“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.
“I don’t,” said Scrooge.
“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?”
“I don’t know,” said Scrooge.
“Why do you doubt your senses?”
“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
Happy holidays everyone!
A rough transcript of my talk at the 2013 ACRL/NY Symposium last week. The symposium’s theme was “The Library as Knowledge Laboratory.” Many thanks to Anice Mills and the entire program committee for inviting me to such an engaging event.
When Bill Gates and Paul Allen set out in 1975 to put “a computer on every desk and in every home, all running Microsoft software” it was absurdly audacious. Not only were the two practically teenagers. Practically no one owned a computer. When Tim Berners-Lee called the protocols he proposed primarily for internal sharing of research documents among his laboratory colleagues at CERN “the World Wide Web,” it was equally audacious. Berners-Lee was just one of hundreds of physicists working in relative anonymity in the laboratory. His supervisor approved his proposal, allowing him six months to work on the idea with the brief handwritten comment, “vague, but exciting.”
In hindsight, we now know that both projects proved their audacious claims. More or less every desk and every home now has a computer, more or less all of them running some kind of Microsoft software. The World Wide Web is indeed a world-wide web. But what is it that these visionaries saw that their contemporaries didn’t? Both Gates and Allen and Berners-Lee saw the potential of distributed systems.
In stark contrast to the model of mainframe computing dominant at the time, Gates and Allen (and a few peers such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and other members of the Homebrew Computing Club) saw that computing would achieve its greatest reach if computing power were placed in the hands of users. They saw that the personal computer, by moving computing power from the center (the mainframe) to the nodes (the end user terminal) of the system, would kick-start a virtuous cycle of experimentation and innovation that would ultimately lead to everyone owning a computer.
Tim Berners-Lee saw (as indeed did his predecessors who built the Internet atop which the Web sits) that placing content creation, linking, indexing, and other application-specific functions at the fringes of the network and allowing the network simply to handle data transfers, would enable greater ease of information sharing, a flourishing of connections between and among users and their documents, and thus a free-flowing of creativity. This distributed system of Internet+Web was in stark contrast to the centralized, managed computer networks that dominated the 1980s and early 1990s, networks like Compuserve and Prodigy, which managed all content and functional applications from their central servers.
This design principle, called the “end-to-end principle,” states that most features of a network should be left to users to invent and implement, that the network should be as simple as possible, and that complexity should be developed at its end points not at its core. That the network should be dumb and the terminals should be smart. This is precisely how the Internet works. The Internet itself doesn’t care whether the data being transmitted is a sophisticated Flash interactive or a plain text document. The complexity of Flash is handled at the end points and the Internet just transmits the data.
In my experience digital cultural heritage and digital humanities projects function best when they adhere to this design principle, technically, structurally, and administratively. Digital cultural heritage and digital humanities projects work best when content is created and functional applications are designed, that is, when the real work is performed at the nodes and when the management functions of the system are limited to establishing communication protocols and keeping open the pathways along which work can take place, along which ideas, content, collections, and code can flow. That is, digital cultural heritage and digital humanities projects work best when they are structured like the Internet itself, the very network upon which they operate and thrive. The success of THATCamp in recent years demonstrates the truth of this proposition.
Begun in 2008 by my colleagues and I at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media as an unfunded gathering of digitally-minded humanities scholars, students, librarians, museum professionals, and others, THATCamp has in five years grown to more than 100 events in 20 countries around the globe.
How did we do this? Well, we didn’t really do it at all. Shortly after the second THATCamp event in 2009, one of the attendees, Ben Brumfield, asked if he could reproduce the gathering and use the name with colleagues attending the Society of American Archivists meeting in Austin. Shortly after that, other attendees organized THATCamp Pacific Northwest and THATCamp Southern California. By early-2010 THATCamp seemed to be “going viral” and we worked with the Mellon Foundation to secure funding to help coordinate what was now something of a movement.
But that money wasn’t directed at funding individual THATCamps or organizing them from CHNM. Mellon funding for THATCamp paid for information, documentation, and a “coordinator,” Amanda French, who would be available to answer questions and make connections between THATCamp organizers. To this day, each THATCamp remains independently organized, planned, funded, and carried out. The functional application of THATCamp takes place completely at the nodes. All that’s provided centrally at CHNM are the protocols—the branding, the groundrules, the architecture, the governance, and some advice—by which these local applications can perform smoothly and connect to one another to form a broader THATCamp community.
