A banana in time saves nine

 

Breaking: Nine lives were saved today by a banana that jumped in to the ocean and swam each of them to shore, depositing the ninth person on the sand only moments before the ship, the HMAS Tropical Fruit Salad, sank.

*

Banana issues statement after rescuing 9 from drowning.

Banana issues statement after rescuing 9 from drowning.

Pic: © Blathering 2016

Dear readers, lately I’ve been feeling a bit bored with my own writing. I’m never quite happy with it, particularly when I try to be amusing. If only there were more banana rescue stories, it would be more fun for all of us.

This navel-gazing causes me to once again wonder what the purpose of writing this blog is.

I can’t deny that writing a blog whiles away the time. I suppose that’s one purpose for it. After all, statistics suggest that, based on averages, I have a good chance of being on Earth for 40 more years – give or take – that I’ll need to fill up with activity somehow. (Heaven forbid I should sit and just look out at the back yard while sipping a cup of tea.)

So I thought I’d fill at least some of that time by writing a blog. Of course I’m aware that this is written largely for my own amusement and that of a few kindly souls who are generous enough to read it every now and then.

Perhaps there are some of you out there that feel the same way about your writing sometimes? I enjoy writing – it’s become a hobby that I can’t do without – and sometimes I’d like to do more with it, but sadly I seem to lack the drive, or ambition, or determination – something necessary, anyway – to turn my love of writing into anything more than an that of an amateur hobbyist, plugging away at a personal blog.

I miss, too, the silliness that I used to achieve here in the first 12 month period, when the only reader I had was (still my favourite!) the imaginary reader, who always loves everything I write, without discrimination. So sweet!

It seems to me that if you have an interest in developing your writing, the downside of writing a blog is that after a year or two, any time you start to write something, it ends up being for your blog, and after a while you develop a sort of  lazy”style” or shorthand approach that doesn’t change much. I’m sure I’m guilty of doing this very thing, right now.

So I decided to challenge myself, and signed up to an online course that requires me to write for 10 minutes – on the Course project page, not here on this blog – each day for 10 days in a row, inspired by the deceptively simple prompt “Today I noticed…”.

(Try noticing anything useful once that challenge has been put to you. So far, 2 days in, I’ve posted 2 pieces and I’ve noticed myself feeling happy, and that the bananas were ripe. An effort that is surely worth a sad face emoji.)

However, the more important thing is that in this ridiculously short time, I’m already feeling very motivated. I think that’s because I’m writing there for a different purpose, and for a different audience (delightfully, on the course project page, my posts so far have been viewed largely by a bunch of imaginary readers, and they are always so encouraging!). I enjoy writing to a time limit too, as it forces me to get ideas out, not worry too much about editing and re-editing every sentence, and not write pieces that are 1000 words too long, as I usually do here.

All in all, it’s quite liberating.

Now, it should be obvious from the lackadaisical style of this blog that there is no commercial sponsorship involved. Even so, I don’t like to act as if I’m being paid to endorse commercial operations – heaven knows, if they want to pay me, I’ll probably endorse them – so I won’t mention the name of the course here, but you can locate it if you are interested, via this link which will take you to the course work I’ve done so far, where you’ll be able to identify the course and the site offering the course.

I’ve never signed up for an online course before – free or paid – but decided to see how much value I got from it for 3 months. So far, unless there is some hidden clause I haven’t read, it seems very worthwhile, given how motivated I’m feeling after 2 days! I was otherwise considering enrolling in a short 8 week course at my local community centre that would have cost $100. It would have been more detailed and extensive than most of the courses on offer through this site, but on the other hand, I would have had to give up all my Thursday nights for two months and made the effort to go out in the cold and dark to attend! Weighing up the pros and cons, people.

 

Call the Motivating Banana for more writing ideas.

Banana now available as a motivational speaker.

Pic: © Blathering 2016

In terms of value, if I manage to do even just a few similar courses in a year, and find them motivating, then the $96 will be worth it. The site offers courses in all sorts of things, not only in writing.  I filtered the categories down to Writing, Photography, Design and Techology and saved 58 courses I was interested in before I could’t bear to keep scrolling any further!

So I thought I’d tell you all about this. I know that learning online is not a new thing and there are a million different online course providers out there, and I’m a complete novice, as it’s the first time I’ve ever signed up for one, so I have no comparison to make. But even if just for the sake of providing some motivation to write,  it could be worthwhile to try out one of these courses if you’re in a rut, writing-wise. Why not join in Creative Writing: 10 Days to a Daily Habit with me and try the challenge yourself? It’s harder than you think.

What did you notice today?

 

 

Some idea that I’ve forgotten

Oh, the wondrous passages you would all be reading, dear readers, if only my memory could store an idea for more than a few seconds.

