Monday, 19 July 2010

Quite frankly, a bit rubbish

Oh, I know I said I wouldnt but it seems i am destined to extrude words for the rest of my articulate days. But my former reticence comes from a valid position, which i will now explain a little of.

It started when I was at school, about 6 or so. I suppose it was the growing emphasis on literacy that started it. Once our rudimentary and individual styles of handwriting had been developed, it became clear to me that there were those who could produce clear, tidy, attractive oieces of work. And there was mine. Similarly, with drawing, but that was ok. I knew some people were artists and others werent. It was the writing which was expected of us that caused me most discouragement and later pain.

Mine always looked untidy. We were asked for a piece of work by the teacher and it was apparent this was our obligation. My clumsily formed scrawl was always conspicuous by its malformed and scruffy jumble (though it was, I contend, always legible)
The content was at best, secondary, but the style was all. And my style was messy and a bit crap.

And i always envied those people who could turn out such attractive stuff, stuff which made my attempts look so inferior by comparison that I felt shamed and embarrased. So, I tried my hardest to make mine good too, only somehow, i never managed to do it and the results were still always messy, untidy and criticised.

And so, I realised that other people can do good stuff, whereas, I on the other hand, was destined to always produce second rate stuff. I was a bit rubbish at football, I couldnt draw, I was gawky and clumsy. I didnt excel or even become adequate at anything, It seemed.

So, I grew up, my handwriting remained awful (but legible!), I was sent to remedial writing classes with illiterate kids who could not read two-syllable words. At home I was reading serious adult books, quality literature, borrowed from the library with my mum's tickets.
But my handwriting was so bad that it seemed to offend against some standard set by the educational establishmet. So, in place of assembly every Tuesday, i was sent to a class with possibly the most self-ignorantly stupid man i have ever met. And my handwriting never improved.
At this time, i wrote a couple of pieces for the shool magazine which were universally lauded and I began to realise that my content was a little beyond the average. But O levels and A levels left me too busy to explore this and I never really explored this aspect.

And so, I continued to perform in a mediocre fashion, admiring those dazzling people who seemed to do everything right, and wo were usually attractive and better dressed than me, and wishing fate had supplied me the attributes to do the same. But I was resigned to my lot and I went on to get nine fairly mediocre O levels, except of course English, in which I excelled (I was beginning to get an inkling by then), and physics which I enjoyed.
Others got 10 A grades, some by swotting relentlessly and others by dint of apparent sheer brilliance.

And then A levels came: I worked a bit, still no longer distinguishing myself particularly. I discovered girls, alcohol, the usual kind of thing. And for my efforts I got some extremely poor grades in Maths, Physics and Chemistry that were just enough to get me into a very crap polytechnic in a grim and godforsaken part of the world.

Then I took up the banjo and went busking and generally didnt do all that much work. But I sensed that had I worked harder, my performance probably would not have been significantly better as I generally found the subject matter laborious and tedious, and well, everything I did ended up a bit crap anyway. So, engineering was not me and academia was not something I took to easily, though everyone seemed to expect me to.
And so, I failed the first year of my degree, which was silly, and suffered the ignominy of falling down into the HND class, largely regarded as some kind of remedial course for dullards by most of the peole I associated with.
I scraped a pass. Just.

This enabled me to get a job at British Aerospace. I didnt really want to work there but none of my other interviews bore fruit. It seems this grim and pretty crap establishment was all that would accept me. And so I farted about for a couple of years, working with people who had given up all hope of being productive happy humans until I could bear no more of the Death of Aspiration and left to work on the production line at the company I now work for.

There, due to my crap qualifications, I was not allowed to do anything worthy as I was apparently a bit thick, what with not having a degree and all. the management stated (to my face) that without a good honours degree, I would not be accepted into the engineering community as they "didnt want to dilute the skill pool".
And so, one day, I had a furious row with an influential manager who basically fired me. Luckily, my own manager took pity on me and pointed me towards a job that was going in marketing and I went for it and got it, much to my surprise and delight. And truly, it was the making of me. I found working with people, explaining technical concepts and reading responses from posture, expression and gesture to be much easier and more rewarding than engineering. I used a lot of words and I could type them.

Here I discovered that, though I am a bit slapdash, which has generally been the root of most of the crap results I got when i tried to do something worthwhile, I am actually quite good with words. Released from the tyranny of using a pen, which my fine motor coordination always struggled with, words can flow freely and the myriad ideas that course through my head are given voice in a way that frees them and allows them to associate with other ideas, sometimes to a hyperbole that when I subsequently read them, I cannot recollect writing them, or scarce believe I was in fact the author.