As I see it, looking and acting like the Internet—adopting and adapting its network architecture to structure our own work—gives us the best chance of succeeding as digital humanists and librarians. What does this mean for the future? Well, I’m at once hopeful and fearful for the future.
On the side of fear, I see much of the thrust of new technology today to be pointing in the opposite direction, towards a re-aggregation of innovation from the nodes to the center, centers dominated by proprietary interests. This is best represented by the App Store, which answers first and foremost to the priorities of Apple, but also by “apps” themselves, which centralize users’ interactions within wall-gardens not dissimilar to those built by Compuserve and Prodigy in the pre-aeb era. The Facebook App is designed to keep you in Facebook. Cloud computing is a more complicated case, but it too removes much of the computing power that in the PC era used to be located at the nodes to a central “cloud.”
On the other hand, on the side of hope, are developments coming out of this very community, developments like the the Digital Public Library of America, which is structured very much according to the end-to-end principle. DPLA executive director, Dan Cohen, has described DPLA’s content aggregation model as ponds feeding lakes feeding an ocean.
As cultural heritage professionals, it is our duty to empower end users—or as I like to call them, “people.” Doing this means keeping our efforts, regardless of which direction the latest trends in mobile and cloud computing seem to point, looking like the Internet.
Way back in 2005 (about 4o Internet years), I taught our intro to digital history for graduate students, the first of two required courses for our PhD students and these days a requirement for our MA students in Art History. Then, for a variety of reasons having mostly to do with a sojourn in administration, I didn’t teach the course again until this semester.
As you might imagine, when I looked at my syllabus from 2005 for inspiration, all I could do was laugh. I think I ended up using something like 20% of the readings from 2005. Many of the weekly topics were the same, but the flood of writing about digital history/humanities, and the many new tools, especially computational tools, available to us now meant that I had to substantially rethink my approach to the course. We’ve wrapped up for the semester and as I sit down to start grading my students’ final projects next week, I’ll be looking at a whole lot of work that I never could have imagined in 2005.
To be sure, much of what my students were interested in hasn’t changed a lot. Their questions as historians and art historians in 2013 are very similar to the questions they were asking in 2005. The big difference is the tools available to them for answering those questions.
And of those tools and/or approaches to digital historical/art historical analysis that really stand out are text analysis, especially topic modeling with tools like Mallet, and geographic analysis with GIS tools such as ArcGIS. In both cases, the students using these tools have engaged in what we’re now calling “distant reading” of large volumes of information and then using one or both of tools like Mallet and ArcGIS to analyze their data and then display their findings. I don’t know if anyone even used the term “distant reading” in 2005. I know I didn’t.
Tools that would allow the distant reading of large corpora of historical sources certainly existed in 2005, but the bar to entry was so high that no one in our department, and I suspect in any history department, was incorporating these sorts of tools into their teaching. These days, however, the bar to entry has dropped substantially and so a number of my students were able to do some pretty sophisticated work in topic modeling and geographic analysis.
The other thing that makes this sort of work possible, of course, is the mass digitization of sources for the students to then use these tools on. Distant reading depends on these corpora and at least for teaching we can’t ask our students to do the work without easy access to the sources they need. Which is why we need to keep advocating for open access to digitized historical sources.
Finally, few of my students would have been able to do the work they did without the technological support and advice of a couple of the more advanced students in the room who showed up on campus this fall already reasonably adept with these tools. Had they not been available (and so willing) to support their colleagues in the course, the results I am looking at now would have been much less diverse.
For me, the big result is that before I teach the course again (I sure hope I won’t wait another eight years) I need to rethink the overall structure of the syllabus. This time around I took the existing structure and just plugged in new topics and readings. And while that worked well enough, it didn’t work well enough for me. Next time around I’m going to restructure the course more specifically around four or five key topics in digital history/art history and leave it up to the students to fill in around the margins of those topics. That way we’ll have more time to do more sophisticated work on fewer things.
What those things are will be a function of how long a hiatus I take between this semester and the next time I teach the course.
The original proposition of a web search engine was to help you find the answer to your information need in a page or site on the web: if someone has already solved your problem, let us help you find their solution.
