Category Archives: Writing

If we stand by Charlie, we must end the Global War on Terror

The Worlds Reaction

The response to the recent attacks in France has been a mixed one. World leaders and media pundits have flocked to condemn the killings. Vigils have been held across France and the world, defying this apparent assault on our freedom of expression. While many Muslims have been forced to distance themselves from the attacks, due to a fear of reprisals from a growing far right.

However, my intention today is not to vindicate Muslims for the crimes of these men. Nor is to condemn the attackers, who are just one facet of a political struggle for power in the Middle East. My contention is with the conflicting values we seem to place on a human life.

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On Wednesday last week, 10 civilians and two police officers were killed by French gunmen of Algerian descent. These two men had been trained in Yemen, a country that has been targeted with US drone strikes since 2009. Within days they were made to pay for these crimes with their lives, in a dramatic hostage situation broadcast across the globe (in full HD of course).

In comparison, back in Yemen two years earlier, 12 innocent people were killed when a US airstrike hit a wedding convoy. But the US government refuses to acknowledge its role in their murder. Two years have passed and there is still no justice for these nameless people. Still no justice for the thousands of innocent Iraqis, Afghans, Yemeni’s and Pakistani’s killed during our supposed war on terror.

My question is simply, why?

Why is it that the loss of an innocent life thousands of miles away does not move us in the same way as those in Paris? Why does the death of journalists in Palestine not cause us to cry out in defence of Freedom of Speech? If every life holds the same objective value, then by standing by those killed in Paris, we must also stand by all those innocent lives lost, irrespective of who pulls the trigger.

The value of a human life

Even when confronted by truths such as these, many of us react with indifference at the loss of innocent lives in such countries. “We are good, and they are evil”, is the kind of one-dimensional thinking used to justify such murders. When Islamist militants are thwarted in distant lands, many of us commend the actions of our armed forces, rather than question the collateral damage incurred. But when a domestic attack takes place, we are moved to tears, anger and retribution. These are, ironically, the very same feelings that compel those in such war torn countries to seek out a similar kind of vengeance.

To some extent, this reaction can be explained as a biological mechanism. While philosophers are free to explore moral questions about the value of a human life, we must also look at how in practice people make this judgement. This is known as Descriptive Ethics. By doing so, we gain an insight into why foreign deaths of non-combatants, such as those killed in drone strikes, is often met with indifference in the West, whereas domestic attacks, such as those is Paris, stir up defiance and sorrow.

By combining the study of Morality with Evolutionary Biology, we start to see the emotional adaptations that influence our moral judgments and behavior. Peter Singer, a prominent ethicist, argues that “evolutionary theory can make a contribution to this debate” by offering us “reasons for believing that some of our emotional attachments are deeply rooted in our nature as intelligent, long lived primates, or even in our nature as social mammals.”

He argues that we as human beings find it easier to empathise with those who fall within certain proximity of our daily lives. As a result, we tend to place a greater value on the lives of our own kin in comparison to our neighbours. In a purely practical sense, this instinctive desire to protect our loved ones ensures the survival of our own genetic lineage. Yet despite this, our neighbours life still holds more importance than a strangers, perhaps because we consider them a friend. So here we can see a clear dichotomy begin to arise – a hierarchical manner in which we value the lives of others, based on moral intuitions acquired through evolution.

Put very simply, we tend to place a greater value on the lives of those who we see ourselves in. Yet with the Enlightenment and universalism – the idea that all sentient life has universality in experience – followed natural rights, then human rights, which bound together notions such as freedom, equality and justice, declaring them inalienable rights of all human beings. To reach such enlightenment ideals however, we had to first break ourselves from this innate way of thinking. So when we use our rational minds, we conclude that any loss of innocent life, irrespective of the context, ought to be met with the same kind of defiance that was shown in response to the Paris attacks.

Collateral Damage

When innocent people are killed in war, it is not considered murder, but callously labelled “collateral damage”.

Since 2004, an estimated 3212 people have killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. Only 2% of them killed intended targets. The rest are civilians such as women and children. What differentiates this kind of collateral damage from the 17 murders that took place in France?

Some make the distinction that a terrorist attack is a deliberate act of violence on innocent people, while collateral damage is an unintended consequence of warfare. But they are similar in that both cause needless deaths for the political interests of a minority.

War is waged knowing that there will be noncombatants killed, and in that sense, there can be no accidental killing on the battlefield, but only an expectation that some innocent people will die. When noncombatants are killed in drone strikes then, it is no more an accident than an inevitable consequence of war, and therefore no less intentional than the murders committed in France earlier this week.

By allowing such military operations to continue in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, we facilitate extremism by providing a moral justification for groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIL. There is no doubt that the rise of jihadism is in part due to western influence. US backed coups and foreign control of natural resources has led to an anti-western sentiment in these countries. We can extend this thread of causality back to the conquest of Mesopotamia during the Great War, and the subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The events that followed, rightly or wrongly, have to led to the volatile situation we see in the region today. Decades of extreme poverty, political repression, and poor education have created a fertile breeding ground for violence. To some extent therefore, we are culpable in the proliferation of extremism at home and abroad.

The verdict?

Thus the lessons we ought to take from this tragic event is that when we escape the constructs of our own subconscious mind, and the biological mechanisms that underpin our thinking, the deaths in Paris only highlight the hypocrisy of our actions, given the thousands killed and injured over the past decade. Similarly, by allowing our governments to continue hostilities in these distant lands, we are partly culpable for the inception and proliferation of these extremist movements. I want to stress that this is not a justification of Islamist aggression, but a call to all who stand by Charlie and by human rights, to use this incident as a catalyst to end all the human suffering caused by our war on terror. So while arguably justice has been restored in France as of yesterday, and calmness will quickly follow, for many millions elsewhere, the nightmare still continues…

 

What not to do if you want to be a Journalist

Note: This post was or originally written for the Journalism Diversity Fund (JDF), a charity which aims to increase social mobility in news rooms. 

