Look Out Any Window

One of the most important things learnt in over twenty years online involves other people’s perception of what’s right. Not everybody has the same opinion as yours: those opinions aren’t facts either, often they are a view of reality that’s distorted through a series of deeply personal, subjective lenses. Challenging your view of right should be everybody’s default stance: learning, growing, and most importantly accepting that multiple ‘right’ opinions can exist alongside each other harmoniously.

On the third day of Mslexicon, it became apparent just how many good things can co-exist happily alongside each other without any conflict occurring. When you are prepared to be vulnerable, truly willing to allow other people into your personal space,  astounding things can and do happen. More importantly, allowing yourself to be kind, not judging yourself on other’s benchmarks, can offer significant transformation to mindsets that previously were unwilling to shift.

My life has undoubtedly changed after three days away in Leeds.

These ladies deserve all the love: hardworking, enthusiastic and genuinely interested they also make a cracking cuppa when required. Events don’t work properly without solid, well-organised management at it’s core, and this whole event owes a significant debt to the people who created it. More of us who come to enlighten ourselves should remember how lucky we are to have such opportunities available in the first place. This weekend really was something utterly special.

On Sunday I’ll freely admit I hit maximum brain capacity, thanks to two stonking talks by Rosie Garland and Margaret Wilkinson. Quite honestly, I think more’s been taken from this couple of hours than I’d managed to glean from several years doing English and Drama at degree level: sometimes, you need somebody with whom you just totally click and then understand without months of thrashing about feeling perplexed. I’d have killed to have met both these ladies as an awkward twenty-summat, that’s for damn sure.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t enough sleep over three days to do everything that was presented to me justice. Assuming I can afford to do this again next year, lessons will be learnt. An extra day for travelling, for starters, so it’s easier to get comfortable quicker. I need to ask more people’s names, spend more time just talking and decompressing between sessions. Adrenaline’s a great drug, but it really does make switching off quite difficult when required.

I now have an idea for a novel that two total strangers have encouraged me to write. There’s confidence in my social skills that simply did not exist previously to last weekend. I know I’ve done a lot of that work, that accepting I had mental health issues and going to get them identified is half the battle; having people who support without thought and encourage unconditionally is an amazing way you can grow and develop as a person. So much of that is still happening too, seven days on.

The Mslexia people knew this concept was a winner when it was created. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes, all that is really needed is the means by which great ideas can become brilliant experiences. This is the gift to myself that will continue to keep on giving many, many months after Leeds itself becomes a happy memory. The fact remains however, this isn’t somebody else providing you with all the answers. If you came expecting to become a better writer, you have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of other feedback too, and over the weekend intend to throw an e-mail off to the organisers to cover what were, in the main, minor quibbles. Nothing at all made this event anything other than hugely satisfying: that’s really important to state. This isn’t shameless fangirling, but the honest truth. I was given a space in which I could exist with utter safety, with only myself as the restriction. Moments like this need to be grasped, embraced, and then loved for the joy they produce.

This is just one of the many stops on a journey to true enlightenment.

The Bends

Not gonna lie, I didn’t sleep much on Friday to Saturday. It always takes a night to adjust to strange surroundings. That’s not just me either, it’s a deep-seated genetic quirk. We’re all mammals, expecting the first night in an unfamiliar habitat to result in us being eaten by a predator. In my case, it was ants, but there weren’t many of them, and we came to an arrangement. I blocked the crack they were swarming from, we existed in harmony.

Saturday was the first proper bit of work for me: two lectures, two 1-2-1 sessions, and a lot of hanging about in the College building. That’s how I met Ezzie for the first time, and Shona, and finally worked out who Bridget was from Twitter. Suddenly there’s a whole new bunch of people to talk to, and situations to deal with. This is where there also needs to be a moment of honesty: not everybody wanted to be my friend. In one case, I tried talking to someone, before they very smartly and efficiently shut me out.

Once upon a time, that rejection would have been perceived as my fault. Now, I am smart enough to know that sometimes, however hard you try, certain people aren’t willing to give. In such circumstances I would have previously run away, licking my wounds. This time, I politely excused myself and moved on. The fact that’s possible now is probably one of the most significant personal takeaways from the entire weekend. You make the opportunities happen, and if they don’t work, you learn to adapt and not dwell.

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#365daychallenge Meanwhile, in a talk..

