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Monthly Archives: September 2007

scotland0041

The Original

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
~ W. C. Fields

Persistence.

The final frontier.

Throughout life I’ve been good at analyzing situations. Dispassionately judging them. Making the reward / risk calculation in the blink of an eye. Deciding ruthlessly whether continuing with a path is worthwhile.

I’ve not the persistent type.

Too good at revaluating and second guessing. Too attuned too new information; too prone to giving it credence. Letting it tip my initial resolution into a new direction.

A quitter.

In friendships, in work, in projects, in hobbies.

Because I don’t appreciate the value of commitments or sunk costs. The first is theoretically economic suicide. The second is theoretically divine economics.

Neither is a good way of dealing with people.

People are intrinsically valuable. You don’t value people for ends. A friend is not valuable for helping you cope with stress or because they trust you with their problems. A mentor is not valuable because they teach. We ascribe value to what they do, but that is not the source of their value.

The value in any relationship is in the now. Conditioned by those past experiences. Guided by them. But transcendent of them. A relationship exists in the present moment. In the will of the participants. These people, here and now.

Now, today, I understand there are no sunk costs with people. Relationships however formed, however twisted, endure. A man and his worst enemy have a relationship – albeit adversarial. The best friend from primary school and me have a relationship that exists now. No matter how faint.

These relationships function through persistence. Time spent in contact, messages past, emails sent and the odd phone conversation is communication and persistence. They both need to be there.

It’s time I practiced some persistence.

“It’s very easy to have slogans and rhetoric that people will follow, but eventually the slogans fall away.”
– Saad Hariri

Playing like a repeating sound track, transfigured words spinning around my head. Words echoing between my ears, slogans that won’t fade.

That won’t fall away.

I am impressionable these last few months.

Words said as inspirational slogans, words meant to be exhortative are having a lasting effect. They are becoming embedded in my psyche. Playing in a loop, conditioning my responses, long after they dropped  from the lips which gave birth to them.

It’s surreal because it’s meant to be that way. We’re meant to hear them, feel inspired and then forget these wild words, dangerous when they are entrenched in the mind.

One of them has proven to be  useful.

I have playing on a loop in my head, constantly affirming :

 “Everything that I have been through, every experience I have had, every person I have met, has prepared me for today“.

A powerful idea that has helped conquer the challenges of the last few months.

The strangeness of the business world at Pinsent Masons was one instance. I had spent enough time working through my summer internships and  watching my dad. I could handle this world; handle it well. Things learned before were stretched and adapted to a new world.

This success bought another challenge, facing an interview for the first time. I’d never done an interview before I walked through the doors at Pinsent Masons for my formal interview. I’d done my research; Google  and a sustained interrogation of James  gave  me a good idea of what would be asked and what responses to deploy against the standard interview questions. Skills I’d acquired before; pressed into service .

More recently the sustained pressure of the Advocacy program here on the PCLL has been a challenge. Coupled with the expectations and pressure of Ramadan, I’ve felt as close as I have to the breaking point in a long time.

The advocacy, scheduled on Saturday mornings, is the most demanding part of this course.It requires the most work to perform well. All advocacy in the end is preparation. The more you know the material, the more you have considered the arguments, the easier it is.

The challenge is the volume of material that they give us,

The public speaking I can do. My MUN experience has given me enough practice in being relaxed and measured in my tone for that not to be a strain. I’ve spent enough time performing during religious functions to be free of most performance anxiety. A little bit of nervousness you need to keep you sharp.

I knew how to deal with volumes of papers. I’d spent a summer watching Andrew White QC deal with over 75 box files of material. My time spent in barristers’ chambers, watching those whose jobs are the skill that I am being taught is being put to use. I remember their methods, their suggestions and their tricks. I am fortunate enough to have observed some of the best practitioners at work, and they had shown me their methods.

I already possessed everything I needed. All there was for me to do was to synthesize the attributes I already had.

