WordPress 2-step Verification: Warning

Dear all

this is a short & out of character post from me, to complain about the “2-step verification” process I just embarked upon with WordPress, as a warning to anyone else who decides to upgrade their security.

When I logged in to write a post earlier today, I had a notice on my WordPress account saying that I needed to upgrade security and inviting me to set up “2-step” account verification.  I decided to do it, because at my previous work place, the website, hosted on WordPress, was hacked, so I thought it was probably a good idea to upgrade security. Lots of other online accounts now ask for a phone number as a back up in the case of losing your log in so that is nothing new. As with those online accounts, I thought that the “2 steps” would be required in the case of losing my log in or some unusual security breach – not every single time I log in!

However, after you go through the process and enter the security code that is sent to you, it is explained (when it’s too late to back out), that it’s not just providing a phone number for use in the case of needing to verify your account at some stage, the way you do for your eBay account, your Twitter account and a million other accounts. On WordPress, now that I’ve handed over my phone number it appears that I can no longer log in to my account without having my phone close at hand. I discovered this when I  just tried to log in again now, some hours later, and after entering my user name and password as per usual, a new log in screen popped up, asking for the verification, which instantaneously arrived on my phone at the same time.

Now some people may not care about this extra step or what it implies, but I really, really hate this, for 3 reasons.

1. it adds an extra step to logging in, so now just my user name and password are not enough, I have to type another field in before I can log in. That seems a little bit backward to me. Even my bank is happy for me to log in with just a user name and password, so why the Fort Knox-style security around my blog?

2. I’ve been deliberately forced into needing to have not one, but 2 devices with me even if I’m writing my blog on my laptop, which is where I usually write – or even if I want to do a sneaky edit on the computer at work. Why should I have to do that? As a Generation Xer, I am not surgically attached to my phone, but more to the point, I resent being forced by WordPress to have to have my phone activated when I want to write, or read other people’s blogs and comment on them. This feels a lot like Facebook trying to force us to download its new Messenger App onto our smartphone, which will apparently invade our privacy like nobody’s business. (I won’t be downloading that App so if you message me on Facebook, you’ll have to wait until I’m at my laptop before I reply.)

3. is my suspicions about the reason for this ridiculously over-the-top “security”. My blog is not quite as high a security risk as the investment account of a major oil company. I am not writing posts about matters of international security, unless eyeballs and moustaches have taken on a significant role in international espionage that I was not aware of. How on earth does WordPress justify the requirement for me to have to enter a uniquely generated security code each time I log in to write a post on my personal blog?? The other option was to download a Google app, which I avoided by having the codes sent by sms instead, but this makes me suspicious that the whole “security verification” ruse is just a set up to glean more personal information for Google.

Of course, I could try staying logged in to my blog, I guess, it’s just that I also resent being forced into doing that. In my thinking, if a program is set up to manipulate you into staying logged in (ala your Google account where it’s soooooo hard to find where to log off!!), it’s so that someone can build a consumer profile on me based on everything I click on or search while I’m logged in. Unlike most people, I still try to remember to log out of most applications when not using them, just to cut down on the amount of targeted advertising, directly related to sites I’ve look at, that pops up in sidebars on websites and serves to remind me that “free” access to websites and open source software comes at a price.

I guess to some extent if I want to use the internet I have to accept that I’m being profiled and that targeted advertising will happen, but I resent WordPress introducing this extra step required to log in, that comes under the pretence of being required for security, makes it more tedious for me, and sounds likely to create a problem if/when I lose my phone.

Discerning readers will probably be asking a pertinent question at this point: if I need my phone in order to log into my blog, what am I supposed to do if I lose my phone? Good question, discerning reader. Well never fear, because in an astoundingly complicated system designed to alleviate any such concerns, WordPress have sent me a list of 10 “backup codes” that I need to “print out and save” and can use if I lose my phone. What I do after I’ve logged in 10 times (you need a new code each time) is not clear, and I know it can be frustrating waiting for a response from Wordpress Support, so I don’t look forward to that scenario.

So in brief, assuming I’m not the very last person to do so, I suggest that if you are as protective about your privacy as I am, you should consider holding off on upgrading your security to “2-step verification”. I’d genuinely love to hear from WordPress why that is required, and until I do, I remain unconvinced that it IS actually about security.

I’d also love to hear from any readers with advice about this 2-step verification process. What do you think? Have you found it a pain? Am I being an obstinate old goat by refusing to just stay logged in on my computer and allow Google to track the fact that every third post I write features the word moustaches?

As Goldfish said in a recent post, I’ve always been pretty happy with WordPress, and recommended WordPress to others for blog hosting until recently. Some of the changes they make to functionality are irritating, but this new 2-step security verification is too over the top for me.  I kinda thought WordPress had a community ethos, but suddenly I feel like a pawn in a deliberate information-gathering ploy which is only for the benefit of WordPress – or possibly some other large multinational business partner – but not me. Dislike.

