Connecting the Dots

Moments of human connection are exciting. You find yourself filled with happiness and enthusiasm. The first feeling is a rush not least because it is full of potential. However, what’s less of a rush is the vivisection of that connection your brain makes long after the moment is over. Was the connection real, did they feel it too? Was the connection romantic or friendship? The brain has a way of dissecting moments of happiness, reducing them to their subordinate parts and making it impossible to reassemble again.

All this sounds a little dramatic, but misinterpreting a connection is probably the most dangerous thing that happen in a friendship. You risk putting unreasonable expectations on people or letting them upset you over what wouldn’t normally be an issue. You might start developing feelings that you shouldn’t, or begin to indulge feeling you deep down know better to ignore.

I haven’t learn too much about human connection, but love isn’t a philosophical problem that can be resolved through thought experiments or meditation. There are two choices. You can act or you can put the genie back in its bottle and bury it deep. That is at least until the next connections turns up like a whirlwind to blow the dust away.

Thoughts on the Thames Valley Balboa Festival 2017

The swing dancing scene in Reading is really a wonderful thing. You can learn Balboa on Monday, Lindy Hop on Tuesday, dance the blues on Thursday and there is even a university swing dance society that opens their lessons to locals. We have regular social dances, Sunday Swing at the pub and alongside this there are also events that bring some of the best dance teachers in the world to our doorstep. One such event was the Thames Valley Balboa festival which I attended last week and am still feeling a warm glow from.

The Thames Valley Balboa Festival ran by All Jazzed Up brought Sylvia Sykes, the woman generally credited for reviving Balboa, alongside Marty Lau, Laura Keat and Nick Williams to teach a two day Bolboa workshop in Henley. Balboa is a dance located firmly underneath the Swing Umbrella. Unlike Lindy Hop, the better known incarnation of Swing, Balboa is close. The steps are small, fast and the dance is generally less showy and more about connecting with you partner.

True to the nature of Balboa, the Thames Valley Baboa Festival was dedicated to connection and musicality. We learnt lots of variations, ironed out some the tricky steps, like crab steps, and I generally feel much more confident and enthused about Balboa. It also didn’t hurt that Henley Town hall is a beautiful venue and that the Jim Wynn Orchestra’s set on Saturday was brilliant. I wholeheartedly recommend this event and hope you keep an eye on the website for next year.

balboa

 

Author’s notes

Just in the interests of full disclosure I am friends with the organisers of the Thames Valley Balboa Festival, although these thoughts are completely my own. I also recommend getting in touch with the organisers of this event if the ticket price is tricky to pay in one go. I understand that they are generally opened to paying in installments etc. 

The Green Eyed Monster

Jealousy is a toxic emotion. Shakespeare called  it “the green-eyed monster which doth mock. The meat it feeds on.” It takes positive emotions such as friendship, love and turns them feelings into ones of bitterness and resentment. Jealousy has at times strained my friendships, relationships and generally made me a not very fun person to be around. It seems remarkable that I am only now learning how to manage it.

Managing jealousy involves recognising that it is a problem that you need to deal with, not something other people need to make accommodations for. Jealousy comes with a sense of entitlement. Why has my friend managed to get this job I rightly deserve? Or what does she see in him, I am definitely the better option?  But in life no-one is entitled to anything, let alone success and people. While the world definitely is not a war of everyman against each other, we do live in a competitive capitalist society with winners and losers. In this context we are all just trying to manage our own problems and find a little happiness, but when push comes to shove no-one needs to risk assess your insecurity when trying to get nice things.

That’s all jealousy is really, a symptom of insecurity. When you are happy with yourself the ambition and romantic interests, they all become less intense because less is stake. Getting the promotion, going on that date becomes less important because it is not the difference between happiness and frustration. Generally when you learn to accept your own strengths and flaws less pressure is applied to things you do not have control over. And that is good thing because win or lose you are still doing OK. Everything else becomes a bonus.

