Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Men From The Boys

Emma Watson is getting a lot of attention this week, and so she should. It isn't just that she's spoken out about feminism at the UN, but more to do with the style in which she did it. It was a virtuoso performance, full of humanity and common sense and devoid of the aggression that has so often blighted what has always been a worthy cause. Over the centuries women have been wronged by men. Horribly so. And men now have to recognise this and start acting like, well, frankly real men. And let's be blunt, there's a shortage of real men out there. You know, males who are self aware and capable of communicating and acting in ways that empower those around them rather than corrode. And believe it or not that last observation was gender neutral, because men have also been busy wronging other men. Many seem blighted by a form of insecurity that restricts them from being fully featured. By this I mean able to be strong and vulnerable and true to themselves as opposed to constantly seeking to conform to some vague stereotype. We've allowed ourselves to become conformist and bland, beholden to the macho bullshit that frankly the world could do without. Strength, and I mean real strength is about presence of mind, emotional intelligence. Dare I say it, about emotional availability. This is nothing to do with the idea of New Man, who to me seems frankly dour and insipid. No, I mean men able to bring all their positive qualities to bare on a world that has so often experienced only the worst. How much pointless violence, how much vengeful thirst have we been the cause of? How often have we forsaken reason for brute force? This isn't to say we cannot be masculine, and if you think that then you're missing the point, which is just to suggest that we are capable of so much more if we'd just allow ourselves to be vulnerable sometimes. If we'd allow our compassion to outweigh brute instinct. Men at our best are just bloody brilliant. Funny, hard working, creative, steadfast, and more. Yet we've denied ourselves access to our better selves, and in the process ridden roughshod over the opposite gender. Time to cut that out guys. Time to let women be amazing and to quit being threatened by that. As a man with two daughters and a wife whom I regard as my Queen I make no apology for wanting to see more women in the world empowered. We will all be the richer for it, which is why I encourage you all to sign up to the #HeforShe campaign, which Emma Watson so majestically bought to the attention of the United Nations last week. It's about mutual empowerment, shared self actualisation, about bringing the best of us to the party and seeing where together we roam. Be more, be real, and empower others to do similar. Do we not owe ourselves this?

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Riding The Wave

When I abandoned religious belief I embarked upon something of a quest to figure out how the world really was. I wanted answers, a narrative, and some additional understanding as to how I had come to get things so wrong. It's probably fair to say that I launched myself into this project with equal zeal as I had when I first came to faith at the age of 24. To know me is to know someone who doesn't do half measures. I'm an in for a penny, in for a pound kind of guy. Passionate, often zealous in my convictions, and I go full pelt. It's just who I am, how I'm wired. Or rather, it's how I formerly was. Thing is I've come to realise that the trouble with going full pelt is that it's a bit like excess speed. Sure, you might pass milestones a bit quicker, but the view along the way can get blurred. So I reached a point where I had to let the screaming locomotive otherwise known as my brain slow down, allow it to decelerate to a speed that actually enabled me to enjoy the journey. And let's face it the journey is a one way ticket; we are careening towards a terminus and none of us know the day or the hour. So then, what to do in the bit beforehand? Well, taking into account the fact that I appear to be a slow learner I just kind of decided that I wanted to enjoy the ride. And like most journeys there's a balancing act to be struck. Too slow and boredom sets in, too fast and you miss a lot of good stuff. So for me I'm into pacing it now. I want to have have fun, be authentic, and play some small part in making the lives of others better. I have a job that enables me to do that, and days like today really ram this home. Whether I'm dealing with a victim of domestic violence, a kidnap victim, or a confused elderly person I'm acutely aware that if I function to capacity I get to play a teeny part in making a persons bad day a little better. And when I'm not at work the same principle applies. Occasionally I can be quite amusing to be around. Ok, so mostly annoying, but amusing too. I can make you laugh, I can prompt you to think, and I do appear to have a special ability to coax people out of their shell. There's no window dressing, no veil to pull back. It's just me, just Rob. No agenda. Well actually, I guess we all have something of an agenda, so if pressed I simply say that I want to make each hour, each minute interesting. I want to experience the thrill of being alive, to treasure what I have even on the tough days, aware that the clock ticks callously on. This minute, these seconds, by the time you've finished this sentence they'll have gone forever. We're onto the next thing, in constant flux, caught upon the tidal flow of existence.
At the end of day I want to flourish and to enable others for flourish, too. I have no desire to seek eternal salvation because I do not think that there's a saviour out there. I think it's us, just you and I swimming in the oceans of existence. So like Doreen from Finding Nemo I'm going to just keep on swimming. Just keep on swimming, exploring the coral, the denizens, and trying to squeeze as much living as I can into whatever time my genetic code allows. I do not mourn eternity, nor find myself angst ridden because I lack a personal faith.
I am. I am now. This is enough for me. And I am grateful that I got the chance to ride these waves at all.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Checking In

