Moon Cake

Don’t try moon cake. It’s a little snack  in Thailand, and it’s basically a salted egg yolk with some kind of bean paste to coat it. Genuinely, don’t go near it. It is a vile creature, designed to cause a mass-suicide of your taste buds.  It’s one of those things that sets you up to believe it’s amazing (I mean, come on – MOON CAKE) and then disappoints you brutally.

The same, however, cannot be said for a for a friend of mine from Thailand who, even though she gets her nickname from this assault on your mouth, is nothing like it. I call her that because of an unfortunate incident during a drunken game of beer-pong, in which she awoke from her alcohol-induced nap (having laid across four people), shot bolt upright and announced her craving for moon cake. She would then proceed to visit the 7-11 down the road, under the watchful eye of a friend of mine, with a look of sore disappointment on her face when she returned.  Even alcohol, it seemed, could not mask the taste of this particular snack, which she’d been so looking forward to. For the rest of the night, the remains of the moon cake lay abandoned on the table, whilst she, with the expression of a sulky five-year-old, continued her nap.

The events of this day, according to my calculations, happened on about the 17th of July, well over 3 months ago, in our little accommodation in Koh Samui, Thailand. Madam Moon Cake, as she is now known, is in fact the girl I mentioned in These Islands: Part III, my friend from my travels and my companion back to Heathrow. And when I said in that blog post that I thought I’d never hear from her again, I was wrong.

It’s a lovely feeling when someone you grew fond of messages you out of the blue, and tells you about their life. A 45-minute phone call, updating each other on work, university, parents, love-lives and the future, and we’re back where we started 3 months ago.

I think, in the last year or so, I’ve become more and more old-fashioned. I’ve learnt my dislike for Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and texting. Instead, I always prefer to meet in person, or at the very least, talk on the phone. There’s something too clinical about typing to another person when you could just as easily talk or spend time face-to-face. Given that she lives in Aberdeen, the latter is somewhat ambitious, but phone time will do. At least I hear  a real person on the other end of a connection, someone familiar, whose mannerisms and voice and emotions, once upon a time, I knew.

Don’t get me wrong, I like technology. I love it, in fact.  It’s one of the most useful things that exists now. But for me, it’s something I employ when reality is not possible, as opposed to something I use in place of it. There are exceptions to that rule – blogs, for instance.

Blogging in my case is about disseminating a message to many people at once, It is important to me that other people see some of the things I write (not all of them; that’s what private posts are for). The difference between talking and blogging is that I don’t get to see your reactions. I know you are there, and hopefully I’ve made you smile, but I will never know for sure.

If you want a guaranteed smile from every post you read, you’re not going to get it from this blog. I’m too serious sometimes. You’re better off visiting the blog below, which happens to be the blog of one Madam Moon Cake:

empoweringpositivity.wordpress.com

Do you think she’ll mind that I told the moon cake story? Ah, one of these days, I’m going to be taken out by a sniper, aren’t I?

Caffeine High

It’s been eight days since my last post, and this time, it’s not because I’ve been lazy. The last week has been the most packed week I’ve had in a while, trying to balance all of the start-of-year university socials, the new assignments, the new course notes and new people, all whilst trying to get enough to eat and enough sleep. One thing had to break in the life-sleep-eat routine. In my case, it’s the “Eat”.

Don’t worry, I still eat. I’ve just had very little time to cook. Nowadays, my meals are the epitomy of student life: Uncle Ben’s rice, pasta salads, and of course, the still wonderful frozen pizzas.  I have a friend who really doesn’t eat, and if she’s reading this blog: Eat.

When you start a new academic year, or even term, you’ve just come back from a summer during which you’ve most likely done close to nothing. Your work ethic is summed up by the space between the following quotation marks: ” “.

I come back to University, and my course, and all of sudden, I’m in second year. Second year is worse than first year, for many reasons one:

- No Fresher’s week.

- No getting away with things “because you’re new.”

- The work is harder.

