A Political Week

Rather than continuing the job hunt, I have spent most of this week reading political articles, digesting endless blog comments and watching many speeches from politicos across the USA. I might as well make good use of the endless free time I’ve got right now, after all.

And the timing has been perfect, because, naturally, this has been the week of the Democratic National Convention. As a political junkie, something like this is unmissable. This time four years ago I spent an equal amount of time watching the speeches from that (courtesy of the awesome C-SPAN) – and one in particular impressed me.

Yeah yeah, we all know about Barack Obama’s stunning oratical masterpiece four years ago. I watched it at the time and thought – and this is the honest truth – that this man ought to be the next Democratic presidential candidate after Kerry. It was moving and powerful. I have never heard anything so good since, and I doubt I ever will. I feel pretty smart that I jumped on the bandwagon four years ago, a long time before others. And certainly a long time before almost everyone in the UK.

But with that speech four years ago in mind, Obama was never likely to reach those heights. And so, wisely, he picked a different tack, to give the speech more content and more red meat. It worked. And the final third delivered the rhetorical soar that all good speeches ought to finish with.

On balance I would give it an 8.5/10 when compared with all his speeches I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot). 10/10 goes to the DNC 2004 speech; and 10/10 to his “A More Perfect Union” intelligent brilliance of a few months back. But in terms of whether it was the right speech, at the right moment, it truly nailed it. In the context of the election, and using an American analogy, he hit the ball right out of the park.

Why do I share all this on a personal blog? Well, largely because an enormous part of me is dictated by the way I feel politically. It would be foolish to deny that my politics has no impact on my outlook of life. In many respects, it is to my shame that it has the impact it does, mainly because British politics has left me so cynical and jaded at the tender age of 23.

But somehow, just this once, I’ve allowed myself to get carried away with the optimism. When American politics is at its finest, optimism and positivity is the thing it does the best in the world. Maybe it will turn out in the future that we’ve all pinned our enormous expectations to Obama, something which he will never be able to live up to. And so we’re all setting ourselves up for a very big fall when reality crashes in.

Just this time, however, I’m willing to believe. But the message of Obama is far more than just what he can achieve. In fact, I would argue that, if Obama is successful, it will not be because he personally made certain actions that delivered certain positive results.

It will be because he convinces people that they must be the agent of their own change, not the government, not politicians or anyone else. That politics is not about top-down. It’s about the community, it’s about high aspiration, it’s about hard work and passion for your cause.

This is why I have a lot of time for the Obama message. It is one of personal empowerment, and that is extremely liberating.

So in many respects it appeals to me personally. It is a message that I could easily apply to myself. That I must stop wallowing in self-pity, wondering where did it all go wrong, but instead to embrace the situation and turn it towards my own hopes and dreams. To put in more effort and to aspire to achieve something bigger than what I was originally aiming for.

While it’s been a fun week politically, it’s been a challenging one personally. What should my next step be? I can but dream…

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Olympic Sized Hole

Yesterday was the first day I’ve had in a little while without any Olympics action to look forward to. Much as I feel very hypocritical for saying this, because I wasn’t impressed with the Games going to China due to their terrible human rights record, I do think the Olympics were a sporting triumph and an amazing spectacle, one of the best I’ve seen in my lifetime.

But all of a sudden, with them ending, I feel empty. I watched the closing ceremony with a forlorn sadness, even stifling a tear or two at the lowering of the Olympic flag and the extinguishing of the flame (bloody symbolism always gets me for some reason). It’s been awesome getting up every morning to see the latest Olympic successes of the British team, and watching loads of sports that I had never really given a consideration to in the past. Track cycling, for example. Swimming. Even diving. But then again, it doesn’t take much for me to get an interest in a sport. I can watch most sports pretty easily. Except weightlifting. I draw the line there…

I remember watching the Atlanta Olympics. My first Olympic memory. I remember Britain being a complete disaster, failing in most things. I remember lots of complaints from people – why are we so bad? But it turns out that was the absolute low point, and we seem to have used that to turn ourselves around. It’s been really cool to feel part of something for a change. Which is rather odd, because I haven’t done anything but watch the telly and cheer on people who happened to be born, by total accident, in the same country as me.

It’s just a part of human psychology though. We like to feel part of something. We need associations and belonging. I could identify with any country. The choice is arbitrary. But I might as well identify with the one I’m from. That, to me, is the limit of my patriotism. There are a lot of things wrong with this country, but just for a moment it’s nice to forget them and celebrate the achievements of some amazing athletes. They worked hard and deserved their success.

