Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Fear

There's nothing quite like a pile of possibly life changing events to really put the fear into you. A great unknown opens in front of you, and options vanish into it like a black hole sucking in whole worlds. In the first case, flight tickets are now booked so that I can visit a dear friend, who I've never met, in Miami. Flight tickets. There's nothing I like less than flying. I've written whole posts, or think I have, about how I'll do anything to avoid getting on a plane, including doubling the time and expense to jump on a boat or train! Sadly, when it comes to reaching North America, there is only flying or the massively expensive trans-Atlantic crossing by sea. For your information, whether by cruise liner or freighter, it costs a mere one thousand pounds to cross the Atlantic by sea, each way. Yes, I'll write that again: Each way.

On top of the horrors of future flying, there is also the nightmare of co-writing a grant proposal, which is horrific enough even when the prize of success isn't a two year sojourn in another country. Yes, in a better frame of mind, these would be great avenues of opportunity, to be relished and enjoyed, but... I'm a coward. Yes, the author of the Quirky Muffin is a great big scaredy-cat. The fear of success, that most mystifying fear that touches so many, lurks here in the heart of man. Even the fear of finishing the joined-up version of 'Wordspace' is quite the potent one, as then phase two of that awesome endeavour will have to begin. Finishing things is always scary, isn't it, as you're trading a known for an unknown? Or is that negativity once again?

If this grant proposal were successful, the Quirky Muffin would be written from Poland for two years, more or less. Living in another country is a difficult proposition. People do it all the time, and I admire them for it. The adaptability of mind and manner required is immense, and of all the things I've ever done, moving around in the country and Europe has been the hardest. It's difficult. Maybe it's borderline Asperger-iness, the lack of conveniences, or the simply that the settling in period is so long, and the motivation almost always insufficient. Before that even becomes an issue, there's a bigger hurdle to cross: The career plan.

The career plan is the hardest part of higher level applications. It's never enough to write that you would like to be able to buy food for a few months and try out a new topic to see if it's interesting. No, you have to become eloquent and elaborate. You also have to pretend to talk about yourself, when really the reader wants to know if the things you want are compatible with their needs, and whether you're going to be a long-term investment to them or a short-term colleague. All these things need to be factored in with the notional idea of where you want to be at the end of the project. Where do I want to be? It's been a rough road in research so far, a very rough road. Writing and tutoring is far more pleasant, but pay no bills. It's the Sword of Damocles, hanging once again, ready to cause havoc on whichever side it tumbles. Or, perhaps, it's the Gordian know, which will not be solved.

You see, this is what happens when you think out loud while typing a blog. I miss my therapist. Sure, they wore a duck bill all the time, and thought the harmonica was the greatest instrument ever invented, but at least after the spouting of nonsense was over, you got to hear them use the duck call.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Story: 'The Wheels In The Sky, I'

The wheels in the sky turned. The five remaining Readers watched intently, calculating the ratios of this latest configuration. The Blue Reader looked up, saw the contrast between the largest and the smallest wheels in the first quadrant, and predicted that the summer would be long, warm, and very dry. He also predicted lots of pumpkins near Alfanwid, but that was only because he lived near that town, and loved pumpkins.

The wheels in the sky spun. The Red Reader looked, and saw that all the wheels were spinning in the opposite directions to before, and thought about the first summer she had spent studying the night sky, looking for patterns in the wheels that changed every year, in the tiny cogs and interferences between all the different parts of the great panorama. She predicted that everything would stay the same, except that muffins would become the new breakfast fad in the next year, and orange the fashionable colour.

The cogs in the sky rotated. The Yellow Reader examined them, and looked for the similarities and differences in the Readers around them. The world of the sky was reflected in the people of the world, and just as much could be learnt from them, as from it. He studied the cogs, then the Readers, and then the cogs again. Finally, he noted on his paper his prediction that there would be great tranquility over the lands in the coming cycle, and that the remaining people of the world would enjoy and prosper in good times.

The surface of the world operated above them. The Green Reader, who knew that they lived on the inside of a great mechanical device, looked at the cogs and wondered what lay outside. Was there really an outside? Was there really a configuration of the wheels in the sky that would allow them to see the truth? The great Builders had left nothing but mystery behind them, and the wheels told him only that they had entered the third fifth of the ninth year of the Artisan cycle and that soon he would have to realign the wheels on his sky mower, to remove some moss from the largest wheel of the ninth sector. Officially, he predicted that the world would end, as he always did. He liked to be predictable.

The sky continued its dance. The White Reader, who predicted little usually, looked up and laughed. Writing on her sheet of paper, she predicted that the moon would not be dangerously made of cream cheese, that the great spaghetti god would not get caught in the turning of the wheels and cause chaos, and that the Readers would not lead an exploration to the centre of their world and find a great unexplained absence. Two out of those three were the only correct predictions of the whole batch. At the time, she had no idea...

