Language Personality

One of the most fascinating things about learning a second language is the phenomenon of seeming to have a different personality in a second language. I do feel a different person when I’m using Welsh and I know other learners who experience a similar thing.

There are many possible explanations for this phenomena. Firstly there is the possibility of the language structure being different, that things are expressed differently in other languages, so this may have some bearing on feeling different, that perhaps languages themselves have different personalities. Indeed we often talk about how people from different countries in general have national personality traits and a part of this may be due to the native language.

However, I feel that other forces may be at work, related to the process of language learning as an adult. Learning to use a second language is not just learning the language itself, it is a re-working of social skills. The language learner is thrust into communicating with a considerable lack of vocabulary and an ignorance of the many nuances of fluent speakers. So, these basic skills have to be re-learnt, explored again. It is like being a child again, having the freedom to experiment, to find what works and what doesn’t. It is just an awful lot of fun, without the feeling of having to demonstrate competence, to conform to sets of rules and be a lot more free. The language learner, whilst nervous about speaking in their new language also relishes opportunities to practise communication in the new language and a part of that is learning through experimentation.

So, in a sense, in the new language as people we are largely letting go of our systems, of our social rules, there is a sense that we can be who we really want to be. We no longer have to act a role, or rely on acting as ourselves and can be more just ourselves. We can allow facets of our personality that are suppressed in our native tongue to flourish and be played with again. Learning allows us the chance to play.

Someone said to me recently that they are an introvert in English, yet in Welsh they feel like an extrovert. I get this, I too, feel more like an extrovert in Welsh. The question is how much is this a product of wanting the practice in the language and to speak to lots of different people that otherwise I would perhaps be less inclined to chat with, that we are more happy about being sociable with people for extended periods to live in the language, rather than in ourselves. We are not yet capable of being fully ourselves in the new language, as we lack enough experience of expressing all our everyday thoughts and feelings, so as we explore the language we also explore ourselves. It’s like we have to re-build our personality for the new language. So, perhaps we wish to play at being an extrovert.

It is very much like being a child again. We desire expressing ourselves. Indeed we want to talk about our joy in simple pleasures, even if it’s just doing an everyday thing like buying somethign in a shop in the second language. Doing anything for the first time is always a thrill, which becomes more routine and everyday when doing things for the umpteenth time. So learning a second language gives us a huge number of opportunities to do things for the first time. I recently got drunk for the first time in Welsh and it joyful to make myself understood without feeling obliged to speak in proper sentences, to make more jokes and laugh, an experience akin to when I got drunk for the very first time.

So, the question is whether the increased extroversion is simply a product of seeking social experiences in Welsh, whether it’s a more fundamental desire to be more of an extrovert or do we simply have different personalities in different languages. It is such a fascinating question. I now have friends whom I have never or rarely speak in English with and I don’t really know if we would have exactly the same relationship in English.

Please comment below if you have any thoughts on this as I would be really interested to know. I would be especially interested in hearing from bilingual people in other languages; does using a different language change how you behave?

Curing Masculinism

You do occasional here about so called ‘masculinism’ these days as a ‘response’ to feminism, from people who don’t appear to understand feminism in the slightest. As a male myself, collectively men seem so far behind women in getting over trying to be something expected of us by our birth gender role. Both men and women are swamped by images of how what our gender should dress like, behave, enjoy etc. and if you don’t quite fit within this definition or at least play along with it, tough, you’re an outcast. Not only is this limiting and destructive, it is so boring and limiting. For example the idea that I grew up with that ‘Boys don’t cry’, beautifully parodied by my favourite band ‘The Cure’. It took me years before I regained the ability to cry when I was upset. How is it great and ‘manly’ to not feel sad about sad things because we are ‘tough’ that we are don’t want to be affected by anything or have to actually deal with it. So many men, never get over this restriction.

Children very quickly pick up these gender stereotypes and very quickly conform to them. There is evidence to suggest that this conformity is the child demonstrating that they have understood. Society does indeed seem to encourage the development of ‘masculine’ traits for boys and ‘feminine’ ones for girls. However in Western culture particularly we have started to question these gender roles. Really, back in ‘cavemen’ times [or should it be cavepeople? oh wait they didn’t actually live in caves (sic)] it helped society together than the generally larger stronger sex went out hunting. However in an increasingly urban world, there is no need to encourage hunting skills, so why does society have this tendency to stick with these traditions?

