Black Belt and Imposter Syndrome

Tonight during training, we were doing simple drills. Such simple, simple drills. Receive, deflect, attack. Receive, deflect, attack. What I meant to do, and how it actually looked, are two vastly different things. Now that I wear a black belt, those mistakes seem unforgivable.

This is probably one of the best books ever written, and she feels like an imposter? Tina Fey is my spirit guide.

This is probably one of the best books ever written, and she feels like an imposter? Tina Fey is my spirit guide.

That such simple things still flummox me reminds me of something that is increasingly popping up in my internet forays: the idea of imposter syndrome. The internet is full of quizzes and articles (you can try a quiz here) and there’s plenty of advice on how to deal with it. And everyone has it – Sheryl Sandberg, Tina Fey, Maya Angelou – people who are at the very top of their game and still think they’re frauds. That any minute now, everyone else will cotton on to the true inadequacy of the sufferer and out them.

It is also, it seems, a syndrome that is particularly prevalent in women:

Research that began in 1978 with the work of psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes found that many women with notable achievements also had high levels of self-doubt. This deep lack of confidence–which couldn’t be equated with anxiety or other disorders–appeared to involve a deep sense of inauthenticity and an inability to internalize their successes. – Feeling Like a Fraud: Living With Imposter Syndrome

There are days when it feels like I stole my black belt, that it was given to me out of pity because I’ve been around so long and always help out, and not because I have any actual skill. I am pretty sure that pity gradings are a thing.  And yet in most things, there is nothing as clear-cut and neat as a black belt. It is physical, the whole bloody world recognises it as a certain standard, and twelve Senseis sat in a row and discussed it and thought “welp, she can have one, she makes the grade.” And I’m not even remotely in a McDojo organisation – there’s lineage and tradition and respect for the art (truly, KDISA is an excellent federation), so the belt means something. It’s just that it feels like I didn’t really earn it. After all, lots of people have black belts. It can’t be that hard to get one.

Admittedly, this spreads to most parts of my life (except running, because crossing a finish line and getting a medal is a really straightforward form of achievement) but it hits particularly hard in the dojo. Even tonight I thought “someday, Sensei is going to hand me a yellow belt and say ‘I think you dropped this'” and then I will put it on and I will feel like I deserved that. And no one is even trying to take away my accomplishment – most of my family seems to be proud of me, and my friends were excited for me when the grading weekend rolled around.

I think what makes it particularly hard for martial artists to make peace with sucking is because there is only one easy way to see progress, and that’s gradings. In between that, though…only I can truly measure my progress, and its so hard to see. It is ultimately a creative endeavour, and deeply subjective, and therefore difficult to measure and incredibly easy to feel embarrassed about. But as the wise Jesse (of Karate by Jesse fame) says:

But the moments of glory will be few and far between, compared to the daily grind of hard practice. Between the occasional moments of greatness, there will be longer moments of despair.

These periods of suckiness are NOT “optional”.

They are ESSENTIAL.

And the real problem is not that you will have ups and downs.

The problem is YOUR ATTITUDE about it.

How you handle it.

Because if you always walk around feeling bad about being bad, you will constantly have a hard time motivating yourself to keep improving!

Get it?

All I can really do is try not to obsess over failure. I do it with my writing (since my blog posts maybe get shared once or twice on Twitter, they must be shitty articles), I do it with my karate, with my work (every email or phone call from a store feels like an indictment of my work ethic) and pretty much most things. And despite the fact that I have the framed degrees (with distinction and full academic colours), that I have run a marathon, that I have placed nationally in creative writing competitions, that I have a black belt when so many have quit, that I still get things done, it is very difficult to shake off the feeling that its due to luck, or that a lobotomised sloth could do what I do.

To be fair, they are cute though.

To be fair, they are cute though.

In any case, I am pretty sure that I’m not the only martial artist out there that struggles with this, and that it probably feels more acute for new black belts. Apparently writing therapy is one way of dealing with it, and I do feel better having taken the time to sit and write this out. It seems like such a stupid thing on paper, but like most fears, it isn’t rational and nearly impossible to explain or wish away. It does get a bit easier every year, and I can only hope that one day I will truly run out of fucks to give and just get on with my life. Until then, well, there are always friends. And cake.

Further reading:

– The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention by Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes

How to banish imposter syndrome once and for all – The Telegraph 

Who Watches The Watchmen?

Why, Anonymous, of course.

Anonymity has a long history in both rebellion and conformity. Whether it has been women protesting in print, hackers attacking the Church of Scientology or the faceless masses of crazy right-wingers, it is a mask that is as terrifying as it is liberating.

With the arrest of members of Anonymous over their support of Julian Assange (amongst other hacks), it brings to mind whether those who have been entrusted with guarding the law are really the ones being wronged here.

Anonymous has gone after groups such as The Church of Scientology, Visa, Mastercard, Sony and movie and music distributors. They have yet to attack a Marie Stopes website, or an atheist website. But when one considers the growing call for funding cuts to women’s health issues as well as the mostly unchecked power of religious groups who are anti-gay, I can’t help being privately pleased by the growth of a group like Anonymous.

