Thursday, 30 December 2010

Banner change #5 to #6 (and cosmetic update)

As the New Year approaches, so again, it is time to refresh things. A new banner design (just some improvised editing of a photo of mine taken in the local Jesmond Dene park from the summer/autumn), and a new blog theme.

New post/content to follow over weekend.

Old banner:


New banner:


Sunday, 19 December 2010

The wintry meditation

Very few posts of late on this blog – I have been extraordinarily busy. An enormous amount has changed since the last post. In short – I have made it happen. The last post was a reflection of my resolution to make my Personal Training career a reality. I didn’t have a specific roadmap laid out, but instead just a firm conviction it would happen in a timely fashion.

Which it did, and has. Approximately two months subsequent to that post, I secured an interview for a PT position at the very gym I workout in. I went in with a great deal of confidence and was successful in getting the job – I had an absolute belief that the time was right and I was going to make the transition from my previous job, which, by this point, I was getting well and truly sick of: no challenge, poor salary, no progression, no future; in short, a total waste of my abilities.

It is all now a bona fide reality and I am a self-employed PT operating out of that gym. Despite the difficulty with launching at this time of year (everyone wants to put fitness/health off till the New Year) in addition to the enormously inclement harsh weather conditions that Britain has experiencing over the last month and the transportation difficulties – despite all of this, it is already going extremely well, and I am not too far off having a full sustainable business with a good client base. Come the end of January and the massive influx of new gym members, it should all come together. I have approximately 15 clients now; I expect to double this throughout January which means that by Spring I will be securely established and making a reasonable living.

Personal Training is enormously satisfying and challenging. Every client is different, with a huge difference in basic fitness and proprioception skills, physical history and health/fitness problems – consequently the training always has to be tailored to the individual. There are many factors that come together since it is far more than just a simple 1 hour training session with a person – it is about learning how to interact with the individual, discover how to motivate and get the best out of them, how had to push. adjudge how accurate/realistic their feedback is. Then there is the program design, the periodised progression over time, the many different factors that come together in a unique mix depending on the individual's needs & wants to establish all round fitness (“fitness” for their particular requirements, whether it be simply general health or competitive fitness) – aerobic capacity; anaerobic capacity; strength; strength-endurance; mobility; flexibility; balance, proprioception. We then of course have all the fundamental aspects of biomechanics, posture, movement patterns, muscle activation and firing patterns… Nutrition and lifestyle.

Being self-employed is enormously empowering. It places significant demands in terms of having to self-manage everything, but it is also tremendously rewarding because every input has some direct output. I am in charge of my business, I decide how I want to run everything, I make it all happen. It is incredibly liberating after having been stuck in the typical model of being time-bound and simply "passing time” (normally in excruciating boredom) in all my prior jobs. I’m far too busy to get bored these days, there is always so much to do! My current list of tasks, in addition to all the training time I need to do with clients in the gym, comprises building a proper website for my business, deciding how I am going to grow the business, develop all the marketing materials and strategies, decide on what further equipment I need to purchase and how much to invest, develop all my training materials and paperwork for clients (and complete all the existing paperwork for my current clients) – training programs, nutritional plans, lifestyle assessments, and all ancillary materials related to the art of correcting/improving/developing the human physique …


My career takes up an enormous amount of headspace now – which is a good thing – but of course the inner private life remains, that which is directly affected by the overall life consequences of one’s career but which is nevertheless a separate entity. In this respect I am still a quixotically intrigued by the almost impenetrable nature of the male-female divide, that distance I never seem to be able to bridge since entering my late twenties.

For there is still J., the one with the fabulous singing talent, and someone who I’ve always felt a great affinity with whenever I’m around her. We have our considerable differences – on matters such as diet, and on musical taste (though we share a decent region of commonality, on this point, too), but to me it adds to the intrigue. All I know is that whenever I am around her there is an energising quality to our time; and if I am, perhaps, as it were, someone more of the winter and the night – she brings the feeling of spring, all sunlight and joy. I think she is beautiful, warm and charismatic – yet frustratingly remiss in replying or getting back to me, leaving me perplexed; I suppose I should probably take the hint. Me being the fool (and inevitably, hopelessly idealistic on such matters), I can’t entirely give up. Whenever I do see her – which is rarely – it is always memorable. I wonder whether she will always be an enigma to me, or whether one day things might change…

I suppose some would view it as a flaw or make the rather obvious point that I am essentially rather too direct or honest in expressing myself – regardless, I just cannot be bothered with the game. I’ll let someone know if I like them, even if the strategic thing to do is to be more guarded and present yourself as essentially not bothered. Does it transfer a pressure to the other person? Perhaps, but only inasmuch as it means they have to express their inclination or disinclination.

I am someone with fairly intense emotional states, but also, I believe, fundamentally well balanced. I feel quite secure in who I am (especially now). I understand the rationale behind “not getting when you’re looking”, which is all well and good, but I don’t consider myself to have been especially “looking” since I am only interested in a person if I believe there is some genuine potential present – this is contrasted with the emotionally unstable individual who is simply looking for anyone just because they need someone regardless of who they are. Of course I recognise the fact that a psychologist would point out that we will always "choose" to see the potential where it suits us...!

Too much of a thinker, dreamer, or too expressive/"intense”, or simply not physically attractive to them – who knows – but life is proving rather tedious in this dimension as there seems to be scant opportunities presented.

Are we all becoming increasingly insular as individuals in society? Blogging, Facebook, every form of media and art, the multifarious instantaneous methods of communication - all these means of expressing oneself, and yet I sometimes wonder whether we diminish and deflect away from the quality and intensity of face to face interaction because we become so attuned to expressing ourselves through some indirect digital medium – and here I am typing this all on my blog, irony of ironies!

Isn’t it an awful lot easier to communicate something when you can use a technology as the mediator?

Two others I feel compelled to mention:

K. – she who does indeed like to boogie! Very pretty, and really fun to be around. I’d be curious to see her window onto life. Brings out my energetic side!

H. – known her a long time, a close friend. In terms of inner experience, someone I share an enormous amount with. A certain type of music presents the common ground to a deep shared understanding on certain qualities and experiences of life. To understand it automatically implies an a special affinity. A fabulous women; someone whom I can simply be myself around – which is a rare thing indeed.


But in general, I still wander mostly by myself. The wandering has now progressed to a path with both a purpose and direction. But only time will tell whether I continue along that path alone, or whether one day, someone I like might elect to join me. That would be nice. But life doesn’t conform to what is nice, and ultimately you can never bend life to your will; our powers are more limited.

I’m either an inveterate irritating shoe-gazer or a man with a inquisitive searching mind. I look forward to the day when I meet a special women that sees primarily the latter in me! I see life itself as a continual meditation on meaning.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A choice

As seems to be my whim, I have slipped into my usual summer blogging hiatus. In any case, looking back, the first thing that strikes me is the double irony of my last post ("Daring to reveal"); the irony being, that in reality, virtually no one particularly cares, so any "insights into one's soul" - to use that quixotic catechism - really do not apply.

I find it continually interesting how rather than possessing a stable I, a stable immutable identity, instead identity seems to be an ongoing construction: there is a fundamental foundation, a root, as it were, but upon that the elaborate infrastructure of who you are seems to shift. At least it does for me, and indeed, as reflected in my blogging habits, it does so even on a seasonal basis. Perhaps one of the satisfying things is how all the aspects of oneself can simultaneously diverge/deepen (or can do) and yet retain their cohesion.

In the months that have passed since my last post here, a great deal has changed in my circumstances. Overwhelmingly though, by far the most important change is that I have finally stopped prognosticating and focused my energies into one choice, one career path.

Sometimes it can be a simple matter of a mistaken belief being shattered. For whatever reason, I'd come to the belief that one qualified and registered as a Personal Trainer, that unless you continued to accrue continuous professional development (CPD) points you could not remain active on the register. Once your two year window had expired, if you hadn't added any fresh points, I'd thought your position was lost.

I qualified some years ago, but let it go dormant, for various complicated reasons I won't dwell on here.

Well, this isn't the case, so I am now once again registered as a Personal Trainer & Sports Massage Therapist. I have now renewed this career path with great vigor; I still possess all my training materials, and I have refinanced my money with the bank (something I should have done an age ago, in any case). I have bought fresh equipment and just taken delivery of a massage table. Excitingly, I am going on a Kettlebell course this Saturday so will then be certified to train people with those. I am doing a boxing course in October. I will transition from my current job to a suitable job with a gym in due course; alternatively/additionally,
I will start to build up private one-to-one tuition. I am currently debating redirecting some of my money into getting car and driving lessons and attempting to go private immediately, rather than attached to a gym. There are different trade offs to both which need to be carefully considered.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Daring to reveal

The irony of blogging is that people are attempting to 'connect' through a medium that is essentially alienating (the scenario of millions of people sitting privately alone in their rooms in front of a computer screen). The attraction for the blogger is the possibility of having a dialogue - even if it remains an unspoken one, of a silent reader - with someone remote: and thereby feeling uninhibited in terms of being fundamentally open and communicative.

