Advent Day 21: I’m grateful for curiosity.

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The last time I made a list of things I wanted to study at university or learn at a good school of some kind, this is how it looked (in no particular order and following no particular logic nor, in the case of economics, sense of aptitude whatsoever):

  • Creative writing (poetry and creative nonfiction)
  • Disaster preparedness and recovery
  • Crisis management
  • Epidemiology and viruses
  • Economics
  • Languages (modern and Latin)
  • International relations
  • Patisserie
  • Jewellery-making
  • Music
  • Food studies/Nutrition

Even then, I felt that a few somethings were missing from the list.

I also want to learn classical European sword-fighting (not just that prissy, skittish rapier fencing in a tailored Darth Vadar suit, real full-on Lord of the Rings go-full-tilt-and-fight-an-Orc type metal-clashing sword-fighting), aikido, archery, Krav…. and be excellent at meditation, too. Oh and shooting! I’ve never held a gun before… I’d rather like to see how good I am on a shooting range, and learn how to reload a magazine of a pistol. Just because.

I love new things; they just fire up my brain like little synapse sparklers. I’m just as happy curled up on a couch for weeks with a stack of books, though.

Ah, thank you dear creator of the universe, if you exist, for bestowing me with terminal, pathological curiosity. (Let’s assume you didn’t accidentally drop the whole bottle on me on the production line). Mind you, it must be guarded against jadedness and depression and what society expects from a “grownup”. I’m grateful for curiosity!

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Advent Day 15: Idealism and the audacity of hope.

So, The Newsroom ended. *lower lip trembles* And aaaaallll the retrospective commentaries tumbled out. Some people hated it, some people hated it even more, and some, like I, loved it so much it was like saying goodbye to a fantasy, alternative workplace with colleagues you’d go to jail for contempt trying to protect. Or whom you’d follow to a war story in Equatorial Kundu.

I think that the people who most vehemently disliked The Newsroom were those that… well, just didn’t get it. I know critique is an art, and I strongly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, and that that should be respected. Nonetheless, I think that panning it for its delusional idealism, its “preaching from a pulpit”, its sanctimony… takes away from the vicarious deliciousness of getting a “do-over”, or a do-better, or even the warm-and-fuzziness of empathising with that colleague, or that moment. Not to mention its crunchy moments and timing, snappy scripting (not always, but most of the time).

I loved almost every episode of The Newsroom right from the get-go. Mind you, I think I might have fit the perfect audience profile for it, given my professional background and personality… but I think the reason that I most “got it” was the in-between time in which I went to J-school.

My first year at university, the computer labs had dos-based dialup internet connections and text-based forums. My cohort still had to look up journals for our Psychology major via CD-Roms, and then physically locate them on shelves and photocopy pages and pages of text. We learnt from brilliant, sharp old-school journalists for whom their role as the Fourth Estate was not a debate but a job description, and who would have understood Mackenzie McHale’s “speechifying” that, “there was a time when journalism wasn’t a career– it was a calling.” We took ethics training and obligations as par for the course; there was a code of conduct. Of course there was: in a functioning democracy, power came with responsibility. I wrote essays on the what the rise of the internet would do to or for the “gatekeepers” of information, on what it would do to personal identity. I worshipped at the doors of broadsheet newspapers. By the time I finished my first studies, I was reading my news entirely on the web.

It was another lifetime, with many lifetimes that came after it, but our first degrees shape our first frameworks, the first filters through which we understand the working world. (Ok, if you’re a liberal arts student, the world itself). So to this day, like Sloan Sabbith, I don’t believe in the term “citizen journalism”, because, to me, “journalism” is an institution that involves checks and balanced coverage and accountability and culpability. It’s citizen-something, but it ain’t journalism.

Almost everything that I’ve done in my career up to this point has been driven first by passion and idealism (sometimes bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and outright delusional). So MacKenzie slapping down the novel Don Quixote in front of Jim Harper to bring home the point that there was someone who was ready to fight windmills to build something extraordinary and that he wanted them to be a part of it, was one of many heart-leaping moments for me. As was Will’s “America can be great again” speech, and, one of the many that really resonated within me:

“The Greater Fool is … a patsy. For the rest of us to profit, we need a greater fool, someone who will buy long and sell short. Most people spend their lives trying not to be the greater fool; we toss in the hot potato, we dive for his seat when the music stops. The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.” (Sloan Sabbith). 

I’m grateful for the continuing existence of idealism and whatever fires up the audacity of hope. 🙂

Advent Day 12: I’m grateful for writing skills.

http://m.mic.com/articles/98348/science-shows-writers-have-a-serious-advantage-over-the-rest-of-us

Apparently, I’m just that little bit less crazy because I write stuff regularly. We scribes don’t often have stuff to be smug about, so I thought this was rather nice. We also tend to be a bit more sensitive and neurotic, so this was reassuring. And vindication. 🙂

I’m grateful for writing skills.