There are still many search scenarios where this is the expectation of the users. One that comes (frequently) to mind is finding solutions to coding issues or API usage on coding forums and question answering sites like StackOverflow.com.
However, there is a relatively new class of queries for which search engines like Bing and Google provide satisfaction immediately. For example, a query like 'who wrote To Kill a Mocking Bird' produces the following results:
There are many other examples of this type of direct question answering.
The question is - how will user expectations change and how will it impact the long tail of sites on the web. For example, the following query does not yet produce a direct answer in any search engine 'How much is 1 pound from 1811 worth in current money?' (a question a daughter might ask a father when watching a period drama on the beeb). A search engine can, however, and will provide a link to a site which can answer the question (e.g. Measuring Worth).
I would argue that this is directly where we are headed.
Related post: Did Web Search Kill Artificial Intelligence?
Those who have heard me talk about the Digital Public Library of America over the past six months know that I’m fond of saying that DPLA is as much a social project as a technical project. Much of what we do focuses on collaboration and coordination, which involves looking not just at technical—or legal—elements, but social ones.
It’s much easier to think of an issue solely as a technical problem (we just need to figure out how to code that properly), or as a legal problem (we just need to bind everyone under a contractual arrangement to achieve the desired outcome), than as a social issue, since the latter requires attention to more amorphous aspects such as ethics and politics. But being more nuanced about the mix of the social, technical, and legal can pay dividends.
Take DPLA’s metadata. (Please. Take our metadata. It’s all freely available on our site.) One of the questions I frequently get is why the Digital Public Library of America requires the metadata for items in our collection to be donated under a CC0 license. That license is maximally permissive; as its longer name implies, CC0 is in fact a Public Domain Dedication.
Metadata obviously has elements of the technical and legal. Without a stringent technical standard into which we normalize data from over a thousand institutions, and a serious digital infrastructure to transform that metadata into interfaces such as maps and timelines, we couldn’t work much magic. And since we are conscious of the legal realm that many cultural heritage materials exist in, we do ask for a contract that specifies CC0 for the metadata. (However, there are many who would argue that even a CC0 license is unnecessary and should not even be demanded; by its very nature, a purely descriptive set of metadata should not be copyrightable (under U.S. law), but this is a discussion for another day.)
But why not ask for the most modest of additional restrictions, such as a license where attribution is required—a license with a -BY attached to the right? If we wish to tip our hat to those who created or donated the metadata, why not legally mandate it?
Those who use, reuse, and commingle data know the complex issues that arise with even simple additional requirements such as this. Data that flows from many sources will pick up, like fallen branches in the stream, a variety of ensnaring reeds, adding significant friction and complexity to some applications. But good-meaning people still want to provide attribution, and individuals and institutions might have social expectations of receiving credit. What to do?
Move the attribution from the legal realm into the social or ethical realm by pairing a permissive license with a strong moral entreaty.
For instance, the Tate recently released metadata for 70,000 works of art, and 3500 artists. The license they put on the data was CC0. But right next to that license is this block on “Usage Guidelines”:
These usage guidelines are based on goodwill. They are not a legal contract but Tate requests that you follow these guidelines if you use Metadata from our Collection dataset.
The Metadata published by Tate is available free of restrictions under the Creative Commons Zero Public Domain Dedication.
This means that you can use it for any purpose without having to give attribution. However, Tate requests that you actively acknowledge and give attribution to Tate wherever possible. Attribution supports future efforts to release other data. It also reduces the amount of ‘orphaned data’, helping retain links to authoritative sources.
These usage guidelines are based on goodwill, they are not a legal contract but Europeana requests that you follow these guidelines if you use metadata from Europeana.
All metadata published by Europeana are available free of restriction under theCreative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. However, Europeana requests that you actively acknowledge and give attribution to all metadata sources, such as the data providers (being a specific cultural heritage institution) and any data aggregators, including Europeana.
Give credit where credit is due.
DPLA does the same thing with our Data Best Use Practices page.
I have been calling this implied or ethical attribution. Or, if you like short and snappy symbols, think of it as CC0 (+BY) rather than CC-BY (or ODB-BY).