It of course depends on the nature of the blog: if it is simply a place for covering external entities (i.e. reviews of music, books, art, webpages, etc.; documentary of current affairs or some specialist subject; or perhaps merely a "meta-blog" covering the blog or digital  landscape), or if it is closer to the more quiescent origin of the "blog": namely, an online diary. A public forum for one's private meditations.

The latter is only one remove from the now old-fashioned notion of a  personal diary; somewhere where you scribe your most private thoughts and personal matters. Having a place to record such meditations is, for someone of a more introverted nature, an almost essential part of their self-awareness, of their identity. Of course, nearly everyone would  benefit from a greater degree of internalisation, particularly in this era which overwhelmingly favours everything external and places the highest value in the merely transient experience rather than the subsistent core of actual being.

So, naturally, when asked in common conversation as to how you've been and what you've been up to, the answer would normally consist of a catalogue of activities and "real-world" experiences: not a chart of the movements in your inner landscape. Yet it is the geology of the inner landscape that dictates the real thoroughgoing quality of resultant structures of your external life: for you bring yourself to everything you do; even if, again ironically, the patterns of most human interactions require you to retreat into yourself and project a mere social persona for the situation - most especially at work, of course.

Despite its limitations, language is nevertheless our primary tool for a communication of the deeper aspects of human existence. Yet we use it sparingly by degree of the amount of excess that conventional etiquette requires. Even amongst close friends this remains true: the very vagueness and ambiguity that the modality of human language makes eminently possible is used to merely hint at the underlying mystery of life that we each, as self-conscious beings, must necessary experience  on whatever level. Yet rather than penetrate further, we usually all tend to prefer to skip around this vague abstract space rather than attempt to go into that space with another and share the real authentic experience of being.

Usually it is easier to obliquely point towards or express via the alternative language of art (of whatever type) the more intimate experience of this real inner world than risk having a meaningful conversation about it. Or this is certainly my experience of life so far. Certainly one of the defining characteristics for me in the progression through my twenties is a movement from the more "hard" certainties of the vagaries of human experience to a "softer" ambiguity. Looking back, as a very young man (i.e. 18, 19, 20) one likes to think that one has clearly understood and arrived at certain decisions as to "who" you are and the "what" of truth. Yet in reality I realise now that I ascribed too much importance to things that actually matter little - ultimately - and simultaneously, disregarded or considered "dealt with" things that actually matter the most.

To give a very brief example, consider symbols. Symbols are used with wild abandon today. They're just a collection of lines and graphics, just an abstract logo. Yet the occult power of symbols is phenomenal - literally. A symbol is more than just a handy visual representation of some entity. A symbol is an aggregation of values: moreover, it utilises the power of the supersensible. A materialistic account of the nature of symbols would not be able to do justice to the tremendous power that they wield over the human collective: history demonstrates this point more than ably. The symbol is not merely just the referent of a known quantity: it is also explicates part of the directly inexplicable beyond that motivates all human life. An effective symbol merely grows in power as it ages: it accretes value by acting as a focal point for the accumulation of meanings imbued upon it. As such it becomes all of these things, and yet simultaneously none of them. It becomes both more and less than every meaning put upon it.

To name something is to give it power; yet to attempt to name something tends to distill it down into something that as yet it is not. An empty nominalism.

In the mundane sphere, every powerful brand knows the power of symbol: the most powerful corporations can project and extend their power through their mere brand logo. Successful brands cause people to "buy into" their brand - particularly in the world of fashion. Buying the particular brand isn't just about buying into the particular qualities, features, or look of the item in question: more importantly, it is buying into a collective shared position towards the world. It is about expressing status and self-identity. I use "self-identity" in an ironic sense, since this movement towards the outer is in fact the movement away from self-identity and self-knowledge towards the commodity "self" and a lack of self-knowledge.

Incidentally, this isn't a one-sided diatribe against fashion or indeed any type of brands: some brands do rightly possess power because their products are of a good quality or their clothes do have style. It is possible for fashion and style, on some level, to exhibit itself as "living art".

Anyway, wrapping up the asides to return to my original point: some things are a lot more important than you realise, and for all its abuses language is probably the most potent tool we have for communicating authentic human experience about the deepest aspects of life.

Yet we rarely use it, or certainly nowhere near as much as we should, with even our closest friends. Instead we merely make the quick quip or the brief soliloquy, exchange the knowing glance, and nod and merely say "I understand". Which we do - but only up to point.

So, to come full circle back to my original discussion about blogs, so that "shyness of exposing identity" - or perhaps you could call it simply intimacy? - expands even to the online sphere of blogs. Namely: I have some very good real world friends, but in actuality, virtually none of them know of the existence of this blog at all.

It could well be an act of too much self-absorption to consider that anyone else really wants to read this: perhaps the vast majority of all diaries are of little interest to anyone except the author? Yet one has to believe that when one is discussing the commonalities of base human existence, that perhaps one has something that is of interest to someone else.

I guess what we want to know is: what is their experience of life? What is being a human for them? And most importantly, how does it compare to mine?

In reading Hegel at the moment, I fully grasp, appreciate, and now pretty much agree with his point that true self-consciousness only comes about with the recognition of another self-consciousness. Self-consciousness emerges from the interaction with another knowing self-consciousness. Extending that logic then, I hope that perhaps by knowing other people better, I come to know myself better.

Incidentally, being in a close, loving relationship doesn't automatically guarantee this greater self-awareness. We tend to think of such an arrangement as being the best place to foster real genuine human communication, but as we all know well, sometimes relationships proceed  far too much on always assuming you can "read their mind" and often, even in this most intimate of human arrangements, the two (or more!) people do not necessarily really open up. Sharing the intimate deepest level of human experience shouldn't just necessarily be restricted to your lover, or a close family member: you should probably extend it to your close friends too. For if they are real friends, they will probably welcome going on this journey with you. And any stable relationship has no fear about deeper friendships with other people outside that relationship, since they know they will always reserve a certain key core (particularly around the sexual psyche) only for each other. Rightfully so. Such a movement can only have positive effects on their own relationship by enriching it. Certainly I became too insular with my lover when I last had a long term relationship some years ago; we ended up secluding nearly everyone else from our own little world; eventually this has a weakening effect on your relationship as you deny a whole range of other human interactions and connections.

I have often been described as "too intense" by various people - fatefully, normally by the female in question during botched (at an early stage) attempts at romance. I think I'm finally coming to understand what this fully means. However, if by my very desire for openness they find that intimidating, I feel sad both for my loss and theirs. For they made a hasty assumption as to the type of man I am, or who I can be to be around - I do have a lighter, humorous side! - and do not desire to dominate anyone through an authoritarian personality (though I do believe that is is healthy to have an interplay of power between two people; playing with power, by alternating roles, helps to avoid one person becoming too dominant). Simultaneously, perhaps it is through an unconscious belief that they do not have "enough" self to give back: again, they have prematurely shot themselves down. Or finally, perhaps because I am too "cerebral" they think I destroy the "mystery" of human experience by attempting to understand it: I would argue the contrary is in fact true. The mystery becomes more powerful the better you understand it.

Or, the final resting point of self-analysis: perhaps they simply don't like me and I talk too much.

In any case, I have decided to "open up" this blog to a few select friends. It's here if they ever want to read it. It seemed rather disingenuous to risk sharing my "inner world" with complete strangers on the other side of the planet, and yet not do so with people I've know for years who live just a few streets away.

I'll never have the more meaningful interactions I seek without taking the risk to open up more. I do not know whether any of these words in the ether are of any real genuine interest to them, or whether in fact, I simply ramble on far too much, in my own running dialogue with myself. But perhaps they will learn a few new things about me - and in return, I will learn more about them. They may perhaps find some things that are rather surprising: certainly, it is true to say that I consider that I don't really know hardly any of my friends, so I believe that likewise that applies towards me. Not on a truly deep level. We skirt around the outside, getting some semblance of each other, without ever really knowing that person. (Obviously men tend to be far worse, in general, at "emotional openness" than women). Dare we open up to each other?

All the modern tools for connecting actually tend to end up acting as masks and blinds. You construct a Facebook persona: but that Facebook persona is not you. It is merely a strange analogue. Everyone then interacts and has a relationship with this analogue rather than with you.