- I don’t know how it works for other Universities, but for Southampton, you only have to pass first year (get above 40% on average) to get into second year, and whatever you get doesn’t matter because it doesn’t count towards your final degree. Second year,  on the other hand, counts.

Now I have to work. And I haven’t worked since I got here. Not properly. Not like they expect you to in Uni. Just because I’ve not gotten into my work ethic yet.  Many things changed however, in the last day.

For one, my laptop is officially broken. It’s taken a mind of it’s own, turning itself on and off at will, generally pissing me off and being impossible to use. Apparently it’s a motherboard problem, and it’s expensive to fix, which means I need to find a new laptop. In that time, I have nothing. I am forced to use the university computers.

This was a good move for my work ethic. The library environment is incredibly conducive to work – the presence of strangers around you doing exactly the same thing compels me to work too. Indeed, I’ve just come back from finishing a lab report due in on Monday. Putting aside the fact that I’ve done it a day early, which is incredible in itself (as the old saying goes, “If tomorrow is not the due day, today is not the do day”), I’ve actually done it well. This done, of course, with the help of a significant amount of coffee and Red Bull, which is currently still firing through my system. Incidentally, that’s why this post is called “Caffeine High”. My caffeine highs, by the way, are characterised by short sentences – it reflects my brain pace at the time: short and sharp.

The other thing that changed is that I finally broke out of my cycle of laziness and went swimming in the morning. With the help of a friend of mine, who said she’d come with me. And yes, that is the same friend who doesn’t eat. She does exercise every day, and somehow doesn’t appreciate the fact that monstrous amounts of cardio and no calories is not a healthy lifestyle.

Now that I’ve broken that cycle, I feel better. I’m about to have dinner with a friend of mine, still high on caffeine. And no, this is not the  friend who doesn’t eat. This is the friend from last week.

Ah, this is going to be interesting. So is sleeping.

You Meet People Twice In Your Life

I was having breakfast with someone who is becoming a good friend of mine, and in our discussion, she used the phrase “You meet people twice in your life.” Putting aside, for now, the Sheldon-Cooper-style statistical rebuttal I could give to this idea and instead assuming it to be true, let’s examine it a little.

Extensive research (“research”, noun, synonymous with “Google”) indicates that this phrase is German in origin, from an unknown date and unknown time. This was surprisingly difficult to ascertain, because the phrase has been translated into many different languages, and some claim to be the first to say it. It doesn’t matter who said it first – rather, it is important that people claim to be the first, and that it has been said by many, because both of these facts indicate that people really, really like this saying. It shows that people find it to be truthful, or at the very least, desirable.

My conversation with my friend was about something most people I know are getting sick of me mentioning: my summer trip to Thailand. I was talking about the people I’ve met, and how I missed them a great deal. In saying, “We meet people twice”, she was reassuring me that it wouldn’t be the last time I saw them. I guess there’s some rational in this. I met the people I did because I loved travelling and so did they. Is it not unreasonable to suggest that like-minded people might think in similar ways and be drawn to the same place at the same time, more than once? Clearly, there is some truth behind it.

For me, however, there’s a further meaning to this phrase, which goes beyond the realm of reassurance, to trespass into territory of teaching. It’s not just meant to tell you that you might meet people more than once.  It’s meant to prepare you to meet people the first time. It teaches you to not burn bridges, to not act as if this is the last time you’ll see a person, because you don’t know what kind of a role that person may end up playing in your life. And you don’t. Trust me, you don’t. And if you think you do, you’re wrong, and moreover, you’re wrong most of the time.

You won’t meet everyone in your lives a second time, but treat them as if you might.  Burning bridges, not caring to get to know people, is something I feel I’ve been guilty of the past few weeks, and I would be wise to change that practice.

A prime example of this idea, this principle that people may turn up again in your lives under different circumstances, is contained within this blog post. At the end of last academic year, I took a girl on a first date. The lessons learnt from that are detailed in an earlier blog post, somewhere in mid-June, called Time and Reflections. I never thought I’d see her again, because she was going to graduate this summer. I was wrong.