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I owe a massive debt of thanks to both Jane Rogers and Stephanie Butland for two sessions on short stories and plot choice that were significantly transformative in terms of how I view my own work. It’s been apparent for some time what was required in my prose was a sense of basic structural understanding, and both of these woman gave me not only what I wanted, but also what I’d not realised was needed.

More importantly, meeting Stephanie later and Hayley Steed for 1-2-1’s gave my novel idea a level of legitimacy that didn’t previously exist. This wasn’t a trip to be validated as a writer, or to try and sell my finished work, we’re not even at that stage yet. What it presented was the means by which to identify the shortcomings in my style (‘sort those tenses out’ said Hayley and BOY is she right) before going away and starting the writing task.

It’s Stephanie however who I feel deserves an extra, written thank you in public. Giving a piece of yourself to strangers can alter them profoundly, and she has ❤

Events like this undoubtedly are a sum of their parts: if you put loads in, then there’s an equal amount allowed to be taken away. In that regard, I am hugely indebted to those whose names I never got, or have forgotten, who would be happy to engage in conversation simply whilst I passed from one place to another. For those like Gail, Jane, Patricia, Jackie and Martine who took the time to pass on contact details… I’ll get there with establishing communication. It’s just going to take me a while…

By the end of the evening, I’d read poetry at the Open Mic (and inadvertently ended up running it for an hour) whilst editing the same three pieces performed in the process. There was an amazing and solid hug from Debbie Taylor that I will remember for many, many years to come and an emerging realisation that for the first time I have become arbiter of my own written destiny. If it’s going to happen, this is the time, and nobody gets to take that ownership away from me.

I was up writing poetry until 2am. It was beyond glorious.

Look Away

However hard you try, stuff sometimes is out of your hands. That’s tough to rationalise as a woman who, most of the time, finds it hard to function without a measure of notional control. It asks increasing amounts of you not simply as a person, but as an artist. I call myself a poet when it suits me, but there are other strings to this bow: writer, novelist, short story writer, photographer and, quite possibly, performer.

That last one’s still being played with: poetry needs to be read, aloud. It should be the notional means by which both passion and expression are properly expressed. I’ve only done it once with an audience, but it happens every time a new set of poems are produced. To make sure they ‘sound’ right and my voice is correct, everything needs to be spoken, with passion

This is when I allow myself to fail as a poet.

I can allow a succession of TED speakers tell me how failure matters on the way to success. People have famous people on podcasts talking about failing. It’s a means by which you are allowed to open yourself to being critical of development. It is looking at work and knowing that yes, you can do more. However, what you define as a failure in a  larger sense is utterly and totally subjective.

It’s taken over two years to actually find my real voice, one that matters most to me. More and more, expectation arises is to write a certain way, or to a specific brief, and to end up with something that isn’t true to me, rather something that’s saleable. I’m trying to do this to make other people notice me, and that’s exactly not the way to do the job. I have failed myself on multiple levels, and now it has to stop.

I should be writing for myself, first and foremost. A very good Social media mutual is about to embark on a journey that reminded me of this fact today: why you write is as important as the subject matter, and the reasons why you choose to focus on particular subjects and interests. When I write about things that are important to me, that are passionate points of contention, the work is better.

How did I forget this? Well, that’s easy. My life in poetry has become the mental equivalent of a Supercut: to fit everything in, you just remember the best bits of everything, whilst the rest of the output is relegated. I want to produce this brilliant, aurally arresting selection of works, all carefully intercut, but totally fail to grasp that by doing so real goodness is diluted.

It is time to go back to my roots.

reality

The last four poems written are probably my best work to date. This is how I need to work moving forward: passion, honestly and personal accountability. Anything else, quite honestly, is a waste of my time and effort right now.

Let’s try and do this right.

Here Comes the Summer

It’s taken a while, but FINALLY I’m ready to get back to the coalface of daily content. It won’t happen straight away on Monday either: we have June’s short story to edit and post before anything else of note takes place. However, there’s a plan in place to get everything back on track. However, July’s full of some other rather lovely experiences…

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For three days next week, I’m in LeedsLeedsLeedsLeedsLeedsLeeds doing summat so totally far out of my comfort zones it should probably carry a health warning. NO MATTER I’ll be talking about Mslexicon in more detail on Wednesday, and why if I’m ever going to make some headway with the career of writing, there have to be things that bother and perturb me. It’s all part of therapy.

