Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Words In The Well

My words are in a deep well, and are waiting to be recovered. They look nice and happy, waiting there for the bucket to be wound down for boarding. Oh, what fun they will have on the slow ascent to the surface of my mind, ready to be unleashed into new combinations. Writing is essentially a game of combinations when seen from a distance, after all, and a game with a very uncertain scoring system. Maybe it has no scoring system, being a solitaire?

Quirky Muffin readers will have to contend with one more possible interruption to regular service around the coming weekend, as this author goes away to places far far away to visit friends unknown. All this travelling is becoming vexing! How do people deal with all of this? At least there are nice people at the other end, and plenty of excuse for avoiding Eurovision. If they only used more words in Eurovision, it might be a far more enjoyable experience! Oh, expect some words on Eurovision after the inevitable catchup viewing. What disbelief there shall be!

It's fun to just write for a little bit, and cast away the shackles of fitting a specific form. Literally anything could happen. It's certainly more enjoyable than rewriting and proofreading, which is a lamentably taxing task, especially when dealing with academic and technical articles. Assimilating and then correcting a paper in a short time is extremely difficult, even if it does prove that a significant amount of brainpower does remain. A while ago, it seemed as if my entire mathematical ability had been leeched away by the process of completing a troubled PhD, but no, some does remain! Now, how best to use it?

Mathematics, words, languages and more. This is the skill set that has been bestowed but somehow not found a home yet. Is it finally time to cease this endless undermining of my own possible success? Can it be done? We will see. Bring more words from the well, and see what happens.

Hopefully some cover posts will be written before departure, but if not then expect the next post to be in a week's time at the very latest.

O.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XXII

(Part O , XXI , XXIII)

For two people in uncertain peril, the exploration of the island was conducted in an unexpectedly lighthearted manner. Perhaps it was because they were still, after all, asleep and lucidly dreaming, and perhaps it was because they were together on an island that defied exploration. As with all dreams, the expected was not to be expected, and so little snowglobes grew on palm trees and great rubber trees bounced back and forth in the breeze. At one point, Stanley almost fell into a ha-ha, whose existence would have been funny if not for the cacti scattered around the base. On the far side of the ha-ha, a tall red stone wall loomed, dangerously smooth to their eyes.

"Which way?" Enquired the intrepid Helen of the ambiguously courageous Stanley, who in recent times had had to contend with decisions far more vexing than which books to use, and how to explain why the Iberian Peninsula was a peninsula at all. "To the right. If we don't find anything in ten minutes we could head back to the beach."

"What's time in this place? Haven't you noticed that we've been through night and day three times in the last hour?"

"Really?!" Stanley looked up and saw a broad moon high overhead, and that the light that had illuminated their way was in fact of the silvery variety that heralded romantic trips across moors in bad romantic novels, of which he would never admit to having been forced to read as part of a past wooing. Past wooings often have such dark secrets, and tragic endings.

"You've gone all pale? Is it some dark secret you can't possibly tell?"

"What?!?!" Stanley looked at her in shock.

Helen chuckled. "I was only joking. Does it strike you that this is all just a bit ridiculous? We could go walking for days in here and never find a thing." She pointed at a lemon tree, which was of course not at all what you might have expected, especially with the crazy straws. "It's just an arbitrary mess!"

"No, no it's not. Nothing in here is an arbitrary mess. One of us, or the Tweedy Woman, or the person who left that message, is creating all this and if it's either of those last two then it's far from arbitrary. We're being led, and it may be impossible for us to go wrong." Then, exactly one thought later, "If I keep this up, I might have to award myself a badge for original thought."

"Postpone the badge. Up there, when we were being herded toward that monstrous cage, the same rules applied but we did go 'wrong' and jumped off instead." Helen was, to put it mildly, not convinced.

"Yes... We could evade that path now and refuse to move, I suppose, but this ha-ha seems to be an excellent hint that we're being led. If we follow the ha-ha we'll find something."

"Or someone."

"Yes, or someone. I wonder who it might be."

"We'll just have to keep going until we wake up. Come on, teacher man. What do you teach again?" Helen asked impishly.

