Happy new year

Welcome to 2015, long live the new year!

My year in blogging started with a realisation that I only wrote 5 posts last year. That is a tiny amount, especially considering that I hoped my new phone would lead to me writing more.

Life is a funny thing. It can get in the way and take you by surprise. Last year was busy and there were a lot of things that made me think of blogs to write, but I never got round to them. Both Guardians of the Galaxy and the Lego Movie stood out as original mainstream movies worthy of comment (I’m a still a little unsettled by the Lego Movie’s condemnation of all who obey the instructions) but that I never got around to writing about.

I would like to write more this year, but I’m not promising anything. I just want to assure you that I am still here and will still be writing when I can.

I leave you with one of the positive things from last year. The headlines constantly spoke of the dire state of the world, but this video brought a smile to my face. There is no reason why the partnership should have happened, yet it did. The result is something completely silly and purely made for fun.

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Slaves

She hesitated before hitting send. There was no way back and doing so could mean losing the few influential friends she had. It would make finding another job impossible and there was no guarantee that anyone would even  read it, let alone believe it. the chances of anyone acting were tiny.

There was still a chance though. This wasn’t about her, so she grit her teeth and clicked.

Maria lent back in her chair. It felt good to get it out there. Now all she had to do was wait for a response.

**********

Marcus Treadwell helped himself to a third mug of filter coffee. It was only half eleven, but he was shattered. He’d been in back to back meetings all day dealing with difficult customers.

Marcus was an employee of Simultron International, an wholesaler of automaton helpers. Their slogan was “Making work painless” and Marcus was a salesman. He worked on commission and today they were trying to cut a deal with McDonalds. The robots wouldn’t work out front of course, but they would be used to cook and clean in the kitchens.

There were five minutes to go before Marcus had to be in his next board room discussion so he decided to check his emails. He unpocketed his iPhone and found he had three new messages. One was a meeting request from his staff manager to discuss his possible promotion, which he marked as unread to deal with later. He had to focus and if he got this contract then a pay rise would be in the bag.

The second email was from a name he thought was familiar but couldn’t place. Maria Gibb was not an employee here, but that was clear from the email. It had just one sentence; Puppets not robots. Below that was an image, that was still loading. Slowly, it revealed a photograph of an eight year old Vietnamese boy wired up to a cybernetic suit.

Marcus scrolled down to see if this was a joke, but all he found was more pictures. Close ups showed the state of the poor child; tired battered and desperate for a break. He saw the company logo on the equipment.

He noticed there was an attachment as well, called Contract.doc. He started to download the file but was interrupted.

“Marcus, come on.” His boss was calling him in to the meeting. Marcus put away his phone, he’d deal with it later.

Marcus couldn’t let it go though. “Could it be true?” he thought to himself, where there children being forced to work these robots? If so, what could he do about it? He couldn’t take down a corporation this large. On the other hand, could he sell their products if there was even a chance these photos were legit?

Marcus didn’t have to worry though, as the email had already reached their clients who had stormed out. He went and joined the queue of people giving their week’s notice to HR.

——————————————————————————————————

Today is Anti Slavery day, the one day that the government has legislated to raise awareness of the real issue of trafficking. Unlike that story, it is a real issue and one that is happening all over the world. A report published yesterday shows the estimated number of people in slavery at 29.8 million.

There is a real chance that items we buy have been produced by slaves. No company would want this, but ensuring your whole supply chain is free from it is not always easy to check. This website lists some of the known products that have been produced by forced labour.

Anti-slavery day was brought in by law to raise awareness of this issue.  So, do some research into the issue, contact your MP or try to go fairtrade. I will be donating my day’s wage to an anti-slavery organisation and trying to raise awareness via facebook, twitter and this blog.

In that story, Maria is the real hero. She did something against the slavers, whereas Marcus just left them alone. What are you going to do?

Beginning

Not long ago I wrote about learning to ride a bike. This is not the only new thing I am doing. There are quite a few. In a sense, this blog is still in it’s infancy. I’m also drawing and venturing into non-fiction writing.

One thing that I struggle with in all of these is motivation. It takes courage to pick up the pencil each time and very rarely am I amazed by what I achieve.  This makes it harder to get back on the metaphorical saddle and easier to lose the faith you’re clinging to.