Advent Day 11: La langue française.

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I hope any Francophone reading this will forgive my terrible grammar and anglicised turns of phrase:

Je suis convaincu qu’on est nés pour aimer chaque certaines langues. J’ai essayé aimer les autres langues: chinois, allemand, espagnol…. et j’ai aimé le son et les sensations du roumain, italien et russe. Mais, la langue avec laquelle je n’ai pas seulement tombé en amour, mais me suis retrouvé pris dans son étreinte, était français.

Un de mes désirs de cette année a été d’atteindre un niveau de français assez avancé pour écrire un poème en français. (Ok, on a déjà établi que je suis un peu trop ambitieuse).

Eh bien, je ne suis pas encore là. Mais, j’ai assez du français maintenant pour être en mesure d’écrire une courte blog en français. (C’est probablement incorrecte et plein d’anglicismes, et ma grammaire pourrait être mieux, mais je suis toujours prêt à essayer. Sans Google Translate, naturellement.)

Essentially, French is the second language of my heart. I’m an Anglophile first, but since I was really quite young, I’ve been fascinated with the French language, probably because of all its similarities to English. These days, I get a deliciously exquisite wriggly feeling whenever I find French turns of phrases that sound like old or formal English, or that translate directly, or even the false friends (because that in itself tells interesting stories).

I started learning French properly at a time when I needed a new language in which to feel anew and think anew. It was one of the things that took me out of my head and helped me sit in my heart. I’m grateful for the French language.


Picture attribution: Paris/French Culture by Sarah Benson.

Advent Day 1: I’m grateful for an ever-growing to-read list.

 

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If I had to choose an addiction, I’d say “books”; but, also, rather, that they chose me. I don’t even remember a time I wasn’t reading. My first memories consist of torchlight, blanket fort, and stack of books. And, very soon after, prescription glasses. Hey, all addictions have their price. There is something so juicily, exquisitely exciting about a new book by a favourite author arriving in the mail, whether fiction, non-fiction or somewhere in between. I feel all wriggly with delight on the inside.

Mind you, I have never been the fastest reader. I think I might be the slowest reader I know; so much so that I’m convinced I have some undetected attention or learning disorder. In fact, I tend to glare sulkily and jealously at friends with photographic memories who don’t so much read as Xerox pages of books into their minds.

But I love rollicking good fiction and well-written non-fiction. I love having my mind and ideas and fixed points twisted and pulled out of shape and entertained and squashed… I love being carried on new ships and seas and rivers and someone else’s dreams. I think it is one of the easiest ways to come out of ourselves, one of the laziest, one of the kindest.

So many books to get through! All the miles to go before I sleep, to borrow from and paraphrase one of my favourite American poets.

Research that discombobulates us.

I can’t think of all the examples off the top of my head, but I am truly grateful for inspired people who persisted with their curiosity– no matter what it was driven by– to disrupt our ideas of what is fixed and immutable and what is changeable; to drag into the light and dust off ideas and parts of ourselves that we have hidden in the dark; and to throw a spanner in the normative works constructed by a lifetime of conditioning, punishment and reward.

Basically, to show us ourselves more clearly…. because the thing that makes us distinctly human is self-awareness.

Here are some recent-ish things that have made me rethink myself or the way the world works.

Two notes: (a) I included the pot article not so much because I have reservations about legalising pot (which I do, but that’s another story), but because it refers to studies that reflect on the way we act, even when drunk, in response to what we believe is “acceptable”; and (b) I know there are a lot of TEDTalks, but can you blame me? 🙂

Brené Brown: Listening to shame

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

Article: This Woman Had Her Face Photoshopped In Over 25 Countries To Examine Global Beauty Standards

Article: Candy’s Dandy, but Pot’s Scary

Hardwiring Happiness

I’m grateful for research that flips things over.

Great, rollicking conversations.

Yesterday night, I had one of those wonderful mentally stimulating conversations in which a group of informed and opinionated people from diverse backgrounds (in this case, including two experts in their fields) argue passionately. You know that rule about never asking a PhD candidate about what he or she is writing? There’s a reason for that. Apparently, you could inadvertently fundamentally ruffle the professional feathers of someone else in a group, and then you start an ideological war, and then you end up with a table of previously-cordial acquaintances trying to yell at and over each other in a pub full of people watching two different World Cup soccer matches. And then you realise you are part of the melee.

Honestly, I had quite a bit of fun. 🙂 But it occurred to me not to consider a peacekeeping career any time soon.

Been a while since I’ve had a feisty intellectual discussion like that. I’m grateful for those!