 

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 **Update: (about an hour after writing this post). Yes! Just what I was hoping for  – the lovely Draliman responded almost immediately with advice on how to turn the 2-step verification off – something that I couldn’t find by searching the WordPress Support page or help forums. I knew it would take days to get a response from WordPress if I posted a question on the support page, so in the heat of the moment, I thought I’d try my luck with putting it out to all you lovely readers. For anyone else who doesn’t like 2-step verification, check out Draliman’s comment below to find out how to turn the pesky thing off.  

Unfinished Sympathy, or, more on the Track 6 Theory

Last week I wrote a post that purported to be about how to write a post.

That was really a fudge. In reality, it wasn’t a guide to writing a post, or not in a step-by-step manner, anyway. It was about how a completely trivial idea can sit with you for years, floating around in the muddle of thoughts and ideas in your brain, and then pop up one day in the form of something that you decide to try and write about. That is often true of a meaningful idea, sure, but hopefully I illustrated that it can also be true for a silly, inconsequential thought that you should have forgotten about 20 years ago.

The idea I wrote about was, that on many of my albums, track number 6 seems to be my favourite track. That thought came to me in about 1992, around the time I was listening to Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, from their album Blue Lines.

As I said, not a meaningful thought by any stretch of the imagination. However I did my best to stretch this banal thought into an amusing piece of writing by using the model of a scientific study, although that in itself turned out to be inconclusive due to the size of the data.

But I’ve been bothered by aspects of this post, and today, I feel that I have to write a follow up post, to apologise to all the scientists that closely follow this blog, for the sloppiness of my scientific methodology.

It’s no excuse, I know, but as often happens, I’d spent a few hours on that post, it was 11.30pm as I was finishing it up, I was aware that it was becoming way too long, and I needed to round it off. My friends, in these circumstances, who among us does not occasionally wrap up a post as quickly as possible without due rigour to scientific process or any other process? But even as I was writing the final sentences in that post, all the flaws in my “scientific study” were making themselves apparent to me. At that point, though, I just wanted to publish the damn thing and go to bed, and to hell with how accurate it was, a sentiment that I’m sure investigative journalists working for the BBC can sympathise with.

Now, by “flaws,” I don’t mean the central fact that my “scientific study” was an examination into the frequency of track number 6 being my favourite track on a random selection of albums. I was aware that my “study” was of no significance to society. I was quite prepared to accept that it would NOT be written up in New Scientist magazine, or even in Smash Hits magazine, any time soon.

What I mean by “flaws,” is that I’m aware that the best creative writing is rigorous in its process – for example, if putting together a parody of a scientific study, a good writer would probably research scientific methodology  and make sure that the study followed that process as much as possible. Mine was written up lazily, without even peeking into my daughter’s year 9 science textbooks for help.

Of course one of those flaws was the tiny sample size of 16 albums, but that was a creative decision. I restricted the sample for the sake of the post, because I was presenting it as a list, and there were limits to how much interest a list of songs was going to retain if it got much longer. It was also time consuming, as, in some cases, I had to put albums on to decide between tracks that were competing for favourite.

Another flaw I became aware of was that I should have noted the number of my favourite track when it wasn’t track 6. That way, the study would have recorded whether any other track numbers were favourites more often than track 6. Mathematically, (could there be any other way?) the odds of that seem unlikely. So the study seems to suggest that track 6 could well be most often my favourite track, however with a sample size of only 16 albums I had to determine that this was inconclusive.

graph track 6

Some scientific rigour: a graph representing the instances of track 6 being favoured, or “other” track being favoured.

Another of the flaws in my study, which I only realised afterwards, was subjectivity. Of course, the question of a “favourite” track is entirely subjective. My favourite track is, of course, not necessarily your favourite track, dear reader. I am not sure what the scientific process is around accounting for, or trying to mitigate against, subjectivity, but I figure that one way to counter the subjectivity of a survey like this would be to have a much larger sample of respondents (ie,more than 1 person.)

With this intention, I have (I think) created a poll, for anyone who is interested in contributing to this important study. Select an album from your shelves, or from your iPhone – randomly or not, it doesn’t matter. Select your favourite track on that album. Check the track number. Is it number 6? Either way, please respond accordingly. The poll didn’t seem to allow me to create a field where you can write in the track number that is your favourite, so I’ve had to simply create the alternatives of Track 6, or Other, but I did also add a freeform field so you can tell me what the track number is if you’d like to. You can also tell me what the album and song were if you’d like to. I’ve never done a poll before so I have no idea in what format your answers will be revealed to me but I look forward to finding out.

So dear readers, let’s rally together in the interests of solving a very significant question that has kept the entire scientific world, or at the very least, me, busy for something akin to 3 full hours now. Let’s see if track 6 really is, overall, the most popular track on albums across the board, or whether there is no pattern at all to favourite tracks. As part of the same research, we may even find out if I can squeeze a third post out of this topic!!?

And finally, thank you all for your contribution to science.

 

 

Four and Three and Two and One

Here is one way to write a post.

Make a small observation to yourself. I don’t mean a momentous observation, a significant observation, or a worthy observation of any sort. I’m talking about an observation so insignificant that you consider it unworthy even of recording in your personal diary, where you note all kinds of trivial minutae. Oh, also – and this is critical – make this observation back in 1992. (at which time, your journal was a hardbound notebook that you wrote in with an actual pen. I get writer’s cramp just thinking about it).