To continue, or not to continue?

Sunday, 22 November 2015

To Be Tired

It has been months since the summer solstice, and some weeks since the autumnal equinox, and now tiredness is the normal state of things. In a few weeks more, it will all turn around, but for now everything is hard, even the Quirky Muffin. There's so little daytime, and so much sleeping to be done, but will we give in? Will we surrender? Well, maybe not this time! The endurance event that is year's end will not be the breaker this year! Already, it's hard to believe just how many times I've written about the bleakness of this quarter.

All in all, it's not the worst year's end on record, despite the despicable behaviour of the blokes in charge of the country, as I've actually been mildly successful. Yes, an initiative has actually gone well, as my four students of the year's end persist! How unbelievable it is! I knew I wasn't a terrible tutor, but this implies some actual ability. Ability? No, be serious, good grief, there can be no escaping Charlie Brown syndrome at this point. Oh, Charlie Brown, you really are quite the role model!

At this point, it would be remiss of me to neglect that Abraham Lincoln has just beamed aboard the USS Enterprise. We will now go on with the regularly improvised writing of the blog, and ignore that madness. Oh, 'The Savage Curtain' isn't a bad episode of 'Star Trek', not really! Nor was 'Rape And Revenge', part one, from 'Hunter'. Actually, it was a lot less heavy-handed than I thought it would be. All this television watching is extremely habit forming, but at least it's entertaining! It's strange to think that whole series have gone by during this spell between academic jobs.

Soon, it will be a much less tiring time of year. Thank goodness. It won't be so hard to swim, or cycle, or be enthusiastic. Before then, a grant proposal will be written, and much tutoring will be carried with the best of intentions and the best of progress. These may be tough times, but aspiration will get us through, as long as it doesn't transition into the disaster of hubris. Charlie Brown did sometimes get taken down such overweening pride, after all.

Hmm, maybe it's time to check out that first 'Peanuts' movie from the 1960s? Maybe?


Friday, 20 November 2015

Radio: 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective' (1949-1953)

'Ladyhawke' is playing once again, and I'm fascinated. It's a great film, that only grows. I've already written about that, though. Curses! The joined-up version of the first phase of 'Wordspace' isn't quite ready, either, so it's time to dig up a queued topic from the lists...

There was a great old time radio series called 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective', which ran on the NBC radio network. It ran from 1949 to 1953, although the full original cast and writer only hung about for a year. What a year it was, though! There's something culminative about 'Richard Diamond', a post-modern spin on hard-boiled detectives on radio and in print. A large part of that is down to the legendary Blake Edwards, who essentially run the whole show, before going on to make the more legendary 'Peter Gunn' on television and then films galore.

Yes, it's post-modern and funny in the best way, while still being innocent and a bit cheesy in some of the best traditions of radio at the time. The show was led by Dick Powell as the titular detective, who was accompanied by the sumptuously voiced Virginia Gregg as rich girlfriend Helen Asher, the voice for all occasions Wilms Herbert, and the now mythical Ed Begley as Diamond's police lieutenant friend Walt. Yes, the original Ed Begley, the man himself. He wasn't just one of the nasty jurors in 'Twelve Angry Men', you know.

Unusually for the time, it wasn't always about a case of the week in this show. In the first year, particularly, they liked to experiment with the format. One notable example is a direct consequence of the format wherein Diamond would end each episode serenading Helen at the piano, at her request, and involved an irate neighbour employing another detective to nobble his voice so he could get some peace and quiet. It was a fine and funny detective show, which was followed up by a television version which may never see the light of day on home media. I wonder if it was as good with less imaginative input from the audience? David Jansen seems like a weird fit, so maybe they darkened it up?

It's a great old radio show, and one easily checked out at the following link, bearing in mind that the last original team episode is number 51, and the first one or two episodes are scratchy in quality:

Enjoy, phantom readers of the Quirky Muffin, and welcome to the wacky world of Old Time Radio!


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The (Grant) Proposal

The blank prospect of the grant proposal is mocking me. I can feel it, deep in an automated web server, being creepy. How dare these things sit there, projecting creepiness on to the innocent researchers of the world?! Well, I'm reasonable sure there is at least one innocent researcher in the world, if haven't yet deserted to do something more worthwhile, like shelling peanuts or throwing three sheets into the wind. I wonder what the origin of that last saying is, anyway?

<pauses for thought, and research>

According to Wiktionary, which surely can never be wrong, 'three sheets to the wind' refers to the rocky and unsteady behaviour of a ship or boat that can result from having several 'sheets' loose and not controlling the sails properly. In the nautical context, a 'sheet' was a rope that controlled the trim of a sail. Obviously, the saying was going to be related to sailing somehow, but 'sheets' was a very misleading word. The saying is also a euphemism for being drunk, though, so I wouldn't have used it if my knowledge were more extensive.