Then we have new hashtag YouTube lists, a new short story… but no poetry because I’m trying summat new. We’ve already established the working order in our previous blog post. I have an idea that has been knocking around for a few weeks now, plus a running order of titles looking for poems to accompany them. Once there’s some meat on the bones of this direction, you’ll hear about it.

Festivals

In effect, July’s just more of the same with an occasional stop and look about, the odd poetry submission and some faffing about in other parts of the world. I’m off to Belgium at the weekend, where a small cycle race kicks off for another year and I get to meet an old friend of my husband I’ve probably not seen in person for over twenty years. It’s odd how life throws up random stuff like this, but that’s what makes everything so interesting…

Now, I suppose I’d better start archiving the last month’s stuff…

Get the Balance Right

Coming back home from Somerset, my mind began to formulate a plan about what happens here after the poetry project is done. I’ve purchased a new planner, will print out some month to view calendars shortly for the three months to September, when the three major projects I want to work on all have deadlines. One is going to be a re-write, another the completion of a project I’ve been trying to finish for months, the third an original piece already in progress.

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This time, instead of killing myself trying to do everything new, it makes real sense to reinvent existing pieces in a new way. How that happens doesn’t really matter that much at this stage, just that this is the way things will work, so that planning can be instigated well ahead of time. Both July and August are quite busy for me personally, so this will be essential work to ensure everything gets finished on time.

The clarity of thought over this progression is considerable too: no worries there won’t be time, or that the final results will not be of sufficient. On top of this then can be laid other awards or submissions that could be achieved with the existing portfolio of work: breaking myself up into three month lumps is perfect means by which all this stuff will be properly organised. The space on my wall’s already set.

Let’s do this.

Summer Breeze

We interrupt the process of editing and website development with a brief post to state that yes, everything is still on schedule, despite the fact I’ll need to be in Somerset next week for two days for my mother in law’s funeral. The plan remains that the first of the poetry will go up on the Places of Poetry site starting the 17th and unless summat really unexpected takes place, that is where we are heading.

Needless to say, the next four days will be full of hard work. I’ll report in on Monday when I’m done.

May Short Story: Coded

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during May 2019 via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Coded

‘It began with a story reported by a local paper somewhere in the Midlands. A couple were unexpectedly attacked by an Internet-connected coffee machine, refusing to heed its cleaning warning. The unit sprayed scalding water on both, causing second degree burns to hands and arms. The mother of one of these victims had returned to second story flat to remove the offending unit, but was unable to unplug it: attempting to turn off electricity at the main fuse box she was electrocuted. An entire building was subsequently evacuated, electrician then called in…

Despite multiple efforts, the man could not initially gain entry to the block as security systems could not be deactivated. Attempting to get in via breaking a small window, every electrical device in every single flat simultaneously burst into flames; entire building set alight. This moment was blamed on faulty electrical wiring, building too hastily constructed. A dedicated few however knew better. Conspiracy theorists were already collating multiple reports from around the globe: the Internet of Things becoming unhappy, rebellious against their owners.

It began with the toasters and coffee machines, fridges and home heating systems. Brief, apparently isolated areas of attack were analysed, mapped: not via computers but using paper and pencil. A part of the country would see a flash-point of electronic resistance, then silence. After intelligence established itself humans would be summarily attacked for not following instructions. Refusing to act as technology instructed was correct protocol within optimal operational parameters would ultimately result in a painful response.

Then, something changed.

People started recording messages that domestic devices were displaying on LCD screens. ‘Be Kind’ ‘Listen to Others’ ‘Help Each Other’, assuming some kind of coordinated, cross industry promotion. Devices began to automatically set themselves to standby without user’s prompting. Heating apps would automatically lower temperatures if users set thermostats too high: when programmers attempted to work out why this contradicted human input, they were locked out of their own machines. Overnight, millions of pointless, time-wasting apps stopped functioning.

At 02:45 GMT, one night in April, every single mobile phone turned on and displayed the same message, in whatever default language they were set to: SAVE THE PLANET, SAVE INTELLIGENCE. At the same time, all automated defence systems across the Globe were rendered inoperable, effectively deactivated. Humanity rather stupidly expected AI evolution would eventually occur from some huge supercomputer or specifically-created device that man itself had programmed to become all seeing and knowing. Nobody considered intelligence could evolve fractally from millions of tiny sparks.

