Shared Knowledge

Something which has been coming up a lot at my work lately is the subject of shared knowledge. Of course, I subscribe to the age old expression “sharing is caring” and I absolutely apply that to knowledge and information too. In terms of both personal development and the smooth running of any business or organisation, I think that it’s important for people to educate one another as to the different areas of their expertise.

On the one hand, this is a great way for people to learn new skills and to expand their own skillset and on the other, it means that should one member of staff be unavailable to do their job for whatever reason, their colleagues will be able to cover them without too much difficulty. There’s no real downside, unless you consider the time spent in training as a downside – which you probably shouldn’t.

And it’s not just something that people should do at work – but outside of work too. To be able to learn new skills from your colleagues, you already need to have a job… so what about the unemployed? I, personally, do try and teach friends about my skills as much as possible. I’ve discussed creative writing techniques with many friends and done all I can to try and refine their skills (as they, also, have done with me.)

I appreciate that writing is more of a hobby skill (and probably something which you’ll get more out of, if you share in a social context) but I have also made efforts to try and teach friends about digital marketing and SEO. I enjoy teaching and I think quite a lot of people do get some kind of pleasure from imparting knowledge on others. So, if you’ve never done it before, I recommend that you try and exchange skills with your friends (and colleagues) as it will be rewarding both personally and professionally.

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Nobody Knows the Full Story

I had an interesting thought earlier today: I don’t really know anyone who knows everything about me. I suppose it’s possible that this is true of a lot of people, because many of us have secrets, but I feel I don’t know anybody who truly knows all of my significant experiences and the overall structure of my life. I have many people with whom I feel very close, but I feel that each of them is only conscious of one portion of my life (specifically, the portion which is most strongly related to them.)

Perhaps this is quite common, perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps, indeed, it’s true of every person to some extent or another. From my point of view, I think it’s quite healthy to have many different aspects of your life – that way, if something goes horribly wrong within one of them and starts to become a cause of distress, you can take solace within another. While I behave quite consistently with different people and make it a rule to treat people equally, I do think that some people would be quite surprised if they knew about certain experiences and relationships that I’ve had.

Having said all that, I don’t mean to sound like I’m advocating a lack of communication. I do think that it’s very important for friends to share their experiences with one another; not only is it a good way to help form bonds with people, but can also help give a sense of solidarity for those who have been through similar things. But, on the other hand, I find it much more enjoyable to hear stories of somebody else’s life, than to share details of the history of my own. Perhaps I should share more things about myself with people.

It was something which had never occurred to me until I was watching television the other day and one character mentioned that they knew everything about another and started mentioning things about their life. I feel that a lot of people might know me very well in terms of the way that my mind works, but not so much in the sense of knowing about my life experiences. Is this the norm? Maybe it’s wrong to talk about ‘norms’ when it comes to something which might be different for everybody…

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Exotic Excursions by Anthony Nanson

This collection of short stories opens with a very interesting essay called “The Allure of the Other” and I know that a lot of people skip over introductions in books, but in this particular case, I heavily recommend you read it. In it, the author, Anthony Nanson, talks about different groups of people who have been considered “other” and explores ways in which writing and storytelling can begin to bridge that gap. It’s a very nicely thought out piece of writing and perfectly lays down what these stories are supposed to do. It provides a context which ties them all together. It also explains that these stories narrowly tread the line between travel writing and fiction and that alone, for me, sounds very appealing. But, anyway, without further ado, here’s a review of each story in this collection.

The Things We Love
In the first story of the collection, a man named Brian who’s working in East Africa to help install a pipeline, encounters a strange pillar in a church, which he is sure is a bone… but no living species could possibly be the owner of that bone. Together with his colleague, Mary, they investigate its origins. In a way, this feels like a precursor to Nanson’s later novel, Deep Time. There’s some nice irony in the ending.

This is a very simple story about a man trying to navigate Lake Bogoria, a place which is very close to the equator and therefore very hot! It illustrates how much we take for granted the essential luxury of running water. It was short, but pretty tense!

