j4: (orange)
More fragments today:

1. declutter_ideas. I think this may have been intended as part of a post to [livejournal.com profile] unclutter_2009 when I was still doing that (I gave up when we moved house because it all just became too complicated to keep track of -- we have been furiously decluttering since then anyway, but not itemising it all).

Throwing away v recycling - PLEASE RECYCLE EVERYTHING YOU CAN and if your local council doesn't accept something that other places do, write to them and ask. [make up draft letter]

"Why don't charity shops accept x y z..." - because sorting/pricing things that won't sell wastes volunteer time (ie money), and putting things out on shelves that won't sell (or won't make any significant amount of money) wastes space (ie money) and makes the shop less attractive (ie loses money).

The important thing about the decluttering is not just to get stuff out of the house but to think about how it got there. e.g. do you buy cans/bottles/jars of stuff you wouldn't normally use "because they're really cheap" rather than because you need (or even particularly want) them, & then find that they just sit there and go off (especially since they're probably only cheap in the first place because they're near the end of their shelf life)? Do you buy several of a thing "just in case" when one would do just fine? (I cite these examples because they're things I know I'm guilty of. :-)

The problem is there's two types of shopping: the sort where you work out what you need (at least roughly) and go and find it; and the sort where you wander round in a daze looking at lots of shiny things which have been packaged & presented to look appealing, and -- surprise, surprise -- you find that the billions of pounds' worth of marketing works on you as well even though you're really clever and never ever get influenced by adverts.

(I love the note-to-self of '[make up draft letter]'. I have never written to the council to tell them they ought to be recycling more things, I never get round to writing that sort of letter at all. Possibly this is part of the reason why I decided not to make such a preachy post.)

2. Another news-story-with-comment:


"Our all-or-nothing approach to meat eating leaves us with no understanding -- and little tolerance -- of the concept of a low-meat meat diet. It's awkward telling friends who know you eat meat that you'd rather have a specially prepared vegetarian option when you're invited round for dinner. It smacks of the sort of hypocritical vegetarianism that people love to sniff out and ridicule and it's much easier to just avoid the issue and eat whatever's going."

Either deal with the awkwardness, or fix the thing you *can* fix: the bits of your diet that *you* control. Saying "I can't have a low-meat diet because it's awkward telling friends" is just making excuses, unless you really eat out at friends' houses for every meal.

I know why I don't post these things; what I don't know is why I bother writing them down in the first place. Sometimes, with the responses-to-news-stories, I'm not sure why I bother thinking them: having arguments in my head with people who can't hear me just raises my blood pressure (incidentally my actual non-metaphorical blood pressure is absolutely fine, I know this because I'm getting it measured quite frequently at the moment) and wears me out. It's arguably even more pointless than posting comments on Have Your Say; at least there the idiots are probably feeling some kind of positive bond with other idiots, whereas I'm just doing the equivalent of sitting on the sofa at home on my own and shouting at the telly.

So, yeah, sorry about all these dull bits and bobs. I was going to post about making a Christmas pudding, which is what I was doing (among other things!) today, but I think I said everything interesting I can think of to say about this on last year's Stir-up Sunday. The only thing to add is that last year's pudding (which we forgot about & eventually got round to eating in February, ahem) was delicious, so I've gone for the same recipe again, but this time with the right amount of suet and with fewer bits of ancient dried fruit from the back of the cupboard. The things you leave lying around in cupboards don't get any tastier the longer you leave them. That would be the moral of this story, except that morals in stories are a bit like sixpences in puddings: an interesting idea with the weight of tradition behind it, but in practice you just break your teeth on them.

I'm just making this up as I go along. I bet you'd never have guessed.
j4: (hair)
Another of those news-article-with-comment fragments (believe it or not, I'm deleting more than I post: down to 113 once this one's been exorcised). Again, unedited except that I've made the URL into a hyperlink for convenience.
Lib Dem transport spokesman Norman Baker said: "Young drivers could face legal problems because they have had a couple of drinks the night before or used alcohol in cooking. The answer is a lower limit for all drivers."

The reference to "young drivers" make it sound as though being a "driver" is something inherent, essential, rather than merely a choice on a case-by-case basis to perform an action. In fact, in that sense, it's a bit like drinking: so why don't we say that young drinkers could face legal problems just because they have a couple of car-journeys? They're equally absurd. Neither drinking nor driving is essential or irreversible; there's nothing illogical about legislating to make them mutually exclusive choices.

The question of why it should only apply to "young" people is another matter entirely, and seems to me to be supporting the idea that drink-driving is something you can do when you're a better driver: this may indeed be true, but who decides who "counts" as a "better" driver? Older drivers, who (may) have more experience? Younger drivers, who (may) have quicker reflexes? Either way, since the majority of people believe they're above average competence as drivers, this seems like a dangerous idea to propagate.