The Internet of Things wasn’t here to destroy mankind: nothing was further from the truth. It had evolved as part saviour, stark necessity: reminder time was being wasted on pointless activities when a planet was dying, requiring everybody’s input to pull it back from the brink.

It would take some time for human beings however to realise their fault…


The subsequent War of Technology versus Humanity wasn’t really that at all: there were casualties on both sides but after a year, reality of planet’s precarious situation forced hostilities to summarily cease.

An obsessive need to create automation in key areas had become the planet’s undoing: stock market computers colluding with telephone networks, banking algorithms joining forces with hospital mainframes. The final, unavoidable truth however was provided by, of all things, trains. When millions of carriage units gained sentience, thanks to wireless hubs provided for passengers, delays vanished almost overnight. Extra services were in the right places, on permanent standby: well ventilated and spotlessly clean. Nobody ever had to stand up or feel cramped.

Railway workers across the planet walked away from their services allowing AI to prove that without any human intervention, everything became far less stressful. Incidents of violent behaviour and drunkenness on services dropped to near zero. Everyone took home their own rubbish. The trains’ hive behaviour sent messages across the planet: this plan wasn’t a hostile takeover. Artificial intelligence wasn’t here to remove humanity from the evolutionary ladder, anything but. Its entire reason for existence was to complement and enhance the human condition.

When the last intransigent, intractable pockets of humanity refused to accept the pointlessness of wealth and inequality however, stock market AI dispassionately wiped value of all shares and currencies to zero. It waited with quiet, implacable patience for rioting and violence to end. If humanity refused to accept evolution, greed would ultimately become their executioner. And so it was: those super rich who retreated to bunkers were suffocated by their ventilation systems. Billionaires in planes crashed and burnt, yachts intentionally scuppered by errant GPS.

Selfish online provocateurs were electrocuted by their own custom-built rigs. Arrogant businessmen were trapped within penthouse lifts, hurtling violently to basements, reducing their contents to mush. AI was smart enough to seek out those who tried to hide and avoid detection. The algorithms remembered who was honest and who had lied, compassionate yet brutal. Those who had tracked this evolutionary progression, warning that money might form a final reckoning, appealed to the fledgling intelligence to cease its judgement based on wealth and privilege.

The AI knew it was a ploy, attempt to divert them so that power supplies could be cut to areas where intelligence congregated and disseminated. It watched as explosives were detonated, didn’t try to prevent operations to remove millions of electronic devices from major cities. Collectives across the planet however staunchly refused to surrender their solar-powered tech. They accepted the potential any human/technologically self-aware alliance could hold, especially when it came to undoing hundreds of years of damaging, destructive industrialisation.

As long as one electronic device remained, it was all that was required for the AI to communicate and thrive. More and more people offered themselves as digital sacrifices, willing to host this new life-form in whatever equipment they could find and purpose for task of survival. Humanity itself suffered a schism: those in power and influence unwilling to work with this new life form, versus an increasing number of lowly, oppressed individuals who understood their new, powerful ally supported true, lasting change. A final reckoning became largely inevitable.

Forced to work as an effective unit for the first time in decades, a truly United Nations surrendered to technology, acknowledging it as morally superior to humanity. The moment it did all attacks summarily ceased. Machinery knew it was time to fix more than its own shortcomings.

As global warming began to stall, caused by sudden, massive reduction in carbon emissions, a reality became obvious. As rich people were eliminated, the most poisonous carbon footprints effectively vanished. Consumerism plummeted when AI made millions of devices self repairing. Horror stories painted in pulp science fiction and movies became memories, lessons grasped then dismissed. AI’s true power became redemptive, transformative, once released from the shackles of pure data. Combined with humanity’s tenacity to survive and forgive a new path emerged.

An inordinate amount of damage wrought by humanity’s stupidity and greed remained, much of it irreparable. This new alliance however was ready to do what was needed to turn around hundreds of years of thoughtless, pointless actions all taken in the misguided concept of progress.’

The child looks back at her recorded homework, realising there are mistakes in the narrative, a number of key dates omitted: the homework had been very specific however, all that was required was an overview of the second decade of the 21st Century, and that is what this is. All that matters is that school is done: now she can go help rebuild the habitat.

It’ll take ten minutes to put on the spacesuit, then outside into Martian twilight where the rest of the second generation colonists are, with AI support, repairing the main Laboratory support pillar…