So let me tell you folks, this past year has been quite a journey. From the frequent bouts of despair, to those rare moments of unbridled elation – the life of a wannabe is at best, unpredictable, and at worst, pretty shitty (to put it bluntly).

But all jokes aside, with this post my intention is not to tell you about all the cool stuff I’ve done, or how much I’ve enjoyed the course. Instead, I hope to teach you my most important lessons learnt to date, from all from the mistakes I’ve made on this journey so far (of which there have been many, I can assure you).

So here’s my Buzzfeed-esque list of things I definitely recommend you don’t do, because I’ve been foolish enough to do them all.

Lesson 1 – Don’t doubt yourself

One of the main problems I’ve faced is something that plagues us all – that ever looming voice of self-doubt. And research has shown that of the biggest challenges working class children face is a lack of self-confidence.

So my first lesson to you is believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to approach that stranger in the street for a vox pop. Don’t worry about putting yourself out there, such as asking for placements, or pitching a story.

Whatever it is that you’re feeling worried or anxious about, just remember that there’s no room for second guessing or hesitation in this business. So just go for it – what’s the worst that can happen?

Lesson 2 – Don’t be lazy

The famous philosopher Bertrand Russell once proclaimed, “I think that there is far too much work done in this world.” This was, until last year, a statement I stood by wholeheartedly.

My aptitude at ineptitude had stuck to me like a bogey on a wall, and it’s been a struggle breaking many years of bad habit. And while I’ve always been good at thinking about doing things, making those dreams a reality required me to be proactive.

So please, take it from me, do not hesitate to instigate, because you have to work to make your ambitions a reality. And there are no two ways around it – you have to work hard. Pull up them socks and get to typing friends.

Lesson 3 – Never be afraid to admit you are wrong

I remember reading a NYT article a while back, claiming that a big reason why people argue is to simply win the argument, and not find any objective truth.

Similarly, when we receive criticism, it’s easy to get defensive and blame someone else. It’s even easier to berate yourself over failure. But when we fail or come short, it’s a chance to look at ourselves critically. If you can’t be self-critical, you’re never going to achieve any real lasting success in life.

Whenever I should make a mistake, “I do not fail”, but “I succeed in finding out what does not work.” So while it may be difficult not to feel despair or even resentment whenever you do bollocks something up, try to be cheerful instead, because at least now you know not what to do.

So those are my top tips folks. I hope I haven’t patronised you too much with another questionably “useful” list that seem to be so prevalent on the internet. And while this blog post was mainly written in jest, I sincerely hope that you take some value from it (all three of you who’ve made it this far that is). But I’d also like to add that there is no set way to how things are done. Like many of you, I am also feeling my way through, tentatively creeping along this seemingly perilous path ahead. What I’m getting at is – I think you will also learn your own lessons in your own way, as I have learnt mine so far. And if I can do it, so can you.

Lastly, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the JDF for giving me this opportunity. Despite not having a phone or a computer, I was still able to make it through the course with the lifeline this charity has so graciously given me. If you’re thinking about becoming a journalist, then I wholeheartedly recommend you give them a shot, you won’t be disappointed. And a big thanks you to Lambeth College for offering me a place after I was turned down by News Associates. I am happy to report their risk has paid off.

Good luck to you all, and thanks for reading.

Losing my Burlesque Virginity

Note: This article was originally written for and published on www.planetivy.com

This last week has been quite a journey, friends. After twenty-four years of existence on this pale blue dot, I’ve finally lost my burlesque virginity. A seedy, hilarious and captivating concoction like no other, I dived headfirst into the Burlesque Games which took place in London last week.

Natsumi Scarlette performing at Twisted Burlesque night, Madam Jojo’s, Soho.

Natsumi Scarlette performing at Twisted Burlesque night, Madam Jojo’s, Soho.

“Stripping for posh people” is what it is often labelled by critics. Being a broke-ass pleb, I was going into the show a little sceptical. And the results? Tassels, glitter and giant rubber dildos – let me tell you, folks, Burlesque ain’t for the faint of heart.

It all kicked off with the press meet and greet last Tuesday, where I was hoping to get pissed off free booze and chat up scantily-clad ladies. I met Chaz Royal, one of the event organisers, by the door of Gore Hotel in West London. He’s a down to earth guy who doesn’t seem like he’d be the architect of one of the biggest Burlesque festivals in the world.

Event organisers Chaz Royal and Betty Q

Event organisers Chaz Royal and Betty De’Light

He told me there are 65 performers at the Games this year, with 6 shows and up to 2,000 viewers. The games started as a spin-off from the World Burlesque Festival, inspired by the 2012 games last year. Not exactly the Olympic legacy Cameron had in mind, I suspect. Chaz lives in Edinburgh after migrating from Canada, and has been around the world working with bands and burlesque groups. “London is the place to be,” he says, “people can be hostile…but not as much in London.”

I headed through the entrance and straight to the bar, but I quickly found I’d need a small fortune to get drunk here. I stuck with water and ice for the rest of the week. After realising I was actually going to have to do some work, I started talking to the folks loitering around the small room, which had a distinct 1920s feel to it. There was a grand fireplace, retro décor and fine oil paintings scattered along the walls. No wonder the drinks were so expensive.

The Emcee Reuben Kaye preparing to go on stage

The Emcee Reuben Kaye preparing to go on stage

The show was hosted by the flamboyantly gay Reuben R Kaye, who describes himself as a “rampant dipsomaniac”. When I first met him he was wearing a long, feathered hat and had a face caked in makeup. His eccentric look had a personality to match. Wonderfully enthusiastic and exceedingly intelligent, the man had a presence that was hard to ignore. The jokes came thick and fast throughout the show. He had a dark, self-deprecating sense of humour that was so typically British (even though he’s Australian). My favourite joke from the show: “I’m like a Sainsbury’s self-checkout: approval needed, approval needed – please put your items in the bagging area.”