I know that Anonymous and LulzSec have the power to be very, very dangerous groups. They could hack into power grids or hospital mainframes. They’ve already shown the ability to get past the firewalls of major credit card corporations, which means that they could theoretically attack banks. There’s a lot of scary things they could do. It is also worth reading fellow blogger and internet denizen Tallulah‘s piece on Anonymous here.

But we also forget that long before the hackers there have been governments, and they’ve shown a remarkable ability to destroy economies, societies and freedoms with the backing of the all the legislation they can write. Whether it is apartheid legislature (which is making a comeback in the Protection of Information Bill) or the Patriot Act in the States, Shariah law or Catholic dogma, there is no guarantee of security from the bodies that promise it. Governments no longer fear their people, if they ever have, except for groups like LulzSec.

What the hacker groups represent is power that does not involve guns or jackboots, and its something that governments don’t know how to handle. Arresting members of Anonymous might be the most dangerous thing they could have done considering that they have very little knowledge of the size and reach of the group. Even the group itself is not unified enough to take it out with a few arrests: there are different factions, all with different goals. While I personally agree with the attacks on Scientology, I disagree with the flooding of internet support groups for epileptic groups with flashing images.

In America there are things such as ‘free speech zones’. The stench of Orwell aside, these are the kind of laws that generate groups like Anonymous. When legitimate and constructive areas of criticism have been taken away or ignored, then force becomes the norm. Personally, I love the idea that the American government is scared of Anonymous. I hope they’re terrified. In the face of governmental impunity, in the deaths of one million Iraqis that no one will talk about and an education system that is as lamentable as it is irredeemable, there should be someone who pulls them in line. What happens when Anonymous wins is anyone’s guess. Maybe there will always be something for them to fight, especially for as long as people abuse cats and they find out about it. Maybe they’ll legislate that every day is Caturday and replace the school syllabus with their version of Wikipedia. Its hard to predict a group like this, especially since they don’t seem to have a clear leader or even goals other than ‘for the lulz’ and “Man the fucking harpoons.”

I wish we had our own Anonymous here, someone who can find a way to disable the processes that are creating the Stalinesque secrecy bills. Someone who could actually infiltrate and change. Although we have not yet exhausted all our avenues of protest (someone has yet to actually physically kick one of the ANC party members involved), I think some kind of digital vote is required, especially since we might not have one left to us.

It seems trite to quote Fight Club or V for Vendetta but they are appropriate texts because they’re anarchical and believe in the strength of many as opposed to a few super people (like Ayn Rand does). But the point is that, as V says, “the government, Evey, has forgotten the voice of the people. And it is much, much louder than they care to remember.”

From Wikipedia's article on Anonymous

Dear TV-Watchers

Dear Fans of Reality Shows

A reality show such as Master Chef, Survivor or The Apprentice is as removed from real life as Spongebob Squarepants. After watching fans of Master Chef shit all over Exclusive Books over a cookery book displayed in a window, I can’t help feeling even more disappointed in the human race than usual. Here is a list of things that truly deserve your attention:

–         South Sudan has the least infrastructure of any country in the world and could use some help getting started.

–         4 million chickens are shredded and boiled to death every week in South Africa: think about the shit that you put in your mouth.

–         There are kids freezing to death every night

–         There is a petrol strike on and there’s no gas to be found

–         Rape is endemic and no one is being held accountable for it

–         The United States might have no economy to speak of in a few months

–         Sarah Palin is running for the 2012 candidacy, a woman who thinks hunting is a human right, virulently anti-abortion and thinks Afghanistan is a US neighbour

–         We have the lowest literacy rates in Africa, putting us below countries in the middle of revolutions, wars and genocides

And this is the utterly asinine shit people tend to concern themselves with:

–         the ‘joy’ of royal weddings

–         Master Chef Australia and the winner thereof

–         Jennifer Lopez’s buttocks

–         The Idols dropouts

–         Charlie Sheen

–         The Hangover 2

Please look at this picture of a starving child.

A well nourished Sudanese man steals maize from a starving child during a food distribution at the Medecins Sans Frontieres feeding centre in Ajiep, southern Sudan. from Tom Stoddart's iWitness Gallery

No, don’t scroll down. Look at that child. Crawling in the dirt. Hungry. And not “I haven’t eaten since this morning” hungry. Not “Its so cold today” inside an air-conditioned office cold. Not “oh my god I have to get up and actually go to work” tired. Try imagine what its like to watch someone walk away with your food and there’s no fridge to go scratch around in. This child’s suffering is pornographic in its extremes, but I want you to look at this and then think about all the retarded shit that us first-world people complain about. “I don’t have enough bandwidth. I don’t want to break a R50 note buying cappuccino. I have to wear an extra layer today. I’ve been invited to this party but I don’t’ feel like going, its too far to drive.”
All the energy that people spent on phoning in to 702 to complain about something that hadn’t even happened (the winner of Master Chef will only have their book released next week) could have been spent on protesting the government’s dire approach to media freedom. But no: the real travesty is that the winner of Master Chef’s book might have been on display. Fuck the starving kids, the political troubles, the troubling nature of Rupert Murdoch: a cookbook was displayed and someone needed to be punished.

