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The Internet Is Tricking You

19 Feb
Come for the click-bait; stay for the advice.

Come for the click-bait; stay for the advice.

You may have arrived here because you like Benedict Cumberbatch. That’s fine, no reason not to, just because he once refused to share a cab with me, claiming he was allergic to my perfume. I don’t hold grudges; if anything, I pity him if it’s true that he can never enjoy the smell of lilacs (though I wonder if he’d have been so insistent had he known the bottle of scent was given to me by Terence Stamp).

Regardless. Here’s the thing. You won’t find anything here about Benedict Cumberbatch (excluding the anecdote above, obviously). You were led here under false pretenses. Because, my dears, the Internet is lying to you.

I am terribly sorry to be the one to tell you about this.

Now let me ask, what do you think of when you think of the Internet? What visual image appears in that little head of yours? Perhaps it’s a big ‘ol mess of wires connecting countries on a map. Wrong. That’s not the Internet.

Maybe you prefer to think smaller and simply picture your own little device whenever you think of the Internet. I like that you’re keen on synecdoche, but I’m afraid that is not appropriate either.

If you insist on my suggesting a concrete image for you, I’d have to say the Internet is most like a big ass, fire breathing dragon. Not unlike the dragon in those Hobbit films (hold on there, didn’t one Benedict Cumberbatch provide the voice and motion capture for that dragon? Oh my, it looks like I’ve accidentally mentioned that name again!). Anyhoo, get your mind off him for like two minutes of your life, please, and listen up. The Internet is a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm who is fucking with your head, even as we speak.

Benedict Cumberbatch does not approve of being used like this. Unlike you, he doesn't have any choice.

Benedict Cumberbatch does not approve of being used.

Every time you “log on” to the Internet, you are giving away a little piece of your soul. This most frequently takes the form of your privacy or your self-control. And what’s worse is that the Internet is trying to trick you into believing you want to do this. In most other circumstances (excluding the minds of many high school male athletes), this kind of trickery would be considered criminal coercion. Not so here. The Internet can get you to do most anything it wants you to by almost any means whatsoever (say, by misleading you into believing you’ll learn something new about Benedict Cumberbatch).

It’s a dirty business really, and we should all be ashamed of participating it. I know I’d be ashamed if I weren’t so sure the stats for this blog post will be exponentially higher than any of my previous ones. That’s the thing: at the moment, most of us are pretty happy with the situation. We may lose some things because of it, but we gain others. Yes, our personal details got hacked but we were able to buy something from Target without having to actually go to Target, so it’s swings and roundabouts, isn’t it?

I’m not suggesting you stop using the Internet (in fact, why not subscribe to this blog? I won’t even ask for your mother’s maiden name). I’m not even suggesting you stop telling strangers your mother’s maiden name, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

All I’m saying is this: be aware of what’s going on and the role you’re playing. The Internet is using you. Google is aware of that purchase you just made. The NSA knows you. I know they know you because yesterday when we had lunch together, your name came up in the conversation. It’s likely your identity will get stolen, your sex tape made public, or a good year of your life lost to Candy Crush Saga. Tread carefully.

The fact that the dragon’s got a voice that gives you fizzy knickers shouldn’t permit you to forget that ultimately what he wants is your gold. Or your soul. Both of which you should remember are the precious (yes, I know that’s Gollum, but work with me here, people, I’m trying to make a point).

No Raccoon Has Ever Lied To Me

2 Feb

Raccoons-bite-baby-sleeping-in-cribI’ve never seen a raccoon in England. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re furry grey animals with fluffy tails. A bit like squirrels except less squirrel-ish and more raccoon-ish. Their most distinct feature is the black mask across their face, making them look like fluffy bandits. Cute! What I like most about raccoons, though, is that they are incredibly trustworthy.

This may come as a shock to you, but as a child, I lived for eight months in Canada. My mother led me to believe that this location change was due to my father’s draft dodging. Alas, I was too young to realise that not only was the draft not enacted at the time, the US was not even at war. Nonetheless, to this day, I still see my father as a conscientious objector, and I look back at those months with great fondness.