Performing couple Collette  and Willy at the Press Party

Performing couple Collette and Willy at the Press Party

The first performing pair I met was Willy and Collette, a couple who’d travelled from Brussels for the games. They tell me they’re here to “meet international people and other performers”. The two are dressed in matching tuxedos, keeping in line with the early 20th century throwback. Collette has a dream-like glaze in her eyes and sports a gleaming top hat, while Willy has a suave pencil moustache and bowtie. I jokingly ask him if he’s fundraising for Movember, and he looks back at me with bewilderment. I guess it must not be a thing in Brussels.

Collette and Willy performing at Twisted Burlesque

Collette and Willy performing at Twisted Burlesque

I later saw the pair perform at the Variety act, which took place at the intimate Madame JoJo’s in a nefarious corner of Soho. The lights dim, and then turn a sombre blue as Willy’s booming voice begins the tale. His playing of the accordion was masterful, and together they crafted a captivating few minutes of song and dance. I was surprised by the performance, not by how professional it was, but by the fact that that there was no stripping. The pair went on to win the variety act and perform at the finals in Bush Hall on Saturday.

Another interesting character at the games was Equador the Wizard, a charismatic Londoner. At the press party he was sporting a long tail and a handlebar moustache with a pointed chin puff. He wowed me with some close-up magic and told me about his training as a ‘bubbleologist’ with bubble legend “Sam Sam Bubble Man.” This wizard is a rare breed, kinda like Gandalf the Grey, but instead of one ring to the rule them all, he’s got one tassel to bind them.

Equador the Wizard at the Press Party

Equador the Wizard at the Press Party

“Boylesque”, as he calls it, was a pretty big hit with the crowd, who roared in applause when he flung off his overalls and gyrated his hips to heavy metal. As the audience for Burlesque is mainly female, it’s not really a surprise that a half-naked man would draw such an eager ovation. Equador tells me he used to be a ballet dancer, like a lot of performers in the show.  But he was hit by a train in Bournemouth a few years back which left him with a broken pelvis. The accident turned the zany wizard into a bit of a philosopher. He told me to “always do what you find exciting. That’s why I do so many things.”

Equador the Wizard at Madam JoJo's

Equador the Wizard at Madam JoJo’s

By far the highlight of the week, though, was the weirdest of the five days: the wonderfully strange world of twisted burlesque. This shit was fucking weird, guys, I kid you not. At one point performer Lottie Kixx from Edinburgh walked off the stage sporting a strap on dildo which she rode like a horse. She grabbed Dennis the photographer and rammed the rubber phallus into his face, leaving a glittery jizz stain on his cheeks. It was actually quite a beautiful sight to behold, despite Dennis being none too pleased by the ordeal.

Lottie Kixx with The Phallus of Doom

Lottie Kixx with The Phallus of Doom

In another performance, Alan Debevoise, from Lake Como, Italy, stripped to the theme tune from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. He walked into the crowd and proceeded to display his waxed butt cheeks in front of my young innocent eyes. Some things cannot be unseen.

 Alan Debevoise performing at Twisted Burlesque night


Alan Debevoise performing at Twisted Burlesque night

What I found most enticing about Burlesque however, was the sheer inventiveness of it, the unbridled creativity that goes into some of the acts. Performers like Natsumi Scarlett from Amsterdam, and Bruised Violet, from Sheffield, impressed me with their dedication and hard work. They designed their own costumes and props, along with orchestrating the choreography and music. There were some bad bitches in this show, with the talent to back it up.

Natsumi Scarlett getting ready to perform

Natsumi Scarlett getting ready to perform

So my final thoughts on Burlesque as a newcomer to the scene – it’s definitely entertaining, a good night out and a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yes, burlesque is stripping, heck, it inspired modern stripping, but it’s a form of entertainment that goes so much further. It’s about working with characters and creating an engaging variety act. The best shows for me were the strange ones, I just couldn’t turn away. The more bog standard routines I found a little boring and repetitive. While there’s nakedness involved, from my week long crash course it’s more like a naked-themed pantomime than your run of the mill strip show, with whooping, hollering, cheering, singing, and plenty of laughs to go round.

 

Winners of the World Burlesque Games 2013

Winners of the World Burlesque Games 2013

*Pictures courtesy of Chaz Royal

I’m going back to college…

So today I got some great news

Journalism Diversity Fund training bursaries awarded
Posted on 

Nine aspiring journalists have been awarded bursaries by the Journalism Diversity Fund to complete NCTJ-accredited training courses.

Colin Cowan; Samson Dada; Ese Erheriene; Christopher Gage; Joshua Hammond; Ana Hine; Neil Kingston; Rebecca Koncienzcy and Suhail Patel were successful in securing bursaries to help them complete their journalism training.

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Trials, tribulations, and a shitload of cake

So yup. if you hadn’t guessed it already, I’ve been trying to become a journalist for quite some time now, and let me tell ya’, it ain’t been easy friends. You can read about my life as a wannabe in a previous blog post. But if you can’t be bothered looking up the specifics, just know this – there have been plenty of obstacles on the journey so far, and needless to say, I’m sure there are many more to come.

But despite all the cockups, regardless of all the times I fucked up, to put it bluntly, today I have taken a monumental step in the right direction. Today I found out that I’ve been given the funding I need to pursue my dream.

Time to do my victory dance!

