Selfie-ish

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So angry! Here during a hijacking and potential terrorist attack a man from Aberdeen makes a huge error. No, not getting his photo with the idiot who put on a fake suicide bomb, but calling it a selfie.

Here’s a simple way for all you complete fucking idiots who misunderstand the word “Selfie” to get it right:

If you take a photo of your big stupid face with your camera and arm outstretched then it’s a selfie – if someone else takes it then it’s called a photo. Remember it’s what we used to bother with before hand-held idiot boxes were as widespread as they are now.

I’ve nothing really against the selfie, it serves a purpose from time-to-time, but can we please have at least some photos of the world round us too. When you post twenty photos to Facebook and they are all you with your arm outstretched and face gurning for the iVanity, I really have no interest. If you are in an interesting location or at an event maybe a wee photo of the venue or landscape in front of you would be a welcome break from your duckfaced deadpannery.

Get someone to take a wee photo of you even. I know it’s a crazy idea, but stick with me because that’s what Ben Innes did in the photo above. He handed over his phone and someone took the photo. It allows the photographer to frame it and get everyone in.

I’m not just being an old man here yearning for the days of 24 snap rolls of film that have to be taken to Boots to be developed – the opposite is true, I think the evolution of the technology on our phones now allows photography to be more free and democratic than ever before. We can instantly share an image, a memory, a moment with the world – and that’s great. So rather than pricking about with hundreds of pictures of yourself what about turning the camera round and showing us your life from your perspective.

I’d rather that, because I already have my perspective on your life and so far I’m not impressed.

JD

Rewinding, but the song has changed.

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Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do. Benjamin Franklin

Guilty as charged. As a teacher, for the best part of a decade, I complained about all different aspects of the job: CfE, Parents, Colleagues, the kids, me. But I loved the job and I miss it in many ways.

So I’m going back. There is one major reason for this change of direction and it’s the fact I have changed a hugely fundamental thing – me.

When I went into teaching I started off on the wrong foot coming into a profession off the back of a major illness – cancer. Less than two months after being given the all clear I thought the best thing to do was to get working and carry on with my life. In some ways it helped but in others it was the completely wrong move for me. For a year or more I was still dealing with the aftermath of the impact the diagnosis had on me. Doing that at the same time as finding your way through a new career was not the right thing and many bad habits were formed.

Then there was a second diagnosis that changed things. Depression and Anxiety disorder. As time went on my symptoms were getting worse and I was trapped in a loop of mood swings that impacted on day-to-day work. I’d love the job one day and the next I’d loathe it. It was only once I’d left the job and was working at the college that I was diagnosed as bipolar. That changed so much in my life and mind. While it took time to bed in, now I am in a much better place because of the meds, the support from others and my own understanding of the condition.

With hindsight I was all over the place at points during my teaching career – not a surprise considering I’m a manic-depressive. But there is much more to be positive about in education. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination – CfE is still a woolly and unwieldy framework – but rather than sit outside the system and complain about it, I want to go into the middle of it and work to ensure every pupil gets the best chance possible.

I look at my kids and think that it is wrong just to condemn the whole of secondary education – we need people in there who will fight for the pupils and work hard to get them the best possible outcomes. I’m not trying to portray myself as some kind of magic wand waving prodigal son, I just want to try my best and help this generation of youngsters be all they can be. My experiences in the Further and Higher Education systems have shown me the bigger picture for these kids – not only seeing the narrow nature of teaching my subject but looking at how and where they are heading to.

This could be a huge mistake – it could break me, as the college experience did – but I’m determined to at least try. Seems strange that so many are leaving the profession I’m heading back into the fray, but if I don’t try it now I may never bother. The thing I always loved about the job will still be there – the kids. While I may wind them up and not always be a ray of sunshine I am tremendously proud of all the pupils I still speak to and keep in touch with from previous schools and many have been very kind in their comments about me too. That’s what I miss, the working relationship that allows you to challenge pupils and see them improve and flourish. 

No more complaining from the outside, time to roll up my sleeves again and get back to it. One step at a time, build my confidence and keep an eye on my manic depression to ensure I am getting the balance right, there’s no reason I can’t complete my second decade in teaching with a more positive view. Fingers crossed.