I know there’s escapism and I would never begrudge people that. But the problem is that nearly everyone is hiding their faces in the bosom of television and tabloids, allowing the bad shit to go unchecked. If the government knew that their every movement was being tracked by the people, then they would pull their socks up. But instead you watch too much TV and read too much Heat magazine. Its so much easier to keep up with the river of shit that is Gray’s Anatomy or Gossip Girl than taking an active interest in the welfare of the country.

So yes, those who get upset that Vodacom was down for a day, or that the ending of some pointless reality show got leaked, I hope you will get upset when I call you an uninterested, fuckwitted drain on society. Because if you get upset then it means you are embarrassed, and maybe that will be some kind of incentive to turn the television off and maybe do 67 minutes of charity more often than every July. Knit a blanket for a kid. Drop some pet food off at the SPCA. There are trolleys at the Pick and Pay to put in food for shelters. Write a letter to the ANCYL telling them to stop wiping their arses with money and actually do what they promised for the poor. Sign every internet petition that comes your way, because those petitions are changing the world. Go volunteer to teach something to someone. Eat one less meal with meat in it. Buy fair trade coffee. Boycott Nestle. Go to an orphanage and read to the kids there.

But for fuck’s sake, don’t phone a radio station to complain about a cookbook.

Love Song for the Internet

I’ll be the first person to say I suffer from Facebook envy and Twitter confusion. I see everyone’s photos of their trips and their parties, their excellent events and adventures and I can’t help feeling just a little pathetic in comparison. And with Twitter, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the information that ticks through at an impressive rate of 190 million tweets per day. It is impossible to read them all (and to be honest most aren’t worth reading) but there’s something special about the swell of so much information.

But I love the internet. Like the XKCD cartoon, I love many of its crazy folks and beautiful blogs and exciting websites. The internet gives us things like We Feel Fine, an idea that wouldn’t translate anywhere else. There are TED talks, lectures that can change your life and make me excited about all the great things going on out there. It often feels like there isn’t much good news, but an excellent Cracked article pointed out something important to me the other day. The media will always go by the manifesto of ‘if it bleeds it leads’, because Malema will sell more newspapers than a story of an orphanage having a really great adoption rate. Because of this, we often forget what the world is about, that it is far more nuance than we give it credit for. While we all focus on the terrible dolphin slaughter in Japan, we don’t notice that the two biggest chicken suppliers in the States have switched over to the humane method of Controlled Atmosphere Killing, saving billions of chickens an agonizing and slow death. The beautiful thing about the internet is that it allows all the stories to proliferate, good and bad.

As part of my job I meet a lot of book reps, and I see a great number of books. There is a growing trend in business and psychology books that suggests that the Internet is making everybody dumber because of the rapid-fire nature of the Net. That Twitter’s homeopathic novels (tweets) are causing us to demand information in bite-sized chunks. Facebook is apparently isolating us from each other because somehow being more connected is bad?

I think the problem is that the Internet is being blamed for sheer human laziness. The same way that everyone thought television would destroy human progress and intelligence, books are coming out warning that the nature of the Internet is lowering our capacity for understanding. This research has obviously not been conducted on a significantly long term basis, which means that a lot of the conclusions are hypothetical for now. Also, what’s wrong with wanting concise information? Why fight through twaddle just to get to the clear facts? If I wanted unnecessary padding, I would read Lord of the Rings. And for all its length, Lord of the Rings is vastly inferior to a great many important books a fifth of its length with a hundred times the message and passion. (Catcher in the Rye, Fight Club, To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved).

The Internet isn’t making us stupid. With Wikipedia making information available on a much wider basis compared to the pay-to-view expensive encyclopedias, news feeds from hundreds of reputable news stations and the simple joy of social networking, we are enjoying unparalleled access to information unlike anything before this. Maybe this is what it felt like when the Gutenberg Press freed books from their handwritten cages. This is why having Internet access is now a human right, and should be available to everyone. Information should be freely available. It isn’t yet, but I dream of a world where it is. What matters here is the ability to sift through and understand, a skill that is not taught by the internet, but by parents and schools. Of course, its much easier to blame the Internet and video games and television for bad children instead of shitty, uninterested parents.

Look at the Columbine shootings. The kids were neo-Nazis, were able to get their hands on weapons and were openly violent and aggressive. But instead of asking where their parents and teachers were in the run-up and how it got so bad, it was just so much easier to blame Quake. Somehow its always bad children, not bad parents. Bad chat rooms, not bad legislation. Likewise there are all these hysterical stories about mad boyfriends killing their girlfriends because they saw her in a photo with another guy on Facebook. Somehow, its Facebook’s fault, not the psycopath boyfriend who was just looking for a reason to kill the ungrateful crackwhore. (As his logic surely must work.)