The lovely guys n’ gals down at the Journalism Diversity Fund (JDF) have been kind enough (and crazy enough) to give me the money I need to finance a trip back to college. There I plan to get my NCTJ accredited qualification in Multimedia Journalism. To get into journalism these days you tend to need this kind of qualification, or similarly a masters in Journalism. I’ll now be able enroll at Lambeth College, and intend to start in the coming days. I will be embarking on a year long journey into the wonders of writing, shorthand and media law. How very exciting…

About the Diversity Fund

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The JDF are a charity that aims to bring diversity to the news. Established in 2005, so far they’ve helped a huge number of people like myself realise their ambitions. The fund is financed predominantly by working journalists and various news outlets  – professionals who want to create a more representative news room.

While there are some conditions you must meet before you can apply, the fund is open to anyone like me, who would otherwise be unable to finance the cost of attaining the qualification.

If you’d be interested in donating, take a look at their current sponsors and supporters, and if you’re already a professional journalist, you can even help by volunteering for the charity.

My sincerest thanks

Thanks all, much love.

Yes YOU! Much love guys

So a big thank you is in order, to all those persons who have assisted in one way or another so far. From the wonderful Deborah Hall, who so kindly gave me advice when I first started this journey, and her friend Jan Jacqueline, who also helped me when I needed it most. The people at Just Change UK and Giving What We Can, who let me volunteer for them, and the awesome bunch in Hackney running WorldBytes – Ceri and Andi, I thank you.

Amanda Nunn, Lizzie Dearden, Zjan Shirinian, along the rest of the team at the Ilford Recorder, I couldn’t have got here without your patience and guidance. To the wonderful digital team at Medicins Sans Frontieres – Ben Holt, Clare Storry, Nick Owen and Lee Butler – you guys are awesome, and I hope I haven’t let you down by having to leave so soon (well, partially at least). And of course my friends, family, and all those who have supported me so far, especially those of you who wrote for MyOpenLetter.info, I am indebted to you all. I shall never forget your kindness, patience and generosity during this very difficult year. (so basically, sorry for being so broke all the time).

So I guess, what I’m getting at is…

You’ve dun’ me proud son

Last but not least, I want to thank the team at the JDF who gave me this chance – Dave, Shevon, Alice and Lisa; I am truly grateful for this opportunity and I feel sincerely privileged to be representing the charity. I one day hope to continue the good work you guys have done to date.

So thanks for reading all, and stay tuned for my next big story…onwards and upwards!

“Move it turtle! I’m gonna be late for my first day of school, innit” – Me riding my mighty steed to Lambeth College.

Feeding the trolls – Brendan O’Neill on Unpaid internships

Another response to Brendan O’Neill.

Masterful troll that he is, the Spiked editor has spurred me to retort once more. Seeing as this is a topical issue, one very relevant to me, I thought I’d post my response here for further discussion.

Original Article –
Why interns don’t deserve pay – by Brendan O’Niell

My response…

“Is there anything worse than when middle-class campaigners use grubby-kneed poor folk as a Trojan horse for the pursuit of their own self-enriching escapades? Resilient working-class kids have for years topped up their internships with Saturday jobs or evening work, while kipping on a friend’s couch to cut outgoings.”

Oh Brendan, how utterly contrived your argument is. As an intern who comes from a low income family, and as an aspiring journalist, I think you’re just a bit out of touch with what obstacles people like me face these days.

I intern 5 days a week, and work weekends when I can. I am on the books of three different temping agencies. I think this is neither fair nor just, namely, that people with wealthy parents have significantly easier circumstances than me. Life would be considerably easier if I was even just paid a menial sum of money for my efforts, rather than next to nothing.

I agree that an internship is an opportunity to learn; I do not contend that interns are “work” for the company “employing” them. But the fact that I can’t claim jobseekers while interning, that I am given no state support is simply ridiculous. I can’t even afford to pay my phone bill, the interest on my student account overdraft, and more and more this just makes internships very unappealing. But without doing unpaid work, the simple fact is, it would be near on impossible for me to become a successful journalist.

Oh yes, but we mustn’t forget the middle-class campaigners now, right Brendan? The people who can actually afford to finance their children’s internships. But I suppose there are plenty of middle class campaigners to argue for the importance of unpaid internships, ones such as, editors of small online magazines perhaps? The same small magazines that quite frequently use and abuse unpaid interns. Now for me at least, this is “easily the most grating argument” used by a greedy businessman such as yourself Brendan.

While I do not disagree that internships are very useful and if not more so to the intern, the fact remains, is they ultimately make the business employing them money. I can find several articles written by interns on Spiked alone that are more successful than a lot of your own articles Brendan. And a lot of your posts are simply written to irk the far left wing, and thereby garner you views and comments. I’ve been following your articles for some time now, and it is my opinion that you’re nothing more than just a glorified troll Brendan.

Interns deserve to be paid for their efforts, even if it is below minimum wage. But you ride off their success; you don’t give them the monetary value their efforts deserve, however small it may be. As someone who has worked for Living Marxism, I’m sure you must understand why this is wrong?

 

Fellow interns, what are your thoughts on unpaid internships?

The Cave of El Castillo – Short Story


“The Cave of El Castillo
” is my imagining of a prehistoric man creating the first known piece of cave art. 

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A thick carpet of rain falls from darkened clouds that loom ominously overhead. Hidden in the undergrowth, a blurred silhouette weaves through an intricate maze of shrub and oak with gazelle like grace. It breathes heavily and rhythmically, placing each step with a perfected precision.

Suddenly the mysterious creature comes to an abrupt halt, stopping at a small clearing in the undergrowth. A faint slither of moonlight seeps through swelling clouds, revealing the unmistakable shape of a man. He wipes the pouring rain off his disheveled beard and protruding brow. The lines and contours of his muscled body are prominent through the drenched rags he wears, along with scars and abrasions that cover his back and arms. Looking up he scans a cliff face further afield, squinting his eyes thoughtfully, using his large hardened hands to block the heavy rainfall.