A much easier task.

In a sense this world view is a simplification. I take tasks and break them down into their components. I find where I’ve done them before. I apply the skills that I took on board that time and apply them to this problem. The worry naturally is that I’m stuck slightly in the past. I’m not facing the problem as it is now, but as I faced it in the past.

I appreciate that this is part of learning, this is what it means to possess a human memory, learning from our previous experience to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes again. I’m happy with that part.

What I’m worried about is what I’ll do when this mantra fails. What happens when I encounter something of which I have no prior experience. When none of the things that I have done before can be twisted into application.

I know everything has to be done for the first time once. There will always be a first time that we take a  risk or venture beyond our limits.

That is how we grow.

This mantra of mine emphasizes preparation. It focuses on knowing what’s going to happen. It doesn’t teach dealing with the unexpected. Reacting on the fly to a situation that flattens you and knocks the wind from your sails. That’s a significant problem.

I suspect, that in time, I’ll pick up enough experience not be too worried. The unexpected will be sprung on me  enough that I’ll learn to cope with it better. Each improvement, will become an experience. An experience that I’ll learn from to prepare for the next time.

So I won’t worry.

There’s no need to get ahead of myself.

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book?
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

There is a great deal to be said about serendipity – those little moments in which the world seems to resolve for you a particular course of action. The right course of action. Where the Logos seems to breath you in a deliberate direction, and the world unites to open a certain path.

In my case, re-open.

I believe the universe is self correcting. It can be counted on to give you the right nudge.

Meryam, a little while ago, gushed effervescently about The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. She quoted a series of extravagant extracts from the book, revealing a casual yet lyrical style of writing.

Writing that made words alive, breathing, vital.

At first I thought I should leave a comment and say that I’d add the book to the list of my books to get around to reading if it deserved such high praise from such an ardent book lover, and secondly I wondered if the HKU library had the book.

I didn’t get around to checking.

It was too early in the morning to be keen on a book.

Besides, I wasn’t reading these days. Not fiction. I’ve got the outstanding, comprehensive and succinctly written Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader half plowed through. The Road to Reality has barely been tread upon (Penrose is both more obtuse and more rewarding than I expected him to be and as a result progress has been slow) and the last fiction book I’d read was the Harry Potter finale, which was compulsory rather then compulsive.

I shuffled into the HKU library.

It was a dismal day.

Saturday.

I’d spent the last day preparing the bail application that had been billed as the challenge of all challenges by the HKU PCLL advocacy program. It turned out to be as foreboding as a ball of lint charging down a brick wall.

A teacher who didn’t want to be there, and who offered no real feedback. A jaded teacher, who’d seen it all before and wanted to go home. People petrified of public speaking, the very thing I was anticipating. An exercise designed to make us work through the initial panic of public speaking rather than teach anything more.

There are downsides to courses taught by practitioners. One is that they make lousy teachers.

I shuffled in to the library dismayed because I had expected something refreshing and challenging; disappointed because it had been pedestrian. Because it confirmed that everything was pedestrian.

I drifted over to the new books section. I seek solace in books. They have a magic ability to transport us to where they are. To a place where these constraints don’t apply. Where, through the story, we learn something vital, something fundamental about our world. This was a moment where I needed to be somewhere else, somewhere different. Somewhere out of this depressing plateau of faceless toothless challenges.

I hadn’t found this solace in a long time. Books had let me down now. A book didn’t seduce the way it used to. I had my nostalgia for books but no hope for solace from them.

The HKU library stacks new arrivals, new fiction arrivals, in four black steel spinning stands near the main entrance. Four shelves high and with shelving on each side of the iron squares around the stand, there are usually about 50 odd books on each of the four stands. I had little to lose, I needed to take my mind off the last two hours.

I spun the stand.

