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Dichotomy

Sometimes there is a big disparity between what I intend to do with my life and my sense of humour. However I think that as long as I recognise that, I can deal with it.

Yesterday I attended a mental health seminar as part of my college course and it was really interesting to hear about the help and organisations that are out there to help people. We also heard lots of facts and figures. For example, in this country enough people take their own lives every year to fill 20 aeroplanes. That's a shocking figure. Everytime a plane crashes in real life, it's on the news, the story hangs around for ages, we tend to remember the big plane crash stories like that Malaysian airliner that disappeared a few years ago and it does affect our views on air travel. Imagine if there were 20 plane crash stories on the news every year. There would be panic, no one would want to fly and people would cry out for something to be done about it and yet funding for mental health care is being cut every year. When you put the number of suicides into terms of airplane crashes, it's truly a shocking figure.

As I was listening to this and feeling genuinely shocked, my gallows humour also kicked in. What if you started a business where you bought up old planes and offered people one way suicide trips? Rather than inconvenience people all over the country with individual suicides, just get them out of the way in a job lot. You'd be with like-minded people who'd understand what you were doing, you wouldn't have to bother with health and safety checks and you could even get funding from religious extremists who want to cause death to Western infidels when driving cars into them is no longer a viable option.

Seriously though, imagine if there was a way to gather together a planeful of people who intended to take their own lives. How many would rethink their decision if they could see how many people felt the same way that they did? How many people would hear the other reasons and either find some common ground or realise that they weren't as bad off as they thought? I find it such a shame that so many people suffer in silence and think they're the only one who feels like they do and there's no other way out or no one to talk to?

This is why I want to do something to help people with their mental health. One person cannot change the world, but you can change the world for one person.

Fitting In

If there's one good thing about the invention of the internet it's that there's a website out there somewhere that once you find it makes you think "It's not just me! I'm not alone!"

But what do you do when you find one of those sites but you still feel like you don't fit in?

I dip my toe into a lot of interests. On the one hand, I feel like I know enough about a lot of subjects to sustain a conversation with someone who's into that thing but on he other hand, I feel like a jack of all trades and a master of none. If you talk to me about most interests, I will usually have something intelligent to say about it rather that the usual instant cliched comments you've heard a million times before. However from my point of view, I sometimes feel like I have no real home?

I associate with many different cultural groups; goth, indie kid, geek, comic nerd, steampunk, cosplayer, LARP, metal, bookworm, various sexual identities, film obsessive, sci-fi guy, gamer but I don't think I could ever choose one majority interest and commit to it. This is why personally I could never have a tattoo. I have nothing against tattoos and realise they can have lots of personal significance to people, but I don't think there is one symbol that means enough to me that I want it added indelibly to my body. Sure, I could have one for every interest that represents me but even in each respective field there isn't one that sums it all up for me.

I feel like a Venn diagram. Here I am in the middle of many things, but I see the people in the other circles all having a good time enjoying the thing they like but I can't quite associate with them or shake the feeling that they'll just think I'm a tourist.

I see a lot on sites that I like, but is it enough for me and more importantly, is it enough for anyone else?

Talking out of my arse

Society sends people like me some very confusing messages.

I am a predominantly straight white CIS male, possibly the largest influential societal group there is and therefore I am entitled to a certain amount of privilege. Nearly everything out there is geared towards the needs of my demographic to the point where most of us don't even consciously recognise it. In terms of how easy I have it in life, I am technically on the top of the food chain.

I am also an overweight cisgender male which, despite all my privilege, means I am one of the least attractive members of society. There are millions of us out there all going about our lives being unattractive to whichever group we're attracted to. We flood dating sites or sites like this with our presence and inundate women with inappropriate messages or pictures of our unimpressive genitals and thus make it so much harder for those of us who want to make a genuine connection with someone.