The internet is full of crazy people. It has the b/tards and LulzSec and religious fundamentalists and animal haters. But these people have always existed. The Internet is just the mirror of society, but it enjoys something closer to true democracy than other countries. Blaming the Internet for giving bad people a place to exist is akin to cursing the Earth for having landmasses for us to live on. And unlike meatspace (real life), if you don’t like what you see, you can close the tab and never go there again. Its unlike schools, where atheist kids might be uncomfortable, or kids might not be able to get away from sexual predators posing as teachers. Or like being dragged to those awful family dinners where people whom one is unfortunate enough to share blood with let loose racial epithets that would make Huckleberry Finn blush. Unlike the Internet, annoying family members can’t be alt-tabbed away.

I love the Internet. It gives me a space to write and be heard, something print media does not afford to everybody. I can gather information at a rapid pace without having to go to a library. Please don’t get me wrong: I love books. They’re my trade and my lifeblood and have been since I was very little. But the Internet is like having a library at my fingertips, and I don’t have to deal with any bitchy librarians. (Wow, the Rhodes librarians were a bunch of miserable fucks.) The Internet is always the first to be blamed for anything, but it’s a tool. It can be used to change the world, or just post a blog or even share videos of kittens falling asleep just to cheer people up. It provides welcoming communities, such as Bodies Under Siege and Post Secret so that no one has to feel alone.

Everyone will take what they want from the Net, but to blame it for making us stupid is to deflect responsibility. I want the whole world to have the Intarwabs, to join this giant heartbeat of the planet. It’s like the Discovery Channel song says, ‘I love the whole world, its such a brilliant place’. The Internet, in my opinion, is the greatest thing to have been invented because of its mind-boggling potential and almost sentient presence in our lives.

Here are some excellent quotes about the Internet, more available here at Quotegarden.com.

The Internet is clearly about more than sports scores and email now.  It’s a place where we can conduct our democracy and get very large amounts of data to very large numbers of people.  ~Frank James

The Internet is based on a layered, end-to-end model that allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control.  By placing intelligence at the edges rather than control in the middle of the network, the Internet has created a platform for innovation.  ~Vinton Cerf

I have an almost religious zeal – not for technology per se, but for the Internet which is for me, the nervous system of mother Earth, which I see as a living creature, linking up.  ~Dan Millman

The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.  ~Bill Gates

The Internet is a giant international network of intelligent, informed computer enthusiasts, by which I mean, “people without lives.”  We don’t care.  We have each other.  ~Dave Barry

Using Twitter like a dandelion uses the wind… Spreading messages, not exactly knowing where they might go, some taking roots and blossoming, some making a adventurous journey through the air but not falling on fertile ground.  So what?  A process of beauty and joy.  ~Detlef Cordes, detlefcordes.org

Why I’ll Never Make The Freshly Pressed List

I used to really, really want to make that illustrious “Freshly Pressed List” because it would bring followers forth unto my blog, feeding my ego and giving my childhood dreams of being admired for my writing some luster. Yea, it would maketh me a minor god amongst bloggers, or so I had imagined.

But when I do survey that list of blog entries I can’t help thinking that they are remarkably dull. Like the sparrows of the blogging world, they are safe and drab and attract nothing more than a passing glance. The blogosphere is full of mad blogs and interesting thought patterns, so why does the Freshly Pressed list sound like something a rabid Oprah fan would choose? (No respect to the Queen of the Talk Show: I take minor offence with her followers who seem to absorb all of her opinions rather than form their own. The refrain of “I saw it on Oprah” usually preludes the kind of conversation that makes buttered bread look like an olfactory feast.)

Today’s FP blogs include: rhubarb recipes, travel in China, photos of Prague, some unicyclers, a timid religious book review on meat-eating (this person thinks god will cure global warming and eliminate factory farming), art, events and books. Yesterday’s choices included “Do people mispronounce your name?” and “Paper bag mailer tutorial.” Nothing politically controversial, or even left of centre. It is a middle-class blogging nightmare that makes 1984 seem appealing because at least the bland amongst us couldn’t post.

Do I want to be counted amongst these people? No, not any more. I blog about things far more exciting than recipes or “my summer holiday in Venice” which is hardly the kind of fascinating material that blogs can often provide. There are incredible science, art, literature and personal blogs out there that really show up the blandness of the Freshly Pressed list. Perhaps there is an arbitrary algorithm that picks the blogs according to their varying levels of safeness and domesticity, or maybe there’s just one person who really does like to read about what recipes people think are positively delightful.