One afternoon I decided to head out for a long walk in the Canadian wilderness. I went out with one of my brothers (or sisters, I don’t remember exactly, and does it really matter?). We hiked through the woodland, making small talk and pausing frequently for me to capture nature with my Kodak Instamatic.

It was mid-July. While most of us tend to think of cold when we think of Canada, I can assure you it was well hot. After an hour or so, my brother (or sister) and I were regretting not bringing drinks with us and decided to head home. However, we had lost our way and raccoon-wallpaper-10-752390neither of us had a compass with us. As we were plotting out our plan back to safety, I noticed a little raccoon with her kits in a nearby tree. I stood up to take a snap (even in times of danger, I am committed to my work as a documentarian) when I swear the mother beckoned me towards her. I cried out, and she and her babes scuttled down the tree and took off. We ran over to where the raccoons had been, and spelled out in pebbles at the root of the tree was the word “wow.”

“What do you think it means?” my puzzled sibling asked me.

I walked slowly around the message. From a different angle, it spelled out “mom.” So I determined that the raccoon was either directing us towards something worth seeing or leading us to our mother. Either way, we decided to follow and took off in the direction in which the animals had fled.

We quickly caught up with the raccoon family, primarily because they had thoughtfully stopped to wait for us. Again the mother used her little paw to urge us forward. As we made our way through the trees, we began to hear the sounds of a waterfall and then of gleeful laughter. We were almost home safe!

As we rounded a corner, though, it quickly became clear that we were not at the Whitt-Wellington homestead but rather the raccoon had led us to a park for nudists. My brother (or sister, whatever) and I stood transfixed as we watched the nudie grown-ups frolicking in the water, lying in the sun and bending over to pick flowers. For a few moments, we were frozen in our tracks. Then, we turned our heads away from the spectacle and saw the raccoons running away, so we followed again for quite some time until we ended up behind a police station. We went in, our folks were called, and eventually we got home. Neither my sibling nor I mentioned the nudists to the cops, our parents or each other. That day I learned what a naked man looks like, and all I could say was “wow” (read whatever tone you want into that). The other thing I learned was that raccoons can be trusted.

I bring this up today because it is 2 February, also known as Groundhog Day in America. In Pennsylvania, a whole bunch of people get together to listen to a groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil predict Groundhogs are Liarsthe weather. (If you’re not familiar with groundhogs, they look nothing like raccoons.) If Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t see his shadow, an early spring is coming. The problem is, of course, that groundhogs are notorious liars, and Phil’s predictions are usually wrong.

Don’t go to groundhogs for your information. If you want the truth—however harsh, wrinkly or dangly it might be—a raccoon will lead you to it. If you want to know the weather, however, simply look out your window.

What Your Christmas Card Reveals

19 Dec

Christmas_Mailing_1921_0When I was a young girl growing up in Trenton (NJ), sending Christmas cards was a good citizen’s duty. Thanks to an overzealous mayor with good intentions but a serious drinking problem, mailing cards was actually required by law for most of my career as a child (which at least gave the ACLU something to do over the holidays). The tradition was less about Christmas itself and more about community building — reminding friends, family and neighbours that they were in our thoughts during the season of giving.

Sending holiday cards is a rather time consuming act, which explains why it has fallen out of favour these days. We live in a world where the only loved ones we’re willing to invest more than ten minutes at a time in are spouses and young children, and this is usually only done to preemptively build evidence for a subsequent divorce/custody court case. I confess that I myself have not sent cards this year; it’s not because I don’t care, because you know I do (especially about you, yes, you). Unfortunately, my address book includes more than two thousand entries and I’m conflicted about giving that much money to Royal Mail now that it’s been privatised (and last year Christopher sprained his tongue licking envelopes and I will not go through that trauma again).

However, there are still a few hold outs who maintain the tradition, and I say good on you. Nowadays, we have more options about the types of card that can be sent and the one you choose says quite a bit about you. You may think you’ve chosen the prettiest or the cheapest, but you are actually revealing some essential aspects of your self-identity. Let’s have a look.

