The Cycle of Pain

If you were reading this blog at this time last year, then you probably know that revising for my exams has left me feeling incredibly unfulfilled. Working thanklessly for months only for a a little bit of that to pay off… I know it’s necessary (at least in our current system), but it’s frustrating and it makes me want to curl up into a little ball and sleep for a thousand years.

What I do like however, is writing. Only when I’m doing it recently I feel guilty for not using my time for revision, which makes me want to write – it’s a cycle of pain. Why couldn’t I be doing an entirely coursework-based degree? Damn you, science.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I put a fiction sample up on here, and seeing as every one I’ve done so far has been (in hindsight) a steaming turd with a smiley face painted on it, I’m going to hold back on that until I know it’s worth putting out there.

It pays to be your harshest critic sometimes.

Not that I’m not excited by what I’m doing, but I have no doubt that when I look over it again it will play out a little something like this:

Me: Well, I’ve left this alone for a month, time to do another draft.

Me again: Wow, I thought this was much better when I was doing it.

Still me: I’m a terrible writer.

Me after a week to think about it: Well, practice makes perfect.

*Does another draft/starts something new*

[REPEAT PROCESS AD INFINITUM]

And to think when I started this blog I was arrogant enough to think my first project would be published. Pffft, that one’s in a pile gathering virtual dust, as this one may end up if I haven’t improved enough to fix it in two years.

Printing Guns

You may have heard that, somewhere in Texas, there is someone 3D printing guns. The actual news item is, of course, much less vague than I’m making out it is, but the point is that this is now a thing, and it’s being done in the name of liberty and freedom. I have a problem with those words, not because I dislike being free (duh), but because their meanings have become so conflated. I can’t see how we in Britain, where guns are much harder to get hold of, are any less ‘free’ than, say, people in the US where gun laws are more relaxed.

There’s a certain mindset, it seems, that sees regulation as an inherently bad thing. Well, regulations can be good, and certainly if all of them were taken away we’d be left with something that barely resembled modern society at all (although some might think that a good thing).

I’d like a world where it was harder for dangerous people to get hold of dangerous weapons that let them do dangerous things. I mean, guns have one purpose, they’re made to kill. There’s not much else you could want a gun for unless it’s to protect yourself from other people with guns, in which case the problem is still one of people having guns.

And printing them out doesn’t seem like the best way to aid that situation.

I admit that I could be wrong, if everyone gets printed guns and gun crime becomes a thing of the past, I will concede that I was wrong and guns are just the thing everyone should need.

Until then, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable about the whole idea.

White Smoke

So, Pope benedict XVI is going to resign by the end of the month. To be honest, I didn’t know that Popes could resign,but my experience of Popes has been pretty limited, and John Paul II stuck with the job until he died, so I raised an eyebrow or two when I heard this news.

I’d like to think that this is a move to return the powers of Catholicism to the believers and out of the ironically rich hands of those who preach that ‘it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle…’, but it seems as if this is more to do with the Pope’s advancing age, which makes sense, he’s not a young man, and he did have the unfortunate job of coming into power as the pedophilia scandal hit its peak, which, along with news coming out about his childhood, could quite easily stress one out enough to make a Pope feel like he’s been in a job for twenty years rather than eight.

To make things clear, I am a cultural Catholic in the sense that I was a member of the religion for most of my life and went to the churches and schools sporting the name of the romanized religion, and there was a lot of love for John Paul II, and despite the fact that much of what has given the Catholic church a bad name was done by the late Pope, it seems that Benedict XVI took most of the shit for it, which, given that he was a member of the Hitler youth, should not be surprising; he makes an ideal scapegoat. It does worry me that if many of the same people who moved pedophiles around to different parishes and kept their crimes quiet, had done so out of the safety net of the church, they would have been facing harsh prison sentences, and that they are practically immune, but there’s not much that can be done about that while the influence of the church is so strong.

I don’t mean for this post to come across as negative; I sympathize with Catholicism, but its upper echelons do not practice what they preach, and indeed, are some of the main drivers of the major backlash against religion in the recent past, and present.

Horse Lasagna?

So there’s this big scandal about beef products being filled with horse meat. If you haven’t heard of this, look it up, there’s a delicious lasagna with somewhere between 60-100% horse meat. When I heard about this I really started to wonder why you wouldn’t just label the product as ‘horse lasagna’. I’d eat it. Horses can’t taste that much different from cows and the more we wean off cows the better, due to their ridiculously potent farts, but I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t be that bothered if I’d eaten that lasagna and then found out it wasn’t made of beef; if it tasted nice, what does it matter? If it was a vegetarian dish that would be another thing, but it’s not, it’s horse instead of cow, and really, what’s the difference besides an extra toe on each foot and a four-chambered stomach?

Some people hold horses with great esteem, as if they are somehow more deserving of life than cows, and I suspect that’s because you never see people riding cows in movies, unless you’re watching something set in Spain or the deep south, and when they do it’s usually about trying not to die rather than getting from A to B. Still, eating any animal is questionable, even though I do it all the time. Hopefully one day stem-cell meat will progress to the point where my meat-eater’s guilt can go away and I can eat delicious food happily without having to mourn it first.

Is this an exercise in properly labeling products, then? I suppose if the company had known what was going into the products it wouldn’t be so confused about the whole thing, but then again, who accidentally grinds up a horse into little chunks? I find it really difficult to imagine somebody making that silly of a mistake, even though I know that’s not the issue.

