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{Mon 3 October 2011}   Art Accelerating Art
Art Accelerating Art

Hello, hello, my long-languishing blog (and my very occasional readers)! I love you, I really do, and think of you constantly…. well, a bit inconstantly, it’s true, but I do hold you in my heart. It’s just been an incredibly busy year, with three main themes occupying my energies:

  1. Writing content and building an exciting commercial website for RealCorp Luxembourg; as well as ongoing training, consultancy, blogging and other writing for them and for other clients.
  2. Volunteering for Poet in the City as Social Media Manager: creating a WordPress blog and an internal Social Media Wiki on PBWorks, teaching social media workshops, encouraging a mixed bag of users to contribute on the blog, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, assisting with a bid for Nesta’s Digital R&D Fund, and writing a spec to revamp the main Poet in the City website (project on hold for now). I also managed the Poetry and the State event at Amnesty International and assisted with several other events.
  3. Buying a house in France…. more on that later, when I can get my head around the fact that it’s actually happening!

All this has meant that I haven’t had much time for personal creative projects, so I was surprised and thrilled to be approached by the sylph-like Elinros Henriksdotter, after my reading of Shakespeare at the Poet in the City “Dog Days” Drop-In, to particpate in a wonderful four-day initiative (13-16 Oct) to use poetry and music to enhance the experience of sculpture: “Art Accelerating Art”.

(Update 05/10/11: I’ve moved the chunk on Art Accelerating Art to a separate post).



{Mon 23 November 2009}   What is Transliteracy?
What is Transliteracy?

Well, theoretically, I should know the answer to this question as this is what I studied in my MA over the past year. I have now graduated (with distinction) with an MA in Creative Writing and New Media from De Montfort University… but I’m still asking!

The term was introduced to the UK by Professor Sue Thomas and she and some other new media gurus have worked long and hard to refine the following definition:

Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

It’s a good definition that covers a lot, but its implications and ramifications lead to further questions. See my post on Transliteracy.com for some of these.

I ended the post with a link to a video about a fascinating artwork that future generations may hold to be a significant transliterate artefact.

I’d love to discuss all this, so please feel free to comment either here on TiaTalk or on Transliteracy.com.



Safety obsession makes UK unsafe for normal people

I was going to post about how uncomfortable it is becoming to live in the UK, because one risks being declared a criminal if one responds spontaneously to a child, whether in greeting, helping, comforting or challenging, … but I’ve just read an article that says it brilliantly.

So please read Jenni Russell’s article ‘Crazy law leaves a child out in the cold’ in The Times Online: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6898212.ece. I very much agree with her assertion that the “insistence on the importance of distrust is eating away at our society. ”

She doesn’t describe yet what campaign might be appropriate, but offers her email address, presumably for suggestions.

Addendum (17:07) I emailed Jenni to let her know I had blogged about her article. She replied today and included the following suggestions for action each of us can take right now:

” I think we have to start both by changing peoples’ minds ( we don’t need more laws- terrible things will sometimes happen, and we can’t eliminate risk) – and by lobbying politicians. It’s worth writing to your MP and to Ed Balls and Jack straw now, before Singleton reports on his review in December. Most of all its worth lobbying the Tories, especially Cameron, Chris Grayling, Dominic Grieve and Michael Gove. The Tories want to do what the public wants – we have to let them know. Best wishes, Jenni ”



{Wed 10 December 2008}   Apostrophising the apostrophe
Apostrophising the apostrophe

“Oh, great squiggle in the sky, insert yourself into our empty spaces,
Deliver us from plural confusions and possess us with your graces!”

No, I’m not starting a new religion, or being lewd, but I confess that this is a shameless grammar and punctuation plug, as well as a plea for the improvement of our reading environment. While I’m sure that none of us at Master’s level* would ever dream of intentionally inflicting on others a piece of work for reading or review without running it through MS Word’s spelling and grammar checker first, the simple truth is that this less-than-beloved software doesn’t pick up everything, so we simply have to learn a few rules if we want to be writers.

Of all the errors that grate on my reading nerves, the misuse of the apostrophe definitely tops the list.

I love apostrophes, because they’re really useful. However, they’re pointless when used in the wrong places. In fact, they’re worse than pointless then, because they actually interfere with smooth reading. A bad apostrophe is not neutral, it’s negative! In the worst cases, it alters the meaning, but even when the context tells me that it just can’t mean that, just one bad apostrophe in a paragraph, even in an entire page, makes whatever I’m reading seem unprofessional. I immediately find it difficult to focus on the content, even if I’m really interested in it.

I’m very lucky in that I was well-drilled in spelling, grammar and punctuation at my school (we were always a backward lot out there in the colonies, so we didn’t “benefit” from educational fads like the “grammar inhibits creativity” one that has betrayed recent generations of UK children), but I still come up against the occasional grammatical situation where I have to think twice about the apostrophe.