Then there is a form of sexism that some men have of expecting women to behave in a ‘feminine’ way, which I don’t get at all. The logic seems to be well I have chosen to conform to a definition of masculinity, so I expect everyone else to conform this way too, even the other gender.Or is it more than this, there is this idea to teach people to conform as the idea as doing this will make your life easier, you will fit in and not stand out. However, it seems that these days success is achieved by the people who do stand out, who do take a different direction.

Often other men ask me “But don’t you like women wearing pretty dresses?” because what I find attractive in women, doesn’t fit the algorithm for how it seems most mean assess or a woman’s attractiveness.

Well I do like women wearing pretty dresses, wearing make up and having done something with their hair, but, only if I have seen them wearing normal clothes first. I like to see the change, the difference. Because most of the time the most attractive thing to me a lady can wear is jeans and a woolly jumper.

As a biologist I have spent some time working in jungles. Working in a jungle is hot and damp and in order to protect the ecosystem we don’t wash clothes in ‘modern’ detergents and th eonly way of gettign them dry is for them to get very smoky drying by a fire. So our clothes are always stained, and holey (from brushing past spiky plants regularly). This did not prevent me from finding some of my female companions attractive. When the project was over and everyone returns to a city, there is often a final social get together in a restaurant before everyone goes home. There is an opportunity to wash properly, wear clean clothes and often the women put on make-up. For me these are special times, to be able to see women I’ve been working for for several weeks in a completely new light. They are not more attractive than they were before, it’s just nice to see them having done something with their appearance. However I gather from other men that they suddenly notice how attractive these women are, I don’t get this at all.

I visited Germany last year. In a sense it was wonderful as the women in Germany dress normally (dress down?) most of the time and usually only have a few dresses for dressing up once in a while. I did indeed think that this was a place I would like to live, a society where my preferences were less different. Having said that a guy shoulder charged me for wearing a floral shirt, anyway German men dress appallingly, stripes everywhere) However some people complain that such Northern European women are somehow ‘less feminine’. They are just as feminine as women anywhere else, what perhaps they mean is that such women do not conform to some traditional view of femininity as in other places.

There are some obvious avenues to explore to explain this. Firstly Northern Europe is densely populated and industrialised a long time ago, so there is a bigger gap to a world where hunting was possible, the culture has had time to develop in new post-industrial ways. Secondly there is language. I’m been learning Welsh recently. Welsh like many other Indo-European languages assigns nouns a gender, masculine and feminine. So the language itself encourages speakers to view things in a gendered way. It is interesting that each language assigns these slightly differently, but there is a broadish conformity with traditional ideas of gender. However, in the Germanic languages of English and I believe the Scandinavian languages, this focus on gender has been lost or is rapidly disappearing. For example we now use ‘they’ for a person of unknown gender, or when the gender is not important (even in Welsh nowadays), whereas in Spanish, such a ‘they’ is masculine, unless the group only consists of females (‘ninos’ (male or mixed group of children) and ‘ninas’ (female only group of children).

How gender is dealt with is hugely complicated. We still live in a world where there are gender expectations. If for whatever reason you don’t fit the traditional roles, you have to find a way to deal with the stereotyping. Personally I have got myself into difficulties with women  who have misinterpreted my attention as seeking a relationship with them. I don’t know whether it is always a mistake to let women know that you find them attractive and then quickly ascertain that they are not interested in exploring a relationship with myself or not. However I often find that some women continue to believe I am seeking a relationship when continuing a non-sexual relationship. It is difficult, because I now see how much negative attention women get from men that is pursuing a relationship. It’s kind of like I had to come to terms with being different and to not be concerned that I was being treated in a seemingly strange way.

I think my conclusion that a traditional model of what masculinity and femininity is not wrong, or something that needs to be cured or got over, however not thinking about it at all can have negative consequences. If you happen to fit in, that is a wonderful gift, yet it is still worth understanding how much of that is really you, how much you are happy to conform and find out where you are different. What I would suggest though is that we do all need to discover who we are for ourselves and not blindly adopt roles. Even if you are an outsider, to function socially you require an understanding of the way the majority behave; which is perhaps why children learn gender roles at a young age. Essentially what I am saying that understanding is good and that we need to understand ourselves better and also find what grounds us, what roots us to ourselves and our communities, to realise that everyone else may be on such a journey too.  We should not criticise others for their choices in how they ground themselves, but we should be wary when others try and pressure people to behave to conform.

 

 

What was Anxiety?

Much of this blog has concerned facets of my overcoming anxiety, though I have perhaps neglected to explain what that anxiety was like.