EMAIL CARDS

These say you’re a modern person, you know how the Internet works and you’re not afraid to use it. However, this choice is also quite impersonal because it’s likely you’re copying and pasting the same message into every one you send. While I’m sure the recipients appreciate the thought, it’s bound to sting a little that to you they are clearly just a name on a distribution list. That’s especially hurtful to those out of whose body you came (according to my brother who received a rather spiteful voicemail message from my mother last week).

CARDS PURCHASED FROM CHARITIES

These say that you are a giving, compassionate person who, rather than volunteer your valuable time or make a substantial monetary donation, will only contribute to a charity’s work if you get something in return.

RELIGIOUS CARDS

These show that you are serious about the birth of Jesus Christ which implies one of two things: you are a Christian, which is fine, though you should be aware that these cards will probably not be on display on non-Christian fridges. I mean, think about it — would a good Christian like yourself hang up a Ramadan card with Mohammad’s face on it? (This is a trick question, by the way.) The other possibility is that you are a Fox News viewer/Daily Mail reader who is committed to fighting the war on Christmas. If this is the case, well done you. You’re a twat.

FUNNY CARDS

These show you don’t want to get all heavy during the holiday season. You hope to keep it light — give people a smile. You just want to share your sense of humour because you are a hilarious person. I mean, you’re really funny. Really. Why you’re still on your own, I don’t doubt you’ll never understand.

HOMEMADE CARDS

Fine, you’ve got artistic talent and the luxury of the funds to purchase supplies and the time to waste gluing crystals onto cardstock. Everyone is very envious of you and your charmed life.

FAMILY PHOTO CARDS

BradychristmasIf you’ve had an addition to your family this year (a baby, puppy, housekeeper, etc), it’s entirely appropriate to share a photo, especially with those people who live far away and have yet to meet the new family member. If you’re just showing off your newest plastic surgery results, it is significantly less appropriate.

ROUND ROBIN LETTERS

These, I’m afraid, never make you look good. They are impersonal and no matter how hard you try to make them seem otherwise, they are essentially just a Wikipedia entry for your experience this year. As such, they are likely to be awkwardly worded and full of inaccuracies. They are also usually typed out and no one should be sending typed letters to their loved ones: unless you’re sending a ransom note, you should take the time to hand write things. Cursive writing is preferable.

Of course, I’ve already received examples of all of these this year. I try to fireplacesee the positives in everything so I focus more on the fact that the senders have remembered me and less on the obvious flaws in their personalities. As the cards are delivered, I’ve hung each one along the windowsills, as my mother used to do. Unlike her, though, I do not plan to rip them all down in a drunken, bitter rage on Christmas Eve and throw them into the fire.

Can You Keep A Secret?

22 Oct

Those who know me well (including most of those I’ve slept with) know that I don’t muck about. Faffing is not part of my nature. Among the many things I have in common with Ludacris is that I give it to ya straight, no chase. So please allow me to tell you like it is.

Secrets: they’re bullshit.

There are two kinds of secrets: the ones you don’t want anyone to know about and the ones you want everyone to know about.

Secrets that you don’t want anyone to know about are bullshit because they’re usually pretty diabolical. When you killed that tramp. The money you stole out of the charity box. The time you let your employer go out with a ladder in her stockings. Why you neglected to mention that, I will never understand. But that’s what’s behind these types of secrets: you’ve done something or something’s been done to you that you fear others will not understand. Occasionally, of course, you probably should share. Notify the coppers if you’re the victim of a crime. Other times telling might help you heal from a bad experience, but please — rather than post your secret in the comment box below — think about consulting a mental health professional to talk to (choose an ugly one: it makes it easier to open up).

If you refuse my very reasonable advice above, the only other suggestion I can make about these types of secrets is to keep your trap shut and just not do anything like that again. Unlike Bill W, I’m not a big believer in the reveal and heal strategy: going back, confessing your shameful action and demanding that the wronged party accept your apology (and from what I understand, that tramp’s identity is still unknown so you’d have no one to pester anyway). Move on from your secret and just think a little more sensibly the next time you have an urge to push someone in front of a train.