The modern world tends to alienate us all: we need to try and reverse this trend towards us all becoming individual atoms completely tied up in our own small microcosmos.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Reintegration through alienation

It seems that the path of greater self-knowledge is often accompanied by a descent into darkness - perhaps it is even necessary. How does one cope with the loss of the naive idealism of youth without becoming bitter?

The machinery of the system of the modern world exceeds the capacity of any individual to resist. We each face the risk - perhaps even unavoidable - of dissolution into this incredibly open, massively connected global consciousness: the resistive forces themselves are absorbed; they become dispersed into the barren wasteland of the characterless morass of overwhelming surplus. The most effectively means of silencing something is instead to drown it out: stifling breeds martyrs.

Reaction is superfluous. Alternative is already now preceded by a prepared accommodation of the appropriate level of outrage. That is has been prepared for is proportionately accountable to the detail with which is has been predestined to be successfully monetised. Revolution, the 'underground', 'avant-garde', the 'extreme' are now purely products of a retroactive postmodernist nominalism - that is, mere utility; to those ready to assemble more wealth from this imagination-as-capital product*.

Today, the space was made for this new form of 'extreme' in advance by delineating the inverse structural boundaries; they are the calculated co-efficient compensating factor, as truly extreme only by as much as they have been planned for and accommodated by the mitigating edifice.

It is little wonder, then, that most unwavering advocates of anything underground, extreme, alternative, or genuinely subversive in art, naturally, and quite rightly, often find that upon the successful commercial enterprise of said piece of art, that subsequent works generally have lost the very quality that first made it so vital, direct and alive to them. This is no more obvious than in music; the band has "sold out". They have allowed commercial considerations to devalue the artistic communication. Refusing to conform, and equally importantly, refusing to "refusing to conform", and instead maintaining the central quality in the face of every force of dissolution is the quality of uprightness to use Evolian terminology.

The form of extremism that is cynically calculated in advance loses its extremity by its degree of obvious vulgarity: the inner space it was supposed to open through its dynamic of turbulence instead becomes emptied of inner value and turned into material commodity. The avant-garde requires the element of surprise: its landscape must be one of the unexplored.

The other option is irony. You exploit the cynical landscape of  "prefabricated extremity" by producing a work that seemingly conforms to this template - but subtly deviates, though in such a way as to be only visible to those for whom such a resistance was created in the first place.

The net effect of all this, is that the true resistance is often to be  amongst those who sit silently by, detached.

In my case, gradually a reintegration occurs: understanding that the counter culture catering to the alienated youth is cynically masterminded by the very force we resist, but are unable to openly defeat, we accept. Accept, though conscious of this acceptance: and thereby better able to see through the manipulations. We redirect the manipulations back against the system. When you understand that the ultimate order of things is dictated by forces against whom resistance is impossible, the resistance becomes entirely internalised: it thereby gains ultimate objective power as a votive action. This process of the external causing an internal reaction out towards the external, completes its cycle when the external is reabsorbed into the internal. Hegel provided a detailed explication of this phenomena more accurate and acutely than most others before or since 200 years ago.

Too abstract?

Consider all the alienated youths: the goths and emos that gather in the  parks looking - deliberately - miserable. The kids that group on street corners (and quite often direct random, unprompted acts of violence to passers by). Why? What is the force they are attempting to resist? The  bands whose merchandise they buy that promise a revolution, yet backed by the major record labels that directly fortify the very system they wish to fight. They are largely unaware of this irony. Furthermore, the kids are not explicitly aware of what it is they wish to fight against, so construct their black-and-white analogue of the world to make the opponent easier to recognise. The opponent becomes reified. Every organised system becomes the enemy, but most especially those that dictate conventionalised, traditional norms; so, particularly, religion becomes the target.

In the process they do not realise that they actually suffer from the very institutionalisation of thought - and its corresponding consequences for freedom, namely lack of, which they do recognise - that they so fervently wished to struggle against. In the past, an over powerful Church dominated Western thought. Yet with God now "dead", and atheism triumphant, we enter instead an era of the  "Dawkins delusion": a scientific triumphalism that promises to explain away all the mysteries of life (everything merely reduced to neurological brain states) and herald in a bright future dominated by the certainty of probabilities and what is calculated to be true.

Yet the truth cannot be calculated. Douglas Adam's computer famously spat out the answer "42" to point out the absurdity of attempting to uncover life's inner truth in this fashion. What these kids do not realise is what really motivates them to resist, given feelings of the meaningless and pointlessness of modern existence - and, as a harsh critic of modernity myself, I must say, largely justifiably - is actually the spiritual urge of man to resist domination, and that for all their materialism and atheism, they will find that now that they have eradicated religion, in its place simply a new version will emerge on the secular plane.

Because science proceeds so incredibly successfully in explaining natural mechanism, and gives birth to so much technology, so abundant everywhere, the secular world ends up believing it will provide knowledge which is actually outside its remit. The illusion is not to even recognise this remit: all scientific "truth" presupposes the perceptual process.

Yet perception is not a basic or simple phenomena at all. Getting behind mere perception takes you outside of physics and into metaphysics.

I am not a fan of a lot of organised religion, but increasingly I find that I am even less a fan of "scientific triumphalism", and particularly in very recent years, this era of "digital totalism". Religion is less about knowledge and more about "religiosity", and science is even less about "religiosity" and more about explication of the perceptual world. Both would do well to remember that, rather than set up pointless straw men that cover topics that extend outside their scope.

Returning to the alienated youth, their uncomprehending resistance nevertheless does originate from the correct place, even if they direct it towards the wrong goals, moreover, in a futile manner. This correct place is to recognise that we should not allow the spirit of man to be crushed into faceless oblivion by a tyrannical Utopian vision of "progress" where progress simply means that everyone becomes comfortably satiated into an unthinking slathering cooperative whole. We should not conform purely to make life easier at the expense of our higher individual values. More is not always "more". Human beings are not simply a biological "machine" in an even bigger corporate machine, in a globalised machine or anodyne collective consciousness. Technology is a merely useful extension for us as a human: not the other way round.

We do not serve the system. The system serves us.

Equally, the natural world is more than mere system.

It is always essential that we keep "sticking it to the Man", even if we are ultimately crushed under the oppression of the Man. Resistance might indeed be futile: but futile resistance is still better than no resistance at all. So I come full circle: an "alienated youth" (though, incidentally, I never spent my younger days listlessly wasting away in the park or street corner!), I recognise that I am both a product of the system and my own man, and so can reengage with the alienated fight against the faceless bureaucratic machine that wants to reduce us all to soulless human atoms. The fight is one that is more intense than ever because it requires us to disengage from the apparatus which purportedly supports us but in fact helps fuel the very system we oppose.

We must stay Upright.

* On a more cynical and disturbing note, it is worth pointing out that the politics of fear dictate that the order of the ruling elite is best preserved by exploiting and manipulating the fear of the populace. Global terrorism is the product of the manipulation; indeed, this very manipulation and its incessant media coverage was its very genesis. Indoctrination via ideological tooling operates just as much in the supposed free thinking modern democracy as it does in the brain washing fundamentalist camps. The parameters, methods, and techniques used for the indoctrination are simply different. You create common consensus by shouting loud enough from enough preassigned sources. This creates the illusion of objectivity and balance. The Chinese government has  demonstrated its expertise in this respect rather ruthlessly, and indeed carelessly. The Western governments are simply more subtle - and therefore ultimately more effective, since they are betrayed less obviously. Eventually the growing middle class of China in this era of technological liberalism will tire of its overly autocratic government: so it will then simply learn to be more subtle.

For the majority is surely always right: majority support is purchased  by engineering the apparent problem and solution such that it seems the only reasonable thing to do. Something becomes morally justified as soon as it has the support of the common consensus.

History teaches us the error of this line of thinking every bit as much as it teaches us the error of the fascists.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Of words and ink and dreams

It has been a very difficult month – dark times living in such poverty. I feel a disconnect with the world a lot of times. But another post for that.

The only good thing about my current experience with life is that it is fuelling my creativity; I'm withdrawing ever deeper into my own world. I've started making slow progress with a novel. Slow and steady is my goal: it is the discipline and persistence that is perhaps the most fundamental barrier to writing a book. The analytical rational mind tends to predominate. Worst of all, the constant demon that must surely plague just about everyone who attempts anything creative: the fear that your creation is worthless or garbage. My creative writing is incredibly bizarre, currently extremely incoherent structurally, a very strange fragmentary mix of elements that should be completely incompatible. This may prove to be the case.

However, I shall doggedly plod on. It must evidently be my particular style or inner voice that is driving me to want to attempt to create a tapestry from so many grossly divergent threads. The straightforward, sensible, traditionally developed novel just doesn't seem to work for me.