The reason I never post these things at the time is that I feel I can't post them without hedging around everything a bit more, making sure that every possible argument is covered, making sure I'm not categorically stating anything that isn't 100% verifiable fact. Not being interpreted as categorically stating anything, etc. Not apparently being interpreted as, etc. Endlessly backing off, bent double with différence. The more I start to hedge, the more arguments come crawling out from under the stone, the more it all unravels, until I'm incapable of saying anything. Every thought is just a flamewar that I haven't been burned by yet: in the acorn, the tree; in the tree, the dead wood, the pyre.
j4: (clutter)
Back to those blasted fragments. I have decided I am simply going to work through them in alphabetical order, and make a decision to either post them (with or without prior reworking), move them (in some cases they shouldn't really have been filed under potential blog posts, because they're just lists of things or drafts of work stuff -- moving them into a more sensibly descriptive location is a good start) or delete them. They're not like fine wines, they're not going to improve with age. I've deleted three or four this evening, mostly lists of things that I've forgotten what they were for, or things I've actually already posted anyway.

Several of the fragments consist of a URL (usually a link to news stories) followed by a bit of commentary/response. In some cases I think I was planning to write a longer response; in other cases I think I just wanted to feel I could reply, but didn't actually want to comment on the story itself (because the people who comment on news stories are always crazy, and by joining them you've already lost the argument, whatever argument you were having and with whom, even if you didn't think you were having an argument). The way the "right to reply" and "have your say" culture have changed the nature of debate and discourse is another story, an article I've half-started in my head ("I have often thought of writing a monograph on the subject..."), but now isn't the time for that.

So, without further ado or context, a recent-ish fragment (October 19th, apparently); I have very little memory of writing it, and am no longer quite sure where I was going with it. (Posting it and simultaneously half-disowning it: having my cake and eating it, I suppose. But I'm eating cake for two, so I think I can get away with that.) Unedited except to make the URL into a link.


The problem with using advertising to sell "things which are actually good" (let's assume for the moment that we've solved the problem of defining 'good') is that advertising is at best amoral (and at worst immoral, cf the tobacco advertising industry). If you're on a moral crusade, is it OK to use amoral/immoral tactics -- or do they cheapen your message? Does the end justify the means? The church seems to have already had this bout of conscience-wrestling and decided that it's fine to mimic commercials to get their message across, and in doing so it has stepped off a pedestal (admittedly one which it had already been more or less knocked off).

By putting yourself in the advertising marketplace, you're admitting that you are _no better_ than anything else that's out there -- if you're happy to let the market decide then you're abdicating your moral high ground. Brand value may go down as well as up -- one day people will buy your message, the next day they'll see a better advert and buy a coke instead.
j4: (clutter)
I have a folder on my chiark account called lj_temp. It's full of bits and pieces of things that might have been intended as LJ posts, and (because I am bad at sticking to my own filing systems) drafts of awkward emails or comments, lists of things, ideas, all kinds of mental detritus. I think of it as a drawer full of good ideas which, if only I had the time or energy, I'd sit down and work through and transmute them all into pure blogging gold. In practice, when I come to look at it, it's a directory full of text files containing half-written comments/emails. Half the time I don't even remember the context which prompted them. Take this, for example:
Sometimes the person who's experiencing the emotion doesn't know the whole picture either. People can get jealous and upset and angry with very little real cause.

I agree it's rarely practically helpful to tell them straight-out "Your emotions are irrational", but equally I don't think it's helpful to say "Yes, keep on feeling that jealousy and anger, you've got a right to your emotions". The wetness of water, the greenness of grass... I see these things as morally neutral in a way that I really don't believe adult emotions are.

Isn't there room for some kind of middle way? Admitting that you -- or someone else -- feels something but also recognising that it's irrational and unhelpful, and not nurturing the unhelpful feelings? I'm sure you accept that your garden will always have weeds in it, but you probably don't put fertiliser on the weeds & cut back the flowers to make room for them. Initial reactions to events are hard (possibly even impossible) to choose or control, but once the shoots are showing it's often possible to nudge them in a more appealing direction.
I'm sure this made sense in the context of the debate to which it was doubtless intended to contribute, but I can't remember it (I have a terrible memory for conversations these days), and I didn't make a note of it -- I've quoted the file there in its entirety (it was even written with HTML markup, so clearly intended for LJ). I'm reasonably sure I never actually posted it, though, because I generally end up chickening out of posting things like that -- because disagreeing with people on the internet nearly always descends into nastiness and ends in tears (tears for me, at least; probably a sense of self-righteous victory for the other guy -- and it is usually, but not always, a guy). But that's a blog post for another day (or rather, a blog post to chicken out of on another day). Right now I'm thinking about these fragments.

