My homework has eaten my blog

My homework has eaten my blog,
This week life got in the way,
I’ve been flying along by the seat of my pants,
And now I have nothing to say.

Sorry.
And, unfortunately, next week’s looking stupidly busy as well, so I’m going to say back in two weeks to be on the safe side.
Best wishes and hope life is kind in the meantime.

Prophets of Science Fiction

The science fiction genre in storytelling provides an excellent vehicle for social philosophy and social commentary, often taking an aspect of contemporary society and projecting it into an extreme vision of the future to make a point about it.

The world in which it is set, or its “social stage”, is therefore one of the most important features of science fiction. And the technology within that world is equally important, as science fiction is often, fundamentally, a comment on technology.

Prophets of Science Fiction” is a documentary television series produced and hosted by Ridley Scott for the Science channel.

SBS aired the series earlier this year and their overview of the series states

“Each episode of this series examines and celebrates the life, ideas, convictions, philosophies and genius of eight legends of the science fiction realm. These are pillars of the genre, representing the most ground-breaking conceptual viewpoints of their eras. Notable for some of today’s greatest sci-fi concepts, these writers and their works continue to inspire the minds of young and old around the world.”

(I thought that was a really excellent description of it, so I lazily stole it instead of working on one of my own!)

The eight chosen visionaries the series examines and celebrates are

Mary Shelley who started writing “Frankenstein” as a teenager, in 1816.

Philip K. Dick who was both a literary genius and a paranoid outcast. His work inspired the films “BladeRunner“, “Total Recall” and “Minority Report“.

H.G. Wells who wrote stories like “The Time Machine“, and “War of the Worlds“, and famously wrote his own epitaph – “I told you so…”

Arthur C. Clarke who co-wrote the script for the “2001” with Stanley Kubrick, the pair having based it on a short story by Clarke called “The Sentinal” (although he was quoted as saying that comparing “The Sentinal” with “2001” was like comparing “an acorn to the resulting oak-tree”).

Isaac Asimov who wrote “I, Robot“, and hoped for a better future where we had nothing to fear from technology.

Jules Verne who pioneered the science fiction genre, writing about space, air, and underwater travels before practical means of had been devised. He is best known for “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea“, “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Around the World in Eighty Days“.

Robert Heinlein who is “a walking contradiction. His stories address themes of patriotism and duty, while stressing the importance of personal freedom and expression”. The theme “What is freedom?” permeates his work, which includes “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Starship Troopers“.

George Lucas who gave us the epic space mythology of Star Wars and the concept of “the used future”, and changed the way movies are made altogether.

Critics of the series have deemed it to be “light on the substance and heavy on the exaggeration“. And, at times, I agree with that statement. (Especially with respect to the final episode, number 8 on George Lucas).

That said, it is still a fascinating, thought provoking and very worthwhile series to take a look at in my humble opinion.

Respecting the Tone

How often do you see this pattern emerge in some kind of online discussion?

Somebody offers up a topic.
People respond.
At first there’s a little bit of respectful disagreement back and forth.
Then somebody weighs in with a more heated comment on a certain point of the discussion.
And somebody else perceives disrespect and takes them to task for it.
And then a fight breaks out.
And the whole dialogue descends into a nasty little fight fraught with name calling and accusations and copious use of the word “troll” on both sides.

Perhaps these kinds of communications might be less problematic if they were held face to face. If each participant could see a person in front of them instead of words on a screen. Able to read the body language and expression involved in delivery of the message, not just the text.

Words are the tip of the iceberg in the ways human beings communicate with each other. Big chunks of the message can get lost (or misinterpreted) without all other aspects of our communication. Like, for instance, our tone.

Tone can make a lot of difference to the way people engage with one another, regardless of what they are discussing.

My brother works for Centrelink (which handles social security payments in Australia). He isn’t anymore, but he used to be on their phone line. People would ring in with their concerns and problems relating to their social security payments and allowances, and he would be the first port of call to help them sort it out.

He told me that a lot of people would ring up swearing and ranting and sounding very aggressive. And Centrelink has a policy that allows their staff to hang up on callers who swear and abuse them. So many of his colleagues did this when confronted with abusive callers. My brother had a lot of the most “difficult” calls/callers redirected to him because he didn’t hang up on them.