I suppose it reflects the type of fiction I like to read. My favourite writers tend to evoke that dreamy landscape, that quixotic inner world that much surely exist at the deepest being of anyone that truly knows oneself; the absolute strangeness that doesn't get vocalised or really communicated in the more plain light of day. In terms of modern authors, I'm thinking particularly of David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami. Interestingly both have a Japanese link. Japan left a deep impression on me when I visited in 2007: the country has such a wonderful sharp contrast between the two extremes of time: nowhere is more futuristic than Tokyo, and just a short distance out you have the most incredible verdant countryside with ancient Zen temples. An incredible transition.

It also reflects what my personal experience is of living in this new 21st century. An incredible torrent (and here, even the word "torrent" has two meanings; the figurative, and of course, more literally - in this sense - the digital counterpart that plays such an important role in file/information sharing) of so many contrasting demands, time periods and resources. It is certainly a truism to say we are living in a connected fully globalised world. The change over even the last 20 years has been astonishing - though you don't really notice it until you mentally step back - but I can still vaguely remember a time before the internet really played any role in most people lives. Back around 1990 significant numbers of people were just starting to get PCs in their home, but connections were still sketchy, sluggish dial-up.

Now broadband is ubiquitous in the developed world. To not have a computer and internet connection at home has reached the point of being a bizarre anachronism. The societal effects of technology are so complex and prodigious that I am not sure that anyone has fully grasped, nor indeed will - since it is a constantly moving target at ever increasing speed - precisely how it is changing us all, in this constant "feedback loop" of the digital ether.

Anyway, I digress. I've felt strangely regressive recently, perhaps as a result of what I feel to be the hidden emptiness of this new digital landscape - I think the way that it is playing an increasing role in mediating human interactions (particularly social network sites like Facebook and the like) is potentially dangerous. It seems that the more "connected" we become, the more we become individually alienated. I will qualify and develop my particular line of thought on this probably highly fashionable topic more substantially some other time. In any case, what a joy it is to reconnect in a much more old fashioned sense with pen and paper, computer turned off: no background sound of fans, no distractions of the temptation of a billion (largely pointless) bits of information at my fingertips. Yes, the old but familiar information overload theme that has in fact been cropping up ever since the dawn of the industrial age, but really come into its own since the dawn of the "information superhighway".

So, with a few spare pennies I've managed to put aside, I bought myself some rather splendid new fountain pens, and of course, some equally splendid inks to go with them.

Lamy pens have always made terrific value fountain pens; inexpensive and extremely smooth. They write very well indeed. I had a Lamy Al-Star, an aluminium pen with the same common nib as the Safari and Nexx but managed to lose it at a festival (it was rather stupid of me to take it in the first place, rather than a simple biro...).

Anyway, so I was keen to replace this. I got the Lamy Safari in a great bright orange colour. It has a plastic body rather than aluminium, but is the same slick design otherwise.




Text: "The Lamy Safari* really is a fabulous pen for the money. For less than £15, you get a beautifully smooth writing instrument. Ink flow is consistent, generous; the nib glides across the paper with ease. This one is in a funky bright orange colour, a special edition for 2009. The plastic body has superb ergonomics and is very comfortable to write with. An extrovert coloured pen deserves a refined and subtle ink; this is Diamine's wonderful Kensington Blue.
*With medium nib fitted."

Link to high resolution image of this writing here, for those of you who'd like to attempt to manually decode my scribings or see the ink colour in better detail.

I also got the Lamy Nexx, which is even more comfortable to hold, has an even more contemporary minimalist, lean design. Same, wonderful, smooth M nib.





Text: "The Lamy Nexx has the same winning nib as on the Safari (again I went for the medium nib; I'll get another Lamy pen with a fine nib in future). This pen is even more comfortable to hold, the aluminium body is perfectly tapered. I think the styling is lovely, though it would perhaps look even better if the barrel/grip were black rather than grey-blue. Conservative styling: therefore extrovert ink! Incredible colour! This is Diamine's Pumpkin. Delightful red-orange."

Link to high resolution image of this writing here (the preview image has distorted the colour to mucky brown).

Finally I also went for the Platignum No. 1. For a relatively cheap pen, this is a marvelously heavy and solid pen; everything is solid metal. The nib is a bit "leaner" than the Lamy's, not quite as effortless, but has been very controlled with a solid ink flow so far. All the pens are of course very new, so time will tell how the nibs "run in".




"The Platignum No. 1 really does feel surprisingly luxurious for a £25 pen. It is quite weighty, and all the major components are finished in substantial metal work. This nib is definitely a lot narrower than on the Lamy's which might be a contributing factor as to why it is not quite as smooth. Time will tell how the nib runs in, but for now it certainly has a lot more of a 'tooth' than the Lamy M nib. Nevertheless, it is still a good pen for the money, and I believe the nib will improve over time. Ink flow is good. This ink is Diamine's Light Green. A perky but really natural green: a philosophic colour!"

Link to high resolution image of this writing here.

The inks are the rather delicious Diamine inks, a traditional British ink manufacturer. An energetic red-orange "Pumpkin", and a wonderfully subtle but sophisticated "Kensington Blue", both part of their "New Century" range, and the delightfully natural looking "Light Green" part of their "Old English" range. I just love the traditional Victorian looking ink bottles.

Going back to pen n' paper is bringing out the creativity again. With nothing to interact with or distract, you're faced to create from the very depths of your void. So I'm writing sections of my novel in pen and ink, then typing it/compiling it up into a word processor. As a result everything is immediately effectively getting written twice. No doubt once the material builds up to a decent quantity, I can start to constantly rewrite, expand, and hammer it down on the computer to start - hopefully - building it into one coherent novel.

My most fundamental and overriding goal at this point is simply quantity. I think the mandate to the National Novel Writing Month is absolutely right: just get the words down for now. To have a novel you need your 100,000, 200,000, or half million words down in the first place. Once you've got the quantity you can rewrite it all to get that all important quality. It doesn't matter too much at this stage even if it is all nonsense. If you've written 400,000 words of rubbish, with some dedication you can hopefully find 200,000 words that are resolutely not total rubbish.

At the very least, you'll have tried. Every attempt I've ever made at writing anything substantial - and in terms of a novel, I've tried many, many times! - has just always fizzled out after about, oh, say 10000 words. I set an impossible quality criterion, over analyse it, worry too much about where I'm going to take the story. Far better just to plough on regardless, write whatever desire, and see where it goes. Trying to plan everything too far in advance tends to kill of the creative, spontaneous energy: this is my problem. I'm always guilty of this. I just need to roll with it a bit. See where it goes. Relinquish that control.

Perhaps by doing that, eventually, I'll get to a point where the belief really does become strong that I do have a novel here, that it  is perhaps worth something. In the meantime, I just have to go step by step.

So my target is very modest: just try and average about 500 words a day on the "project". It doesn't matter how, or in what storyline, or indeed any detail - just 500 more words for the book, every day, more or less, week after week. I'm no longer segregating out fragments: everything is just getting chucked into the novel. I'll worry about turning it into some type of at least slightly sane plot-line later on. Once I've got a lot of material, if I've got whole swathes that I still don't know what to do with, I can always excise them for future use (or deletion...). But for now: everything, regardless of how irrelevant or disconnected goes in. Regardless of how good or bad I think it is, too - which is probably even more critical at this stage. I'll figure it out somehow.

With this very basic strategy, I'm hoping I'll eventually reap some dividends.

Saturday, 30 January 2010


I may appear to have been remiss with my blog over the last couple of weeks, but in fact I have been extremely busy - and have achieved a lot, though to all outer measures it may not seem like much.

As readers may have garnered from past posts, I live in a shared house for economic reasons. It has always been a constant bugbear for me, in particular since the place has been in such a state of dirt and mess, a result of literally years of neglect. I say was, since I decided this state of affairs was going to be rectified.

As with all motivating forces in life, the dynamic always runs from internal to external. Extraordinarily frustrated with my life on countless levels, I have begun a process of reordering and directionalising my energies - and I am now seeing the dividends. For countless years I have attempted to be "more organised", and always tried numerous hi-tech solutions; from Psion palmtop computers (state at the art at the time!), to laptops, to phones, to setting up endless systems and all sorts of software and files on my computer. However, despite the fact, that, for example my Samsung phone is by far the most powerful I've owned (it is very similar to an iPhone), I have come to realise that nothing can beat the perfection and purity of pen and paper. So I bought a Filofax (which, rather pleasingly, I got a nice genuine leather one for an excellent price on sale); in fact I bought an A5 one. More to the point, I bought this size specifically because A5 copier paper is easy to buy for a home printer: this means I can create my own custom stationery. Not only does this mean I don't need to buy the overpriced official Filofax stationery, but I am only limited by what my imagination can devise. So, into OpenOffice and I set about creating a whole range of sheet templates, ready to print out "refills" as I need them. Customised and specific to my needs; To-Do sheets, Notes sheets, Workout sheets, Diet sheets, Recipe sheets, Concept sheets, "Look Into" sheets, Sleep chart, Dreams sheets... Naturally, the Filofax already came with a fair bit of paper in there, including of course, the all critical Diary.

