The Last Post

Hello everyone. I’m sorry to say that this will be my final post on To Stand and Stare. But worry not! I have started a new WordPress blog called The Wordy Gurdy Man.

You’ll have noticed that I’ve neglected TSAS since the beginning of November 2013 when I set off on my NaNoWriMo journey. I managed to write my novel and ‘win’ the NaNoWriMo challenge. Now comes the task of revision, rewriting and then considering my next move (to self-publish or to find a publisher). This new phase of my novel writing adventure will be covered on TWGM, along with my passions for reading and music. If you do want to follow me in my new adventures I’d be delighted. A full description of TWGM‘s focus and aims can be found on the blog’s About page.

My reasons for mothballing TSAS are that I ostensibly set up the blog when I had become lost in the wilderness of life. I had planned to find myself again by writing about myself – my thoughts, feelings and so on. I no longer feel that need, which is a good thing. It’s a very very good thing. So now I want to move on and write about three of my main passions: I am shifting my focus from inward looking to outward looking. I considered rejigging TSAS, but decided that I would prefer a clean slate, and so TWGM was conceived and born.

I’m proud of TSAS, and if nothing else the experience has helped me get to grips with the world of blogging. I have put a lot of thought and effort into how I want to present myself to the online community, and it’s now time to step forward with confidence, fully fledged and ready to fly.

So ta-ta for now, and I hope see you over at The Wordy Gurdy Man‘s blog.

NaNo, NaNo, It’s Off To Write I Go

Well, November is upon us, and I’m about to embark on an incredible journey.

I’ve done all the preparation I can possibly do before I start writing my novel for NaNoWriMo tomorrow.

Firstly, I’ve set up my study as I want it with desk and computer standing at the ready, and my newly acquired whiteboard installed on the wall:

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I have then filled the whiteboard with cards.  The blue ones are brief descriptions of main characters and their interrelationships, the white cards are chapter headings and ideas.  The beauty of this system is that I can move cards around as characters and narrative strands come to the fore.  Basically, as my story changes through the course of writing (as it’s certain to do) I can physically reflect those changes on the board.

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Above the board I have installed motivational portraits of writers who have influenced me in my approach and preparation.  They’re my Holy Trinity of authors, if you will.  From left to right: Thomas Mann, George Orwell and Margaret Atwood:

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Now all I’m waiting for is tomorrow.  I may or may not post to To Stand and Stare through November, but you can track my NaNoWriMo progress on the widget in the sidebar.  Wish me luck!

Oh! just one more thing.  I’ve set up my word processor document, and given the novel a title:

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See you in December, if not before.

There’s a Novel Idea

Two years ago I came across the acronym NaNoWriMo, and decided I just had to find out more. Turns out it stands for National Novel Writing Month. The month in question is November, and the idea is to write a 50,000 word story between 1st and 30th of the month. That works out at about 1,667 words a day, which is a pretty tall order.

The people behind NaNoWriMo suggest stocking up on coffee if you intend to take part, only half-jokingly, I think. After um-ing and ah-ing about it for a couple of years I’ve decided to give it a shot for 2013, and have stocked my kitchen cupboard with plenty of coffee, as advised.

The NaNoWriMo ethos privileges quantity over quality, but at least at the end of the thirty days one can hope to have a rough first draft of a novel. Writing a novel is something I’ve never attempted, but my training in writing essays at university should, I hope, stand me in good stead, at least on the planning and distribution of work-load side of things. I have some ideas, and a rough structure mapped out already.

As a preliminary to writing I’ve set up a few things to make my notes and plans easily accessible while writing. I think this is an important thing to do so that I can concentrate on writing with the minimum of interruptions for research and finding my thread in such a lengthy enterprise. To this end I am installing a whiteboard in my study to which I shall pin cue-cards with magnetic fasteners. My idea is that I can easily rearrange the cards into different orders as I progress and need access to different information, or further develop ideas. I will also be able to link cards by drawing connecting lines on the board.

Of course, the month of November may find me posting even less frequently than normal on To Stand and Stare, but I hope to keep you updated with my progress, even if only in short posts. I’m sure you’ll understand. I’ve installed this widget in the side-bar of this blog to show my progress:

I have to admit that, with a week to go before the mayhem kicks off, I’m really excited to get going. I have a lot of other commitments through November, not least of which is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) which I’ve signed up for through Futurelearn, but, hey, in for a penny in for a pound. And if the going gets tough there’s always coffee. Lots of coffee.