I was shown this quote by someone a while ago and I loved it.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 
― Ira Glass

I’m planning to write a new blog post every week and publish it on Wednesdays. Its not going to always be stunning, but it’ll be good, getting slowly better over time. I’m also going to try and draw something every week, but that will rarely be shared.

There, I’ve made a commitment. Now I can be held to it. Gulp!

A parable rewritten

A homeless man was lying in the road. He’d got in a serious mess and was now begging not for change but for help.

The first person to walk by ignored him. They thought to themselves, “what can I do to help? He probably deserves it anyway, after all, he made the choice to turn to alcohol, cigarettes or illegal drugs.”

The second person to walk by offers to buy him something to eat. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The third person to walk by gives him enough money to stay in a night shelter. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The fourth person to walk by offers to take him home where he can have a hot meal and sleep on the couch for the night. The homeless man accepts but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The fifth person to walk by advises him to join a back to work program. The homeless man accepts, but it wasn’t what he was waiting for. He follows the steps for a while, but he slips back into old habits and is kicked off the course for bad behaviour. Afterwards, he carries on as before.

The last person to walk by sits down beside him. They say they’re here to love him and will stay with him . The man smiles and feels at home.

Hear the sound

It starts as a whisper. It didn’t come suddenly, breaking the silence before, but it was soft, as if it had always been there.

Then I hear a heartbeat. It’s faster than my own; scared of something unseen. Another joins it, this one slower. It sounds weak and I don’t hold out much hope for the owner. More join these two, all at different paces, until I hear the heart cry of the whole earth. Then voices rise up; clamouring, shouting, screaming and crying.

Up above it all, I hear God shed a tear for His people’s pain.

Someone stands to their feet. They are in sharp focus now and I hear the sound of clothing being ruffled. There is a metal clanking and I recognise it as armour being taken up. A blade is unsheathed and I hear it being sharpened.

Again, more sounds come into focus. The soldier is not alone and is joined by many others getting ready. There is a clatter as everyone gets ready at his own pace. Some are quite frantic, others calm and measured in their preparations.

Then a singular drum is beaten. The preparation stops and the soldiers rush into position and fall still. They are quiet, only the background groan of the world can be made out.

The drum is hit again and the people start to march. There is a repetitive undulation which shows they are now working together in perfect time. The church is rising.

Above them, a crowd of heavenly beings cheer. Most are shouting encouragements to keep going because they see what is coming. A seldom few are barking out orders from above. If the army is listening, they’ll know what to do.

A swooshing sound fills the air. Thousands and thousands of fiery darts are flying towards the army. They come to a stop and I’m relieved to hear the sound of shields bearing the brunt. They’re not still for long though and I hear more shields being raised as they start moving again. The din is now like a thunderstorm on a tin roof; I can only assume they are in a Tortoise formation.

This carries on for a while before combat breaks out and the noise is chaotic. There is roaring, gasping, yelping and the sounds of war. It’s hard to isolate any one note; the battle is all encompassing.

After a time though, this too gets drowned out, but now with jubilation. The army has gained ground and the enemy flees, wailing in fear. The army cheer and thank God for their victory.

The cry of the earth is brought back into the fore, but the sound is changing here too. I hear chains falling to the ground and the sound of sadness has stopped. There are many reactions, to many different things, but all over the world, victory is at hand. Some say I am healed others that I am free.

Faintly in the background is the sound of rushing waters.

In heaven above there is singing and music rejoicing over those who have been released. Harps, trumpets and various other instruments blare out a song of praise. The voices sing in a language I don’t speak, but the message is clear all the same. They speak of victory and triumph, peace and love, and of being accepted and fully known.

God says, “Come to me friends and have rest.”

———————————————————————–

My church is about to release their first album, Hear the Sound. It’s about listening to God and trying to make Him the focus of our lives.

When I hear that phrase, this is what my mind eye pictures. I’m sharing this because it makes me love Him more and I long to give Him praise.

If you would like to find out more and possibly pre-order a copy, you can go to http://hearthesound.com/

Starting

The blank page shouts at me.

“You can’t fill me up. How could you possibly improve on all the wonderful potential I hold?”

It puts me on the backfoot. The white space has a point.

My imagination is splatting ideas all over it; gunmen in hovercrafts over eel infested swamps, a sketch of a laughing banana, an anachronistic story about the importance of names, the mathematical proof of love.

Meanwhile my hand can’t even pick up the pen. The biro whispers to me. “Come on! The ink inside me’s no use just sitting here.”