"Geography, the last refuge of those uncertain what to study."

"Then it's time to do something contrary. If you can't teach, then do."

The two dreamliners walked on for a while, following the ha-ha that was to their left and occasionally marvelling at the bizarre things growing at the bottom of the recess. Finally, they came to a bridge and a gate in the wall. The gate was fastened with a crude lock, which Helen broke off with a rock, and they walked through into the interior of what could only have been an arboretum. The path led deeper, amidst all the signs strewn about identifying each specimen.

Helen led the way, feeling both that she'd pushed Stanley to the front enough and an affinity to the woodland. The trees were exotic, incredible and surprising, but the two quelled their sleeping wonders and made their way to the centre. There was but one tree here, a simple oak, to which was tied a man by strong tarred cords. Initially he slumped, face down toward the ground, but when he sensed their presence he looked up in the most exhausted way. All he said was: "About blasted time!"

To be continued, and then concluded.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Pressure

There's so much to do! So many, many things of equal stature demanding attention, and some of them will surely be neglected. It's not fair. This commentary for 'Night Shift' has been sitting around waiting to exit the editing stage for weeks now, and being consistently foiled! The TEFL online content still hasn't been started, and paper corrections can't be put off forever, and nor can proofreading on a tight deadline. Something is surely going to give way!

Pressure, pressure, pressure. It's entirely imaginary, you know. There shouldn't be any stress at all. In fact, if you can just clear your mind and reach a central balanced state there isn't any pressure. What pressure? Obviously, it must be absent at the moment, as a sane person would be buckling down to dig away at said chores at this very moment, instead of trundling through the writing of yet another Quirky Muffin and accumulating even more time pressure down the line. Is it gone? At no point have I ever claimed to be sane, and if you don't believe that implication then remember the positive posts I wrote about the movies 'Supergirl' and 'The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou'!

Pressure can be overcome if you're determined to not go crazy from things which don't actually matter at all. Work shouldn't cause pressure. It's just work, after all. No matter what else you might think, it's not worth the price of getting sick, and it does go an awful lot easier if you're not worrying about it. If only that lesson could have been learned before or during the five year PhD that never ended! Sometimes it feels as if it is still going on. Perhaps it is, and this is all merely a distraction. Could that be correct? Could this be a daydream? Oh, what madness it is to dream that life is but a dream!

Today's diversion to the diversion is 'The Man From UNCLE: The Green Opal Affair'. What a remarkable show UNCLE was in its first season. By all accounts a rotating wheel of producers wrecked the consistency of later seasons, but let us table that talk until an educated post can be made of it all. Now, it is time return to the horrific chores currently being postponed

O.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

If there was ever a writer who was overly connected to one of his creations, it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I'm currently midway through 'The Uncollected Short Stories', and am already a veteran of most of his other short stories as well as 'Challenger' and 'Sherlock Holmes', and lack only his historical novels and 'Brigadier Gerard' to complete reading most of his work, and the scope is amazing. He wrote in practically every genre, without fail, and could unleash marvelous senses of humour and foreboding in equal measure. If you doubt the humour then check out 'Selecting A Ghost' or 'The Disintegration Machine', or for the foreboding the 'Tales of Terror & Mystery'. If only he could have done more outright wonder, of which the primary example would be 'The Lost World'. Long before Michael Crichton was hacking away at 'Jurassic Park', Conan Doyle was penning his own little epic about a prehistoric bubble, predating even 'King Kong'. Well, I think he beat 'King Kong', but perhaps someone beat him in turn? You could argue that Jules Verne's 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth' does do that, by many decades, but it's not exactly a crime to be beaten to the punch by such a pioneer.

Having summoned the spirit of Verne, it would be rude to not point out that Doyle's follows much in the Jules Verne vein of literature, never falling into the doom-laden HG Wells style, except perhaps at the very end. Yes, there was speculative and regular fiction that didn't end in complete disaster, before the dreaded switch to horror and dystopia! In reality, Doyle didn't delve too much into the speculative side of things, but there were signs of his interest, predating that sad turn toward spiritualism in the wake of tragedy.