I feel like it has taken me a long time to learn these basic lessons, but most of them have come through experience and reflection. Of course for our generation there are also lots of other things at play. Social media at times is less about connecting everyone and more a personal PR platform people use to justify their existence. It makes everything more intense. So if I can summarise my thoughts on jealousy it is just that you need to accept that 99% of life you don’t have control of and that you need to love yourself – it is after all the start of a livelong romance.

Any thoughts on jealousy? Think this blog has become boring and pretentious now I can’t talk about politics? Let me know in the comments… 

Reinventing the sickle

 

It is never too late in life to reinvent yourself, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. Recently I made a mental pact to become less political not because I think I am wrong, but rather because living for the Left hasn’t made me happy. But reinventing yourself doesn’t mean you get to escape yourself and true to form I started day one of my new life as Nick Byard: defined by other things by telling new friends about the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, getting drunk and singing the Red Flag.

The trouble with trying to think differently is how much do you leave out? The old things you cared about are still important and part who you are, but at what point does having a healthy relationship with the person you were become repeating old thinking patterns and habits? These are questions touched upon by Arthur Koestler’s Arrival and Departure in which his protagonist, Peter Slavek, discovers his political idealism to be merely a symptom of a personal psychological trauma yet chooses to continue to fight the good fight anyway because without it his life has no meaning.

I feel bit like Peter Slavek right now. Unlike Peter I’m not a victim of childhood trauma and I definitely haven’t been tortured by Nazis (although the way things are going I wouldn’t rule it out just yet). But now God is dead I am struggling to find meaning and risk repeating old habits and similar thinking patterns. Perhaps this is a good thing. The world as it is needs more ideological egotists who put political causes above their own happiness. More than this, talking and thinking progressive politics is something that I’m good at. Thanks to my efforts I like to think that more people have a positive view of the Left and an idea about what the hell dialectics is. But the whole point of trying to reinvent yourself is giving enough space to experience and get good at other things.

So for the meantime I’m sacrificing certainty, but hopefully in its place will come opportunity.

On the future of this blog

You may be wondering right now where all the blog posts are. What was a thirty article strong blog is now only three or so articles. Don’t worried I haven’t had my data stolen or anything like that. I’m pretty sure date thieves don’t go after publicly available blog articles anyway. Basically the long and shorty of it is that I have a new job which I need to be politically neutral for so I thought it would probably be a good idea not to have my political opinions freely available on the internet. This is now going to be a non-political blog. Which is crazy because I’m not sure if can write about anything else.  So writing wise I’m out of my comfort zone. But that is compensated by the fact in many other ways I’m more comfortable and confident than ever.

22.03.17

Today London was attacked and once again it becomes clear that there are people in this world who are violent, cynical and cruel. Four people have died. Twenty have been injured. It is hard not to feel, hopeless, powerless and insecure. I was in London today, no-where near the attack thankfully but it is a strange feeling. Equally worrying is the thought that already political strategists are working out ways to frame this event. Finding ways to make it fit a narrative.

The facts are still coming out, but it is starting to look like the London attack is connected with ISIS. There is going to be a lot of stuff telling us that this attack proves Islam is incompatible with Western values. Britain First activists are probably putting an infographic together right now. The nationalists are drafting their press release. We are going to hear that multiculturalism has failed and that we need to respond to hate with anger and fear.

Hate and fear are powerful emotions because in the face of terror we as individuals are more or less powerless. We’re not policemen. We’re not first aiders or MI5 agents. We definitely don’t have power over geopolitics. However where we do have power is in how we react to situations. I am naive, but I think the most powerful way react to terror is to show empathy.

The man who carried out today’s attack was a human being. He had a mum. But someone twisted this man and made him care more about ideas than people. Can you imagine a lonelier, more pathetic or nihilistic kind of existence? The kind of a life that you are prepared to give up for an ideological fantasy. Where you are so consumed by hate that you are prepared kill indiscriminate strangers. This man is a sad figure, a pathetic figure and we should pity him.