As you can probably tell, I've created something that is far, far more than a mere organisational tool for mundane tasks: I wanted something that was going to be my "offload" center for all my ideas, thoughts, and generally everything that cluttered up my mind. I say cluttered, because previously I struggled to keep on top of everything since I would have so many bits of information that I would try to mentally record and internally organise; e.g. I might hear some particular artist on the radio, or someone might mention some book - and then inevitably fail to recall it when I had the spare time to investigate. Meanwhile, of course, I would be trying to lodge said piece of information into long term memory.

One thing that virtually all successful writers insist is of great importance is observation - and those observations are useless as usable future material if you don't record them, since it is unlikely you'll be able to recall the specific details some time later on.

It also exerts a surprising "mentally fatiguing" effect trying to continually organise and preserve all this information purely within your memory. So, since I got my organiser, my life has been radically changing, because I've made a very deliberate decision to use it: as soon as I have some interesting thought, or indeed any snippet of information - perhaps something as basic as adding "bathroom cream cleaner" to a shopping list - it immediately goes into the appropriate section. All those tasks that I kept intending on doing, and sort of eventually getting round to... now get done immediately. I built a long list of fairly mundane things to do and have been slowly working my way through, doing them.

Micro managing the informational complexity of my life in this way has had a profound effect on several major aspects.

Before, I used to eat quite well (in comparison to the average Briton), and did always cook "proper" meals, eat my fruit and vegetables, etc., but still tended to do the halfway house solution of using pre-made sauces, etc. This was always rather unsatisfactory for me, since I developed a real passion for cooking some years ago; I also take my health and fitness extremely seriously. Most ready made sauces are not only expensive but also far too high in salt, and also quite often contain a lot of sugar. Meanwhile, for lunch at work, though I did make an effort to cook more than one portion at a time at home and take some in for lunch, it was rather hit and miss; some days I'd have to buy lunch, or resort to making sandwiches.

Because I train extremely hard at the gym, and lead such a high activity life - the walk to and from work is nearly 5 miles, for example - my calorie requirement is very high if I am to have any energy to have a decent workout at the gym. So sandwiches were never much good, as I'd inevitably end up having a massive lump of bread in order to fill me up: a load of nutritionally empty carbohydrates. 

I was also not organised enough in doing the food shopping, so tired on my way back from the gym, I'd drop into my local Tesco express and pick up some food to build a meal with: the selection was limited and relatively expensive, plus I was just in a hurry by this point.

The kitchen was also too dirty and disorganised, and always took a lot of effort getting things sorted.

In terms of workouts, if you want to make progress with any training regime - and especially once you're an experienced trainer - in order to go forward you really need to set specific targets and goals, and have a very structured and systematic routine: it requires a lot of effort to force your body into overload and thereby cause an adaptation response.

When I had previously recorded workouts, I'd always done it on my computer, in weblogs or in a spreadsheet. But what about those evenings when it was getting late after I'd come home, cooked, eaten, washed up, done whatever other tasks, and simply wanted to go to bed? Naturally, I wasn't going to take all that extra time to boot my PC up purely to key in a few numbers and then shut it down. So after a while it becomes inefficient.

So, bring out the pen and paper. Suddenly efficient shopping lists started to be built; economising started to happen as I tracked expenditure immediately (on-line banking suffers from exactly the same flaw: you have to bother to go and sit in front of your computer and track all your finances; now I simply scribble down the amount spent virtually immediately after spending it - merely a few seconds effort); workouts now took literally seconds as I scribbed the numbers on to my ready made sheets. All those things I needed to remember were simply there in the diary. Tasks or things to do immediately went into to-do lists - and consequently got done: the pure satisfaction of trailing that line though the writing.

Every single aspect of my life has started to be brought into control and order. As is probably apparent from this blog, I am someone who likes detail: someone who likes order: someone who likes things to be systematic and organised. Previously, these aspects of my personality were in a constant battle with the mess of my life. I was always so desperate after such a dull week of endless work to do the things I enjoyed on my day off that the prospect of spending my day off doing yet more "work" - since I would spend all day at work organising, cleaning, sorting or dealing with things - was almost unbearable. Yet by not neglecting; by getting everything done and sorted in my personal life: so it is tremendously liberating, and more important, I am starting to reap massive gains from the new efficiencies.

The house is now spotless: it is far less effort, rather than try to get anyone else to do anything, simply to do it yourself. The kitchen is immaculate; the bathroom is pristine; my bedroom now a proper sanctuary. Mess and dirt effectively become an external manifestation of your own internal disorder; attempting to ignore it comes at severe psychological cost.

Cooking is now a joy again, meals cooked absolutely from scratch are far tastier - and my health feels better than ever. My strength and weights are flying up because I am now tailoring my diet to my exact nutritional requirements. My finances are coming under control because I know exactly how much (or rather, how little!) I have left. I am buying all my ingredients fresh and from the local market during my lunch breaks at work: not only is the quality of produce and meat much better, it is also significantly cheaper. I have freed up all sorts of storage space in the house from clearing out all the junk left from endless previous residents. With all this new storage space, everything is infinitely tidier; I have space to buy things in bulk and reap savings (i.e. rather than buy 500g of rice at £1.79 a bag, I bought a 10kg bag for £8.50...).

Perhaps more interestingly I am feeling intellectually sharper than ever, and no thoughts are getting "lost": the relevant snippet gets jotted down, ready to return to whenever I have a moment.

I have far more spare time now, because I waste so little, and don't muddle myself with inefficiencies or continually forgetting to do things.

I feel infinitely more in control of my life. I am becoming clearer as to exactly what I want from life: and I am also becoming much clearer as to how I'm going to go about it.

The next step is to scale everything up. I am going to invest in a catering size stockpot: no more cooking portions of a casserole or home made curry for 2-3 servings. Instead I am going to cook about 10 portions worth all at once: hardly any more effort, and it would mean on work days I have a virtual instant top quality meal every day, with minimal washing up afterwards. It'll make things even cheaper too. I'll invest in enough air/water tight containers to immediately place each days meal in. Etc.

All these mundane details are dull, but absolutely critical: freeing up one hour more each working day, for example, means one hour when I can be writing or doing something productive or fulfilling.

Small things can be surprisingly satisfying. In our previously neglected kitchen, there were a load of empty glass spice jars, filthy after not being used for years. I cleaned them up and filled them with a load of fresh spices. A little detail, but it really changes the feel of the kitchen space. The spices look very attractive in the glass jars (I am aware than technically you should keep spices out of the light - but they'll keep getting used up well before they go off in any case!).


Sunday, 10 January 2010

On cloudberries, snow, facebooking, the absolute animal, and fountain pens

There is a balance to be found between a change, that wandering, that embraces new, alters, and discards old accretions; that and the preservation of past materials for the possibility of re-presenting, analysing, detecting developmental changes, or deducing new hidden truths.

Consequently, we create something - it could be any endeavour; a poem, a brick wall, a painting, the placement of a certain poster on the wall - and then later than can be a temptation or perhaps even a need to alter or obliterate it. Everything seen in this instance can be viewed as manifestations of being.

This can apply to blogs as well. There can be an understandable temptation to eradicate what is old, what is different, what is no longer felt necessary; or perhaps even what doesn't meet your own quality criterion.

I personally believe in leaving everything intact, for the course. It shows as much where you came from - each one has some type of qualitative value as a moment of existential expression. Even moments of inanity have value as an expression of the set of conditional circumstances that give context to your being. This is not equivalent to saying they have value for everyone, of course - this is not a claim to a hypostazing of all that is universal to some barometer of equality, much as our modern enlightened "progressive" society would have do. So in other words, some (who knows, perhaps most?) of my perambulating quite probably has value only to me. Irrespective, I leave everyone to their own court of judgement.

In any case, I hope Cloudberry will allow me to resurrect a few snippets of materials he has chosen to eradicate as I personally found them highly interesting, and their loss a great shame, all the more so because I can closely identify to a lot of the sentiments contained therein. I will let him consider the metaphysical and existential meaning to the resurrection, [re-]possession and adaptation of material he had withdrawn due to whatever motivating basis.

