Writing Lines

I remember writing lines as a punishment at school. It didn’t happen very often, mostly because I got very good at staying within the text of the rules if not the spirit, and by not getting caught on those occasions where I decided I knew better. My counsellor would be among the first to point out that I’ve never met a rule that didn’t make me want to dig my heels in. The flip side as many will agree is that I rarely meet a barrier I don’t want to push against.

What was fascinating to me at school was how the punishment was often subverted by those undergoing it. Sometimes the punishment would be what most would understand by representations in media as varied as The Simpsons and Harry Potter. Most people think of lines as variants on “I will not tell lies”, or “I will not sell bridges to gullible Americans” – repetition as punishment in the hope the message will sink in.

At our school it was often more incentive. We had to check out pages of special blue paper with exactly 25 lines on each side from our House Master. We then had to fill those lines with at least seven words a line, copying from a text. I imagine at least some of you can already see where this went.

The most passive aggressive response to this punishment was to draw out a 7×25 grid on each side and fill those boxes. Sometimes we would just copy a text, other times we would do it in reverse, or vertically. 

For those teachers and prefects who didn’t bother reading the results we got more inventive. There was a fad for putting in random words, and then for making patterns, like writing in a spiral. Then some bright spark noticed that no one ever specified what text had to be copied, so all bets were off. Hedgerows and older siblings’ bedrooms were searched for copies of Penthouse and the like (ah the joys of pre-internet Britain), and stories and articles duly remixed in patterns on the page.

Did the punishments ever stick? What do you think? Lines were designed to waste our time, and were treated with contempt accordingly. Perhaps this explains a bit more about my approach to rules: that they are there to make you at least think for a moment about consequences before you break them good and hard.

It’s all about personal responsibility you see, owning the consequences of what you do and recognising what drives your responses to situations. 

Those line writing exercises may have slid off my back like water from the proverbial duck, but at the same time the reverse of them as a repetitive mental exercise can be a useful tool. 

When I’m thinking over things that have got under my skin and I’ve worked out why I’m letting stupid things irritate me, it can be a useful exercise to set myself some mental lines as a corrective. Instead of telling myself “I will not rewire the physics lab bench supplies”, or “I will not set fire to the bin”, I instead set my own boundaries like: “I will not be an entitled jerk when someone doesn’t message straight back”

What lines should you be writing for yourself?

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The King of All The Emotions

The redoubtable Lady P recently made a pledge on relatively open social media that she would say three nice things about anyone she knew who Liked her post. You can, I’m sure, imagine the tidal wave of hands in the air this provoked, and she has since said it was one of the more emotionally draining things she’s done in a while.

Even though we’re not as close as we used to be, we’re still on as good terms as conditions and schedules have allowed, and so I thought I’d stir the pot a little.

The responses I got included being The King of Salt, and also of “every other emotion” – which I have to admit bemused me a little as a turn of phrase.

The first part, is not particularly contentious; anyone who knows me has encountered the habitual sarcasm and acidic observations that season my interactions with the world. The second part I wasn’t so sure about, so I made sure to ask about it when we met up a day or two later for a rare coffee catch-up.

Her qualification of the remark was interesting, and sparked thought. On the one hand, she said, I was unafraid to experience and demonstrate all the emotions that I feel. On the flip side, when I need to I can cut them off and not be hostage to them.

Now, I struggle with anxiety and the after effects of trauma on a regular basis, and we are heading into a particularly difficult time of year for me. 

This perception of being able to cut them off and function initially evoked quite a defensive reaction in me. It’s not how I habitually identify my behaviours, especially when I’ve enjoyed a few evenings of night terrors and shallow restless sleep.

I wondered briefly if this was some kind of dig at me, but then considered the source and context. Lady P also fights a number of demons. Some of them are quite similar to mine. More to the point, it was genuinely meant as a compliment.

For me, there is a distinction between feeling and expressing emotional responses. I have joked about being an analogue of Samuel Vimes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I do sometimes feel that I am actually several drinks behind most people’s natural state – a kind of anti-sober state he called ‘knurd’. 

This almost certainly explains many of my doodles and sketches, let alone stories. 

I may not express my emotions in emergencies or under stress, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. I’ve just had to learn to act anyway. It’s a coping strategy that generally helps, especially when I’m at saturation point. 

While preparing for the recent job interview, a good friend remarked that they’d never pegged me as nervous. In addition, several others gave practical advice based on their careers in various Services. They all helped underline the value of feeling the fear but preparing, practising and executing the plan anyway. In other words, what I do works.

Her admiration of my ability to function when I might otherwise be overwhelmed by emotional responses to situations is partly fuelled by her own struggles. So, for such a relatively simple statement, there’s a ton of meanings that I have neither the time, inclination, or right to publicly explore; but they are appreciated as much for how they help me reflect on my behaviours and expectations – and that’s never a bad thing.

The other vital part of this is that it’s been a reminder that it’s very easy to fall into the toxic masculinity trap of seeing emotions and emotional expression as some form of weakness. I hope those who know me wouldn’t recognise that in me.

So, King of All The Emotions? Yeah, I’ll take that Lady P. Maybe we’ll talk more about it some time, hopefully this time not in the pouring rain.

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Moving On Up

A duty manager retired recently, leaving a gap in the rotation of people who look after our little cluster of libraries. After a few months of short-staffed chaos, I decided to apply for the post. I reasoned that I was getting tired of breaking in new managers, and if there were poor decisions to be made, it might as well be me making them.

In a surprising twist, I was successful, and we’re now in the paperwork shuffle stage of things. At some point in the next few weeks, I’ll be working at other libraries and making people realise I’m not joking when I refer to them as minions.