JD

Solitude

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I don’t know if it is true for all people who live with depression, but moments of solitude, serenity and calm are havens for the rabid mind of the Bipolar experience. Today I sat in the office on my own, at times with no music on, window open and the sun shining in that I felt at peace. Being able to stop and just enjoy this little fragment of sanity in what is turning out to be a difficult down patch for me.

There are times when this illness makes me feel lonely in a crowd of people, where my social skills dry up and I just want to run for the door. Conversely there are other moments when I am on my own and hate having time to think and overthink every action, word and relationship. But there are times – most of which are just before I go up to my bed and everyone else is already sleeping – where complete lack of voices, either external or internal and stillness are joyous.

Mindfulness is the current fashionable phrase that covers this in many ways. To just live in the moment, using your senses and focusing on your breathing. This is nothing new – you’ll find it in many eastern cultures and religions – and it’s nothing new for me. Going for a walk on my own in a forest, up a hill, along the beach, provide escapes from the hullabaloo of everyday life. I love my family but some days I just want to sit and watch TV or read or just chill without anyone else being there. Same goes for work and life in general. A loner.

We use that word like it’s a bad thing – loner. On many occasions I wonder what life would have been like if me and Jill had never met and I was still single. We all know she would have escaped a bullet, but how would I have been? Flying Solo in life is not such a bad thing I don’t think, so many people now do through divorces and those who focus on careers and never marry. I worry that I might not still be here were it not for Jill and the kids and most of the time I want and need them around me.

Then there are moments like today that allow me to just exist in the moment. The best comparison I can think of is that moment when you are on holiday somewhere warm with a beautiful view. Gazing across the water to the land opposite you take in the surroundings as you sit in the warm evening sunshine on your balcony and you forget for that glorious moment that anything else exists in the world. Those moments are like gold dust in the modern world.

We run from appointment to work to the kids’ party to grandparents to school to the supermarket to the next door neighbours to pick up the parcel you missed because you were busy. We just don’t stop enough.

Close your eyes.

Listen to the world around you.

Enjoy the moment, just a few seconds of nothingness.

No traffic jams, bills, parents’ evenings, microwaves pinging at you, TV or mobile phone. Just you and that moment.

There are very few things we get for free in life, but these moments are available throughout our lives. Whether we choose to accept them, use them, enjoy them is up to us. Too often we haven’t got “time” to stop. When your mind is racing with ideas in the fuzzy mist of Bipolar disorder, to stop occasionally is one of the strongest antidotes to the symptoms. Unfortunately it can also be one of the most difficult to grab. Today is a rare occurrence for me having the office to myself and also that shiny yellow thing in the sky does help the mood too.

The thought that I always bring to mind when these plateaus appear are the words of William Henry Davies:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Take a moment. Build it into your life. You might find, like me, you really do need it.

JD

Living through the black mirror

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Last night I watched two young females sitting in front of me at a comedy gig view the world through the little screen above. Taking numerous selfies, photos of the comedian, short video clips and then nudging each other as they got a “good one”. As this continued I found myself getting angrier and angrier that they couldn’t just experience the world in front of them with their eyes and senses instead of the small rectangular surface.

We are slowly breeding a generation who can’t just look at something unless that view is obscured by a digital camera of some sort which then converts our eyesight into millions of pixels. How do they get any pleasure out of an event like last night when their focus is on collating a digital portfolio of the experience rather than being able to tell their mates about it the next day. No, what happens instead is that we have to look at the cretin’s phone to relive snippets of out of context jokes. Aye, very good.

I have a phone, tablet and Mac all from Apple but they all have their purposes in life – I don’t live through them. It can be enough that all day I’m sitting at a screen so I don’t really spend much time on the personal gadgets of an evening. If I do it’s playing games or on social media. I’m not pulling the “Blue Steel” face fourteen times an evening before posting a hugely similar photo to the one that I uploaded to Whatfacechatitteragram the day before. Why are they doing this? Looking like a constipated duck isn’t attractive, even to other ducks. What happened to a smile? A smile on a beautiful woman brightens up the world. Pouts offer nothing.