My friends, the kind of observation I’m talking about is the sort of trivial observation that skits through your brain in a millisecond and is gone, and usually never troubles you again. But in this case, this ridiculously inconsequential observation continues to pop up occasionally, when you observe that your original idea is reinforced. Despite it being reinforced, it is still without doubt, an idea so utterly trivial that is not worthy of noting anywhere, for any reason. Declaring your observation to the world will make no impact, lasting or otherwise, on the history of humankind. No-one will, upon reading of your pronouncement, sit down and reconsider the choices they’ve made in their lives, and vow to make a change. No breakthroughs in medicine will be made, no children will be saved, in fact I’d go so far as to say that not even a single reality TV show will be created around your theory.

In the time since you originally made this trivial observation, the world continues to turn with regularity, the seasons come and go, the universe continues to slowly expand, you get older, perhaps you finish a visual arts degree and get a job answering the phone at a bank.

Soon, people who are not computer boffins are talking about the world wide web. More time passes, and you create an email account and start writing electronic communications to people, increasingly in place of phoning or speaking to them in person. You eventually lash out and buy a second hand laptop with a dial-up internet connection. At times, when the connection does not drop out, you perceive with some excitement that the internet appears to open up new avenues for writing. You learn about about web logs. You start to read other people’s web logs – or, blogs – and toy with the idea of writing one yourself.  But what can you write about?

You procrastinate. Instead of starting a blog, you read other people’s blogs, and notice that people are writing engaging blogs about food, about parenting, about books, or about building their own house out of egg cartons, but you are not a food expert, don’t wish to write about parenting, don’t have the confidence to write book reviews, and don’t have a lot of egg cartons lying around.

You read more blogs, and try to hone in on some that you really like. Based on these blogs you decide that your blog is not going to be “about” anything. It will be a blog of observations, reflections, ramblings about anything. (Later on, you will wish you had thought more carefully about the name and url because if you had, it would be, in an homage to Waiting for Godot, located at blatheringaboutnothing.wordpress.com, but changing the address once the blog is established sounds too fraught with difficulty to contemplate.)

So, you start to write a blog. Writing the first few posts is fun but then you realise that you have to come up with observations, reflections, ideas and ramblings worth writing about with some kind of regularity. Oh dear. What a predicament you have put yourself in!

Lacking the time to work on ideas for blog topics other than when you sit down to write, you find it difficult to post frequently and consistently about highbrow ideas such as the nature of human existence, whether there is life after death, or whether painting really is dead. Your blog rapidly begins to be filled with writing about eyeballs, moustaches, rhinos, and the weather. In your credit, you do manage a few posts about Nietzsche, but unfortunately you are no scholar of existentialism and your explorations of the philosopher’s ideas remain sadly inept and superficial, and focussed mostly on his repugnant facial hair. Time goes by, and you reach a point where one day, that trivial observation from 20 years ago pokes its head up and says, just like the Labour Party did in 1972, It’s time.

You decide to accept the challenge and write a post about your frivolous observation, made 20 years earlier. Thinking about how to turn such a trivial idea into an entire post, you decide the best approach will be to write an amusing piece, covering the lengthy research undertaken to come up with your theory, and then present the evidence for and against. It seems possible that you might be able to cobble together something amusing. You sit down to write it.

Cue the present, and a first person narrative.

Here is my observation, made some 2 decades ago: I notice that on many of my albums, my favourite track is track number 6.

Trivial? Certainly. Banal? Exquisitely. Not worthy of being recorded in writing? Undoubtedly.

In the real world, the one that exists outside the world wide web, would I attempt to craft an interesting piece of writing based on such a completely trivial thought? Probably not. But this is the blogosphere, so let’s press on, sticking to the challenge at hand.

The Hypothesis: that on a random selection of albums, Track 6 will most often be a “favourite” track.

Definitions: For the purposes of this experiment, I have defined “favourite” as the outstanding favourite. If there are many tracks on an album considered to be equal favourites, then the answer to whether the song is a favourite is “no”. For the purposes of scientific rigour, I am being very tough on myself! (Eeek!)

Method: my research, conducted over the past 20 years on this topic, has consisted of listening to a lot of albums. Data has been inconsistent, and record keeping has been poor, to say the least. Analysis of anecdotal data indicates that on some albums, track 6 was my favourite track and on others, it was not.

Today, in the interests of proving or refuting the original hypothesis once and for all, I have selected a sample of albums to check. This sample consists of two sub categories: albums I was listening to in 1992, at the time that I developed this theory, as well as a random selection of more recent albums, for comparison, in case for some reason 1992 had a strong bias towards putting the best track at number 6.

Data:

Albums I was listening to in 1992:

Massive Attack, Blue Lines. Track 6: Unfinished Sympathy. Favourite track? Yes.

Not Drowning Waving, The Cold and The Crackle. Track 6: Little King. Favourite Track? No.