I did suffer from anxiety for years and years, without quite knowing what it was. I think I would have become aware exactly what it was if I felt free to talk about it, to get concrete answers from outside my own head. I did perceive a reluctance from people to talk about it,  it wasn’t given enough respect, people didn’t want to discuss it in enough depth, which is understandable, it’s not a fun thing to talk about. Sometimes if I pushed it into conversation too much, people would often distance themselves from you. so, if someone has a chronic anxiety it is easily not addressed and the anxious person keeps it inside their own head, where it lingers and festers.

Anxiety is really merely a label to cover a complex range of mental phenomenas. In many ways it is simply over-thinking. I am a deep thinker, it is something I enjoy, however sometimes such a questioning nature leads to not only a paranoia about other peoples feelings and motivations. This paranoia also extends into ones own thinking, a constant questioning about whether you as an individual are doing the right thing, so one becomes paranoid about your own feelings and motivations. so because you are never really happy doing anything all the time, almost any activity becomes tainted by these paranoid thoughts. This anxiety used to rarely go away, so activities are rarely enjoyed, they just become part of the escape so the journey kind of stops, as you are always questioning why you are doing it and negative thoughts pervade everything.

This anxiety is like building a wall inside your own mind, where your personality is trapped and kept away from even the things you love, even your own memories as you can eb anxious about those too. For example I love reading, especially novels, however often anxiety and fear, the wall, keeps a distance between an enjoyment of the story and the simple act of reading.

Staying behind this mental wall, seems a terrible way of being, what it does offer is a safe place, an escape from a constant nagging anxiety. Reading in itself can be done from this safe place, however a distance is kept from the story. It’s like watching a film but not allowing yourself to fully engage with the plot. Now I am no longer anxious I do find myself bursting into tears during sentimental moments in films which I never used to do, becuse i am properly engaged.

Of course, sometimes this anxiety is escaped, with a close group of friends, people who knew me well enough not to be perturbed by my behaviour and I was free to express myself, or drinking alcohol, also helped with this as it stops you over thinking. Such escapes were always blissful and I wanted them to last forever, so sometimes, when enjoying myself I would be the last to leave the party. So, the anxious person, is always looking for the next chance to escape for a little while from it and then desire that moment to last forever. Problems arose when I would meet people, whilst escaped and then meet them again and I would feel overcome by anxiety, I would feel a fraud and taken over by worries of how to behave and what to say.

The anxiety spread into social anxiety, where in conversation I would constantly fret about being appropriate, not upsetting people, paranoid about how I was being perceived, whether what I was saying was correct, or influenced by negative ideas. There are parallels with the autistic spectrum, anxiety causes you not to understand how other people are feeling (because you are not really engaged in the moment) and act due to your own reasons, rather than reacting to what is happening live.

I was worried that people only ever saw me as seeking a relationship with them, when all I wanted was to talk and hopefully get to know someone well enough so felt I could be myself. As such, I gave out signals that I ‘needed’ a relationship with such people, whereas now I am not so concerned whether I am understood or not, i can have ‘normal’ inter-relations with people.

Anyway, I was able to make the escape permanent! What I needed was to be escaped from anxiety for long enough for myself to recognise it as ‘normal’, that i could exist in a more or less anxiety free state. I achieved this by spending months living and working in tropical forests, in Madagascar and Honduras, the long term blissful experience I craved came about, away from the constant need to interact with such a range of different kinds of people, or with people I shared some core beliefs with. I was happy, not anxious long enough to make sense of it, to feel like  ‘normal’ person.

Transitioning to being a unanxious person, was itself quite a journey. Whilst I felt free to be myself, express myself and fully engage with things I am passionate about, this exuberant newness, the zest of a new convert did seem overwhelming to other people, especially the people who helped me realise not to be so anxious. I don’t think non-anxious people quite get how someone can be so thrilled to just be ‘normal’ or accepted, healthy to be able to fully engage and concentrate on tasks.

I know that people can be disturbed by someone overly being open with them, because I still had the habits of an anxious person, who clings desperately to each escape and each person that helps them escape anxiety. Now free of anxiety that openness is always available and doesn’t just come out during a drunken evening. People seem to perceive this behaviour as seeking a relationship, which it isn’t. Really, the whole politics of social interactions are suddenly opened up and one quickly realise that your skills and knowledge are far behind everybody else, but that you are learning quickly. i’m also aware of lacking such development by being an only child in a family that had anxiety issues and was poor at expressing their feelings. I have realised to not be concerned about any negativity towards me, it is simply that they don’t know where I am coming from and react to my behaviour according to sets of social rules that have been developed with non-anxious people.