The blank prospect, the empty page. All potential awaits, if you but have the courage to slap it onto the paper with grave abandon. In this instance, however, all the interesting words will have to removed until the end result is sufficiently bland, and then magic keywords sprinkled throughout so that it triggers the appropriate currency symbols in the readers' minds. Yes, they must think about the money the work might bring in, or reputation, or biscuit subsidies. The triggers must be artfully placed in sight, and blatantly, if this writer can bear to do that. Blast you, you proposal, why can't you be as easy as unlocking the DVD player? Why? Having said that, the DVD unlocking was rather involved...

Oh, the proposal will be written, and written wonderfully. Modesty will be thrown away, and the shovel of fate driven through the snow of success until it collides with the boulder of reality. In the meantime, pristine copies of 'Jamaica Inn' and 'Armadale' await their turns in the reading rotation. Let the effort begin once again.


Monday, 16 November 2015

Book: 'Manalive' by GK Chesterton (1912)

So far, all three of Chesterton's novels that I have read had a point, which is nice. Of course, they might all have had the same point, but that's a question for another day. 'Manalive' is about a seeming innocent man named 'Innocent Smith', who brings joy and wisdom into a boarding house full of repressed and bored residents, before being accused of being insane and dangerous by a doctor and his friend a psychiatrist. Could Innocent really be a murderous, adulterous, lunatic vagabond, or is there something else lurking below the surface? Will his temporary housemates be able to clear his name before he's taken away and imprisoned forever?

Obviously, there would be something else below the surface, a tale about how important it is to remain alive in our lives and not deadened to the irrationalities of day to day mundanities. It's almost tailor-made for the modern day! It's a theme common to many belief systems, and as Chesterton was a theologian this one is tinged with Christian ideology. You could just as easily coat it over the beliefs of your own choice, though, or avoid the mild references for the interesting mystery that unfolds. The novel is split into two parts, the first of which effectively describes the problem, and the second describes the solution, explaining the erratic behaviour of Smith in the process.

It's fascinating, though not as good as 'The Man Who Was Thursday' or 'The Napoleon Of Notting Hill'. Chesterton was clearly a supremely gifted author, and one who wanted to add meaning to what he wrote. Meaning is something of a forgotten virtue in writing, a scorned idea, and a supposedly obsolete concept. If that's true, then why does added meaning make things so much better? Why do Chesterton, Aaron Sorkin, and the others in that small band, write such very good things? And why do so very few people then watch or read them? The answer may be related to the old and controversial idea of populism. Added meaning simply isn't populist, and so companies are reluctant to let it by, and audiences are reluctant at taking the chance of being lectured.

'Manalive' has a similar effect to movies like 'Groundhog Day' and 'Stranger Than Fiction', a vivifying effect which dissipates but slowly. I've not really written much about it, but it was a good novel about a man who, for example, would go all the way around the world just so he could fall back in love with his home upon returning, and the impact of his existence on the people around him. It's also about how to become aware of the things around you, that have long been taken for granted. You might like it. Who knows?


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Bang, bing, bong

Next time, the post will maybe be about the first season of 'The Newsroom', which I watched over the last two days, or 'Manalive' by GK Chesterton, or 'Peanuts'. Today is vague and undefined, but it will at least be slightly easier now that the insomnia and Minecraft binge have worn off. There's nothing like a couple of nights of not sleeping to really sharpen the nerves of a supposed blog writer!

The storm continues to rage outside, and a life without strong winds seems but a distant memory. Over the next few days, there will be so much writing, rewriting and editing that I might just go mad without a walk in the wild outdoors! Blast you, storms from nowhere!

It would be nice to be topical today, to talk about something which is important and invokes a passion or ethical issue. It would be nice to be relevant. 'The Newsroom' may have inspired that desire to return to that style of post. There are things to write, given some fortitude, about the world, the obsolete natures of nationalism and evangelism, the importance of fusing meaning into art and the crucial necessity of confronting the forces that seek to undermine us, constructively. To paraphrase someone else's botched quote, 'the only thing that the good must do is nothing, for evil to be victorious'.

What is to be done? That's a question for another day. For now, as the winds rage, sleep remains elusive, writing work piles up all around, and the future leans back and forth on the fence of uncertainty, it's time to read more and try to not panic. After all, it wouldn't be good for the students! All four of them!


Side notes: 'Plato's Stepchildren' isn't as bad an episode of 'Star Trek' as they say, but it is distasteful and dull. It's definitely skippable in the grand scheme of things.