The getting-to-be-a-good-friend of mine who inspired this blog post, the one who I had breakfast with? It’s the same girl.

herlittlejournal.wordpress.com

A Sunday Doublethink

I said I’d try and do a blog post a day, but life tends to get in the way. That phrasing reveals something of my own perception of this blog – the only way that life could get in the way is if this blog was not part of my life.

From a technical standpoint, that is clearly utter garbage. My life is the only thing I can ever do from start to finish, and all other things I do are subsets of subsets of it.Metaphorically, however, my life is my day-to-day activity, my experiences and stories. When I write about myself and my actions or thoughts, I have to remove myself from my own life, and treat it as if I was telling someone else’s story. This blog allows me to step outside my own world line (my progression through space and time), and therefore outside of my “life.”

I always find it fascinating to compare the figurative and physical realities. More specifically, I like to note where the physical reality differs from the metaphorical in an overt way, and then why it does so.

Take the phrase, “What goes up must come down.”

I won’t go so far as to say that NASA proved that wrong in 1969, when Apollo 11 “came down” on the Moon instead of Earth, which is the intention behind the phrase. I’d like to say that, but the Moon is part of Earth’s gravitational field. To be sure that you’d never come down, you’d need to be outside the significant influence of the Earth.

The Soviets did, crash landing their Venera 4 space probe on the surface of the planet Venus in 1967, the first instance of utter independence from Earth. The Voyager One space probe has, as of 2014, gone further “up” than any other man-made object in the recorded history of the human species, currently about 30AU (1 AU = Distance from Earth to the Sun = 150 million km) from Earth. It is approaching the region known as the heliopause – that is to say, the point where the sun’s gravitational influence becomes less significant than the surrounding stars. In principle, Voyager One and Two could continue travelling indefinitely through interstellar space, and never come down.

Why does this phrase exist then? It does seem to parallel a lot of rises and falls of peoples, empires, ideologies, religions and most other man made objects. Crucially, it exists because at the time it was first stated or conceived, all things that went up always did come down. The reason this phrase contradicts reality is because reality is far more imaginative than we are, and humans are far better than our ancestors ever believed of us. It gives me a little bit of hope.

Would you believe that all of that was a side note on what was supposed to be a short note on something I’ve noticed? Here is what the original post was meant to be:

Do you remember, as a child, being told, “You are perfect just the way you are!”, and believing it?

Do you also remember being taught that “Nobody’s perfect…”, and agreeing with that, too?

Does it strike anyone else that we repeat to our kids these two phrases, believe them when we say them, expect our kids to believe them, and yet both phrases directly contradict each other? It’s one of the larger examples of doublethink I can think of, and if you don’t know what that is, read Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell.

I think it’s time to pick one, and roll with it.

On The Veg or Non-Veg Debate

This is quite a divisive topic, and I don’t quite know why I decided to write a post about it. But hey, I’ve gotten this far, so let’s have a go.

There are eight people here in Southampton who I consider to be my closest friends, although that list is growing in no predictable way. Of those eight, one is vegan (no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no leather, no fur, no animal-tested products), one is vegetarian (no meat), one is pescetarian (no meat except fish), one is vegetarian for four days of the week, and the rest of us eat meat. That last category includes me.

By eat meat, I mean I will eat it if it’s put in front of me. My parents and my sister are vegetarian, and all the time I am home I cook, or am cooked, vegetarian food, which I love. I was taught to cook by my mum, and so all the recipes I know use only vegetables and dairy. My sister taught me to use eggs, because my mum doesn’t like the smell of them. Occasionally when I cook at home, I put ham in my omelettes, but only if I can’t find onions. Most things I make are not vegan, but vegetarian. I can effortlessly switch between being veg and non-veg, because I have been both for huge parts of my life.

I never really engaged with the consequences of my consumption habits until maybe a year ago. I only really became aware of the debate raging on the factory floor when I was advised by a friend of mine (the vegan, as it happens), to like a Facebook page called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Links to their website and Facebook page are down below. They are a charity which supports and encourages a vegan lifestyle and tries to highlight instances of cruelty, as well as running campaigns and protests for animal welfare across the world.