The cynics, of course, will say that bad actors will do bad things with all that open data. But here’s the thing about the open web: bad actors will do bad things, regardless. They will ignore whatever license you have asserted, or use technical means to circumvent your technical lock. And yes, with CC0 commercial entities as well might come and take all of that metadata—but that data includes pointers back to items and scans at libraries, archives, and museums, which are (or should be) in the business of disseminating knowledge as widely as possible. By being free with our metadata, we do not devalue those nonprofit institutions, but rather emphasize more broadly the incredible contents they hold.
The flip side of worries about bad actors is that we underestimate the number of good actors doing the right thing. It has been our experience looking at the many software developers (including commercial ones) who have used our data across the web and in DPLA-powered apps, for instance, that they have all maintained proper attribution, even though the CC0 license theoretically means that they can do with the data whatever they want.
I think CCO (+BY) is the best of both worlds: the data in a free-flowing environment that enables creativity and reuse, with attribution still maintained by the vast majority of people who consider themselves part of a social contract.
In this, the first episode of the new Digital Campus century, Mills, Stephen, and Amanda were joined by two new Digital History Fellows, Spencer Roberts and Anne Ladyem McDivitt. Our first story is possibly the most important in Digital Campus history: the Google Books lawsuit has ended (until the appeals). At long last, the court decided that Google’s digitizing project was within fair use law and practice, clearing the way for the digitization work to continue. In addition to the legal significance, it means we can STOP TALKING ABOUT THE GOOGLE BOOKS LAWSUIT. It’s such a shame Dan wasn’t with us to chip in his four cents on the subject. Probably because we needed a new legal topic, we then discussed policies on digital first sale, which will determine how digital content is purchased, distributed, and shared, and speculated about how the first sale policy will affect the practice of buying and reselling textbooks, especially considering recent proposals for open, online textbooks. And in case no one noticed, we reminded listeners that the recent US government shut down did, in fact, make a number of government websites that scholars depend on go dark. One government agency doing some pretty cool stuff these days is the Smithsonian, which has launched a project to digitize and then facilitate the 3D printing of artifacts in their collections. And finally, we expressed our shock and outrage that 90% of students use their mobile devices in class for non-class activities. Can you imagine?
Running time: 48:30
Download the .mp3
Last night I shutdown d8taplex.com. This was a site that I used to demonstrate a number of experimental systems that I'd been playing with. These included:
So this piece: Who comes first, your partner or your kids? did the rounds yesterday. Go read it if you haven’t then come back…
I was struck by the negative comments to the piece – and also the fact that people clearly seem to think this is an OUTRAGEOUS thing to say. Personally, I read it and thought “er, yeah, that’s absolutely right. Of course it is. How could you possibly argue otherwise..?”
Looking back at 8 years of parenting we’ve always (not with any particular grand plan) done three things that seem to fit what Marshall says:
1) always said a firm and absolute no (apart from moments of illness where it was absolutely necessary and those first few weeks of non-sleep hell when – frankly – anything goes) to having kids in our bed.
2) Had a solid evening / bedtime routine back to very early on which still maintains to this day – thereby giving us “adult time” after the youth are in bed. No pissing about with fussing “I don’t want to go to bed” kids, no “oo, go to bed when you want” (IMO: wishy-washy bollocks that confuses the fuck out of both adults and kids alike), but a known, solid time when The World is No Longer For The Children. I should say BTW that now ours are 8 and 6 we can adapt this bed-time should we fancy a family night at the boozer or whatever – and the boys are very happy now being out and about until late every so often – but it’s only IMO by having a routine that you can break it once in a while…
3) Always been very open in our affection for each other and – more importantly – our solidarity as a married, coherent, loving unit. We spend a lot of time being supportive of each other’s parenting rather than combatative – I think we both know how hard the other works both in work (money-earning) terms and in family work. (To see the opposite of how I think this works, try reading that bullshit article recently about money being the last taboo in a relationship – there you’ll find a childish, gnarly, nit-picky way of being in a relationship which is wholly NOT how this should go if you want stuff to last IMO..)
We have – I know – been pretty lucky. We’ve got kids who (now) sleep like logs every night. They don’t come and find us in the middle of the night. They don’t fuss about bed-time. I really – REALLY – feel for people who have problems with this stuff. But….I also believe that parents are quite often walked all over by their kids, and this can quickly become a vicious circle: needy kids that always get what they want (“I won’t eat vegetables! I won’t sleep!” – er, yeah you will if you’re hungry and tired enough…) end up taking and taking – usually at the expense of increasingly tired and increasingly unable-to-cope parents – who inevitably, obviously, end up giving the kids what they want. Getting kids to eat non-crap, or into a solid sleep routine, or liking reading, or not spending 24 hours a day looking at a screen or..whatever – is bastard hard work – but you persevere, and persevere and persevere. And eventually it works.
