I’m sitting right here – discussion of mental illness at Nethui

Nethui launched with a bit of brouhaha around a couple of jokes from the MC, lawyer and standup comedian James Elliott. A couple of his opening jokes – designed to loosen things up – were of questionable taste; one naïvely implying that the vast amount pornography on the internet was “pictures of naked women”(1) and the other faux-mistaking Vikram Kumar for a Bollywood film maker of the same name.

I responded to the brouhaha, suggesting that the MC was a distraction and not to let upset over his faux pas get in the way of the real business. I had to clarify that I wasn’t saying “let’s support gendered and racial speech”, and I now feel a need to explain what I was really getting at.

The real discourse happens after the MC stops joking. The real discourse is made by the session conveners, and the participants, particularly those who are viewed as experts.

Here are some snippets of phrases I heard variously from people conducting sessions, and personages of importance contributing:

“People who are mentally ill…”

“People who are mentally ill are…”

“You’ve got to be mentally ill to…”

When someone spoke to demean women, there was an uproar.

When someone made light of race, there was an uproar.

If someone had been foolish enough to make generalisations about the capabilities, limitations, features and characteristics of blind people, wheelchair-using people, deaf people, any kind of differently-abled person, of non-normative sexual and gender selves – there would have been an uproar.

The term “mental illness” came up a number of times in the context of the “trolling” discussion, for example. It seems that anytime someone is behaving antisocially, they must have a mental illness. Now, I’m not here to justify antisocial behaviour – there are some interesting works which explore the social constructions we put around “antisocial”, and the differing constructions we create when we wish to make use of antisocial behaviour for societal ends.

I didn’t make an uproar. Other people I know for a fact manage mental illness as part of their lives didn’t make an uproar. In my case, the “forever angry and unwell” Sean discussed matters with the “healed and well” Sean, and we agreed my (to reunite my two halves, as I must do every day to function(2)) planned outcomes from attending Nethui might be disrupted if I started laying into people who so casually prodded my deepest pain. Why? Because every time I expend emotional energy, I have to factor in the risk that I am misperceiving matters, and that my efforts to address a problem I see will make things worse. That it’s not going to change things anyway.

I want to make an uproar now. I’ve spent the last few days increasingly triggered, and I suspect there’s more to come if I maintain silence.

I’m here to say – you’re tarring a lot of good people with the same brush. That’s right – I’m not blasting anyone. My anger, as always, is my own. I’m going to speak, and hope some people listen. I’ll stick with the troll example.

Some people with mental illness troll.

Some people with mental illness experience frustration, bewilderment and an inability to understand the rules that govern interpersonal connection.

Some people with mental illness express frustration through attention-seeking antisocial behaviours at some times.

Some people with mental illness act to seek attention in online communities. In some ways, longlasting online communities are function as economies of attention, and sometimes some people with mental illness use the wrong strategies. What does that say about the other trolls – who don’t wrestle constantly with demons, who are simply choosing to seek amusement? Much easier to blame the loonies.(3)

We are not some people. We are your family, colleagues, and friends. We grit our teeth while people construct a world in which all of the otherness is laid at our doorsteps. How are we to reach out to you when you dismiss us in a way isn’t allowed for any other group in society? Can’t we come inside the PC circle, at long last? Can’t you see I’ve got a headful of bad wiring, and I’m still a good, caring and compassionate person? I know some sane, or at least stable, people who are real pricks.

Most of us mentals(3) don’t bother speaking up, because it’s too hard.

Most of us feel like we’ve failed before we open our mouths, or put hands to keyboards.

Most of us are trying to connect, however badly. Some are doing so pretty well, thank you.

I’m sitting right here. I’m next to you, wishing to work with you. Don’t say we need to stop talking about access and start talking about inclusion when you’re still leaving me out.

(1) Pornography would be vastly less problematic in some ways were this so.

(2) As Paul Simon said: “From what I can see of the people like me/We get better/But we never get well”.

(3) I will take these words back, and I’ll use it any time you want. Don’t you dare.

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State of the Nation Address

OK, so here it is.

Sometimes I am near the world, some times I… wander off a ways. #blogjune pretty much pushed the limit as far as my need for intimate communication goes at the age of then 40 and counting.