There’s a phrase, I’m sure you’ve heard it, “in one ear and out the other.” Well, “in one ear and out the other” could aptly describe the traverse of ideas for new posts I’ve had since last Wednesday.

(Incidentally, the very same phrase could have been employed to describe the journey of many spoonfuls of mashed pumpkin when my youngest brother was a baby and strapped into his highchair eating dinner.)

There is a distinct pattern emerging in my week since I’ve started trying to make a concerted effort to publish a post weekly. Writing is a creative activity, and creative activity staves off an existential crises, or so I find. Publishing is an outcome of that creative activity, so therefore, getting a post published at least once a week provides a huge, if temporary, reprieve from that endlessly niggling question, am I just totally wasting this minute/hour/day/life away? which, if not checked, is followed by the more insidious, what is my purpose in life?

(Publishing one post a week is a fairly unambitious goal for an entire life, sure, but it’s good to aim low and give yourself a reasonable chance of achieving your goal, or so I’ve always thought.)

So the pattern is that, once the post is published – lately this has been on a Wednesday – I sit back and relax. I can rest easy for at least 24 – 48 hours, only peering occasionally at my WordPress stats to see if anyone has actually read my latest post. (Where are you Mum??)*

Thus fortified with purpose, Thursday can come and go, bringing not the slightest niggle about wasting time. Next comes Friday, and I’m still pretty smug about having recently published a post. So much so that last week, I took a wild step and set some new writing-related goals for the day.

Never fear, I wasn’t overly ambitious. I only set more than one goal, because as each goal failed, I thought of a new and less challenging one.

Last Friday I first determined that, as I enjoy writing so much, I would find some freelance/contract work as a writer to supplement my part-time job. I scoured websites advertising writing work. Some were clearly scams looking for a sucker to exploit. Many were for temporary full-time contracts, which are no good for me, or for writing tenders, business contracts or real estate copy – things I’m not interested in.

What exactly was I hoping for, you may well be thinking at this point. To be honest, I think I was hoping that someone would be advertising for a creative writer with almost no publishing history apart from a personal blog, to write whatever they liked, in flexible hours to suit themselves, and offering a handsome sum for the work. The nearest thing to this was a job writing “content” for a bollard company. They need someone to work a few hours a week, writing the company newsletters, e-news, website content, flyers and any other digital and written materials.

As a side note, I must say that it came as a total surprise to me to find that the humble bollard generates so much interest that there are people subscribing to bollard company e-news in order to stay abreast of the latest advances in bollard technology. Sadly, however, the bollard company were looking for someone with formal qualifications in Marketing and PR, so my dreams of writing bollard-related content for a living have as much forward momentum as a car that has just been stopped short by a row of these bad boys:

Some particularly shiny bollards. Pic: Stephen McKay, sourced from Wikimedia Commons

A babble of (particularly shiny) bollards.

Pic: Stephen McKay, sourced from Wikimedia Commons

But back to my attempt to use my time productively: Friday afternoon was passing by and I hadn’t landed a highly paid job writing my own column for the New Yorker, (in fact they were not even advertising on writingjobs.com!) so fear of wasting time, and subsequently my life, was starting to play at the edges of my mind.

By about 2pm, I decided to throw in that search and take a different track. My new writing-related goal was to find a magazine or other outlet calling for submissions. It didn’t even need to be paid, just an opportunity to publish something. I started out hopefully, and spent probably an hour or so on this search. In the end, I earmarked one literary journal, although only half-heartedly. I don’t hold very high hopes for my chances with literary journals as I’m sure my writing – and no doubt my terrible sentence structure – not to mention my severe over-use of the dash – is not literary enough. (Also they’ve helpfully confirmed this by rejecting pieces previously).

I guess I was looking for something more along the lines of the bollard company newsletters, if only they had specified “looking for a creative writer who will write weekly columns of about 1000 words on any topic they like and include reference to a bollard.”

(Surely some forward-thinking bollard company should do just that? I may consider starting an entirely separate blog dedicated solely to bollards.)

Anyway, I digress. At about 4pm, desperation was setting in – another day totally wasted! – so abandoned the submission idea, and developed a third writing-related goal. This goal was unambitious, administrative, and there was no question that I was capable of achieving it, only whether I could be bothered to achieve it. That was, to sort out the writing I’ve saved on my computer.

As of 4pm on Friday, my “Writing” folder contained about 100 unsorted Word files, all pieces of writing, (obviously) ranging from entire essays/articles, through to documents containing one paragraph, or even just one line that I had apparently deemed worth saving for posterity. It seemed I hadn’t bothered to file any writing for that last 4 years.

So my ambitions boiled down to an hour on Friday afternoon spent on “writing administration”, ie, creating folders and moving all that debris around so that at least now, on the surface, it looks as though there is some kind of system behind my, um, thinking processes.

