December, 2000

Labels vs Understanding

December 29th, 2000 December 29th, 2000
Posted in Fire and Light
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How often do people fall into the trap of thinking they understand something or someone simply because they are able to give it a name? Years ago at college I learned that biological classification is an arbitrary system for grouping living things into kingdoms, phyla, species and, least convincing of all, races.

All categorisations are artificial, yet all thinkers use them to create convenient reference points around which to build frameworks and base theories based on those models. In some senses it’s a necessity. Scientific researchers divide the world up into easily manageable chunks because that makes it easier to deal with than trying to absorb everything in one gestalt gulp.

Elsewhere, in our interactions with other people, I don’t think it’s quite so necessary. Yet we still do it, whether it’s Myers-Briggs personality table or astrological sun signs. For some reason we seem to think that putting people into those pigeonholes – or even putting ourselves into them – means that we know them or understand them.

Okay, maybe there is some truth in all these things. People and objects do sometimes conform to types. Nevertheless, we are all changing and growing, and natural objects in different areas may have more similarities than they seem to have at first glance. At some level or other, categorisation always breaks down and we are faced once again with the fact that we often don’t understand that much about either the universe or each other.

Whether the labels hold true or not, it’s stimulating and fun finding out where the boundaries really are and where they break down. It’s also a mark of respect that gives freedom to those we love to accept or ignore labels on their terms. That gives each of us freedom to grow, explore ourselves and enjoy our world.

Slippery People

December 24th, 2000 December 24th, 2000
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Whatabout the time? / You were rollin’ over
Fall on your face / You must be having fun
Walk lightly! / Think of a time.
You’d best believe / This think is real
– Slippery People, Talking Heads

All of us have ‘walked lightly’ or skated on the delicate slippery surface of a personal interaction at some time or another. One short story I wrote, Thin Ice, explored how it takes time to get to a point where we feel really comfortable talking to another person and safe to express what we really feel.

Carl Rogers, in his book On Becoming A Person, talks about congruence – where our communication is consistent on all levels; words and body language match, and our inner feelings match what we are saying. This doesn’t happen unless we feel safe, so before that happens, we skate on the ice. I think we all do a fair bit of skating in our relationships, both personal and professional, and at those times we’re too busy worrying about how we’re appearing and what someone else is thinking that we never quite flow gracefully into it. This is why confident people are so attractive. They exist in the now, in the flow.

Confidence empowers both people in a conversation. Acceptance of, love and respect for another person and valuing them allows them space to breathe and space to grow. Yes, we can all grow on our own, but those moments of insight that we experience with someone else are nothing short of magical. And those periods of growth are liberating.

Space to grow includes finding space to integrate the emotional baggage from past relationships too. There’s always a danger that we bring our unresolved feelings from past experiences into new relationships. We find ourselves ‘modelling’ situations and projecting what the likely outcome is going to be. This is usually a fallacy because no two people can ever be truly alike. Until we mature and find our own feet, we still do it and it eventually gets in the way.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spot the losers and the parasites when they appear, because they surely do exist. It means having a lot of faith in trusting your own judgement and looking for consistent behaviour in accordance with a set of solid principles. Honesty, integrity, caring, standards of quality, knowing right from wrong – those sorts of things. Just avoid the pigeonholing (and that includes relying on things like horridscopes!).

Even when we are communicating with someone we genuinely like and respect, we can still find ourselves putting on ice skates whenever our brains click into the mental ‘modelling’ mode. We’re usually trying to guess the outcome rather than accepting the present. Or maybe we’re trying to guess what effect our words are having rather than accepting ourselves for the wonderful people we are. Maybe these are guy things, although really I certainly can’t speak for anyone other than little old me (six foot one, grey eyes… stop it!). Ahem, yes. These are merely my own thoughts for now.

At the end of the Thin Ice story true communication finally took place. After that’s happened a few times, it gradually gets easier, in my experience. You stop worrying about the outcome because you learn to trust that the other person really does accept you for who you are and you know in your heart that they’re there, in your life – and you’re there for them. Okay, so it will never be perfect – no one can ever know what you’re thinking. That’s why it’s important to keep communicating.

To my mind, we all keep growing, and need to value ourselves, value our own strengths, recognise our weaknesses. It’s incredibly important to find room for ourselves even when we’re in a relationship – a house where you go when there’s too many people. And, for goodness sake, don’t take it all too seriously or the pod people will get you!

First Impressions

December 22nd, 2000 December 22nd, 2000
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There’s a lot of confusion about communicating and first impressions. Sometimes it seems to work perfectly and other times you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. Personally, I think we are all genuinely interested in each other but it is never easy. Here’s a few thoughts I just had while posting on another board.

Sometimes there’s a really clear understanding that comes because we are all experts at reading body language. Body language, including facial gestures and the way we move, conveys the bulk of any messages. Often we don’t have to speak if we know someone really well to see what kind of mood they’re in. Disney animators say the key to creating a character is to capture the way they move and walk, and stand ins for actors can mimic the person they are playing perfectly in this way.

Many times, however, someone says something that contradicts what the body language just told you or contradicts their last remark. One of you might look away because something has moved in your highly motion-sensitive peripheral vision. Or maybe you just do something dumb for a random reason, like you open you wallet and suddenly remember the bill you were supposed to pay yesterday.

Often you can lose your train of thought because your hormone system has kicked in to let you know you should be hungry or horny or whatever and your body is flooded with this set of chemical messages. That’s incredibly powerful and there’s not a lot you can do about it except accept yourself as you are and that you are part of a continually changing universe in a kind of Zen way.