That’s, the age. As for the stage; I’m easy with it – a good course of group therapy (DBT, do it if you’re a bit stuffed up eh) and an increasing engagement with meditation may have helped.

That’s not to say I’ve thrived; but I haven’t suffered every single minute, nor have I felt an excessive amount of genuine concern – I say excessive, because being bipolar gives two sets of circumstances to manage against, and two different lenses through wish to interpret.

Better yet – therapy helps us to move from the poles and create a middle. Sometimes it feels less exciting than a good dose of hypomania – more’s the pity. Weaning one’s self of “excitement” is a hard sell, but I’ve learnt to do at least a few things for the pure wonderment, and a few for their pure necessity. Both are good for the soul, and better than all the pizazz in the world.

Not that I’m not still a song and dance man – so to those of you who are sometimes commenters – please nag me to do some rehearsal for my upcoming gig. Then the ball will be in my court. It might be a little bit exciting.

The Insomnia Chronicles: Tempered

Distillation is a simple process, yet hard to get entirely right. In the creation of an essence, a purer, finer thing, little imbalances can cause a souring. A little too much heat and a burnt, bitter flavour comes creeping in.

So it was in the family I grew up in. My brother and I were both driven to excel – each of us in differing areas of music, he in sport and myself academically. My childhood was in many ways a vast sequence of delight, constantly being given the tools to discover and explore new knowledge.

Then there’s that heat. I’m not going to play the blame game – I love my parents and I know the wanted, and tried the best. But oh, those distilled essences. Add a little too much C2H6OH to the equation to the point where social lubrication exceeds its capacity and turns to social friction, and the finely tuned learning experiments went a little awry. Both my brother and I are extremely bitter and generously tempered when in negative spaces. His sporting orientation tends to produce physical responses complimentary to my intellectualising. Suffice to say that he and I both have to work on our anger, in differing ways.

Wikipedia brings great news to the afflicted:

 Tempering creates balanced internal stresses which cause the glass, when broken, to crumble into small granular chunks instead of splintering into jagged shards. The granular chunks are less likely to cause injury.

Good night, and good morning.

#blogjune 25: Blogjanarama: A tentative summary

I think I’m close enough to the end of the month to examine some of the benefits of this exercise for me, and I’m doing this before an INSANELY busy week happens.

Rather than faffing about with French baked objects I’ve used my tagcloud as an aide-memoire. This would be a different post had Helensville an authentic boulangerie, or had I gone to music practice at the Alliance Francaise last night (I didn’t) and asked them to recommend a late-night boulangerie in the central city area (I also didn’t). So what learning have I encountered?

 Themes.

I reminded myself further that I’m simply not into themes. I wouldn’t describe myself as incapable of them; certainly when writing some kind of memo, email or otherwise for work I stick very much to the point.

I started by declaring this the “month of superlatives”. It has only been so in that it’s been one of the bloggingest months of my life and the failingest theme this month on banjosinthestacks. I sometimes had similar levels of activity during the height of my engagement with livejournal, but not usually with a theme.*

I’ve also discussed this with other children’s librarians in relation to themes in programmes. One friend suggested that I “was the theme” in my storytime sessions. As much as a complement as that is, I think it’s overhyping my abilities, or at least misreading where they lie. I do engage well with young children, but my programmes are ultra-structured – I’ll have the same games and songs in the same order every time with differing books. This allows me to modify – pull elements in and out – in response to my energies, and the energies of the children on the day without having to have a think. I achieve infinite variety in the songs and games because I ask the children for elements such as the animals for “Old MacDonald”. I also pursue other themes, such as sharing joy, creativity, support, love and humour through modelled behaviours. Oh all right, and love of reading is in there too. It should be implicit.

So I don’t so much fail at theme as have more investment in structure, tone, style and participation as creating continuity between differing elements.

It is possible.

The same as I don’t see a point in theming, I don’t see a point, other than an exercise, in blogging every single day. As opinionated as I am I don’t feel a wish to find something to express a well thought-out, edited opinion every day. That being said, at this end of the month I have found that when I do blog, I prefer to do that editing and thinking rather than do “something quick”. Even yesterday’s dinner break post, one of my quicker that wasn’t just complaining, had two days of distributed discussion and occasional pondering behind it.