From this page, I began to understand the issues. As you might guess, they have a significant bias in this debate, but of course, that makes complete sense. I encourage you to like their page if you wish to actually confront this issue for yourself.

There are some meat-eaters I know which will mock vegetarians and vegans. They call vegetarian food “rabbit food”, they tell me that vegetarians ruin their fun, and that they are whiners and complainers. They’ll tell them to shut up and deliberately try to make them feel uncomfortable. There are vegans and vegetarians who do the same thing in reverse. I was on a guided tour in America with several other Indians I have never met. In this group of ten, vegetarians were a majority. At every meal, non-veg was told to sit at a different table, because the old lady on the vegetarian table said to the tour guide that “meat made her feel uncomfortable”, and that she “did not want to associate with meat-lovers”. I was rather shocked when the tour guide complied and told us to move. Some vegans will even mock vegetarians, the common complaint being that being vegetarian is a half-hearted attempt to “feel better about yourself” when in fact they do nothing at all about the welfare of animals.

The more sophisticated on all three fronts of this debate will argue with reasons regarding practicality, health, morality and evolutionary biology. There are so many valid arguments, and I cannot espouse them all in this post. Most people know them, anyway, and you can look them up any time you want. More importantly, these people will attempt to be tolerant of the others. My vegan friend usually keeps her reasons to herself. She only recommended the PETA page to me after I asked her a little about her beliefs. She used to eat meat, and will happily sit with others who eat meat and eggs, or use dairy, and never complains. Occasionally she has a craving for meat and has a strip of bacon, but that only happens once every few months. When it happens, she doesn’t beat herself up about it because it makes it harder to keep it up in the long term. Genuinely, she’s one of the most laid-back of her kind. The non-veg in my close friendship group are more than happy to cook vegetarian (indeed, I only cook vegetarian). We eat vegetarian and vegan food with the others. None of us judge the others for their beliefs, because we don’t expect others to have the same priorities as us.

I don’t think most meat-eaters like myself think too much about what they put in their mouths. Not because they are stupid, but because they don’t want to or were never encouraged to. Most non-veg people grew up eating whatever was put on the plate in front of them. Most kids will feel sad if their mum tells them they accidentally ran over a chicken today on the road. And they’ll feel sad whilst eating a bag of chicken nuggets in McDonalds. It’s not that they are hypocrites. It’s simply that they never associate the two ideas. This, in my opinion, is largely down to marketing in the food industry wrenching apart the two quite effectively in the public eye.

From all the different points on the non-veg to vegan spectrum, and all the fields of argument that can come up, it most amuses me when a non-vegetarian like myself tries to make a moral argument for their position. That is to say, it amuses me when they try to argue that their position is morally right and good. From my experience, it can’t be done.

In this debate, I freely and openly admit that the vegan lifestyle is utterly morally superior. Any meat-eater who believes that eating animals is morally acceptable is engaging in a vast act of wishful thinking, denial and self-deception. Objectively, it cannot be true.

Let’s agree on one premise, and if you don’t, I’d be interested to know why: A good action is one which increases the well-being of conscious creatures on this planet. I borrow this phrasing from a neuroscientist by the name of Sam Harris, who also says this: We don’t need to define the term “well-being” too precisely for this to be a reasonable methodology for judging actions. It’s a term like “health”. The aim of medicine is loosely to improve the “health” of human beings. A hundred years ago, being in good health was to live to the ripe old age of fifty. In some parts of the world, being in good health is to not have malaria or ebola virus. There is no definition, or objective standard for the term “good health”, yet the pursuit of medicine is not hindered by this semantic problem. Likewise, we do not need to define “well-being” precisely to use it as an aim in committing good actions.