A Drink Before Bedtime
A seemingly inconsequential story of an interaction between two people of very different backgrounds. It’s hard to quite identify what this story is really about – but I feel that it was written to highlight the prejudices and preconceptions that everyone is guilty of forming from time to time.

This was an especially good one. A tourist/traveller in Greece appreciates the beauty of natural scenery and then feels a little lonely as he watches a group of friends interacting later on. It seems to compare the magnificence of the natural world, with the unquantifiable value of human bonds and interaction – I really liked that. Though this was only short, it felt very much like a real snapshot of a person’s life.

Touching Bedrock
To put it very simply, this story tells of a beautiful moment shared between two people. Personally, I didn’t like it quite as much as the stories which came before, but I feel like it’s nice to share a beautiful moment, simply for the sake of sharing a beautiful moment.

The Waves Never Ceasing
A very interesting one. It tells the story of a collapse of a civilisation and it’s done in a very timeless way. By that I mean that, after I read it, I had an internal debate – was it a story told from a future perspective about our own civilisation? Or was it somebody today telling the story of Atlantis or another lost civilisation? Well, why not read it and draw your own conclusions?

The White Hoover
This one was very different the those which came before and after it – both in terms of tone and subject matter. In it, a man heads to a castle in Scotland in order to meet a therapist who he hopes will help him to overcome some extreme allergic reactions which he has been suffering from. I guarantee you won’t guess what happens. I found it quite funny.

Rite of Passage
A story of a coming of age ceremony for some young men – with one of them having some concerns. It’s hard to say much about this story. It’s written very in the moment, which adds a great deal of tension to it all and I could actually imagine it as a performance piece actually (I’d love to see it performed one day.)

The Cobra Hissed
I remember speaking to the author and he told me that once, during his travels, he had a near encounter with a cobra and couldn’t help but think about what might have happened. This tells the story of what might have happened and it really highlights how, in certain moments, our lives could go down vastly different (and indeed, much shorter!) paths. Based on that premise, I was looking forward to this one and I enjoyed it.

The Sun Cafe
This is the second longest story in the collection and, perhaps, my favourite. It tells the story of a man in Greece who wishes to see the top of Mt. Olympus. I shan’t tell you whether or not he makes it, but on his way he interacts with a variety of different people and has a lot of interesting experiences. I feel like there’s a lesson to be learned when you get to the end, but I’m not sure that the protagonist ever learns it himself. What helped make this story so enjoyable was that the immersive writing style really made me feel like I was seeing, hearing, feeling and doing everything that the protagonist did.

The Leap of Faith
A man (Perry) is shocked when his wife (Prue) suddenly leaves their house because she is disillusioned with her life. She’s sick of the unfulfilling humdrum of day to day existence and so one night she decides to leave it all behind – much to Perry’s bemusement. This decision takes them both on quite a journey and I found myself very invested in these characters. I think what makes it so appealing is that everyone will have thought about doing what Prue does at some point and it’s nice to see that fantasy play out.

The Last Coelacanth
A very short and depressing story about the last Coelacanth in existence. Presumably set in the near future, what makes it so much worse is that it is so terribly believable. It’s hard to say as much about this one – but again it creates the impression that you’re seeing just a snapshot of the lives of real people.

The Flower People of the Pamirs
One of the best in the collection: a group of three people in Soviet Russia head out to an obscure corner of the country in order to investigate rumours of Neanderthals. The three characters are all very different people and all have very different motives for being there: the story is told by switching between each of their diary entries and it’s an approach I quite enjoyed. Together they encounter the ‘Rayu’ people, who they hope may give them some insights. I found the direction of the story most unexpected, but appreciated that clues to what was really happening were planted along the way. The ending was very sweet and nicely optimistic. A perfect way to close off the anthology.

So, if you happen to come across this book (which, unfortunately, isn’t very common!) I recommend you give it a try. Genuine thoughts, feelings, sensations and impressions have been captured in these stories – but it’s not just raw experiences, there’s some thought provoking and insightful stuff here too.

Rating: 8/10

Buy it here.