Confidence is incredibly attractive but there are times also when you want reassurance but you don’t get it, or they want reassurance but you don’t give it. What happens next is you or the other person reacts to your reaction to any of those things and the messages get all confused and muddled. Then we’re back to square one.

Getting to know someone takes time. And I mean really getting to know them, rather than jumping in with a load of first impressions and assumptions. Enjoying the process, the ebb and flow between you and the other person, is one of the keys. Hey, I can’t say I know all the others! What do you think? I’m some kind of guru?

Whatever happens, try to remember that quote from Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!”

Millennium Flashback

December 12th, 2000 December 12th, 2000
Posted in It's life, Jim...
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New Year’s Eve 1999. 5.30pm I’m sitting at home getting a little wasted, talking to Melanie, an actress friend, on the phone and gazing at the Christmas Tree lights in the dark. Something ambient plays in the background. Phone call over, I finish the Jameson’s, take the champagne from the fridge and drive up to London sporting an uncharacteristic shirt and bowtie covered over with a big wool coat. I love this coat. I remember a photographer friend who wears something similar made by Crombie. Last time a group of us met up wearing them he described it as the Night of the Crombies. Years have passed since that bad pun but the coat always reminds me.

Thirty minutes driving and I fade into Europe’s largest television studio complex, ID dripping from me, to meet up with Mario in a technical area. He’s the one who’s convinced the shirt and tie combo is required and we make our way around the building, visiting friends, sharing the largesse. Somehow I blag a free dinner, even though I know deep down there is no such thing as a free lunch. The knowledge that dinner and lunch are not the same helps my addled brain reconcile this cognitive dissonance and two bottles of bubbly later and we’re in the bar.

Next thing I’m on a platform in the bowels of the London Underground. There are so many people on this platform that it is impossible to move. I take a swig from the champagne bottle I’m carrying and hold Mario’s camera over my hand. Flash! The sheer stupidity of the lemming-herd instinct is captured on celluloid for posterity.

We squeeze into a train, grinning inanely and drinking from the bottle. Our fellow travellers grin inanely back at us. None of us knows why we are here. None of us cares. We exit at Embankment and head for the bridge to make our way over to the rendezvous with Mel, except we don’t. We get 30 feet and the sheer pressure of people makes it impossible to move. PC Plod has decided not to let people back on the tube for no readily apparent reason so we escape through some gardens.

Making our way down The Strand is ridiculous. Apart from closing rail stations, Plod has abandoned the streets to the masses and traffic is non-existent. We have one more feeble attempt to get on to a bridge to cross the Thames but it is not to be. More people are coming towards us than are going are way and we are forced to go with the flow.

Onwards, then, to Aldwych and into the depths of the BBC World Service at Bush House. Suddenly we find ourselves in an oasis from the chaos outside, down marble steps and in a dimly lit bar with beer and free mince pies. A band seems to be setting up, or maybe it’s karaoke. Whatever, it soon becomes irrelevant as Mario gets this annoying bored look on his face so we must return once more into the night and the manifest stupidity that London has descended into. I am comfortably numb and content to drift along with this vagabond existence until it leads somewhere by midnight. It’s now around 10.30pm.

11pm or thereabouts. Fractal memories. Standing at the back of a TV studio after a scouser named Ron has talked us in. The floor manager stands nearby herding people in and out but seems to just accept our presence. She asks if we’d like to look around and Ron and Mario disappear into a maze of scaffold and cabling. Through the scenery I glimpse the back of Gaby Roslin (the presenter) while five feet away stands Peter Snow (another well-known face). He is tall in real life, very tall and totally absorbed in his work. On-screen babe Phillippa Forrester isn’t tall. Nothing is said as she slinks past in a shimmering silver silk dress and jaws hit the floor. We are not worthy! But, of course, we are.

Fractal memories. We are on the studio roof. There’s a searchlight pointing patterns into the sky. Someone next to me thinks it would be more entertaining to shine this into people’s living rooms and moves it accordingly. Within five minutes a production assistant appears and politely but firmly repositions the beam to skywards. Five minutes to midnight and various friends appear. Midnight. Party poppers, cheering, singing, hugging, kissing. In the distance, fireworks explode and the Thames celebrates with a “River of Fire”. We get the effect of a Sky of Fire, not having the ability to see through buildings. It’s an impressive effect as red, white and gold star blossoms light up the horizon.

12.30pm, back in the bar. A DJ is giving it ‘large’ on the decks although his large isn’t really as big as it could get. It doesn’t matter. I’m at a table with two or three buddies and a girl in a fire red dress across the room is ignoring her friend to look at me. I look around and look back. Yes, she’s definitely looking at me. I ask Ron to confirm this unlikely scenario and he sends someone over to see if she’s really with the person she’s sat next to. Unbelievable cheek. The inquirer returns and informs us that no, she isn’t. Ron starts explaining body language to me and I excuse myself.

Some time later I’m driving home with the girl in scarlet and 2000 AD propels us into a new world where anything is possible. Fractal memories seen from a new place twelve months later. Glimpses of the whole, resolving faster and faster as the pattern repeated and now fades, the lessons learned. She is gone now, the girl in the red dress and the harsh echoes of an unpleasant siren have long since vanished. Now I know what sights and sounds to filter for and such things won’t happen again, though there are few regrets. Now I embrace laughter, friendship and a smile; a new experience and a different journey as 2001 approaches. Life and light and love in a new millennium.