The Velvet Underground, V.U. Track 6: Foggy Notion. Favourite track? Yes.

Primal Scream, Screamadelica. Track 6: Come Together. Favourite track? No

Tom Waits, Bone Machine. Track 6: The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me Today. Favourite Track? No

The Clouds, Penny Century. Track 6: Too Cool. Favourite Track? No

R.E.M.  Automatic For The People. Track 6: Sweetness Follows. Favourite track? Yes

Leonard Cohen, So Long Marianne. Track 6: Bird On A Wire. Favourite track? No

 

Random* selection of other albums :

 

Sonic Youth, Goo. Track 6: My Friend Goo. Favourite track? No

Kim Salmon and The Surrealists, Sin Factory. Track 6: Come On Baby. Favourite Track? No

Beastie Boys, Ill Communication. Track 6: Sabotage. Favourite Track? No

Radiohead, Kid A. Track 6: Optimistic. Favourite Track? No

The Rapture, Echoes. Track 6: House of Jealous Lovers. Favourite Track? Yes

LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver. Track 6: Us V Them. Favourite Track? No

Grinderman, Grinderman 2. Track 6: Evil. Favourite Track? Yes.

The National, High Violet. Track 6: Bloodbuzz Ohio. Favourite Track? Yes

 

Analysis:

Out of 16 albums, track number 6 is my favourite track on 6. Track 6 does not rate significantly higher on albums from 1992, so I can’t even try to claim that there was a conspiracy in 1992 to always put the best track at number 6.

Conclusion:

Analysis proves that track 6 is not always my favourite track. However, what this analysis does not prove, is, whether track 6 is my favourite track more often than any other number? Track 6 has come up strongly, but in a sample of only 16 albums, I can only conclude that the sample is too small and therefore the data is inconclusive. Damn.

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So finally, dear reader,  you reach the end of your post. You have learned how to let an idea, first thought of as completely insignificant 20 years earlier, stew away in the back of your mind for 2 decades. You’ve learned how to take that totally frivolous thought, and milk it for all it’s worth when you need a topic to write about on your blog 20 years later. Here we can see the end product of this creative process: a post that is an odd mixture of a “how-to” style guide to writing a post, combined with a research experiment into whether or not track 6 is always the best track on an album. This is what the internet has done to us.

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*As this is a personal blog, and not a scientific journal, I will admit that there was some licence taken with the “randomness” of albums selected in the second section. The prompt for this post was in fact when I put on Ill Communication today, and noted that Sabotage, the biggest hit from that album, but not my clear favourite on the album, was track number 6. I decided to get my “track 6″ theory sorted out for once and for all, however in that endeavour I have dismally failed. Research continues.

 

2. Shy, Shy (a second try)

A few weeks ago, I sat down to write a post about shyness, but, as often happens to me, I was immediately distracted by a small bit of trivia that should have been a mere footnote, and ended up heading off on a tangent that finally took up the entire post.

What happened was this. I sat down to write my post with a topic in mind, (a better start than some posts have had!), and as usual, hoped that a title would suggest itself. On this occasion, the title popped into my head the instant I sat down. It was a lyric (and song title) from a silly 80’s pop song: Too shy shy, hush hush, eye to eye, by a band aptly titled Kajagoogoo.

But as soon as I’d inserted this idiotic title into the title field, I felt as if I couldn’t just move on and talk about the topic of shyness, leaving those ridiculous lyrics hanging there unexplained. For a start, anyone born after about 1984 would have no clue as to the origins of the title, and I’d be forever misconstrued as a terrible poet.* It seemed that the lyrics were too incredibly stupid NOT to focus on.

But I won’t dwell any further on this lame pop song. Rather than divert another post right off track, let’s move on. This post is attempt number 2: Shyness.

A few weeks ago I attended a talk about shyness, by an Australian writer and broadcaster, Sian Prior, whose memoir, Shy had just been published. No doubt like many others in the audience, I attended the talk because I consider myself a shy person, and felt a jealous curiosity to hear how someone else who describes herself as shy, has made a career out of doing things I self-selected out of  – radio broadcasting, arts journalism, writing reviews – and developed a high public profile in the process.

The main two questions that come up for me, after attending this talk and then reading other people’s blogs on the topic, are: what is the difference between being an introvert and being shy? – and, how do you differentiate between shyness, introversion, and low self-esteem?

I know that shyness and introversion are not the same as one another, nor the same as having low self-esteem, but in my own case at least, I feel that my shyness is a product of having two very shy parents, as well as having had very low self-esteem as a child.

One of the posts I read while researching was this great post about being an introvert, by dorkymum. As she mentions, “introversion” means a tendency to need time away from others in order to re-energise, (as opposed to the olden-day perception of introverts as people with no self-confidence) and I completely relate to that. Dorkymum also described introverts as being stressed out by having too many things crammed into a day. I was not aware that was a trait of introverts, but I was certainly aware that was my own response to my time being too full! Having to go straight from an appointment, to work, to a dinner with friends feels like too much to me. Occasionally I have to turn down dinner invitations from an extraverted friend of mine because to cram in another social function on my weekend won’t leave me enough time for some quiet reflective activity – like reading, or writing this post. However, in a small group of well-known people I can come across as extraverted, and I arrive home after a good night out feeling energised by the socialising I’ve just done. So I’m not sure whether I am an introvert, or the term that Sian Prior uses for herself: a “shy extrovert”. But my interest in this topic goes beyond trying to work out how to classify myself.