I've probably changed a bit in the last year or so. More relaxed, less interested in those big questions that kept me awake for more years than I care to remember. It's too easy to succumb to the flow of other people's opinions and I just needed to figure out what belonged to me versus that which I'd filched from elsewhere. In a sense, I wanted to take time to figure out where the world ended and I began. Now I guess these lines are blurred for all of us, but I've settled on a few simple principles that appear by and large to work. For starters I've succeeded in thinking less, analysing less, which has just given me more mental bandwidth to focus on positives. I wanted to be an engaging and attentive husband, an entertaining and available father. And the free time I have I want to spend enjoying the natural world, the simple joys of good food, and exploring the geek side to my nature that loves movies, technology, innovation. I'm not out to conquer but I am out to flourish, and to enable those around me to do likewise. Professionally, I'm just turning up and doing my best to serve the public, increasingly aware that my employees are sliding ever more quickly into a quagmire of denial and corporate incompetence. It's an odd thing to see smart people refusing to listen to reason and often brute facts. It is also a little demoralising, but I console myself with the knowledge that I'm really darn good at what I do, and that I have a certain ability to get alongside people under pressure and to steady them somewhat. For those of you who've followed my blog for the last three years and enjoyed my rants against religion I have to warn you that my angry days are behind me. I choose not engage with the whole sideshow, although I would admit that the latest bunch of bearded goons from IS do occasionally make my nostrils flare. They of course are perfectly designed for failure, and the only real question is how much harm they cause before 21st century weaponry comes to a desert near them in the not too distance future to settle the matter.
Yeah I know, I'm leaping from topic to topic like a cat on a hot tin roof, and there's no depth to any of it. This blog was always meant to be intellectual Kleenex, effective and disposable. To that end mission accomplished. If you want depth take a philosophy class or read Winnie The Poo.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Does My Bum Look Big In This?

The question that no sane mane would ever ask. Or so goes the myth. Thing is, if you do happen to have an arse the size of a small African country wouldn’t you rather know? Or is denial preferable? You see I’m a big fan of honest communication, even though I’m only too aware that this will sometimes cause others pain or disappointment. In fact, spend long enough around me, well actually no more than 30 seconds then I can more or less promise to say or do something that will get your goat. Sorry people, but what I lack in airs and graces I more than make up for in genuineness. So whether you’ve an arse like a bouncy castle or an attitude that smacks of hypocrisy, double standard, or just plain nonsense then I think I owe it to you to be straight. For the record I can do sensitive, with sufficient written notice, but I’m not one for treading on eggshells nor patronising you. Why would I do that? More to the point why would you want me to do that? I don’t get it. Anyway, the point for me is just to ask how honest do we want our interactions to be? If you have a fat arse then perhaps you have to decide whether you’re comfortable with that. Or if there’s other issues you have been blind to, or perhaps just genuinely unaware of then isn’t it better that somebody at least ventures an opinion? I do have one last bitch fest to share, and this is my loathing of that particular brand of human best described as the Ostrich. You know what I mean, that poor soul who cannot face those tough encounters, who’d rather bury their head and see if it all goes away. Sorry, but I’m contemptuous of this position. Its cowardice, plain and simple. It merits no respect, and I for one don’t indulge or pander to it. Truth is, cowards come in all shapes and sizes, but over time you will figure out who falls into this category.
I know what you must be thinking. What side of bed did Rob get out of today? Well it’s the same side as always. It’s just today I feel like bleating about it. I guess I just like honesty and directness. I like to know where I stand. And I warm to those capable of handling that.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The People Too Afraid To Be Themselves.

There is a certain type of person who, for whatever reason, lives in the shadow of what other people think. Often it seems this incarceration is a self imposed one, borne of lack of confidence, fear of rejection, fear of admitting to themselves what they are. Of all the things we inflict upon ourselves this saddens me more than most, purely because it doesn't need to be this way. What makes us think that the opinions of others carry such weight? Why are we so pliable, so easily imposed upon? I've looked at this from many angles, and I've lived it, and only when you emerge into the bright blue skies of self determination can a person look back and see just how much cloud had gathered above.
Who are you? Who the fuck are you? Are you even close to knowing?
I can speak only from experience, but the day I shed myself of other peoples expectations was the first day that the real me emerged from my self imposed darkness. Beyond that you find that a process begins, a gradual extrication from a weight we never needed to carry in the first place. I know so many people who live lives of quiet fear, afraid of rejection, of not being accepted, and it honestly breaks my heart. Anxiety can suck the marrow from a person, reducing them to a husk, unable to function anywhere close to their full potential. And doesn't society do a grand job of keeping this ridiculous status quo? Oh the should's, the ought's, the thou shalt or shalt not. What a never ending fart this whole lunacy emits.
If this resonates with you, if there's a part of you in chains of your own making, would you do something for me? Actually, do something for yourself. Simply ask if this is how you always want to be? And if it isn't ask yourself why you're putting up with it now? To the best of my knowledge this is the one life we know we have, so why not at least commit to spending it as the person you want to be? Clearly if the person you want to be is a gun toting serial killer you may want to consider your options, but if you're an otherwise rational person you might free yourself up a bit, grow a bit, and take a few baby steps towards being a more authentic you. Frankly, if you choose not to, or if none of this makes sense then you're probably already down the road. This piece is a call to arms to those nervously shuffling in the shadows, those harbouring desires to be more than they are. Freedom is a wonderful thing. Self determination is a wonderful thing. But you need to have the courage to claim it, and that may involve disappointing a person or two along the way. I'm just saying that you owe it to yourself to make the best of this day and the days to come. Otherwise a time may come when you'll look back and regret the things you've never done. Your choice, I suppose, but from experience I've found that if I'm going to regret anything I'd rather it be the things I did do rather than those I did not. At least you get the answers then, and at least you get to dance to a tune you configured for yourself.