And among the 100-odd unsorted documents was one called some idea that I’ve forgotten. It was an attempt to capture an idea I’d had a few weeks before, but forgotten the specifics of within hours. The notes were like those of someone trying to recall a dream “…something about Millennials v Generation X but NOT making fun of Millennials….the benefit of being slower…maybe to do with cooking?….” I had hoped that the process of writing would trigger the entire memory. Alas, it did not, and I still haven’t remembered what that idea was.

This has been happening more frequently lately, so the title of that document seemed to symbolise my life at the moment. An idea starts to formulate in my mind, I think I’ve got hold of it enough to remember it – and then rapidly forget it. I don’t know if it’s happening more often because I’m trying to develop ideas for posts more frequently, or because I’m getting older, and my memory is disintegrating.  I should learn to write ideas down, I know, but they don’t always occur in circumstances conducive to doing so – especially now that I can’t write anything without putting on my reading glasses.

To illustrate: after Friday comes Saturday. By Saturday, I usually start, in the back of my mind at least, to try and formulate an idea for my next post. Since publishing a post on the Wednesday, at least 3 or four ideas will probably have occurred, and sometimes they may have been very quickly followed by a catchy opening sentence. When I’m on a roll, I’ll think through an entire first paragraph. But the results of these moments of lucidity rarely make it to the blog. (as I’m sure you can tell.)

I wrote virtually a whole opening paragraph to a potential new post in my head on Saturday evening, as I was rushing to get dressed to go out. As I pulled on and then discarded various tops, trying to find something to team with a pair of wide-legged pants that wouldn’t make me look like a pavlova, I was distractedly thinking of an idea, and sentence after sentence came to me. I even chuckled, no doubt impressed at my own wit.

Alas, I had no time to stop and write anything down, because when I’m going out, I usually allow about 15 minutes to get ready, and fail to allocate time for capturing ethereal concepts that will melt away into the air if not grasped and made concrete as soon as they are thought of.

So whatever Saturday’s chuckle-inducing idea was, it went down the gurgler and you ended up, instead, with this. Sorry about that.

*

*Mum doesn’t have a computer, let alone know what a blog is.

I love Paris in the Springtime

It’s Spring in Melbourne! After the unusually cold winter we had in Melbourne this year – we were treated to an extended version of Winter this year, that continued on through most of September – Spring finally seems to have arrived, and with it the renewed energy and lifted spirits that longer hours of sunshine and warmer temperatures bring. Hurrah!

Unfortunately Spring is also to blame for why I’ve already sneezed twice since writing the word It’s about 1 minute ago. Perhaps Spring also accounts for the large, slow-witted blowflies that mysteriously find their way into our house in droves at the moment and then proceed to fly in a slow and wobbly manner, around the house at shoulder height, as if they are stoned and paranoid about heights.

Anyway, it’s Spring, the time when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of cricket, now that the football season is over. Spring, when the buds start budding, the blooms start blooming, and my eyes start running. Spring, when we all get Spring fever. Spring, when we all….Spring clean. ?

I’m afraid I’m not really into cleaning, especially Spring cleaning. Who ever decided it was a good idea to devote an entire 3 month period – arguably the nicest 3 month period of the year for being outdoors –  to cleaning?

When it comes to cleaning, I begrudgingly allocate a small amount of time now and then to cleaning things a visitor might reasonably be expected to encounter on a tour through my house – dishes, cups, cutlery, floors and surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens, for example. (I have only one kitchen, so I’m not sure why there is a plural kitchens there). I allocate proportionally less time to things only the discerning, or pedantic, visitor will ever look at – the dust on the bookshelves, or behind the toilet, for example – and basically no time ever to wiping, sorting or tidying the junk that accumulates inside cupboards or wardrobes or in the junk room study, so if you ever happen to drop in to my house for a surprise visit, please don’t look behind the couch, or inside the vases, or even into the junk room study. (that could prove difficult if you’re staying overnight, as you’ll be in there on a fold-out bed amongst the junk.) In fact whether it’s a surprise visit or not will make no difference, I still won’t be wiping out cupboards for you.

This afternoon is a case in point. My parents and one of my brothers are coming over for lunch tomorrow. Things I need to do before that lunch could be divided into 2 categories, much like skills and experience on a job application:

  1. Essential – clean up the dirty dishes currently in the kitchen, go shopping for ingredients, prepare the lunch and dessert so the guests have something to eat when they arrive.
  2. Desirable – clean the bathroom, mop the floors, clear the table, set the table for guests.