He said that even though it could be pretty confronting to have somebody ranting and swearing in his ear, he learned to tune it out. Because he could still hear the distress beneath it. And that he knew what they were really saying to him was “Help me! I have a big scary problem that’s stressing me out! I don’t know what to do about it and I feel like nobody’s listening to me!!!”

So he would simply try and get the facts from them. And get to the bottom of the situation, to figure out what was needed to resolve the problem. Ignoring all the rest.

He said as soon as they had a sense that he was listening to them they would immediately calm down. And their tone would change, and they would usually be very apologetic about the way they had initially behaved towards him. All they wanted was to be heard.

I really admire my brother for being able to do that, and wish I was a lot better at doing the same thing sometimes. I mean to be, but it can be very hard.

We can probably all find ourselves carrying around our share of stuff about the way the world has treated us at times. And nobody should really have permission to be abusive towards us, not even because they have been abused themselves.

But on the other hand, there are times when people really do just need our compassion and understanding.

It’s a tough one.

Because when someone is fighting to be heard, and has the baggage of a long history of what they feel are attempts to silence their voice, their voice can tend to have a lot of fight in it. It can sound hostile and aggressive and angry.

But that can also be understandably hard for people to engage with. Somebody may well know they have every right to be angry about what they’re talking about, but it’s just a fact of life that using an angry tone may well alienate the person they’re trying to talk to. And be counterproductive to their effort to get them to listen.

Respectful communication is paramount to that. Because if either party feels disrespected by the other, the most likely outcome is that they will shut down communication, stop listening and disengage from the the conversation altogether. Which gets nobody anywhere.

A conversation is a two-way dialogue. It you want to talk and be heard in any meaningful way, and engage in productive discussion, you have to put every bit as much energy into listening as talking. Even if you don’t always like what you end up hearing.

I guess finding your voice can often be about finding a balance between communicating respectfully with your audience and yet adopting a tone that is strong enough to make yourself heard.

And I think that’s really the same challenge whether we’re talking about writing a song, a novel, a film, a blog, or even a message or comment as part of a discussion on a forum of some kind, or Facebook or Twitter.

Our tone is a big factor for people in deciding whether or not they will listen to us, and engage on any level with what we have to say.

So, if that’s what we really want from them, it requires our most careful consideration.

Something to sing about

Song lyrics matter to me. I can really like a song purely for the way it sounds before I know what the lyrics are, but will be turned right off it upon discovery that its lyrics are “rubbish”.

My husband, who is far less “fussy” about a song’s lyrics, finds that a bit bizarre. He often seems to be far more hooked by the way the song sounds than what it has to say.

Music can sometimes elicit very powerful emotional responses from us.

Karen Schrock wrote in her article “Why Music Moves US” in Scientific American (July 15, 2009)

“Some scientists conclude that music’s influence over us may be a chance event, arising from its ability to hijack brain systems built for other purposes such as language, emotion and movement”.

So a song that has something to say can be a powerful tool of protest.

Because while a song – or a poem, or a book, or a film – can not change the world in and of itself, it can certainly help stir up strong feelings inside some of us. And help motivate us to put in some effort towards creating the changes we want to see. Or it can even become some kind of anthem to promote a bit of unity amongst the people who decide to dedicate themselves to such a task.

Here just a few iconic songs by artists who have helped to stir things up, and what motivated them to write them.

“Redemption Song” by Bob Marley (6/2/1945 – 11/5/1981)

“Redemption Song” is the final track on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ninth album, “Uprising”. Some of the song’s key lyrics were derived from a speech given by the Pan-Africanist orator Marcus Garvey in 1937

“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind”

Bob Marley had been diagnosed with the cancer (in his toe) which later ended his life when he wrote the song in 1979. His widow Rita Marley has said “he was already secretly in a lot of pain and dealt with his own mortality, a feature that is clearly apparent in the album, particularly in this song”.

The song is considered one of Marley’s seminal works, with Rolling Stone having listed it as number 66 among The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and Bob Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, credited with helping to spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a worldwide audience.