However, I doubt we will be as successful in the future with the rise of China… somehow I suspect that after London 2012 we will be slipping backwards towards our low point at Atlanta. China has the manpower, the financial clout, the discipline and the national fervour for sporting success to complete a clean sweep in every sport. And even more so now they have the legacy of the fantastic facilities to practice in. Nervous times for the rest of the world.

One of the most painful parts, however, was hearing the national anthem, which is a total dirge. Even after listening to it 19 times for the 19 different gold medals, it simply will not wash with me. There’s always the hope that a new monarch will change the anthem, but I suspect Chas will only change the “Queen” to “King”. But even then, I don’t see the Queen shuffling off any time soon. I digress…

As I was saying, now it’s all over, I have to find something else to fill my time. It was great fun, and I wish it went on for longer (two weeks seems awfully short for something that happens every four years) but then again we all say that whenever we’ve just enjoyed something. It’s going to be a long four years till the next Games. Having said that, I’m sure it will just fly by. Just like every other day lately.

A nice depressing note to end on.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Just for a brief moment (!) I am going to indulge in a little melancholy. It used to be the order of the day around here, but in recent years I’ve got a little better at managing my emotions. However, due to the current situation of my life, I feel the time is right for a bit more analysis.

In life, there are people who do things. They achieve a lot by being the people who put the practical steps into action.

Unfortunately, I am not a Do-er.

There is another group of people: Thinkers. A Thinker is useful in other respects. Do-ers often need Thinkers in order for them to have something to do in the first place. There are very few people who are skilled in both disciplines. Such incredible people deserve a lot of respect.

The problem is, however, that Thinkers get very little credit in life. Yes, the brainboxes like to trade Plato quotes, or out Marx each other, but in the end, Average Man or Woman on the Street tends to be a little less cerebral than that. He or She likes to know the answer to the question: “What difference will it make?”.

Thinkers like to pretend that they know what difference their ideas will make. They spend all their time analysing situations, producing hypothetical scenarios and urging action. But Thinkers aren’t infallible. And when they make a mistake with their projections, we get the usual response from Average Man or Woman on the Street: “You don’t know the first thing about real life”.

We denigrate Thinkers. We see them as lazy people who couldn’t be arsed getting off their own backsides and putting in the hours at the coalface; instead they get other people to do the work for them. Consequently, we love the hard workers, toiling day and night for little reward to deliver the undeliverable. It is never a problem of implementation. It is always the idea that’s wrong.

I’m not sure if I’m a Thinker. Not yet. I can be if I put my mind to it, but no one is going to hire a Thinker from university. You have to earn your thinking stripes, for what that’s worth in the light of the above.

There are other people too. There are Actors (who neither think, nor do, but manage to convince people that they do do)… there are Connectors (who bring together the Thinkers and the Do-ers, who grease the wheels of social interaction). And, of course, the Apathetic and Fatalistic – who either don’t care, or are happy with accepting that “it wasn’t meant to be”.

And then there are Regulators. These are people who neither think nor do (in a meaningful sense), but instead try to make sure the Do-ers come into line with the Thinkers. They also, generally speaking, like to make sure there is a level playing field for all concerned. They are interested in fair play, and the rules of the game.

Nobody likes Regulators. The Thinkers find them as lightweights. The Do-ers find them as repressors. They stunt intellectual curiosity. They limit free thought. They stop people just getting on with the job.

Nobody dares to recognise their important role. If there are no rules, and nobody enforcing them, then we have anarchy. Yeah yeah – we all love anarchy, of course. Until we suffer it. Until we see the impact unfair practice has. Then we all call for rules and regulation quicker than you can say “class action lawsuit”.

But still the Regulator’s role is a thankless one. If all is going well, no one cares for rules as they are not needed. If all is going wrong, no one cares for rules because they stop creative solutions.

My worry is that, in my life, I am falling into this job. Much as it’s an important one, it’s not going to allow me to leave a mark on history. It’s not going to give me a chance of inspiring future generations. Nobody remembers a tax inspector. Everyone remembers a doctor, nurse, teacher, sports person…

Somehow, I have to change this. I have to, at the very least, move beyond being a mere Regulator. I have to become a Do-er. I have to contribute something. What that is, I don’t know. And why going out there and doing stuff makes me nervous I don’t know. I wish it didn’t.