The lady on the other side (lady? She was a wisp of a girl, with high angular eyes and a very short nose and skirt. Attractive enough even though she wasn’t quite the conventional beauty) gave me a very queer look. You don’t it seems select books randomly by spinning the stand. You were supposed to pretend that you were looking for something. To have a definite reason. To browse. To act purposely, even, maybe especially, when little purpose was discernable.

The stand stopped spinning. Glaring at me conspicuously, it’s cover bright red and the gold text glaring into my eyes were the words “The Thirteenth Tale”.

Here was a sign. Here was the universe talking back. Here, now, by this, today could be redeemed.

I accepted.

I secreted myself in my room. I pulled the curtain closed and turned on the lights. I put on some light music, Rachmaninov playing softly in the background, to sooth my easily distracted nature.

And I read. And read. And read.

I couldn’t stop reading.

10 pages. A 100 pages. Hundreds of pages.

Here was a book that captured the essence of reading. Evoked it by talking about it subtly powerfully constantly. The singular pleasure of books and words. Here was a book that made you read and understood why you read. Whole paragraphs resonated deeply:

“And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same… When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books.”

This book, this Thirteenth Tale, that told a Thirteenth Tale tinged in mystery and misery, recaptured that feeling. It reawoke that feeling, that spark, that joy. I felt the deep compulsive joy of reading. What it described as lost, I found in it. I felt that exhilarating rush of the complete story, the beauty of being serenaded by immaculate words.

Immersed, cleansed, soothed, that world weary cynical shell, my armour dropped away. Accepting internally the need for escapism. Accepting that these books were treading paths I needed to tread. Paths I could not venture alone in my mind without their gentle guiding hand. Without this guiding hand, all those months I had felt the inanity become intolerable, building to a fever pitch, a crescendo of silence.

Now with this small keel, this little stability that gives me time to center myself, I find I had the strength of personality and character to deal with my difficulties. To push myself to come to grips with the situation. To make the choices that I know I have to make.

I set about stacking my book shelf, knowing that I will need these in later days. These new stories with new truths in them. New centers to build a base from. New moments of solitude, relaxation and distance. Markus Zusak, Death and his little favorite “The Book Thief” now sits half open before me. On my shelf, waiting patiently next sits “Snow Falling on Cedars” a book urged on me for so long, I feel obliged to take a look to make up my own mind. Next to it sits a true promising gem, Kiran Desai’s award winning “The Inheritance of Loss” which won the Booker prize.

Do you have any others to recommend?

02

The Original

Every beginning is a consequence – every beginning ends some thing.  – Paul Valery

I titled this post almost two months ago. And then I never did anything to write it out. I figure now is the moment to put this into words. Tonight there was an interesting little conversation going on about the cutting edge of Internet technology, and I realized that I had become, really become, one of those luddites who can’t move on to anything new and can’t recognize anything that’s going to be hip and cutting edge.

Gareth is in the habit of bombarding me daily with links to YouTube. A new little clip, a music video, some people doing something incredibly dumb things, the latest football wondergoal and so on. For a little while I tried to get with the flow and watch them. Internet video was so ubiquitous and so hyped that you had to at least be going with the flow on something as non-contentious as this.

I tried to accept that the internet had grown again with the rise of true broadband. People were broadcasting themselves, and posting huge amounts of content online. A video of everything and too often anything, could be found if you were willing to apply the right keywords at one of the video sites.

I found quite soon, that this trend was one I wasn’t going to accept. I couldn’t do it. Watching a video of the internet, on sites like YouTube or Google Video just didn’t appeal to me. They were slow, jerky, low quality and had a certain B- sense of production values that made them unappealing ways to spend my time.

Most importantly I didn’t have the patience to sit through loading times, and to try and find and understand all the weird options and controls these sites seem to have. It just wasn’t grabbing my attention enough.

Partly I suspect that’s the medium, I’ve never been much of a video person as it is, preferring books and my own inner world to the outer worlds simulacrums of entertainment, pre-designed and pre-packaged to reflect nothing of the real world.