So here's where the dichotomy lies - look at the sort of guys you see on TV shows. They're mostly fat schlubs married to inexplicably hot wives because that's the dream of the straight, white CIS male and those shows are catered towards this privileged group. From Al Bundy to Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin or anything starring Kevin James, these shows tell us that despite being a big fat manchild, a hot wife will come your way. However once you step away from the TV and go out in the real world (or the world of online dating), you are in for a rude awakening as you come to realise you are one of the least attractive members of the same society that grants you privilege in every other aspect of your life.

I suspect that this is why masculinity is so fragile. Why perhaps so many men chase power, fame, wealth or success - because that's the only way to compensate for the way that nature has determined their physical appearance. I mean, would Donald Trump have married any of his wives had he worked in the accounts department of Acme Rubber Ducks Inc? I think this is why masculinity is so fragile, because deep inside themselves every successful guy knows this. To get recognition in life, they have to strap on all these trappings whereas a BBW can still be praised for her looks alone.

By the way, I have nothing against BBWs. I am a sapiosexual so if I feel there's a connection between us and we're on the same intellectual level, then that supercedes any physical traits for me.

I am sure that, if you have managed to read this far, a lot of what I say sounds naive, untrue from your experience, whining or something that only a privileged male would say but I am speaking from my experience. I know I am a good person inside, I know I can treat people right, I have been told I am a nice guy, I am flexible and open-minded, I have a sharp mind and quirky sense of humour. I have very low self-esteem but at the same time I do feel that you will never have met another person quite like me. However, does any of this matter if no one likes the meat suit that I'm packaged in? In my life experience so far, the answer is a big NO.

Counselling

When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted on our tellies back in the day, it was confusing to see the role of a ship's counsellor as a main character alongside the familiar Star Trek roles of Captain, doctor, first mate, engineer, blokes what drive the ship and disposable cannot fodder in red pullovers. "A counsellor?" a younger more naive me might have though, "Why do they need a counsellor? What kind of touchy-feely claptrap is this anyway?" Well it's often been said that Star Trek's creator Gene Rodenberry was a man ahead of his time and time has gone on to prove he was quite correct. As mental health becomes more and more of an important consideration in the work place, the subject is getting taken a lot more seriously than it used to and more workplace practises are being put in to place to safeguard against stress, anxiety and to promote good mental health. As an invisible illness, it's still hard for some employers to treat it with the respect it deserves but on the whole things are getting better.

Obviously by the 24th century they take counselling quite seriously, but back here in the 21st there's still some way to go. I am happy to say that not only has counselling helped me in a big way but it's made me realise how much I get out of helping other people in a way I never thought possible and how important it is for people to have someone to talk to if they're struggling with life. It's not a sign of weakness to open up or to cry or to ask for help. Bottling things up just ends up increasing the pressure on yourself until it all blows up. Sucking it up, buckling down and keeping a stiff upper lip isn't the way to handle it. Employers may want us to 'go the extra mile' or 'give it a 110%' (which to me always sounded like do more for less) but why put yourself under all that pressure if you don't feel like your employer has got your back when all that unpaid overtime or taking on extra responsibility gets too much for you? Like with all forms of sickness, trust is required on both sides but it would be nice to think you could call in sick if your mental health is poor and not be thought of as a slacker who just 'doesn't fancy' going into work that day and just fancies a lie-in.

Counselling isn't some touchy-feely nonsense, it's a legitimate service to make people feel better. If you find yourself acting in a certain way if you feel stressed, isn't it reassuring to find out that those feelings and reactions are the go-to response of lots of people who feel the same way and it's not just a thing unique to yourself? We all seek out something to belong to whether it's a football team, musical preference, area of the country or peer group. We all feel better when we're surrounded by people who feel the same way or have the same likes that we do. Why should mental health symptoms be any different? Why should we suffer alone? Isn't it nice to think we can talk to someone who can reassure us that acting or feeling a certain way is a normal or understandable response and then offer us some guidance or advice in how to deal with it? Heck, isn't it nice to have someone there who's prepared to listen to us without judgement or prejudice and who only wants to help us? Sometimes you can't talk to friends or family if they are directly involved in your issues so a completely impartial voice is just what we need.

