Monday, 28 October 2013

Watching season four of the Walking Dead, writing stories, and reading course materials....

The Walking Dead TV series is back.

There was a period of time earlier this year when my existence was measured out in episodes of the Walking Dead.  My housemates and I would ‘reward’ ourselves at the end of an evening with a shot of pure horror.

I was scared from the first episode of the first series.  Needing to resolve that fear, to get to the ‘happy ever after’ kept me tuning in. 

I have spent many episodes watching parts of the show from behind my hands, my head buried in a cushion, with one eye peeking out.

I’ve spent a lot of the heart racing 45 minutes shouting at the stupidity of the characters.  I’ve made some bad calls on staying up to watch ‘just one more’ rather than going to bed to get a good nights sleep – all in the insatiable search for resolution. 

I’ve been angry at the show for breaking all the rules, giving us too many characters, none of whom we can relate to terribly easily and then, just when we think we’re established with someone – bam (or more like sucking blood type noise and the gnawing of flesh amid screams) they are dead.  And then dangerously undead.  *Shudder*

By the end of season three I became hardened to zombies and to endless zombie death.  Scenes that only weeks earlier would have had me diving for cover and wanting but not wanting to see the horror unfold I now sat through quite brazenly. I was even able to critique whether or not they were ‘good’ zombies from a makeup, costume and acting point of view.

Imagine my horror – forgive the pun – moments into settling down to watch season four this week* to discover that I really didn’t want to watch it.

The Fear was back.  My heart pounding, my palms sweaty, my brain reeling from the realisation that this universe had not gone away, that there were still people trapped in this world.  I was back to hiding my head in cushions again.

Watching the Walking Dead is exhausting.  I invest an enormous amount of emotional energy working out what I would do in the same situation whenever any of the characters find themselves faced with life or death. 

To be fair, my emotional engagement in most things is pretty intense. I remember a friend finding me with tears streaming down my face as I read a biography on Virginia Woolf a few years ago.  She stopped by to ask if I was okay and was pretty stunned when I looked up and croaked, ‘Virginia Woolf just died’.

But that is the beauty of a story that works.  I’ve been compulsively reading a novel (this is bad on at least three counts – (i) that it may have distracted me from more academic reading this weekend; (ii) that  (i) is why generally I ban myself from novel reading in term time and (iii) because it was……a bodice ripper, another darned historical novel – shhhhh!). 

For the sake of my grades at least I have, thankfully, finally finished it. But again what drew me back and back was that I hated, literally hated, one of the main characters.  He was a thorough ‘bad un’ and my leading lady was behaving in a way I thought was really rather pathetic (as well as unethical). 

Wanting resolution, wanting the universe to be set right was again the driving force behind my addictive pattern of reading.

Much of my own writing tends to be character rather than plot led.  This can mean I spend forever wondering around in a universe with someone who is quite lovely and complicated but doesn’t really have anything to do.  Unsurprisingly I lose interest in him/her, decide my idea is rubbish and move on. 

With my latest revelation from the weekend I think I’m going to challenge myself in the next few weeks to write each next paragraph in an opposing direction – make the character do the thing I least like/least want them to do and see what happens.

This is after, of course, I have caught up on all my university reading…

(*apologies to @bdesignforge – really happy to watch it again with you?!?  Stew and popcorn and whatnot included!)

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Stigmatism of Loneliness in the UK

BBC poll last week suggested that half the adults in the UK experience a significant sense of loneliness some or all of the time.

A blog was posted on facebook several times last week by various friends of mine.  '7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook' was as dull and cynical as it sounds.  And long.  Really long.

To summarise, 'waitbutwhy' suggested that there were seven deadly 'status' sins committed on facebook.  People posting these statuses were categorised as being motivated by one or more of the following: narcissism, image crafting, the wish to induce jealousy, attention seeking/craving and loneliness.

I felt quite sad at this categorisation of people, especially the sense of criticising people for being lonely.

Listening to Clare Balding's Good Morning Sunday show on Radio 2, she raised the issue that being alone is stigmatised in the UK.  This is strange given that a third of us now live alone, whether through choice or circumstance.