Where next in life? I haven’t the foggiest idea.

Clever Trevor No More

A long time ago back in school, I was a rather clever kid. In my primary school, there was absolutely no doubt about it – I was the most intelligent there. I got everything within seconds, and excelled in every subject, no matter what it was. I could apply my smarts to anything.

I moved on to secondary school – where the level was higher, and so was the competition. It took me a little while to adjust, but I soon got into my stride. However, I was no longer the best there. Now being one amongst 100, rather than one amongst 50, it was always likely there would be a challenge. And it came from all different angles. My enemies were from much wealthier families – which gave me a certain sense of “I may not beat them, but I’ve come a lot further than they have”. I was probably amongst the top 10 in terms of academic ability though. That showed when I came out with five A*’s and five A’s in my GCSEs.

I then moved on once more to a different school. Well, a college, to do my A-Levels. This time I was one amongst 1200, if not more. There was no way any more that I could make a fair comparison with my peers. I had a feeling I was pretty clever still, but it did seem to me that I was steadily being caught up. That those people who I’d left for dead in primary school were slowly coming back. I ended with three A’s. Still much better than most, but there were many other people who achieved the same (and even more today).

Hence to university – where, if statistics are to be believed – I achieved something that approximately 10% of other students did. But only just as I was on the edge of it. But to me, whilst I was there, I got the unmistakeable impression that of most of my peers, there was very little to choose between us. They were sharp and erudite too. Maybe I am just better at absorbing and retaining facts for later analysis? But essentially, we were all pretty damn good at that analysis.

The moral of this tale is fairly straightforward. It’s one that is not fully explored in society – though I was very pleased a few months ago when the C4 programme Child Genius looked like it was going to investigate it. Not that I’m trying to say I was a child prodigy, but I certainly was right up with the brightest of the bunch.

No – the purpose of this story (and what I expect Child Genius to eventually conclude) is to say that for most child prodigies, the promise of youth invariably ends in failure. Failure is relative, of course, because people set the bar extremely high. For some reason we expect our child prodigies to become consultant surgeons, research experts finding the cure for cancer, or, worse, the Prime Minister. But we should come to realise that there really are only an extremely small number of these people in the world. And there can ever only be one prime minister at a time! Leaving the rest of them to have a relative failure when they “only” become excellent administrators or creative designers/engineers, whatever.

This is sort of what I’m coming to terms with. What is success? What should I achieve? Where should I be relative to the extremely high expectations that have always been upon me? And if I don’t meet them, have I failed? In school and university, it was easy to measure success in terms of grades. In life, it is not that simple.

Unfortunately, there is a side of me that is saying maybe I am not succeeding. I haven’t exactly lost my intelligence… but what I have lost is the degree of advantage over others this used to give me, because everyone else has caught up – and also because there are many other ways to have a talent, not just through booksmarts. It’s my belief that childhood intelligence is mostly a product of earlier development, which one’s peers will catch up with eventually. And then those peers will probably end up with better “people skills” or something.

Then you really are up shit creek.

Star Trekking

In recent days, thanks to a TV channel called Virgin 1, I have rekindled my long lost interest in Star Trek. Yes, alas, I am a Star Trek fan. My favourite Trek is probably Voyager, followed by TNG and then Deep Space Nine. The Original Series… well, it’s entertaining. But I don’t think it’s fair to class it as part of the rest of it, because it’s so very different. Enterprise doesn’t even get a look in.

One of the more unusual reasons why I like Voyager is the theme tune. To me, it is one of the best TV themes I’ve ever known. It’s such a fine piece of music, and every time I hear it it never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Music never ceases to amaze me – how is it possible for it to instil emotions? If only all classical music was like that – then I wouldn’t find the whole genre so boring.

I’ve always liked science fiction. It’s just a part of me that likes speculating and wondering about the distant future. It simply amazes me to think what astonishing things will exist in the future thanks to technology. Of course, we’re pretty much certain that travelling at speeds over the speed of light is impossible, but hey, we can dream can’t we? It’s sad to think that I won’t be around to see the wonders of technology in the future; I just have to be content with the fact that each living generation is, in a sense, living out the science fiction of several centuries before. Not that there was any sci fi then… what I mean is everything today is technologically brilliant compared to decades or centuries ago. Yes…

So Star Trek fits that nicely. It would be nice if there was a new show, but maybe it’s best if it’s just left alone now. They’ll only go and ruin it again. We don’t seem to be able to make good TV any more. Probably because everything is derivative and nothing is original nowadays. There can’t possibly be any new storylines left, can there? This is the problem facing all the narrative world. And yet, we continue to devour it on a regular basis. You don’t see the rate of book publishing coming down… And those TV soaps? They rehash the same thing year after year just in different characters. But they still plunder on…

We go through life with a quest for narratives. We learn it from an early age. Everything we do, we like it in a story. Watch the news for an example. Observe your own life for an example. Ordering events into a logical progression that makes sense. My daily routine. My life story.