Today I was out all day until about 3.30pm, and I’m going out again at 6pm. At about 4.30 this afternoon I calculated that I had 1 1/2 hours, and 2 possible paths to take in that time, namely either:

  • The Road Less Travelled/The Path of the Well-Prepared Host. This path involves shopping for the required groceries today, and perhaps even making a start on some of the food preparations, thereby making tomorrow morning more relaxed
  • or
  • The Road Quite Frequently Travelled/The Path of the Unprepared Host. This path involves getting out my laptop and settling in to spend the next 1 1/2 hours, or, basically, right up to the moment that I’m planning to leave to go out again, writing a post. The consequences will be to spend all of tomorrow morning doing all of the above mentioned tasks in order to have the house, and the lunch, ready by midday, probably feeling a bit rushed and stressed out while doing so – but hey – that won’t occur until tomorrow, right?

Was there ever any real doubt about which path I would choose? I opted for number 2, The Road Quite Frequently Travelled, (at least by bloggers)- so here I am.

Yes, the dust is gently accumulating on the floorboards, the rhubarb I’m intending to stew for dessert tomorrow is still sitting in bunches down at the Fruit shop, and I don’t recall when the floor was last mopped, but I’m here at my blog.

In my defence, I’m attempting a Spring clean of sorts. A literary Spring clean, if you will. I’m continuing on a personal mission to clean out some of the 19 Draft posts I’ve accumulated over the past few years, by shaping them into something decent and then posting them. I purged one just the other day, by turning it into a silly post about doing the laundry at night.

Today, the challenge is tougher than finishing off a half-written poem about hanging laundry. Today’s challenge is to devise an introduction that will nicely segue into a draft written two years ago, after an overseas holiday, about being in Paris. Now, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a simple task. A topic like this is difficult to resurrect 2 years later, because when the writer is not in, and has no particular claim to any expertise on, a particular place, the timing of the post is crucial. Having now lost the immediacy of being written right after being in Paris, there is a high risk that a post about Paris, written by an Australian woman from her awfully dusty house in Melbourne, will come across as trite, superficial and cliched.

Looking over my original draft, I fear that some of the writing was pretty trite, superficial and cliched anyway. Witness the following lame sentence: “There is, of course, a lot that could be said about Paris, and I am not going to try and cover it all.”  Did I really think that was worth stating?

In the spirit of Spring cleaning, this draft has either got to be salvaged, or  thrown out for good.

I began this exercise quite ruthlessly, chopping out the first 4-5 paragraphs of the original draft with not a blink of the eye. Ruthless – this is how  you really clean things out. (If only I could do this as ruthlessly in the physical world.) There was nothing astounding in those paragraphs anyway, just some trite and superficial writing about how great it is to travel and how pretty Paris was. No wonder I refrained from hitting the “publish” button!

So after consideration, this is the only part I’m keeping. It’s about a little tradition I began, and try to uphold when ever I’m lucky enough to travel.  That is, to buy a book about the city I’m in.  I began this tradition on my very first overseas trip some 16 or so years ago, when I landed in San Fransisco, and headed, (not literally straight from the airport) to the famous CityLights bookshop, where I purchased a collection of short histories of San Fransisco. Reading the book later, back home in Melbourne, was all the more enjoyable because I was able to reminisce about locations I’d been to, while also learning more about the history of a city that I’d immediately liked and felt interested in.

It doesn’t have to be non-fiction. In Edinburgh, Scotland, I purchased a second hand copy of Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh. In Dublin, Ireland, I bought a copy of Dubliners, by James Joyce. I don’t devise my whole itinerary in each place around hunting down such a book, and there are plenty of cities I’ve visited where I haven’t managed to come across a book that was emblematic of the city: I failed to find just the right book when in New York, Hong Kong, Montreal, Edmonton, Cork, Nice, Venice, or Barcelona, for example.

 

Shakespeare and Co. bookshop, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Shakespeare and Co. bookshop, Paris

In Paris, the legendary bookshop for any English-speaking tourist is Shakespeare and Co. I imagine every single English-speaking tourist who has ever visited Paris has dropped into this shop at some point during their stay. In fact, I think they were all there on the perfect Spring afternoon that I visited, because it was so crowded that I couldn’t turn around, or walk anywhere without……well, I just simply couldn’t turn around or walk anywhere. It was quite unpleasant, actually, as the store is tiny. To make matters worse, it was a warm day,  I was flying out that day, and I had already checked out of my accommodation – therefore, I was wearing unnecessary layers of clothes including a cardigan and thick rain jacket, simply because I couldn’t squash more clothes into the suitcase. I was also carrying my bulky backpack with me. I felt like the Michelin Man, trying to squeeze his way through a store full of young, thin, literary type-Australian students discussing the French-speaking Politics class they were taking at the university. (true)

Thus, once in Shakespeare and Co, all I wanted to do was get out as quickly as possible, so instead of spending time enjoying the atmosphere in this legendary store, famously a hang out for all sorts of literary figures through the years, including Beat poets, and Anais Nin, I made a quick decision – I saw a small history of Paris, so I shoved my way through to the counter, purchased it, and got the hell out of there.