 

 

Believing in Evolution

There is a substantial difference between knowing something and believing it. Belief is much more powerful as it goes beyond logic and connects with peoples sense of self.

This idea helps make  clear why there is a stigma about mental illness. The anxious person or the depressed person can know that they are ill, that it is possible to not be ill, often the problem is that they don’t believe that they can be well. I suffered from anxiety, there were brief times when I wasn’t anxious, instead of knowing I was well, I believed it was merely a temporary respite. It was when I believed that there was nothing wrong with me, when I believed what I already knew rationally, did I become well. so the mental illness stigma is perhaps because healthy people don’t recognise the difference between knowing something to be true and believing it. Perhaps for the healthy, they believe they are well before they have developed an explanation for why they are well, belief comes before knowledge in this instance.

As a scientist I both know and believe in the theory of evolution. I know, because I have studied, read and observed the evidence and accept evolution as a rational, empirically produced explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. I believe,  because I also accept the scientific process for discovering the laws of the physical universe, I accept the process as a valid way of generating truth.

Many scientists have difficulty understanding why those of religious faith lack a belief in evolution, indeed some of faith have difficulty believing in evolutionary theory. Religious faith is different to simple belief. Belief in God is different to beliefs about the physical universe, because belief perhaps comes before knowledge, rather than coming after knowledge. Religious belief connects to the self, before any empirical process of gathering knowledge. Faith concerns something beyond understanding of relationships in the physical observable universe. As a scientist I believe that it is possible for science to explain what God is, but that humanity may never establish a theory of everything. Sometimes, it is perhaps dangerous or less open to truth if belief comes before knowledge.

It is accepted that such theories as evolution or gravity are true. such truths can be established from raw data acquired from the physical universe. I believed these truths before I became a Christian and I know that there is no conflict between holding these beliefs in addition to religious beliefs, such as God having a role in the creation of the universe. The issue is perhaps that for some people the religious belief is more powerful to themselves than a mere rational piece of knowledge. To the atheist scientist, belief in scientific theory is more powerful than mere knowledge or understanding of religion, often atheists struggle looking beyond mere empirical understanding of the physical universe. To someone of faith, these powerful ideas can make the concept of evolution seem less important and hence less true. Yet people are not robots, they all harbour non-rational thoughts and ideas, the belief of humanists that there is perhaps, simply, that there is a physical explanation for these mental phenomena, but their belief may not be as strong as these less easy to break down logically ideas are not as fully explored, perhaps mentally acknowledged or as strongly believed. No individual person has a fully coherent explanation of themselves or the wider universe, yet every individual is on a journey to discovering truths.

I think I should point out, that I am in no way declaring any superiority for religious faith over atheism. What I am saying is that faith is worthwhile exploring. It is a question of balance, people choose what to invest our mental energies upon, there should be space for rational scientific inquiry as well as reflection on the question of faith.

Slightly Different Worlds

It is often said that one shouldn’t discuss religion or politics in polite society. Surely openness and discussion are good things. If people discuss such a topic as whether they prefer cats or dogs, then usually people respect that other people view the world in a slightly different way. So, what makes religion and politics different?

In the week after the UK general election people have been talking about and venting their feelings about the results, there is often anger and bafflement. This anger is expressed by such sentiments as “How on Earth can people vote Conservative/Labour? what is wrong with these people?”. Upon discovering that friends and colleagues, supported the other side, there is a difficulty in accepting such a fundamentally different world view and moral stance. I used to be distraught that around a third of people vote for a government I despise, people on the other side express the same feeling. Surely such a large proportion of the population can’t be that misguided, I would argue that they are not.

I remember having a long, late night conversation with a friend who was of the right wing persuasion. We discussed what we both identified as the problems in society and the type of society we each felt that government should work towards, surprisingly they were virtually the same, we shared the same values, where we differed was in how to bring about this better society. Thus, it is perhaps not morality or principle that is the problem but the application of it.

I am in the advantageous position of having been an agnostic and then became a Christian. I can understand both positions. In religion there is a lot of misunderstanding between the theists and the non-theists. As with politics, this misunderstanding causes problems for people. There is much argument between the two positions. What I find is that the issues that Atheists and Christians squabble over not that important. The difficulties Atheists have with religions, such as the accuracy of the Creation story are, to me, rather low down the list of things that are important to me as a Christian.

Actually, the same problems exist both within the Christian community and the secular community. Both those of faith and none develop their own moral principles. Generally, both systems of acquiring moral principles are equally sound and the ethics of Christians and Atheists are similar. I acquired my moral principles before acquiring faith, those moral principles hardly changed since becoming a Christian.