One of the reasons I’ve thought about shyness, and/or introversion, for a while was that I was looking to change jobs, and in the arts industry, at least, it seems to be hard to find any Position Description that does not, between the lines, require you to be an extraverted, confident, high-achieving go-getter, prepared to try anything, and to spend your free time networking for the organisation. Now I love working in the arts, don’t get me wrong, clearly that’s why I stick with it. The trouble was that on paper I met the criteria for a lot of jobs, and made it to interviews for a high percentage of those I applied for, but after being told about 10 times over 3 years that I was “only just missed out, you were our second choice”, I couldn’t help but suspect that what let me down was my natural shyness and/or introversion.

Somehow I feel sure those jobs all went to extraverted, high-achieving, twenty-something go-getters that bounced into the interview oozing with so much confidence that the panel hired them on the spot. Maybe I’m displaying a soon-to-be totally outmoded Generation X way of thinking, but I find the idea that one person can be just amazing at everything from managing the finances and running payroll, to creating the artwork for marketing, to building the website, booking the tickets, working at reception, setting up the AV, managing the casual staff, ensuring all legal compliance is covered, and bringing in sponsors and donors, as well as the bins at night*, a little bit unrealistic. Whether people are shy, introverted, or extraverted is only one of the factors that make them the right person for the job, but I feel as if PDs in the artworld are all written with confident extraverts in mind.

Isn’t it just common sense to play to people’s strengths? The shy amongst us often make great people to do your administration, your graphic design, your contracts, your databases, your IT, or your back of house technical and stage set up – because we like to do the essential work in the background that keeps projects running. We may not want frontline roles. We may not be the best person to manage your Front of House, your Publicity Campaign, or to represent your company at the industry trade show. That’s not to say that shy, or introverted people, can’t do these things well, but that in general, most prefer not to. Shy, or introverted people can be creators of cultural products (or other kinds of products). For goodness sakes, writers are the epitomy of introverts, aren’t they? A preference for solitary activity – tick! Reenergise by spending time alone? Tick! Enjoy reflective thought? Tick! Sian Prior is only one example in a long line of shy or introverted people who are also writers.

I think our self-image as shy or introverted allows the shy amongst us to self-select out of certain careers without realising what a limited picture we have of the career, and of ourselves. When I was at school, I contemplated journalism as a career, for about 10 minutes. Based on what I’d seen on TV, all I knew about being a journalist back then was that I’d need to be able to push my way through a scrum of other media to get to the front at a press conference and yell out questions, something which I could do about as comfortably as I could nominate myself to become Prime Minister of Australia*. No other kind of writing-based career occurred to me way back then (there were probably no other examples supplied in the Year 10 Job Guide). Now, I think that public radio would have  suited me, because of my love of music and ability to amuse myself and sometimes others with my scintillating verbal repartee, but back then I’d never heard of public radio, and I was probably correct in assuming that to be an announce on commercial radio would have required me to be not only extraverted but pretty much cut-throat competitive. That definitely ruled me out!)

But was it shyness, introversion, or a lack of self-esteem, that caused me not to pursue those things? In my case I think a lack of self-esteem. That was a distinction I would have been interested to hear Prior talk about. Prior talked about feeling anxious knowing she had to go to a party, and called that shyness, which it is. But I wonder, of myself, what lies even deeper. What causes my “shyness”. Isn’t it a sense of not being good enough to command others’ attention? I know that feeling. I always expect people will forget my name. (Invariably I’m correct, because my name belongs to a dark haired, olive skinned woman, not a freckled, fair-skinned and sandy-blonde one, but these days I don’t take it personally since I forget everyone else’s names too.)

After years of bad publicity, “introversion” and “shyness” are finally traits we can admit to without shame, but “low self-esteem” is still not kosher to admit to, certainly not as a current personality trait. “Hi there, boy- that-I-kissed when I was 17! Sorry I never called you back all those years ago, I had low self-esteem, so when you said I should get your number from our mutual friend and give you a call, I assumed you were just saying that to be nice.”*

I think my confidence has improved with age. Compared to my childhood self, I am an outgoing extravert! Compared to my teenage self, I’m socially at ease in a room full of slightly-known people! But I could still improve. Even my writing betrays my lack of confidence in myself.

I mentioned earlier that Prior writes reviews, another activity that I’m a bit jealous of. The difficulty for me is that writing reviews requires a decent amount of self-esteem, because you need to form a strong opinion and have the confidence to feel that opinion is correct, before you put it out there for the world to read. I write a blog, and a lot of posts on my blog reference books and music, and, to a lesser extent, theatre and visual art, but I deliberately avoid writing anything that could be formally called a “review.” That’s because I don’t have the confidence to do that. And that’s not shyness or introversion, is it?

