Category Archives: Ramblings

The Nature of Opinion, and Why We Differ

I just love Bill Watterson.

I may be two weeks late, but Happy New Year nonetheless! We’re already halfway through January, the dual month of beginnings and endings. For some reason, new followers have trickled in since my last post to the point where there are now around 600 of you. For some reason, over a week ago, I got offered a place at the University of Cambridge to read English. And thankfully, probably due to a rest from college work and all the positive messages I’ve been receiving, I’m in a much better place mentally than I was a month ago. I don’t know how long these good omens will last, but I’m definitely endeavouring to act on them.

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The Eternal Hanging…

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…of an uncompleted dream is torturous, painful, and as already stated, never-ending. It is your failure trapped and suspended forever in purgatory, forever for you to look back and wistfully reminisce, because when you had the opportunity you did not take it. You did not dare, you did not try; you had the want but not the will. Often people fear the realisation of their own dream. Sometimes they call it impossible because they didn’t dare achieve it themselves. It is a simple fact that although the future of the world will only be determined by today’s dreamers, very few of today’s dreamers will determine the future of the world.

It’s true that sometimes it truly is difficult or nigh impossible to grasp at every opportunity. But many people aren’t sure what they want, if anything at all, and this second situation is a poor excuse for passing up the opportunities that come one’s way. An excuse in this habit creates an attitude of not striving at all, of underachieving. It is in cases like this that people look back in their older years, wishing for more time which will never come. Because they did not strive then to grasp what came their way, or to create their own opportunities.

Almost a year ago, I received my grades for my final high school year (Year 11). And they were good, but for me they weren’t great, and for a long while I was kicking myself over them. I still do sometimes, because I did not use the opportunities I had to do the best that I could. So now, in Year 12, I’ve made it a point to grab opportunities as they come. I became a class representative, I write for the newspaper, I entered an essay prize which has never been won by a state school student; I’ve applied for both a university and a creative writing residential course. I’ve learnt basic Mandarin, and my green owl friend to the right is helping me learn French and Spanish. I’ve enrolled in an online course offered by Harvard, and on school days I frequent the library so much that the librarians all know me on a first-name basis and chat to me about their children. And yes, I do find the time to sleep. 😉

Perhaps my opportunity-grabbing is excessive, but all I’m trying to say is that it’s better to go for opportunities than to waste them. They often don’t come back, and while it is possible it is also certainly harder to bring about your own. At the moment, I’m working with Year 11s who are failing their English course. The hardest part of the job is not teaching them the material, but convincing them that this last opportunity to improve their grades is worthwhile.

Maybe opportunities don’t always get you where you want to go, but they still leave you with valuable experience. They are not just the career or dream-related things, but also the little things which help you grow as a person. Whether that’s spending time with a family member when you otherwise wouldn’t have, or having a chat with friends when some days you feel you’d rather be alone, they help you as a person. They are experiences you will likely not regret having undertaken.

So chase those opportunities. Don’t over-burden yourself with them, but chase them. Especially if you don’t know where they’ll lead. Ask yourself, how many of your favourite memories were planned? Isn’t it better to turn the corner, blind, than to keep going and glancing back at what could have been?

 

A Mother’s Day Letter

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I should start by wishing you a happy Mother’s Day, but I suppose that’s unnecessary as you won’t be receiving this anyway. And anyway, although those are the words you expect, those are not the words you want to hear.

It took me a long time to figure out what you wanted me to say. I used to think it was ‘Sorry,’ ever since you told me that when you were pregnant with me, you hadn’t wanted a girl. That your mother had told you girl children were more trouble than they were worth by virtue of being female (this taught me so much about the dysfunction of my extended family, by the way). Not that I’ve turned out as traditionally feminine as either you or my father expected. But it’s not that. It’s not as simple as you having misgivings at the birth of your first daughter, because after the next three followed I think we can both agree there’s nothing wrong with girls. (Except the hour it takes your fifteen year old one to leave the bathroom.)

The second thing I thought you wanted me to say, was about my sexuality. Yes, I’m gay. And for when I eventually tell you, on one eventual date, I will be sorry for hurting you. Part of me is sorry now. It kills me not to say, even when you occasionally raise your eyebrows at my choice of books, when you tease me about marriage or when you flat-out ask. It really does. But that’s not what you want me to say, perhaps because you know by the so-called mother’s intuition that it’s not the time yet.

But I know what you want me to say. And I don’t hate you.

Such an arbitrary, odd thing to say. Especially on Mother’s Day.

But that’s what you’re looking for. Something I’ve realised, talking to my father, is that all parents have this natural fear of their children growing to loathe them. It’s one of the most painful types of rejection possible. And I know you worry. Because I’m not six anymore, I’m sixteen and we don’t talk like we used to. Sometimes we don’t talk at all. Our conversations sometimes become quickly argumentative, because we’re just such different people. We have different values, different friends. Different ideas. Different directions. There are things we don’t like about each other; familiarity truly does breed contempt. But. I don’t hate you. I never did. Sure, it’s cool to be distant and standoffish with your parents nowadays, sure I should get in touch with my Dad more. But I don’t hate you, and I never did. And it isn’t just because you’re my mother and I’m your first daughter.

You gave me my first book.

You encouraged me to read and expand my mind.

You fed my appetite as a reader, and when you saw the notebooks I’d filled in my clumsy attempts at writing you brought me my first laptop so I could grow into a writer.

You opened my mind. If it wasn’t for you, I truly would not be the individual I am today.