My shortest one I didn’t publicise except through RSS, which I acknowledged in the post. This in itself sparked a fun discussion.

Creative activity enhances wellbeing.

Readers who have been following for a while will have seen mention of insomnia. I tend to have this when I’ve a lot to think about, although this tends to be abstract topics such as “what are some useful models and modes of thought which can support engaged information literacy” and “if I listen to my new song fifity times in my head with my fingers twitching that’s the same as practicing it” rather than “the big boy next door called me names”. In fact I get on with Brett, my large and tough next door neighbour, rather well.

In the past I’ve tended to avoid engaging in writing about these topics or developing musical ideas at times when I should be sleeping because I haven’t wished to stimulate myself further. This month has convincingly demonstrated to me that fully engaging my creative faculties leads to better managed sleep patterns.

I can talk about information profession things.

While I am linked to a small handful of active projects at work presently, my main role right now is to explore and propose a definition and related useful functions for my role, knowing that other related roles and functions may or may not be changing.

A necessary process at for success in this task is the active avoidance of prejudicing the views of people one is seeking  input from. Admittedly this is impossible – in an organisation of capable people, nuances are as deftly derived from what isn’t said as what is said.

This isn’t to mention time factors. To speak to an informed and representative sample of an organisation, individual conversations must be limited. Interesting and compelling topics must be touched on then left aside for progress in the key tasks at hand to be made.

So, getting a place to talk about the information profession, the  theory that surrounds it and the wonderful culture that springs forth from it is a good thing.

So what?

So I’ll keep on letting structural and stylistic approaches serve as my themes and not worry about it. I’ll stop worrying that creative activity is something I risk using up, although I won’t blog every day. I think now that I’ve cleared a regular window in which writing happens I’ll allow some of that to happen in blog form, and some of that to happen in the many other writing projects  I’ve got sitting round on scraps of paper and in little files.

I’ll not only continue to share my infoculture thoughts, I’ve got some new people whose thoughts stimulate to share with to add to the wonderful, but less new, people. *waves*

And I’ll look forward to enjoying some good nights of kip.

*Bonus content: Three years, two months, twenty days, seventeen hours, fifty minutes and twenty-six seconds ago I shared** the following Beetle Bailey cartoon on my livejournal. I still think it’s a pretty hilarious statement for an ostensibly unironic newspaper toon:

Beetle Bailey loves them Goth girls

** If you hack me and find content you find uncomfortable, serves you right for being prurient.***

*** Also I will hack you back. Just saying.

#blogjune 22: I Love Info Lit

I had an AnyQuestions shift earlier this evening. It brought about one of those simply wonderful moments in the communication of information literacy.

The young person I was helping was a year seven student. She came on with the question, “Which of the words in these sentences are adverbs?”.

I greeted her and in response she started simply pasting in a series of sentences.

“Hold on,” I said, “I can help you but it looks to me like you’re simply wanting me to do your homework for you here.” (When chatting I imagine myself and the person on the other side of the screen are talking, so I find it useful to notate chat interactions in that way.)

She logged off.

Shortly she reappeared in the queue. This time the question was different: “What is an adverb”.

Knowing she might log off when she saw Mr. Unhelpful (not my actual operator name) again, I quickly said, “Now that’s a question I can help with,” and added “We can even use your sentences to check we got the answer right”

“Okay,” she responded, smiling. Well, she added the smiley emoticon. Either way I took it as a good sign. (For those who think my theory just broke it just got better but that’s a post for another venue.)

We had a little discussion about what she thought an adverb was. She knew that it was a word that describes a verb but she “didn’t get it”. Working through the concepts she had the parts (she knew verbs were doing words) which suggested the approach of locating the verb first.

She was well able to find the verb in her first sentence, “Abby often practised her highbeam routine in the gynmasium.”

Knowing she was going to live in a digital age, I introduced her to the define: function in google search. We looked for definitions of “practiced” and she quickly caught on to the principle. Once she had confirmed “practiced” was a verb (remembering a child who is not confident with adverbs shouldn’t be worried with cases and tenses), she easily picked “often” as the related adverb, which she checked and confirmed.

