Mirror Mirror

I’m putting off reporting on the Easton Arts Trail (it went very well) or anything else I normally talk about again this week. Partly because of continued busy-ness, partly because the self-improvement-related rant below wanted out of my head first.

That Steve Jobs quote that everyone likes. Think about it for more than the kneejerk millisecond that it takes to click ‘like’ under a picture on Facebook.

‘[…] for the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today.”’

What do 99% of people* say when asked what they would want to do on the last day of their life? I’m thinking it’s along the lines of ‘Why, hang out with my family/friends/partner of course.’

So if you’re one of that 99% and you don’t happen to be on holiday when you carry out the mirror test, chances are you will fail it. Unless of course you and your loved ones are unemployed. In which case, well done, you’re apparently living the dream.

Think about why this is your last day too.

Is the world ending? Then chances are whatever you had planned for the day before you were informed of the impending apocalypse is now irrelevant anyway, even if you love your job/life. That patient you were going to save, that new smartphone app you’ve been working on, that research paper you’ve been writing, that dentist’s appointment, what’s the point now? Unless perhaps your research paper is about how to stop a meteor destroying the planet, or whatever is about to happen. Some selfless people might want to keep giving the needy the best final day they can have, but most of us would be doing our own thing. Or maybe, say, in Bristol UK, having a massive street party. With lots of bunting.

Is it your last day because you are terminally ill, and the doctors have given you no more than 24 hours to live? It’s unlikely you’ll have the energy to do much beyond trying to think of some appropriate last words.

Are you about to be executed? You can’t be having much choice how to spend your day, unless you’re in one of those super-plush prisons where the tabloids would have us believe inmates live a life of luxury. Actually, the traditional Dead Man Walking’s choice of indulgent food for their final meal is probably likely to feature on a lot of people’s final day list, which can be an ideal way to live your life on a day-to-day basis if you’re cool with all the ailments related to unhealthy/excessive eating, but that scarcely requires motivational gumf to help you along.

So, it seems living your life as if every day is your last day is only a good idea if you’re either a lettuce-loving workaholic or have extremely low expectations of yourself.

I recently watched a video shared by a friend that posits that a life where work is a necessary evil rather than a passion is ‘absurd’.  This may be the case (although you could just as easily argue that all life is absurd), but this kind of name-calling is plain rude, especially when very little by way of a viable alternative is proposed.

Now, there is much to be said for doing things you love, as the video advocates – however much of them you can fit in your day; if you end up making a living out of such things, great – however, that makes you Very Lucky. Not in an irrational, fatalistic sense of the word. In the sense that anyone who has the right combination of natural abilities, predilections, nurture and opportunities to achieve this kind of life should be grateful for that fact rather than look down on those who do not.

I would argue that eradicating the ‘absurdity’ of most people’s lives would require not only each and every person addressing whichever of the above factors are holding them back, which may or may not be possible for all, but also radical systemic changes (perhaps even a revolution, eh, Russell?). It requires a world where no mundane job needs to be done by a human, and no human needs to work, since not everyone’s passion is going to be something they can monetise.

Labelling ordinary people as losers who should really get off their worker-ant arses and do something wonderful is at best going to inspire a few to do great things and drive a few others to ruin. And/or get the video’s makers that super job in viral advertising they’d really like to spend their final days doing.

So I’m not going to just drop everything and go rock-climbing or swimming under waterfalls like the beautiful people in the video (which has a distinct airline commercial feel to it whenever it’s not clips from cult movies about sticking it to The Man).

I’m pretty sure some of the clips were from The Beach, which if I remember correctly did not end well. Also Fight Club? No day jobs were quit in the making of that story, in fact the main protagonist has several. The Matrix? A film about how humans are exploited by a powerful ruling class and how an intrepid band of rebels take up arms to bring the system down. Am I missing the point – do all these extracts just aim to encourage us to think outside the box? Or did the video’s makers seize upon the cathartic escapism of these movies at the expense of their deeper messages?