He postulates for a moment, then runs back into the thick canopy towards a crumbling mountain of muddied limestone. In the forest once again he moves with relative ease like a shark through water. Upon reaching the cliff face, he stops, and looks upwards at the great wall that now faces him. Slowly he starts to climb the porous white stone, placing each tentative step with caution. His thick muscular arms strain with the weight of his body, and his bare feet struggle to find grip on the slippery slopes.

With one last effort he desperately reaches the top of the cliff edge. His calloused and dirt ridden hands frantically search the floor as he struggles to find anchorage. He chances upon a sturdy ivy vine – pulling hard he lets out a deep groan, lifting his heavy body over the cliff edge. The veins on his arms throb from exhaustion, and he pants vigorously to catch his breath.

He rolls on his back and wearily pushes himself up off the ground. Walking back to the edge of the cliff, he gazes intently at the now wide open view of the forest below. Here he stood on his own secluded paradise, amongst a vast expanse of boundless green ocean. He turns back around and heads to the desolate cave he’d eyed from far down below in the clearing.

A flash of light momentarily distracts him, and a deep roar of thunder follows seconds afterwards. He moves cautiously towards the mouth of the cave. More ivy vines cover the entrance, which he cautiously brushes aside whilst avoiding its stinging nettles. Upon entering, he in confronted by an eery silence and darkness. He hesitates – doubt takes its debilitating hold.

He takes a few steps into the mouth of the cave, using the weak silver moonlight to guide him. The cavern is dry at least, and so he removes the cold and wet tattered rags that cling to his body. Naked now, he begins to clumsily search around the floor of the cavern. After a few moments he stumbles upon a few pieces of dry cider wood. Venturing further inwards he is soon swallowed whole by the darkness of the cave. Now only nothingness remains. Very calmly and patiently he begins to draw forth that miracle of flame. A small spark grows into a beacon of light. In a few moments, it has consumed the darkness that had surrounded him.

Now the fire burns a warm orange hue, and he wearily takes a seat by the crackling flames. It emanates it glorious warmth through his cold and fatigued body. His vision fixates upon the fire, which dances in the reflection of his dark black eyes, twisting and curling with the howling winds pouring in through the caverns entrance. There is little sound apart from the gentle pitter-patter of droplets falling from the vast emptiness above, the distant murmuring of the storm still brewing outside. The walls seemed to almost ebb and flow like great lakes in the dancing glow of the burning torchlight.

He throws another piece of wood on the fire which causes it to swell further. Its enchanting hue’s and elegant ballet seem to ignite something deep within the traveller’s mind. His breathing slows and takes on a rhythmic fashion. In that moment, one that is quite unlike any other before it, a strange excitement begins to rise within him, brimming to the surface, inciting him to do something never quite done before. His breath quickens and his eyes widen. No longer wet and trembling, he takes a piece of glowing cider wood off the fire, and uses it to thoroughly search between the dusty stones that lay hidden on the darkened floor. He finds a crumbling piece of limestone from the litter that surrounds him. With the aid of his luminous flame, he begins to scratch upon the undulating walls.

Within their folds and furrows he draws like a child in play. As the lines begin to take shape, a clear image emerges from between the cracks and crevasses of the caverns wall. The wild beasts that roam sweeping green fields as far as the eye can see. The graceful birds that perch in the tall birch trees, and saunter along on the summer breeze. Below the creatures of the deep, that shimmer like distant stars beneath the rolling waves. Stroke by stroke he paints onto once bare lifeless stone these shadows and reflections of the day. The tundra and the ocean, the forest and the heavens above all come to life by his hand and thought alone.

He stands back in awe. There now stood in front of him a truly wondrous sight to behold – it was the story of life. As a final act of creation, he takes the limestone chalk and chews ir in into a thick paste. Putting his hand upon the wall, he spits to create a silhouette – the artists signature now completes his great work. And so he returns to the fire to revel in his skill. However, unbeknownst to him as the storm swelled and unfurled on the young tender earth outside, a hidden danger lurked deep in the shadows. There came a thundering bellow that tore above the howls of wind and crackling of thunder. The sound was unlike any other he’d heard before, and so a burning curiosity compels him to investigate.

He approaches the cliff edge from whence he’d came. As he peers through the mouth of the cave, something grabs him by the throat from behind. He clamours for air, and he struggles to loosen its deathly hold. In but a moment, it seems as if time itself stops. Exhausted from his efforts, he cannot break free and collapses in fatigue. A deafening silence surrounds him. There is a faint murmur – and then he hears the gentle and unmistakable voice of another – the words he cannot understand however. He desperately tries to move once again but he is seemingly frozen solid. He gasps for air once more, but each breath he feels takes him closer to death. Despite his panic and unrest, the quiet stillness of the moment begins to melt into itself, unfurling and submerging into nothingness.

Darkness begins to consume the room once again as the flame starts to dwindle. The sounds of the storm, the dripping of raindrops is all that remains. In the shadows of the flame, the limestone chalk lies on the ground and on the walls now dance and play those dreams once dreamt in the darkness of night. Now here is where rests his soul, on this once bare lifeless stone, where for many moons he shall lay waiting, until he will rise once again…

My Open Letter archive launched!

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So those few of you who regularly follow my blog posts might of noticed a lack of activity these last few days. That’s because I’ve been hard at work on the MyOpenLetter project.

Recently I launched the archive section, and while it’s rather lacking with only two entries atm, I’m optimistic it’ll be filled up in no time with interesting posts. For now though, check out my letter or Anonymous Girlfriends story of overcoming odds

I’ve also posted my letter below, so please read and tell me your thoughts. Also I hope this inspires you to get thinking about what you might right about. You can email submissions to submit@myopenletter.info. Hope to read your letter soon!