The other type of secret — the one you actually do want others to know about — is equally bullshit. Firstly, it’s not a secret if others know. Duh. Stop calling it a secret and call it what it is: a boast. I myself am not much of a boaster (and if you’ve read any of my critically acclaimed books, you already know that), but some people quite enjoy it. If you’re one of those people, embrace it. I hadn’t planned on bedding you anyway.

vintage-87gThe idea that secrets are seductive is just silly talk. A true secret is usually shameful and if your partner is seduced by shame, consider it a wake-up call about the real reason they’ve chosen you. Besides, if you do feel obliged to share something you had intended to keep private, you’re opening up a can of worms that invites them to share a secret as well — are you ready to hear their confession? I just hope you’ve been using condoms. Relationships that are built on secrets tend to go bust pretty quickly. Unless Josh Homme is involved, but don’t ask me how I know this.

Listen, we’ve all got secrets. Yes, I’ve killed a tramp. Basically, you’ve got two simple options: stop going on about having a secret or post it online like the rest of the world does. Just think good and hard before you do because, remember, there is no statute of limitations for murder.

It’s Your Body

7 Sep

Bollocks.

I hear the word a lot. It’s usually used to dismiss something, to question its credibility or to accuse the person speaking about it of being a liar and/or idiot.

You already know how I feel about liars. And idiots. Now I’m going to tell you how I feel about bollocks. Well, specifically complementary medicine, which is what curly-haired clever clogs currently enjoy dismissing.

Complementary medicine can refer to a wide range of health remedies — from herbs, tinctures and oils to procedures like cupping, acupuncture, and energy therapy. These options are seen as alternative, because they are not scientifically sensible as things like drilling into teeth, putting pigs’ parts into humans and swallowing chemicals in tablet form are.

I am not going to defend complementary medicine. However, I am also not going to rip it a new asshole either. Because, while I have no truck with most of it myself, those who judge should keep a few things in mind.300px-Jekyll.and.Hyde.Ch1.Drawing1

If you think everything scientists get up to is automatically above board, I’d like to remind you of Victor Frankenstein and Henry Jekyll. Yes, they had white coats and medical books but their methods were a little dubious, don’t you agree?

Drink MeAs long as no one is being swindled out of cash or doing damage to themselves, if something relieves someone’s symptoms or worries, who am I to judge them and their gullibility? There is such a thing as the power of the mind, you know.  What about Alice, eh? After drinking a special potion, she went on a pretty magical adventure — is it asking too much to allow a little girl some joy? (Please do not be distracted by my over-reliance on fiction-based evidence.)

Quite frankly, some of what falls under the complementary medicine label is actually pretty clever. For example, making sure you get good nutrients can prevent getting poorly in the first place. Filling your room with some nice smelling lavender isn’t going to cure genital herpes, but it might lift your spirits so you focus less on that painful itch. Sometimes what is actually common sense is banished as bunkum, just because no pharmaceutical company can market it.

Massage is another treatment that often gets unfairly lumped in with alternative therapies. Unless, of course, it’s called physical therapy when all of a sudden it’s medically sound. Whatevs. I happen to know that certain types of body manipulation are extremely beneficial: they can relax stiff muscles, can hasten injury recovery, and, if done in the right alley, can earn you a quick tenner.

All I’m saying is this: I don’t care what you do. Go to a GP with a certificate and swallow her elixirs or go to a herbalist and rub his salve into your chest. As long as you get the facts for yourself before you do anything, you won’t ever hear of bollocks coming out of my mouth. Promise.

My Apologies

23 Aug

wish-you-were-here-east-of-india-postcardI am so sorry, my dears, for neglecting you. I have been off on my jollies , but was unexpectedly delayed. Unfortunately, I had the bad luck of choosing the same guesthouse as a formerly famous American rock god who caused a disruption to my rest and/or relaxation. I don’t want to give him the publicity by mentioning of name as his antics clearly indicate a desperate need to be back in the spotlight. Why exactly he released what he released into the pool, I do not know, but the quarantine meant that I missed my flight home and had to reschedule a number of appointments, which might not have been important to one Axl Rose, but which really mattered to me, thank you very much.

It might take a few days for me to get back to my normal schedule, but know I’ve missed you more than I can say because, I swear on a stack of bibles, it is you — and your love — that sustains me.