My mum was widowed when she was in her mid 50s.  She married my dad when she was 19.  She had no idea how to exist without her other half.  I don't mean she wasn't socially and economically capable but emotionally, spiritually her heart wasn't in it.  What was the point if my dad wasn't there.

It took her nearly ten years to get the point, to get comfortable with living again.

She felt the stigma of being a woman on her own.  She felt people weren't interested, as if her right to exist was now called into question.  With bereavement comes the sense of being a burden on everyone.

She found a route through her loneliness, which involved all the things that make up life for everyone - through friends, through family, through a job, activities in the local community, through radio and television.

I lived with my mum for a few months a couple of years ago.  My head was full of my own exciting and changing life. I would run in and out of the house much like teenagers are fabled to do only probably with more attitude, cos, like, I'm an adult right?

One evening I was dashing through the house, running to get a cuppa and go to my room to log back on and respond to some emails that my 'important' job 'needed' me to attend to when I suddenly stopped.  I got us both drinks and sat down on the sofa opposite mum.

She looked shocked that I didn't have to go do something else. She looked pleased that I had chosen to sit down and chat, to ask questions, to engage with her as a friend, keen to know her thoughts and share opinions.

Our relationship changed that day.  There was something in that look, in the almost grateful reaction to my having the time that provided an unflattering mirror on myself.

I'm still pretty rubbish at being at and staying in touch with my family and my friends, especially face to face, but I know how important it is and I strive to be better at it.

We're sociable creatures, even the more solitary ones amongst us, and loneliness is not something we should be criticising people for.  Maybe people making those 'sinful' facebook status updates want attention, maybe they are lonely, maybe they feel they've failed in life and want to show a better image of themselves.

I'm not sure why showing it on facebook is any different really to demonstrating those things in real life, barring the medium.  That and the fact you've accepted their friend request/the ability to see everything that is posted on their wall.  In which case, who really is the narcissist?

Monday, 14 October 2013

Sex, lies and audio-tapes: From journalism school to press regulation...

I'm heading out shortly to talk to a guy I already interviewed last week.  This time I intend to do the whole audio interview with the 'record' function set to 'on'.

'Devastated' might loosely describe my reaction when I got home on Thursday to discover that all bar one second of my conversation with the head of Cotham school had not in fact registered on the recording equipment.

It's been a bit of week for mistakes.  To help with making the ends meet/paying the rent, I am currently working part-time behind a bar.  Last night the takings were £75.00 down.  We hunted high and low.  I refused to go home till the situation was resolved.  Imagine my horror when I discovered it was due to my 'careful' - and forgotten - placement of a float in a tidied away corner that was causing all the chaos.  I'll confess to a mixed reaction when I found the bags of coins and notes.  Firstly, relief, the problem was solved.  Secondly, utter embarrassment at my mistake.

Fortunately you can't die of embarrassment.  The only wound is to your pride.

I've been thinking a lot about errors and mistakes in light of the Leveson Inquiry and the subsequent all-party agreement reached last week on the draft Royal Charter, which will go on to form the basis of a system of press regulation in the UK.

As part of my masters in Journalism we have been looking at Media, Law and Ethics.  Last week we had to put together our own charter in class.  We came up with a lot of stuff that could be boiled down into something like; 'we should behave like responsible human beings who act both humanely and within the law'.

We fluffed it up with some specifics about being accurate in our reporting and balanced in the arguments we presented.  We talked about being 'professional' and one girl in the class suggested there should be a ruling that says we should support and encourage ethical behaviour in our colleagues.  We're a nice bunch of people.  You wouldn't have expected anything else from us really.

The two mistakes I've mentioned in the past week could be put down to all sorts of things but in reality they simply come down to being human and therefore fallible.

Ethically however I could've made some very different choices - I could have, for example, got my boyfriend to pretend to be the headmaster in a mock up version of the interview (it was an audio assignment for class after all, who would know?).  I could have placed the freshly discovered money somewhere else so that it looked as though the cock up belonged to someone else.

