Meet It Is I Set It Down


I’m not trying to be Arty or anything. It’s just that the phrase has been bouncing around in my head for a few days and that’s usually a signal that there might be a blog post in it. 

‘Not sure yet, let’s type a while and see what happens.

The words are spoken by The Prince of Denmark in that play and, no, really, I’m not trying to be Arty. It’s just that some of this stuff was caressed into us way back in school and then it never fully goes away. I think everybody got a little Shakespeare in their time and mine just happened to be Hamlet. In one scene, Hamlet has a deep thought and decides it’s something that he should scribble in his little notebook so that he doesn’t ever forget it. He says, “My tables—meet it is I set it down.”

That deep thought that Hamlet wanted to get safety noted down was pretty different to my own one. Because that’s what happened this week. I had a thought and said to myself, “better write that one down, motherfucker”. And then I thought how that thought hadn’t been terrible eloquently expressed in my head and that’s when Hamlet jumped in there for the old long-ago with all his ‘meet’ and ‘tables’ stuff.

In fact, Hamlet’s thought is an oft-repeated one (there I go again, oft-repeated, ‘must be something in the corn flakes). He concluded, “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” and I can’t disagree with him on that one. Most of the ‘villains’ that I may have happened upon have tended towards smiles. So well done Hamlet (and Shakespeare) for setting it down. Chalk one up to you.

My own deep thought is a lot more obvious and, I’d bet, has been thought by most people at some point or another or, as is even more likely, at regular intervals throughout their lives.

I was walking to the supermarket ‘cos it was too nice a day to drive and I had some time. It has been freezing the night before and it was set to do it again that night and this day-in-between was crystal clear and sharply focused. The trees were completely bare and jagged against the almost impossibly blue sky and the air was sharp and clean. Everything seemed a little heightened and super-defined. Even the take-out bag that the kid walking past was carrying. The tangy smell of the vinegar was such that I could practically taste the chips inside.

The day was beautiful and the evening stretched pleasantly ahead and, with some ever-present exceptions, things were okay with the world.

“These are the good times.”

That’s what I thought.

“These are the good times.”

And then I thought, “’Better write that one down, motherfucker,” or words to that effect, which were quickly amended to something a little more presentable.

So here I am now, writing it down.

There’s a point to my writing it down too. At least I think there is. It’s not that I’ll need reminding of this next week or possibly even next year. I’m a ‘Glass Half Full’ kind of a guy so I am often aware that things are way, way better than they could be or maybe even should be. I don’t really need telling.

Of course, things are not perfect. Things are never-ever perfect. When Dickens wrote about it being the Best of Times and the Worst of Times, all at the same time, I think he could have been writing about a lot of our times. We all, nearly always, have some shit mixed in with the sugar. I sometimes think it might be a little test as to whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. If you were to say the words, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to yourself, in your head, how do you then think about those times? For me, I overridingly think about how they were the best of times, because I’m the ‘glass-half-full’ guy. I wonder, do other people tend to focus on the fact that it was the worst of times and does that make them ‘glass-half-empty’ people? I don’t know and, anyway, I digress.

This thought that I had, while just walking along, I felt it was meet that I set it down. I don’t need to be reminded of it anytime soon and, let’s face it, when the good times are over and my legs or my brain are gone slow and fuzzy, I probably won’t need reminding of it then either. That would be kind of rubbing it in a bit, “Hey, they were the good times!” “Yeah, cheers mate.”

What I will need though, in years to come, when legs and brain are failed, is for someone to wave this piece of writing in my face and say, “look, look at this.”

And if I can, I will look at it, particularly this paragraph, and I will know that, not only were those the good times, but that I knew they were the good times.

“There’s the rub”, as Hamlet says elsewhere (that stuff never goes away), I may be well aware in the future these were the good times. Good times are far easier to see in retrospect than when you are in them. But I may not remember that I knew it at the time too.

I think it would be good to know that: even though the world was frenetically busy and work and responsibility seemed to stand in the way of the good times, in fact, they were a key part of the good times.

And I knew that.