Dear Reader,

I look in the mirror, and I see a face. It is a face I could describe to you in quite exquisite detail. From its dark brown eyes and faintly tanned skin, to its slightly crooked nose, its cherub cheeks and accompanying mischievous smile. This face has one very prominent dimple only on the right side, and has thick red lips surrounded by a dishevelled beard. Indeed, this is a face I have grown quite accustomed to. But whilst I could continue to go on describing this face in great intricacy and detail, I couldn’t tell you if it would be considered a beautiful one or not. I could not tell you what others thought about my face, for I am quite certain, some may dislike its roundness and plumpness, whilst some may feel otherwise. But I like this face, because this face mine, and this face is mine alone.

So I have no problems in admitting that sometimes I find myself wondering what other people think about me. I’m sure you have probably felt like this at one time or another dear reader. Who you are I am not sure, and perhaps my message has reached you after a thousand years, hidden like a Dead Sea scroll through a vast expanse of time. Dear reader whom is unbeknownst to me, I ask you this question, irrespective of whom you are when you are living, are these really important things to think about? For they are, when we look upon them objectively, only differences of mere millimetres. These are but slight disparities in the angles of bone and variations in skin tone. These are nothing but cosmetic, superficial vanities that seem to be so important to so many of us in this world today, myself included.

I put it to you dear reader that we as human beings ought to value something more substantial. For us to understand what I mean by this, you must understand what it means to be a human being first.

Throughout the eons, ever since the first tentative words were spoken by man, the very first inkling of thought expressed by our distant ancestors, we have always struggled to find absolute truth in this rather puzzling world. And ever since we became aware of our own mortality, many subsequent philosophical questions have been raised about our existence. Why are we here? How did we come to be? What is our inevitable fate? How should we treat one other? All profound questions that to date we have still not managed to answer with any degree of certainty.

But despite any criticisms I have of human beings, I am a firm believer in the capacity of us to be quite marvellous creatures. From the incredible lasting legacies of the great thinkers past, I cannot deny that we have come a remarkably long way since those inklings of consciousness were first exhibited by human beings. From those hesitant scrapings upon once bare lifeless stone, the seeds of destiny were firmly sown, and a great tree of knowledge has flourished in its wake. The full force of causality took hold, and here we find ourselves today in this moment of time, wondering what lies in wait for humanity in the centuries to come.

Once many moons ago, before I had eyes to see and a mind to think, I was a collection of particles wandering aimlessly through a vast expanse of emptiness. This potent soup of subatomic particles slowly took shape, and through the heavy hand of microscopic forces, you and I ware formed in the furnaces of time and space. We owe our existence to an incessant churning of masses, started by a miraculous mix spontaneity and improbability. And here we are now, living on the frontier humanity, forging a path that has not yet been walked by any living being before us. Yes, we have come a remarkably long way indeed, despite having still a great distance to travel. We have learnt some incredible things already about the nature of the universe and our place within it. Objectively speaking, this is quite an astonishing achievement for a mere primate, first emerging from the dishevelled canopies of prehistory countless millennia ago. The ascent of man has been a arduous and improbable journey.

One of the profoundest things we have come to learn in recent decades, something that has never been known before, is that the reality in which we reside is governed by chaos. Even in this new age of empiricism, there is no such thing as certainty. Life is fickle for the very laws that form the basis of nature, the cosmos, and everything in between are firmly rooted in anarchy. How do we find order in a naturally disordered universe?

Human rights were first formally brought into law internationally only in 1948. While at first this may seem a like an irrelevant detail, it is in actuality quite an incredible milestone in human history. We creatures who live in this world of uncertainty, have begun to formulate certain universal laws of our own, particular moral beliefs that apply to all human beings. And whilst 1948 may seem a long time ago, half a century is but a mere grain of sand in a great desert of time. Yes, we have come a remarkably long way it seems, but it is my belief that we now rest at a pivotal point in the story of humanity and the cosmos itself. A prestigious and self appointed promotion, if you will, to the narrator of its tale, the story of its existence and inevitable demise. With the gift of consciousness, comes the burden of being the bearer of your own destiny. The future is in our own hands.

With this realisation, my message to you is simply this – think. I know it is probably unwise of me to worry about how my face looks to others, because at the end of the day, it is just a face. But I also know that I should take an interest in Human Rights, because we need to bring order to the natural chaos of nature. In the long run, the latter benefits us all and also our descendants. The shape of my face however, brings very little long lasting joy and happiness to collective society. I had to think to realise that. We all have this rather wonderful set of abilities unique to human beings. We can look forward in time and plan ahead. We can ponder upon life and our place within the cosmos. But most importantly, we can also empathise with other human beings, and feel pain through their suffering. We can feel joy through the happiness of others.These are the qualities that I maintain, have gotten us here today, and are important to the future of humanity.

So I claimed that we are the bearers of our own destiny, and so my final question to you is this – what do we want for the destiny of humanity? It is a question I cannot answer alone, simply because, I am just one human being. I do not speak for the whole of humanity, but I am entitled to my say as everyone else is. So think with me, friends one and all, regardless of your race, irrespective of the colour of your skin or the nature of your beliefs, let’s think and try to answer all these profound questions together. Let’s try to understand the universe and our place within it, and let’s try to make this world just a little bit better for when that inevitable time comes for us to leave it.

Peace and Love,

From
Suhail H. Patel

Life as a wannabe – shit happens…

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I had a really bad day yesterday. The kind of day where you find yourself looking thoughtfully out the window, trapped in self-inflicted prison of crippling apathy. I wanted to write about it, but I couldn’t fathom the enthusiasm to do so. So I stared. I stared out the window and I stared at the ceiling. I looked seemingly vacantly at the bare walls, whilst worryingly incessantly about what had transpired earlier that day.

So I suppose you’re wondering right about now, what on earth happened to cause me so much despair? Well, to put it simply, I fucked up. And of course, I’m not so conceited as to not be able to admit that this happens often. It doesn’t help that I’m slightly neurotic, but I suppose that all writers tend to be, well, just a tad bit strange. You have to be to want to break into an industry as fickle as journalism.

