Half-Formed Fiction Idea

I’m fascinated by hypocrisy. I automatically dislike it, because we’re taught that it’s duplicitous, but I’m definitely a hypocrite myself. My disdain is, in itself, hypocritical.

If I see someone obese pushing unhealthy food into their mouths, rest assured that the inside of my head is far from a judgement-free zone in that moment. I don’t know their life. I don’t know their story. But even though I keep it to myself… I disapprove. And yet the first two things I ate today were a Jaffa Cake bar thing, and an entire mini-tray of chocolate-dipped brownie bites.

I’m funny, but I often lose the ability to laugh at myself. Generous, but I never give to beggars on the street, despite how miserable and needy they look. Clever, but I flunked out of university and can’t ever remember how to figure our percentages.

I’m convinced of the value of experiencing different perspectives to avoid living in a bubble, but I refuse to travel and I work in a building full of people mostly like me. Middle class white cis nerds with t-shirts that generally involve a pun, an eighties reference, or a mash-up of Star Wars and Pokemon in some way.

I’m lots of different things in any given moment, and it often depends on the social context. I imagine most people are the same way.

You know the cliche of the serial killer who was “always so good to his mother”? Well, when you send him to prison, you send both bits.

What if… What if you could only send the psychopath, and leave the family man alone? What if prison was mental rather than physical?

What if could could isolate different fragments of personality like that, and forcibly separate them from the core identity?

Could you take everything that made him a killer, and psychologically lock it away somehow? What would be left? Would it still be enough to constitute a whole person? What does “a whole person” even mean? Would the cancer of murderous impulse return no matter what?

No idea.

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The Superhero Game!

This is awesome.

As a teenager, I played a little bit of the Marvel Superheroes pen-and-paper RPG. It must have been a hell of a lot of work just converting the thousands of existing characters in their universe to this system, stats and all.

Anyway. Like many of my RPG experiences, it was hamstrung by a lack of available players. I still have fun, but mostly by creating characters. You’d just get a d100 and roll a few times on this huge table of powers, get three random results, and see if you could come up with a way of explaining that combination somehow.

Have a go! Seriously!

Go here: http://www.classicmarvelforever.com/cms/ultimate-powers-list.html

And use this: https://www.random.org/

Roll yourself three powers (six rolls in total, three to get the categories, then another three within those categories), then create your own hero! No re-rolls, ’cause that would defeat the point.

Here’s what I got, for example:

96 (Travel), 52 (Matter Conversion), and 42 (Matter Control)

Then…

85 (Water Walking), 91 (Weight Manipulation), and 94 (Weather Control)

Huh.

Okay, so she walks on water, can make things lighter or heavier/slow down speed up, and controls the weather.

Psi-Clone! Created in a lab by an ambitious but arrogant scientist, she gained sentience – and tremendous powers – during a tropical storm that smashed the lab to pieces!

Escaping into the chaos, she floated over the water, then up into the very heart of the storm!

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Nom d’Internet

There’s this small, quite specific thing that always strikes me as interesting when nerd/internet culture collides with the ‘real world’.

You know how lots of us have made-up names we use over and over again in e-mail addresses, forums, computer games etc.? I have “Drake Lazarus”, as explained in this early post.

We get comfortable with these ‘nom d’internet’, and then some of us get famous using them. YouTubers, for example. They get interviewed. By actual real people, out loud.

And then you have that wonderful, delicious moment, where a reporter looks seriously at a pale, slightly pudgy teenager, and says “So, PokeMonkey98. What did you think when you reached ten million followers?”

Way back when, I think most people just picked something that meant something to them, or sounded cool. Or rather, some mispelled variation, because the original version was inevitably taken. Hey there, Lego1ass. How’s it going, BckStrtByzRTHEBEST?

Teenagers these days must do it differently, right? Do they see other teenagers making millions on YouTube, and engineer their first username accordingly? Something easily spelled, pronounced, and remembered?

Are there seminars about this stuff? I bet there are.

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On Writing

I’m not a great writer.

Wait, scratch that. Let me start again.

I want to write something dreadful.

Okay, wait. Third time lucky.