Moral truths are a good thing, connecting with and understanding a moral principle is one of the great ‘yes’ moments in life that are cherished by us as individuals. I think the problem is with application. when the individual understands a moral, social, religious or political position, it does resonate deeply in our subsequent thinking. As these truths seem pure and universal, it is very tempting to apply them vigourously.  However applying any moral code to extremes, no longer is an expression of the moral principle. The principle becomes lost, fragmented and distorted through ruthless application, without resort to the original moral truth. It is this, which causes conflict and misunderstanding between religions and political creeds.

The bedroom tax as an illustrative example:

The U.K. has a state welfare system whereby, if someone is unfortunate to not have a job, the state pays you welfare to cover the minimal cost of living,  in a post-industrial society that minimum cost is quite high, as housing and food are relatively expensive. During my lifetime the U.K. has the problem of the ‘benefits trap’, whereby if you take on part-time or low paid employment you may be worse off financially than staying on benefits, especially if you have a family to support. Adherents, such as myself, of both left and right wing persuasion have long argued that this system should be reformed and that people should always be better off working than relying on benefits in the medium to long term. The last government stated that they would tackle this issue, which was great.

However the application of the reforms were damaging. The government introduced the ‘bedroom tax’. So, if you became unemployed and happened to have a spare room, your housing benefit (to pay for your shelter) was taxed. This meant that those effected struggle to pay for essentials of food and heating and have no money to invest in seeking employment.

To those of the left this seemed cruel and heartless. Why should the unemployed bear the brunt of the failures of the wider economy? People have died because of it. Hence many on the left of politics brand the right as compassionate.

People of the right wing persuasion are not uncompassionate. The principles of the right are that to reduce the state, so people pay less taxes, that people should not be reliant on state handouts, paid for by other taxpayers. That a stick and well as a carrot are necessary to encourage people into employment and contributing to society. People of the left don’t disagree with these principles as such, they just interpret them in a slightly different way. However it seems that advocates of both the left and right are incensed when the application of  principles causes a conflict with a universal moral principle. To the critic the moral principle is more important than the ideological application. Hence, the left brand the right as cruel.

This ideological wrangling, the differing interpretation of a moral code can seem more important that the pragmatic reason which better fits the intention of the universal moral truth. The bedroom tax is immoral. The U.K. has a monetarist economy. Such an economy requires something in the region of 3-5% of the available labour force to be unemployed, because full employment  leads to excessive high wages that would damage business and cause rampant inflation. It is more economically efficient to have up to 5% unemployed, so it is important to treat those unlucky enough to be unemployed for a time with dignity and respect.

Whilst it may seem shocking and repugnant to discover people with religious. It is important to not take the result of the application of moral or political views that differ from our own as scary or fundamentally wrong. The vast majority of people have good sound moral values. It is imprtant to discuss these things openly, the narrative behind the acquiring of such standpoints. By keeping talking to focus on the truth and realise that whilst we may live in slightly different worlds, to not judge others so harshly.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in they brothers eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye” Matthew 7:1-3 (KJV)

(Mis-)Understanding the World

As humans we all think very differently. sometimes i think that it’s amazing that we are able to communicate with one another at all. There is so much misunderstanding in the world. I used to be very cynical about others peoples beliefs. There is so much trouble in the world. I struggled to understand and be distressed by such things as: why people keep electing the same bunch of idiotic politicians, why do people wear fur, why do some Christians struggle with the theory of evolution, why are some people are racist.

One explanation is that people find it hard to understand ideas that appear to contradict deeply held beliefs. That to understand the reasoning behind a set of ideas requires giving up certain ideas or at least considerable modification. People all have different learning styles, decision making algorithms and ways of thinking.

I would argue that there are both good and bad ways of thinking. The difficulty is that some good ways of thinking are not universally applicable. conversely bad ways of thinking seem to work, to lead to truths some of the time.

I used to suffer from chronic anxiety. To overcome this anxiety I realised that this was simply a bad way of thinking. anxiety is also self-enforcing, like a bad habit. It wasn’t easy to let it go and adopt a new way of thinking. It wasn’t easy, partly because of fear of changing other deeply held beliefs though the logic of the new way of thinking.

Really, there is nothing to fear. A good way of thinking, will lead to truths in a better way than a bad way of thinking. One of the things I found unnerving about my change in thinking was being able to understand religion and found that I had become a Christian. i can almost laugh about now; i thought that i might somehow believe that blowing up non-believers was justifiable, but that was a myth.