Not that I’m going to make an interesting point out of this. It’s just something I’ve observed. And it just so happens that us science fiction fans like stories that slightly different to, say, what you get in TV soaps. But at the heart of it, the basic plots are the same, whether it’s set on a starship or in Coronation Street. That’s why I don’t understand it when people look down on science fiction as if it’s a rather geeky affair. It’s not. It’s just another way in which people have chosen to satisfy our thirst as humans for stories.

But now, unfortunately, the title of this post has reminded me of the eponymous song. It was amusing when I was a child. Still is, to a certain degree… but now it’s more annoying.

I don’t think a reminder is needed, but here it is anyway: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=FCARADb9asE

$DEITY Bless YouTube!

In Other News

As I sit here once more underneath a cloud-ridden sky, dumping shedloads of yet more rain onto the window above me, I feel like it is an appropriate moment to look a little bit wider than the very narrow focus of my life at the moment.

That is to say that my family deserve a look in. At this moment in time, things are looking up for the first time in a very long time for my older sister. She is about to start a new job, and she has finally put her foot down with the waste of space ex-partner who spends all his time engaging her in mind games involving my nephew. It’s a shocking situation, but one that had to end sooner rather than later because we’ve all become surprised at just how badly my nephew has been behaving lately – with compulsive lying being the number one development.

It’s all quite unfortunate just how long it has taken for her to settle down, but with her new house, new job, and passing her driving test, she may finally get the freedom and independence she deserves. And my mum and dad need. Because she has been a very large drain on their resources, both physically and emotionally, for a very long time now due to her endless stream of disasters. Fingers crossed that it’s on the up for her.

Meanwhile, my brother, the older one, is not having such a good time. He has been searching for a job all summer and is constantly being rejected. Or rather, not quite rejected, but he just never hears back from people. Even McDonalds haven’t got back to him, which has been a particularly bitter pill to swallow. He’s just looking for something to tide him over when he (hopefully) starts his university course in September. But for the immediate future, the real interest now is whether he gets the necessary A-Levels on results day next Thursday. I’d say it’s touch and go.

We don’t really talk all that much to each other now. I don’t quite know how that happened, but it has. We talk about football. But that’s about it. Not particularly convincing. He has his own life now, and is very sensitive to any comments about it, so I often feel it’s better not to say or do anything that might offend him.

My other brother and sister are both doing OK. The brother is a typical teenager, liking to pretend he is a tough cookie, playing up in front of his range of friends (who all do exactly the same) when in truth he’s nothing of the sort. This generally includes listening to a lot of black R&B and rap. Which really annoys me because I can’t stand hearing it. I hope he grows out of all this. To me it’s the ultimate expression of the success of the capitalist society – it’s all about money, violence (survival of the fittest) and girls.

Meanwhile, my sister tries her best… she’s still too young to be sure how she’s going to do in school, but as long as she stays out of trouble she should be fine.

Finally, my mum and dad could do with a hand. I help out around the house where I can, but my siblings do absolutely nothing, and actually make everything worse with the mess they make. I can see my mum and dad are getting frustrated with it. I sense in the near future there are going to be very cross words with my useless brothers and sister…

That’ll do for now. At least we’re all reasonably healthy and OK.

Awaiting The Perfect Offer

At this moment in time, I suspect I’ve got it all wrong.

I am thinking carefully about the future. A future that should be bright and full of promise. But my problem is that I want to do everything. I want to keep my fingers in all the pies so I can keep every aspect of my personality going.

That’s just never going to happen. There are so many different fields which I could turn my administrative capabilities to. I don’t have to go into politics in order to be political. I could be political in any organisation in the world if I get the right job.

For instance, from left field is the idea that a) I love cricket; so b) why shouldn’t I look for a job in this area? Administering cricket teams, then onwards and upwards into the ECB. But that’s just crazy. I’m not remotely involved in cricket and so don’t know where to start. I wish I was playing it though. But now it’s far too late for me to be any use in that.