On the subject of Facebook he wrote:

"Just as there is something quite awesomely lonely about the gigantic metropolis, even as one is amid the swirling mass of humanity... so there is something intensely lonesome about Facebook, even as one has multitudes of squares, frozen faces, staring at you in various poses of shock, dismay, happiness, joy, anger, significant-othership, coitus (well, maybe not that one), being-abroadness, or anonymity.


Another thing is this: facebook profiles give an illusion of closeness to a person, but usually they are an enigma.


Facebook is testimony to the change underlying all phenomena. We friend someone, we exchange messages and posts with them, and then when the real-life context vanishes, the messages and posts dry up. But, generally, we do not defriend one another. The linkage is a corpse, meaningless, and probably unused, but it remains. Why?

And hence the culmination of Facebook's mental life reveals itself: the person who, rather than knowing people and being friends with them, is simply the person who looks at people, like Baudelaire and the Paris of industrialising France."

So indeed, we become voyeurs; or perhaps rather react in a manner befitting inauthentic being in a Heideggerian sense.

I've had this debate with myself one several occasions: Shall I delete my Facebook account entirely? It becomes a vapid time-wasting hole. Ultimately, I decided the sensible approach was the one moderated between extremes; Facebook is most especially valuable as a tool for organisational purposes, and used as a mere utility to keep abreast of, say, musical concerts and events going on, and arrange real-life interactions with people, redeems itself somewhat. Above all, avoid the trap of ending up succumbing to the urge to post those status updates and "microblog" about the disquietude of your own mental state. Because, ultimately, most people don't actually give a damn, else they would actually choose to reach out and interact with you in real life (excepting, of course, all those long distance contacts for whom such an arrangement is impossible).

So the simplest method of all: use it very sparingly. Have a quick look, or pick up a message if someone sends it to you, but otherwise, avoid it almost entirely, and instead try to operate more in the "real world" in terms of societal contacts.

Perhaps I felt motivated to create this new blog entry after starting to read one of Cloudberry's old posts entitled "Purge", which dealt with the metaphysical/existential meaning of snow. Since, after all, there is so much of it around right at this very moment, and especially here in the UK, quite unusually; we do not normally get winters of quite this severity. I rather enjoy it, as I alluded to in my previous post.

A small digression as to my reading habits regarding other blogs: I do not necessarily "check by" every day to see if someone has put a new blog post up. Instead, I prefer to "batch read"; so I might not look at someone's blog for several weeks, and then all of a sudden, read a whole great deal, and catch up again.  If I come across an interesting new blog, however, I will always bookmark or add it to my RSS feeds, and will, when the time is right, eventually come back to it and spend some time reading through it all. So, from my personal selfish point of view, I am rather glad my feedreeding software Liferea had fortunately kept a local copy of these older posts of Cloudberry's since they're now gone.

Anyway, again I hope he will not mind too much if I quote some of this extirpated material. On snow:

"I use the phrase "snow-white" advisedly. Sartre talks in Being and Nothingness about how we like to ski on snow because it barely changes the snow at all to ski on it. When we change the substance we're working on, that means it is stuff as opposed to pure fluid--it is in-itself rather than for-itself. Untouched snow is like for-itself, but when snow gets all mucked up by people walking or urinating in it, it is like in-itself. The most exact phenomenal symbol of for-itself is water. The most exact phenomenal symbol of in-itself is slime, which sticks to everything that touches it and doesn't move fluidly on its own, nor can it resist the imprint of everything else that comes into contact with it."

This statement reminded me of the opening paragraph of Manly P. Hall's profound Lectures on Ancient Philosophy. The opening few sentences, from the first chapter, "The Nature of the Absolute" go thus:

"To define adequately the nature of the Absolute is impossible, for it is everything in its eternal, undivided, and unconditioned state. In ancient writings it is referred to as the NOTHING and the ALL. No mind is capable of visualizing an appropriate symbolic figure of the Absolute. Of all the symbols devised to represent its eternal and unknowable state, a clean, blank sheet of paper is the least erroneous. The paper, being blank, represents all that cannot be thought of, all that cannot be seen, all that cannot be felt, and all that cannot be limited by any tangible function of the consciousness. The blank paper represents measureless, eternal, unlimited SPACE. No created intelligence, has ever plumbed its depths; no God has ever scaled its heights, nor shall mortal or immortal being ever discover the true nature of its substance. From it all things come, to it all things return, but it neither comes nor goes.

Figures and symbols are pollutions drawn upon the unblemished surface of the paper..."

We therefore see here a connecting principle between phenomenology, being, cosmology and theology. Extemporise at your leisure on the interrelationship.  It rather draws me towards the quote of Proclus that has always adorned the right hand sidebar of this blog:

"For all things are in us psychically, and through this we are naturally capable of knowing all things, by exciting the powers and the images of wholes which we contain."

One final aside, it this helter-skelter of a post. Quite of my own volition, I felt a peculiar random imaginative inclination to write a fictional story entitled The Frog Lantern. It is being written at the moment. It is quite possibly absolute nonsense, as it is descending into something wildly surreal. For some reason, perhaps due to the chaotic turbulence of my own bizarre existence in this ugly modern world, every time I attempt to write fiction I descend into completely peculiar and downright strange imaginative splotches. In any case, imagine my ironic surprise, when perusing Cloudberry's new blog, The Nostalgia of the Infinite, I discovered his posts on "animal totems"; foremost among them, frogs.

Incidentally, excluding perhaps frogs, which evidently seem to have some type of subconscious, symbolic importance to me (that I was not hitherto aware of), my animal totem would undoubtedly be a cat.

Why? Cats always make me remember a certain narcissistic independence; a complete absence of any need for validation from anyone or indeed anything else; in their "Egyptian" pose and always astounding elegance, balance, and regality, one feels the echo of nobility. They reify what is higher, what is above, what is beyond. And yet, on their own terms, and you as human on yours, you can nevertheless meet, and what is exchanged is authentic. The cat accepts, and then you know that it is genuine. They are indeed mighty; how often is it the case that you will walk down the street, and see a cat gazing out of the window, impassively scrutinising and observing.

They are perhaps the ultimate philosophers. They are perhaps the animal equivalent of Evola's "Absolute Individual", able to give transcendent meaning to one's own life.

It is little wonder that domestic cats have always been popular among writers, as they espouse a certain quality of apparent introspection that all writers must possess in order to be able to write.

And finally, on pens.

Perhaps as a result of the transience and impermanence of everything that is modern, I find myself drawn back to the humble art of handwriting; there is something qualitatively different to giving something a permanent immanent existence through the personal lens of handwriting. I would very much like to get a proper fountain pen. For some reason, I find myself with an intense desire to have something like a German Pelikan Souverän M800, or a Japanese Sailor Classic 1911. Along, of course, with some funky ink, such as the Noodler ink "Sun Never Sets".

Perhaps it is just another retreat along the axis of my increasing anti-modernist tendencies.

"Sun Never Sets"

"Pelikan Souverän M800"

"Sailor 1911 Classic Sterling Silver"

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Current life synopsis as 2010 arrives. Part 2/2: Transcendent.

So, this is the corollary that complements my earlier post at the end of 2009. As a man approaching 30, where am I in my current life?

Part two.

The transcendent.

Today I must say I felt much better than I've felt in a very long time. On a very basic level, the whole endless consumer Christmas retail craze has been largely dispensed with for another year; our shop has returned back to normal hours, we're no longer flooded with customers (though have a sufficient enough coming in to keep us occupied). Significantly, the end of the stupidly long tiring days has meant I'm able to return to my normal much healthier routine - since I'm no longer arriving home very late in the evening, I now am able to resume my exercise and training in the gym.

Regular exercise is vital for me not only for physical well-being, but also for mental stability. Without a physical impetus to channel all the stresses, annoyances and worries of my life into, instead I end up vegetating and slipping into a dismayed depressive state.

So, with a new year, a new sense of determination, particularly since some new training gear that I ordered way back in the autumn of last year has finally arrived from the States. I'll leave that for another post.

Secondly, as some of you might be aware, the UK is currently undergoing some rather unusual winter weather. Unusual, only in recent memory, that is: I would class it as more of a return to a proper winter: I remember as a child in the 80s we had quite a few snowbound winters here in England. Most of country is currently carpeted in thick snow, as it has been snowing heavily most nights for a good week or so now, and we've had a sustained period of much colder sub zero temperatures than recent winters have brought us. This type of weather had virtually disappeared over the last few years.