I blame the cult of the Kardashian. Yes I did spell cult correctly. The chief ringleader in the rich trailer trash three-ring circus is Kim Kardashian, whose only achievement was marrying Kanye West removing him from the general gene pool and confining him to her family’s barrel scraping reproductive gang. Once again this week she decided that posting pictures of herself naked but for two black oblongs protecting her modesty (like she even understands that word) trying to “break the internet”.

Why is this vacuous, vain, preening, and ultimately ugly human being think we want to see her naked pictures in the first place? Sorry but once you’ve seen them the “mystery” is obviously over. Why is she famous anyway? Well her dad somehow managed to help OJ Simpson escape jail – the first time – when he) according to a jury of his peers, definitely never) killed his wife and her friend. And that’s about it. Kim made a sex tape a few years later and the rest as they say is a fucking waste of oxygen.

You wonder how their father would feel now looking at his daughters who constantly flash their bodies online and who have become obsessed with image over any substance. Here was a man who protected his young family during the OJ trial who after his death did everything they could to run towards the cameras. i never knew the man (I know surprising that) but as a father myself I would be less than happy if either of my daughters decided that this was a “career” regardless how much money it made them.

You see, for me there used to be this thing called self-respect we had. Rather than live vicariously through an electronic gadget and try to emulate the capers of a large arsed arse, maybe we should encourage our children to read things called books, do things like play games, make things and be decent human beings. Expose them to better role models from a young age so once they see the like of a Kardashian with their arse out they realise that there is more to being a human being.

People will claim that she, and they in copying her are all about removing the stigma of body shaming and taking control of their bodies. Bullshit. It’s about vanity and self promotion. A strong successful woman doesn’t need to remove her clothes to prove her value to society. That’s why we’ve never seen Malala in a lad’s mag or Michelle Obama tweeting a cheeky over-the-shoulder photo from the West Wing – they are better than that. And there are those who will argue that she made tens of millions of dollars by selling an app with her in it – to them i say Donald Trump sells merchandise doesn’t make it a good thing to own it. Yes I want my daughters to be confident about  their bodies but we don’t get to that point by sex tapes and nude pics of talentless fuck wits.

This one step removal from society that we currently see in a whole generation who can only survive with a mobile or tablet in hand is never going to produce a strong future. It’s insular, selfish and removed from reality. I want people to engage in the world, shape it, make it better. And while social media can help do that if it’s only done from hiding behind the little black mirrors in our pockets then we will always feel at a distance from that world that needs us.

The same idiots in front of me couldn’t even put their phones away last night when the comedian had to leave the stage because he was feeling sick. We were sitting right over the stage in the balcony and could see behind the side curtain – our phone obsessed peers had their camera out to take a photo of him on his kneels throwing up into a box. Is that really what we are deeming as suitable behaviour? If so don’t bother upgrading me the next time, I’m a Nokia 3310 living in a world of iPhone 7s.

JD

to sleep, perchance to dream

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Living in the sub-basement of my head I’d rather climb the stairs and lay my head down on the soft pillow of a freshly made bed and drift off – only to return on completion of the cycle my mind is on. To hide away from the world that feels oppressive and intrusive; from the voices and noise of daily life; from the darkness that emanates from every direction. To curl up and pull the duvet up and fall into the blackness away from the hell around me.

Hamlet asked whether eternal sleep would bring the dreams of more pain and not give any peace from life. Since changing medications I am dreaming again – previously the sleeping tablets that knocked me out meant I had no awareness of dreaming at all. I felt tired in the morning, but the lack of awareness of dreams meant I did feel rested – no nightmares, strange or psychedelic experiences. And I think I preferred it. Not having any memory of the night stopped those moments through the day when you would half remember something you had dreamt.

Ultimately it lessened the pain and concerns my dreams would throw up. The ridiculous conceits of the mind would weigh on the waking hours – adding to the misery. The issue is I can’t go back to the slow release tablets because they were too hard to live with in the morning. Some days it took a couple of hours to fully wake up which is no way to live your life, however you did sleep all night. Now I might not sleep as soundly but I am alert once I’m up.

Regardless which version of the medication is in my system there is still the battle to get out of bed while living with the black dog. There is a comfort, a safety within the sheets that you don’t feel out there. You can safely close your eyes and disappear from the world – you can’t see it so it doesn’t exist. It’s not hiding, it’s finding a safe place where you are less at risk from life. Nothing ever attacks me in my bed; no putting on a brave face or pushing yourself just to get through the day.