 *

Links to other posts on this topic:

Living and Loving As an Introvert

sianprior.com

- I saw an interestingly titled post about Famous Introverts on the Huffington Post but every time I try to load a page of the Huffington Post, my browser crashes – I lost a paragraph of this post as a result. So search and click at your own risk – but save your work first!

 

*I AM a terrible poet, if we can go by that poem I spent most of my first year psychology tutorials writing.

*that mix of tasks was pretty much covered in a PD I recently looked at, with the exception perhaps of putting out the bins.

*We are looking for new nominations for Prime Minister of Australia, as the current one seems to be broken and continuing to use him is causing irreparable damage. Alternatively we are willing to trade him for an incomplete set of Star Wars cards or an old pair of socks.

Life Isn’t Everything

Back in the day, I had piano lessons for a few years.

I started lessons when I was in Grade 5 at school, walking approximately 50 steps each week, across the road in front of my primary school to reach a little house that smelled of cooked cabbage and mothballs, where my piano teacher lived. She looked as if she had stepped out of a British sitcom from the same period – a middle-aged, saggy-jowled, possibly widowed woman, wearing her hair in a scratchy looking bouffant that was probably, in hindsight, a wig, her look completed with an abundance of chunky, tacky, jewellery, and and flouncy, swishy, acrylic blouses and skirts. There were lace doilies everywhere, and I seem to remember a fluffy dog as well, but that could be my imagination helpfully filling in any gaps in the stereotype.

My piano teacher - almost.  Picture longer hair and a fluffy dog.

My piano teacher – almost. Picture longer hair and a fluffy dog.

 

I attended for about 4 years, and quit at about the end of year 8, which means I got as far as Grade 3 in the Australian Music Examination Board curriculum.

The reason I gave up lessons at that point was not the teacher (by then my lessons were at high school) but because I was tired of learning the – to my 14 year-old mind – obscure classical pieces required by the Examination Board. No-one (other than piano students) recognised Fur Elise. I had a secret desire to be able to entertain a room (and ideally, the people in it) with my ability to leap onto the piano stool and whack out a “hit” that everyone recognised. (The way they did back in mid 18th Century). (This desire existed rather incongruously alongside my extreme self-consciousness and shyness that, even putting aside my inability to read music or play a “hit,” made that forever an impossible dream.)

Consequently, I quit piano lessons, spent a large portion of my measley pocket money on some sheet music, and defiantly taught myself to play 3 pieces of contemporary music. As this was the Christmas holidays of 1983 and I was about 14, the pieces I chose were: Song For Guy by Elton John, Theme from Chariots of Fire, by Vangelis, and The Rose, made famous around that time by Bette Middler because of the movie by the same name (which, thankfully, I’ve never seen). Over the next few months, or probably, years, I played those three pieces to death, much to the despair of my long-suffering family.

(Sidebar: A word of encouragement to those out there who fear they may never reach the giddy heights of being able to teach themselves “hits” at home from sheet music. I must confess that I could never actually read music without stopping to say slowly, Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit or All Cows Eat Grass, as learned in my very first music lesson, while working my way up the corresponding lines of the Treble or Bass Clef, to work out the notes. Sheet music was never anything more than a loose guide to what note to start on, or how the chords worked, as I worked out the tune and timing by ear and then just memorised how to play the piece. If I can do it, anyone can.)

At high school, two years of compulsory Music Theory instilled me with the confident assurance that Carmen is an opera about a woman called Carmen. I recall nothing more. Consequently, although I love music, I can’t really write about it because I don’t have a sophisticated musical vocabulary that enables me to discuss the intricacies of the beat, the melody, the arrangements or the instrumentation (which could be the same thing for all I know.)

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In Australia, Carmen and Mr Ed The Talking Horse are our two favourite celebrities and often host the Logie Awards Ceremonies together.

Pic: ABC

I can read, and write, however, so I’m on slightly more comfortable ground talking about lyrics. For one thing, lyrics are composed of words. I’ve written a few of those, so that is a good start. So occasionally, as in today, I delve into a post about lyrics that I like.

So, dear reader, just to keep us on track, although this post appeared at first to be about my childhood piano lessons, it is actually a post about lyrics. Do try and keep up. It’s my second post about lyrics – the first one can be found here. Perhaps one day my mediocre musings on other people’s lyrics will be syndicated as a weekly column in a dying major newspaper that senses it’s about to go bankrupt, but until that day, we can only dream, and then weep when the wine runs out.

Now, if you say “lyrics,” I say “tomato,” but straight after that momentary lapse, the word “lyrics” makes me think of revered singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Joanie Mitchell, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, etc. (sorry, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but I think you’ll do fine without me.)  There is nothing I could say about these songwriters’ lyrics that hasn’t already been said by people far more qualified than myself, but here are a few favourite lines from some of those mentioned above:

You said love is touching souls;

surely you touched mine

cos a part of you pours out of me

in these lines, from time to time. (Joanie Mitchell – A Case Of You)

Lyrics can be funny, sad, nonsensical, quirky, bleak, clever, poetic, insightful, vulnerable, beautiful, or some combination of the above, and when the music fits perfectly with what’s being conveyed in the lyrics, it’s a match made in heaven.  Joanie Mitchell’s lyrics above capture a beautiful idea – love that melds souls – but the beauty in those lines is also the vulnerability revealed by the singer. The love she is thinking of is past, the relationship has now ended, and the extent to which that love has left its mark in her is apparently beyond her control. It sometimes “pours” out of her – a word that suggests tears as well as a stream-of-consciousness in her writing.