As humans, we have to accept that as individuals we will never get everything right, our ways of thinking, even good ones should be questioned and re-evaluated every once in a while. We will always have some mental blocks on understanding certain things. We should strive to unblock them, to focus more on the mental process rather than the conclusion. and of course to remember to live and not spend our entire lives re-evaluating ourselves, which I spent too much time doing. Rules are good and useful, we should never rigidly adhere to the conclusions based on these systems, as they are sometimes wrong.

Do you remember the first time?

Having just returned from my first ‘Marina and the Diamonds’ gig in my old haunt of Hackney, London. I wish to record my thoughts. I discovered the singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis  just over a year ago, what a year it has been!

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I love live music. Live music is very special. It is more ‘real’ than listening to recordings and gives the attendee such an uplifting buzz. I have loved Marina and been a fan (a Diamond) for just over six months. I think Marina is amazing because it is rare to have an artist to write such heartfelt songs about her own personal experiences. She is very special to me because I have connected so closely with those songs. It is only by writing in the pure way Marina does that this is possible. Of course everyone is different, so not not everyone will relate to the songs, hopefully there are other artists for such people who fulfill a similar role. Having now seen her live I have realised that she is an even more wonderful, talented and beautiful person than I gathered from listening to her songs/ videos/ interviews. I have such a natural high from the experience. 20150311_215054 Attending a gig as a fan and then hanging around afterwards in the hope of an extra personal contact with Marina is a really nice experience. Nice, because of the camaraderie with fellow Diamonds, in particular a mother / daughter pair, a guy who came all the way from Qatar and a girl from Liverpool. I like many others had traveled down to London, alone,  from various distances. It was great to have the opportunity to socialise with so many people who you instantly have a lot in common with. what was interesting was the diversity in people at the gig; young and old. Marina has touched and improved the lives of so many people and we all came together for a really great party. We are all different and all have problems communicating with other people who think differently to ourselves, so it’s great to find a community of like minded souls.

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After the gig, there was a large crowd of people waiting for their chance to connect briefly with Marina, far too many than she could actually have the chance to interact with. So many people wanted to connect with Marina as they have connected with her. I got the sense that everyone wished to be polite and respectful, but it is human nature that a scrum formed around Marina. Marina is so lovely that she wants to connect with the fans, sign things, have pictures taken together etc. Sometimes it’s not possible for such a big crowd to all get their moment, often the less pushy people ended up crying. Really though these people were still pleased to have been relatively close to Marina. I did get the briefest of moments, the venues security, decided that Marina needed to get away, so the interactions ended, however I followed her a little longer as I could see that she was with a couple of the people I had been chatting with, who wanted to deliver a letter to her, so had the chance for her to scribble her signature on a CD inlay card I had brought with me. Incidentally it is the first time I have done such a thing. I did feel guilty as whilst Marina was so positive it must have been a fairly harrowing experience, but Marina smiled at me, which made me so happy.

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This last year has been a very positive journey for me. Most of my life I have struggled with anxiety and scared to be myself. Seven years ago, after my mother tragically committed suicide, I went to Madagascar for three months to re-evaluate my life, because I suffered from the very same anxiety and didn’t want to die because of it. Living on a camp in a primary forest, cataloging species. This experience changed me, living in such an amazing environment, with Lemurs waking me up in the morning in my open air hammock with their ‘golden showers’.  I learnt what happiness was, to not worry and that I didn’t need to be concerned about who I was or spend so much time worrying about myself. Since then I have had many happy times, but still some anxious unhappy times. I had tried to explain my journey to various people, but no-one seemed to understand this transition I had made, During the bad times it seemed to be just in my own head, that this happiness was not real, that I was deluding myself. Then last year, Marina began releasing material for her new album ‘Froot’. She did an interview where she stated that she had made a progression and realised that bad things about herself, were not a part of her. So, something similar had happened to someone else, I at last had validation outside my own thoughts that I too had progressed to be a better way of being. Then Marina released the song ‘Happy’ which perfectly expressed my transition too. Whilst it may have been depression for Marina, it was anxiety for me, however it is a very similar progression. This is the whole concept of the ‘Froot’ album and I love it and want to support Marina for doing this. The world needs open honest artists, so many people need this external validation by connecting with something outside themselves at whatever stage of development they are at. Sadly there are not enough artists, open enough and unencumbered by the art itself or genre conventions to do it. This is why it is important to have artists prepared to express themselves. Marina’s new album ‘Froot’ is released on 16.3.15.