See – this is what I’m up against. A scattergun approach to my future. I don’t know where I’m going. But I could quite legitimately bring up any angle of the things I like and see what the possibilities are.

I struggle to let go – that’s the major problem. I want to do everything, yet I can’t. There is no job in the world that incorporates politics, music, cricket, football, other sports, drama, thinking strategically, thinking analytically and is mostly based away from a computer. There is no perfect offer on the cards. Ever. I think that’s probably why I got interested in teaching in the first place, because it does keep almost every door open for the things I like. But at the same time, it would be extremely superficial. A couple of hours playing cricket a year with the children. Not exactly much to write home about.

What I need to do is just pick one thing. Because, as I know full well, when I get down to work, and concentrate on using my time properly, I will enjoy it and forget everything else. It happened yesterday. I was exceptionally bored, doing nothing all day except musing about the future. But in the evening I was going to be involved in the football training of my football club, which is finally starting up again as the new season approaches.

It gave me something to do. It gave me a purpose. A purpose doing something I actually wanted to do. The time flew by, and I didn’t consider what might have been and what I was missing out on when I could have been playing badminton, playing cricket, running a cricket team, going swimming, going for a run, playing the guitar, writing music and all the multitude of other guilt trips that I put my brain through on a regular basis.

The day is fast approaching when I will learn to accept that I have to just get on with it. Decide and progress with life. That doesn’t preclude continued reflection, and I can always change. It still won’t be too late. There’s nothing particularly final about any choice I make right now. Just as long as I make a choice – and that will finally give me some experiences that I can use to fully inform my life.

I have an idea where I want to go, but it’s not solid enough because I don’t have enough experience. I have to resolve that situation very soon.

Working It Out

There is a problem brewing.

Time is running out for me to make a decision. All of a sudden, we are in August. Not only am I annoyed by the fact that, so far, summer seems to have consisted of a couple of nice days in June and no more than a week of good weather in July; but I am also increasingly frustrated by my lack of progress in making a decision about where to take my life.

I probably have only a week or so left of reasonable time to decide what to do. I need to leave myself enough time to actually put the plan into action. But right now, it just seems so easy to not decide. For ages now I’ve been saying “You’ve got loads of time”. Which I had. But, what with this being the first of August, it has suddenly dawned upon me that I really haven’t.

I have dismissed one possible route that I was considering, doing further study to gain a company secretarial qualification. Or doing anything in this direction. It really isn’t me. I may have found it interesting, because I have quite an analytical head on my shoulders, but I could exercise that skill in other careers. It just wouldn’t be stimulating enough overall. I would find it very very dull after a time, I’m sure of it.

I have been scouring job websites for some time now, and also looking at the various graduate career options that there are from the big companies who recruit graduates once a year. Some of them look mildly interesting, but at the same time I am really not certain I can be bothered with it. I would probably have to apply to lots of them simultaneously, going through the process for most of them, which would entail endless interviews, tests, presentations, travel all round the country… for the simple reason that if I only apply to one I’m putting all my eggs in one basket. Worse, most of them don’t start the process until November onwards. That would result in unacceptable delay.

So I’m increasingly left with a smaller number of choices. The first, the bog standard, do the PGCE. Then decide what to do after that. This may or may not be teaching. But I’m really not sure I can bring myself to do the work for the PGCE now. The motivation has gone.

The second option is to start applying for political jobs. This will mean a move to London is inevitable. But it probably won’t happen quickly, leading to a small time delay. It also presents the risk that my chances of being able to emigrate are lessened considerably, but I am every day coming to the opinion that I really won’t be able to do this after all. The opportunities just aren’t there with the degree I’ve got. If I had a degree that lent itself to an obvious profession (e.g. medicine, architecture, law) then it would definitely be possible. But I might have to resign myself to defeat here.

The third option is to try as hard as I can to find a job in this area, all the while looking for a better option (which could even be the graduate employers I’ve thought about). This would at least give me money right now. It would also mean I wouldn’t feel as guilty abandoning home when my parents have spent so much money on this loft conversion. But there are very few reasonable job opportunities in this area for a graduate.

Above all though, my main annoyance is that It’s just typical that I’ve graduated at just the moment the economy is turning to shit. Great timing, dude.

Meanwhile, I am yet again left in charge around here as my mum and dad have gone away for a few days to celebrate their anniversary. Last night I made everyone curried beans and rice. Still feeling the after effects this morning…