There are over 377,000 bloggers on WordPress. That’s a lot of bloggers to choose from. But its so rare that I land on the WordPress home page and actually click through to the blogs they suggest. And when I do decide to visit a blog, the writing is so drab as to make porridge practically sparkle with originality in comparison. With so many blogs to choose from, how is it that the same boring topics keep showing up? What about a blog on abortion? Or the misconception that Twitter actually had anything to do with the Arab Spring revolutions? Cracked.com provides blogs a thousand times better and it isn’t even a blogging site. But no, we get people writing about how to be a better writer (ugh) or “I like made this awesome blueberry crumble and everyone was like soooo happy”.

I’ve said it before: blogging is one of the most fantastic ways to say something constructive and brilliant, even if it is about a TV show or standing in a queue. I know not everyone is a great writer, but that’s not the issue here. The point is that WordPress is not showcasing the best blogging it could. It is sticking to safe, boring blogs that do not reflect the amazing potential of the blogosphere. They’re probably doing it because they can’t risk any kind of controversy knocking out their ad-revenue. Admittedly a great number of viewers on the internet are conservative, but not everyone is. In the great democracy of the web, I just think it would speak better to the WordPress team if something a bit more interesting than people’s arts and crafts showed up on that landing page.

Seperate Bathrooms: an unnecessary divide?

Setting aside the usual serious issues of feminism that range from genital mutilation to sex trafficking to career glass ceilings, let’s look at the concept of separated bathrooms and their relevance in the 21st century. I started thinking about the topic when friend Dylan was complaining (and rightfully so) about there only being two toilets at his work for men while there are 4 for women. Considering that his workplace teaches up to a hundred construction workers at a time, the majority of which are male, this seems a little ridiculous.

The idea of separate bathrooms seems to be one that suggests that each sex must be spared the sight of the other performing that most taboo and deeply necessary act: voiding their bowls. While I am still a bit traumatized by the occasional woman who feels the need to leave the door open when she sits upon the porcelain throne, this is a rare occurrence and not enough of a reason to keep the bathrooms separate. Are we so scared of willies and vaginas that we have this bathroom apartheid? Or is it to create a ‘gurlz-only’ space? Its not a thought that occurs to everyone often, but there is an entire mythos around the women’s bathroom as a place of comfort, preparation and refuge. It has developed because there is this one space where men are excluded and most of them are fine with that.

The problem is that we are spitting in the face of equality a little bit by having these separate, gendered spaces. Women’s bathrooms are nearly always pink and smell like cheap lavender. (And contrary to popular belief, are often quite disgusting.) My admittedly limited experience with men’s bathrooms has led me to believe that they are generally quite dire places in need of some light and flowers. By combining them into one space perhaps we can start getting rid of the ridiculous constructs. After all, why can’t condoms, tampons, headache pills and KY jelly be dispensed from the same machine? (Maybe even beer and juice?)

I dream of a world where we are not scared of each other’s genitals, where women and men can share an intimate space and not be ashamed of a little fart here and there. Trendy restaurants in Joburg are starting to scrap separate bathrooms and I have yet to encounter problems with sharing them. Are we implying that every man ever is a sexual deviant who will sit outside your cubicle and wank while you pee, so they can’t share bathrooms with women? Or are women weak, fragile flowers that will faint at the sight of a strange penis? Come on. It’s just a penis. Just a vagina. We seek them so actively in pornography, but accidentally glimpsing one in a shared public bathroom is somehow a million times worse. I also don’t think men run about with willies displayed after the age of eight (at least, not sober) so I imagine it would be quite discreetly handled. And even then flashes of either set of genitals would be quite rare. I just felt that topic needed to be handled (sexily, even).

Men and women might be biologically different, but as long as that remains the basis of reasons to further divide the genders into separate rooms, separate hospital wards, we will continue to generate further reasons to be physically neurotic and mysterious. Both genders pee. Isn’t this enough common ground to quit this splitting of bathrooms? Especially amongst adults?

Besides, who knows what conversations we might strike up when we begin to share this intimate and yet utterly banal space? I know some people feel vulnerable in the bathroom as it is, but we’re vulnerable everywhere. I am particularly jittery in car parking lots myself. Friend Liza suggested that perhaps South Africa is not the kind of place where bathrooms should be shared, considering our unacceptable rape statistics. This is definitely a valid point. South Africa is quite often a scary place, but I don’t think rape is something that is going to be encouraged or discouraged by shared or separate bathrooms. It happens in them regardless of seperation, but I admit this might be more of a problem in clubs and pubs when alcohol starts becoming a problem and then ugly fingers get pointed because “she was drunk and there and asking for it,” as Liza suggested.

I am not advocating that we remove toilet stalls and have merry rows of open toilets where we can swap Pokemon cards or recipes or Playboy editions. Cubicles have their place, if only to safeguard us against those who do enjoy the occasional masturbation while at work. (This has happened to a female colleague of mine, who was using the bathroom and someone else was having, as she said, ‘happy fun times’.) I can understand that maybe kids should have separate bathrooms if only because children generally need supervision and can’t be supervised in the bathrooms all the time. But when we become adults, surely we can handle sharing a bathroom? We share cars, body fluids, coffee mugs, boardrooms, strip clubs and lip balms. Surely it is time we learned to share that one guaranteed space we all have to be in at least three times a day?