So the rather cliche story is, I’m trying to become a professional writer, and unsurprisingly, it’s not particularly easy. At least not with a bad degree from a midrange university. Nobody ever said it wouldn’t be tough considering circumstances, and I never thought otherwise. But still, the occasional unforeseen hiccup on the bumpy road ahead can set you back a bit more than you’d hoped.

I was reading Siraj Dat9o’s post on WannabeHacks the other day , and it got me thinking about all the collective mistakes I’ve made on my journey so far. None yet as grandiose as a fake bomb prank gone horribly wrong, but one time I did tell an interviewer that anxiety was one of my key skills. You can’t help but wonder about such past misjudgements.

This is all opportunity to learn of course. So what have I learned so far? Well to be quite frank, I don’t really want to patronise you my dear reader, with the whole list of useless hints and tips that are so prevalent on the internet. What I’m saying is, this isn’t wiki how – there is no set way to how things are done when it comes to writing. Also as an amatuer myself, I must confess I really don’t have a bloody clue yet. I suppose like many of you, I’m feeling my way along, tentatively creeping along this seemingly perilous path ahead. What I’m getting at is, I think you will learn your lessons in your own way, as I have learned mine so far.

Saying this however, one subject that I am an unquestionable expert at, is being a bit shit. Contrary to regular posters on Wannabe Hacks, my list of of success to date is rather lacking. While admittedly I’m still at the beginning of this journey, I’ve already made quite a few mistakes in launching my career in Journalism so far. I guess what you could say is, I’ve learned a lot about what not to do, and I feel rather compelled to share these lessons with you, irrespective of if you should wish to follow them. So without any further introduction, here is my not-so-list like list of things NOT to do. I know this because, I was stupid enough to do them all.

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THINGS NOT TO DO IF YOU WANT TO BE A JOURNALIST

Lesson number one – don’t be lazy. The famous Mathematician and Philosopher Bertrand Russell once proclaimed, “I think that there is far too much work done in this world.” This was, until earlier this year, a statement I stood by wholeheartedly. Which is unsurprising, considering my aptitude at ineptitude. 23 years of combined idleness and laziness has stuck to me like a bogey on a wall.  It’s been a struggle breaking many years of bad habit. But If I could give you one tip, from personal experience, it is this – do stuff. Be proactive. If you’re an artist, you must paint. If you are a dancer, you must dance. And if you’re a writer, you MUST write. Russell argued for the “organised diminution of work”, because he thought this would allow “every person possessed of scientific curiosity” to “be able to indulge it, and every painter…able to paint without starving.” The unfortunate reality is, you have to work to survive. And there are no two ways around it – you have to work hard. Pull up them socks and get to typing friends.

Lesson number two –  don’t be (too) reckless. Everybody loves a risk taker  There’s something enchanting about someone going up against the odds. And I myself have frequently thrown caution to the wind, and sadly also, my future prospects. It’s not surprising I got a 2:2 on my dissertation, considering I was drunk whilst writing half of it. In hindsight, perhaps a foolish thing to do. Maybe I should of also revised for longer than a fortnight for my finals. Most certainly I think, this would’ve been wise. I guess as writers we value creativity, but it’s nothing without conscientiousness. While it might sound foolish, now I know it’s a lot easier to write when sober. I now know that it’s lot easier to do things when you plan ahead. Whilst I concede that these seem like rather common sense things to say, I cannot stress enough the importance of balance. It is a lesson hard learnt for me, but worth it in the end. I still think you should be willing to take risks and enjoy yourself, but be warned, all play and no work means you will suffer in the long run. What I’m getting at is simply plan, prepare and most importantly, study. You won’t regret it.

Lesson number three – By far my most important lesson, never be afraid to admit that you’re wrong. I remember reading a NYT article a while back, claiming that a big reason why people argue, is to simply win the argument, and not find any objective truth. I think I see this a lot in others as well as myself. When we receive criticism, it’s easy to blame someone else. It’s even easier to berate yourself over failure. But when we fail or come short, it’s a chance to look at ourselves critically. I argued in a blog post last week, that writers need self delusion to succeed. And while I still stand by this claim in part, I can admit I was partly wrong also. Because sometimes its useful to be knocked down a peg or two. It’s always good to be humbled. If you can’t be self critical, you’re never going to achieve any real lasting success in life. That’s what I think anyway’s.

The way I look at it is like this – whenever I should get something wrong, whenever I should make a mistake, “I do not fail”, but “I succeed in finding out what does not work.” So while it may be difficult not to feel despair or even resentment whenever you do bollocks something up – try be cheerful instead. Because at least now you know not what to do.

It’s a long journey, and I suspect there will be many more obstacles to face ahead. So good luck to you my friend, and always remember to stay humble, thoughtful and most importantly, optimistic.

The Writer, the Narcissist and the Critic

Note to Reader: This is a reworking of something I wrote for my blog on http://www.writingforums.org/ a while back.

I used to frequently post on this forum for constructive critique and assistance in creative writing, and I suggest any of you who like to write check it out for some useful assistance and like minded people.

One thing I noticed while posting there however was a lot of attention seeking, a lot of unwarranted heavy criticism. But the thing was, I was just as guilty as everyone else there for doing it. It got me thinking – do we as writers, care more for the praise or recognition gained by our creations, than the actual process of creating itself? Do we tend to unjustly hold our work and our abilities up on some elevated podium, with rose tinted glassed, perhaps look upon our creations with more favourable eyes we would the work of others?

I accept that it is difficult to escape one’s own mind, our own trivial desires and aspirations to be adored. Self delusion of one’s own aptitude and importance plagues many of us. For instance, I am subscribed to many blogs of fellow creators, but comment in very few of them. What does this say about me as a person?

Hence, today I hope to write about the narcissistic tendencies of writers and people in general.

