Archive for February, 2013

OK. Generally, I think that things such as the internet are bloody brilliant.  I can find out all about things that I didn’t know about 20 seconds ago.  Through Wikipedia, blogging platforms, support groups.  There are thousands of things that I might never have heard of without the internet.  It seems like you could become an instant expert in almost everything (although I doubt googling ‘how to ride a bike’ will be that useful in the long run).  You can find an answer to almost any question you can think of.

The problem is, nobody does.  Nobody actually sits down and trawls through the internet for a balanced view, a sensible answer.  We want to find the answer to one question and we search until we find the answer that we want or even one that we fear.

Instead, we rely on the media.  Newspapers and TV etc. provide us with the soundbites we want; the brief insight into something more profound or interesting.  After that, we just don’t care.  We feel like we know all about it.  We can talk confidently about something without feeling like there’s anything missing.  And yes, this can be a useful shortcut.  However, I have a sneaky feeling that the people that write those articles are just like us.  They look through piles of information that confirm what they already know to be true.  But what’s worse, it has to be something they already know to be true AND sell papers or advertising or whatever.  So not only is it under researched, it’s also likely to be more extreme because that sells.

There’s lots of qualities that make something likely to be talked about, how disgusting it is is one of them.  For example, there’s some cool research (in my opinion) that looked into urban legends that found the most disgusting versions of a particular story were more likely to be passed on or remembered.  Urban legends aren’t that important (apart from putting people off ever eating fast food again) but other things are and if all the information we receive is badly biased, what then?

This line of thinking comes from the fact I’ve recently started reading Backlash by Susan Faludi (yeah yeah slow on the uptake, but I was 4 when it was published so sssh!).  I was expecting it to be interesting but still probably a bit out of date.  To my surprise, I found that in the first chapter she address a common misconception about female infertility that had recently been discussed (as fact) among my friends and I.  I had been *reliably* informed by them that women should have babies before they’re thirty because of the health and fertility implications for both mother and baby.

When I read about the dodgey research that had resulted in this ‘common knowledge’, I have to admit I was pleased.  The conversation with my friends had been very frustrating to say the least.  They seemed to be saying that although they loved me and my choices (although to me, I have to say, they haven’t really been choices…), I was making an irrevocable mistake for not planning to have children before I was thirty. However, I soon began thinking:

“Well, if that research was wrong.  Why should I trust this other person?  What makes her research any more likely to be true?  Just because I agree with it?”  Also I began to think that if people relied on people they actually knew, maybe we’d make less wild assumptions that people know what their talking about.  Then again, maybe you’d generalise and make it worse. So now I’m off to do detailed, up to date research, about fertility of women in their thirties, despite the fact that I really don’t particularly care much about the topic, just to find out more about what I think about information and research practices.  I’m contrary like that.

If anyone has some recommended reading or thoughts on this subject please tell me.  Especially if you disagree with me.  I might learn something 😀

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I play the cello. At the moment, quite badly. But I used to practice and play a lot so I used to be quite a lot better. But one thing I have never understood is the general .. obsession? …persistence? of Mozart.  Mozart’s music reminded me of my primary school teacher commanding us never to use the word nice. For me, that’s what Mozart was “nice”. Fairly pleasant, but still somehow generic. Your typical classical music. I felt that once you’d played one piece you’ve kind of played them all.

However, I am always keen to learn new things and I especially enjoying seeing things that have become commonplace in a new light. So, off I trotted to a Mozart workshop. I was really just looking forward to playing my ‘cello in an orchestra and maybe to learn something about Mozart.  I was even up front with the conductor,
“Mozart’s not really my thing.” I tentatively declared. You have to be tentative with conductors. In my experience they tend to be passionate people and dissing their pet composer can be dodgy. But she took it well and asked why. To my “It’s kind of boring” response, she confidently declared:
“Well I can fix that!” which gave me hope.

She was right.  By the end of that day I was somewhat thawed.  Still a few bits and bobs bored me to death, but the requiem… WOW!  I had also talked myself into playing in the pit for a production of ‘Amadeus’.  By the end of rehearsals and 4 performances my thoughts on Mozart and my week are:

  1. I now think that the requiem is amazing, beautiful, wonderful… This is especially odd for me as generally choral works leave me cold, but there we are.  Other things, not so much but they are growing on me to (if I’m honest). 
  2. I’ve also come to realise that I’m still pushing things away from myself, not letting myself be overwhelmed or emotional.
  3. Musicians are odd.  Maybe not generally, but at my university, they are odd.  They are either ecstatically happy but actually sad, or ecstatically sad but actually happy, or pretending to be interested in something that bores them silly.  I don’t know which of these speculations is closest to the mark, maybe a combination of all of them and a thousand more (the usual case with human beings).  Anyway, by the end of the week of performance I felt deeply uncomfortable. I think they’d be much happier and much better musicians if they listened more, tried more and were more honest with themselves and others.  Really, I felt that I had to re-explain myself all week and I’m not sure whether that’s because they weren’t listening the first time or whether they actually just didn’t get it or what.
  4. Passion, in the form of music, or interest, or just plain honesty is vastly undervalued.
  5. ‘Amadeus’ would be so much better reinterpreted as unrequited romantic love.  Mozart straight and thus unavailable. Salieri in love and pissed off that he’ll never get anywhere with Mozart.  It would be much more interesting and would have been less awkward to watch four+ times.  Well for me anyways, gender and sexuality fascinate me.
  6. I should always trust someone when they say “I can fix that”.  Even if I know they can’t, being proved wrong is always educational.

Anyways, this has been an unenlightening and somewhat tangential post about Mozart.  But really, the requiem… *sigh*

I am interested in clashes, unexpected convergences and divergences.  I love the iterations of ideas and how they can flow and change and be conceptualised differently.  How one experience can change your life, or how one conversation can make you see the world and your place in it completely differently.

I love placing two bizarre and brilliant things next to each other and realising that the combination is even better, even more interesting.  I love stereotypes and fixed ideas because that means that just around the corner, there’s a revelation coming.  Nothing that simple could possibly be accurate, so you are maybe just one step away, one heartbeat, from discovering a whole new world that looks and smells and feels exactly the same but in fact is so different you can hardly remember the old one.

I love science and maths and ideas and proof and experiment.  I love music and emotion and personal expression and those things you just can’t explain.  Most of all I love people.  Their brilliance, their idiocy.  Their pure diversity and range.  We are all muddling along, lives increasingly connected and tangled.  Somehow, somewhere, it seems to me that we lost something important, the understanding that people and the world around us are interesting and need to be engaged with.  Not over a computer or through a TV set or facebook but out there!  Out there where bad things happen and people get hurt and things aren’t shiny and well lit and beautiful like films or TV programs.  Out there, things aren’t always good.

But, I think, if you shut that all out and pacify your anxiety about the things you can’t control and don’t understand with the inane, then you’ll miss out.  And maybe things will never be awful… but they’ll never be great either.  You’ll never understand or discover or experience anything but second hand emotions and second hand lives.

I think it’s time to look lively and grab life while there is still some life to grab.