Colorado and Crazy People

First off: see this case about a 12 year old trying to kill his family – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42083051/ns/us_news/

I think cases of this kind unfortunately kick up far too much dust around too many issues for the core of the situation to be clear. There will be the usual cliché ‘nature vs nurture’ arguments, and the gun control lobby will be out in full force. The gun-lovers will bray that ‘people kill people’. Every tuppenny shrink with an opinion will arise to blame something. The details in this case are scant enough to ensure everyone has a full run of opinionated fun times. I count myself amongst them. The parents will be blamed. The guns will be called into question. (But as Dylan Moran says, ‘guns have limited household applications’). The homeschooling will be pointed at. Colorado will somehow also be to blame, the education system, the tap water, the siblings, anything besides pointing at the fact that sometimes, people are born psychotic. Shows like Dexter and books like the Hannibal Lector series have engendered the idea that people can be psychotic and useful, but anyone with common sense still wouldn’t leave their children with these people. I enjoy these shows myself, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because it makes psychotics redeemable? That no one is ever really, truly evil? I don’t really feel like going on a fact-finding mission of all the shitty things people have done to each other for evidence of why the above is so very wrong. For now, I reference Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen, Sudan, Rwanda, Abu Ghraib, and The Lucifer Effect by Phillip Zimbardo.

Maybe the hardest reality is that sometimes, kids are evil and fucked up. I may have to revise this when there are more facts on the case, but for a 12 year old to stab and shoot parents and siblings does not point to any normalancy. Some people will say “oh but the circumstances!” and these are often also the same people that think House is a moving and profound series. I thought it was cool when I was depressed and I felt no one understood my tormented genius pain. Now I realise that it actually is a terribly repetitive show that relies on someone fucked-up for entertainment value and cheap thrills. People do not do drugs because they are so incredibly cool and sexy: they do drugs because they do not have the backbone to deal with reality. But, then again, we do live in a society that avidly follows the rise and fall of druggies, so perhaps I should go back to the mothership and communicate with my leaders.

In any case, if a 12 year old has the capacity to source and repeatedly use a gun, he also has the capacity to not use it. Freudians will say “oh, but his ID this and Ego that” but, really, how many twelve year olds actually get hold of guns and live out their temper tantrums on that kind of level? Twelve year olds can earn money through chores and are capable of saving and spending it (and understand economics, on a minor level), they are having sex, some of them are drinking, some of them work as child soldiers. That they are capable of these things (with or without coercion) means that they can be held responsible for what they do. The twelve year olds I have met show insight that I do not expect of their age, and only because they’re a few months short of being teenagers. The mistake here is that we assume children are stupid. They are not even remotely so, and there is a recordof children committing acts of violence. (The link is only handy for case studies, but I wouldn’t really take advice from it on how/why child murderers arise.) I remember reading several cases last year of children raping and kidnapping, even ganging up to kill smaller children, both in South Africa and around the world. There was the parricide case in Durban 2009 in Pinetown that is ongoing, for example.

I don’t want to believe all children are fucked up and evil: that’s not my point. My point is that we make the mistake of assuming all children are innocent, and then are surprised when there are Columbine shootings and abductions and parricide. What people may pass off as cutesy temper tantrums might actually warn of impending disaster. Perhaps if kids were paid more attention, maybe they wouldn’t get to this point. I don’t know how we should all be raising kids. All I can offer is that we are always, always aware that their capacity for good can be matched by evil. And even I hate using the word ‘evil’ because Hitler is evil, Pol Pot is evil, and to use it in the context of children seems so wrong. But as the movie Magnolia noted, it is only fools that mistake all children for angels.

I expect I’ll get hate mail for this post. But I will not apologise for being honest. Kids can be amazing, and a lot of them do a great deal more their communities and friends than many adults. They are the chance every generation gets to do something right, the templates for change and growth. Because of this, they need to be respected as human beings, and not  treated like accessories or burdens. Respecting them will hopefully cut out, to some extent, this kind of fucked-up behaviour, and perhaps that’s something worth mentioning and striving for.

The King’s Speech, Black Swan and The Oscars

Warning: long blog post requires coffee!

It has been a good year for movies, and for once the Oscars wasn’t dominated by shocking explosion-centric timewasters. To add to my collection of great books and movies enjoyed this year, The King’s Speech was a sublime movie, one that traded on dialogue, cinematography and solid performances rather than Megan Fox’s less than stellar looks and a brainless actor backlit by explosions on the movie poster.

The King's Speech cast

The King's Speech

Colin Firth’s performance was superbly balanced, and even though one does not normally relate to someone who has won the equivalent of the genetic lottery and never has to submit his CV for anything, he draws in the viewer with the frustration of not being able to vocalise a thought. While most of us wish to be more eloquent, at least we can spit out a sentence almost as quickly as it is mentally formed. To watch someone who has suffered a great deal of repression (including leg braces and being forced to change writing hands) attempt to overcome it through various therapies and interactions was an emotionally rewarding experience. There wasn’t so much character growth as revelation, and Geoffrey Rush is, as always, fantastically dry and charming to watch. (Pity about Pirates of the Caribbean, it didn’t really flex his remarkable talent. Shine is still his best work.)