A South Asian Suite by Arun Ghosh

Arun Ghosh releases albums at a very leisurely pace.  In 2008 came his first, Northern Namaste.  This was followed three years later, in 2011, by Primal Odyssey.  This autumn sees the release of A South Asian Suite, and it has been worth the wait.  All three records were recorded on the Camoci label.   We should forgive the Mancunian clarinettist for his slow drip-feed of recorded material because he is a busy man.  Not only does he make records of punchy, energetic Indo-jazz, but he is also involved in theatre, education, and was part of last year’s Olympics and Paralympics and the Cultural Olympiad.

A South Asian Suite has existed for several years, since its first performance in 2010 at Manchester Mega Mela.  For the recording recent MOBO winner Zoe Rahman has added her piano genius to the mix.  The record is the kind of urgent driving, pulsating album we’ve come to expect from Ghosh.

‘Sufi Stomp (Soul of Sindh)’ is the lead track off the album:

The album is conceived as a suite (as the title makes plain), so it is not really fair to choose favourites.  Nevertheless, my favourite of the heavyweight tracks is album opener, ‘The Gypsies of Rajasthan’.

The suite also presents quieter, more reflective moments, which is fitting for a work which explores the diverse musical heritage of various south Asian cultures, including Nepalese, Sri Lankan and Bengali musics.  ‘River Song’ and ‘Mountain Song’ are both stand-outs.  ‘River Song’ is deeply rhythmic, and compliments yet contrasts with the light, airy melody of Mountain Song.  Both have a pastoral feel.

The album is in part inspired by Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, and I have enjoyed contrasting these two albums, as well as Chick Corea’s more globally focussed The Continents (although perhaps Corea’s 2012 album is a cuckoo in the nest here).

All the pieces presented on A South Asian Suite are original compositions, and I have never heard any of them before, even though they have been in performance for three years.  It would be instructive to hear them as they originally sounded and chart their development, both as individual songs and as a suite.  There is, of course, a tour to support the release of A South Asian Suite, and I look forward to seeing the quintet play at the Studio Jazz session at my local arts centre, Lighthouse, Poole on October 18th.  The difference between the recording and a live performance should make for fascinating comparison.

The Company That Cares: A Polemic Against Modern Business

In a meeting recently my employer announced yet more measures that will cause a further deterioration in my conditions of employment. I shan’t name the large U.K. Company I work for, not for fear of reprisals (although I’m certain it would be delighted with the chance to humiliate me further by sacking or otherwise ‘disciplining’ me), but because I don’t wish my name to be associated with that of my employer. The main reason for this is that defining ourselves by our occupation reduces us to a function of that occupation in the minds of others.

At one point the manager chairing the meeting tried to explain that certain measures were being introduced due to “health and safety.” This tactic is ubiquitous in modern business, but the phrase itself is meaningless. One might as well say that changes in conditions are being implemented due to “teapot and lamp-post”, or “oxygen and paperweight”. Only if the actual directive issued by the health and safety executive that justifies implementation of the new rule were to be quoted would the phrase carry any meaning. I have a feeling that the directive is never quoted in these circumstances because there often isn’t one. The employer invokes the god of Health and Safety to forestall any contrary argument to its proposed rule changes, and once invoked the conversation is over: so it is written (although in most cases it is not written, at least not by the Health and Safety Executive), so it shall be done. One does not question a god.

The next banality to be spewed forth was that the changes in conditions are being implemented because my employer has my best interests at heart and is a “caring company”. This oxymoron caused a number of those present to guffaw loudly. In a spectacular turn of events the speaker responded to this by saying, “If you don’t like it, find a job somewhere else!” And there it was, modern employee relations in a nut-shell. The age-old stick and carrot technique. Being openly and insultingly lied to to try and generate a positive response from the downtrodden workforce and, when that doesn’t work, the real face of the employer flashes forth in all its twisted frothing-at-the-mouth ugliness. And this slip served the same function as the “Health and Safety” invocation which preceded it by sending a clear message that all dialogue is closed. There is no negotiation. You will do as you are told or you will suffer the consequences.

Another problem with the “find a job somewhere else” argument is that it suggests that conditions for the working person will be better with another employer. Apart from being an admission that conditions in one’s current employment leave much to be desired, it also betrays a determination of the current employer not to enter into any mutually beneficial dialogue whereby employer and worker attempt to settle their differences in a mutually beneficial way. This is, unfortunately, the lot of the workplace, and such treatment can be expected by workers wherever they go. The worker is fighting a total war against a superior enemy, and is vastly outgunned. It was ever thus, and, since there is a war to be fought wherever the worker goes, it may as well be fought here. Now.