So here are two sites that I’ve found helpful:

A. The Apostrophe Protection Society: http://www.apostrophe.fsnet.co.uk/

This site has a really poncey name, but it’s a useful quick reference because the Home page contains the bare essentials in big text. It gives the traditional explanations of correct usage for missing letters and for possessives (remembering to except the exceptions). The easiest-to-remember advice from this page is:

“Apostrophes are NEVER ever used to denote plurals”,

so if you mean “more than one”, don’t even be tempted! Just remembering this rule will halve your apostrophe problems immediately.

B. The Dreaded Apostrophe:  http://www.dreaded-apostrophe.com/

I like this site much more, because:

  1. It reduces all the rules to one: “Use an apostrophe when letters are missing”.The writer explains that the apostrophe ALWAYS signifies one or more missing letters, even in possessives, because the old form of the possessive used to have an ‘es’ ending. Pronunciation has changed and the ‘es’ form has contracted, so that it is now represented as “‘s “.
  2. There are good examples and a great Q & A page giving answers to difficult apostrophe questions. Surprisingly, it makes quite interesting reading!

On the other hand, if you don’t have time to look it up, you can always recite my daily prayer,

“Oh, great squiggle in the sky, insert yourself into our empty spaces,
Deliver us from plural confusions and possess us with your graces!”

and maybe the muse will give you a clue!



{Fri 5 December 2008}   Who needs New Media?

I haven’t blogged for a month, but it’s not because I haven’t been writing. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, studying the vast amount of course material for my wonderful new MA and writing bits and pieces for creative and critical exercises. I’m doing the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media from De Montfort University in Leicester.  The experience has been really positive so far, with hugely experienced course leaders (Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger) and a really talented and intelligent bunch of fellow students. The last two weeks have been a bit of a strain, though, because DMU has just announced that they intend to close the course due to the credit crunch. They say (but can we believe them now?) that those of us currently doing the course will be able to complete it.

Even in this dire economy, it’s hard to believe that they would contemplate axing this one – a true flagship programme for educating people for the online world (where there are more and more unconventional opportunities to make money when normal jobs fail).  As an online course, it also must surely be one of the courses with the fewest overheads and therefore the least expensive to run and to promote.

As Course Rep for my year, I’ve spent a lot of what should have been study time collating and representing to the university administration students’ expressions of dismay at their betrayal and questions about our academic future. Of course, I don’t mind doing this, as I really believe in the course, but I hope all the effort will prove fruitful and they’ll decide to revive it. Well, if they don’t, someone else must, because the electronic universe won’t tolerate that vacuum, but boo hoo! then for those of us who were silly enough to give our precious credit crunch cash to DMU!

If you’re interested in the future of new media education,  you might want to see what some experienced voices have to say about this closure at Chris Meade’s bookfutures blog. Chris is a director of The Institute for the Future of the Book in London. In two articles (so far), Chris speaks of his own surprise at the closure announcement, and heavyweights like Howard Rheingold who has taught on the course have joined in to label it incredibly shortsighted.

Sigh… we’ll see. In the mean time, at least I’m writing again, after such a long dry season. See my next posts for a couple of the creative writing exercises that have turned out okay, I think, or at least offer potential for further development.

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{Wed 19 March 2008}   Sex as it is and as it could be
This article in The Guardian, I was seen as an object, not a person, by a former lap-dancer about the reality of her experience in that industry provides a counter voice to the one mentioned in my previous post which suggests that there is (or could be) a normality to the sex industry if the parties involved are all consenting. The writer quotes various statistics suggesting that the presence of lapdancing clubs leads to an increase in sexual violence in the areas concerned.

I’ve never had any similar experience, but I can well imagine myself feeling exactly as she says she did, given the context that she describes. I am conscious as I read it, though, that we are still talking of a country where the official line is that paying for sex is bad and that lap-dancing is only allowed because it’s “not really sex”, which doesn’t fool anyone. This attitude inevitably means that the people currently engaging in the activity (clients as well providers) are those who tend to trangress socially acceptable norms of behaviour more easily (although it appears that there are so many of these that it is a norm in itself, a factor which must be considered). They are therefore likely to be more cavalier about abuse and violence too.

Making the entire industry illegal means that the society does not provide any rules or sanctions for conduct within the industry and also does not allow the development of non-official social guidelines of the non-snigger variety that could guide people and provide social pressure for appropriate behaviour. Every accepted non-sexual industry has evidenced exploitation. Governments have instituted rules and policing to curb unacceptable behaviour within these “respectable” industries, rather than shutting them down altogether because of abuses. If abuse and exploitation, rather than the industry as a whole, were strictly and severely policed, couldn’t sex become normal too? Is it possible that people who can’t contemplate this are the ones who believe that sex itself is evil, dangerous and dirty (although they use words like “private” and “sacrosanct” as euphemisms for these terms) and who would actually prefer that everyone has as little of it as possible, even within the “legal” area of marriage?