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So, Marina, if you ever read this. It is long and it is what i wanted to say to you after the gig, but I quickly realised that I wouldn’t have the opportunity and that it’s rather long for such a frenzied time. I wish to thank you: Firstly for favouriting my tweet about similar progression do happen to others people, that meant so much to me. Secondly, for being a great singer, songwriter, performer, artist and such a wonderful person. I am also so pleased that someone who grew up, like me, in rural Wales has found success, being themselves and doing such good things in the world. Really Marina has been the inspiration behind this whole blog and my new found freedom from fear of expressing myself.

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Maturity Lies

What is maturity? is it simply time or something that happens. Is it a consequence of acquiring responsibilities, such as looking after children? It is about living with decisions or transcending the necessity for such decisions?

I drifted into the ‘teen’ section at a local bookshop recently and picked up ‘We are Liars‘ by e. lockhart. It is a cracking read (slight spoilers to follow). In this short novel there is an argument between two characters about mottos to live by.

On one ‘side’ is the idea of striving to achieve peace with the world, the other ‘side’ is the idea of striving to achieve peace in the world.

The world is an unjust place, being fully aware of this is depressing and there is little you can do about it, kind of like going insane in the total perspective vortex. So, finding a way to cut this out of your life, to be more comfortable and happy, seems a good strategy and an achievable one.

On the other hand, fighting against the evils of the world seems a better strategy morally.  an involvement in a campaign, provides energy, rewards of feelings of solidarity and seems to separate the self from the problem. It should be noted that purely adopting this behaviour has a tendency to lead to extremism, for example by adopting a ‘moral code’ to justify immoral acts.

These two positions grind against each other in the novel. Being a ‘teen’ book, it suggests that a choice between these competing ways of being is to be made. The implication being that making the choice and committing to it is maturity.

There is also the issue of tradition, particularly family tradition. Instead of making choices for oneself, one can adopt the family position. The benefits are made clear within the family group, but it takes an outsider to reveal the costs.

It appears a scary choice, especially to the young. There is a fear that going down one path or the other will change you as a person, or affect some key cherished principle. This fear actually prevents such a choice being made. I used to be very fearful of making decisions, of making a mark on a piece of paper, kind of ‘uh oh, here we go, where is this going to lead!?’.

The novel and my personal view is that such a choice is not a mark of maturity, but rather an escape from the dynamism of life. Maturity, to me is not making the choice, but finding a way of being both, which is not in itself easy or necessarily simple. To an adolescent seeking concrete truths, this may seem a smeary and inconsistent answer. With age, comes a greater appreciation of time, the temporal nature of existence. It is possible to be happy, and unconcerned with the nastiness in the world, whilst in other parts of life, or at other times, to be fervently fighting injustice and striving the make the world a better place.It is possible to not linger but learn to rapidly switch between the two

Maturity is perhaps being free of the burden of choice, of allowing oneself to go on a journey, not being afraid and aware that steps can be retraced if it becomes apparent that a different course would be better. Not to eradicate a possibility, but realise that things can be left to one side and returned to. To keep options open and to realise there is no end point to decision making, it is simply a journey. Maintaining this balance, prevents the pitfalls of extreme choice  leading to  tragic ends.

Inside Out

Writing about personality types recently, the implication is that personality is fixed and doesn’t change. Personalities do change, some aspects of of personality are amplified and others reduced. Some of these changes may be short term or long term. Whilst personalities change, the person doesn’t. It isn’t the fundamental person that changes, just positions on various personality spectra may be shifted

A core of personality is probably genetic. The rest is formed through  experience. I identified myself as an intuitive thinker, one whose focus is internal, thought is dominantly channeled through the self, rather than externally. It is perhaps ironic that those who live internally are viewed as the outsiders.

Having identified a internal – external thought pattern spectrum, why do minds tend to select a dominant way of thinking? People choose what works empirically, a mode of thinking is preferred if it provides a more reliable way of solving problems. It is not efficient to spend all ones time on metacognition, so people accept general rules to govern their thinking, come to accept positions, because they work reasonably well.

In a sense a speciality is developed. Ecologically, in dense communities (such as humans) having a speciality is often useful and a part of sustaining communities. Nonetheless, having general skills to use when the speciality is unhelpful is always useful, it is important not to exclusively rely on one mode of operation.

Balance is important, sometimes these systems each mind works out for itself, break down, they fail to solve problems we encounter. Sometimes a radical shift in focus solves a problem. Personally, using more external thinking helped solve some major problems I was having, by looking at patterns in wider society. This is not to suggest that external thinking is superior as it works in  both directions.