And so, as I stood miserably in the shower yesterday, remarking to myself on the mediocrity with which most of my endeavours have been met, it occurred to me that stringing words together to portray thoughts I have is really the only thing I have found myself to be half-decent at.

Oh, occasionally people say I have a "gift" for words or I "should write a book" but I take this with a grain of salt. Others are equally good or better and I have no pretensions of being professional at it.
But I do think I am probably better than average at it and so, casting aside my recent grumpy petulance, I feel it would be a shame were I not to do the only thing I have ever been pleased with the results of.

And so here I am!

life to an inner soundtrack

Some people are, apparently, visual: Their inner life runs on images that represent what they think about, how they approach problems, the way their world is laid out symbolically. I have always envied this in a vague kind of way. The ability to close one's eyes and call to mind a picture must be incredibly useful. I have never been able to do it.

In truth, part of the reason behind my resentment is that I always thought it would be a really cool seduction technique to be able to say to a lady "Let me draw you" and enigmatically, scribble away with few words except "a-huh.. hmm mmm" and "turn a little to the left please so I can catch that curl better".

Alas, fumbling fingers which reject the idea of pencils aside, I have little sense of the visual and have been unable to develop one despite many hours of intense practise over the years. And so, I come to the conclusion that, in this aspect, the nature-nurture debate has shown a clear conclusion. I am not visual.

But, my world is ruled by a sense of sound and bodily position. My head is filled with music all the time and I can call to mind a Tchaikovsky Symphony, note-for-note accurately in those moments when I find myself somewhere needing some kind of entertainment.
I first did this, oddly, with Wings, "Band on the Run" in French lessons at school, which I found excruciatingly dull to the point of almost physical pain. Imagine my delight to find an inner passtime that required no props or equipment and which could occupy me in those arid moments of intellectual drought.

Interestingly, I also always found a kind of auditory-kinaesthetic synaesthesia between a sound and a movement.
To explain what I mean: Everyone is familiar with certain sounds which conjure up a movement - the sound of a tomato hitting a tiled floor after being dropped is very evocative and one can instantly, if they work in any way siimilar to me, see in their "Mind's eye" the impact, or in my case, feel the weight and the sudden giving-way of the skin to the force of the contents, tasting the juice and possibly slipping on it and banging a knee on a cupboard.
The sound of a drop of water falling into a pool of water in an otherwise silent envirnment may also summon an image or a feeling of the ripples spreading out.
So we are all equipped with this sensory cross-wiring.

Now, when, for instance I hear a latin rhythm, it "knocks" inside my legs and hips. It's hard to explain that in words. But some unseen force causes my limbs to move synchronously with the beat and my hips to sway in a complex fourrier-synthesised set of waves. This is entirely involuntary and is "suggested" to my body without seemingly going through my conscious mind.
Similarly, a glissando on a guitar may cause my arm to want to move of its own acord upwards and outwards, describing an arc that the sliding note implies with an obviousness that requires purely physical description.

Sometimes, when I have to give a presentation and I am unsure of the material, as I walk up to present, the first bars of the violin from "El Tango de Roxanne" will play in my head, so vividly that I am ceertain it must be audible to those present (Indeed, once I did actually ask a lunch companion if they could "hear that?" and put my head close to theirs. People can be so judgmental sometimes, don't you find?). The strutting gait and almost arrogance implied by the passionate Tango beat cannot fail but induce an almost involuntary strutting and upright confident bearing. It works perfectly for my purposes.

Today, i have in my head, loud as the radio in the car might be in that space, Diana Krall, "Temptation", which is one of the sexiest songs I can imigine and is beautiful to dance to with a lady of a similar receptiveness.

As this is constantly playing in my head, my every move around the place is informed by this internal soundtrack and as a result, I cannot move in any way other than that of a tomcat on a hot sultry night when the air is filled with female-on-heat pheromones.
Luckily, there is almost nobody here to see. But in my mind, each step towards the coffee machine is imbued with a delight in the movement and a joy at the control over my limbs which today feels absolute.

In my head, life is one long dance. Sometimes a strut, sometimes a slink, occasionally a tap dance.