Partly I suspect that it’s the patience. I don’t have enough of that anymore to sit through a five-minute presentation that is of no relevance and little informative value to me. Most music vids are by definition in that category.

Most significantly, and therefore buried at the bottom of the list, by which I’m hoping you won’t get this far as you’ll have given up long ago confronted by the mounds, walls, ramparts of text that I erect between my meaning and my beginnings, it was all just too different and required too many changes to the way I dealt with the web. I couldn’t be bothered to make those changes.

Other applications have met similar fates. Del.icio.us held me for a few hours before I abandoned it for good. Technorati was a curiosity that didn’t take at all after the first day.Twitter, well I got halfway through using it for the first time before it was abandoned. These are the household names of the Web 2.0 scene. The big boys that everyone has heard of even if they’ve not come out in favor of them.

In fact I think the only two new things that I have taken on board has been Google Reader and the RSS revolution that unleashed for me. It made things so much more easier and efficient, that I don’t know how I would manage now if I had to manually scan through all the sites that are now bought to be via their feeds without me doing any work in finding them.

The second is Facebook. I think what keeps me on that is a certain mixture of apathy and convenience. Apathy because it genuinely is a good way to keep up with some people, especially the addicts. Convenience because so many people use it now, that it’s almost used as an organizational tool for groups, and though I’m not part of many, I am tangential to a few that do me the honor of remembering I exist from time to time.

The consolation I offer myself is that I have reached what I pretend is a mature view. I add those things to my life that are making an actual improvement to it, but making things both more convenient and easier to get things done. Technology is no longer my interest but my tool. I use it to get other things done that I wish to see accomplished. When it helps me do that I integrate it into my life. Where it fails, I discard; and await  something appropriate to be bought to my attention.

That’s what I hope I’m doing. I don’t want to be a grumpy old man, set in his ways at 22. Not on something as dynamic and challenging as the internet. Nor in the rest of life. It’s too soon for that. Too soon.

03_vatal_134562

I know this is meant to be a photo, but I’ve been struck by these drawings ever since I saw them last Monday.

They’re not  cheerful, but they’re striking and memorable.

Do take the time to look at the rest.

The PCLL started this week.

On Saturday.

Induction day, welcoming speeches, inane prize ceremonies and rambling presentations. Rambling and factually wrong presentations. Long winded talks that try to justify the program structure, and why it has to be done the way it is.

The don’t realize we don’t care. We don’t care what obstacles they put in our way at this stage. We’ll find a way around them and we’ll pass. Like Hannibal’s armies bestride the Alps, we’ve come too far to flee.

At this particular moment though, despite dire warnings of difficulty,  I don’t trouble to take my brain out of first gear. It wouldn’t be worth the effort. There hasn’t been anything that demanding.

No doubt by next week, I’ll be inundated with work and this will look like the height of folly. Perhaps it is. Undoubtedly it is. I hope it is.

I have a low tolerance for inaction. This forced stillness, waiting for things to begin is intolerable. I don’t have the patience to wait for events. I want to seize events by the scruff of their neck and force them to happen.

I no longer have patience.

Those stalling tactics of old; hours spent playing computer games and reading books, singularly fail to grab me. They exert a few moments, a passing pleasant taste of interest that might last two minutes or three. Then it is cast aside, disjointed words and random letters, random actions in a fake world.

I’m waiting for something substantial to take their place.

I want to be challenged. Not by my own pace. Not by my own mind. Not this mental masturbation of improvement for improvement’s sake. I want to be pushed, pushed because what I need to be pushed to become matters. Pushed in a context where the results matter. Into a state where I must grow or fail. The kind of challenge that turns caterpillars into butterflies. I crave metamorphosis.

I don’t want a social challenge. I don’t want a physical challenge. I want an intellectual one. I want to push my mind. I want to distort my intellectual world. I want to bend the bars of my mind.

I don’t know what I’m going to do if the PCLL doesn’t provide.

Serenity

Original