The announcement came during our staff meeting this week, and with the expectation of an acknowledgment upon me, the first words out of my mouth to my assembled colleagues was: “I promise to be cruel, unfair, and inventive in my rule of terror.” I figured if I was going to make breakable promises, they might as well be things that people looked forward to. The good thing is that everyone is used to my sense of humour, and so everyone laughed.

I also made people laugh during my interview. I was asked what three words my colleagues might use to describe me. I figured that as each of the people interviewing me had encountered the more acidic edge of my tongue in recent months I should include some honesty. 

“Unflappable, sarcastic, reliable” I said. Here’s hoping that doesn’t end up being my career epitaph.

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How Do You Deal with Stupidity? by Tim Maidment

So here’s a little thing I wrote for Lady M’s blog last month, published this month…

twittcomblog

This, sadly, really is a question that Lady M seems to be asked on a frequent basis, often by work colleagues. No, really, would I lie to you? It’s obviously a joke right? I mean, at first sight it’s a simple enough question, and one that is mostly posed with tongue at least slightly in cheek.

Unless she is faced with unequivocal evidence of it, her usual response is to ask how the enquirer is defining stupidity. With perhaps only a few conversational prompts, this is frequently sufficient to tie her interrogators up in semantic ribbons and bows long enough for her to walk away long before the penny drops.

We all know stupidity when we see it, at least right up until the point we don’t. I think that’s because our own incompetencies blind us to our deficiencies – it’s at the root of the old joke about how…

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Now Playing… Overwatch

I suspect that this is a game with which I will come to have a love/hate relationship, based on my first exposure to it. We’ve picked up a second hand copy from someone where Lady M works, and finally installed it this evening, so this is very much a first impressions blog that I can go back to once I’ve got a bit more time logged on it.

The basic setup is simple – two teams of variously classed characters are pitched against each other over a series of objectives in timed matches. There is no real story, merely hints at a wider conflict, but to be fair the game knows that’s not what the competitive players are generally here for. No doubt little nuggets will unfold as I earn levels and unlock bonuses, but my first impressions are of a game that is bright, fast-paced and generally fun. The qualifying statement to that is: if you can get a whole game in without losing your connection to the Blizzard servers. 

The basic tutorial and practice arena are both useful ways to introduce basic mechanics and controls, but the flakiness this evening came when I joined the games played against AI opponents. Out of the three games I played, only one went the whole distance without dropping me out. Now, I’m casual enough in how I play to have enjoyed even the partial games, but I can see the dropped connection situation getting old very quickly, especially with Blizzard’s pedigree in hosting online games.

The one thing that these early games have already shown me is that I really need to go back and try out all these new characters before I play them. I’ve enjoyed the robustness of Soldier76, the fluid strikes of Genji, and had great fun with Widowmaker, but I did feel a small panic each time I picked a new character. I forsee some serious mucking about in the practice arena to see what each can do.

Anyone else playing? What have you found effective in terms of play style or tactics?

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Why I’m Careful With Things Lady M Says

It may not always seem so, but I do every now and then check the silliness inherent in my little series of Things Lady M Says.

For those new to this blog, these are little ruminations on the sometimes idiosyncratic usages of words that Lady M comes out with. On first look they could be dismissed as “oh she’s using the wrong word”, but they usually have quite innovative implications and meanings when you take a longer look.

A good example might be where we were discussing someone’s aspirations for moving up in their company, and I asked if the problem had anything to do with outdated skill sets. She paused and said they were totally indated on the technical side. Then she hit me for laughing.

Many of her little phrases tend to be portmanteaux for longer phrases, but there is a more serious reason for her more innovative approach to vocabulary. It’s also something that’s only just really come to light.

One of the effects of Lady M’s fibromyalgia is a form of “brain fog”, where words just slip away. With her command of multiple languages, she often subconsciously dips into another language if the brain fog temporarily deletes a word from her conscious vocabulary. 

When she doesn’t do this, and instead creates a whole new word to say what she means, I have to step back and at least mentally applaud. Rather than let herself get stuck and frustrated at her own brain slipping out of gear, she assembles a new way of expressing the concept. 

There’s not many people that can do that.

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Making the Best of Things

I could sit and wallow in the little disappointments, random plot 


twists, brain farts, derailed expectations, or jealousies – and that does feel quite tempting. Alternatively I could do something about it. We’re back to that basic underpinning of what makes for an awesome life, and it seems as ever to be tied to a willingness to take a hard look at what’s causing that slow drag on life and then refusing to be ruled by it.

These hiccups can come from many sources: it can be those conversations where someone says “I love you, but not in that way”, or where the only dialogue you have when you get home is an unspooling of the other person’s day and a demand to be fed. It might be the jealousy of seeing someone taking a holiday in the sun when all your holiday leave has been spent caring for people or burying them. It can come from unanswered texts, or people not thanking you for the simple kindnesses. It can come from being in constant pain, or the worry of money or exam results. In truth, it doesn’t really matter. 

Hand on heart, we can all point to things right now in our lives that upset, or make us at least quietly thoughtful. There’s nothing wrong with that. That is, as the saying goes, just life. The biggest danger sometimes to my mental equilibrium is trying to chase after everyone in search of affirmation. The problem is that it isn’t practical to try and be all things to all people. You’re on a hiding to nothing even trying. 

So, what am I going to do, or am already doing, to refocus on what’s important? Nothing earthshaking; we’ve already established I’m a stubborn sod after all. I’m going to carry on reminding myself to just do my thing – whatever that thing may be – and those who are interested will engage, while those who aren’t will carry on in theirs – and you know what, that’s okay too. I’m going to carry on with the exercise, supporting Lady M, writing, drawing, and running the mostly weekly D&D games. I’ll spend time with my frankly awesome daughter, and if anyone wants to dip in and say hi for a while then I’ll see you when I see you. 

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