Period Literature in An Emoji World

UnknownAs someone who’s in such transparent pursuit of the title “Writer”, it might come to you as quite a shock that I am not the greatest of readers. I would like to pretend that in the evening, after I get my son settled, I curl up with a cup of tea and a book and get lost in some literary world of adventure and romance but the disappointing reality is, I put on an episode of The Office or Only Fools and Horses (all of which I’ve seen before) and doze off to the antics of Michael Scott or Del Boy.  And while both of these are works of art in their own right, they’re not exactly the proud habits of any aspiring writer.

If, and when, I do take to a book, I generally choose a well-established classic; a piece of period literature that, despite having been written over a hundred of years ago, in a world seemingly foreign to our own, somehow still manages to resonate with a modern audience. Case in point: I am currently reading Wuthering Heights (1847) after having recently finished Agnes Grey (1850) – both by Brontë sisters.

The appeal of these works, at least to me, lies in the splendour of the language used.  While I enjoy “That’s what she said” jokes (The Office), cockney slang and the misuse of French phrases (Only Fools and Horses) as much as the next guy, I admit there is a refreshingly honest, and almost, exotic quality to the words of these works. Their elaborate descriptions and profound sense of imagery stand in such contrast to our own contemporary forms of communication that they become a true novelty in today’s world.

The image below – taken from the recent article The Deep Meaning of Emojis: What You Need to Know on How Social Media is Changing Communication – perfectly encapsulates exactly what I am talking about.

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Over the years, our communications appear to have been reduced to emojis.  Whether due to laziness, busyness or just sheer incompetence, we are continually dumbing down the English language. I too am guilty of this and you’ll find me frequently using “Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 20.13.09“.

This is not to diminish the comedic value of the emoji or the time-saving power of an abbreviation but simply to highlight why “reading books” is such an important part of our lives that cannot be replaced by these more modern means of consuming content. These books, particularly the ones which I am referring to, might seem like relics from a bygone era, totally irrelevant to the modern world, but I would argue that they are more powerful than ever.

The original inspiration for this piece came from a passage from Agnes Grey. I won’t go into the particulars as I’d just get even more sidetracked than I already am, but what struck me about this passage was its overwhelming relevance to today’s world. I could completely identify with – as could many – the underlying message. So, while there is a total disparity in terms of the context and the language used, the sentiments and principles still apply. We can “dress down” how we communicate but human nature remains the same. It is in this apparent duplexity that I believe the true greatness of these works lie.  They have the ability to absorb us into a world that’s not quite our own and yet ground us with these universal truths. The language may seem superfluous but it plays a huge part in that sense of escapism that we so often seek in reading.

In the past my writing has been characterised as “too wordy” and I recall one geography teacher, who shall remain nameless, commenting that “This isn’t an English exam”.  It seems it has always been in my nature to use more words than necessary and while I’m pretty sure these remarks were intended as insults, I have chosen to now interpret them as compliments (in your face Mrs. ****).

So, let us not abandon our beautiful language that we have spent centuries cultivating and perfecting; let us not allow terms like “selfie” and “twerk” to define our generation; let’s not allow ourselves to become reduced to emojis.  Sure, we could all save ourselves a lot of time and boil everything down to its simplest form but let us also err on the side of caution or before we know it, our communication could soon become no more than a small yellow face on a white screen.

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It Ain’t All Roses and Hot Cups of Coffee

 

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Since you’ve had your baby, you’re likely to have experienced every emotion in high definition. When you cry, you could flood your entire living room; when you laugh, you’re on the verge of wetting yourself; and when you get angry, you can almost feel yourself turn green and your trousers start to shrink. Is it the raging hormones? The seemingly never-ending sleep deprivation? Perhaps, it’s just another symptom of your self-diagnosed cabin fever?

While these are all completely apt, I believe there’s another factor slowly driving us towards insanity in our new fragile state of “motherhood” and, thankfully, it’s something we can actually control. PRESSURE. The undying attempt to achieve perfection in every aspect of our lives, be it in our home life, career, or appearance.  This is, of course, not confined to motherhood but I can say, hand on heart, I’ve never quite felt the same level of strain as I do now. While this largely comes from within, there are external forces influencing and misshaping our thoughts and expectations everyday.

Whether it’s a trip to Tesco where you meet that Mother, sporting the latest trends from Topshop, casually strolling down the aisles with her equally fashionable child or it’s that Facebook friend with her perfectly decorated home sipping her, somehow still hot, cup of coffee. To all those who feel their lives gradually spiralling out of control, can I just say, the majority of us are right there with you.