The point is simply this: The meat industry is, without any fraction of a doubt, a machine of systematic murder and cruelty of the highest order. It is a depraved, disgusting and evil part of human society, built to make money at the expense and necessity of ending lives and the committing of innocent creatures to systems of torture and fear and pain. The egg, dairy and leather industry aren’t much better. They are all vile perversions of common decency, and most importantly, each and every person on this planet who is not vegan, either in knowledge or ignorance, enables this industry to continue, because we are the demand for their supply. Eating meat is not in any way, increasing the well-being of conscious creatures on this planet.

I participate in murder. Objectively, it cannot be called anything else. The fact that other animals (and be very aware of the word “other”) don’t have rights like ours, or aren’t as intelligent as us, doesn’t make a difference. We are lucky to be the dominant species on this planet. If we weren’t, if perhaps there was another cleverer species which bred humans for meat, or for our skin or milk, what would you wish? Would you really, honestly say, “Hey, it’s their right to kill us and torture us. I mean, come on, we’re stupid.”

Of course not. Anyone who tries to convince themselves otherwise is lying. In the words of the speaker in a video called eTalks – The Secret of Food Marketing, “The meat industry engages in systematic cruelty on a massive scale, and we only get away with it because all of you are prepared to look the other way.” This seven minute video is also linked below.

It really is an instance of Orwellian doublethink that we can convince ourselves that it this can be moral. The worst of the intolerance, in my experience, comes from the non-vegetarians mocking the others. And it’s because they are a majority who know they are wrong. Why do I say they? am part of a majority, and know that I am wrong. On the moral side of this debate, the meat eaters loose at every single turn. The only reason they make jokes is because they have nothing else to offer. It’s a primitive defense mechanism to avoid facing the reality of their actions, because it scares them. Quite honestly, if it doesn’t scare you, am scared of you. 

The moral question, for me, has been answered. The meat-eaters lose to the vegans. The meat-eaters also lose the practical side of the debate. But then again, so do the vegans. They are morally superior, but from my experience, becoming vegan is one of the hardest practical choices to make. It is incredibly restrictive, and cheese omelettes are amongst my favorite things to eat. I already only use free-range eggs, though I’m told “free range” doesn’t entail much less cruelty. I would only have to pay for that omelette with money from a leather wallet to drive the vegans crazy.

By comparison, being vegetarian is easy. My weekly meat consumption is perhaps a ham sandwich for lunch on one day per week. I’ve tried Quorn ham (Quorn is a meat substitute), and it’s not bad. It would quite be trivial for me to become vegetarian. For those people who claim they need the protein from meat to work out, broccoli and celery contain more protein by weight than most meats.

In my analysis, there is no moral or practical reason to be non-vegetarian. There is no moral reason to not be a vegan either, but practically, I use milk and eggs in most things I make. I love chocolate and pizza and hot chocolate and lattes. As far as I am aware, there are no substitutes for eggs. And I really do hate the taste of soya milk. Genuinely, I can’t stand it. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel sick.

I think I’m going to make the first step. I don’t quite know how to make the second. Anyone else is welcome to join me.

The PETA website and Facebook page: www.peta.org and www.facebook.com/officialpeta

eTalks – The Secrets of Food Marketing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKTORFmMycQ

Luck

Luck does not exist. It’s a human construction built, like most things, to find meaning and purpose where there is none. It’s what we name our attempt to seek out patterns by studying the vast, endless and random probability spectrum that is our life.

It scares me. If I were asked now, “What is your greatest fear?”, this would be my answer. More than anything else, I fear the idea that my whole world is an accident of my position in space and time, an accident of my DNA. The truth is that when you really consider the immensity of the world we live in, it isn’t even an idea. It’s a fact.

We are lucky. We are some of infinite strands of possibilities, any of which could have happened.

But could they? Our current understanding of physics suggests thay the universe is utterly deterministic. And yes, even our understanding of quantum mechanics, for those of my audience who believe quantum mechanics defeats determinism. Quantum field theory is deterministic, and those who claim otherwise misunderstand it.

By deterministic, I mean this: Given the same set of initial conditions, the universe will evolve in the same way every single time you press play, star for star, particle collision to particle collision. If that is true, could my life have been any other way?