You daydream of real dreams. At least in your dreams you know nothing is real. They are only an issue when you wake and add them to your daily life – on their own they are storyboards of your imagination, badly plotted flick books that stutter and muffle noises, dampen senses and colours. In dreams you can see everyone you need to whether dead or alive, fictional or real, they stand with you. Those we miss are revived and those we would like to meet are opposite us.

The yearning for a make-believe world draws the depressed to their beds in the hope of hope. To believe in something and find solace in the briefest encounter. Standing in locations untouchable in real life lie before us as we feel the heat of the sun on a tropical beach or the familiar surroundings of a room from our past with a long passed relative. The comfort and protection of the imaginary over the harsh realities and sharp edges of real life is always going to be preferable.

That’s why bed and sleep is the refuge of the depressed: a place where we are unburdened by the ghosts and people of the day. The opposite is true of the manic phase where all you want is an audience, friends to play with and bounce off, to be surrounded by people. With depression the self-inflicted loneliness the mind craves isolates you from those who love and care for you as you look to the bed for solace instead of them.

It’s a cruel trick to play on you – to make you unobtainable at either extreme. At the bottom you isolate yourself and at the top you want to be surrounded by everyone. Those closest to you want to be with you and show their concern for you yet the only time you accept it is when you are in the middle at your “norm”. Those who stick with their mentally ill partners are victims of the disorders too. Perhaps they too are counting down the hours until you can both sleep and dream away from each other.

Hamlet’s soliloquy that holds “to sleep, perchance to dream” is best known as the “To be or not to be” speech – one about our mortality and the possibilities of the afterlife. Maybe there is no right answer, maybe there is no solution. Life throws these things at us and we need to find our own way through. I just want to go to sleep until this passes. Perchance to dream.

JD

The End of the World

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Time to re-read Revelations, or at least pretend we were paying attention in Sunday School, as the end is nigh. Feels like it at the moment – the news is just one terrible story after another, there are those seeking power who have more in common with Hitler than Churchill, the whole business in Syria with so many different groups all fighting for their own purposes, mass migration with hundreds of young children having to fend for themselves, Daesh, natural disasters being unnaturally vicious and the ongoing appearance of new diseases and epidemics sent to test us.

To those of us who live with a head which is unsettled already, there is an impact of the negative news agenda on us. You blow things up into problems that could or even will affect you. When you live with depression as part of your life these additional black clouds can completely shut out the light. You become preoccupied with them at times – looking up the latest info to see what’s going to happen next.

In a dark world, any removal of light brings anxiety. The logical side of you is pointing out that we have lived through uncertainty and stupid politics before and survived. The sane among you will also advise me to avoid the news if I’m feeling depressed but when you’re down it almost helps to find connections to the world as you become more insular.

The other side-effect of the depression and the “bad news” brigade is anger. I get wound up by the slightest thing; for example I start fizzing over a Trump speech I look around and wonder why everyone is just sitting around accepting these facts. Why are we not rising up as a people and stopping the ongoing stupidity we can see in the world. Then you wonder if it’s just you that can see and hear these things – like a mental illness superpower. You are Bipolar man and your power is insight into the world around you.

You fly above the norm and see all the madness in other people, situations and ideas. The enemy is “Lack of Common Sense Man”; a nasty creature who lives in plain sight throwing banana skins under the feet of seemingly intelligent people. Look over there – there’s a man in charge of a political party who comes from a privileged background, private schooling, Oxbridge education but has no heart or brain or courage. Even the Wizard of Oz would tell him to piss off, but somehow people vote for him to cut money from those who need it most in society. I can’t be the only one to see this. Can I?

On a serious note I find my blood boiling with the world around me because I’m more sensitive to negativity when suffering with a mood drop. It appears that everything is going wrong, there’s no positive news – only issues, problems and heartbreak. The world is out to get you as your paranoia kicks in and everything is a trigger for the short fuse you are holding. Being defensive and striking out at anyone who comes close. And here I am recognizing these traits yet I can’t shake them.