I didn't, quite simply, because to do so would've been WRONG.  And I don't need a ten point code to tell me that either of those actions would be wrong, I just know.

So what on earth happens to all these nice, well-intentioned people when they leave 'journalism school' and hit the industry?

In another module, Multimedia Journalism, we are learning about all sorts of interesting tech to help us record and edit stories for radio broadcast.  A couple of weeks ago our lecturer played us an audio clip of a relatively dull phone interview about Morris dancers.  To a person I think we all thought - "ooooh, that clip would be better with the sound of some jangly Morris dancers in the background".  We even ventured to find out if using a bit of canned audio for that would be acceptable?  No, not really, was the response.  And really, really, I think we knew that.  But you can see how the simple 'sexing up' of quite an innocent report is only a hop, skip and playground jump to the deadly league of editing for effect rather than editing for accuracy.

Some of it boils down to the lack of clarity about what the purpose of a journalist is I suspect.  We are there to report, to provide factual information that is in the public interest. We're also there to do so in an engaging and potentially even entertaining way.

At the University of the West of England the MA Journalism course is situated within the School of Creative Industries.

This is probably because we have to use all the funky packages that creative types do to make our stories and programmes.  And of course because that's what we're doing, we're telling stories. Truthfully, or as close to that nirvana as you can get hopefully, but stories nonetheless.

In my high-minded idealistic way of looking at the world, I think that as journalists we're here to ask questions that otherwise might go unasked and unanswered, especially of people in authority and those who have financial and/or political control.  We're also here to give voice to the people whose stories might otherwise go unheard and unnoticed by dint of their position in society.

My summary seems somehow to fall short of the mark, to languish in miserable puddles of naivety and inexactitude.  It goes nowhere near figuring out what the problem is within the industry that has caused so much pain and needs so much discussion around the idea of regulation (let alone around the implementation of regulation itself).  The best I can do at this stage is hope that whilst as a group we strengthen in our ability to the job outlined above, my MA cohort and I don't harden to do so in a way that would horrify our current student selves and go against our inherent sense of what is right.  Only time will tell....

Monday, 7 October 2013

Week Two Tarnish: Writing up, writing down, writing all around

Week two.  The boyfriend is working from home this morning.  He's months away from finishing his PhD which means that he's in a key phase of procrastination.

I'm not for an instant saying that drawing up graphs to explain his new approach to deconvolution techniques (don't ask, though I can show you a picture...) is not important or necessary but as yet his thesis word count is a big fat zero.

Writing is always the difficult part - and this turns out to be true even if you are a writer.  In the past week I've had a number of successes - including getting my first signed up client - but I have failed on that all important task of getting my own website up and running.  Ironic, given that one of the services I provide is getting content written for clients' websites....

Just as my boyfriend knows what needs to be written, I know what I want to say, how I want the pages laid out and I've some pretty good ideas about the images I want to use on the site.  A very lovely friend of mine has even created me a logo (useful last week for sending out proposals to prospects). There's just always other 'stuff' that seems to take priority.

I fallen into a reading world of historical dramas at the moment - yes, the infamous bodice rippers that I have for years looked upon with disdain.

To be fair my latest read The Virgin's Lover is written by Philippa Gregory, a woman who wrote her first novel whilst undertaking her PhD in eighteenth century literature.  Here then is the role model I need - a person for whom (novel) writing is the form her procrastination takes to distract her from (thesis) writing.

Anyhow, my point in raising The Virgin's Lover is that I was quite taken by a conversation between Dudley (the Master of the Queen's horse) and the young and recently crowned Elizabeth that:

'The lesser joys, the more ignoble pleasures, are those that take a man or a woman's time, make demands.  The finer things, true love or a spiritual life between a man and his God, these are the things that are driven out by the day to day.'

Elizabeth agrees and Dudley goes on to say that for her to be an extraordinary queen she has to choose the best, every day, without compromise, over and above the ordinary which clamours for time and attention.

Procrastination is older than time itself probably.  Ack, I can feel the physicist boyfriend getting ready to argue with me about that.  Time to go talk to a website developer about the design and content of a client website then....