem to win out over housework and exercise for some reasonÖ)

I accept resolutions are a way of people trying to start fresh. I just find it all so arbitrary. The first of January is a day of the year, like any other day of the year. It has no more significance than the 14th of June or the 27th of September. Itís just a day. But again, I would not dream of taking away the resolution day. If people find they are able to change their lives by Ďresolvingí the change starting from the first, then I wish them good luck in their endeavours. Iím just too aware that most resolutions collapse before February. Sometimes I find that the farce made of resolution day makes it just that; like an ouroboros, ie never ending cycle. Part of the trouble is the announcement of the resolution; anything that takes work can be made harder under the judging eyes of friends and family. I just think choose to change your life and do it; you donít have to wait until you change your calendar.

Iím not a gloomy person. Really, Iím not. Iím actually quite happy in my own way. And I am not trying to take away peopleís fun. Iím just honest in my perceptions and feelings of things. I find doing things because Ďthatís what weíve always doneí an irresponsible way of living. Do things because you want to do them, because they have a purpose or they bring goodness/kindness/happiness into this world. Thatís what makes me happy. Not following something by rote that someone in the not so distant past decided was fun/appropriate to do on a certain day each year. Make your own traditions in this life and donít use past traditions as excuses for not changing or not doing something better.

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year. May you succeed in whatever you put your mind to in this year and every one forever after.

xox

27 November 2012

The Subjunctive

I did well in school. Not only did I enjoy learning, but I enjoyed the actual work too. I know, geeks-ville, a lovely little village Iíve always been happy living in. And up until University (which I will astutely ignore for this entry), I always did my homework. But a literary genius, I am not even close. It is true that mistakes in the written word do grate on me. Donít get me wrong, they are usually minor annoyances that most days barely register in my conscious world, unless other minor annoyances have joined with them to drown me in one massive tsunami of annoyance, that is. So today, as I dry myself from the tsunami) I will talk about the Subjunctive.

I am not ashamed to say, I donít really know what the Subjunctive is. And before I get a lot of emails, I have actually read about it. And Iíve thought about it. And I have come to the conclusion that I donít really care what it is. I only know the word Subjunctive because Sheldon Cooper (that loveable character on The Big Bang Theory) mentioned it. Before he mentioned it I knew of it, but little about it. Needless to say, the only thing that is important to note is that it is a grammar rule. A spiteful, hate-mongering rule that despises me and all my kind. (Okay, maybe that is going a bit far, but it does feel that way some times.)

The annoyance I have with the Subjunctive is that it takes a perfectly acceptable verb (was) and changes it, in my opinion, unacceptably. It forces the speaker or writer into an uncomfortable situation, that of using the words ĎIí and Ďwereí straight after one another. I have no use for this. My prose may not be the most polished in the world, but I know what sounds wrong (most of the time), and ĎI wereí is never melodious to my ear.

Not only does the phrase not sound right, but after looking it up, it also seems inordinately complicated. Itís used here but not there, when this but not thatÖ no one needs that sort of headache. We just want to talk, we just want to get our points across, tell our stories and what not. Why would we bother worrying about such a think like this for? It is not simply a change in tense (as we are used to), but the use of a wrong tensed verb in a protracted situation that frankly we could live without.

So why did I write about it? Mainly because it is a bug-bear of mine. I hate hearing ĎI wereí or Ďshe/he/it wereí. It sounds wrong. It hurts my sensibilities that all scream that the verb is WAS not WERE. But more importantly, I wanted to make it clear that many of us that are aware of particular grammatical rules choose to defy them. It doesnít sound right and Iím not saying it. You can say I was a rebel for speaking out against this rule, if you must. But donít say you wish that I were a rebel in other ways. That just wouldnít be funny.

6 November 2012

So my blog for today is about the US Presidential Election. Hardly surprising that it is in on my mind (being American but in the UK, I havenít been bombarded by it like those living in the US). Even so I am tired of hearing about it, although I am hopeful that the Republicans are kept out of the white house, ultimately I am quite ambivalent about the election.

Donít get me wrong. I want Obama to win. Not that I think Romney is evil incarnate, mind. (He might be, but I only have circumstantial evidence at the moment so I canít prove it.) But I do believe Obama has been a good President. I would like to see him do more to make the US a better place, but I know that his hands are tied when Congress is controlled at least in part by the Republicans. What I am ambivalent about is the entire political system in the US.

There are fundamental problems with elections in the United States and no matter how good a person is taking office, the corruption taints everyone. Itís as if we can only view the politicians through a window and that window has been urinated on by the bad politicians. Everyone behind the window looks like they are covered in urine whether they did the urinating or not. Thatís how I view the corruption.