Kudos to those mums who somehow have their shit perfectly together but this is not the bar to set yourself against. It’s fine if you didn’t have time to take your child to see Santa, bake cookies or wrap your presents in photographs of your children dressed as snowmen. I assure you, your children will grow up to be perfectly normal and well-balanced adults.

Thankfully, I am blessed enough to have a close network of “mummy friends” who, on a daily basis, send me images of their unwashed dishes and adorably unkempt children.  Without these women, I can safely say I might have more officially lost the plot (NB. I still have much plot to gain). We embrace the chaos of each others lives and remind each other that those other frills are exactly just that, “frills.”

Keeping your child healthy and happy, alongside maintaining a job and household, are in themselves phenomenal achievements. Neatly stacking your bookshelves and fluffing your cushions are not.

So, to those of you who maybe aren’t as fortunate as me and mummy friends, I say “you are doing great”. Your girls might be biting each other, your little boys might be dismantling your Christmas tree one bauble at a time, and you might still be two dress sizes bigger than you were, but your child is loved and so are you.

And to make you feel better, I’ve included some inspirational pictures of my life as it currently stands. My Christmas tree, missing the entire bottom row of baubles. Followed by my face, which is covered in adult acne. And finally my kitchen sink, which speaks for itself.

Great Expectations: A Mother’s Perspective

Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned

BLESS ME

It has been one month since my last blog post and these are my sins…

If you’re Catholic, you should be fairly familiar with this paraphrase.  When I realised just how long it had been since I had written something, this religious statement – for reasons completely unknown – randomly popped into my head.  Perhaps I equate my neglect of writing as a sin; perhaps my subconscious is telling me that I’ve been particularly “bad” this month and ought to repent; or perhaps it was just a momentarily blip, attributable to nothing more than the random inner workings of my mind. Who knows?  Nonetheless, it popped.  It got me thinking about the entire confessional process.  While I’ve grown up with the practice and been a regular participant, in terms of its history and influences, I know little of it.  Even outside its religious connotations, I wonder about the paradigm itself – the idea of admitting to one’s wrong doings and repenting.

As a child, our sins are easily defined.  For instance, I remember the most popularly cited misdemeanors of my youth – fighting with my brothers and sisters, being disobedient to my parents, cursing, telling lies, not doing my homework etc.   As (bad) practice had it, you would regurgitate a handful of these “sins”, making sure to suitably vary these on each occasion (as though the Priest made a formal catalogue on every appearance), and using the most apologetic tone of voice you could muster up as a child, bare whatever soul it was you had to bare at this early stage of life.

Now, as I’ve matured (I use this term loosely), the boundary between wrong and right seems less certain.  While we can accept certain unanimous truths – that hurting others etc is wrong – the realities of right and wrong begin to haze as we face countless situations throughout our lives rife with ambiguity and complexity.  That line that was once so penetrating as a child begins to dissolve.  As we begin to assume our own mindsets and question the words of our elders and superiors, we learn to form our own opinions of what is wrong and vice versa, leaving the practice of Confession vulnerable.  It all becomes a lot more complicated than “not doing my homework”.  The more avid religious followers among us would probably argue that there’s nothing complicated about it. 

I myself have not formally confessed, so to speak, in years.  It’s remarkable when I consider my frequent attendance as a youth: when I was then so innocent to the ways of the world and generally unaware of the implications of “sin”.  To sin has been defined as “to miss the mark” and believe me, I miss the mark more now than I ever did.  Surely I should be a highly skilled confessor by now.  But if truth be told, the idea frightens me.  This led, not only, to the question of why I now refrain, but why we practice it in the first place.

Understandably, after all this time there is a level of reluctance on my part.   Like anything in life, once out of practice, we become vulnerable and uncomfortable, but perhaps especially in this instance.  During this process, we are completely exposed.  We are centre stage in, what is essentially, a role play with God.  We’re immediately transposed into a situation which is designed to bring out the worst in us: an admission of past grievances which we barely want to admit to ourselves, let alone a Priest… let alone God.

The whole process of Confession is inherently tied up in the concept of forgiveness.  Without the latter, the former would become redundant.  Pain without relief.  Even when you take religion out of the equation, the hope of forgiveness remains.  We all strive for forgiveness.  While I should probably quote the Bible at this stage, I feel compelled to quote Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer:

“To forgive is an act of compassion… It’s not done because people deserve it.  It’s done because they need it.”