Doyle was a spectacularly good writer, a renaissance man if there were one, and for untold generations he has inspired people of all ages with the sheer range of his subject matter. It's not just about 'Sherlock Holmes', but ghosts, pirates, mysteries, comedies, ancient history and battles. There's satire as well as adventure, and more choice than you would find with any other author. For the record, his short stories cover a fifty-three year time period, an impressive feat which few will be able to replicate as he used up so many of the prime story ideas during his tenure! What a hog! Why is it harder to write wholly original stories now? Because so many have already been used up, but at least a large chunk were used up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

O.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Wow

That was crazy. The papers got it wrong. The television news got it wrong. Even the great mass of people on the street ended up confounded. How on Earth was that not a hung parliament? How did the Conservatives (no judgements at this point) get in with a majority? It seems most bizarre. No-one came even close to predicting this, although I suspected there would be a majority, but without knowing who would come out on top. Madness! Madness! It's even madness to be talking politics on the Quirky Muffin, but it was nominated as a topic and must be tackled.

Politics, the thorny issue that underpins the governance of our country and all others, and the greasy pole that all politicians try to climb to the very apex in order to better serve the country or service their own massive egos. Has it all gone wrong, or have we gone wrong? It would be far too easy to bury one's head in the sand and try to ignore the state of the world, but sometimes a little courage is needed to address reality as we see it. Is there anything wrong with the electoral system? Or is it something wrong with us? I would tend to believe in the latter idea, as the electoral system hasn't changed and we as a population have. Our reading age is constantly going down in the UK, in case you're curious, and we generally become more ignorant with every passing year. Does that sound arrogant or defeatist? In a land where I'm the odd one out in believing in unity and people working together instead of self-interested nationalism, anything is possible. Is it wrong to discredit alternative electoral systems as they encourage and expand representation of extremist parties? Probably, but it does make sense so to do. Odd one out, always.

People love to argue about what other people choose to believe in, never understanding that it is entirely possible to believe in multiple conflicting ideas at once. That is the great and rarely comprehended human ability to be irrational and rational and delusional in the same moment, preventing what would otherwise be a total nervous breakdown. Politics and religion are the most argued and divisive topics of all, as we tend to be intolerant and fearful of differences as a species instead of revelling in diversity. Diversity is wonderful. Why become so obsessed with building walls between ourselves instead of teaming up to enrich the society as a whole? Why, why, why? I'll never be a nationalist, as the whole concept seems to be fuelled by fear of others, by hatred and xenophobia. Is that wrong, too, or simplistic? Haven't most of the wars been caused by nationalism or its religious equivalent? Doubtlessly this is too naive an outlook, but people do get scared by what's different..

Anyway, wow, it was a shock result. Let's hope it turns out nicely, and that it's not going to be an asset stripping, service cutting, privatising nightmare. We can, at this point, only hope.

O.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Television: 'Star Trek: Return To Tomorrow' (1968) (Episode 2x20)

'Star Trek' is unique amongst science fiction and 1960s television in its willingness to jump deep into theatrical drama and romance in the oldest sense of the word one week, science fiction adventure the next week, and then maybe comedy to follow. It was a show that did it all, and smartly. This time, we're going to think about 'Return To Tomorrow', which originally aired toward the end of the second season and in the shadow of the show's impending second cancellation of three. Yes, this was a show that was cancelled twice before the third time stuck! You might even argue it was cancelled four times, since the first pilot wasn't picked up, but that would be nitpicking.

Golly, this series could do 'epic' and have space left over for more. 'Return To Tomorrow' is based on a six hundred thousand year old love story, a love triangle in fact, which boils over into the present when the Enterprise is summoned to a long dead planet by a mysterious voice. The voice informs the crew that the surviving disembodied members of their species need to borrow three bodies in order to build android vessels to dwell within and then spend the rest of eternity teaching their 'children' - the current races of the galaxy - all their secrets. How's that for a sweetening of the deal?