It doesn't matter what your social background is or what your relationships have been like. Everyone starts off as a blank slate and are shaped by the sum total of our experiences. I like to think that everyone starts off as a nice person and it's only bad experiences or bad advice or bad people that erode that basic niceness. Some people want us to think that if we're not in the same class or we're not from the same country or don't follow the same religion then we're not deserving of help but that's utter rubbish. Underneath all the trappings, we're all the same people and each prejudice or opinion can be overcome if only we're willing to open up about it. Perhaps that sounds naive of me but I don't want to lose my faith that essentially we can all be good people. If counselling is what that takes, then that's what I want to do to make life - and the world- better for everyone who has to live in it.

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Story Time

In 1993, former Creedence Clearwater Revival singer John Fogerty found himself at the center of a case being argued before the United States Supreme Court. The country’s highest court wasn’t debating whether Bayou Country or Green River was the superior CCR album. Instead, Fogerty was in the middle of an important, somewhat obscure corner of copyright law.

The seeds for Fogerty’s day in court traced back 23 years to 1970. That April, CCR released the Fogerty-penned “Run Through the Jungle” as a single that would eventually be certified gold by the RIAA. “Run Through the Jungle” is a solid tune, but it didn’t really grab headlines until 1985 when Fogerty released a solo track called “The Old Man Down the Road.”

“The Old Man Down the Road” is a pretty nice song, too; it even cracked the top 10 on the singles charts. One person wasn’t a fan, though. Saul Zaentz, who owned CCR’s old label Fantasy Records, also owned the copyright to “Run Through the Jungle.” Zaentz felt that “The Old Man Down the Road” was simply “Run Through the Jungle” with different words. In other words, John Fogerty had plagiarized a John Fogerty song to which he didn’t own the copyright.

Zaentz felt he had a case, so he sued Forgerty in federal court for copyright infringement.

(It’s worth noting that Zaentz and Fogerty weren’t on the best of terms in the first place. The same 1985 album that featured “The Old Man Down the Road,” Centerfield, also included the tracks “Mr. Greed” and “Zanz Kant Danz.” Critics and fans saw these songs as pointed attacks on Zaentz, and the label head initiated a separate $144 million defamation lawsuit that claimed Fogerty portrayed him as “a thief, robber, adulterer, and murderer.” The two sides settled that suit out of court.)

The case ended up before a jury in Federal District Court in San Francisco in late 1988. The two-week trial featured Fogerty taking the witness stand with guitar in hand to explain that yes, the two songs may have sounded somewhat similar, but they were both variations on his signature “swamp rock” style. Simply put, of course two John Fogerty songs sounded the same.

This logic seemed pretty sound to the jury. It only took two hours of deliberation for the jury to determine that the two songs didn’t meet the legal standard of being “substantially similar” that would have constituted copyright infringement. The Fogerty camp let out a collective “huzzah!”
Encore!

The real legal action was just warming up, though. Since Fogerty had successfully defended himself against Fantasy Records’ suit, he sought reimbursement for his attorney’s fees. No dice. If the plaintiff, Fantasy, had been successful in its suit against Fogerty, the label would have been able to seek its lawyer fees from the musician. Since Fogerty had been a prevailing defendant, though, the court ruled that he could only seek fees if he could show that Fantasy’s suit was frivolous or had been made in bad faith. Fantasy’s suit may not have panned out, but it didn’t fit those criteria.

This decision put Fogerty in a sticky spot. Sure, he had won the case, but he was on the hook for $1.09 million in fees for his attorneys and those of his current label, Warner Brothers. Fogerty and his team didn’t think this arrangement was very fair, so they appealed the decision. In 1993 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit shot down that appeal, though, on the same grounds—the original suit had been neither frivolous nor brought in bad faith.

After that failed appeal, Fogerty v. Fantasy – which would be an awesome title for a Fogerty concept record about battling elves, by the way – ended up in front of the Supreme Court. Fogerty’s camp made the same argument: that it made no sense to have a dual standard for plaintiffs and defendants seeking reimbursement for lawyer fees under the Copyright Act of 1976.

In March 1994, the Supreme Court issued a 9-to-0 decision in favor of Fogerty. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that there was nothing in the Copyright Act of 1976 that implied that Congress wanted anything other than a level playing field when it came to awarding attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. (Rehnquist also hinted at a bit of Creedence fandom, writing that CCR "has been recognized as one of the greatest American rock and roll groups of all time.")

Source: http://mentalfloss.com/article/27501/time-john-fogerty-was-sued-ripping-john-fogerty

Diversity

Sometimes I think that modern culture is a bit like the city of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a vast sprawling metropolis thriving with people but one criticism I hear about it is that it doesn't have a city centre or focal point. The features it does have are too spread out and there is no central hub. Other major cities that are smaller have main central features like New York with Manhattan but L.A has areas of the city that specialise in things but they have no central rallying point. When you see people in cities across the world coming together, you'll see Londoners in Trafalgar Square, New Yorkers in Times Square, Venetians in St Marks Square, Catholics in St Peter's Square but where is the central point in Los Angeles? Perhaps this is why the city historically has had so many problems with racism and segregation, because areas of the city contain large amounts of one ethnic group whilst being portrayed as no go areas for other ethnicities.

This is what modern culture feels like. There is no communal rallying point because everything is so spread out and diverse. You know all those memes that you see with things like "If you grew up in the 90s you probably did this", what will they say about life today in 10 years time? When there were less ways to entertain ourselves before the internet or smart phones, the chances are we probably all did the same things. Less TV channels meant we all watched the same things. Everyone watched Friends because there wasn't much else on. We all did TFI Friday or The Word on a friday night because odds are we were drunk and it was funny. TV hasn't been able to replicate that elusive post-pub TV magic for years despite throwing things like the Friday Night project and it's various clones at us because people don't do that anymore. They finally resorted to bringing TFI Friday back but I doubt that will attract a young audience as much as it will 30-somethings trying to recapture their youth.

You hear about the huge viewing figures that TV shows used to get or the millions of copies a number one record sold whereas today a 'hit' is lucky to count sales in the thousands. Nowadays finding a good TV show to watch is like falling down the rabbit hole. Got a TV? Get Freeview. Your show isn't on Freeview? Get Sky. Not on Sky? Get Netflix. Oh, it's not on Netflix? Better get Amazon Prime or some other subscription package. People complain about the BBC licence fee but are quite happy to fork out an additional £79 for Amazon Prime just to watch the one popular show they have. Instead of coming together, it feels like everyone goes off to their own little niche and does their own thing.

The irony is, culture is diversifying and people are homogenised. Everyone looks the same, sounds the same and listens to the same bland music. Where is the fire? The anger? The punk attitude that rebelled against the blandness of life in the 1970s, picked up a guitar despite being unable to play it and spit in the eye of convention? Where is the urge to change something or try something different? I may sound like an old bugger but I liked it when you could tell what social tribe someone belonged to by the clothes they wore. I liked the distinct look of punk, goth, metal, mod, new romantic, hippy, grunge, baggy, raver or sports fan. It gave you a clue as to who you might have something in common with. Give me a line up of 5 people in distinct outfits and tell me to choose one to talk to, I would know which one I felt comfortable approaching. Now when everyone dresses the same, how can I tell who likes the same music or TV shows? Who else feels like a loner, an outsider, a reader or an introvert? Old diverse dress codes gave you more of a clue. Now everyone looks the same and wears their feelings on their Facebook profile. Cultural icons of the past are now logos on Primark tshirts and someone wearing a Ramones shirt might not even know who The Ramones were.

Culture is like an iceberg. What was once all together has now fragmented and melted into the fabric of society. I am glad that in the face of major world events, we can see how people can come together or rally behind cities experiencing tragedy but I miss the unity we once exhibited in what we listened to or watched.

Awakenings

I am finding it difficult to summon up the enthusiasm for the new Star Wars film as the rest of the geek community seems to be doing. On the one hand the signs and portents appear to be good as it seems like the film is in good hands and practical effects, a plot and decent actors are taking the forefront over a reliance on too much CGI but on the other hand, I remember waiting for the Phantom Menace and the prequels in general and getting disappointed.

I remember going to see The Phantom Menace and a friend telling us it was important that we stay right to the very end of the credits (this was in the days before Marvel films and their post-credit extras) because there was something really cool alleged to happen. So we sat there for ages waiting for the endless list of names to scroll past and all we got was the sound of Darth Vader's wheeze. Needless to say our friend was bombarded by much popcorn.

These days I learn to keep an open mind about new films. When new details are trickled out and the internet goes into apoplectic meltdown because some element of canon isn't being adhered to, it usually turns out to be a big fuss over nothing. Even bring back Mad Max after so long proved not to be the huge disaster than some fans predicted it would be. So while I don't think The Force Awakens is going to pull a Phantom Menace on us and I remain hopeful it will be the Star Wars we enjoy, I am not one of these people who simply must see it at midnight on the day it comes out in full cosplay.

Why? Because what was a big part of my geek history is now tainted with the memory of an ex-friend and bug Star Wars fan who let me down very badly.

Isn't it shit when that happens? When something you enjoy very much becomes intrinsically linked with someone who's nothing but a bad memory and that association means you can't enjoy it any more? We used to watch The Clone Wars series together which I used to download for this person. I haven't seen a single episode of Star Wars Rebels because fuck that guy. I love My Lego but I won't touch the Star Wars stuff. This week I even put two of my Master Replica Force FX lightsabers up for sale on E-Bay because I don't want them any more as they remind me of a time in my life that feels sour to me now. It's like being unable to listen to a favourite song because it was 'your song' with an ex-girlfriend. It's not the same as it used to be.

I wish I could glean enjoyment from the Star Wars universe but I can't anymore. I really hope that no one I know who shares my love of music, comics, Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead does the dirty on me because I'd be royally fecked off if I couldn't enjoy those any more either!

Thoughts

Thoughts and observations after today's counselling class.

How would I feel about sharing personal information?
If I offered it? Fine. I feel quite open to talking about my experiences especially if it helps someone to know i can relate to how they're feeling. Remember not to talk too much though in case it looks like trying to trump someone's experiences or to talk too much about yourself instead of allowing the client to talk.

How do I feel about someone asking me lots of personal information?

Suspicious and paranoid. Why do they want to know about me? What is their ulterior motive? Should I trust someone who appears to be trying to be nice to me?

I am used to feeling like I'm not an interesting person or a likable person because in my life, I am used to people not being interested in me. It backs up my feelings of low self-esteem. I don't value myself so why should anyone else see value in me? If they are asking things about me, it mustn't be for nice reasons but to gain personal information to gossip or laugh about or to gain some sort of hold over me.

I like being kind to people. There's enough difficulty in the world and with the people in it so I believe the best thing you can do is to be good and kind to the people I meet. However, when I do something nice for someone, I worry that they'll think I am only doing it for some unsavoury ulterior motive.

Because I sometimes expect the worst (or distrust) from people seeking things from me, then I assume that anyone I am nice to is expecting the same thing from me. An act of kindness from me is just to ingratiate myself onto them for some personal advantage. All I hope to gain from the encounter is to make the other person happier. For example, in class today, I gave a set of notes to the girl sat next to me who'd been having trouble getting onto the college's computer. It was no problem to give her my notes from the last class because I would have to go print off this week's notes anyway so it's no problem for me to reprint the last set too. No skin off my nose and it helps her out too - boom, we're both happy. Then my paranoia kicks in to say she must think I'm only doing it to sleaze on her or something. No, I just want her to think I'm nice, that's all. I don't know the girl and don't intend to be anything other than a good classmate who she would feel comfortable around in class but because of the way I look, I must be a sleazebag, right? That's my thinking.

I am aware that I look like a certain stereotype. Fat, middle-aged single bloke who lives alone in a house filled with juvenile things who spends a lot of time with his parents and doesn't have many friends. Therefore I must be some kind of pervert because that's how people like me are often portrayed. I probably stalk people and keep photo albums of anyone who's shown me kindness. Well, the only thing I can change about myself would be my weight and I can live with that. The age, status and appearance I can't change. The house I don't want to change. I like it here. I work hard to prove that I am not as my stereotype would suggest. I am not the fat lonely loser that I appear to be. I am a good person who just wants to do good for other people because I believe in kindness for its' own sake. My self-esteem means that even though I try to do good, I am still not worth anyone doing the same things for me because no one ever has. I guess it's a good thing that despite my opinion of myself, I am still committed to being nice to the people I meet and not hating on people for not treating me like I treat them. It's a little disappointing that I don't stimulate the urge in others to be kind to me but it's something I have to live with.

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Halloween

A soul cake is a small round cake which is traditionally made for All Saints Day or All Souls' Day to celebrate the dead.

The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to soulers (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who would go from door to door on Halloween singing and saying prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern trick-or-treating.

In Lancashire and in the North-east of England they were also known as Harcakes.

Doubts

I'm starting to feel some doubts and anxiety about my course. I am glad that I'm doing it but I start to question whether or not it's too much for me? Is it too much to take in? Can I handle it? Do the people on the course like me or dread having to sit next to me? The last one being something you can't really express out loud without sounding crazy. I am glad it's half term next week so I can catch up on my reading and making sure that the stuff we've learned so far can sink in.

Most of my close friends have moved across country this year so I don't get to see them as much and I miss them. Trying to make new friends isn't easy and despite all the CBT I've had, I still can't shake the feeling that there must be something about me, something I give off, that makes me unlikable. Maybe my cheerful facade isn't as convincing as I'd like it to be. Despite this however, I don't believe that cutting yourself off or resenting people is the right thing to do. The right thing to do is be nice to people. If you can make someone's day brighter by just being nice to them then it's the right thing to do. After all, who doesn't appreciate being cheered up and thinking that people aren't as bad as they're made out to be on the news? This is one of the reasons I want to learn more about counselling. If I can do something to make someone's life better then I want to do it. Pay it forward as the saying goes. I may not be politically active or fit enough to do events for charity but maybe that's not where my strengths lie. Maybe I can be good at helping people in other ways.

Like I say though, I wonder if I'm up to it. When I was volunteering at the work club this week, one of our regular clients came in feeling very upset. I think the contact with us must help as she often arrives in a state but leaves feeling happy and cracking jokes. When she arrived, she got very upset and the others said encouraging things to make her feel better. I felt at a loss of something to say. It was partly due to genuinely not knowing the right thing to say and partly because the part of my brain that was thinking about counselling was telling me that platitudes weren't the way to go. If it had been a client / counsellor session, I knew I would just listen to her (which is what I tried to do) and saying things like 'cheer up, it's not that bad' wouldn't be the constructive thing to say. Yes they might apply a plaster but not cure the wound and as a counsellor isn't that what I'd be supposed to do? Would the correct approach be to employ some active listening and empathy and just let the client vent until they'd cleared their system of the bad feelings? I don't know, but then again it's 5 weeks into a entry level course so I shouldn't expect myself to have all the answers. I just felt bad that I couldn't find the right words to say just like when we practised counselling in class for the first time the other week. What if I can't find the right thing to say? What if I'm no help at all? What if I would make a rubbish counsellor? I would feel like I'd let myself down yet again and once more be left with no direction for the future. I just hope I am up to the task.

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