I know people who love their jobs but feel that, as a popular French comedian once put it, ‘De l’argent suffirait (money would do). There’s something to be said for working to live rather than living to work – not everyone is cut out for the latter and that’s OK.

Anyway. I’m off to make myself a lovely healthy dinner before doing a few other bits and bobs that would make absolutely no sense if this was my final day; because if I’m not dead tomorrow, I’ll be glad I did them.

 

*Source: The Top of my Head journal Issue 57.

Iron Triangle

Fairly quiet week on the self-improvement front, partly due to being a little under the weather and partly to busy-ness in the day job as I worked hard to wrap things up before a week off.

Only two runs again, and both of them Speed ones – when low on time and energy, “it’s only 22 minutes” is a very convincing argument to get out there and not just skip the workout altogether. And given my eating has been a little silly lately (far more peanut butter than greens), the fat-burning Laura promises from this type of training made it seem particularly appropriate.

Education and photography were once more rolled into one last week as I attended the last of the Bristol Cable workshops, Phone Photography. This was great fun and made me feel good about things I already knew while reinforcing some and teaching me others.

Photo of people enjoying Boney M at Bristol VegFest 2014

My latest paparazzoing

I’ve spent a day going through my backlog of photos to edit,  endeavouring for the first time to anally adhere to the rule of thirds and body cropping guidelines. While my instincts are generally not too far off the mark, I have a tendency to sacrifice optimal composition to include extra little details that are there accidentally and probably do more harm than good to the end result.

The importance of timing: one of the things I most need to work on for story-telling photography is patience (at times you may need to wait for something to happen, or take many poor shots before you get one that really works). Conversely, however, the main challenge for me when it comes to using my phone for opportunistic photos is not being fast enough. I’m not sure I want to stop using a pattern to lock my phone, which is not the fastest to start with.

Once more the issue of social skills and morality popped up for me – when is it (not) OK to photograph someone, do you ask for permission before or after and how? I have (not for the first time) suggested a workshop on that subject. I have taken many “paparazzo” shots of unwitting members of the public, something that is perfectly legal but that different people have different levels of (dis)comfort about. I felt it was OK because of the circumstances, i.e. people enjoying themselves at festivals who will more than likely never see my photo of them. But as I get older and ever less photogenic, I have been questioning my right to do even that, since I really, really hate to have it done to me. More and more, I try to get some form of consent first, even if it’s just in the exchange of a smile.

Best tip of the session: using a torch to light a subject at night – much better than using a camera’s flash as the main source of light. My spare front bike light is now tied to my SLR’s lanyard. Homework: read Susan Sontag’s book ‘On Photography’.

Not so useful: recommended apps. This included one that promised to turn your phone’s power button into a shutter one for optimal responsiveness to opportunity. Aside from the fact that the latter apparently doesn’t bypass a pattern lock anyway, it turned out to require many permissions I wasn’t comfortable with, including the big no-no “services that may cost you money” (making calls). It was the only one with that particular disincentive, but most of them required among other things access to the phone’s microphone (including the apps that explicitly apologised for not supporting video capture). I very rarely use my phone for calls, but I’m not happy with the principle, or having to worry about, say, someone potentially eavesdropping on a conversation between me and my bank.  Two of them had only sensible requirements – Pixlr Express and Obscuracam, so I’ll give those a go.

This week I finalise my Easton Arts Trail preparations. I’m looking forward to it being over, to be perfectly honest, as my already cluttered house is currently encumbered with 12 boxes containing more or less pleasing canvas prints of my photos. The jury is still out on whether I’ll ever use Photobox or not. Last week we had Maslow’s pyramid, this week we have the project management triangle – good, fast, cheap: pick two. It’s possible that some the disappointing results I’ve had could have been avoided if I was more technically savvy, but until I am, I may stick with more expensive services that provide technical hand-holding to give you prints that look like what you see on a screen, rather than generous but equally unsatisfactory re-dos.

Pyramid of needs

Screenshot of two maps showing two runs with different distances recorded for same run

WTH, Sports Tracker?