I find that many of us are more concerned with our own writing then that of our literary peers. Do a majority of post our work to gain insight into how we may improve our writing? Or merely to stroke our ever inflating ego’s? Perhaps even pertain to some ideal that we are intelligent, we have talent, and seek confirmation of this fact?

I think maybe I might be being a bit cynical of the intentions of the amateur writer here. While even I admittedly don’t take enough interest in other peoples work, and have those narcissistic qualities highlighted above, I think when it comes down to it, I mostly write for fun, for escape, to ward off boredom and loneliness. (Sad times indeed my friend)

Perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic – it’s a hobby put simply, one which I hope to turn into a career one day. I must by very virtue of the trade start out as an amateur unfortunately. But I like to think of it like this – we are all capable of greatness, while we may  or may not necessarily achieve it in our lives. But in order to achieve greatness, we all require recognition of our efforts, to keep us going along in a protective bubble of delusion, in the hopes one day we’ll be “good enough”. There are many failures along the way, and I think a touch of vanity helps an aspiring anything to overcome these frequent set backs. Nobody starts out as a literary genius, or a masterful artist; Picasso didn’t pick up a paintbrush and just paint a masterpiece. just as CLR James did not write The Black Jacobins in an evening.

What I’m getting at is, they had to believe in themselves, they had to think they had what it took. Because anyone who’s ever achieved anything worth achieving knows that it takes time, it takes effort and it takes perseverance. Sometimes a little ego stroking goes a long way in helping you actually become good at something.

Hence, I don’t think one ought to be to harsh in critiquing the aspiring writer or artist, for it can do more harm than good in my opinion. We all have this innate ability to create this entity, which is essentially an open concept. Always changing in the collaborative eyes of society. There is no set way of doing things, no matter how much you may think there is. While you may have personal preferences or certain beliefs to what you find “pleasurable” art, or how you think we ought to succeed at writing a novel – this is of course your prerogative as a living, thinking, free human being. We all needs time to find our own voice, our style, our message – and personally I’ve needed a lot of reassurance to get where I’m at today.

As an alternative, I put it to you dear reader, that maybe sharing our lovingly crafted works should be less about critiquing the parts you don’t like, but highlighting how something is good, and has this intangible, indefinable “value”. For if we are to define literature as essentially art, then what is its purpose? How do we as human beings, derive pleasure from its inception and creation? I think this is an almost impossible answer to formulate, for if we were to ask everyone on this planet, I’m sure the answers would be unique to every individual queried.

In this regard, I suppose we refrain from harsh critique, and focus more on understanding each other’s work, highlighting strengths, and seeing the stories behind these individual works of art, many of which, along my own that is, are destined to be lost in the great abyss of time. The only rules are that it entertains, it inspires and it has meaning. Sometimes picking over details, being pedantic and too technical is just unnecessary  While criticism can be effective, too much can lead to apathy or despair. I think that we should just give each other’s work the time and attention it deserves, for however brief it may be, and however little contribution we may give.

Best Blogging Practice

So just a little back story to this article. I wrote this for a charity I’m volunteering for called Giving What We Can. I recommend you guys check out their website and what they do. They basically try and get people to donate a certain amount of their income to charities that give you “the most for your money.” By this I mean, they use charity rankings like GiveWell to see which charities save the most lives for the money you donate. Watch the video below for more info:

For instance, you can save a lot of lives investing in clean water and general hygiene, and it’s very cost effective to do so, in comparison to lets say, investing in obscure Human Rights charities, or Animal Protection charities. While the latter two deal with some very important issue’s, it’s not as cost effective when it comes to saving human lives.

So while I’ve digressed a bit, here’s the article I wrote, about what I think is some good advice for bloggers!

BEST BLOGGING PRACTICE
By Suhail Patel

 

Blogging has become a prevailing force in the spreading of ideas. With the permeation of the internet and the revolution in communication it has instigated, we often find ourselves sharing our thoughts and idea’s ever more frequently through this prevailing medium.

So the issue arises, what to do with this new found voice and our ability to so now easily share our thoughts? We have this wonderful ability to share what we think and how we feel about the problems humanity face, and the things we think are important in life.

How can we best utilise this new found freedom?

The humble blog, short for “Weblog”, has seen an explosion in popularity since its original conception. The process of starting your own blog has been made significantly easier for those not particularly web savvy.

But with this surge in popularity, it has become increasingly difficult to have your voice heard amongst the swelling crowd of bloggers.

So here are a few do’s and don’ts, some best blogging practice for those of you who don’t want to drown in an ocean of voices:

1. Engage with other blogs and your own readers- Don’t be afraid to say your opinion. Not everyone’s views are going to coincide with yours, and equally, you will not always be right about something, no matter how much you may try or think you are. Open to the door to conversation; don’t be afraid to spark debate. You ideally want to spur knowledgeable discourse and not an argument, as both you and your reader learn from keeping an open mind and discussing issue’s rationally.

2. Keep the material fresh and exciting – Be a human being – blogs do not tend to be for investigative journalism, but still use facts and quotes when necessary to back up your point. Blogs are considered to be a more informal means of sharing your idea’s, compared to a reputable newspaper or academic essay. For instance, you might want to share interesting things you might of read, watched or have heard happen to people. Try to grip your reader with a human element, but remember that statistics and facts can also be just as powerful.

3. Give people a reason to return – You can link topics together in features, where you have a recurring theme. Ask questions to your readers, perhaps even run competitions with silly prizes. The idea is to give your reader an incentive to subscribe to your blog and thereby your thoughts and opinions. You can do this in a lot of ways, remember to be creative. You are your own person and there is ultimately something unique and special about you, don’t try to follow or copy other bloggers style. You can bring your own original perspective to issues. Humans tend to be curious creatures, so the more unique, well thought out and insightful your ideas, the more likely people are to take interest.