“The Times They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan told Cameron Crowe in 1985 that he recalled writing “The Times They Are a-Changin'” as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change. “This was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads …’Come All Ye Bold Highway Men’, ‘Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens’. I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time”

Less than a month after Dylan recorded the song, President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. The following night, Dylan opened a concert with the song. He later told biographer Anthony Scaduto: “I thought, ‘Wow, how can I open with that song? I’ll get rocks thrown at me.’ But I had to sing it, my whole concert takes off from there. I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding the song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping, or why I wrote the song. I couldn’t understand anything. For me, it was just insane.”

“Imagine” by John Lennon (9/10/ 1940 – 8/12/1980)

“Imagine” was a single released from John Lennon’s album of the same name in 1971.

He claimed that the song’s lyrics were inspired by “Cloud Piece”, a three-line instructional poem from Yoko Ono’s 1964 book Grapefruit.

Imagine the clouds dripping.
Dig a hole in your garden to
put them in.

1963 Spring

Lennon commented on the song’s message in an interview with David Sheff for Playboy magazine in the year he died, 1980

“It’s not a new message: “Give Peace a Chance” — we’re not being unreasonable. Just saying “give it a chance.” With “Imagine” we’re asking, “can you imagine a world without countries or religions?” It’s the same message over and over. And it’s positive.”

The song was ranked the 3rd greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone in its “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

“People Have the Power” by Patti Smith

“People Have the Power” is a rock song written by Patti Smith along with her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, and released as a lead single from her 1988 album “Dream of Life”.

The song has been used in various political campaigns and rallies in the US and Patti Smith performed the song at several of Ralph Nader’s rallies and “Democracy Rising” events, as she is a supporter of the Green Party.

Patti Smith is a legendary musician who helped to carve out a place for female involvement in the US Punk Rock Movement. Her music is very much tied to her political activism, and she has been actively involved in both (music and political activism) throughout her four decade career.

“To the Teeth” by Ani DiFranco

“To the Teeth” was Ani DiFranco’s response to the Columbine High School massacre.

Kim Ruehl wrote for the About.com Guide “Ani DiFranco has long been an advocate of gun control, and this is undeniably her finest song on the matter. Inspired by a rash of school violence and the questions it raised in the media about who’s at fault when children lash out, this title track to her album To the Teeth spares no explanation and pulls no punches. It’s one of the boldest topical songs of her entire career”.

“What Have They Done to the Rain” performed by Joan Baez

“What Have They Done to the Rain” was written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962 and was originally called”Rain Song”. It was written as part of a campaign to stop nuclear testing in the atmosphere, which was producing fall-out. It has been performed by many different artists, most notably by highly renowned American folk singer, songwriter and musician Joan Baez, who has also long been a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace, and environmental justice.

Why failure is inspiring

I didn’t really manage to write a blog this week. This one’s late and a tiny bit thrown together. I know the world won’t end over that, but it does feel like a little bit of a failure.

Sometimes I have a bit of baggage about failure. I suspect most of us do. Failure gets an awful lot of bad press.

Which is sad. Because failure is actually something we should be proud of and learn to embrace. You can’t try anything really daring or new without risking failure, perhaps epic failure and many times over.

An inspiring video about some very famous “failures” who went on to prove everyone wrong.

According to a Time Magazine article by Allie Townsend called “The Importance of Failure: Why We’re Wrong About Being Right” (13/10/2011)

Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer in the mid-1970s, a time when the cost of failure inside the freshman computing industry of Silicon Valley was next to nothing. “He wasn’t afraid to fail,” said Monumental Sports & Entertainment founder Ted Leonsis. “People forget the Lisa. It was his first attempt at a mobile device and it failed so badly they kicked him out of the company. His is the greatest comeback of all time.”

Malcolm McLaren had a similar lack of fear about failure

“I was taught that to create anything you had to believe in failure, simply because you had to be prepared to go through an idea without any fear. Failure, you learned, as I did in art school, to be a wonderful thing. It allowed you to get up in the morning and take the pillow off your head.”

And Bruce Lee was quoted in Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living as saying

“Don’t fear failure. — Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.”

So while I’m not sure my own situation necessarily counts as a “glorious” failure, it seemed like a good excuse to mention a few. (And hopefully I will succeed in getting my blogs together on time next from now on. But if not, that’s okay, too.).