How a business hopes to be effective and successful with its workforce thus alienated is beyond me. The biggest problem – and this has a detrimental effect on workers and customers alike – is that modern business is focussed solely on profit to the exclusion of all else. Thus workers are paid low wages (when they are paid at all, but that’s a whole other can of worms) and offered poor conditions to make or sell cheap, second-rate products or services which the consumer pays inflated prices for. If a business were to adopt a model where the worker was treated with respect and dignity, rather than simply as a chattel or “resource”; where delivering a great service or product were a true goal, and not just a rhetorical device; and where the customer, and not just the customer’s money, truly came first, then there would be hope for a brighter tomorrow. The profits would follow. But while the business world venerates the few who seek to draw all economic wealth to themselves, while governments pander to these self-serving oligarchies, which are nothing more than malignant growths on the body of humanity, and while the institutions, services and products which grew as a function of society are perverted into twisted forms which ensnare that society in a cycle of misery, then we are doomed. We are doomed to lose our humanity, to become base life-forms in a joyless world of greed and pointless acquisitiveness.

Apologia

Once again I’ve failed in my aim to update my blog at least once a week.  I’m sure you’re getting as fed-up with reading about my failing as I am with writing about it.  I have no excuse, other than laziness.  It’s not procrastination; I’m not ‘putting it off’.  It’s more like I’m ill-at-ease, or not able to concentrate on one thing.  There are other symptoms.

The most disturbing symptom is with reading.  If I’m in this discomfited mood when I finish reading a book I find it impossible to settle on what to read next.  I pick up several volumes, flick through them, maybe even start reading them.  After a few pages, or even a couple of chapters I leave off and throw the book back on the to-read shelf, often leaving the bookmark in place as a physical reminder of my failure, like a scar.

I don’t know what causes this malaise.  I could blame the digital age for causing the fragmentation of our concentration and focus.  I could claim tiredness from the day job, or any number of other factors, but I really don’t know what leads to this problem, or how it can be cured.

Anyway, this is just short post to let you know I’m still here, and I may try to write another couple of short posts in quick succession, just to get kickstarted.  My aim for today, though, is to finish reading the short book I am on at the moment and start with another, weightier, volume and just try to settle into it.  If I can spend a few uninterrupted hours concentrating on one thing, and one thing only, perhaps that will help.

An Ever Expanding Digital Universe

Everyone wants their website, their startup, their social network to be the ‘hub of your digital life’.  Some want your capitulation, others want your hard-earned cash, a few just want to share their brilliant idea with you.  Of all these voices vying for our attention my favourite, and one that falls into the latter category of idea sharing, is Automattic, and particularly their blogging platform, WordPress.com.  But, hey, here we all are using WordPress, so I’m preaching to the converted.  At the other end of the internet altruism scale, and entrenched in the first two categories of control and profit-making, we find Facebook.  I’m on Facebook as a private user.  My awareness of their manipulative tendencies is weighed against their exceptional social-networking services, and their ability to successfully mediate our web-based society outweighs their nefarious practices, just.

A while back I deleted my Facebook account, and was delighted to be free of what had turned into a time vampire.  Six months later I signed up again.  My beta phase with the site had found my friend and ‘friend’ count swell to over two-hundred, which was, frankly, too many fish in one stream.  This time around, in what I hope is my alpha phase, I’ve limited myself to only accepting friends (and family) and have decided to bypass ‘friends’.  Don’t misunderstand me, some ‘friends’ are fine people who I have a lot of time for, but by keeping the focus on a small number of friends and family (sixteen at the moment) I find that I have more time and inclination to interact with them through Facebook, be it using Messenger, liking and discussing posts, making arrangements for events, and so on.  With a large number of friends I found that I was actively avoiding people on a site designed to encourage the opposite.  I call this the Zuckerberg Paradox.

But, this time around, I have decided to expand my use of Facebook in another direction, and, after reading a WordPress Daily Post feature, I have started a Facebook Page in support of To Stand and Stare.  I’m not fishing for you to head over and ‘Like’ my page (although it would be much appreciated if you did), I’m writing about it because it’s something I’ve decided to do which may be of interest to fellow bloggers.  It’s easy enough to do, and I have high hopes that it will be simple enough to maintain.  My goal is to attract a few more readers, and with the whole world and his dog being on Facebook it seemed like a good idea.  I’m not mercenary about this.  First and foremost To Stand and Stare is an outlet for me to express myself.  If nobody read it but me that would be ok, but then why not just keep a pen-and-paper journal?  No, part of the blogging game is to attract followers and like-minds, and I always try to play games by the rules, even when taking part is more important than winning.

If you’ve read this post and already have a Facebook Page in support of your own blog let me know how it’s going.  Does it attract more followers to your blog? Do you find that you have created a new audience altogether?  How do you maintain the site and manage discussions and so forth?  I’d love to hear your opinions and experiences.