I still believe, naively or otherwise, that many politicians enter politics not for financial gain or power but because they believe they can make a difference. It is public service and some people really do want to serve the public and make the country a better place. Unfortunately, Iím not sure how many of those types of politicians there are in the US. I believe Obama is one of them, though again, I have no firm evidence either way. I do know that when he speaks I believe what he says, and I canít say the same thing about any of the republican candidates.

I am not one for conspiracies or espionage, even if I do write about them occasionally. But I confess I have had visions of evil men in tailored suits standing around a black cauldron with a green liquid bubbling away casting an eerie green glow over their faces as they discuss how they can take power in the US. Do I believe there are conspiracies? That is conspiracy defined as a surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons. You betcha I believe. And the only way to dispel conspiracies is through transparency. If we can see and hear it all, there can be no conspiracy.

Okay, so when I started writing this blog I hadnít realised how fed up I am of talking about the US political system and the election. But apparently Iíve drawn a line in the sand and I am done. But I will just leave with the few points I think need to be mentioned:

  • It should be 1 person = 1 vote and shouldnít matter what state a voter is from.

  • Free speech should not be understood as carte blanch to lie, mislead or misinterpret.

  • Political parties should be limited in the amount of money that can be raised and the amount of money they can pay to try to elect a candidate. In the UK each political party gets 3 spots on TV, period. They arenít allowed to buy more time. Politicians should be voted in based on how they will make the country and world a better place, not how much money they have.

  • Without regulation, the free market spews all over the consumer. This thought is in response to a friendís Facebook post about getting 13 calls of a political nature this morning before 7am alone. That is ridiculous, but all comes down to the free market (ie companies are being paid to call as many as they can and likely theyíre being paid per call) and regulations (ie the government could say people donít want this and therefore we wonít allow it).

I believe Government is a good thing. But without regulation, Governments become tyrannical and fanatical. And this is, I fear, the path that the US is on. I hope they are able to derail that runaway train.

3 November 2012

I have always heard how some people bottle up their emotions. They put on a smile even when they are crying inside. I used to think I did this. But with the advent of social media, all of our emotions can be aired as and when we wish. And some do so, ad infinitum. But I view my posts on social media as if I am standing in the middle of a crowded room, shouting out things. If I wouldn't want everyone in the room to hear what I am shouting, I don't post it on my page.

But this leads to a conundrum. Because social media is there also, I think, as a form of self-therapy. We can yell and scream, bitch and moan about what is going on in the world and in our own lives. It is cathartic to be able to rant about the elections, plead for support for a supported cause or whinge about not feeling well. It is wonderful still when your friends/family/acquaintances reply back with support, even if all it is is a clicked 'like' button. It's a strange thing to be at once separated from everyone but with a feeling of closeness that can never be attained in the real world with so many different people in so many different locations. But you can't be honest all the time, can you?

That's really the point, isn't it? If you were honest about everything, if you were standing in the middle of the crowded room and you yell out, 'I am cranky because I started my period today', you would make most if not all of your 'friends' cringe. I have found that there are times when I want to rant about something, but it affects another of my 'friends'. Something someone did or said has enraged me to want to speak my mind, but if I do, they will know I am enraged. And I don't think that is right.

Don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to have an argument with anyone, ask my husband if you don't believe me. That's one of the reasons I became a lawyer and I'm pleased to say, I normally get my fill of arguing in court so that my home-life is relatively angst-free. Relatively being the operative word.

I have been hurt, as have we all, by people close to me. I have wanted to shout it out, in that crowded room, so that some of my more loyal 'friends' give me a pat on the back and tell me everything is going to be okay. For some reason this tiny amount of kindness is something that helps me through the day. Just to have a few written words on my page helps me feel that maybe things aren't so bad as I felt they were. And I love my 'friends' for it. But you can't always shout it out. Or at least, I can't.

The reality of my predicament is that I am very much aware of what I say having an effect on others. I am aware that nasty comments are not simply forgotten once an apology is forthcoming. You can never take back a comment you have made. You can clarify it, if you did not mean it the way the person thought you meant it, and you can quantify it so that the person can understand the perimeters within which the comment was made; but it can never be withdrawn once it is heard.

For that reason, I am not wholly honest on my social media page. No matter how another has 'wronged' me or hurt me, I do not air this dirty laundry on my page. Because I am of the opinion that even if someone has hurt me, it is still not right to hurt him/her back. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is what I believe. No crap about the world being created in 6 days by a deity that is perfect yet jealous of other 'false' deities even though He knows there are no other deities... But that's a rant for another day. Simply this, my rant for today is: think about others in the world and try to put yourself in their places so that you treat them the way you would like to be treated. And if we could all do this occasionally, the world would be a better place for it.






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