This concept transcends religion of any kind.  Those without faith might argue that we use Confession selfishly – as a Get Out of Jail Free card – a way of “keeping in with” the big guy, but isn’t the entire process of forgiveness selfish?  We use it as a means to make ourselves feel better, to confirm that we’re “not that bad” and that “there’s hope for us yet”.  Perhaps Confession serves to heighten this process.  It gives us a sense of satisfaction that our repentance has been formally acknowledged and that we can now “go in peace”, free from the shackles of guilt and shame.  While religion looks to a higher power to exonerate us from our sins, forgiveness on earth asks those around us to grant us this privilege. Either we way, we want absolution.

We can, at any time, I believe make amends without the use of box.  If we are prepared to recognise and admit our wrongs, we’ve taken the most difficult step.  Whether it’s to a particular deity, a religious representative or a wronged party, confession is a fundamental part of our lives.  Without it there is no means of forgiveness, no cause for hope, no opportunity to move on.  Without it our guilt would only chew us up, leaving nothing but sinful scraps.

Alas, I digress. My sins are…

Reality TV: Sadism and Shame

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I read an interesting article this morning about the downfall of television. You can imagine the gist: Modern television – horrid. Keeping Up With the Kardashians – horrid. My inner snob shares similar views: “TV. Chewing gum for the eyes. Why, i’d much rather read a book.” 

The intellect in me – if one such exists – fantasizes about a me who consumes books on a daily basis and abhors television.  And while I can say that Keeping Up With the Kardashians is horrid (in my opinion), this admission doesn’t stop me from indulging in similar monstrosities such as Made in Chelsea and The X Factor.  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’m actually looking forward to The X Factor starting this weekend, despite the fact that every year I watch it I want to tear my face off.  Two things here: 1. Shame 2. Masochism.

The former is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.”  Watching the X Factor, therefore, almost equates to an act of wrong doing.  Let’s consider this further.  For instance, I was catching up on #madeinchelsea yesterday and I literally said to my sister “I’m watching Made in Chelsea even though it’s shit”.  Note: It is always essential to make this disclaimer when watching reality TV or else it might be known to others that you actually enjoy it.  Let’s get to the root of this so-called shame.  It would appear that we think we’re better than reality TV – or at least some of us do (myself included).  I think I am, or at least should be, above the frivolity of talentless fame junkies seeking five minutes of fame.  I should be watching the news or the latest documentary on World War I. That’s that little snob in me. In reality, I have the propensity to like crap TV.  Does that make me an idiot?

Worse still, does that make me a bad person? Does watching these inane examples of television reveal something darker about ourselves? If anyone watched BBC’s Extras, you’ll recall Gervais gave a wonderful dialogue on the evils of fame and reality TV in the Christmas finale.  He compared the concept of Big Brother, X Factor and the like to the Victorian Freak Show, where viewers took pleasure in watching the participants publicly humiliate themselves.  Let’s face it, everyone’s favourite part of the X Factor is watching those without the “X Factor” and the Kardashians wouldn’t be worth keeping up with if it wasn’t for their tears and tantrums.

Inherently tied up in these themes is the concept of judgement.  Whether talent based or following the lives of individuals, we’re given an insight into real people’s lives.  Yes, “some scenes have been created for your entertainment”, but there is an overall guise of reality that previous television never offered us.  Given that luxury, we can get to know people and, most importantly, judge them.  “How could he do that?”, “That bitch”, “They sound like a dead cat” etc etc. Our position of unseen onlooker allows us to jump on our high horses and condemn the behaviour of others as “bad” or “wrong” while proclaiming that we  “would never do that”. 

This idea of judgement is also interesting from another perspective. We judge others who watch these shows, assuming their intellect to be lesser and their standards lower.  A dangerous, prejudiced assumption which leaves us feeling “ashamed” to be watching these shows in the first place.  It seems we’re all too eager to judge from either perspective.

As far as the future is concerned, it is unlikely that reality TV will disappear anytime soon.  Its ever increasing amount only reflects the ever increasing demand for it. Whether rightly or wrongly, this appears to be what society wants from their late night viewing.  According to the aforementioned, this can be attributed to the following:

  1. We’re closet sadists who get a kick out of watching people make idiots of themselves.
  2. We are, in fact, the idiots.
  3. We enjoy judging others as it makes us feel slightly better about ourselves.

That seems awfully condemning, doesn’t it? You’ll be glad to hear, I’m going to offer you a much more appealing alternative: it’s only TV.