No. My life must be this way, and no other way. The progress of physical interactions dictates that in totality. With such a universe, is anyone’s life arbitrary? Meaningless, maybe. But not arbitrary. The universe knows I am here because I am necessary for the progression of time to continue.

I suppose I start thinking about this kind of philosophical garbage when I meet a lot of new people at once. The first few days have inevitably produced those circumstances for me. I do so
because I need to reassure myself that these people are not arbitrary, and I need to do that whenever I like the people I’ve met.

Ah, glad that’s out of my system.

Golden Gated Irony

San Francisco is one of the more beautiful cities in the world, build upon 42 hills, with streets so steep that cars have to move like a crab down them to get to the bottom, avenues lined with trees, and culture glittering from every street corner.

There are very few places in the world that played such a huge role in history and aren’t famous for it. San Francisco is, for instance, the birthplace of the United Nations, which was created in the aftermath of World War Two by a special meeting of 50 nations, convened by Franklin D Roosevelt. The United Nations Charter was signed in the Performing Arts Center in downtown San Francisco, and from there, the world’s most powerful international organisation began. San Francisco is also the site of many of the world’s civil liberties rallies and peace protests. It was the beginnings of the anti-war movement, which formed during the Vietnam War. It held amongst the first women’s rights rallies in America, as well as LGBT protests for their own civil liberties. San Francisco is famous for unification – that is to say the removal of divisions – for tolerance, and above all, for individuality and freedom of expression. It’s one of my favourite places on Earth.

As a result of these philosophies, over the years, San Francisco has become a melting pot of ideas and cultures. I’ve met someone who’s parents are from India, but was born in the USA and raised in Mexico. As a result, he speaks fluent Telugu, Spanish and English. And when he speaks each language, his mannerisms, his dialects, even his eyes and his body language change. It’s as if he’s a chameleon. No matter who you are or where you come from, you’ll find a place to fit in San Francisco, because no one really fits. That’s the beauty of it. Every street contains shops from every where in the world, with foods better than the places they originally came from because they are run by immigrants. Hippies line the streets, camping out with women in suits and blazers and carrying briefcases. Everyone gets along, no matter the class, religion, race or the clothes they wear. It’s one of the most powerful phenomena you can experience.

Our tour guide called San Francisco the Pacific North-West Crossroads. I see why. For one, it’s in the Pacific North West, and for the other, it really is a crossroads of a thousand civilisations, pulling together the people of the whole North and South American continents, as well as the tips of Oceania and the whole of Southeast Asia. Furthermore, it’s the final crossroads of the West. After you cross the Pacific, you’re once again in the East. In that sense, I like to think of it as the Evening Crossroads; it’s the last place the sun hits, and the last place the world meets.

There’s an irony to it all. Of course there is, this post is called Golden Gated Irony. Generations have passed since San Francisco achieved this title. People from across the planet meet here, but most importantly, they already have. And they’ve had kids, and those kids have had kids. Most people are mixed race – a blend of Oriental, Indian, African, Hispanic, Native American and Caucasian. Their skin colours are blending into one another, the features of their faces that defined their races are becoming more blurred. It’s like starting with blue and red stripes and mixing them over time, and eventually the whole thing ends up purple. Crucially – the whole thing. 

Has it hit you yet? I’ll spell it out: San Francisco is a place that stands for individuality, where everyone has begun to look the same.

I love this kind of stuff. DFTBA.

Falling Asleep On Public Transport

In the past, a constant struggle of mine has been falling asleep on public transport, in the places full of crying babies and sneezing old ladies, whilst others around me signify their rather more successful attempt at falling asleep by snoring. This has the effect of making it impossible for others to do the same, unless they have a husband or wife with the same habit who they’ve gotten used to.

The other issue is that public transport, including planes, trains and coaches, perform this frustrating action called “moving.” Which of course means that I am at the mercy of whatever turbulence, friction, rattling and general traffic that this creature may encounter as it carries us from A to B.

I have never been able to fall asleep on a coach for instance. When I went to the Grand Canyon this summer, my parents decided it would be a good idea to book us onto a coach tour, which meant a rivetting five hours of dusty roads from Las Vegas to the south rim of the canyon. In the early hours of the morning.