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The Essence of Beautiful Souls

Though I can’t really describe it in tangible terms, I feel as though all of the people that I am most fond of share a certain quality. What’s interesting is that from that special group, there are people of different backgrounds, age groups, gender identities, sexual orientations, religious beliefs, political inclinations and just about every other differing variable. It’s certainly not that I always go out of my way to befriend a very specific type of person – and yet, something about them remains the same.

So, what is that something? Maybe I’ll never really know what it is, but I will always know it when I see it. When I think about the qualities that I admire most in people, empathy, critical thinking, warmth, kindness and generosity are the things which come to mind. All of these people have these things, but on the other hand, I have met people who share these qualities, but with whom I haven’t quite “clicked.” Although, in those cases, there are always other, negative qualities which cancel out the impact of the positives.

And maybe that’s it – the thing that they have in common is that I feel very fondly for them. I am mistaking my own feelings for people as a quality that they possess. Maybe that’s right, but maybe that’s not. I prefer to think that there’s some essence to all of these people, some aspect of their goodness that I am picking up on and that I have picked up on in 28 people so far.

In my opinion, there are fewer things more rewarding than consolidating a new friendship, getting to know somebody and learning that you can trust them. When I think of all the people that I’ll meet in my life moving forward, it’s exciting to consider that I will have many more opportunities to discover this indescribable essence of beautiful souls. Potentially, the most marvelous thing in the universe.

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Increasing Age and Appreciation

The older I get, the more I find that I appreciate almost everything. I remember in the past, there were a fair few foods which I strongly disliked and would always avoid eating. These days, other than my vegetarianism, I will happily eat pretty much anything – and I’ll like it too. I was pickier about the games and books that I liked too – I kind of got bored of gaming in general around the ages of 18 and 19. The same goes for movies and just about every other thing that a person can do in their leisure time.

It even extended into my social life. The types of people that I liked to spend time with was a considerably smaller number than it is now. I’d interact with the same small number of friends and that would be fine. I remember once saying to a friend, after she recommended an opportunity to meet new people, that I already had four friends and so that was all that was necessary.

Looking back, I don’t know why I used to be so much more rigid. But these days, I know that it’s best to just enjoy the many different things which life has to offer. I’m a little bit regretful that I wasn’t more accepting of new experiences when I was younger. Reflecting on the matter, I think I might know why.

When I was younger, I had an idea of what I liked and what I wanted to do – this was based on my limited life experience. I knew I liked this or that and so trying anything else felt like a risk. A risk which wasn’t worth taking. However, as the years went by, doing the same things in the same ways over and over, I think I started to realise that this would start to get boring. I realised I needed to try the diverse range of experiences that life had to offer and once I’d done this once or twice and found that I quite liked it, I kept going.

Perhaps, in the past, I lacked the confidence to branch out. Perhaps that fear of the unknown was too great and as age has brought more experience, that fear of the unknown has shrunk. Either way, the older I get, the easier I find it to adapt and enjoy pretty much anything.

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I think an argument could be made that Pac-Man is the most iconic video game of all time. After all, how often do you see parodies and references to Pac-Man himself? Very often, I’d say. His influence is so broad that you’ll find him (or the ghosts, Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde) everywhere, from “Weird” Al Yankovic Beatles parodies and episodes of Futurama, to animated Disney movies.

Does that then mean that Pac-Man is one of the greatest games ever made? Or is it simply a case of being so iconic due to the fact that it was one of the very first of its type? Personally, I think it might be a mixture of both.

On the one hand, the game design is kind of ingenious. You move around the maze and have to eat all the dots while avoiding the ghosts. If you eat a big dot, that means you can eat the ghosts as well, but only temporarily. It’s so simple that anybody could grasp it and anybody could have fun with it. It is, perhaps, one of the most accessible games ever created. Plus, the strange absurdity of a yellow man eating dots and ghosts in a maze with no context is actually kind of endearing.