I brought my newly aquired tome back to Melbourne with me, and read my way through all 600 or so pages, detailing the history of the city from the 3rd Century BC when the Parisii tribe set up at the site then known as Lutetia, and fought Julius Ceasar’s armies, through to its incarnation as the city it is now – or was when the book was published about 3 years ago.

As I learned from my reading, a city is a constantly evolving thing, with many layers of history hidden underneath the streets, below the ground cover in its parks; its buildings are demolished or repurposed, its physical boundaries are ever expanding.

In that sense, as it turns out, this post is a bit like a city.

 

Interior of the store: imagine approximately 400 people buzzing around and one large fat Michelin Man stumbling through them all.

Interior of Shakespeare and Co, obviously taken after hours. Imagine about 400 people climbing over one another, and one large fat Michelin Man stumbling through them all.

 

Pics of Shakespeare and Co store courtesy of Wikipedia.

For a concise, 1 page history of Paris, as opposed to 600 pages, try this useful link.

Gonna change my name to Hannibal, or maybe just Rex

Dear reader, just to keep you wondering, I have rebranded.

If you are a regular reader, you may have subscribed some time ago to a blog called It Keeps Me Wondering, and been happy enough with that, only to suddenly today received in your inbox, or discover in the feed on your Reader, a post from a site called Blathering About Nothing.

The funny thing is, I don’t even have a Marketing Manager, nor have I hired an online consultancy firm who has advised me to rebrand. I just have myself and my usual uncertainty, and my tendency to be unsure about the choice I made 4.5 years ago for what would be a public “image.”

Unfortunately for me, through lack of planning a strategic marketing campaign at the time of my birth, as well as the non-existence of a public profile that I could capitalise on by changing my name to one word and incorporating a dollar sign or hashtag into it, I hadn’t realised that I was a brand when I set up my blog. Now, 4 1/2 years later, my poor blog has a split personality.

When I decided to start blogging, I agonised for weeks over what to call my blog, umming and aahing over possible names for weeks, until my main impetus was to just bloody well pick a name and get writing. I had a list of names in a notebook, so I picked one out: Is That Coffee? Thus the url: isthatcoffee.wordpress.com

(How did I come up with that? Well this all happened during a period when I had given up drinking coffee – I’ve since fallen off that particular wagon – and probably had a lot of spare time on my hands from all those cups of coffee I wasn’t making or drinking.) I guess I thought that was kind of amusing, because it implied that I was slightly hysterical about coffee – and left it pretty open as to what I would write about.

Only days after creating the blog, I came up with a name I liked a lot more – It Keeps Me Wondering. I liked it because it implied that I’d be writing about what I was thinking about, rather than what I was doing. My ideas, rather than my life, if you like.

So I changed the name to It Keeps Me Wondering, but didn’t change the url. Once my blog started to get a few regular followers, I wished I’d changed the url to match, but I’ve continually been too scared to take that step because it sounds like there is a risk of breaking links and losing followers. So I had a blog called It Keeps Me Wondering, and a url address that didn’t match, and meanwhile I wrote my first few posts.

Soon I wrote two posts inspired by some plays by Samuel Beckett, a literary hero of mine:

Blathering About Nothing in Particular, and Blathering About Nothing in Particular, Part 2.

These were named after a line from Waiting for Godot:

…yes, now I remember, yesterday evening we spent blathering about nothing in particular. That’s been going on now for half a century.*

Beckett’s minimalistic plays from the 1950s-60s have almost no action in the traditional sense, and often cross-examine the meaning, or absence of meaning, in language, and by extension, in life, through seemingly absurd dialogues, or monologues. His characters often make reference to the fact that their conversation is both repetitive and ultimately meaningless.

The irony in that concept seemed to fit perfectly with the idea of me, sitting alone writing a blog which would no doubt often be repetitive and ultimately meaningless.

Inspired by this idea, I then changed my user name to Blathering, and the default category for posts, when I’m just writing rubbish, to Blathering About Nothing. I’ve often thought about changing the name of the blog to Blathering About Nothing, in a little homage to Beckett, and also a humorous nod to essentially the same thing – that the blog is about ideas, anything and everything, and essentially, nothing. I like the self-deprecating inference and it also feels very Irish, which is my heritage. The only reason I haven’t is, as I said, uncertainty, and fear of causing confusion for followers.

But it seems that I’ve committed one of the worst sins possible in the world of creating an online presence, which was to have a blog title, a url, and an online “identity” that were all mismatched.