The main thing for me, though, is this: If your solid central unit of family – (in our, traditional case, the man and woman who started it all..) – falls apart, then so does everything else. You and your partner are the hub of the whole thing, the central bit that everything else revolves around. This doesn’t mean (OBVIOUSLY – I hope) that you don’t love your children more than anything on earth – but if you don’t give yourselves time to consolidate, be together, talk about what’s working and what isn’t, be intimate, drink wine – whatever – then it’s gonna break. This central relationship needs as much – probably more – help to maintain than the relationship with the kids.
For a long, long time, The Bone People was my favourite work of fiction. I haven’t been back to it for a long while, but found a battered copy again recently and have started it again. As I started it I was wondering whether it’d fit into that “I enjoyed it when I was a teenager but I’ve grown up now” thing – but instead I’m being reminded what a blindingly original, beautifully deep roller-coaster of a story it is.
I did a quick Google search for the author, Keri Hulme – and landed on this page which describes in some detail the astonishing journey behind the novel. Hulme won the Booker Prize with The Bone People in 1985, and also published a selection of short stories which I’ve also read (and recommend) but apart from that her literary career has been somewhat sparse. It seems amazing in some ways that an author who writes with the extraordinary scope and creativity represented in The Bone People hasn’t been more prolific, but this is explained perhaps by the obsession which obviously drove her to write it in the first place. According to the piece on the New Zealand Book Council site, one of the three characters of the novel, Simon Peter, a mute boy of unknown age and origin, began haunting Hulme’s dreams an incredible 17 years before she wrote and found success with the novel. The article describes the journey she took – and in particular how this character kept appearing in some form in her short stories, being slowly moulded into the person he is in the final work. It also explains how Hulme had to fight to keep the original text as various editors and publishers tried to cull it.
I found this stuff very interesting from a budding writers’ perspective – not only does it make me feel better about the long time it seems to be taking me to pull together a chunky piece of fiction, but also that this strange, ongoing, intimate relationship with the characters you’re writing about seems to be quite common amongst those of us trying to write a novel. I think a lot about my main protagonist, Palmer while I’m out and about – and find I’m very often coming back to ask: “what would he do here? how would he react now? can I use this somehow?”. Hulme’s obsession with this lost boy character was obviously hugely intense and drove her through nearly two decades of writing before arriving at some kind of end-point. I don’t dream about my characters (yet..!) but find it fascinating that they occupy large chunks of my thinking time. As a reasonably new arrival in the land of fiction writing, I also find it reassuring that this process of writing can go on over a long period of time and still reach some kind of satisfying and rounding conclusion.
In fact, as the ever-spot-on Oatmeal says: Printers were sent from Hell to make us miserable.
I own a printer. I’d rather not, and I run a mostly paper-free life, but there are still occasions when I need to print stuff – end of year stuff, the odd invoice, a letter or two.
Every single time I dust off my printer, these things happen:
We all just accept this as the norm, and it’s obscene.
I refuse to believe that printers are SO complicated they need official inks, or can’t have replacement parts. I refuse to believe that in this year of our lord 2013, we can’t build a device that’ll print out one page of text without performing complicated origami techniques on the next 14 pages in the tray. I refuse to believe that I absolutely MUST download that fucking printer application, edit suite, Chrome toolbar, desktop helper and new OS in order to PRINT A FUCKING LETTER.
I’d much rather pay £100 upfront for a decent, open-sourced printer. One where I could buy spare parts and £5 replacement cartridges.
If it were on Kickstarter, I’d fund that shit.
Inspired by the beautiful flat seas round here at the moment.
Written and produced on the amazing NanoStudio.
[Edit: I was interviewed by The Freelance Web about these tips - hear me talk about this stuff over here]
So we’re just signing off our accounts for the second year of Thirty8 Digital (crazy business: two years? Where the hell did that go?). Things have been brilliant so far ~clutches hard at large piece of wood~ and I wouldn’t now do anything apart from work for myself.