Friday, 30 May 2014

It Isn't Yours To Keep.

Time for you to do some work. I need you to cast your mind to a time, a moment when you were at one with the universe. When everything slipped into place, when it couldn't have gone any better. Perhaps it was with someone special? Or somewhere special? Doesn't matter. You'll know what I'm talking about.
You there yet? Don't rush this, spare the time to reflect and recall what made it what it was. We probably all agree that these events are relatively rare; we spend so much of our lives dancing to the tune of others. But when they happen, when it all clicks it evokes a feeling, a sense of being alive that doesn't occur at any other time. Now I'm having one of these episodes; or one of those weeks to be precise. I'm in the Lake District. Our days have been perfect. They haven't missed a beat. Joy and I are as into each other as we've ever been, which isn't bad after 16 years. And the girls; oh those girls have been a delight from dusk until dawn. The natural world is astonishing around us, whilst our home feels like, well, actually our home. We've climbed mountains, explored forests, walked besides lakes and through meadows and alongside rivers that look like they belong in Middle Earth. So it's been idyllic, but it's nearly done. By the time many of you read this we will be homeward bound, normality hurtling towards us like the unstoppable force it is. But that's ok, because we've had this time, these moments, and my soul is warmed. But now to the point of this thing; I'm so aware that when these transient wonders present themselves they need to be enjoyed as the precious gems they are. Handled, appreciated, but then permitted to leave without begrudging their departure. More than that, never, and I mean never try to recapture a moment that has passed. Nor a feeling, or a time. Because time is a thief and it will not, cannot return what it has claimed from you. So none of us should hanker after that which has gone, that which can never be revisited. Imagine if you will as living your life in the glow of a slowly moving torch, the light illuminating only the present, leaving our history in darkness, and our future a mystery. You, I, we live in this moment. We live in the here and now, and it's in the here and now that we must dwell, and focus our energies and our passions. Try not to mourn what has gone, and try not to live as if your life is going to start at some point in the future, when you've done this thing, that thing. The now is where we get our business done, and where are heads need to be. To do otherwise is to cheat ourselves of the moments we have.
I am a deeply fortunate man. I am loved, I have comfort and some semblance of wealth. I take none of these things for granted and hold all fortune, good or ill, as lightly as I can. But this much I know; tomorrow is a day of possibilities, and I'll never get to live it again, so if it's all the same to you I'll neither linger in the past nor await the future with indolence. That would be a crime, a crime against myself, against the time you have, I have. And I don't want to make that mistake.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Outward, Upward, Deeper, More.

I have a routine at the end of a day, assuming shift work allows. I let the dog out into the rear garden and look up at the stars, assuming they are visible. Tonight as I did so I saw my neighbour who was doing the same, and he directed my attention to a point in the sky where there was a star of particular luminosity. Only it wasn't a star, it was the planet Mars, and we gazed at it together. I have never knowingly gazed upon another planet with my naked eyes before, and it was a profound moment for both of us. And then we talked, and we learned that we were both atheists with wives whom hold deep and cherished beliefs. Nothing disrespectful was said, but it gave us the chance to talk through how we had come to our views. Again it was broadly similar. We had both tried to believe, and for some years had done so. I'd probably been more successful in convincing myself about the existence of God than he. In the end though we couldn't negotiate the hurdles that help a person to retain belief in the divine. We spoke warmly of the scientific method, and of having the courage to be open to changing ideas should the evidence warrant. At no point was it a bitch feet against religion, and it occurs to me how far I've come in this respect. If you read some previous blogs I've raged against it, but those days are behind me. It is sufficient that I seek to live my life with integrity, irony, courage and a measure of humour. I actively choose to adapt my views when I feel a must. Of late I'm trying harder to resist some of the cold cynicism I've been guilty of In the past. It makes me an uglier man and I want to walk a gentler path. Again I choose this without condemning those who take a different view, and I can say only that I am the more peaceful for it. I'm fortunate in so many ways; I've children I adore, a measure of material wealth, and at the time of writing reasonable levels of health. And I have a wife whom a I love, cherish, and desire to treat like a Queen. She is the cherry on the cake of my life and our relationship is such that I'd do anything for her at the drop of a hat. So yeah I'm lucky. Lucky and acutely aware of it. So many have it hard, so many whom deserve better never get it. So to be cynical and hard in the face of this seems increasingly wrong to me. And I want to have an outlook which openly appreciates all that I have whilst being aware that nothing lasts forever.
And all this because I went out and looked up at the sky.