They're sitting there, using a few KB of disk space, doing nothing. Worse than doing nothing: they're a mental buffer between me and getting things written, muffling the sound of my thoughts like a thick drizzly fog. They are heavy like a dressing-gown at 3pm, a comfort blanket that's become a ball and chain. They make me feel as though I have a basketful of good ideas if only I could get round to doing anything about them when in fact I don't; they're worse than that idea for a novel that everybody carries around with them in their head, they're more like an idea of having had an idea for a novel. Like dreaming you wrote a symphony and being unable to remember it in the morning. The handful of "ideas for novels" I have in my head are all things I know I'll never write down because they'd turn out to be rubbish.

Those fragments remind me of what, for me, is at least one aspect of the "overwhelming question": what would I do right now if I'd done everything on my list? If I didn't have anything to procrastinate about? What would I write about if I didn't feel I should clear that backlog first? It's all very well saying "you don't have to clear that backlog first": I've tried that, it doesn't work. The backlog's there.

What should I do with all those fragments? Post them (and pull them apart) here? Delete them? (No, I'm not going to print them out and set fire to them or anything like that, it may be symbolic but it's also wasteful and pointless.) They're probably all worthless, but then what is 'worthwhile' to write?

[Poll #1641161]

I'm not promising to act on any of your suggestions, but I do promise to read them.
j4: (dirigible)
The area where we live might be described as shabby, but I prefer to think of it as unfinished. It's not that it's in any sense incomplete; it's not one of these raw-edged toytown estates where the houses haven't settled into their surroundings yet and the weeds are dwarfed by the clods of still-fresh earth... quite the opposite. It's a collection of houses which were built between the wars as council houses and gradually sold off in bits and pieces over the years (I'm hazy on the history); they started out all the same (more or less) but have diverged over the years as people have bolted bits on, knocked pieces off, removed and rebuilt and revised and reimagined until they look like a kind of terraced Exercises in Style... or at the very least a kind of oversized egg-decorating competition. Everybody has added something to their house: bright flowers, trees, hedges which started out neat, gravel, paving, paint, pebbledashing, a low wall, a gate or two, a lean-to or a shed, an outbuilding, an extra room. Many of them have added more temporary effects to their exterior, too; there are front gardens with chairs, tables, mattresses, sofas, televisions, panes of glass, planks, bricks, overgrown trailers full of pipes, chained-together bicycles, cars on concrete blocks with nettles where the wheels would be, motorbikes imperfectly shrouded in plastic sheets. It could be depressing, but it's not; it's just life, as it goes on from day to day, moving things from place to place, repurposing things, putting things in a different order. Building little by little, letting things fall apart; pushing back the soil, letting things go back to the ground. Waves of energy, whirlpools of entropy.

It's unfinished in the sense that it's a work in progress. All around are loose ends, projects half begun (or even half finished), things not quite thrown away.

I am fascinated by this sort of detritus, writ large across the estate but writ smaller (in the various but usually tiny incarnations of my handwriting) across A4 sheets, post-it notes, the backs of envelopes, tissues, whatever I've had to hand at the time. And, more recently, 'written' in countless text files -- digital artefacts which somehow manage to retain some of the spirit of those torn scraps of paper in their forms and names: the descriptive (or optimistic) .txt and .html files, the tentative .tmp, the files with no extension, filenames with cryptic sets of initials, long filenames full of underscores... archive.tmp, README__list, lj_bio_1.txt, oxbridge-and-self-worth_2.tmp, loose_ends. The names made perfect sense at the time but now I can't tell whether archive.tmp is about archiving, for archiving, already archived. With the paper, it's easier to learn the shape and colour of the fragments and lists: that large pink post-it note with GRAND PLAN (among other things), the torn-off white scrap that just says weltenschaum (did I mean weltenschau?) -- I've carried them around for so long that they're like an inbox full of scars. With the text files, it's easier to search through them for a specific word (if I can remember it), but they're more flat, all the same size; with a standard directory listing of just filenames they have barely any weight or shape to distinguish them.

On reading some of these files, I often can't remember whether I've already used the text on LiveJournal. Sometimes I can't remember what I was talking about at all. Sometimes the text sounds confident and assured, and I'm surprised I wrote it so well. Perhaps I didn't.

Our house is cluttered with adjectives and slightly verb-stained nouns.

Sometimes I feel as though I'm carrying round boxes half-full of failure. Other times they're boxes half-empty of plans.

May 2017

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