I had the good fortune to sit next to someone my own age, so all was not lost. To my dismay, however, she fell asleep almost immediately, her head against the window, as the coach rattled on through the mountains, my brain giving itself multiple concussions as it slammed against the side of my skull. Eventually she would wake up, and conversation flowed from the seven bracelets on my wrist.

It’s part of the reason I wear them: It’s a conversation starter. Each carries a story behind it, and I can tell them when people ask. I find it quite poetic to carry memories around on me. In this case, she asked about the Central Perk bracelet I got from my visit to New York. (That’s not a spelling mistake, by the way. Central Perk is the cafe from the TV show Friends.)

After five hours, you can be fairly comfortable with someone. I eventually asked her how she managed to sleep on the bumpy ride. She told me she loved sleeping on moving objects, because it felt like a baby in a cradle. She said you had to make it feel like you were you were rocking gently. I tried her technique on a coach journey later on in my trip, and it worked.

Always ask for the window seat, and then put your head against the window. Let the sound of the vehicle drown out all the other noise, and let the vibrations  and the bumps channel through your head. After a few seconds, you start not to feel them. Give it a few minutes, and the bus starts to rock you like you’re in a cradle.

Thank you, Ece, for giving me a new measure of peace when I travel. Your adorable Turkish accent made things so much more fun. I know you’ll never read this, but good luck. I hope you have an amazing two months in Los Angeles.

45 Days Away From The Blogging Sphere

“I couldn’t be bothered.”

That’s the answer that, in all honesty, I must give when asked the question, “Why haven’t you blogged in a month and a half?” Try as I might to convince myself that it was because of factors beyond my control, or because I needed a break or because I just had no stories to tell, the truth lies in my own laziness. I didn’t need a break. I did nothing whatsoever that was exhausting or tiring since the 14th of August, which was my last blog. I am vain enough to always have stories to tell, and anyway, in this time I did a West Coast tour of the USA, taking me from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to San Francisco. There were a lot of stories to be told from this journey, as well as lessons learnt and points to be made, in my usual pompous and melodramatic way. And yet, I wrote nothing of it.

I won’t say it was all my fault. Wi-Fi in Las Vegas was $13.95 per night. To put that into perspective, I could have gotten 17 Mb/s BT Broadband for one month, for the equivalent of $12.15. Screw you, Planet Hollywood. I should note at this point: BT is not paying me to advertise their wireless, and nor is Caesar’s Palace paying me to hate on Planet Hollywood.

My laptop broke. I genuinely have no idea how, but I found the screen smashed when I got to Las Vegas. I still haven’t got it back from repairs, and I won’t for about a week. But today, I really wanted to blog. So I’m in my library in Southampton University, using one of the computers on Level 5, surrounded by empty seats. The only sound is the whir of the hard drives of the computers around me, and my own surprisingly loud typing.

I guess the summer just left me in a state of unending laziness. When you’re lazy, you’re unmotivated. But now I’m back for second year. I’m with my friends, who are creating stories around me all the time, and plenty of backlog on recent events to cover. I’m going to try and blog once every day. My posts are going to become shorter, but that might be a good thing. When they are this long, I tend to ramble less, and each post becomes more to the point. I’ve also had time to, and this will sound strange, read the title of my own blog:

itmayormaynotrhyme.wordpress.com

If it may or may not rhyme, then why has it it not rhymed in several months? There are a couple of pieces of poetry on the way, including the end of something I started a long time ago.

DFTBA, and I promise, you’ll hear from this blog tomorrow. Ah, I feel better already.

Screaming Into The Abyss

It feels somewhat appropriate to be discussing this topic in the aftermath of Robin Williams’ suicide. He was one of the most astonishing actors I’ve ever seen, both in the versatility of his roles and the emotions he portrayed. More than that, he was the funniest human being I’d ever seen, both on camera, and on the stage as a comedian. And yet, all the time, his face was filled with a powerful sadness and solemnity, even whilst he made those around cry with laughter. It wasn’t as great a surprise to me as for others that, behind the persona he gave off, there was an ordinary, scared man, screaming into the abyss.