There are three especially noteworthy parts to 'Return To Tomorrow'. Firstly, the creepy Nimoy performance as the vessel of Henoch, villain extraordinaire. Secondly, the love triangle between Henoch and the couple Sargon andT Thalassa, and the ultimate fate of the three ancients, echoing the tragic fate of Adonais at the beginning of the season. Lastly, and thirdly, Shatner delivers the Kirk speech that effectively defines 'Star Trek' for the rest of its existence. It's amazing that it took so long to get to the core of the show, but the Kirk speech is the best thing since bread and honey:

"They used to say if man could fly, he'd have wings. But he did fly. He discovered he had to. Do you wish that the first Apollo mission hadn't reached the moon, or that we hadn't gone on to Mars and then to the nearest star? That's like saying you wish that you still operated with scalpels and sewed your patients up with catgut like your great-great-great-great-grandfather used to. I'm in command. I could order this. But I'm not because, Doctor McCoy is right in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any contact with life and intelligence as fantastically advanced as this. But I must point out that the possibilities, the potential for knowledge and advancement is equally great. Risk. Risk is our business. That's what the starship is all about. That's why we're aboard her. You may dissent without prejudice. Do I hear a negative vote?"

I've said it a thousand times, but 'Star Trek' was the phenomenon that it was because it was optimistic. Exploration was the cornerstone of the whole show, doom wasn't lurking behind every corridor in the form of a monstrous alien that wanted only to destroy, and no other version of the series even comes close to matching its stature or uniqueness. Risk was their business, and they jumped in where no-one else dared to leap. 'Return To Tomorrow' isn't the best episode of the show, but it is one that brings the word 'epic' into focus, and allows both the main actors room to breathe and be different. Also, it uses the wonderfully classy guest star Diana Muldaur brilliantly, a classical actress who was wasted in general at the time, and would return much later as the cruelly underrated Dr Pulaski on 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'. This was what groundbreaking television was, and it was brilliant. Also, it had pulsating light spheres.

O.

Excerpt taken from 'The Star Trek Transcripts', which in turn were transcribed from 'Star Trek', presumably still owned by CBS.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Unknown

Let's sit here quietly for a moment. The world is a few steps away for now, for a few moments. All the chaos, the voting, the wars and the noise is floating away and we can be at peace. If the universe is a grand washing machine, and all of us only unmatched socks, then we are now in the delicious lull between the rinse and the spin. Let the lull run on, and on, and on. Oh, that lull!

If the universe were a washing machine, constantly cycling through big bangs as if they were spin cycles, then maybe it would all make sense. Cycles are a part of nature, after all, and entirely understandable to humans. Perhaps that's why the concept of reincarnation was first devised or discovered or invented, in order to introduce a cycle into the greatest mystery of all: The Unknown.

Now, don't be afraid at the very mention of The Unknown. This isn't going to devolve into maudlin metaphysics or an extended washing machine analogy that barely maintains its own cohesiveness! Well, to be honest, the second option might happen but there shall be no maudlin blatherings on this watch. The Unknown isn't something to be scared of, if you have your head screwed on the right way around. The Unknown gives us something to explore, even in this world that is almost entirely known. Without the unknown, the human urge to explore is utterly thwarted!

'Risk is our business!' said Captain Kirk, and he was right. If only we had places to explore now. If ever there was a reason to go to Mars and other worlds, it would be simply because we can and we need to see what's there. What's at the bottom of the oceans? Can we explore other planes of existence? Can we penetrate beyond the barrier of time itself? If ever there were a reason to not be afraid of death, it would be because in doing so we touch the face of the greatest known unknown quantity. There's no good reason to rush to getting to that point, so don't go getting crazy ideas, but it's not the worst thing that could ever happen. It's an exploration, or even a return to wherever we came from. If that's maudlin then I'm the Great Fruit Loop.

As the lull ebbs, and the great washing machine prepares to plunge us into the brave new world of tomorrow, it's time to crystallise that little bit of peace and keep it in our hearts until next we need it. Surely, these quiet times won't last forever, and soon madness will break out all over again. At least there's still Conan Doyle, 'Star Trek', and 'The Beiderbecke Trilogy' to keep us going. If I hadnt' already done it, Beiderbecke would demand a post all its own...

O.