I’m a good writer, but I’m not great. I write a lot, but I never write for myself. I write as part of a collective, as part of a bigger project that isn’t really about words, but does need them sometimes.

The whole experience makes me itch to write something that is 100% me. Where I make every single decision, and go with my gut instinct, and only have myself to answer to.

An aside.

When I try to understand people, and the concepts that they  accept without question or reject in horror (sometimes seemingly at random), I imagine their mind as a three-dimensional object.

A landscape, or – I suppose – a mindscape. Craggy peaks and plunging chasms. Rolling plains and towering mountains.

Sometimes a thought drift downs from the ether and lands neatly into a hollow that fits it perfectly. Sometimes it bumps awkwardly into a foothill and rolls away.

We can change our mindscape, albeit slowly. We can leave it entirely alone and only accept the thoughts that click into place, but that’s far more dangerous.

I work with a lot of different people with a lot of different mindscapes. Sometimes I’ll get excited about a creative idea that doesn’t fit into their brains the way it fits into mine.

I want to write something where that doesn’t matter any more, and I get to just… run with it.

It’ll be rubbish. I don’t ever do that sort of thing, so don’t have good habits yet. I haven’t learned how to recognise red flags in that area. I also won’t have people course correcting my bad ideas.

It’ll be rubbish. But it’ll be my rubbish.

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FussyEater.com

An idea for a website. And, I guess, an accompanying app (because if your website doesn’t have an app these days, I mean… are you even trying at all?).

I am not a fussy eater. By which I mean that yes, I am quite a fussy eater, but my ability to gauge it objectively is flawed at best. I don’t like olives, cooked mushrooms, mustard, garlic, most seafood, aubergine, horseradish, etc. etc.

My ideas is for a recipe website that specifically allows you to cater for every possible whim and requirement of those partaking in a particular meal.

It would also suggest recipes based on the food you have available.

For example.

1) Define the restrictions – vegetarian, vegan, allergies, or just whiny about olives (like me)

2) If you are going to be using the site on a regular basis, you can set up profiles. David is a vegetarian who doesn’t like chillies. Sarah is a coeliac who can’t stand sundried tomatoes. Whatever. Set ’em up so, next time, it’s much easier to just tick the Sarah and David boxes.

3) At this point, you can just click a button to produce a list of suitable recipes. These are determined by cross-checking the restrictions against a database of recipes and ingredients. This is something I assume that can be bought from somewhere. Right? You can of course add recipes of your own.

4) If you want to go one step further, you can also give it a list of the ingredients you have to hand at that moment. It will then filter the list even further to let you know which delicious dishes you can make given a) the requirements of your guests and b) your poorly-stocked fridge and cupboards.

5) That’s basically it. If you want to get fancy, I guess you could have the website say “Well, you have 95% of the ingredients you need for a tasty Spanish omelette, and according to Google maps there’s a supermarket less than eight minutes walk which is open right now”. You know. Fancy.

I actually once contacted the owners of http://www.fussyeater.com, asking how much it would cost to buy. You know, in case it turned out to be eleven dollars or something.

Yeah, it was more than that.

Quite a lot more than that.

Oh well.

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Randomly Accessed Memories IV

These continue to be pretty clearly themed, and not random at all.

When I was about 13 or 14, we were given a bit of GCSE Art homework – design a new badge for the school. Just a bit of fun.

I forgot. Didn’t do it. During the chatter before the next class, I realised my omission and sketched a panicky oak tree or something. I went to school in Surrey, and I think our county tree is the oak, or… you know, there’s a connection there. Ground level was not at the bottom of the frame, it was about halfway along the vertical axis. I put a twisty root system down there, white roots on black soil, that mirrored the black branches in a white sky above.

It turns out that it was a genuine competition, and I won. The school badge, that everyone had to sew onto their jumpers, became my mirrored oak. Well, with some modifications from (presumably) a proper designer. I wish I could say that I got some money or something, but no. I just got one of the first badges, hot off the presses. I wish I could say that it’s the official badge to this day, 15 years later, but no. I don’t think it even lasted a year. I don’t know why.