I just got an email from my friend and ex-colleague Frankie Roberto, telling me he’s going freelance and asking for some tips. I have much to say about this stuff, and stopped myself writing him a thesis, but thought it might be interesting to throw the things I said into a quick blog post.
So here it is, the things I’ve taken away from the first two years of business:
> Get an accountant, it’s worth every single penny
> Don’t bother with stuff like FreeAgent, at least until things get much more complicated. Use Google Docs instead and save yourself the monthly fee.
> Find a blinding host if you’re going to be doing that stuff (ours is Vidahost, who are bloody brilliant: disclaimer, here’s an affiliate link… http://my.vidahost.com/aff.php?aff=1450).
> Try to avoid really low budget stuff, even though you’ll probably have to do that shit when you first get started just to get rolling – but in my experience the people who have £500 to spend on a website almost always want a £5000 website, whereas those who have £5000 to spend probably want a £5000 one…
> Genuinely under-promise and over-deliver. It’ll hurt a bit now, but later on people will come back because of it.
> Run your entire business life out of Google Docs. There really isn’t a viable alternative, which might hurt from a privacy perspective but you’re going to have to live with that right now.
> It’s hackneyed, but *everything* takes twice as long as you think. Make sure your estimates reflect this.
> Back every bastard thing up in at least three different places. This includes files, images, code, websites, everything. You probably knew that already, but worth making sure
> Introduce lots of people to lots of other people. I’m pretty sure there’s a karma thing going on here somewhere..
> Fix a single rate for everything you do, and then apply a discount if you want to do things cheaper for, say, a specific sector or client. It’ll make them feel good that you’re cutting prices for them and it won’t force you to do something over-complicated with your pricing.
That’s mine. What are yours?
I’m 17,000 or so words into my first novel and I realise I’ve been suffering a bit of writers’ block. It’s probably been a couple of months if I think about it realistically. I now see I’ve been in avoidance mode, ostriching the fact that I couldn’t get past this particular issue, and it’s been bugging the shit out of me.
I’ve realised for a while from friends who write or from poking the web that cracking on and just bloody writing is a good strategy for doing fiction. But it is also the case that a bulk of text this size needs a good (sorry: office bingo alert) “helicopter view” to make it flow. I’ve got a plan, of course, and a plot (yay), but there was a crucial motivation thing missing for my main protagonist – Palmer – that I’ve been really stuck with. For the last two months this one question has been whirling around my head: Why the hell would he do what I need him to do?
(What I need him to do, by the way, is to leave his hugely successful company and the love of his life and run away from it all so he can live in isolation in the arse end of nowhere…) (oh, and later in the book head back to the company to face his demons..)… so the motivation had to be big, overwhelming, unstoppable.
I’ve come up with pages and pages of notes riffing around the motivation that might make this rupture happen, and things got fanciful and weird and then frankly terribly unbelievable – and then I read the amazing, emotional and heart-lifting last interview with the brilliant Iain Banks:
“…only real life can get away with the really outrageous stuff. The trouble with writing fiction is that it has to make sense, whereas real life doesn’t. It’s incredibly annoying for us scribblers. A lot of the time you’re simply deciding how far down the path of unlikeliness you can go while still retaining the willing suspension of disbelief in the reader…you’re trying to decide how much you can get away with”
…and realised that this needed to be blindingly simple to make it believable.
And finally, I’ve got it. It came to me yesterday after about a hundred beers. I’m not going to tell you what the motivation is – just, you know, so you buy my BESTSELLER when I finally get it done (the butler did it)…but needless to say, it’s terribly simple, and I think (think) will work beautifully to tie up a whole bunch of stuff I needed to tie up.
So yay to breaking the block, and thank you to the gods of beer for helping out.