 

They say there was a secret chord

that David played and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you? (Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah)

 

It’s probably the most well-known three lines from Cohen’s prolific songwriting career to date, but I decided to go with it because it’s classic Cohen. The first two lines begin as though a story is being told, evoking imagery from the Old Testament, but then, in a signature Cohen-like device, another dimension is added to the song. The singer cuts off the poetry with a prosaic question directed intimately at an imagined listener, revealing the artifice of the preceding lines, and making it sound like the story was part of some intimate conversation. But You don’t really care for music, do you? I like that twist in the perspective.

 

How do your pistol and your bible and your sleeping pills go?

Are you still jumping out windows in expensive clothes? (Tom Waits – Who Are You?)

I mentioned this line from Who Are You? in my previous post about lyrics, but as I’m attempting to write about favourite lines from well-known singer-songwriters, it deserves another whirl. It’s beautiful because it paints a visual picture, and in the context of the rest of the song, Waits seems to ask this question with gentle, tender sympathy for the desperate, lonely beings driven to such behaviour.

I’d like to go on, but I spent so much time talking about my piano lessons at the beginning of this post, that I’m going to have to wind up. I guess there are a few posts ahead on this topic (- editors of dying newspapers, take note.) But before I end, I’ll share one last lot of lyrics.

As I began writing this post, I looked up “Song For Guy” on Youtube, to make sure I was referring to the correct Elton John song, and after listening to 2 seconds of it, long enough to establish that it was indeed the right one, I let it keep playing while I wrote. As it played right through,  I discovered – or rediscovered if I ever knew this before – that there are lyrics at the end of what I had thought was an instrumental piece.

 

Perhaps I’m the only person who was not aware of this, but just in case anyone else out there was not, the lyrics are as follows:

Life isn’t everything

isn’t everything

isn’t everything

Life isn’t everything

isn’t everything

isn’t everything

Life

Life

 

It’s a strange phrase, isn’t it? After hearing those unusual lyrics, hidden at the end of nearly 4 minutes of music, curiosity led me to delve a bit further. According to Wikipedia, which describes the song as a ‘mainly instrumental piece of music,’ while Elton John was writing the piece, he found himself imagining that he was looking down on his own body, as if he had died. The next day, he found that his 17 year old messenger boy, Guy, had been killed in a motorbike accident the previous day. It’s not quite clear when he added those words in to the piece, but when someone has just died, the idea that life isn’t everything is a tempting one to grasp on to. At the same time, you feel that nothing can ever again be everything. Certainly not for the person who has died, but also, not for you.

*

In conclusion, for those who got lost along the way, here is a brief roadmap of this post.

It started with a fairly smooth drive through my childhood piano lessons, segued rather clumsily to a bumpy section about lyrics, and then came skidding to an awkward end, focusing on a song that I learned on the piano as a teen, which I had mistakenly believed all these years was a purely instrumental piece. Clearly the lyrics did not resonate with me previously, if I’d ever even realised they existed, but the serendipity of discovering the piece had lyrics, while writing this particular post, meant I had to write about it. Why? Because that is the rule*.

 

*There is no rule.

 

 

 

An accidental post

Dear readers, in a half-awake state this morning, attempting to reply to a comment left by Draliman on my last post, I managed to write and publish a short and succinct post instead, without even realising it until I logged back in later and wondered what the mysterious “unnamed” post was that was showing up in my stats.

This is apparently what happens  when I try to write comments in the morning, before having a coffee, using my phone, and probably squinting because I wasn’t wearing my relatively new reading glasses.

I’m sure any regular reader would have guessed this post was a mistake since I am usually unable to write less than 1000 words, even when sending a quick email at work to say I’ll be out of the office for an hour.

To put this in context, I am responding to Draliman’s comment that as soon as he saw the words “Too shy shy”, the name Kajagoogoo popped into his mind. 

*

Sad isn’t it, how our brains (or mine, at least) can’t recall information learned at school, like, for example, who was Prime Minister of Australia during the 1st World War, but can retain knowledge of these lyrics.

*

Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye

It’s that crazy title that is to blame.

When I sat down to start this post my idea was to write something about the concept of shyness, and for once, I immediately hit on the title.

As per my usual method of titling posts, I start by casting around in the cobwebby recesses of my mind to come up with a song title or lyric that fits the theme. In this particular case, it’s a little bit embarrassing to acknowledge how quickly this lyric came bubbling up to the surface as soon as the word “shy” was dangled temptingly above it.

In this case, however, I couldn’t really just leave a bizarre title like that just hanging there like the elephant in the room, and progress on to writing a post about shyness. I really had to stop and dwell for a moment on that title and what a reader would make of it.