Harm Prevention

4 Aug

The other day I was in the library and was confronted with a rather unsavoury situation. Now I greatly admire the staff at our local branch: they have always been polite —  in fact as a show of respect for my frequent custom, they often allow me to take home books for free as long as I show my loyalty card. However, my experience this week was quite shocking: inside the library was a large and perpetually annoying fly.

fliesNow as a rule, I cherish all sentient beings, even disgusting ones, and I’ve got no problems with flies when they are out in nature or buzzing around someone other than myself. But I am sorry: I just cannot tolerate them near my face. Call me a Nazi, I don’t care. Flies in my face are simply unacceptable.

Obviously, my first strategy was to move away. I left the periodicals and moved to a more central location, hoping that if he were to follow, at least there would be other people present for him to annoy. However, the fly did not take the bait. Fine, I thought, I am free from torment, and I sat quietly, reflecting.

Shortly thereafter, the library began to empty and I soon found myself alone in the big, book-filled room. Lo and behold, who shows up? That’s right, it was the fly. The dastardly little devil obviously just wanted to avoid having witnesses to his harassment. A war was now on.

I grabbed the first book I could and prepared to send the fly to his maker. I won’t detail the delicate dance of battle, but I can assure you that only one of us walked away still breathing.

As I sat down to wait for Christopher’s play group to come to a close, I found myself skimming through the book-cum-murder-weapon. It turned out to be Careful Now! The History of Health and Safety Laws. And I must say, I found it surprisingly interesting.

Buttloads of people currently find Health and Safety laws oppressively restrictive and generally stupid, and, quite frankly, they frequently are. I now know, though, that it’s incorrect to assume these rules are evidence of today’s Nanny State. Actually, H&S has been around for a long time and it used to be much worse than it is now.

NOW: East Riding Council restricts kite-flying on beaches because it is a risk to others.

THEN: In the early twentieth century, word went round about an old woman who had died after swallowing a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a goat, a cow, and a horse, so a small Cornish village ordered all farmers to slaughter their animals to ensure such a circumstance did not reoccur.

NOW: A school bans triangle-shaped flapjacks because they could thrown at children.

THEN: For almost a month in 1923, children were not allowed to eat any solid food as the chewing motion was deemed “potentially threatening to others.” Parents were only permitted to serve soup and applesauce for twenty-six days before the law was reversed.

NOW: The Royal British Legion stops supplying pins with its poppies to avoid being sued by those who prick themselves.

THEN: Although the most famous of these cases is the American woman who sued McDonalds because her coffee was hot, it was not the first example of this type of litigation. In Victorian times, Lord Stephens of Stephanie brought a case against a five-year-old child who was playing with a stick in the street. Lord Stephens’ argument was that the stick could have flown from the child’s hand, turned the corner and continued into the window of a building where the good man was purchasing a piece of jewellery for his mother. The Court agreed that Lord was assuredly more important as a human being than any dirty child could ever be and awarded him the boy’s newborn sister (who was quickly deposited at the nearest poorhouse).

I am hoping, of course, that the fly’s family does not press charges against me. It’d be a bitter irony to have the book thrown at me for throwing the book at the fly. Bitter, but admittedly poetic.

Pornography, Crystal Meth, and/or Me

9 Jul

As you probably already know, my recent collection, Everyone Needs An Algonquin: The Collected Wit and Wisdom of Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss), has taken the publishing world by storm. Like pornography and methamphetamine, the public just cannot get enough.

Yet you have not purchased your copy.

I’m okay with this, I guess. I’m not going to bully you. It’s cool. Besides, I know times are tight for everyone financially; it’s hard to find the extra pennies.

So here’s the diddly-dealio: I’m giving away autographed copies via the website GoodReads. You have until the end of July to enter. To get into the running, you don’t even have to include a 100 word essay about why you want a copy[1], just enter and five winners will be randomly chosen[2]. Easy-peasy.

 

Giveaway

Click here to enter and for giveaway details


 

And best of all? You don’t have to enjoy my book alone in a darkened room, weeping ashamedly, as you do with porn, nor will it, like meth, leave you toothless.


 


 


 


[1] Though if you really feel like singing my praises, feel free to do so in comment section below.

[2] If you are a winner, though, let me know you read this website, and I’ll send you a little extra something-something.