A while back I wrote a post about a book I read, that references contemporary television shows, to illustrate the philosophies behind Pre-Modern, and Modern thought, and the self-imposed problems Modern thought creates. The fundamental difference was around the concept of identity – in Pre-Modern thought, what we did constituted our identity, in Modern thought, what we do only reflects our identity.

So today I spent time pondering the ultimate Modern dilemma of identity:  how many different online profiles do I have now, and should I be trying to consolidate some of them? And, if my online profiles are identity-reflecting, what does it say about me that my blog alone has about 3 different identities?  These matters are, as you can see, of grave importance in the great chain of being.

In the world of social media, having a “consistent brand” is the golden chalice to aim for. It seems to be becoming our primary obligation. Certain human beings are now often referred to as a “brand”, particularly if they go by only one name, or even better, if the media have managed to merge their name with their partner’s name to form one catchy name, as if they are the same being, ie, Brangelina. (If you are not sure who that is, congratulations! You win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Brangelina mansion.)

As if  I have not created enough random chaos by having a blog with an identity crisis, I’ve also delved into Facebook, where I am myself, and into Twitter, where I have a profile that is “me” where I tweet about the arts, or social justice issues that I think are important, as well as a Twitter profile as Blathering, the author of this blog. (@_Blathering)

So in summary, after reading a book about the dilemmas of Modern thought, I had one of my own and as a result, finally made a decision.  Now, at least, the name of the blog, my gravatar, the theme of “blathering” that runs through the blog, and my (second) Twitter account, all match up. Phew!

The long list of things that keep me wondering should hopefully now be shorter by one item.

*

Stay tuned for the next episode where we discuss whether I should make the following changes:

a. Change my name to Hannibal, or maybe just Rex?

b. Change my shorts

c. Change my life

d. Change into a 9 year old Hindu boy, get rid of my wife?

*

 

*the line from Waiting for Godot is said by Estragon, to Vladimir, p.66 in my very old copy.

*the changes above are not really under serious consideration at this point in time. They are lyrics stolen from the great Modern philosopher, Tom Waits, from his albums Goin’ Out West, and Step Right Up.

*Hidden somewhere in this post is the Twitter handle of my personal account – but in keeping with my truly non-strategic approach to social media, it doesn’t have anything to do with any of the other “identities” mentioned here.

Waiting for the great leap forward

On a day off from work, it is not uncommon that my sole aim for the day, from the moment I get up, is that I will write a post on my blog.

Hmm, on second thought, perhaps sole aim is not quite the right term to use there – I fear that makes it sound like I swan around on my days off, with so little else to do that I really should give the servants a raise, and take up Decoupage.

I did have other goals for the day – if you count all the boring things like phone an electrician about the fan in the bathroom, vaccuum the floors, pick up kid and grocery shopping!!! – but write a post is the creative goal that will make my day feel worthwhile – something that grocery shopping and vacuuming will not achieve, worthy pursuits though they may be.

Each time I plan to write a post on my blog, I hope that it will be a good piece of writing, that it might even be the best piece of writing I’ve posted here so far. Each time I publish I post, I am certain that I fall short of that mark, but nevertheless, I do still get satisfaction from achieving the goal of the doing, and the posting.

After such an introduction, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that today is one of those days, a day where my sole aim has been to sit down and write a post on my blog – and here I am, starting this post at 5.08pm. That doesn’t bode well for producing a high quality piece of writing to post by tonight, since, as we all know, 5pm is the point on any day off where time starts to accelerate. Evidence suggests that the acceleration effect is even more pronounced when you have to work the following day.*

On a day off, the morning is delightfully slow, particularly if you indulge yourself by sitting in the wintery morning sun, drinking an extra cup of tea and reading your book while the laundry is washing. Early afternoon eventually rolls around, and gently nudges you into recalling that you better pick up the pace and finish off those chores if you want that image of yourself sitting by the window writing in the afternoon sun to have any chance of becoming a reality.

Lo and behold, after you’ve done the grocery shopping, put groceries away, made the marinade, prepared dinner ready to be cooked, and answered a few emails, it’s 5pm. Cue that sinking feeling, because you know that time is going to speed up from here, and the next thing you know you’ll have cooked and eaten dinner, cleaned up, had a glass or 2 of of wine, and it will be 11pm and you”ll still be plugging away at that post because you’re so determined to post it today – even though you have to be up at 6.30am and really should be in bed.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s the point where I frequently end up publishing my post, whatever stage it’s at, despite misgivings that it’s not my best piece of writing ever, and in fact a fear that it’s really a very mediocre piece of writing indeed.

Still, the upside is that I do gain a sense of satisfaction from getting the writing done and posted, and thus achieving that goal.