If anyone under 25 was not yet convinced that the 80s was an era of disastrous haircuts and pop music, the title of this post should finally convince them. Of course, that is only if they could actually believe that “Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye” is a line from a song that reached the top of the UK Singles Chart in 1983, and number 5 on the Billboard Top 100 in the US.  People, what were you thinking???

Shut up and get a haircut!

Kajagoogoo – no, not a keyboard malfunction, it’s the name of the band.

Pic: Cosmic American Blog

(Note that although I was about 13 in 1983, I choose to distance myself from the single-buying public in the UK and the US on this matter. Firstly, I was in Australia, where it only reached number 6 (!) and, secondly as we’ve covered previously, I had a musically-deprived childhood, and by 1983 had only just saved up enough of my pitiful allowance to go halves with my sister in purchasing our very first album (a compilation – on cassette – that did NOT include this song). So I did not contribute to the chart success of this ridiculous song, although just between you and me, I was probably as guilty as anyone else at singing along with gusto when it was a hit.)

While we are dwelling on titles, regular readers (hi mum!)* will know, or have surmised, that a lot of my posts titles are song titles, or song lyrics, but it’s not a golden rule I follow. If I can’t think of something relevant pretty quickly, I don’t search for a title, I just make up my own post title. But I think any reader with even the vaguest knowledge of popular culture (sorry mum!) could reasonably surmise that if someone titles their post, “Too Shy, Shy, Hush, Hush, Eye To Eye,” either they have just eaten a particularly powerful batch of magic mushrooms, or they are quoting a lyric from an 80’s synth-pop hit.

Now we all know that the 80’s was a time for atrocious haircuts, so in some ways it’s not fair to make fun of those yet again, but somehow, just like fart jokes, an 80’s haircut is always worth a laugh. (I was going to write, “a bad 80’s haircut is always worth a laugh” but after spending 0.82 of a second running through a range of 80’s haircuts in my mind, I took out the word “bad” because it was superfluous.)

An Australian version of synth-pop hair - Pseudo Echo

An Australian version of synth-pop hair – Pseudo Echo

Pic: Powerhouse Museum

In the 80’s, advances in technology caused “new” electronic equipment to became more refined and affordable, reaching the mainstream, where it was embraced as the sound of the times. The synthesiser had been around in various forms for decades, and was already being used in popular music by the late 60s. In the 70s it featured in experimental electronic music and new-wave, but in the 80’s it reached the realm of the bad-haircut-wearing mainstream of pop music, and was over-used with enthusiasm, leaving us with collateral damage.

A Moog Modular synthesiser 1960s-1970s

A Moog Modular synthesiser 1960s-1970s

Pic: Wikipedia

It is difficult for anyone who was a teenager in the 80s to separate the synthesiser from bad 80s music, because of the plethora of over-produced, mediocre hits that relied heavily on the synthesiser and do not stand the test of time very well.  One forgets about the cool use of synthesiser in the music of Kratwerk or Gary Numan, and recalls instead songs like “Take On Me” by A-ha, or “Flashdance” by Giorgio Moroder.

But the line above is of course taken from one of the worst examples of 80s synth-pop, Too Shy, by a band of bad haircuts known as Kajagoogoo. The effort they put into naming their band must have been about equivalent to the effort they put into devising the lyrics to this song. According to the lyrics discovered on MetroLyrics.com, they only bothered to think up 2 other lines, then, by stringing everything together with “ooh, try a little harder,” the disparate, meaningless parts became a disjointed, meaningless whole:

Hush, hush, shy, shy, eye to eye
Hush, hush, shy, shy, hush, hush

Modern medicine fall short of your complaints
Ooh, try a little harder
You’re moving in circles, won’t you dilate
Ooh, baby try

Hey girl, move a little closer

‘Cause, you’re too
Shy, shy, hush, hush
Shy, shy, hush, hush
Shy, shy, hush, hush

Shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush

Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush

 

There you go. Modern day poetry. It is tempting to wonder how the writing process went down. Did they write the music first, then have a game of scrabble, and use the last few tiles that were left when everyone gave up, to make some one-syllable words they could fit to the music? Even with a whole team of monkeys and a typewriter, I doubt that I could come up with anything to beat those lyrics.

So on this occasion, starting with the title was a blessing or a curse, depending how you see it. It has caused my post to be waylaid and sidetracked. I was going to write a post about shyness, but that topic will have to wait for another day. Instead I’ve written a post about the ridiculous lyric that I chose for the title, 80s synth-pop, the synthesiser, and bad haircuts – basically the legacy left to us by bands like Kajagoogoo. Boohoo.

 *

*the link, above, to Cosmic American Blog is a funny post about the same song. I’d written my post before I came across this while looking for pictures and had a bit of a giggle.

* the line “won’t you dilate?” sounds like something one might hear in the labour ward, which leads me to surmise that the writer of this song was inhaling a bit too much gas at the time of the birth.

*As always, I should mention that my mum is one of my loyal band of imaginary readers, as she does not even have a computer and wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do with one if she did.

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