It was also grand to see Helena Bonham-Carter not playing a crazy person. While I always enjoy her performance in the vein of Marla Singer from Fight Club, she was dangerously close to being typecast thanks to the godawful Alice in Wonderland and Sweeney Todd. She was remarkable as Elizabeth and as devoted as anyone could ever hope for in a life partner. She also has that remarkable ability to gently nudge someone in the right direction, no matter how hard it is for them. A wonderful performance, and such a nice change from her usual.

The settings were sublime, the costuming perfect and the soundtrack was a rising crescendo of violins that I thoroughly enjoyed and am definitely interested in getting my paws on. I particularly loved Lionel Logue’s consulting room, and I suspect that style of wallpaper or pastiche (I’m not sure how they coloured the walls like that) will quickly become the vogue. A movie made all the more rewarding by background knowledge of the start of World War 2, which is covered discreetly in the background. Timothy Spall made a fantastic Winston Churchill. I would have liked to see more of him, but unfortunately Mr Churchill is one of history’s most biostorous characters and apt to take over an entire movie should he be given more than twenty lines to say.

Next on my Oscar Movie list is The Black Swan.

I was ready to lobby for a war of letter-writing should Natalie Portman not get the Oscar for Best Actress. Thankfully, she swooped it up and it was deeply deserved. In the kind of role that crawls under the viewer’s skin, Natalie Portman plays a ballerina under a great deal of pressure, both internal and external, and the director Aronofsky drags us with Nina through the looking glass and into the crushing, exacting and relentless nature of her mind. It was a movie that stuck with me for days, and the soundtrack is still my accompaniment at work.

For once, the ugly world of ballet is shown for all its difficulty and ruthlessness. It is one of those arts where one in fifty ballerinas becomes a true prima, and the rest stay in the chorus line. It is an art obsessed with thinness and perfection and not one that I would encourage my children to do. There’s blood and hunger and cutthroat competition and Nina is maybe just a year too young or a little too coddled by her mother to deal with the pressure of being the Swan Queen. I found Black Swan to be more in the line of Japanese horror, the kind of passive-aggressive, subtle terror one links to those awful haunted hospitals in Japanese theme parks rather than bland, shouting violence the Americans parade as horror. While Black Swan does not market itself as a horror, I was tempted to leave the theatre, and was begging for the movie to end if only to let Nina escape the twisted horror of her life. Aronofsky, most famous for Requiem for a Dream, is remarkably talented in making the viewer undergo the same horror. In Black Swan, this is done through keeping the camera either over Nina’s shoulder, behind her eyes or right in front of her. There is rarely any distance between us and her, and at times one begged for a long shot just to give me some space.

I do not mean any of the above as negative criticism: it makes for true storytelling. Used to the usual saccharine nature of godawful Hollywood fluff, it was a positively raw experience that has restored some credence to the venerable art of filmmaking. I have always been an ardent believer in the power of film to move, especially because it can inspire as many people, if not more, than books. While books still own a large percentage of my passion for words, I believe that films have the power to inform and inspire through their infinite capacity to put sound and image together in a way that can knock against the heart of the viewer. We are not living in an age of widespread imagination, and the very visual nature of our information and entertainment has given film a great deal of power that it has unfortunately squandered on projects like The Hangover and Twilight.

Which brings me back to my general delight with this year’s Oscar nominees. While Inception was not very new in concept (despite what people might think, it was very predictable) it was incredibly well shot and the graphics alone deserve an Oscar. Toy Story 3 was a great deal more interesting just for Andy’s off-screen growth and its exploration of the roles toys play in our lives, and how they mark the years. I, for example, have a graduation Rhodent that I am very fond of because he reminds me of how very proud my parents were at my first graduation, and how special that moment was. I will likely keep it even though its unseemly for a grown woman to hold onto toys. Toy Story 3 looks at that, though it does have the usual formula of adventure and relationships.  True Grit was divine to look at and listen to. Hailee Steinfield was superb, and  her character Mattie Ross is my new favourite female character for her true grit and unfailing strength in such difficult situations. I haven’t seen The Fighter, but I really think Hailee deserved the Oscar. True Grit is quite dark (typical of the Coen Brothers) and while it was maybe half an hour too long, it was still a bold western enjoyable for its dialogue and characters.

I watched The Social Network in bits and pieces, but it seemed worthy of its adulations. Since I am a big fan of Facebook (if only because it allows me to try keep touch with rapidly fading friendships, but that’s a blog post for another day), I was interested to see how it was created. I think I am the only person not enamoured of Justin Timberfake’s performance. It also avoided the Hollywood happy ending, which pleases me.