Exercise

On Friday I finally took a closer look at my Sports Tracker stats after one more session of clocking less kilometreage than I’d expect (almost half less than when I completed Couch to 5k). I was delighted to find that, although the app had not seemed to be suffering from my phone’s dodgy GPS, it probably had been, or was malfunctioning for some other reason, as it was somehow recording the whole time and itinerary but randomly moving the “official” Start point.

Having checked my usual route on Google Maps, I now know that on my shortest runs I still do 5.4k. So at worst I have not got any faster. On Sunday I tried the Speed podcast – I quite enjoyed the interval training, which made running a little less dull for me. I was taken by surprise by the shorter length of the session, only taking up the first half of my usual route, and elected to keep running back since I still felt up to it, didn’t fancy taking ages to get home and felt it would go towards making up for only running twice in the week. I’ve come a long way from doing as little running as possible.

Deezer has not really worked out – switched itself off after a few tracks on Friday, didn’t start at all on Sunday for the unassisted home stretch (this could have been to do with my web allowance status). I guess there’s nothing to it but to find more non-glitchy CDs with run-friendly tracks to rip (some of my old NIN CDs are so scratched they only produce some rather hideous “remixes” these days).

I have also had to face the fact that my oesophagitis, while not requiring medication most of the time, has been triggered by running even when I’ve been careful not to go out too soon after eating, which has made running more unpleasant than it needs to be. So I’ve made a note to have a preventative Omeprazole on running days for now, but as I’m always keen to avoid medication as much as possible, I will also try daily peppermint and see whether that can be enough.

And in biking news, my secondary lock got unusably stiff so I sprayed some GT 85 into it and now it’s working good again. A small thing, but it made me feel a sense of fluency to be able to easily diagnose the fault and fix it myself.

Education

My main educational event of the week was Prof. Tim Cole’s ‘Holocaust Tourism’ at the Watershed (part of the Past Matters Festival of History).

The talk appealed to me from a variety of angles – I am, in no particular order, a survivor’s granddaughter, a human rights fan, a photography and ethics enthusiast, and a friend of a repeat holocaust tourist’s with no interest in becoming one myself. In spite of not being the most ignorant person in these matters, I learned so much I scarcely know where to begin.

First of all, Prof. Cole made a connection between different types of Holocaust Tourism. The SS visiting ghettos at the time, looking for photo-ops that would bring propagandist caricatures to life, are uncomfortably placed in parallel with present-day visitors to Auschwitz queuing to snap their own stereotypical images. There are two iconic compositions ever recurring in visitors’ photo albums, which survivors overall do not see as representative of what arriving at or living in the camp was actually like.

The most common one is the view of the rail tracks running towards the camp, which has a fairly obvious subtext of “end of the line” etc., but also, Cole argues, represents the view of the Holocaust as a “crime of modernity”, the scale of it only possible thanks to technology, mechanical innovations, efficient infrastructure. We were informed that this is a fairly dated view from a historiographical point of view, as modern historians have been focussing on other aspects of the Shoah, such as neighbour-on-neighbour atrocities often driven by good old-fashioned greed and allowed by the less violent turning a blind eye.

Auschwitz now is all about absence – the emptiness of this once overcrowded place; the piles of material possession without their owners, arranged as exhibits to invite reflection on the staggering numbers of individuals tortured and killed there; the freedom to explore the entire space that prisoners were confined to a small area of. And as one survivor points out, the grass where once there was mud so treacherous that a recurring theme in survivors’ accounts is the constant struggle to avoid their clogs being sucked off their feet into it and lost. Well, not all about absence in that one of the many things the former inmates find disorienting when they return (often purely because their children have hounded them into it, according to Cole) is that there are Polish families living in some of the buildings, a result of the local housing crisis.