First Lines

I thought I’d do a little exercise today, taking the first line from the stories I’ve written so far and comparing them, trying to work out if any of them have any worth and how they stand against each other.

This first one is from a short story I recently wrote and sent off for consideration:

Her baby was crying.

It doesn’t tell you much like that, but I’m ending these at the first sentence. It’s quite a departure from some of the others however, mostly the ones written much earlier, that last far too long.

The next is from a book I got about half way through before deciding the story wasn’t going anywhere, although looking through it during this exercise I might have to pick it up and see if it’s worth continuing:

The stagnant smell of damp erupted from the ground vents and hit the noses of ten or so disgusted people walking the rat-infested streets of what was once the proud city of London.

It builds a scene, although I reckon that the word disgusted is probably redundant there, given I’ve already qualified the smell as stagnant.

The next is one I wrote at the same time and stopped at the same time for the same reasons. Looking over it I think I could probably salvage this one, but I’d have to give it a severe read through first:

Within the bounds of Ramses II’s mighty hand, along the banks of the Blue Nile, agriculture thrived across the fertile soils of the tributary; the farmers of Ancient Egypt knew the river’s wrath, but also they knew of its beauty, they predicted when it would flood, and made preparations, keeping an efficient and seemingly sustainable system.

It doesn’t sound like fiction really, does it? I was quite proud of that line when I wrote it but now it feels too long and not exciting enough. Perhaps I’m being overly critical but this one I would struggle to keep if I rescued this story.

The next is from a flash fiction I wrote for a competition (that it didn’t win, or you would have heard about that here):

“He wanted you to have this.” James’ mother said.

I actually quite like this one, because it creates a scenario upfront, but it seems a little cold thinking about it.

The next is from the first book I finished:

Dust and sand fly free across the wasteland of the Nevada desert; an old bomb testing site lies undisturbed far from the nearest human life; a small hut is barely visible through the blasts of dirt, its brown, wooden walls barely holding up against the might of nature.

Too long winded. This whole book is a weird one for me because I was very proud of it when I was done, but nobody could get past the first chapter. Perhaps that should teach me a thing or two.

This one’s from the second book I finished (a couple of weeks ago, actually), and one that I’m waiting a while before I edit:

Her heels clacked against the rough, crumbling remains of the chalk steps of the grand staircase.

I’m not sure about the two ‘of the’s there, or whether we need to know that the steps are rough, but at least it sets the scene. I’m pretty sure the story gets better than that, but having not read it over yet in order to gain some distance… I wouldn’t really know.

The last one’s from a short story I finished two days ago that I have yet to edit:

My name is Sally McGregor, and there is someone in my mirror. I actually started this story because I liked this first line so much, but I am biased, given that I wrote it.

What do you guys think? I like the more pithy ones but I get embarrassed about lines that read like I’ve stuck extra words in for no apparent reason.

Argument From Idiocy

The number of Conservative MPs that opposed the recent gay marriage bill struck me as unnervingly large. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, the very nature of the word that describes the party suggests that we ignore the needs of our society to progress, and while that is an out of date way of looking at that side of the political spectrum these days it would seem there are still some very prominent voices on that side that are taking the word to its lexical extremes. BBC news showed this, rather troubling side, in the form of an MP whose argument against making gay marriage legal was that marriage ‘has always been between a man and a woman’, which makes me wonder whether the man in question has heard the words ‘argument’, ‘from’ and ‘antiquity’ in the same phrase.

People have always died from vicious diseases, that doesn’t mean that we should make sure that these deaths continue into the future (an extreme parallel I know, but it just goes to show how little logic actually goes into a statement such as that). I fail to see how other people being allowed to find happiness in the same way others currently can could have any possible negative impacts besides those imposed by bigots such as those opposing this legislation.

All in all, I’m pretty certain that if we were in the opposite circumstances, those heterosexual politicians would not be using the parallel world fact that ‘marriage has always been between two people of the same gender’ to proclaim that they should not be given equal rights.

Surely politicians of all people know to think about the connotations of what they say before they say it? Isn’t that why all their speeches are written for them and have absolutely no substance so they can’t get blamed for anything, or be called up on actually saying they’re going to tackle something?

Equality Is Not a Minority Opinion

Gay marriage is pretty much here, and it’s been a long time coming. It still shocks me that there are very public anti-homosexual figures that deny equality to their fellow men and women, especially ones as prominent as the now-confirmed new Archbishop of Canterbury. Churches have had rocky relationships with this issue in the past, and I certainly didn’t expect them to just lay down and forget about everything they have said in the past on the issue, but presented with the overwhelming fact that homosexuals are no less moral than heterosexuals for sleeping with members of the same sex, it stands to reason that it would become a non-issue, like how Christians are allowed to eat bacon, a part of the scripture that is ignored because it isn’t fitting of the community the religion influences.

I think what upsets me most about that though is that I’m damn sure that a majority opinion that gay people should not be allowed the right to marry is a minority opinion in the church of England, and I’d like to say the same about the Catholic church too despite their archaic conservatism.

I find it weird that such a conversation is happening at all, actually. If a bunch of gay people sat in big halls and were talking about why priests should be denied the right to marry they’d get raised eyebrows and angry mobs from the churches that allow marriage, and a cold indifference from the Catholic church, who, despite the fact that many of the followers of the church are human beings living in the 21st Century, still officially deny both of these factions the right to marry.