Now it is easy for me to preach. I wasn’t personally affected by this attack. But I live in this country and I live in this world. Political forces will use this attack to spread their ideas and spread their hate. Our power in the face of terror is to choose how we respond. If we find the strength to show empathy, find a way to see those who disagree with us and even those trying to kill us as human beings, I think we can get through this. Liberal, loving, multicultural London will carry on.

Quitting = Failing?

This is lovely and it is real.

Life Powered by Tea

TL;DR? Well take this away with you – quitting something that makes you unhappy is brave; don’t be a coward and just do it. Life will get better.

I’ve always lived by the mantra: “If something makes you happy, do it; if it doesn’t, don’t.” I repeat it over and over to people. I never thought I’d deviate from that path, until I found myself very, very unhappy and couldn’t help but sit and wonder ‘how did I get here?’

I had to stop for a second and take a think about why exactly I was so unhappy.

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On paper, my job was ideal and it should have made me glow with joy every day, but it didn’t – it was quite the adverse effect. It took a lot of bravery at first to admit that to myself, but when I realised that I was so very unhappy…

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A Fish Called Byard

At my dentists they leave the radio on high volume. The receptionist claims it is because she loves BBC Radio 2’s blend of 60’s classics but I know better. I get anxious at the dentist, luckily there are lots of things to calm you down. Copies of fashion magazines and Men’s Health are spread across the waiting room. Many years ago they kept a copy of The Reader’s Digest, but that has now gone along with the toys for young children. What has replaced the toys and the Reader’s Digest is a fish, a goldfish to be specific. I watched it while waiting for my filling and the fish looked back at me. The goldfish and I didn’t connect on an emotional level, but we both knew that things weren’t as they seemed.

When I was a pretentious lefty I might have compared the goldfish to false conscious members of the ruled class. Swimming away, bobbing about, eating food and occasionally staring at its reflection. More recently though I’ve decided not to patronise the goldfish, but rather to identifying with it. The dentist’s goldfish is subject to forces beyond its control. It is reliant on power, drainage and dental systems completely beyond its comprehension. The only humans it hangs around with are anxious people, who are either in or about to be in great pain.  It is easy to see why I and the goldfish have a lot in common.

Whether or not I and the goldfish are kindred spirits I do have a small advantage over it. I know the goldfish’s purpose in life: it is to calm me down and provide decoration to the dentist’s waiting room. Admittedly these ideas are beyond the fish’s conception. There would be no point trying to explain room layout or nervousness to a goldfish after all. So the obvious conclusion to draw from the situation of the goldfish is nihilism. If the goldfish’s purpose is beyond its conception then why would my life purpose be any different? Me and the goldfish already have a lot in common so why not meaninglessness? The difference between me and the goldfish is agency. While like the goldfish I have no power to conceive life outside my own fish bowl, I do have the power to organise it. Unlike the goldfish we can choose whether to pollute our environment. We can choose how we distribute the fish food.

The danger lies in conflating political decisions about how we organise the fish bowl with our personal struggle for deeper meaning. We risk suspending our conscience and abandoning our humanity in order to play an ideological role. I am his agent God will forgive me or I am just am servant of the dialectic of history. But danger lies not just in surrendering to ideologies about how we change the world, but also in surrendering to the conventional wisdom about how it is. In a world where ideas and political consensus’s are changing, pragmatism really is just another false god. Another word for accepting the limits of the neoliberal project. Dominant systems of ideas change, sometimes things aren’t as they seem. I know that BBC Radio 2 is on high volume in order to hide the sound of dental drilling.

 

Gold fish

When Things Don’t Work Out

It is true that we go into things with good intentions but ultimately find ourselves fighting fires and dealing with unintended consequences. Relationships fail, jobs don’t work out, friends let you down. When things don’t work out it is tempting to indulge crazy escape schemes or sip from bitterness’s seductive cup.  However life is about taking risks, so when those risks don’t work out all you can really do is brush yourself off and leap back in.

I left a job I enjoyed on Friday, after only two months. In the name of having some professionalism and I’d rather not go into the reasons here, but quite frankly I feel terrified right now. This was supposed to be the dream job. The start of a great new career and there was no back up plan. I could be unemployed for a week, month or a year.

Despite my left wing values, there is something deep inside of me that says unemployment is something to be ashamed of.  I simply can’t imagine what I will say to strangers now when they ask that terrible question: what is it you do? I dread explaining to friends why I left my job. Part of me feels like being unemployed means I don’t deserve nice things. I don’t deserve to go on holiday, have a girlfriend or even do anything that costs money because I’m not contributing.

I feel truly lost. Every other chapter of my life was framed around supporting a great cause. When I was 16 I was building myself up to become a Vicar, promote Christianity and bring society back to the values that made it so successful in times past.  At university I supplanted Christian evangelisms for a kind of semi self-conscious Leninism. Since university this has mellowed out slightly but not by much. I exhausted myself campaigning for the Labour Party in 2015. I found myself facing daily arguments and confrontations for openly backing Corbyn in an office of card carrying, centre left, neoliberals.

While I still feel an affinity for utopian politics, Trade Unions and Jeremy Corbyn, this is perhaps no longer the focus of my life. The kind of manic, obsessive drive to learn more left wing theory, knock doors and argue with people about what philosophers our society should be built upon is now faded. It could just be a temporary setback, a loss of confidence maybe. But I think it might be a turning point. The life of active socialist is exhausting. There is something exciting about stepping into the unknown with no ideological compass, no faith, but a boatload of boatload of barely repressed cynicism to guide you.

Can Men be Feminists and am I one of them?

 

A few years ago me and a group of my guy mates went on a big night out. Lad culture was all pervasive and despite being thoughtful and shy, I used make sexist jokes about “pulling sluts,” suggesting the word was ok because it was being used ironically. Now of course I was wrong and part of me knew this because I wouldn’t have dreamed of making the same conversation in different company, but I was also young, frustrated and confused.  The group mentality of a geeky lad pack offered a kind of camaraderie, security and comfort blanket for those failed chat up lines.

At the time I really fancied friend of mine. Naturally we’d met up to go clubbing, hitting every bar possible along the way. It had been a good night by all accounts, but come half 12 my friend had drunken a lot and come close to passing out so I opted to walk her home. It wasn’t a long journey, but she needed support walking and was leaning a lot on me heavily. It was difficult getting her home. Really drunk people don’t balance well, they sway side to side. Luckily I ran into an acquaintance that helped me carry my drunken friend to her street. However before leaving me to help my friend into her home she warned me: Nick do not to take advantage of this situation.

I found the suggestion of me have bad motives a little frustrating. In my head I was doing a good thing and I went home straight after letting my friend into her house. However on reflection the concern of my acquaintance was right. Lots of women get assaulted at university and the perpetrators are often their friends. In trying to get my friend out of a venerable position, I’d put her in a different kind of venerability where I was the risk. When I think back on that night, I feel this tinge of worry. Is there a chance I might have behaved differently?

Men are born into a society in transition hung over from hundreds of years of sexist ideology. We benefit from inherited privilege and are told it is the natural order of things. This ideological hangover of inherent sexism affects our thinking patterns, habits and sense of humour. Feminism may be a movement about redistributing cultural and political power away from patriarchal institutions but it is also about personal development. Recognising our own inherit sexism is just the first step but acknowledging this makes it difficult for men to claim to be feminists in our daily lives. On that night I though I was a saint for walking my friend home, but actually being a good friend and not taking advantage of people when they are drunk is the bear minimum in life. Being a feminist about changing your attitude and unlearning inherited prejudice.

So I’m not a male feminist. This is not what a feminist looks like. I’m still culturally hung over from patriarchy, I still subconsciously treat women differently to men and at times my habits and attitudes are probably part of the ideological net holding back progress. But I’m confident that if I’m not a feminist I’m also not an asshole and am doing my best to be self-reflective.  A male feminist isn’t something I am, it is something I’m trying to be. Unless you (reader) are some alt right, men’s rights person in which case: I am a feminist, smash the patriarchy.