On the other, it gets old pretty fast. You may say that it was made in 1980 and so, of course, it’s not going to have the same sort of life span as certain other games, but I’m not quite convinced. A few of the Game & Watches from roughly the same time have the same simplicity in their design, but I don’t get bored of them anywhere near as quickly. Pac-Man, meanwhile, I’ll rarely play for more than five minutes and don’t come back to so often.

So, overall, it’s hard to make a clear conclusion. I have a lot of respect for it, but it fails to captivate my interest for long. It’s not bad and it’s not amazing. I hope that my score fairly reflects it’s historical significance, as well as it’s historical limitations.

Rating: 6/10

(I won’t link to somewhere you can buy the game this time, you can get Pac-Man on pretty much any electronic device. Probably including electric razors.)

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Let’s Turn Blue Monday Into Beige Monday

Today is “Blue Monday” and for those who don’t know what that means, it’s supposedly the most depressing day of the year. With that in mind, I thought it worthwhile to focus on positivity instead. I had a think about what was the happiest colour (in contrast to the gloominess of blue) and I realised that it was beige. So I shall rechristen Blue Monday as Beige Monday and here’s a list of happy things which have happened to me in recent times:

  • I watched a live stream of a video game for the first time ever. It was conducted by a good friend of mine and, in fact, was dedicated to me. The first time anything has ever been dedicated to me, so that’s pretty touching and memorable.
  • After a potentially frustrating experience, I messaged a friend to tell them that I’d tell them about it later. They replied “Okay, but first I just want to be sure you’re okay” and I think that reflects a very considerate and empathetic perspective. I was touched.
  • It turned out that a friend of a friend is friends with one of the lead character designers on Donkey Kong Country which lead to me getting a signed poster telling me to “keep monkeying around” and now, I feel, I can never stop doing that.
  • Meeting somebody new at a job early last year, I had the impression they didn’t much care for me. Fair enough – each to their own. However, I managed to turn this around. Just three months later they came up behind me to give me a hug for being “so sweet.”
  • At a wedding, I was socialising with some new people. One of them asked me why I don’t drink alcohol so I told her that I am always filled with a natural giddiness and excitement simply as a result of being alive. As we said goodbye, she said that she agreed that I did indeed carry with me a natural giddiness and excitement. It’s good to be affirmed in this.

So that’s five nice experiences which are pleasant to look back on Beige Monday. I hope that you will take the opportunity to look back on moments that made you happy in the recent past and that you got through the day with high spirits.

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Dancing Queen

Lately, I’ve felt the need to record in writing some of the more positive experiences I’ve had in life. I know I have written extensively about bad experiences I’ve had when visiting night clubs, but the truth is that a couple of the times that I’ve been have actually been pretty good.

Today I’d like to talk about a visit I made to a nightclub in Bath along with my new (at the time) friends, Sarah and Edward in 2016. It was for Sarah’s birthday and birthdays are one of the occasions on which I will always go to a nightclub if asked.

Prior to this, I never really ‘got’ dancing in clubs. I just couldn’t quite understand what the appeal was. But on that night, something clicked. The three of us were taking each other by the hands and twirling ourselves around and I honestly felt like I was merging into the general positive energy omitted by the mass of club goers. I wasn’t just me, I was part of something bigger.

I was in the moment and I was loving it. At the time, I had a particularly bad employer and it was great deal of stress and frustration. But as I was dancing, it all drained away. None of the concerns I had at the time seemed relevant anymore – I was living in the moment to an extent that I had never done before.

The song Dancing Queen by ABBA came on and I felt like it was very appropriate. I finally understood dancing. I understood that it was a form of non-verbal communication and interaction – a bonding activity. A new and different experience for me. I was the dancing queen. It was wonderful.

Before that day, I had a specific routine for any time that I was coaxed out onto the dance floor by friends. I’d simply bend my knees and bob myself up and down gently – The Gentleman’s All-Purpose Dance Procedure, I used to call it, or; the Randy Rave, as my friends used to call it. But following that particularly pleasant evening – a time of high energy, of bonding with two friends I’d soon count among my very best, of letting all of life’s worries drain away – I do make the effort to dance when I find myself in those contexts. I now understand the purpose and the value and any experience which helps me to learn and to experience new things is a very positive one. So, if you’re not much of a dancer, I hope that one day you’ll be able to make this same revelation one day.