Compassion Fatigue: Too Tired to Care

30 Jun

david-sipress-here-i-was-all-this-time-worrying-that-maybe-i-m-a-selfish-person-and-new-yorker-cartoonI apologise for neglecting you as of late. Yes, I’ve been busy, but if I’m honest —  and you know I try to be as frequently as I can — it’s not my status as a globetrotter that’s kept me from you: it’s just that I’ve been struggling with compassion fatigue.

Thoughtful people like myself are at risk of compassion fatigue, which so-called experts define as “feeling overwhelmed, confused and depressed by the crap state of affairs.”  And I’m afraid I’ve fallen ill with it.

Symptoms include a foggy head, dizziness and an inability to rant and/or rave about topics as varied as Edward Snowden, the US Supreme Court and Glastonbury. Sufferers may find themselves asking questions like “Am I making a difference in the world?” and “Does Miley Cyrus even matter?”

While I’ve appreciated Christopher’s nursing skills (and his willingness to wear the outfit), I’m afraid doctors believe the illness has to simply run its course before I’ll start feeling better. They suggested reciting affirmations while looking in the mirror or hanging a list of my accomplishments on the fridge as ways to boost my self-confidence, but quite frankly, that’s just silly.  Clearly, the problem isn’t me.  It’s the world.

However, I’m always prepared to follow doctor’s orders especially if it involves my lounging around all day while Christopher waits on me hand and foot. I know I’ll bounce back. I have always been a person who cares — it’s who I am — and I couldn’t stop caring even if I cared to.

Thank you to all who have sent notes and packages to wish me well as I recover. Even though I’m incapable of giving a shit about them at the moment, I’m sure I’ll be appreciative once I’m back to my normal, über-compassionate self.

Are You In A Cult?

16 Jun

As I’m sure most of you are well aware, the world changes.

When I was younger, life was different. We described things we enjoyed as “groovy” rather than “rad” or “bitchin’”; we had a devil-may-care attitude about beef and fried foods, which we ate with gay abandon. There were no paedophiles, only tv presenters. I’m not claiming it was a better time, just a different one.

We didn’t relate to each other in the same way either. We would get together for “rap sessions,” where we shared our true feelings and a decent amount of bodily fluids with people who gathered together to celebrate and challenge the world around us.

I was a part of a community named the Sunshine Happiness Alliance Group with whom I briefly lived in a large barn in the middle of a dense woods hundreds and hundreds of miles away from the comfort and familiarity of Trenton, New Jersey. There were about forty of us in the “family” — we each held responsibilities (work and emotional) to ensure the group’s success; we grew, made and smoked everything we needed to stay healthy, happy and really, really high.

There was nothing untoward about our little group; the fact that six weeks after I left, the rest of them committed mass suicide I’m sure was purely coincidental. However, these days — these different but not necessarily better or worse days — though, some humans have evolved into borderline beasts who willingly abuse others through mind manipulation and control, which are surprisingly easy to master. 34647345

These people create cults, and you may be a member of one.

Do not panic. Keep your face completely neutral: they’re probably watching you right now, and any look of concern on your face is going to raise suspicion among the cult’s leaders. Stay cool, Jack, and read on.

First, we need to be sure. Consider these questions about the group with whom you identify:

If you’ve answered yes, you may be in trouble. Again, DO NOT PANIC. Now we’re going to look at how you can break free and rid yourself of any residue of brainwashing.

  • Interact with people outside the group — even if they look, think, worship or do sexy-sex in ways you do not.
  • Drink at least a litre of water a day.
  • Stop watching Fox News and reading the Daily Mail.
  • Decide what you think is right and good, and be loyal to that.

It is nice to be a part of a group. In fact, not only is it nice,  it’s also good, because people who are only ever on their own can tend to be a bit on the creepy side. Whether your group is based on politics, lifestyle or mutual admiration of a sports team, actor, musician, writer or hobby, there’s a real sense of warmth when you are with those with whom you have things in common.

But remember that you are an individual with the ability to think critically, and you must never let no one take that away from you. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

 

 

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On a completely different note, have you joined the thousands who have already purchased my newest book? Don’t be like those other losers; what are you, a traitor or something?

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