I liked art, but I got bored easily. Painting my house, I immediately put in the small splashes of colour – flowerpots, door knocker, ornamentation – and just didn’t bother doing the actual house itself. All frills, no foundation.

One day, I bought a new brush for school. They start off with quite stiff bristles, so you need to soak them in water and work them around a little to get them pliable enough to use. I had seen something on TV, or in a book, that seemed cool, so I tried it out.

I had a fresh sheet of paper, and some black ink. I dipped the brush into the ink, then laid it sideways, flat, on the paper, and pushed a little. It left a small, streaky mark. I did the same again, immediately above that. Then again immediately above that. In this way, I created the trunk of a silver birch, and added some branches. Exactly as I had seen demonstrated. Satisfied that the brush was broken in, I showed my Dad. He’s a pretty good artist in his own right.

He was bowled over. So excited. “Look what Tom did! Look at this! This is wonderful, Tom, really!” It was great that he was so proud of me, but I couldn’t help but feel like a fraud. I really just copied something else someone did before me. Of course, that’s pretty much what we all do, every day. Right?

I had two memorable experiences grading in wing chun (my favourite martial art). The first was back in Bath, when I was in my mid-20s. I had been training there for two, maybe three years. I was one of the bigger guys in the class, and strong. My technique was poor, I was slow, but I could hit really, really hard.

I only graded once. It seems strange, in retrospect, but that’s how they did it. I was in a room with the sifu, his main student, and one other guy who was grading. He was my flatmate at the time, and it pains me to tell you that I don’t recall his name. We were of a very similar level. I might be slightly better at the form, for example, and he had the edge when it came to speed and flexibility.

We were so nervous. So, so nervous. The sifu (lovely guy called Scott, super gorgeous girlfriend who also trained with us) never smiled once. He asked us to run through various drills, tested our knowledge, and we did our best. I remember doing some kind of drill with my buddy, our sweaty arms slipping hopelessly off each other, and – trying to keep it light – remarking to the senior student: “Wow, it’s really hot in here!” He looked at me with pity, but a half-smile. “No, it’s not.”

At the end of the grading, we had our feedback. Stony-faced Scott didn’t smile, I don’t think, but his face certainly softened when he told us that “those were two of the best gradings I think I’ve ever seen.” We were overjoyed, but in the spirit of formality were keeping it buttoned up as much as possible.

The second – the second – we left that room, we were physically leaping around, punching the air, high fiving, hugging, the works. Trying not to be too loud, and probably failing.

One of the proudest moments of my life.

The other grading was a little different.

Cambridge. Last year, maybe? Fairly recent. Twelve student grades in total, and you take a grading every three to four months. The first three are fairly straightforward, but of course it’s important to nail the fundamentals.

The fourth grade is a big jump up in difficulty, and combines every theory, application, movement and technique from the first three grades – but now to a significantly higher standard.

Again, I was very nervous. I don’t do well in high pressure situations, but a certain part of that is plausibly due to the fact that I keep telling myself that I don’t do well in high pressure situations.

Again, I was grading with a buddy. Someone of about my level. Someone with whom I had a bit of a friendly rivalry. Josh.

Now, it’s worth noting that no-one ever passes grade 4 in a single evening. You tick off as much of the syllabus as possible, then continue next time. In my arrogance, I had already decided that I would be the exception to that rule. This was my story, and I was the hero. I’m good at this stuff. I know I am. I can tell. I can do this. I can do it!

I got stuck on a bit of footwork. So stuck. I got it wrong in every way I could, then I invented new ways to get it wrong that I had never done before. The teacher (Ross) would come around to me, observe, tell me to keep trying, and move on.

Josh sailed through the footwork, and moved onto other stuff. Stuff I knew I could do to a high level. But not until I got the footwork out of the way.

He kept going, and going. I kept trying to organise my feet.

He made it all the way to the self-defense section. This sounds scary, but is actually okay. You are surrounded by a circle of relatively senior students, and they take turns rushing in and attacking you with one of a few types of strike or grab. You deal with it as best you can, using everything you know. I never saw a single person ever fail this bit. It’s exciting, and exhausting, and tense, but it’s really an exciting sign that you have basically finished that grading.

