Sad Face Emoji Blues

“And some certain significance lurks in all things, else all things are little worth…”

             Herman Melville – Moby Dick

One evening this week, I was having a look at my Twitter while the dinner was evolving. As I was watching, one of my favourite tweeters said something funny and I smiled. Then, as is the way of such things, I thought of something to tweet back, a ‘reply’ as we tend to call it in the trade. So I typed my reply and got on with the dinner, which involved peeling some spuds over the bin and missing the bin with every bit of peel, one of my many life skills.

When I returned to Twitter, there was a reply to my reply. It was from the tweeter who had originally tweeted and it was short and succinct.

This caused me a little concern. I had no intention of making anybody sad with my little reply, least of all this ‘one-of-my-favourite' tweeters. I replied light-heartedly to the effect that I was sorry, that I hadn’t intended to cause any sadness with my reply and I rounded the tweet off with a little in-joke to emphasis the unimportance and silliness of the entire exchange.

Back to dinner, picking up of potato peelings, and dishes.

Later, I checked and saw there was no further reply to my reply. This was not unusual or suggestive of anything. This tweeter has a busy and full life and a twitter feed that reflects this. My reply had finished off our exchange quite acceptably. There was no need for a reply.

All was well.

Except it wasn’t.

Silly me but, for the sake of that one sad face emoji, I was now actually troubled. I’ve been doing this tweeting thing for a long time and one thing I’ve learned is that you hardly ever know exactly what is going on with the people you are swapping your typed words with. People can be hurting or anxious or under pressure or fragile in a myriad of different ways. Sometimes you can’t tell how over-inflated a balloon is until you accidentally burst it.

And it’s kind of ironic (in a non-ironic Alanis Morissette sort of way) that it was an emoji that caused my discomfort because I think emojis were invented partly to defuse such discomfort. I believe they came about as a device to gently add some visual emotional qualification to the cold type face of text communication.

I’m not generally a big wuss but the sad face emoji is something I tend to take seriously. A happy face emoji is just a general non-event, as innocuous as a comma or a full stop. It can mean that you’re happy or amused or it can just mean that you have nothing left to say in this conversation and you are now going to leave on a relative high note. It’s fine. But, for me, a sad face emoji does not have any social or ironic alternative definition to it. For me, it means you are hurt, sad or upset. And if it’s directed at me, it means I may have been the one to have caused that hurt and I can’t entertain that.

You see, I have a thing about hurting people. No, let’s strike that. If you hurt me or my family or if I even see you randomly causing hurt, I could hurt you a bit without too much agonising about it. In fact, I am resolved to intervene in everyday situations where I see people being hurt and I know this will probably eventually result in some more blood-strewn blog post at some future point but so be it. I am no longer comfortable with being one of the bystanders. But I digress. I don’t have a thing about hurting people per se. What I do have is a thing about accidentally hurting people. This is most definitely a thing for me and, I would go so far as to say, it has become one of my defining characteristics. I hate the thought of hurting somebody unintentionally and, if I reckon I may have done so, I may go to extraordinary and even embarrassing ends to try to put that right.

This may explain why, the other evening, sometime around midnight, I was sending a private message to my twitter pal, explaining how I hadn’t intended to cause any modicum of hurt with my flippant reply. The lovely reply I got back completely defused my concern and confirmed for me that, as usual, I was just being a silly git.

But being a silly git won’t stop me from doing it all again next time. If I get wind of the fact that I may have inadvertently caused you some measure of pain, you can expect some embarrassing attempt from me to put it right.

I could explain the genesis of this aspect of my psyche to you but, don’t worry, I won’t. I know exactly where it comes from and I understand it and if you knew it you’d probably understand it too. So don’t judge me too harshly as being just a silly wuss and a sentimental fool. We may be just flesh and blood and water but our characteristics are formed in fire and are not easily re-forged.

I watched a bit of ‘The Circle’ on Channel 4 over the last few weeks. A bunch of people were sent to live in an apartment block and could only interact with each other through social media mechanisms. Text and photos primarily and, of course, emojis. The winner was the one voted most popular by their peers. The winner turned out to be a man pretending to be a woman. A completely false image. But what was telling for me was that, although the person’s image was totally false, the person himself was not. Behind the photographs and the texts and, God help us, the endless emojis, there was a real flesh and blood (and water) person, trying to do the best he could by his online friends. And that shone through.

It’s a point to bear in mind. Behind our online texts and photos and jokes and outrage and declarations, we are all just flesh and blood and water. ‘Such stuff as dreams are made on’, if you will. And through thousands of miles of physical separation and through layers and layers of the very latest technology, we can still often sense those things that are real.

Short Fiction - The Piece of Coal at the Bottom of the Bucket

It may still surprise some people to hear that many things in this world are alive and sentient.

Awareness is not just reserved for things that move and breathe nor for plants that seek the sun and open up gently with the coming of each dawn.

Mountains are alive. Lakes and forests think and feel, though often in much slower and more deliberate ways than we tend to do.

The coal seam, a mile and a quarter below the surface of the earth, was itself a single huge sentient being. Enormous and unimaginably slow, it lived and reacted to the world around it and understood every tiny thing that it did.

The coal seam held something fundamental in common with most of the enormous intelligences that move through this world. It donated a piece of itself to every little part that was ever chipped away from it. Every tiny piece of coal became a slow existence all of its own.

So it was with Rocky.

Rocky was a small piece of coal. Blacker than black and shiny bright beneath his dust. But you know what coal looks like. Imagine coal. Rocky was a piece of that.

He was hacked away from his parent and that hurt like hell and then ached and then faded. Although he missed the whole, he soon came to embrace the displacement and the occasional transportation and the lying-in different places and the proximity to different fellow pieces of coal.