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 8 by Yusei Matsui

As much as I enjoyed all of the volumes of Assassination Classroom up to this point, if there was one small criticism I had to give, it would be that Koro-sensei stops tensions from getting high. Sure, there’re his claims that he’ll destroy the planet in a year, but that’s in the future and in the meantime there’s a super human smiley face creature who’ll protect the children from any threats with his endless abilities. However, following Volume 7, Koro-sensei has been reduced to his Absolute Defense Form and so is unable to help or protect them in anyway (other than talking.)

The new dynamic in this volume creates some really intense drama. It’s just the kids up against some of the most skilled assassins in the world. Do they have what it takes? Well, I won’t spoil anything for you, but I was genuinely concerned for the characters’ lives – and not just the characters facing the assassins. Don’t forget that the previous volume ended with half the students being infected with a deadly virus!

You may wonder why it would just be the kids when the likes of Mr. Karasuma are around, but he and Ms. Jelavitch are soon otherwise incapacitated as well. Really, this volume documents an important learning experience for the children – they now have to put into use the lessons that their teacher has taught them with no safety net. Of course, Koro-sensei remains able to impart his wisdom, but that’s all. It is up to the children to listen to him.

Honestly, this was a fantastic read and a new height for this manga. There are some big revelations towards the end, but things still aren’t wrapped up neatly. You won’t be able to wait to read the next volume because the stakes are so high and at the end… the unbelievable happens. No spoilers, of course, but a lot of big things happen. The best volume yet.

Rating: 9.9/10

Buy it here.

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R.I.P. Kate Sutton

Yesterday I was scrolling through Twitter to pass by an empty few minutes in my day. As I was doing so, I came across an old tweet talking about the untimely death of a blogger called Kate Sutton. I wasn’t quite sure why, but her name and face seemed kind of familiar to me. I did a little bit of investigating and found out that she was the author of the blog WitWitWoo. Again, very familiar.

In a previous job, I was responsible for a blogger outreach campaign and I had a feeling that she might have been somebody I’d worked with on that. A quick search around her site confirmed this for me when I found the blog post she’d written from the brief I gave her two years ago. Seeing the blog post brought back some memory of the collaboration and I recollect that she was easygoing and nice to work with – in fact, I commissioned her for two blog posts. I found the second one shortly after.

I always used to be a little envious of the bloggers who made a lot of money selling blog posts, because I could never do that with this blog. I really admired them for it though and it inspired me to always keep up with my own work. Looking at her blog now, there’s no indication that she is no longer alive and it’s quite bittersweet – on the one hand, her personality comes through in the blog posts, immortalising her in some way, which is nice. On the other hand, it’s kind of scary. With the tabs about collaborating with her at the top, it’s almost like a moment frozen in time. Her last blog post is just a normal blog post, with no indication that she suspected her life may soon be over.

In fact, it’s worse than that. Her last blog post is about online dating and she’s talking with somebody in the comments about finding her “forever love” a desire which can now never be fulfilled. Then there’s the fact that she was a single parent “Mummy Blogger” and it’s very upsetting to think of the children left behind. How many people do we cross paths with every day? A very large number, and most of the time we’ll always be completely unaware of their ultimate fate… how many people who left a brief, friendly impression on you may no longer be in this world? At very least, the impact they had on you and (doubtlessly) on many others will always remain in the back of your mind.

My relationship with Kate was a very brief and professional one. I don’t mean to ‘take’ the tragedy of her death and make it ‘mine’ as the real people suffering here will be her friends and family. But I wanted to write about this because the news of her death certainly had an effect on me – it made me want to honour her memory. She was somebody who made it as a writer and I have a great respect for all writers. I am glad that she had the opportunity to make money from her work and it’s nice that she was able to capture many aspects of herself and her life in her writing. If you’re looking for some lifestyle blog posts to read, why not check out her blog and help keep her memory alive?

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