Meanwhile, as they say, here’s an excerpt. Just to give a bit of context, this is the first time the crack underlying the business (it’s a kind of virtual reality escapism holiday company, if you must know..) shows, and things start to go to shit:
>>>We’d been back at the beach for the day, hanging out and enjoying exploring an environment which I’d designed out there but had no recollection of. The sun was setting and bright stars emerged in the clear sky as we walked back along the beach towards the boat. Suddenly, Lang stumbled, half falling, and ending up on his knees, his head in his hands. I thought he was just drunk, and sat down next to him. Then I turned to speak to him and saw with shock that his eyes were wet with tears, his jaw clenched and his upper body shaking. Behind us in the darkness of the jungle, a long, loud moan rose up, ripping the quiet night air with its intensity. The yacht, the sea edge, the deck chairs – all suddenly faded and we were pitched into an impenetrable blackness. Lang cried out; the noise from the jungle stopped briefly, and then there was the sound of hard galloping hooves, heading inexorably in our direction, louder and more intense, pounding at what was once sand. My heart was thumping as I reached for Lang, pulling him upright and beginning to run. I could feel his breathing, and his terror, and it matched and built with my own until we were both screaming with the intensity and running as hard as we could, holding on to each other for fear of losing it – whatever the fuck “it” was – completely. Behind us, the noise increased in volume, the hooves dashing down against the ground, a rush of air as the noise gained on us. The darkness was absolute. I knew and understood nothing apart from fear; a primal fear of the thing behind us but also a deeper, stronger fear of being left alone – alone in this place, with the darkness and the noise. Lang obviously felt the same: we ran holding on to each other, stumbling over each other, pulling each other up, willing ourselves to get the fuck away from whatever was making the noise. Suddenly the darkness was split by a flash of white light and I saw the thing, reared up on its back legs, its horrific red mouth poised open above Lang’s head. I pushed him to one side and struck out forwards as hard as I could with my fist but I hit nothing but air. The light came on again, and then again, beginning to strobe. I turned with my back to Lang, and we twisted a circle together, back to back, staring outwards into the beyond. Whatever it was had evaporated and instead the space was filled with people, their faces twisted in pain and suffering. With horror, I realised I recognised some of them: Lang’s brother, his father, his mother, shuffling forwards as their broken, bloody arms flailed towards our centre. Lang just stood and screamed, frozen like a rabbit in headlights, the horror burnt on him. I fell to my knees, and covered my ears, needing the rasping sound of Lang’s terror out of my head, unable to offer him any more comfort or solace. Suddenly, the light stopped flashing, and with one fluid movement, the figures receded and were gone. I suddenly found strength from somewhere and pulled mentally upwards with everything I had, feeling myself slipping back into the darkness for a moment, but just about managing to open my eyes and pull myself up and out. I ripped the headset off and opened my eyes again, and instead of the darkness or the beach, I was back in the kitchen, slumped forwards on the table, the computer still chattering away as the hard drive worked on the simulation…
I had an idea for a thing – but I don’t know if it’s an event thing or a blog thing or a gathering thing or just a thing thing, or maybe not even a thing at all.
Also, I’m in Devon in order to do less developing of things, so maybe it’s just a “put it in the list for later” thing.
Men, right, they’re all about BEER and WIMMIN and CARS and FOOTBALL and NOT TALKING ABOUT STUFF and DEFINITELY NOT CRYING and BEER and COMPUTERS and WIMMIN and GAMING and BEER?
No. The very best men I know – the ones I keep in touch with and consider my real, proper, bestest friends – are sensitive and funny in a non-PHOAR way, and maybe cry every so often and read books and may like the odd car or two but still wonder about the meaning of it all and don’t always feel terribly secure and aren’t afraid to say so in front of other men and (frankly, maybe this is sexist or out-dated or something – sorry) have a bit more of a feminine side to their nature..
And I like that, because I might at times be a brash bastard (and social media doesn’t help with this, it has to be said – sorry) but inside I’m all of those things too. And there’s nothing I hate more than watching a room full of men trying to be all ALPHA and hiding their fears and pretending to be BRAVE when really they’re probably full of fear about where the next paycheque comes from or how to tell their wife that they love them or how to express that they’re depressed.
Then there’s the kids. Mrs E and I are bringing our two boys up with bows and arrows and tents and exploring and Lego – but we’re also helping them cook and read and paint and create and hug and cry and knit and tell us how they feel inside – and our biggest thing is to make them realise that this is all OK, in fact it’s better than OK, it’s really the only way to be. End of.
And I wondered if a kind of League Of Sensitive Men or a Gaggle of Sensitive Dads or something might be a good thing to help support men in realising that this stuff is a good thing and should be encouraged. But I don’t know what that thing might be.
Just thought I’d throw that out there.
x <– man kiss