Everything becomes an “End of the World” situation where the worst case scenario is the only outcome to everything. You know in your heart it’s not, but your head is charging on ahead in a self-righteous march towards what you perceive to be the solutions. Not thought out, ill-conceived in the first place and idiotic I become no better than those I get angry at.

Then it turns inward. You get angry with yourself; admonishing the idiotic actions of a man struggling with mental illness. If I did it to someone else I’d be locked up, but self-flagellation is part of the British way of life so nobody blinks when they hear the nutter in the corner call himself names. The outside world impacts and changes the depressed and causes the internal battles to escalate. The self loathing I wrote about the other day becomes a norm – even in the manic phases. I have little or no confidence in myself never mind the outside world.

But what can you do – apart from build a rocket and escape all this background noise? I want to go to bed and just pull the covers over my head until it all goes away.

JD

100th International Women’s Day

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As the father of two daughters, you do wonder what the future holds for them. I am more than aware that while my son may not have the same hurdles in his way as they do, but my wish for all three is simple – that they can achieve the best in life for themselves.

Today we celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day and in many ways it’s sad that we even need these days – it automatically assumes that there is a difference between the sexes that must be sorted. And before the idiots make a noise, I would say the same about International Men’s Day on November 19th. Surely today we should be living in a society where there are no barriers because of gender, but we know that there are in developed counties across the world never mind the continued persecution, belittling and misogyny of many developing nations.

Without ignoring those developing countries we should do more at home to sort out the parity between males and females here at home. One of the first things I would like to see – and I blogged about this before – is strong role models for young girls. I’d rather my daughter looked up to Emma Watson that any Kardashian or Jenner – when is this obsession with vacuousness, talentless, narcissistic celebrity going to end? Let’s start holding Laura Trott, Michelle Obama, Dorcas Muthoni, Kirsty Wark, Katherine Ryan, Mary Beard, Malala, Laura Kuenssberg, JK Rowling, Angela Merkel and other strong successful women in all different fields up for our daughters to see and admire. Just because you’ve filmed a sex tape, ghost written a dozen terrible books or have married someone famous does not make you someone to look up to.

Another thing society needs to sort out is wages. Today there was an article saying that University of Aberdeen had a wide gap in pay levels between the sexes – how can this be? Consider that girls consistently outperform boys in school yet they earn around a fifth less in the workplace for the same jobs. It can’t be beyond the wit of HR departments across the world to sort this one out.

Within education there are constant drives to push girls towards the “STEM” subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – and while it is good in some ways there needs to be a different approach here. Positive discrimination is not something I particularly like. I’d rather we just opened all these subjects as wide as we can, looking at the successes and skills required, ensuring timetables further down the school were unbiased and all kids were taught these skills. With the current narrowing of the curriculum – especially in Scotland – you automatically limit the likelihood of girls choosing the subjects further on in their educational journey. I don’t believe you will ever have a 50/50 split of male and female in these subjects but ensuring the door isn’t closed is more important.

I also want society to stop looking at women negatively for choosing to stay at home and raise their family. I would argue that this is something done more by other women than men. The idea that “Superwomen” can really do it all has been a stick with which to beat women for the last couple of decades. Some women choose to both work and raise a family, others prioritize with more men staying at home. If you have a family and one parent stays at home to look after the kids then they are performing a great service to the family unit and regardless of gender they should be celebrated and valued. Bringing up a family is not an easy job and shouldn’t be seen as a second class job in society.

In the same vein, women who choose to – or have to – work should be made to feel bad that they are putting their kids into nurseries or having grandparents look after them. For a woman to want her own career and a family is not a contradiction. If you can do it I applaud you, but I also applaud all the women who want to work and build a career and not have kids. There is a disproportionate pressure on women to reproduce and it’s not something ever asked of men. I think men see this a threat to their domination of the boardrooms – a woman who only wants to focus on work and not take time off? Really, how dare they!

As I mentioned at the top, I have two daughters and when I look at the world and their future in it there is only one thing I want for them is to be afforded every opportunity regardless of their gender. That is equality. Not pushing overtly feminist agendas; not using positive discrimination; not achieving only because they are girls; but because they are good enough and every door is open to them. I want all three of my children to achieve their best regardless of their gender. We will support them in their choices, successes, failures and ambitions – not because they are male or female – but because I love them.

JD