A lot of advice to writers highlights the importance of plugging away and just doing it, and by doing so, forming a habit of writing, and that certainly fits with the contentment I feel in getting a post written and published, even when I sometimes wish I’d written something far more memorable, insightful, witty, intelligent, or (insert praiseworthy adjectives of your own preference here.)

So the good news for me, and people in a similar dilemma, is that today there is apparently an extra second in the day. Yes, on June 30 in the Northern Hemisphere, or July 1 down here where we are always slightly ahead of you all, we had a Leap-Second.* I am not sure how it escaped my attention up to this point in my life, but apparently ever since 1972, Coordinated Universal Time is adjusted by a second every now and then (approximately every 3 years) to keep time with the Earth’s rotation, which is apparently irregular.

Looks regular, but you can never tell from appearances who's regular and who's not.

Looks regular, but you can never tell from appearances who’s regular and who’s not.

Pic: Fact Monster

Now that I’ve discovered the existence of the leap second, not only am I enjoying all the extra time I have on my hands this afternoon, I’m putting it to good use by reading about the leap second. I needed a topic for my post, see, and although this may have seemed like it was a post about writing posts, that little bit of navel-gazing was just a ploy to lead into the topic of the leap second. Or is the topic of the leap second a ploy to pad out a post about writing a post? Well, dear reader, you can decide for yourself, when (or if) you reach the end. (for those who don’t reach the end, please don’t write in to ask what happened.)

Firstly, it’s impressive – when you consider all the seconds that have ticked by since the Big Bang occurred – and let me assure you, there have been quite a few of them, – that this particular second gets to be singled out with a name. Admittedly it is not a proper name, but nevertheless, a categorical name.

The extra second, captured in a photograph taken at NASA this morning.

The extra second, captured in a photograph taken at NASA this morning.

Imagine if we decided to name (even categorically) every second. For a start, we’d have to think of names that could be said in less than a second, so obviously we’d be looking for one syllable words for names – eg,  Jeb, Dan, Syd, Bip, Bam and Pow. We’d also need to think up the names in fractions of seconds, and we’d need to have our Second Naming Department staff do nothing else but think up and name seconds, 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour, 24/7. No toilet breaks. Obviously to undertake this endeavour we’d need a large team of rotating staff and a large supply of speed.

Who even suggested that idea? Clearly naming every second would be an outright waste of taxpayers money. Let’s get back to the second in question – the leap second.

The leap second does not have the upper case status of a proper noun, but nevertheless I enjoy the many references online to the leap second as a noun that needs to be dealt with. I have decided to picture it as Coordinated Universal Time’s equivalent of a little green frog. (which would make the Leap Year a large, ugly, overgrown toad.)

It seems the humble little leap second manages to generate controversy. The Wikipedia entry on the leap second (linked above) has a section devoted to the  Proposal to Abolish Leap Seconds. What – no! Yes, Reader, I’m afraid so. It also has a section entitled Examples of problems associated with the leap second. (I note the careful wording, whereby Wikipedia avoids saying that the problems are “caused by” the leap second, in order to avoid being sued by the leap second. It’s not so cute when it’s mad.) There is also a section on Workaround for leap second issues, which may be useful if your mobile device is telling you that it’s still June 30. (or perhaps you’re just in L.A. and it IS still June 30.)

The poor old leap second. Soon we’ll be reading articles about how it’s been misunderstood and neglected, and then soon after that, articles on its impending extinction.

So there was an extra second today, and that extra second has led to this post. To wrap up, I thought it might be nice to pretend that this was always the plan: here is a list of things that happened in that extra second today*:

– a snail moved approximately 0.1 mm

– a bee beat its wings 270 times

-light travelled all the way from the moon into our range of vision here on earth

– 4 babies were born

-2 people died

-neurons in my brain transmitted a response after I read an article about leap seconds; that led to this post.

 

*

 

 

*references for the list of things that happened within that second:

Top Ten Incredible Things

Ecology Global Network

Space.com

 

Controversy (The Track 6 Theory is debunked).

Welcome back, dear reader, to the third, and hopefully final, instalment in my instructional series on how to take a trivial, insignificant thought that popped into your brain for approximately 4 seconds, some 20 odd years ago, and see how many posts you can get out of it.

Market research conducted on this very blog* tells us that the maximum saturation point for audiences reading about the same topic over and over and over again is 3 posts. We don’t want to bore our readers silly, so that’s what we are aiming for. Let’s see if we can make it!

We will begin post no.3  by reviewing the ground we’ve covered already in this series (since reviewing weeks 1 and 2 is a sure fire way to fill in a word count.)

In week one, we looked at how the natural events that occur in life may occasionally result in one experiencing a thought so incredibly trivial that it’s not even worth recording on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even (for those still stuck back in the Middle Ages) in the Notes App on your iPhone.