My favourite memory: I wasn’t in school for whatever reason; you weren’t at work. Down to the station, the rushing of air as the train comes in, the way everyone quietly moves with the train when we’re on. You hold my hand all the way. We go nowhere in particular. I don’t remember if we said anything. Probably. Probably not. It doesn’t matter. I was five, and it was one of the happiest moments in my life.

Happy Mother’s Day. Happy every ordinary day. And maybe, on one of these ordinary days, I’ll send you this letter. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t even matter, and nothing needs to be said, because of course you already know.

Reflections on Change and the Church

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St Paul’s Cathedral is one of those masterpieces of old architecture you come across in certain parts of England and the world, the sort of place you need know nothing about to be in awe of. I was one of two Christians on my school’s Philosophy trip to visit it; the two teachers were strong atheists and the rest of the students were either of the ‘Everyone knows God isn’t real’ hipster-atheist type or agnostics who had not given the idea much thought (until our God and the World module). Yet no matter our personal ideologies, everyone who entered that building went silent.

I’ve often wondered what it was that fell upon people in such places. Is it the idea that millions of others have walked where we walked, or that so much time had been devoted to religious art? Is it God? As a Christian, I don’t know. I do know that the Church is changing. I know that I, personally, have never been very fond of the Church anyway. Perhaps it is my history with African or ethnic churches, but I’ve always been inclined to seek God elsewhere. Today, many do. Apart from school students (my group and some primary school children), the vast majority of the worshippers I observed at the Cathedral’s Eucharist were at least over 50. The other Christian in our group, a girl, didn’t go up for Communion. In her own words, it was ‘embarrassing’ in front of the other students. Times are changing.

No matter your religion/irreligion, what do you think of the Church as a whole?

A few weeks ago, here in England, a same-sex marriage bill passed through the preliminary stages of Government approval. There was uproar from the Church, who felt their position would be weakened by it (I’m not entirely sure how, but that was one of their major complaints). A few days ago, yet another Catholic priest (Scotland, this time) stepped down from his position due to sexual misconduct. Around the same time, the Pope resigned from the Papacy (though obviously for different reasons).

I know some of you are religious, and I know that some of you are not. And that some of you are not sure. But we live in fast-changing times, and even if current change became minimal change would still happen. The world and its culture is constantly evolving, and like it or not the Church has continuously changed along with that evolution. Not that anyone would admit it, but it has. It’s members have changed too. Amongst other things, few people really believe the Bible word for word anymore and in the face of hypocrisies and controversies which have rattled the church, many have or have at least contemplated turning away.

Does this mean the death of God? Of course not. Perhaps it is the slow death of religion (well, decline, as I don’t believe religion will ever ‘die’) though, as people come to the realisation that faith in God or a god or gods is an entirely separate thing from religion. Because of this, religious institutions and believers are changing. Changing their attitudes and their behaviours and their lifestyles. They are not, though, really changing their faiths. Humans are naturally irrational creatures, and regardless of whether or not God exists we will always still believe in something ‘more’ out there. Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s nothing; maybe it’s aliens.

The Great Joy of Criticism

…rock. Sometimes.

One of the hardest aspects of creating something, whether that is a novel or a blog post, is being criticised about your own creation. Because when you make it, it might seem the most perfect thing in the world to you, or something at least acceptable. Criticism, if not well-handled, acts as a swift, demotivating kick in the teeth. It’s why so many new writers, new bloggers, new artists, new <insert creative individual here> give up so quickly. They don’t yet know the secret of the successful people: criticism is the true chisel to your block of marble, not your own fanciful ideas and original ventures. That kick knocks you down, but to get anywhere, the frustration of it better make you get the hell up again.

Everyone’s been there. On WordPress, it’s the beginning of blogging and the stage where the novelty wears off, where you’re waiting for a like or comment. And one comes along, but it’s one of disagreement. Or you’ve settled on one topic for your blog, and someone comes along who says that they dislike the way you do things, that the way you write seems forced or unnatural.

And you get mad. Don’t deny it, you get mad.

Maybe you’re sure that you’re blogging about what you’re passionate about, and you think this guy’s obviously come to the wrong blog. And maybe you’re right, he has. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use his criticism. You can use it strengthen what you write, maybe to give readers notice about your blog’s focus, or to examine other opinions whilst maintaining your own. Because there is you, the blogger, and there is also your audience. Blogging is an exchange between blogger and audience, and wider opinion only means more is learnt and shared.

Many of you likely realise that I’m still working on my NaNoWrimo novel, which currently sits at around 59000 words. That may sound like a lot, but its still about 13000 words off my target goal. Recently I ventured back to an old writing support website I used to hang around, and posted a chapter excerpt to be reviewed. And I did get that kick in the teeth. And it was painful. Painful because I’ve kept the majority of my manuscript to myself, not shown it around to anyone, and somewhere in the process of writing I’d forgotten that creativity needs an audience. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, I’m determined to correct my mistakes and keep on working. The same thing happens in my college essays, but each time I get up again to try again. Eventually, I’ll get it. Eventually, you’ll get it. And if even one new creative mind elsewhere could get it, then that’s one more artistic and individual mind we have in our society. One more person who did not give in.

And yeah, sometimes criticism is just not constructive. Sometimes its just a load of crap, and you’re justified in ‘accidentally’ deleting that comment. While there’s a great joy to be had in criticism, the joy of improvement, sometimes it’s easier to ignore something non-constructive than to get in a mutually-degrading shouting match with what is more often that not a childish troll.