When you scream into the abyss, does it echo? If it doesn’t, you’re alone with your misery. If it does, you’re still alone with your misery, only now it’s screaming back at you. 

I can’t claim that I’ve ever been more than mildly depressed. I’ve never contemplated a suicidal thought, nor thought about hurting myself or others. But even mild depression allows you to clarify one misconception about the human mind that others, who haven’t experienced mental illness, believe to be true.

You find out, for certain, that the human mind is not a rational creature. If it was, you could go up to a depressed person and say, “You’re just not thinking positively! Snap out of it!” and they would. Why? Because that’s the rational option. It’s the one supported by reason and evidence and logic. But the human mind does not respond perfectly to these things. Rationality does not hold ultimate power in the mass of neurons and synapses that we call a brain.

Mild depression also makes you believe one thing to be true, which is not. 

Any time I’ve gotten into that state of mind, I’ve always used one mantra to pull myself out:

“Happiness is a choice.” 

Forgive the language, but disguised in this statement is the following: 

“You fucking dumb piece of shit. Get up off your whiny little arse, quit feeling sorry for yourself and enjoy your life. The only reason you’re like this is because you let it get this far. The only reason you’re sat here alone is because you chose to, rather than finding the people who care about you and spending time with them. So shut the fuck up, and start being happy because, and only because, you can. Idiot.” 

Bet you didn’t think all that would fit, right? In any case, you understand my mindset. Being happy, for me, comes when I allow myself the privilege of being happy. And once I get this into my depressed mindset, it works its magic. I can and do just “snap out of it.” Those four words, and the implications of them, the idea that I am responsible for my own happiness, get me out of my mental state every single time. Nowadays, I intercept that vicious cycle of self-pity so soon with this phrase that I rarely ever slip too far into it. It really is a wonderful thing to realise that the only reason you are unhappy is because you’re choosing to be unhappy. 

The misconception I got from this, of course, is that this works for all stages of depression.

It doesn’t. And the reason is simple: Humans minds do not have unbounded control over their brains. Mild depression may, in some people like myself, be cured by the mind simply choosing to be happy, because the mind was previously choosing to be unhappy. But with moderate to severe depression, the prior cause is not the mind. The prior cause is the brain, influencing and controlling the mind. By the laws of complex organic chemistry, enough chemicals in the brain will always completely overwhelm the will power of the mind. 

This is why it is irritates me when people look at people like Robin Williams and say, “He had so much wealth, fame, and loads of fans and a family who loved him! How could he possibly be sad enough to kill himself?”

The mind cares for wealth and fame and love. The brain does not. You may have come away from the paragraph two above with the notion that the mind and brain are two separate entities. If so, allow me to correct it: The mind is a subset of the brain. It’s an interface between the real world and the neurons that has grown more and more complex over time. Ultimately, the interface yields, in totality, to the operating system. 

Happiness is a choice, but only up to a certain limit. I hope that I never allow myself to pass that limit, because for the life of me, I wouldn’t be able to fix myself. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that others can’t. 

If you are depressed, seek out people who can help you, even if it’s just some guy on the street. Speak to someone who knows you. When depressed, one thing you I tended to do was remove myself from the company of my friends and hope that someone would come after me. It was a silent call for attention. I was just screaming into the abyss, at no one in particular. Why was I surprised when no one came after me?

Surround yourself with people. Never let yourself be alone with your own thoughts. Never let yourself get into a state where your mind can’t beat your brain. Intercept yourself at every given opportunity, and let others do the same for you. 

Finally, as a tribute to an utterly unique actor, I created this very simply image. Some say he was one-in-a-million. I say he was quite clearly one-in-seven-billion. When he died, he left a legacy to share laughter in the world.

Oh Captain, My Captain, you will be sorely missed.

Oh Captain, My Captain. 

Thank you, Robin. We’ll take it from here.