On some random Saturday in deepest winter, I looked around and I said to myself, “these are the good times.” I knew that, even when I was right in the middle of them.

You might print this off and wave it at me at some time when I can no longer remember this. I think the reminding of it might bring me some comfort. It might do me some small bit of good.

That’s why I feel it is meet that I set it down.

The Exact Opposite of the Wisdom of the Crowd


It used to be a big thing about ten or fifteen years ago; The Wisdom of the Crowd. I don’t pretend to know an awful lot about it. In fact, my main memory of it was when Derren Brown used it as the primary patter in one of his shows.

From memory, and two minutes of Googling, the theory was resurrected by a man called James Surowiecki and was possibly originally put forward by a relative of Charles Darwin in the early 20th Century. 

He observed a ‘Guess the Weight of an Ox’ competition at a local fair where, although the guesses were diverse and highly variable, when all the guesses were added-up and averaged-out, the result was surprisingly accurate. Hence crowds can be wise and average judgment can converge on the correct solution.

I’m a bit like Sting in that old song of his; I don’t subscribe to this point of view. More than that, I’m not sure how anyone can, in this world we live in.

For me, crowds are not wise. In fact, crowds are bloody stupid.

Most of the crowds I see are on the news. The crowds who voted Trump in. The crowds who voted for Brexit. The crowds I see on Social Media present themselves if I am misguided enough to leave the merry cohort of people I read and talk-to and click on one of Twitter’s ‘Trending Topics’. ‘World War 3 is here’, they bleat, winding each other up to exploding point. ‘The World is Ending. ‘The Foreign Invader Will Overrun Us’. The 'crowd' that is plain to see anywhere online is a fearful, twitchy mass that presents as neither wise nor kind.

In fairness to the theory, its success did seem to rely on situations where the members of the crowd were capable of independent thought and were not prone to being influenced by each other’s decisions. Quoting for some online thing that I happened upon, “Groups were tending towards a consensus, to the detriment of accuracy.”

So, the theory was never going to work online at that rate. But who cares anyway? Screw the theory. That’s the point, right there. Groups tend towards a consensus. And we join the groups that give us the consensus that we feel we want and need. How can there possibly be any wisdom in that?

And let’s now forget it works for the so-called ‘good opinions’ as well as for the bad. All us jolly folk, who reckon we have nice positive views, we all gather in the same places and tell each other all of our good things. And we fool ourselves into thinking we are changing anything or impacting on anything when, patently, we are doing nothing of the kind. We are in our safe room, muttering to each other, while others are in the room next door, muttering their less-palatable truths.

The trouble is all this stuff, which is the exact opposite of ‘The Wisdom of Crowd’ is viral and pervasive. When a bunch of people start shouting about World War Three because they fear it, then more join in and shout it too. Not because they know something useful to add to the story. Just because many others are saying it and now, they should say it to so they can remain part of the cohort, whatever the cohort may be.

The further trouble, unlikely but somehow true, is that when something incorrect is said over and over and over again, it somehow starts to gain credence simply by the force of its repetition. There is a danger than the not-so-wise crowd might tweet themselves a little closer to something terrible simply by misguidedly going on and on and on about it without any modicum of genuine knowledge or insight.

There are terrible things afoot in the world. We must not be mistaken about this. But the answer is not to hop maniacally from the current hot stone to the next, never stopping to think. Better, I think, to calm the fuck down and try to make things a bit better at the level on which we can effectively operate. There’s not much point in constantly panicking at some global level when the bins need taking out.

Crowds may be wise or they may be stupid, depending on where you sit. All I know is I’m trying to keep clear of them. Regardless of whether they seem to spout pointless drivel or actual gospel truth, I’m out.

If you’re looking for me, you won’t find me in the latest trending topic on Social Media or, heaven help us, on the News. I’ll be down here trying to figure it out for myself as best I can.

Using the limited wisdom of the Solitary Man.

Resolution


The first one of these in January is the hardest one to do.

Much as I might like to pretend that it’s just another week to write a blog post, it isn’t. It’s the start of a new year. 52 new blog posts, with not a single solitary clue what even one of them will be about.