What if paying for sex were more mainstream, and sexual facilities were available for both sexes, and industry standards were high and policed? Could this mean that everyone could take care of their sexual health as they do of their physical fitness (going to the gym, doing sport, etc.)? Is it possible that then people would not have to feel anxious, guilty, dirty, threatened or unsafe for their interest and engagement in sex? Is it possible that people could have more fulfilling marriages and lives where they can focus on intellectual and emotional companionship and interesting, productive work, without having to deal with the constant distraction of sexual incompatibilities and dissatisfactions? Is it possible that then people could get on with the businesses of educating, creating, working, governing, resolving conflicts, home-making, etc. without paying too much attention to what people wear or who they’ve slept with? Could sexual activity just become acknowledged as something that everyone does in some form or another and that there’s nothing too remarkable about it? Could this defuse the high sexual tension that arises from the constant frustration experienced by most people and which leads to our media being clogged with material about perceived sexual misconduct and our governments grinding to a halt every time a leader is found to be doing what a very high percentage of people do or want to do anyway? In this regard, the recent NYT article In Most Species, Faithfulness is a Fantasy, is relevant.

The sci-fi show Firefly has a powerful, attractive, courtesan character, a “Companion” who is highly respected in a highly regulated industry and is an accomplished and intelligent woman. Of course, this is far away in the galaxy and in time, but could it be a healthy ideal?



{Tue 2 October 2007}   To duvet or not to duvet?
In my opinion, this article in The Guardian’s Comment is Free by Theo Hobson on Dawkin’s latest crusade in the USA is appallingly bad journalism (whatever one’s religious belief or lack of belief), but many of the Comments on it are very intelligent and some very, very funny.

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/theo_hobson/2007/10/deliver_us_from_dawkins.html

I think Commenter Taliesin20 summarizes Hobson’s motivation succinctly:

“As an example, my father (a fundamentalist Baptist Minister) hates sleeping under a duvet, preferring a sheet and blankets. My mother prefers a duvet and so sometimes my father has to comply with her wishes. But he’s spent the past 20 years on a crusade – he asks just about every man he meets whether they like duvets. Despite any evidence to the contrary he’s utterly committed to his thesis that all men hate duvets and are only tricked into sleeping under them by their wives as part of an evil female conspiracy. This is a small and rather silly example, but it shows how he thinks – if it turns out that duvet-liking and duvet-hating are equally valid forms of experience (and even that he’s in the minority in hating them), then he feels personally threatened. So he can’t accept that those who like duvets don’t want to impose their preference on him.”

Being one of those who think that anyone who still believes in sheets and blankets cannot possibly comprehend the true meaning of heaven, I’m enjoying the rare delight of being with the majority on this one!

I’d be careful about suggesting that all advocates of religion feel personally threatened by people who don’t share their faith (unlike Hobson who clearly believes that atheists are all of a kind and all out to get him), but the above analogy certainly seems apt to the content of Hobson’s rant.



Global warming? Terrorism? Fundamentalisms? Racism? Sexism? International crime? Water? GM crops? Sometimes (most times, maybe) most of us just want to switch to the entertainment channel and forget all about it. It might be because we don’t care, but quite often it’s because we just can’t see what “little ol’ me” could do about it.

The article Global Population: From explosion to implosion? by Koïchiro Matsuura, Director General of Unesco, in yesterday’s Mail&Guardian, addresses the population explosion and asks whether it might turn into an “implosion” due to the demographics of age and childbearing and their different impacts in the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres. It’s important to read, and not too long or too hard (because statistics always have a slightly numbing and distancing effect, I think, as opposed to personal stories that engage one’s empathy but are therefore sometimes very draining).

The best part about it, for me, is the conclusion, which clearly shows a way forward by focusing on priorities for action. Essentially, it’s one priority — education to develop “knowledge societies” that have the expertise and knowhow to solve their problems, but within that, the first priority is basic education for women and the second the development of a culture of life-long learning for all:

Basic education is first and foremost — especially the education of girls, the best contraceptive of all. According to one study, there are regions where girls are excluded from secondary schooling and the women have an average of seven children each. Where girls’ school enrolment is just 40%, this mean figure falls to three.

Life-long education for all ought to be recognised as an essential priority as well, for this is the answer to ageing populations and rising life expectancy. As knowledge and skills become outdated more rapidly, and people face the need to keep up by retraining or changing occupation, the demand for education is increasingly going to become a life-long matter. At bottom, this is good news: the world population will become older, admittedly, but individual humans will spend more of their lives in what counts as “youth” — for they will never stop learning.

What’s great about this for me is that it’s reinforced my thoughts about where best to spend money that I’ve earmarked for charity (and probably also some that I hadn’t, as I reflect on just how important this is). Education, education, education. Particularly for women. Particularly for those women where knowledge and competence will make the greatest difference in their and their families’ lives. Educating the most disadvantaged girls and women could have a profound effect on the population balance and also enable increasingly more people to look after themselves. It’s in everyone’s interest, even that of those who still don’t care.



et cetera