Whilst it no doubt makes great media copy, as the news is doing its usual job of ridiculously over egging, exaggerating, and sensationalising things (I would not class -5C as "bitterly cold"; rather, just "cold". -30C on a Siberian plain with 50mph Northerly winds - that I would class as "bitterly cold"!), and it is an awkward time for transport, since the UK is not very well prepared for proper winter weather, so consequently don't have enough grit and snow clearing vehicles, etc., and farmers are no doubt struggling badly with cattle and any winter crops; but on a strictly personal level, I adore this weather. Cold winter, snowbound weather makes me feel at home. There is something quite magical about he quietening and softening effect of snow on a landscape; sounds become wonderfully muted, the air becomes so delightfully crisp and fresh; shapes and forms of all objects, natural or manufactured, suddenly take on an independent aesthetic beauty all of their own. Some pictures from my locality:

So perhaps it is the way that when you get relatively intense weather like this, nature encroaches back onto the modern world: the conflict of the Enlightenment project of domination over Nature through the abstract systematisation, analysis and exploitation of natural resources, scientific "truth" and "knowledge". Natural weather events like this help to dispel us from our isolationist hermetic separation of modern urbanity and the "natural world".

It is this sense of a return of primeval essences, a primitivism, that helps break one out of those feelings of existential anguish in this increasingly noisy but simultaneously barren world: one of an immense veneer of technological and epistemological supremacy, which by equal measure empties inner knowledge in order to replace it with second-order derivative knowledge of mere subsequent effects; fully materialised and physicalised.

I read Evola's "Ride The Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul" over the Yule period, and like all of Evola's works, it offers an immensely penetrating and powerful critique of the modern world. So, a few quotes, one which is particularly apt on this point, when talking of the endless assault of the Holy Grail that is Science and Enlightenment:

"The boundary that defines the range of modern science from the very start, whatever its possible developments, appears in the fact that its constant and rigid point of departure has been and is based on the dualistic and exteriorized relationship between the I and the not-I, which is proper to simple sense-knowledge... They are not instruments of another kind of knowledge, that is, of true knowledge."

Moreover, on the abstract physico-mathematical ideal - that taken to its ultimate teleological form, fashionably proposes a "theory of everything", an all-encompassing supposed end of the quest for "final" knowledge:

"It is then like a catharsis that consumes every residue of the sensory, not in order to lead to a higher world, the "intelligible world" or a "world of ideas", as in the ancient schools of wisdom, but rather to the realm of pure mathematical thought, of number, of undifferentiated quantity, as opposed to the realm of quality, of meaningful forms and living forces: a spectral and cabalistic world, an extreme intensification of the abstract intellect, where it is no longer a matter of things or phenomena, but almost of their shadows reduced to their common denominator, gray and indistinguishable...

... It is about a formal knowledge enclosed in itself, extremely precise in its practical consequences, in which, however, one cannot speak of the real. "

He quotes the physicist Heisenberg:

"The object of research is no longer the object in itself, but nature as a function of the problems that man sets himself... Henceforth man only meets himself"

Little wonder, therefore, he laments the state of the modern world, whereby we are resigned to a

" consignment to the kind of happiness that befits Nietzsche's 'last man': a comfortable consumer civilization of socialized human animals, aided by all the discoveries of science and industry and reproducing demographically in a squirming, catastrophic crescendo"

Now, the point of this diversion into meaning in the context of my life is that the position I'm now in - along with all its material consequences - began many years ago. As I said, "I am suffering this situation due to a lack of coherent career decisions". Which of course raises the question, why have I made such an incoherent set of career decisions.

Knowing the world is knowing yourself - and vice versa. I've always been of the personality and type of inquiring mind that searches for truth, so naturally career decisions were also going to be a logical function of that drive. So, what does a child growing up in our secular world, from a religion neutral home naturally gravitate to? Science of course; science is knowledge, is it not? Necessarily, as an impressionable and ineluctably naive teen - as all teens must necessarily be, irrespective of how much they believe otherwise, and will of course do so - meaning was always going to be something that could be discerned as a consequence of knowledge, knowledge that was of course associated as inimical with scientific insight. Since we are seduced first and most easily by what is before our eyes: and the wonders of science abound with jewels all around. Marvels of the world - like this computer, this set of pixels, text, graphics, system upon system, building ever greater levels of complexity.

And this is the first - and perhaps most important - of many steps that a child takes towards being an adult; they come to realise that there exists more than their immediate needs and wants (largely sensory, or directed towards immediate emotional-physical gratification), and come to realise that behind it all is something more. Not merely an understanding of "this leads to that", the "paint is red"; "red paint is red because of the dye", in other words not the simple law of causality, but the law behind the causality, the law of the ultimate cause. In other words, the question, for the first time, becomes not merely what, not even just why, but the real Why, the why that eventually ends the infinite regression of whys that a child will ask when asking an adult to explain why something is so. But why, but why, and but why...     

So there was perhaps a residue of this type of schematicism behind my thinking when trying to make those initial career decisions as to what to study. I was of course, not ready or unprepared to make adequate choices at that age, and I now look back and think it could not have been any other way. There is something absurd to me now when I consider that people must make fundamental life choices at 16 - and what are now ultimately irrevocable ones, in this climate of automatic debt - when they can in no way have any real appreciation of who they are going to become. Far better, instead, if youth immediately went into work or some type of skilled trade in the larger world, or travelled, first, for some years; then, just at the point at which most people now traditionally leave university, they could go back and study, clear of purpose and mind. Or at least, clearer.

Anyway, digressions aside, as a teen I'd become hooked on popular science accounts describing all the fascinations of Quantum Physics and all the science that lies at the boundary; and although the first seeds of doubt as to the ultimate basis of this all had been well and truly sown when I read Kant's Critique Of Pure Reason at 16 (an enormously difficult book by any standard, but his triumvirate of his three Critique's will repay any effort put into reading them one hundred fold in terms of the effects on your thinking for the remainder of your life), it was nevertheless not sufficient to stop me pursuing the Scientific path (despite temptations on the path of Arts; my mother was a teacher of English, so I've always had a love of books and literature, and indeed arts in general; so I was torn between the general path of the Sciences or Arts that form the ultimate division of the Western education system).

And so I pursued Computer Science at University; all going well, at first. There was the dream of "Artificial Intelligence". What intellectually sexier subject can there be than the prospect of engineering intelligence, the emergence of the man-like machine? Like all modern myths - for perhaps the overriding fantasy of the Western Enlightenment is the replacement of traditional myths and legends with the all powerful rational intellect, ultimately just another form of myth, and the one that is currently en vogue - it offers great dreams. But - and I can speak with some authority on this, since it was a subject I studied in depth - from a philosophical, and more important, entirely real point of view, "artificial intelligence" is not really particularly such, or can only be considered intelligence if one restricts the term to a definition so narrow as to reduce it to a meaningless praxis. Instead, machines are merely computationally extremely efficient. Where a restricted set of parameters and delimiters can be defined, they can algorithmically solve problems with great efficiency. The essence of all artificial intelligent systems - and in the modern world, these are many; the computer and its microcosmos of software you're sitting in front of, your mobile phone, your MP3 player - is still ultimately simply an exhaustive search within a list of probabilistic parameters.

This is easily illustrated by the famous battle of IBM's mainframe computer "Big Blue" running chess software that eventually defeated world champion Gary Kasparov. Big Blue was ultimately superior at "playing" chess than Kasparov was, and in the restricted sense of "playing chess" you could credit it on some level with intelligence. It is critical to realise, however, that they way it goes about playing chess is so different to the way a human plays this game - and it also crucial to point out that because the game itself is an "artificial" problem, therefore ultimately a perfect computational problem - that it does so in a method that requires no "intelligence" at all. A chess computer will simply do a deep search - and the depth of the search can increase as computational power increases, though, because mathematically, it is what is known as an exponential function, search progress is slow in proportion to increase in hardware power -  and simply evaluate every single move. Increasingly the depth of the search merely means considering, say, two moves ahead - for every move of a piece that I could make, what are the possible moves that you could resulting make - and then three, then four... and so on. Very quickly you're at the point of mathematically considering billions of permutations. From these, without a predefined time or search depth limit, you select whichever move probabilistically yields the strongest move. It is simply a numerical weighting (a weighting method whose intelligence was originally supplied by the human programmers).  With Big Blue able to process billions of moves before selection, it was hardly surprising it won. Of course it was immaterial if it lost, since it would only be a matter of time before the sheer numerical quantity of moves that are able to be considered, as raw computational power increases, would become so statistically overwhelming that its probabilistic likelihood of victory would ever asymptotically approach 100% when measured against raw human computation. But the method itself it actually the epitome of stupidity, not intelligence!

It is akin to attempt to replicate, say, Tolstoy's "War And Peace" from the famous analogy of a team of monkey's randomly hammering at typewriters for eternity. Eventually, through every possible permutation of letters randomly delivered, whether that be a book of one character long consisting of merely "A" to a book of 1000 billion characters, you would - after an exceptionally long period of time - end up with War and Peace and indeed every single book ever written.