He did it. He lived the hero’s story, and nailed grade 4 in one night. He deserved it – he’s very good.

I am just as good. But on the night, I bottled it. I failed. I think I shed a few tears later that evening at home, as stupid as that might sound now. I built up this narrative in my mind, really thought I could do it, and… crumbled.

I finished it the next time with no problems. I did well. I should be proud. But even though I should look at the positives, and focus on my own journey rather than someone else’s, it still stings a little. I wanted it so much. Wanted to be special, and celebrated. Wanted that spike of respect.

But it’s okay. Life rarely unfolds in a neat or logical manner.

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To Tell the Truth

Everyone has irrational moments. Perhaps there’s one particular thing that just shortcuts all the sensible bits of your brain and sends you into a senseless rage, or inescapably gloomy mood. Traffic. Marzipan. People pronouncing your name very slightly wrong.

I have a few. I hate to be patronised. It just pushed a very particular brain button and I lose my sense of humour. I think I secretly worry that I deserve to be treated like an idiot, so it rankles when it happens.

I hate misunderstandings. Counter-intuitively, I particularly hate little tiny misunderstandings. I’m sure you’ve seen them happen yourself. One friend says something innocuous to the other, the second friend slightly mishears or brings some odd prejudice to their perception of the message, and suddenly… It all just spirals out of reason.

There’s another one, that’s a bit more specific. It doesn’t make me angry, exactly, just enormously frustrated. Telling the truth, and not being believed.

I remember the first time it happened, as a child. You lie a lot when you’re young, partly to figure out what the rules and when/if you can break those rules. So when I was asked a question, probably by a parent or teacher, I was completely honest, and they still doubted me… Wow. That was a uniquely awful feeling. I think it’s the helplessness, you know?

Say there’s a scale of one to ten, of honesty. If someone asks how you are and you say “Fine, thanks!” that’s, like, a two. Maybe a three. You could definitely be more honest, all the way up to ten, but there’s no need for the time being.

Let me give you an example.

In a previous job, I was feeling a bit run down one day. Nothing major, but a tickly throat and a blossoming headache that seemed, to me, to indicate a potential head cold on the way. I thought I’d be a good, conscientious employee and e-mailed my boss warning him that I felt something coming on, but hoped it wasn’t anything serious.

The next day, when I woke up, I felt like death. You know how those head colds always feel much worse first thing in the morning? That. I contacted my boss and told him I would be taking the day off sick. Not just for my sake, but I certainly didn’t want to spread anything around the office.

I was fine again the next day.

Later on, maybe a week or so, my manager booked a meeting for the two of us. Not usually great news, but not a particular reason to worry.

He mentioned, a bit awkwardly, what a curious coincidence it was that I had been mildly ‘ill’ on exactly the launch day of Diablo III. How odd it was that I had primed him first.

He was very uncomfortable – I imagine it wasn’t his idea, but rather someone had mentioned it to him. “Oh, Tom happens to be off today of all days, does he? Imagine that.”

Immediately, I was dumbstruck. I was at a 10, honesty-wise. I had no room to manoeuvre, nowhere to go next. I couldn’t crank up the honesty in an effort to be more convincing, because I was fully cranked.

Sure, maybe you could dig deeper – why was he so willing to believe that I was duplicitous? Did he have good cause to start from a position of suspicion?

Actually, no, he didn’t. He thought he did, but he didn’t. I had been unfortunate, that year, and fallen ill a few times. At one point I had tonsillitis, which may not have been the first time ever but was most certainly the most extreme – I don’t recommend it. Another time I contracted some kind of debilitating flu-like horror on my final couple of days of holiday, so when I got back I was still laid low.

Excuses!

No, reasons. I could look back and know, absolutely know with a cast iron certainty, that I never taken a single frivolous sick day.

And yet to be doubted like that… I didn’t know what to say. It was awful.

He was an absolutely diabolical boss, to be fair. Very clever man, but no clue whatsoever about managing people.

Yeah. If I tell you the truth (to the best of my knowledge) and you don’t believe me… Don’t be surprised if I wince and squirm and mutter and glower.

Although I might do that if I’m lying, too, just to throw you off.

You never can tell, with me.

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