Last night, I re-watched one of my favourite films, ‘Heathers‘. In this film the protagonist, Veronica Sawyer, is popular in high school, yet she is unhappy with adoption of the rules of this lifestyle as she has an internal mental life as well. She acquires a boyfriend who recruits her into killing the problematic popular people in her life. By presenting the murders as suicides the vapid popular people are presented as only acting out popular roles to hide their own inner turmoil. Underneath this are the rest of the school, those not at the top of the popularity ladder, with there own insecurities, who are faced with knowing that the ‘popularity’ they have aspired for is not the life of carefree happiness they were dreaming of, which would solve the problems produced by their insecurities.

Generally, the film presents the problem of overly internal thinking. When faced with a problem, the internal thinker, looks within themselves for the source of the problem, to fix it. So, when no problem is detected, the idea generated is that they are wrong in some fundamental way, but don’t know why. Creating a desire to escape from this internal fear to an external world that promises to be problem free (which of course it isn’t).

I was like this, once I realised that the problem was an external one and not an internal one, I felt fixed! Being able to turn off the internal monologue and connect more intensely with external data is liberating. Essentially this seems like an argument for never fixing ideas, ensuring space for other ways of thinking to be allowed to work on problems. Balance is really important.

Another spectra is the sexuality one. Technically, everyone is on a spectrum between heterosexuality and homosexuality, so we should all be pansexuals. The majority of people identify as either heterosexual or homosexual. Looking to my history, there was a period as a young teenager where there was some sexual attraction to boys in addition to a dominant preference for girls. however after a year or so this bisexuality seemed to disappear. I seemed to have decided on heterosexuality as this made things simpler for me, I had adopted it as a rule. This isn’t a case of denying my own sexuality, rather adopting a rule that works well.

Giant Leaps

Discovery of something wonderful gives one a sense of newness, feeling fresh and alive. The energy acquired makes one desire to share this discovery with the world. There is also a sadness, that you have changed as a person and will never quite be the same again. however you have grown and are a better person for it.

This desire to share does create problems. Problems because what you have discovered is something that only really has relevance or is new to yourself. It terms of society, it is not new, with very rare exceptions such as scientific discoveries. So it is problematic as it is unnecessary to force this discovery onto other people, particularly when these other people are not aware of what it is that you have discovered about yourself.

it is perhaps once again the outsider issue. I discovered a few years ago, what it is to be happy, to be able to relax and be myself, that feeling disconnected from the world wasn’t a part of me, but a symptom of not knowing exactly what happiness was. I did communicate this to people, who were disturbed by it. I think that the reason they were disturbed was that they had never made the transition of being sad to finding out what happy is, that these people had a sense of always knowing what happiness was, hence find the concept of it’s discovery somewhat baffling.

What I have found interesting is that there are people who have understood my discovery. These people have had similar barriers to being comfortable within themselves, people who have spent a lot of time thinking in deep dark places. Such people can relate to similar experiences more readily than those who haven’t dwelt in negativity.

This phenomena has many examples in a wider context:

Religion: There are the people who discover their faith, their spirituality later in life. Some of whom then wish to convince the rest of the world of this truth they have discovered in themselves. such street corner preachers make a lot of people uncomfortable, particularly those without a faith. Others, of faith, who have grown up in a particular tradition have never perhaps made a great leap, but whose understanding of their faith has unravelled incrementally, a sense of the faith  always having been there, a sense of never having denied it.

New music/art: Probably most people at some point have discovered a new artist, whom they make a connection with, which they find exciting and life affirming. Again there is the desire to tell the world and more particularly, their friends about. There are also people who may have grown up with the artist, or who have known about the artist  earlier in their career, to whom there is less a a great leap of connection.

Sport: A new convert to a particular sport, or a new fan of a particular team, tends to have a more intense fervour of commitment and interest than the long standing fan, at least for a period of time after the discovery. In this case, there is less alienation of the new convert. There is less alienation as here the new person is joining a community that is distinct from the wider world, there is knowing that never will everyone be a convert to this particular cause. The discovery is one that is not based on anything inherent in the self, so there is always a point for everyone at which they discovered this love.

It is sad, that most of the discoveries people make are only of relevance to themselves, so communication of it should be restricted to family and friends, even if others were influential in making the discovery. Though often people are appreciative of someone simply expressing joy, without needing the specific details. There is a disdain for the preacher who only discovered something recently, however a reflective preacher who has deepened their understanding of a discovery, who can express the discovery in a new way is always I believe important.