I think I am happy to accept this in exchange for the lack of a capacity for mental visual imagery.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Ambition, commitment and satisfaction

am sitting eight floors up in the Westin Grand Hotel in Munich. It is a very hot day and the airconditioning is forgiven for the intrusive noise it makes. As hotels go, it is rather plush and I cannot believe the travel system had it on its books and allowed me to book it. But it did and now here i am, feeling like a VIP and frankly, a bit of a fraud. It seems like the height of Western dacadence to be in such a hotel, with its glass and chrome and dark wood. Everything costs extra: breakfast 20 euros, internet 19 euros a day. Extortion really. I could never afford to pay for this out of my own pocket and frankly, I am not sure I would. I don't think it represents value for money, though i confess, it feeds my ego a little to stay here. It makes me feel a "somebody", which is illusory I know, but in contrast to feeling a "nobody" as seems to be the worst social fate that can befall us in these unenlightened times, I will accept it.
But not without thought.

I am here doing this because a large corporation values my skills. In a few hours I shall stand in front of a room of very well educated, very sharp, extremely intelligent people from three continents, and present some technical information. I am good at this.
Am I good enough to warrant the huge corporate expenditure that sent me here and accommodates me?

Did I expect or want to be doing this? Actually no. In truth, I expected to be a truck driver, like my father, or at best, some kind of technician soldering electronic circuits at a bench (which I did do for a while and didn't like). In short: I had no ambition to do this.

Now some people have a clear idea of what they want out of life. I have worked with people who were so "driven" that they had their whole career and associated lifestyle, mapped out in advance, some in quite minute detail. I knew people who had "action plans" for their whole lives, milestones they want to achieve at certain times, places they wanted to be by a certain stage in life.
This is admirable, possibly a little misguided because plans have a habit of hitting the unexpected and becoming derailed, but to have a plan may be a comforting and focussing thing. I applaud those who do this. The Driven are the ones who become our doctors, surgeons, architects, engineers. I am glad there are such people.

I never plan. For that reason. Like the old prizefighting adage: "Everyone has a plan until they get hit!" I find flexibility and keeping one's with about you is a better approach. For me.

And so, that is, I suppose how I came to be here. And occasionally I look up and am surprised, because it seemed to happen when I wasn't looking.

So, it occurs to me there are the driven who know exactly what they want and are quite singleminded in their approach to getting it. Then there are, I suspect, the large majority, like me, who think "this is ok, this is enough" and are happy to go where employment (or other driving force such as art or writing) may lead them, as long as it doesn't demand too much of them. It finances life, makes those things that are dear to us available to a level we are more or less happy with (although I would like to get to the sea a bit more often and dance more, I confess), but doesn't suck the very goodness out of us such that we have nothing left over to enjoy life with.

Of course there are also those who are forced to work really hard in jobs that grind them down, for low pay and long hours, with no alternative. I thank my lucky stars I have been lucky enough not to end up there, like most of my ancestors.
And there are those who, bovine, sit all day at a job that taxes them hardly at all, and are happy to watch sky TV with a pizza and not think about where they are going. This too is a valid choice.

I recently attended a university open day with my son, who has this choice ahead of him. The course outlined were very clearly defined, modular and progressive. If one followed this route, the qualifications gained would probably ensure valued employment and respect for a lifetime. The workload was only really alluded to. The progression then could be to a masters, chartered engineer status or a Phd.
I looked at the faces in the room: A range from shiny faced enthusiasm through chin-on-hand slouched boredom and the potential ladder of disciplined striving and glorious attainment stretching ahead of them. Such an opportunity.

And I thought: Gosh, that's a lot to do. I really couldn't be bothered. My own meagre qualifications, from this very college, we sufficient to gain me a foothold somewhere I could show my own potential, but there was so much more I could have done to get a better grades. These kids may look at it differently to me, indeed the circumstances are changed and they may need more that I scraped. I was lucky.
But I think of what I learned and where it took me and it cannot be denied that education is a precious and necessary thing, for how could I explain the complex technical concepts I do, without the seeds of the knowledge I gained there?

And then, I thought of the good times, the weekends by the sea, out in my kayak, drinking port by the fire in the evenings and indolent days bobbing about in the waves.
And it brings me back to the realisation that the most important word in the English language is "balance". I balance the commitment to the economic necessities of work such that I can have the time and the money to do these other things. Certainly, I have the commitments to be in places and be credible in what I do, which is a challenge sometimes. But the real driver for me is the beauty of experiences, the good company I find them with and the appreciation of just being in a nice place with good people doing interesting things. Whence Bohemia indeed!

Somewhere between being a somebody and a nobody is the fine point where expectations are realistically met and responsibilities are acknowledged. Finding the balance is an art in itself.

I have so much more to say on this but given the above, I had better get on with my presentation for this afternoon!