I had been queueing slowly up the steps to board a plane thinking about nothing in particular when, as I stepped into the plane, one of cabin staff said to me ‘Are you getting ready for winter?’ I looked at her somewhat perplexed because it was only September, and she pointed to the book that I was holding ready to read on the flight home. It was ‘Winter’ by Ali Smith. It is a novel with much to say on many issues.
One of the central characters in the novel, Art writes a blog and someone challenges him to write about a real thing, something that he remembers happening and not a blog thing. He describes a real childhood memory and when it is suggested that he should write about it, his response is he could never put something like that on-line because ‘it’s way to real’. I have some empathy with Art, because it can be difficult writing about your thoughts and memories for anyone to read. However, I have noticed that the readership of the blog goes up when I do write about such things [see for example ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘ on May 2nd, 2018 or ‘Depressed by exams‘ on January 31st, 2018]. So, if people are interested perhaps I should do it more often.
Another passage that resonated with me was about age. The narrator is her sixties, which I will be soon, and comments that ‘You never stop being yourself on the inside whatever age people think you are by looking at you from the outside.’ I think that this is true but perhaps difficult to reconcile with consciousness being an accumulation sensory experiences [see ‘Is there a real ‘you’ or ‘I’‘ on March 6th, 2019]
I wrote this short annual report in anticipation of being on vacation this week. However, as my editor commented, it is ‘a bit of a non-blog’ and so I have written a second post for today that will be published a few minutes later.
The painting in the thumbnail is by Peter Curran and shows a view of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral that is almost the same as the view from the seat at which I usually sit to write this blog. The blog is read world-wide as shown by the distribution of visitors to the blog during 2018 in the temperature map in the graphic below. The weekly readership dropped by 60% at the beginning of April 2018 after I deleted my Facebook page and cut the link between Facebook and this blog (see ‘Some changes to Realize Engineering‘ on March 28th, 2018). However, I am pleased say that the visitor numbers have recovered; and last month’s visitor numbers were only 4% lower than the corresponding month in 2017. So many thanks to those readers that stayed with me, or found the blog again without using Facebook. While, I enjoy writing ‘to make life more fruitful’ to quote Sylvain Tesson (see ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘), it is also encouraging to know that people are reading the blog.
For those of you that enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing, there have been more than 330 posts since the first one in July 2012 – that’s a huge archive for you to browse, if you have nothing else to do. Happy New Year!
I have written before about Daniel Goleman’s analysis of leadership styles [see ‘Clueless on leadership style‘ on June 14th, 2017]; to implement these styles, he identifies, four competencies you require: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Once again, I am involved in teaching helping people develop these competencies through our Science & Technology Leadership CPD programme for aspiring leaders in Research & Development [R&D]. As part of the module on Science Leadership and Ethics we have asked our delegates to write a short essay reflecting on the ethics of one or two real events and, either from experience or vicariously, on the leadership associated with them. Our delegates find this challenging, especially the reflective aspect which is designed to induce them to think about their self, their feelings and their reactions to events. They are technologists who are used to writing objectively in technical reports and the concept of writing about the inner workings of their mind is alien to them.
Apparently, the author Peter Carey compared writing to ‘wading in the flooded basement of my mind’ and, to stretch the analogy, I suspect that our delegates are worried about getting out of their depth or perhaps they haven’t found the stairs to the basement yet. We try to help by providing a map in the form of the flowchart in the thumbnail together with the references below. Nevertheless, this assignment remains an exercise that most undertake by standing at the top of the stairs with a weak flashlight and that few both get their feet wet and tell us what they find in the basement.
A couple of weeks ago, after reviewing one of my posts, my editor commented that I was repeating myself because I had already written on the same topic in an earlier post. I feel that is inevitable in a weekly blog which has an archive of more than three hundred posts – I am just not sufficiently creative to produce something original every week. Besides, maybe that’s not necessary. Anyhow, today I am returning to a theme that I have written about previously: the Treasury at the Weston Library in Oxford. It is a small museum with a rotating collection of treasures from the Bodleian Library, which until the end of February 2019 is on the topic of ‘Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared‘. As you might expect from the title, the oldest treasure in the exhibition are fragments of a copy from the 2nd century AD of one of Sappho’s poems. Sappho, who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos between 630 and 580 BC, is the first female writer known to Western civilisation. Her work was almost lost – the fragments of papyrus on display were found on an ancient Eygptian rubbish dump. Perhaps this is a good representation of men’s attitude to women’s writing because probably since Sappho, female writers have been neglected by publishers and male readers. As Nilanjana Roy has reported, publishing houses submit more books by male writers for literary prizes and book reviews tend to highlight more books by men than by women. In books written by women the gender of characters in evenly divided, whereas in those written by men, women only occupy between a quarter and third of the character-space and men tend to read books written by men. Perhaps it is unsurprising that many men are lacking in understanding and social awareness of half the population. Encouraged by my wife and daughters, this imbalance in my reading habits is being addressed by reading the books shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction each year during our summer holidays. I can recommend the 2018 winner ‘Home Fire’ by Kamila Shamsie – it’s very topical, will make you think and pulls you along to its dramatic final page. However, you should also read ‘When I hit you’ by Meena Kandasamy – it was both enlightening and shocking to me, and I was left wondering about the line between fiction and non-fiction. I also really enjoyed last year’s winner: ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman.