Archive for September, 2008

Finding hotspots

There are more and more wifi hotspots around the world. It’s getting easier and easier to connect wherever you are.

Look at these two students I spotted one night on my way through Aix en Provence. I’m guessing someone inside that building has got a wireless router on! Look at the way the light of their laptop screens lights not only their faces, but casts both a shadow and a shine onto the wall behind them.

night time hot spot aix

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I read a short article in the Glasgow Herald yesterday about a London based financier, Kirk Stephenson, Chief Operating Officer of a private equity company called Olivant. Originally a New Zealander, he had a senior position in his company. He was a wealthy man who had a £3.6M Chelsea home, a home in the West Country and who loved to travel, acquiring a formidable knowledge of boutique hotels and loved going to opera. He was married and had an 8 year old son. Here’s how his family described him –

a life-enhancer – not with a showy, life and soul of the party sort of charisma, but as a planner and coordinator who quietly and with no fuss ensured everyone around him had a marvellous time. A dedicated father and a devoted husband, he valued his family above all else. At the same time he had a gift for friendship and was a generous and exceptional host, gathering his wide circle around him in summer villas all over Europe, as well as for parties, dinners and opera. Any occasion with Kirk was a wonderful experience. He spent many a fine – and less than fine – summer evening listening to opera at Garsington, Glyndebourne and the Grange with friends. (He) also loved board games and tennis, passions he shared with his treasured eight-year old son Lucas.

Aged 47, he killed himself by throwing himself in front of a train last week.

How do you make sense of that? You’ll find so much in self-help books, books about happiness, websites which advise you how to have a good life……..but just what constitutes a GOOD life? By good life, I mean one worth living, one you want to hold onto, one you don’t want to give up.

Obviously I only know what the papers published about this man, but the details are desperately perturbing. Those little details paint a picture of a successful professional, a materially wealthy man, a loved man with many friends, a young son…….a man who committed suicide at 47.

I don’t have any answers here. It’s just the story really disturbed me, and it’s continued to niggle away at me since I read it.

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One of greatest joys of blogging is how it facilitates the discovery, and creation, of connections. My daughter, Amy, who writes the wonderful lessordinary, has developed a whole online network of friends through her blog. She’s a great networker and deliberately creates her blog to make and develop connections with others. Let me tell you a little story which will illustrate how this is such a core quality of hers. When she left school, she was accepted for an English Literature course at Stirling University. We drove her to the halls of residence in the grounds of the university at the start of the first semester and helped her unpack her small collection of belongings from the boot of the car and pile them in bags and cardboard boxes into her small room. If you’ve ever been to a student hall of residence you’ll have an idea of what they are like. This one was typical in my experience – a series of corridors full of identical box like rooms each with the same furniture (most of it custom built to fit the room exactly and screwed to the floor or the walls). At first sight its a bit bleak and very impersonal. It wasn’t easy to leave her there. I shouldn’t have worried though because the very next day she phoned and said when the door closed behind her and she sat in that bleak room alone she cried. Then she thought, well, everyone else in this corridor is in the same boat as me, I’ll go and say hello. So she set off down the corridor, knocking on all the doors, introducing herself and inviting the “freshers” down to the pub for a drink and a chat. She never looked back.

It strikes me that blogging can be a bit like that. Each of these posts is like a little room, something to be discovered, a door to knock on. I’ve been blogging for about 18 months now and there have been over 55,000 visitors in that time. Almost 2000 comments have been left and every one of those comments is like a little knock on the door.

I hope that some of the posts you read here will be like little discoveries for you, that you’ll hear that knock on the door, and that you’ll find new connections and new possibilities in your life. But let me tell you of a recent experience where it’s happened the other way around for me.

A couple of weeks ago a new commenter, Ian, came along and left comments on a few different posts. At the same time he emailed me and introduced himself. In his introduction he described the trail which led to our connection. Ian said he’d been in Ullapool recently and had picked up a copy of “Why do people get ill?”, completely resonated with it and decided to read some reviews online. One of those reviews was the one I wrote on this blog. He browsed my blog and discovered a like mind. He also recognised my name and remembered a poet friend of his mentioning me to him some time back – Larry Butler. Well, not only has Ian left some really interesting links other sites in his comments, but last week he emailed me and asked if I’d like to go to a traditional music concert at the Tolbooth in Stirling. It was an eye-opener for me. Or maybe, more accurately, and ear-opener. Too much to say about it here in this post but here’s the bit which is most relevant to this story. The three musicians, for some of their tunes, all played mandolins. I can’t say I’ve ever been attracted to the mandolin, but one of the people I’ve met through blogging is the wonderful Dr Tom Bibey. He plays mandolin in a bluegrass band and as I listened to the music I not only heard the mandolin differently from how I’ve heard it ever before but – and here’s my point – I heard it differently BECAUSE of the connection with Tom Bibey – and enjoyed it as never before, but the whole evening, and the people I met there, showed me another possibility – that of playing music. I listen to music all the time. But I haven’t played music since I was a teenager. I think it’s probably time to change that. That thought, the possibility of picking up a musical instrument again, is like a rediscovery of part of me. But several decades on, its a rediscovery of a different me, as I’m obviously much changed by my experiences and my connections of the last thirty years or so.

We are who we are because of the people we connect with. Human beings are highly social creatures. It’s impossible to know what a person is like by putting them into a room all by themselves. We reveal ourselves through our relationships. We create ourselves through our relationships. The patients I meet every day change me because they tell me their own, unique stories. Their stories are told from their own, unique perspectives. They are the heroes of their own stories. And in the telling of their stories they show me different ways of seeing and experiencing the world. The world is different after a story. I am different after a story.

Remember that a story has several components – a teller, a tale, something told about, and a recipient of the tale. Through the sharing of our stories we change each other. We create each other.

One of Ian’s links was to Roman Krznaric who has written a fabulous downloadable booklet called “Empathy and the Art of Living”. Go get it and read it. I highly recommend it. Here’s a key extract –

Most books or courses on the art of living focus on how we can
discover ways of improving our own lives. The emphasis is,
unashamedly, on what can be done to help me. I find this kind
of self-help approach too narrow, individualistic and narcissistic.
In my experience, those people who have lived the most joyful
and fulfilling lives have dedicated much of their time to thinking
about and helping others. It has given them not only personal
satisfaction but also a sense of meaning. They have, in effect,
lived a philosophy of ‘You are, therefore I am’.
Einstein recognised the need to move beyond self-help when
he said: ‘Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us
comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes
seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life,
however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for
the sake of other men.’ We will always feel something missing if
we attempt to live alone, hermetically sealed in an isolation of
our own making, thinking only of our own pleasures and pains.
The mystery of existence is constituted by our relations with
each other.
The twentieth century was an age of introspection, when
psychoanalysis impelled us to search for who we are by looking
inside our own heads. But the art of living involves escaping
from the prison of our own feelings and desires, and embracing
the lives of others. The twenty-first century should be the age of
outrospection, where we discover ourselves by learning about
other people, and finding out how they live, think and look at
the world.
Empathy is at the heart of how to live and what to do, and is
the ultimate art form for the age of outrospection.

Now I don’t know if Roman has invented that word – outrospection. But if he has then it’s hats off to him! This SO hits the spot! I find myself completely agreeing with this viewpoint. There’s way too much in the world of self-help which turns people in on themselves but most of what I’ve read about happiness includes an emphasis on the human need to connect to others, to connect to a sense of whatever is greater and more than ourselves, to be engaged with the world.

Who I am evolves and changes every day as I live in the world. I’m changed by my daily experiences, not least because of the other people I meet and connect with each day. This very fact brings back to my mind one of the books I have most enjoyed in recent months – Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi.

Barabasi makes it crystal clear that to understand anything in this world we need to examine the connections, the links – how very Deleuzean!

I am because you are

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painting by numbers

I took this photo of a man standing painting the landscape. He had two or three completed canvases at his feet. All his paintings were watercolours and all were realistic representations of his surroundings as he saw them. This was on a sunday afternoon in the busy port area of Cassis but he was completely absorbed in his painting. I was taken by both his absorption in the middle of such busy-ness but also something which has struck me before about people who stand in busy public areas painting at their easels. It seems quite typical that the artist in question comes across as quiet and somewhat detached but surely it also takes a lot of self-confidence to stand in a crowd and exhibit your act of painting.

One more thing…..as is often the case with a photo, once you look at the photo you notice something you didn’t see at the time. Why’s that man got a number SEVEN on his back??

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birds in the bell tower aix

Looked up and saw this as I walked down the Rue Esperiat in Aix en Provence.
It looks like a giant bird cage but all the birds are on the outside and only the bell is inside the cage.

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sunflower seller

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When I was in Tokyo last week there were Autumn Festivals going on. I saw one in the Akihabara district. There were lots of tables set up in the street and up on the first floor of the UDX building, selling freshly cooked seasonal foods and there were many stalls of games for children – Aunt Sally stalls, Archery, flower arranging and so on. There were loads of people there, and everyone seemed to be having great fun. These three wee girls caught my eye. Look how closely they are huddled together, and the sheer concentration in their faces. They are totally absorbed and completely fascinated with something. What is it? Look carefully. It’s a box of crayons. Lovely!

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City of reflections

reflected ad

When you’re in a city where a lot of the buildings are covered in reflective glass, what you see can be quite disorientating. I spotted this iMac ad, then thought, hang on, that’s the wrong way round! Then I realised I was looking at a glass clad building.
Then I looked across at this one and saw the crowds of shoppers milling along the pavements. When you look closely some of them look like they are in those distorting mirrors you used to get at funfairs.

reflected crowds

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sunset tokyo

Look carefully and you’ll see quite a number of buildings which are reflecting the setting sun. In fact they make a kind of red thread or trail right across Tokyo and up to the sunset. (If you can’t make that out, click on the photo to go to the flickr page where it’s stored and double click it there to see the large version)

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Ikebukuro sale

In the subway station at Ikebukuro, Tokyo, market stalls come and go, flourishing for a day, then gone again. This one at the foot of the escalator was selling clothes. It seemed out of place there to me, but probably seems perfectly normal to the local commuters.
Notice the interesting English phrase indicating the huge discounts available…….”Big Off!”

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