Archive for March, 2010

Last night I went to see David Eagleman give a lecture at the Swedenborg Institute.  He’s an incredibly bright, energetic polymath who studied Literature as an undergrad and then Neuroscience at PhD.  He leads the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine, and has published on time perception, synesthesia, and neurolaw.  He has also written fiction, Sum:Forty Tales from the Afterlives. 

He spoke about his day job, and about his fiction writing.  He also spoke about Possibilianism, an idea he came up with in response to a question he was asked on live radio.  He elaborated further later in an interview in the New York Times:

Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story.”

Last night was one of those beautiful moments when someone articulates something you’d long thought, but hadn’t verbalised.  He’s a scientist who isn’t afraid to dismiss crackpot ideas that have no evidential basis, but he is keeping an open mind to the possibilities contained within the macro: dark matter and the micro: the human brain.  There are approximately 2000 current religions on earth, each one privileging its own stories and myths.  They can’t all be the one truth.  But if we don’t know how many other galaxies there are, and we don’t know what happens to us when we die, then a possibilianist outlook surely makes perfect sense.

His fiction is poetic, taut and funny.  Everyone’s wondered what happens after death is like, and now we have forty versions of what that might be like.  .His talent lies in being able to remind the reader why life on earth, in all its imperfections, impermanence and incompleteness is the most beautiful reality we need.


Read Full Post »

Who’d be a feminist these days?  No really, who?  Who defines themselves as a feminist?  For me, being a feminist is axiomatic to being a woman.  You can’t be one without the other.  You can be a male feminist (thank you E, for restoring my faith in male feminists), although only the most courageous of men would admit it freely.  And it seems that not so many women would, either.  What’s with that?!  Sisters, our work is FAR from over.  We do not live in an equal world, there are still so may battles left to fight.  From the quotidian – equal pay for equal work, to the attitudinal – rape victims are often to blame, to the sociological – the sexualisation and commodification of our bodies.

My particular loathing is for the horribly regressive attitude to gender attributes – men are a certain way because they are men, and similarly for women.   This is reductive and over simplistic.  People’s behaviours are formed by their upbringing, geographical location, class, educational background, religion, as well as their gender. 

In order to explain and rationalise the world, humans have a strong need to anecdotalise, and then extrapolate that into an overarching social theory.   In this diverse and complex society, most people usually understand that not everyone is the same as us, has the same beliefs, ideas, behaviours.  Only the most old-fashioned would these days think that all black people are ‘the same’, or Jews, or Mancunians.  So why do we insist on lumping the genders together in one undifferentiated, homogenous mass?

When we decide that men and women are essentially, fundamentally, unbridgeably different from the other, we allow ourselves to live in a society that is just as conditioned by gender as was our grandparents’.  Too many young girls today believe that their worth lies in being desired, in being able to satisfy a man, in being an accessory.  Too many boys, in being encouraged in games (physical and virtual) that are aggressive and combative, believe their worth lies in an unreal hyper-masculinity.  And so we reach a point where we think men and women can’t communicate, don’t speak the same language, have different skills, and different abilities.

Much of our anecdotalising comes from our experiences of relationships.  Relationships are hard work, and as humans are not mind readers, we can never really know what the other person is thinking.  But if all the problems we have with relationships are down to gender, same-sex relationships would be a walk in the park, right?  My anecdotal research would suggest that is no more true that hetero relationships. 

It’s not our gender that causes misunderstandings, it’s because no two people are the same.  Men are from Earth.  Women are from Earth.  Deal with it.

Read Full Post »

On Wednesday I went to the Shoreditch House Literary Salon.  David Mitchell read extracts from his new novel,  The Thousand Autums of Jacob de Zoet (and apologised to anyone who thought they were coming to see the Peep Show comedian and Radio 4 stalwart).  An audience member asked him for any wisdom for writers at the beginning of their journey.  He replied, “Write, live, read. In that order.” 

I thought about that afterwards over dinner with D, and realised that my current order is live, read, write.  No wonder I’m feeling as if, when I do write, it’s terrible, flat, lifeless prose.  All my energy is going into living, and not enough into writing.  One needs to live, without a social life and a curiosity for people a writer has no material.  But if a social life is used as yet another avoidance tactic, then no good writing will come as a result. 

I’ve just started some work with an amazing Life Coach and fellow writer Esther Poyer.  I’m hoping to work on getting rid of avoidance tactics, procrastination, laziness and general rubbishness.  As my amazing friend M says, ‘there’s a difference between organised and efficient’.  I need to spend less time making lists, and more time doing the things on the lists.  Principally, writing.

Read Full Post »


Wabi-sabi represents a Japanese world view or aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience.  The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete (thanks Wikipedia).  With this blog I intend to write about things that are on my mind, ask questions about life, always with the reassuring thought that all beauty is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

Thanks to LS for telling me about wabi-sabi, and for clarifying it’s not an accompaniment to sushi.

Read Full Post »