Then it clicks. Its the potential of the ideas I’m improving on, not that of the paper. That’s meant to help me, with no barriers or correction. Freedom may be scary, but its necessary to let the story grow.

And anyway, if I write really small there’ll be plenty of space left.

Soul-fish attitude

A book I’ve been reading recently contains one central idea which has fascinated me greatly. It is both wonderfully simple and hugely complex; a beautiful paradox of human nature.

The book is called Kil’n People and is a science fiction novel by David Bryn. It has a central idea of people having what he refers to as dittos. In this alternate future, they have a special kiln, wherein if you lie on it, your thoughts, memories and desires are copied to a clay duplicate. These golems have a shelf life of 24 hours, after which they will either simply die or will be “inloaded”, giving the original new memories that they never actually experienced.

The first thoughts are what would I do with this? Would you get the other you to do all the chores and then never take the boring memories? Would you try new forms, use that to be a superhero/villain? The possibilities are practically endless.

There is always a tendency with any technology to use it for pleasure first and foremost. That is one thing the author explores by conjuring up a thriving sex industry with no barriers and violent war games played by thrill seekers.

One of the other themes mentioned in this book is something called the purple wage, which is slang for the rising unemployment. If a company has one employee who can do everything excellently, why not have him do everything, as opposed to training someone else to help him?

It was however the idea of the soul being copied which caught my attention. Mainly because if you feel any objection to the possibility, you have to define what the soul is to explain why.

I think it’s generally considered that there are three components to a human; body, spirit and soul. The first is easy to define, as it is physical, visible and has very noticeable boundaries.

The others are clearly debatable. Is your personality an aspect of your soul or your spirit, or a strange combination of both?
Rather than try to settle a debate which has been going on for centuries, I’m going to give you my thoughts and allow you to work out your own mind. Feel free to discuss it below, but I need a definition to continue.

The soul is the earth bound part of us, that which has feelings about oneself. It also considers external things, but predominately in relationship to ourselves. The spirit thinks externally and only thinks internally about change to benefit the greater good, whatever it believes that is.

Let me illustrate with an example. You’re with a group of friends and you’re all trying to decide what to do. It’s been five minutes now and you and a few others are starting to get bored of the debate. Your soul wants it to finish and is generally thinking about your own desires. Your spirit however is focussed more on the group and is trying to work out a solution that keeps everyone happy. Both can have a personality and moods, but they operate and prioritise differently.

This is a very simplistic view I know, perhaps too much so, but it does highlight two modes of operating. The labels may be wrong, but the differences are clear.

In relation to the book I mentioned earlier, it got me thinking that the majority of these dittos would be used for selfish reasons, to satisfy the soul. Those that did the necessary things, such as cleaning, going to work etc. could easily be discarded making your life easier.

I began to wonder what this near perfect lifestyle would look like. You would wake up in the morning and create some copies to do your chores. Then you sit back and work out what you want to do with the rest of the day. You create a ditto to cheat death, go have real-to-copy sex with that supermodel you saw on TV then just chill with two of your girlfriend for the evening.

One thing I have learnt recently is that the more we try to live that perfect life, the more we realise how distant a dream it is. If we focus on satisfying the soul, it will just keep asking for more. That’s its whole function, to give constructive feedback to indicate how we are and how we can do better.

Over indulgence in this side of our personality can lead to a circular pattern of misery. The soul informs you that it is unhappy, and that having x, y and z would alleviate this situation, but on hearing the advice, your reaction is one of disappointment, since obtaining them is hard. Your situation continues to worsen until you become so aware of your misery and lack that you simply cannot go on.

There are two ways out of this, either be picked up by someone else or get up yourself. The only way to do the latter is to engage with your spirit. By focussing on the larger picture, the problems that you’re facing and the suffering you’re going through lessen.

Let me be clear though that I am not saying we should disregard our souls. They are incredibly useful for determining our state of affairs, and their advice is often very useful. If we listen to just our spirit, then we could burn ourselves out by just pleasing everyone else.

This is the reason why I initially objected to the idea of soul copying, as without a spirit I do not believe we would last long as a species. However, the process becomes clearer as the plot progresses and to discuss it further would introduce spoilers. If you would like to borrow it, don’t hesitate to ask. I highly recommend it for anyone who is a science fiction fan and enjoys a read that invokes more questions than it offers answers.