But the critical point is there is no selective or higher order intelligence operating here. It is simply blind mechanistic chance - chance, guided by probabilities, that is. Those probabilities are at least initially supplied by the experience and measurements of the human designers. The "intelligence" in every artificial intelligence system is supplied externally from the human programmers. Even neural networks, which are supposedly a method by which an AI system can "learn", still ultimately depend on a superior intelligent principle supplied by the programmer, which tells it which criterion's to select and priortise, or tell it "good" or "bad", "wrong" or "right". The machines operate on one level of existence only, a planar profanely dumb existence of simply a computational set of inputs for processing according to some preconceived, arranged, and deterministically calcuated algorithms. Emergent behaviour is merely second order interference phenomena, where as a result of so much data flowing into the system and being processed in various ways, you get effects that cannot be simply measured though a simple stepwise assessment of a given subsystem.

No machine is genuinely self-aware, and never will be, for such a sense of self-awareness would only come at the expense of realising it possesses no genuine self. It has no self because it merely reacts, in a predefined way, to a set of predefined inputs. Without a self, it has no referential totality with which to meaningfully refer the qualifier intelligence to. The destructive processes in our nihilistic era are precisely the outcome, on one axis, of this theory of computation applied to the human being; the mind as machine. It would have us believe that a human is nothing more than a sense-data processing organon, blinding selecting (ultimately via Darwinian evolution, science's creationist, entirely theological at basis, albeit disguised, principal of self-survival) upon possible choices based on a probabilistic entitlement of that which will most likely yield the most comfort and thereby best chance of survival. This the eudaemonistic fantasy; a blind, stupefied animalistic survival for the goal of being simply "happy".  

So, with the dream of AI being revealed as a fantasy - though, I should point out, and undeniably useful one; for science has an immense mastery of utilitarian shaping of of things to ones ends; so thank AI for that iPhone or whatever it is that you're holding: it may not be intelligent, but it certainly can behave that way, thanks to the careful set of human design criteria and responses behind it, and AI has immense information processing value to serve our ends - much as with every other previous scientific dream, I started to realise that the path to truth I was looking for was not here.

That intellectual process, coupled with the fact the degree became increasingly burdened with worthless paperwork (a pointless consequence of the administrative absurdity of the modern world, which increasingly specialises without any higher ordering principle) and increasingly dull and anodyne meant I lost interest, and once I lose interest in something that is a deathblow to my motivation, regardless of cost.

As a backdrop, I was reading Heidegger's Being and Time during this time, and it illustrated the existential consequences of the practical results of this mechanized computerized, automated era of production; man divorced from any higher meaning, man divested into a societal herd mentality, and ultimately lost in touch with one's very self; only in moments of crisis or significant events, did a reaction occur where one was "thrown back" or "thrown towards" one's being, Dasein; instead of being lost as a collective, numerical entity conditioned by our mass media.

Anyway, Evola describes such events - and I have above described two, the first from a child like state of wonder to that of the inquiring mind, initially following the empirical path; the second (starting in a real significant way at University, from 18, even though such tremors had been felt a few years earlier) from that of the slavish blind atheist devotee of science to an individual in existential crisis searching for higher meaning - indeed, the primary thematic material of most of this very blog as you may have noted - as ontological ruptures, or a rupture of ontological levels.

It is with the rupture of levels that a corresponding increase in the real development of the human individual occurs - not on any obviously measurable, materalised plain (though such results may occur as a side effect). But on the more significant, and ultimately all superior - indeed, ultimately primary - spiritual plane. This plane is largely non-existent in the Western world, and almost always completely misunderstood and reduced to profanity by those who lack the necessary self-awareness to comprehend it on a fundamental level. Since it is not a matter of "intelligence" (quotations added to illustrate the materialised understanding of the word which merely recognises numerical superiority), nor is it a matter of "knowledge" as such. Most people have not undergone the necessary existential developments to be prepared for any such awareness, not because they necessarily lack the capability, but because they are so anesthetised by the lull of the dream of the triumphant march of progress of modernity that they fail to see its very toxicity. Every step of progress in the Western world is accomplished at the expense of a diminishment of the strength of the ultimately supervenient and grossly superior "inner world". Furthermore, "spirituality" itself is reduced to some quasi-fashionable alternative statement, a fantastic world of hidden spirits and things that go bump-in-the-night. This is another example of esoteric knowledge being transmogrified into something that is a merely a divergent after effect of some material oddity, a quasi-Scientific paranormal event. Evola describes such results as the "regime of residues".

Yet the sense of inner barrenness and alienation is all around us, because without any explicit awareness, the nascent dormant spiritual plane in everyone nevertheless exists, and its lack of development in the face of this existential emptiness and nihilistic vacuity proposes only one course of survival: escapism. Most popularly, alcohol. So it is with most people my age that one does one's working week, then drinks oneself into oblivion come Friday night. The "pleasure" in such an activity is of an entirely negative character, negative in the sense that it obviates oneself, temporarily, of all the anguish and emptiness of life. It's entirely understandable, particularly when one considers that most jobs in practice, as a result of the entire organisation of the modern world, are entirely and fundamentally unfulfilling, as we all satisfy some eminently worthless socio-economic scale of "progress", where everything is ultimately referred to the economy, gross domestic products, and living indexes. Progress toward what, precisely?

Nietzsche's denouncement of "God is dead" was not a proclamation of atheism, as is commonly attributed to him, along the very same self-destructive materialistic lines that have got us here; it was rather to illustrate that the fundamental decline of all the higher values, sublimated under modernist myths, meant that in all realistic terms that any God was dead precisely because the very God within man had already died. Essentially, God was dead not because he didn't "exist", but because the very sacred center of man had been eradicated, and thereby rendered God, or any other reference to Deity, deities or all and anything that is truly transcendent, as entirely meaningless. Hence why Nietzsche described himself as dynamite; he knew full well his meanings would be ultimately misunderstood and perverted. Not only in the case of the atheist revolutionaries declaring that God had finally been banished - generally replaced by the wonderous pursuit of Science - but also in those that would later adopt his teachings of the Zarathustra "superman" and later entirely pervert it into the political doctrine of Fascism, specialised in National Socialism. Nietzsche would have been both amused and disgusted at Nazism (and, for that matter, Marxism).

So here I find myself, one of the "outsiders" - always an outsider in spirit, as the very least. This X-Factor generation is anathema to me. I find myself thereby on the brink, indeed, undergoing a third "ontological rupture" in my 28 years. A few pragmatic realities have hit me hard, and particularly so in 2009; this path I have chosen in life was never going to be easy, since it goes against the very grain. As I eluded to, the fact of the matter is my extremely limited material life - as a result of not prioritsing and directionalising all my intellectual powers towards this goal, for reasons that should now be abundantly clear - does have significant consequences. The social stereotype of "man as provider" does carry significant weight, so for me to meet someone, they would have to be someone of the necessary qualities as to disregard my financial and material poverty, and desire me for qualities in other areas; ones which do not obviously manifest in a lot of the ordinary day-to-day aspects of living.

I've consequently resigned myself to this fact, and will be living a fairly monastic life through 2010, as I've got debt to pay off, and easiest way to stay on budget is not to go out much. I will eat healthily, exercise with great intensity - I very much enjoy Powerlifting training - and absorb myself more than ever in my books and music. I will also greatly intensify my efforts finding a creative outlet. This blog is one, and this last week or so has seen a tremendously fertile period, as you can no doubt tell if you've succeeded in reading this far down this current post! I will write, and write more, because in truth writing is my one real area of natural talent; as much as I adore music, for example, I have no real aptitude for it; similarly fine art, I am mediocre but no more. But perhaps I can be a better than mediocre writer, and I feel that I am becoming much more of a human with which to find expression to life itself.

Finally, a little note for Ida. You know how much you mean to me, and your acts of kindness and quality as an individual ever resonate more with me. I love you, and always will, however our paths in life should continue to proceed. It is little wonder that so few relationships survive against the abhorrent ugliness of so much of modern existence. The best chance of survival is a form of seclusion, even at the expense of perhaps developing a level of provincialism and a petit-bourgeois existence. To live in a wood cabin, surrounded by trees and snow - a romantic anachronism, but perhaps the one way of blissfully surviving this world - either that, or a upright battle alone, a quest to remain strong to one's higher values, an upright challenge to recognise one's own transcendence, and to tap into that infinite supply to find a meaning to imbue to everything you do. A declaration of war. War not against nations, or on any material plane - but on the higher level for ones own very sense of being. Such a war requires not overt actions, because the war occurs entirely on the inner plane of one's own existence, unseen by the majority.

We ultimately control who and what we are. Look in, to see out.

And then you shall indeed be wandering with Sleipnir.