It would be so easy this morning to write nothing, to have a week off. I’ll do one next week. The number at the end of the year will still creep into the forties, even if I do nothing this week. 

Nobody’s out there waiting for this shit. Have some Corn Flakes, leave it out, start again on the 12th.

It’s pretty much the same thing on this day every year. But every January up until now, I’ve dragged my carcass to my desk and pressed the ‘On’ button and set to it.

So here I am. Happy New Year, one and all!

I don’t make New Year resolutions, not really. Truth be told, I don’t really know what a resolution is. But, like everyone, I recognize that there are things I could try to do a little bit better in 2020. My list will be much the same as your list, I’ll warrant. I could stand to lose a few pounds; some additional modicum of exercise would not go amiss. These two are not unrelated and, also, I am seriously understating the need for them.

As I said, you’ll probably have much the same aspirations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you’re overweight or out of condition or anything. Hey, I hardly know you. I’m just saying we’re all human and, like it or not, we all have a lot of stuff in common.

I have one other aspiration. I can’t call it a resolution because, as I already said, I don’t really know what that means. It’s just something I’d like to do better. I’m not sure I will.

It’s nothing much and it's possibly not one of yours. I’d like to write more. That’s all. I’d really like that. I’m not looking for more time to write or anything complicated like that. I’ve got some time I can use; I just need to use it more.

Some people reading this might say, “Look at him, wanting to write more. He writes plenty.” I write a bit, sure, but this New Year contemplation has served to show me that what I do is not enough. It might be enough for you or for Mrs. Whatsername down the road but it’s not enough for me. It’s a very simple equation. I can be very happy and content when I’m writing, and I can be a little closer to the opposite of that when I don’t. Ergo, I should do more and be happier.

It’s kind of a no-brainer.

But, still, it’s also kind of hard to do. Have I become lazy? I don’t always fill my writing time with writing like I used to do. I can sit and watch telly or fall asleep in front of the fire when I could just as easily be sitting here, tapping away, making myself happier.

Why do that?

What if that wasn’t a rhetorical question? What if I tried to address it, head on? Why do I toast my feet at the fire and snooze when I could be doing so much better?

Truth be told, I think it’s a confidence thing.

And don’t get me wrong. This post is by no means a cry for compliments and plaudits and such. My relationship with my writing is such that nobody can really impact it except me. By that I mean, you can tell me that I’m great until the cows come home and it won’t make a blind bit of difference. I have to be able to tell myself I’m great for it to count. And, you know, sometimes I just can’t manage that.

In my head, always and forever, I’m a Patzer. As a one-time chess player, it’s a word that fits me perfectly in my head. In case you don’t know it, it’s a term describing a poor chess player. If you look it up, that’s the definition you will find. But I actually think it’s more subtle than just that and the definition doesn't really cover that subtlety. Well, it does a bit. Some definitions remark that the term is 'relative' and that, for me is the key. You see, a Patzer is not simply a poor chess player. It’s a poor chess player relative to someone who is pretty-darned good. And that’s me to a tee. I’m probably a better writer than you are, and you, and you. But if you’re in any way pretty-darned good, then I’m probably not as good as you.

I’m a Patzer.

Mostly, I’m comfortable with that. I can operate on that plateau with some level of success and satisfaction. But when the doubt-bugs come to call, as they sometimes will, the word Patzer can appear to be writ larger across your forehead in the mirror than it usually is and that easy confidence in your mid-level place in the world can falter a bit.

And, again, please don’t get me wrong. I have a considerable writing ego and when it’s inflated, it works just fine. I have no problem seeing myself as quite a good writer when I’m on my game. No problemo. But we can’t all be on our game all the time and getting back on that game requires something that is not easy to corral.

Resolution. I must have more resolution in order to write more, even if I’m consistently badgered by a feeling that it’s going nowhere and that it’s not quite good enough.

Resolution to write myself back to a more positive place. The writing will do it, I just need the resolution to do the writing.

Resolution.

So that’s what it means.