Safety is elusive!


In this post Jesse Bering reviews an article by Roy Baumeister, reporting that:

“… idealistic conditions actually heighten suicide risk because they often create unreasonable standards for personal happiness, thereby rendering people more emotionally fragile in response to unexpected setbacks. So, when things get a bit messy, such people, many of whom appear to have lead mostly privileged lives, have a harder time coping with failures.”

I have often speculated along these lines. Not thinking in terms of suicide per se, but just that psychological robustness seems to me to need exposure to hardship, in the same way that muscles need to be exercised to become strong.

Life is full of ironies like that… the more privileged you are, the weaker you are; the less sanitised your environment, the stronger your immune system; and when morality is policed and coerced, it dies. It’s like an endless search for a control and a safety that ultimately eludes us. Life refuses to be squashed and boxed in to the confines of our ideals. Just when we get one part of life hemmed in, we spring a leak somewhere else.

I don’t find that depressing. I just find it interesting to reflect on. Amusing. Comforting, almost… in the sense that anxious striving becomes easier to stop. In all the different ways that people live in the world, there is risk; different types of risk. What type of risk am I more comfortable living with? Something to think about as I start to paint on the blank canvas that is now my life.

I think this puts a very positive spin on difficulty, too. It breathes new life into the old cliche that “what doesn’t kill you (or what doesn’t make you kill yourself :D) makes you stronger”.


Cool Chinese lantern


My brother got some Chinese lanterns, which were pretty impressive! Here is my video of the first one setting off:

What else happened this weekend: had a terrifying lift from the train station in my brother’s fast new car; went out for a great meal for my mum’s birthday which was rounded off by the most enormous piece of carrot cake I have ever seen; slept really soundly for the first time in weeks; and spent a whole lot of time happily wrapped in a blanket reading a book. πŸ˜€

Back in the ‘burgh, I went tango dancing this evening and had a good long catch-up with a friend.

*contented sigh*… I feel so refreshed! Bring on Monday morning. πŸ˜€

Me and work these days


For a long time I have felt like I am wading through treacle. And I have gotten tired and upset from the effort. My energy and confidence has been sapped pretty much all the time.

I chose a motivational piece of music and am regularly listening to it while imagining the kind of productive person I want to be and how good it will feel. Then when I feel tempted to do something else instead of working, I mentally play this piece of music to bring back the motivation. The only problems are (1) it is stuck in my head all the time!! (2) the first time I heard it, I was reading about the Silver Spring monkeys and this disturbing memory seems to have been frozen into it, which is not very motivational for me. πŸ˜† But I still think it should help.

But the biggest ongoing challenge is setting goals and fixing my beliefs to allow me to reach them.

I had in mind being completely on top of everything and working productively all hours of the day and night. But then I thought this is probably an extreme, and not realistic or necessary. Maybe the whole reason I am exhausted in the first place is that I have this rigid, black-and-white measure of success and expect myself to run through the treacle.

And yet, that’s not the whole story – some people can demand big things of themselves and not crumble under the stress. What’s the difference? I guess it’s in the way they respond to the sensation of struggling. It doesn’t get them down like it gets me down.

In all likelihood I am finding things just as difficult as most people. The only problem is that it feels utterly horrible to me. It feels like something is horribly, horribly wrong. Which can only be a reflection of underlying pessimistic thoughts and attitudes that need to be rooted out. I simply can’t afford to sabotage myself by holding onto them any longer.

I think about Einstein a lot these days, I pass his portrait in the JCMB when I go for coffee and carrot cake and I remember what I read of him in “The Trouble With Physics”. We all work very differently and we all have our own strengths.

I think he was probably a good laugh to be around.

Theory test question


Q. You have been involved in an argument before starting your journey. This has made you feel angry. You should

  • start to drive, but open a window
  • drive slower than normal and turn your radio on
  • have an alcoholic drink to help you relax before driving
  • calm down before you start to drive

This is one of the official DSA questions for the driving theory test, which I’ve been preparing to take tomorrow morning. I think if there are any like this in my test, my biggest worry is going to be laughing out loud too much! πŸ˜† Is it meant to be that funny or is it just me?!

Incase that sounds over-confident, the hazard perception part seems quite hard actually. I can blame the grainy videos, but it seems I am not as paranoid as I should be about hazards. I still think I am the number one hazard on the road anyway. πŸ˜›

Some special music


A few months ago I finally got rid of my old music cassettes. In amongst them were an irreplaceable few that had to be digitalised… in particular, some of the music that I got in Africa way back when I was 18! They are obviously very nostalgic to me; it was so nice to rediscover them and start playing them again. And now finally I have got around to sharing a small selection (4 tracks) of this music. I know it will not mean the same to anyone out there as what it means to me… but it makes me feel really excited to think of these tracks being heard outside their countries of origin by someone other than me! Hopefully someone will press “play”!!

Sakis is an artist in the widely-known Congolese genre of soukous (or kwassa kwassa in Malawi) which, to me, is the most exuberant, happy dance music in the world. It has these gorgeous guitar lines that soar effortlessly upward into blissful melodies, and take my mood up with them every time! I became familiar with this style in Malawi, and then this artist in particular during a coach journey from Bulawayo to Harare in which his videos were played on a TV screen. I later bought the album, “Cyclone”.

This first song is typical of the soukous style… it is fast, hypnotically repetitive, and immensely cheerful! The beginning section features Sakis’s ad-lib vocals; there is then a drum fill signalling the onset of an ecstatic, high-energy guitar solo, after which (around half-way through) just when your mind is beginning to saturate on the energy, it goes quieter and these lovely female vocals come in and freshen the whole thing up again πŸ™‚

The album contains a few slower ones (slower being a relative term :P), and this is my favourite of those. It’s just so sweet and romantic πŸ˜€ It has the same kind of simple major harmonies and melodic sound, but at a somewhat reduced pace. It is also quite repetitive, but the interest builds up with a series of beautiful key changes and sweet vocal touches. They mix up the vocal riffs a bit and even switch languages several times whichΒ  is nice.

The other two songs I’m sharing are from the album “Take Over” by Malawian politician/singer Lucius Banda. He sings political/protest songs and was very popular at the time I was there. I kept hearing his music blared out on the crackly speakers of the minibuses and other places. It has a much more relaxed beat but is every bit as melodic and cheerful as the soukous style, and is perhaps influenced by reggae a little bit. The first one is my favourite song on the tape:

The second one is bit more pensive somehow; it actually has minor chords in it! which bring out a sad sweetness in the melody. I particularly like the female vocals with gorgeous low-frequency vibrato in the choruses.

Finally, and I must be crazy, but I’m posting a track written by me at school when I was 16! It’s played on a digital piano through a MIDI interface (I wasn’t able to play it altogether myself). It’s super-corny, even for the 90s. Prepare to laugh. πŸ˜€