We then saw how, after that astounding experience, life continues on, in some cases even for another 20 years or more, without any other majorly insignificant thoughts spoiling your otherwise edifying and witty stream-of-consciousness that is always worthy of posting up on the interwebs for the entire universe to read and admire.

We talked about how occasionally, the next thing you know is that you are looking for a topic for your blog, when that completely insignificant idea from 20 years earlier pops up, and for lack of any other ideas you decide to take on the challenge to actually make a post out of it.

So that was lesson one: how to have an insignificant idea, forget it, live life for 20 more years, then remember the idea and, despite it’s astounding lack of depth, manage to write a post about it.

Next we had lesson 2: how to string out your trivial idea to fill up a second post.

In this instalment we were introduced to devices that would help the blogger continue to wring content out of a completely insignificant idea. One was the device of apologising to your readers for the previous post, admitting that it had been finished off hurriedly because you were tired and had to go to bed. Another device was to add a very poorly executed graph into your post, in an attempt to give your badly executed research a bit more credibility. A third tip was to add a readers’ poll to give the post a bit more……interactivity.

And now, here we are at lesson 3.

Lesson 3 begins with an obvious fact. Naturally if, in post number 2, you have inserted a poll that requires a response, that leaves the reader, (or if you are lucky, readers) on the edge of their seat, or seats, waiting for post number 3, where you reveal the results of your poll. This then obliges you, in an almost legally binding contract, to follow up with a post revealing those results. This post is all about those results.

For anyone who did not participate in my poll, (and I estimate roughly  7 billion of you did not bother), my poll question was this: Choose an album and pick out your favourite track on the album. Is it track 6 or some other number?

Now firstly, I must give a hearty thankyou to all who did vote in the poll. All 4 of you deserve an iTunes card as a reward for your efforts. Unfortunately, an iTunes card was not on offer so you’ll have to remain content with the knowledge that you contributed to important scientific research.

The results of the poll were:

Track 6: 0 votes

Some Other Track: 3 votes

There Are No Track Numbers, Do I Have To Count Them?: 1 vote

For those who did not read the previous post on this topic, my first study in this field, consisting of 16 albums, all selected by myself, showed that Track 6 came up as favourite track at least 50% of the time. But in this second study, consisting of external subjects (4 in total),  Track 6 clearly suffered a crushing defeat, never coming up at all as a favourite track.

In keeping with the true spirit of scientific exploration, I am open to discarding an old hypothesis when it is proven to be incorrect. We are not afraid of a little controversy here at It Keeps Me Wondering Laboratories (TM). (especially not if it’s sung by Prince.) (*Controversy: Track 1, on the album Controversy, 1981).

In that spirit, I conclude that Track 6 is not the most popular track on a random selection of albums. In fact, based on this extensive survey of 4 people, I think we can conclude that Track 6 is generally a dud since not a single person chose it as their favourite. Furthermore, although this was not the subject of the study, we can also conclude that it’s really annoying when tracks are not numbered on the back of the CD and you have to actually count them if you want to know which track to skip to. Boring!

However, this post is about more than just the superficial results of a survey. It is also about how to utilise your survey results in order to pad out your post, yes, that’s right, your third goddam post on the same goddam topic, and by doing so, achieve our goal of writing three posts on a completely trivial and inconsequential topic. For no other reason than because we set ourselves that challenge.

The way to do this, dear reader, is with illustrations, or in this case, more graphs.

Firstly, we could graph the data that 75% of respondents chose a track other than track 6, 0 chose track 6, and 25% could not work out what number their favourite track was. (I feel their pain.)

Portion who like track 6

 

(As this is a pie chart, the proportion of people who chose Track 6 as their favourite (0) is represented by their glaring absence from getting any pie).

Next, we could track the popularity of track 6 over the past 2.5 decades:

 

popularity of track 6

 

(Data in the above graph may be mostly imaginary however Blue Lines is a real album that was released in 1992, and, perhaps coincidentally, around that time, my own personal track favourites were often track number 6)

 

And finally, we could represent the overlap between all the people in the world, all the albums in the world, and the instances where a person chooses track 6 on an album as their favourite album:

Graph all the people

 

(Graph is based on an estimation, as disappointingly, I have so far not had responses from all the people in the world.)

In conclusion: Personally I still have a soft spot for Track 6, and will always be disappointed when it’s not my favourite track, but looking objectively at all the scientific evidence, I can see that overall the vote for Track 6 is: meh.

 

*By “Market Research” I mean, that’s what I decided.

*Apologies for the quality of the images, my scanner has stopped working so I’ve had to use my trusty iPhone to take photographs of my drawings! 

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.

*

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.

 *

*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.

 

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