I loved the stories of the more purposeful survivor “tourists” – the ones that had a very specific symbolic gesture to make their visit a healing one. The guy who ordered a pizza from a nearby village to eat inside the camp. The one who just wanted to walk in, and then walk out.  The sisters who posed for a photo clutching the no-longer electrified wire fence. While briefly googling these stories up in case there were some links, I stumbled on this apparently polarizing video of a survivor dancing at various Holocaust sites. If I’ve ever so violently laughed and cried at the same time before, I don’t remember it. Polarizing schmolarizing.

But while survivors distilling profundity out of frivolity, celebrating the view from the top of Maslow’s pyramid where they were once buried below it foundations, delighted me, I did not love to learn that there is no code of conduct whatsoever for visitors to what is now the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and one Watershed audience member reported witnessing a group of probable neo-nazis going around it menacingly, in black and jackboots, pointing and laughing. I had a chat with her after the talk, as I wanted to know how other visitors reacted to this, how one *could* react to this constructively. She said it did not seem possible to do or say anything as they were very big and imposing and possibly actively looking to provoke a reaction. But she recalled that one of them seemed moved by a photo of a child in the camp. Is this why there is no restrictions on such visitors? The hope that some will see the error of their ways? It is of course easy to forget not to dehumanise the dehumanisers. But I just hate to imagine the effect this would have on a survivor visiting the same day. I can’t even imagine how I would deal with it; I’m barely starting to come to terms with the comparatively trivial fact that you can’t  go to a concert these days without people disrespecting the music and its fans.

There’s also the question of guided tours being offered as part of stag do packages or imposed on busloads of boisterous schoolchildren. But who am I to speak of dubious juxtapositions, sandwiching this review between a my latest jogging and digital imaging travails, purely because this is the blog’s format?

Photography

There was quite a spooky moment for me while Prof. Cole was taking questions, standing in front of the screen where his presentation’s last image was still being projected. The photo’s reference numbers kept etching itself on Cole’s forehead as he moved back and forth, chillingly echoing the tatoos of concentration camp prisoners. And I was faced with the dilemma – would it be OK to take a photo of this? My current position is that if I’m having to ask the question, the answer is probably no. The McCullins of the world have a way to answer yes, but it requires a direct human engagement I’m at best not ready for.

Other than pondering the photographer’s gaze at the event above, I have been carrying on with my Easton Arts Trail preparations. I had a few days of deep grump after my first batch of canvasses and enlargements arrived. They are hugely disappointing. There is a lot wrong with them, some my fault, some not so much, most to do with the process, one to do with the photo itself; some that will hopefully not stop people liking them if they don’t know what they were meant to look like, some probably more fatal. It was always a risk using a cheap online service – when I had a large canvas done at Clifton Colour in December, what I got for the much higher price was a professional engaging with me and my photo to achieve the best possible result. With Photobox, there’s a lot of guesswork and hidden features. If you’re going to use them, ensure the following:

  • Check the default settings that live in your Account Preferences (rather than be visible at the time of designing the product). You may wish to switch the default from “crop” to “fit” and turn off the “enhancement” feature, which a customer service representative assures me is what caused the canvasses to look washed out. I shall report on whether or not turning it off has returned correct colours and what if anything else has been lost instead.
  • Be aware they use a 1.5% bleed around the image so if you are not wrapping it all around the canvas, allow for this, otherwise you may have some unwanted borders.
  • Take the time to look at their FAQs on how to get the best possible results.

A problem I have found was down to the original image was one of the main elements in the composition not being in focus. This was made obvious in the enlarged image in a way that it had not been on screen or in the smaller print, and is more than likely due to using a single focus point when shooting, as recommended in a free workshop I attended a while back. From now on I will try to remember that this setting is not in fact always best. I deliberately eschewed any photo ops last week because of needing to focus on the Arts Trail work and because I still haven’t got round to editing all of last month’s pictures or even some taken in April! Canvas and small prints of one of my photos (closeup of disused train element) Canvas and small prints of one of my photos (closeup of disused train element) Canvas and small prints of one of my photos (closeup of disused train element) Canvas and small prints of one of my photos (closeup of disused train element)