(Of course his name was not Rocky, that would be ridiculous, he had an identifier with which he set himself apart but that actual ‘name’ was derived from the name of the whole and would take so long to say that we would still be here at the turn of the century. So let’s not.)

Life away from the coal face was a roller coaster to Rocky. By his measure, things happened with such dizzying haste. He loved the cacophony, the kaleidoscope, the vivacity of his existence.

Until the coal bucket.

Rocky was rushed away from the whole to a processing plant, through a distribution centre, a bag, a truck, a bunker and finally a bucket, all with mind numbing haste. The entire process took about three years which, to Rocky, was a virtual blink of an eye.

The was a buzz in the bucket. Not a buzz by our standards but a buzz nonetheless. There was a sense that the very purpose of existence was near at hand. This was heightened by the inconceivable rate of turnover of personnel within the bucket. Pieces of coal came and went with alarming velocity. It was hard to keep track. More entrancing still was the demeanour of the coals as they left the bucket. There was a palpable sense of being ‘taken up’, of ‘going home’. It almost radiated from those who left. A sense of fulfilment, long awaited.

But Rocky was at the very bottom of the bucket. He was the first piece of coal ever to be shovelled into the bucket and it seemed that it was his destiny never to come back out again. The shovel would come in and raise his comrades to their glory and it would often come to a place where there was only Rocky and one or two others left, there in the bottom. At those times, his anticipation, such as it was, was huge. His time had come, he was next. But then the bucket would get refilled with more and more comrades and he would once again be right at the back of the line. The line that never ended.

You would think that Rocky would have the patience for this wait but it wasn’t like that at all. Perhaps it was the proximity to his fate, his nearness to his defining moment. Perhaps it was just so long in coming. Whatever it was, the bottom of the coal bucket quickly became hell for Rocky. Every time he thought his time had come, more of his comrades were dropped in and back he went to waiting.

Eventually, Rocky could take it no more and he started to move upward through the bucket. This might sound like the most ludicrous thing you ever heard but it can and does happen. Take a field and clear it of rocks. More rocks will come up. Things can move. It takes time and it is not at all easy but, over time, much time, things can indeed move.

Rocky willed himself upward. His progress was dependent on the movement of his comrades within the container as they first came and then went. It was hard. To his comrades, he became a legend. The lost one at the end of the line, who could stand it no more. To some, he was a threat. Somebody would have to take his place at the bottom if he was not there and nobody wanted that. There were disputes and blockings and friction and slow fights. But Rocky progressed. He moved from the bottom to second from the bottom.

And that was enough.

One day, the shovel came deep in for its last load before refilling and Rocky was on it. He nearly wasn’t. He nearly slipped off but he held on and held on.

The shovel lifted him and swung him and he knew this was it. This was his destiny. The centuries of pressure and waiting and dark had been for this.

The shovel jerked and he flew. With his comrades he flew.

His tiny heart soared.

And you know the rest.

Keeping the Beard

I’ve had this odd habit for the part few years but, like Mick Jagger said, it’s all over now.

What I used to do was to have a shave and then not have a shave again for two weeks or more. I was perpetually in a state of growing a beard. I was only ever really clean shaven for one day out of fourteen. The subsequent days were a journey towards a bristly goal that, once achieved, was instantly ripped off again.

No longer.

It all became too much. People were always saying things like, “Ohh, you’re growing a beard,” or “’Beard suits you,” or “Ohh, the beard is gone, what happened?” It also became, in my head, a sort of large advertising sign for how little attention I give to myself in general.

It was also incredibly hard on razor blades which, as you may know, are not cheap.

So I bought one of those beard trimmer things. Not a very expensive one but it looks the part and seems to do the trick.

Time flies so I think I’ve had it for about three months now, even though it only feels like a fortnight. I found the ideal setting for me is three-and-a-half. This reduces my beard down to a sort of an ‘Alan Sugar’ stubble which I can then let grow for ten days or so before buzzing it back down again. It’s effectively the same routine as before without the actual visual shock of the shaving.

I quite like it. I like the buzzing beard removal bit. I like the little wads of beard hair that gets bunged up in the machine and have to be tipped out into the bin. I think I might miss the shaving a little bit, over time. There was something about uncovering your old face from beneath the undergrowth from time to time and there was also an undeniable feeling, after a shave, that your face was well and truly clean. But it’s the convenience of this other option and, let’s face it, a more consistent visual appearance for me rather than the ‘on again, off again’ shenanigans of the past few years.

One aspect of the beard thing is that it makes me look older. When clean shaven, I seem to be able to pass for being a couple of years younger than I am. It’s all this clean living, madam. But with the beard comes a lot of grey. Like a venerable black Labrador, my whiskers are grey and getting greyer by the day. I don’t mind that at all. I’ve been around for a few years now and it pleases me that my face might reflect that. Bring it on, Father Time, I’m ready for you.

So now I guess I am a bearded guy. I bet that, in my mind, I will continue to think of myself as a non-bearded guy. That’s what happened with the glasses. I got glasses about eighteen years ago and have been wearing them constantly ever since (not the same ones, they change). But, in my mind, I am not a person who wears glasses, I never have been. This goes so far that I sometimes call other drivers ‘four-eyes’ to myself if they are annoying me (and if they wear glasses) quite forgetting that I, too, am a fully paid up member of that club.

I guess I'll just have to get used to it. When someone in a room says, "who's that fella over there? The one with the beard and the glasses?" I'll just have to remind myself that they could be talking about me.

Of course this all could change. I have a wedding coming up where I’ll be doing the whole 'black tie' thing. Will my resolve fail me? Will I pick up the old blade and have at it once again?

Who knows? 

If I do, I can always grow it back.