As soon as I’ve caught up with my Oscar viewing, I shall likely post more. For now, I am mostly happy with the Oscar results and would much rather have seen Robert Downey Jnr host it. Anne Hathaway is sweet and she did it well, but RDJ is still king. (Yes, that was vaguely valley girl, but I will not apologise for it.)

For your edification, a picture of RDJ. To make your day sexier.

Under this pillow lies the key to my release.

5 Quick Writing Rules

Tally directed me to this list about writing, and I decided that it would be a totally expected of me to blog about it. So I did.

Here are my rules for writing, and I don’t know if they will always serve me well. I hope they will.

1. Its a waste of time trying to please anyone.

I will always write what suits me. To this date, it has involved pirates, mechas, feminism, atheism, vegetarianism, martial arts and a lot of ‘dammits’ thrown in. My friends who have read my writing are still my friends, and they know they don’t have to read it if they don’t want to. So, I still write for myself.

2. Writing for money is like throwing bottles in the ocean

Because so few authors can actually live off their writing, and because I don’t really write anything marketable, I am happy to write for the sake of writing. Hence, the blog.

3. If you haven’t pissed someone off, you’re doing it wrong.

That sums up my more vitriolic writings. People have to think about something in order to get angry about it. I used to get angry at vegetarians. Now I am one. So guess who won.

4.  Writing is wonderful solipsism, and totally acceptable.

In my laptop, there are thousands of words, creating worlds and people I like to spend time with. By adding more details to both, I can maximise my personal pleasure. If it makes me happy, maybe it’ll make someone else happy.

5. Read like its chocolate and sex

I love reading. I read through all the articles I can, and seek constant information. More often than not, it gets me going on my own writing. That includes everything from lists on the internet to my friends’ writing to newspaper articles to traditional novels. Even if its crap writing, it still provides a lesson. And even if it was written by someone amazing, its still something to aspire to.

Writing, more simply, is something that has to be in the blood, and it still keeps me sane and expressive. It is the medium through which I record my life and thoughts and joys, and without it I might be in a great deal of mental agony. Its never been about the money, not really. Because if it was, I wouldn’t be writing what I do. Like everything else in my life, my writing is about me. I know its shameful narcissism, but obnoxious honesty is still better than spineless modesty, and all I can hope for is that other people enjoy my writing. But if they don’t, and even if no one ever agrees to pay me for it, its still mine.

PS: Thank you to everyone who does read my special brand of writing. In a large part, you keep me from getting too far up my own arse or too far down the rabbit hole. Deeply appreciated.

The Nanowrimo Shop of Horrors

There is no doubt that Nanowrimo is a word to be feared, even if it does sound like something that happens to people who put their fingers inside paper shredders.

I am currently sitting on just over 43k. I have 5 days left to write 7k more. Of those 5 days, I am losing the weekend. And I’m blogging instead of writing. (And they are very different acts, I assure you.) I can see the end, and I have at least scratched down on some paper somewhere how I think its going to end, pseudo-meaningful epiphany for main character included, but goddammit it feels like I’m trying to wring AB- out of a rock. Or Mick Jagger.

Basically, what I attempted (and I do feel that is the most appropriate word) is a prequel to the Tatsumaki Cluster Fuck (TCF). Enter all the characters alive and slightly less deranged than they all become in Ship Song and Still A Captain. Essentially, the TCF is a study in madness. Several characters either descend into it and never come back out of it or are touched by it at some point. Those who are au fait with the series will know what I mean. The prequel is an attempt to study the roots of their later madness. And work in some sex scenes. (There are two. Yay? Maybe, I don’t know.)

I’ve only sent it to one person in its horrible, unedited form. Poor Caitlin will likely wonder why she ever enjoyed my writing, and I send my condolences to her abused eyes and briefly-tortured mind.

And its all Tallulah’s fault anyway. This was her bad idea.

But it hasn’t been an entirely bad idea though. I have enjoyed watching the little nano counter rack up the words as I raced to meet each daily deadline, and sometimes scream past it. If anything, I am grateful that I know have a big, fat draft. It would probably be best to combine it with the first one and make it a weighty tome. And give it some semblance of a plot. Because it seems to be a series of disconnected events with a very thin underlying thread better not probed too much for fear it snaps. There’s a lot of adventure, a great deal more drinking than necessary that gives it a Raymond Carver kind of feel and some interesting combinations of words and expletives. And some sex, did I mention that? Well, one is three-quarters of a love scene. The other is a long, drawn-out lovemaking scene dripping with sentimentality. I was fighting to make word-count that day, and writing dripping sex scenes comes easily to me.

So, with some grind during work and in the evenings after training and when everyone goes to sleep this weekend during the last big sleepover of the year, I will hopefully finish and get me that print voucher. I am contemplating using it to print the monster-sized Dojo Heroes. I am fond of it, and no publishing house would ever touch it. Who would be interested in a copy?

In any case, I have some websites to fix and then some serious writing to do. Light a candle for me, if it seems I’m fading.