We managed a second, slightly more complex sentence with the adverb at the end before she had to leave for dinner – as did I.

I’d like to note here a possible objection to the use of this tool as a shortcut which threatens learning. It’s definitely something I’ve thought about. I’ve got two responses, one pragmatic and one philosophical.

I can’t imagine a teacher or librarian objecting to a child using a dictionary. If she were using a dictionary for the same purpose, her physical activities might be different, but the key cognitive – that is to say learning – processes would be the same. In both situations she would be actively forming a hypothesis (word ‘x’ is a verb/adverb) and interpreting  a resource with quantifiable reliability to test that hypothesis.

That reliability can be determined trivially – the define function allows clickthrough to specific online versions of reputable dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster.

My philosophical response rests around the concept of enculturation. This is not at heart a caring process. Our world is rife with ideological conflicts that cost lives and cause massive suffering. More often than not the people creating those conflicts believe what they are doing is the right thing according to their inherited concepts, beliefs and values, much as we’d prefer otherwise.

I argue that education, and information literacy education in this case is purposeful enculturation by another name. I believe that this part of the enculturation process must have the potential to lead to a benefit that must outweigh the dangers, or we simply wouldn’t still be here.

The concept “shortcuts are bad” itself is a product of enculturation processes, likely stemming from the Protestant Work Ethic. Here’s some news, particularly for my New Zealand readers. The whole place was fished up by a tupunu tāne Māui. He was what we call a trickster god. In other words – shortcuts are good.

How good? How about this:

When we take useful shortcuts to learning,  a baby with roughly the same brain as someone from 2000 years ago can potentially become a neurosurgeon, or even something we, enculturated as we are, can’t even imagine.

#blogjune 8: Not quite the Carnegie method

If you’ve been reading, you’ll have noted me commenting things are fun, most of the time.

The most of the time is, I hope, self-explanatory. It’s all about balance.

The fun? That’s another thing.

It’s not that I’m constantly up to hijinks. Yaawn.

It’s simply that I decide to find whatever happens to be happening fun if I possibly can, unless that would be upsetting for someone.

For example: Right now, apart from having fun blogging, I’m having fun managing tracks on my iPod, having just transferred a large part of our CD collection to my machine.

And oh gosh, I mean I really am having fun. I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted.

Tomorrow I’m going to have fun hanging around with other library peeps in the big city, and telling people about eBooks, which will hopefully at least make up to some of the NatLib peeps for being subject to a shrobbery.

Now I’m going to have fun videogaming as a pretend cowboy in Rockstar’s “Red Dead Redemption”. It provides a lot more scope to play the “good guy” than their other products, despite having cussin’ and such things as ain’t rightly fit for younger folk. I bought it using a gift voucher at the digital cornucopia of my choice I was kindly given by the team at my last gig.

Just to get self-referential, I reviewed a library copy of “Red Dead Redemption” at a “reading experience” meeting at Albany Village Library.

You know what? I had fun doing that. What’s not fun about talking about books with a bunch of cool folks?

Night all!

Where I think eBooks are at – or more reviews on obsolescent products

I was reading a post by a gentleman name of Tom I’ve been following a while. He’s active in the library industry and seems fond of eBooks.

I started in with  a comment and realised I was saying a few things outside the purview of his post.

You really should read it but I’ll précis it here.

A recent Listener editorial was negative about eBooks. Tom responds by letter and on his blog*.

In it he posits the obsolescence of books, the foolishness of libraries for missing this, with phrases such as:

  • With ebooks there’s no need for the book buyer, the people (sorry libraries) who hold up the book industry, to visit a physical store anymore.
  • This is our (libraries) fault.

I read this a few days ago now and wasn’t sure of my response, which usually means it’s sparked a few thoughts that need to brew. Many thanks for that, Tom.

I get where he’s going – and particularly with regard to libraries – but I guess my response is around the democratisation and atomisation of creativity. Allow me to explain.

I see the current value of the eBook model as a following stage from the book, but I actually think the book (as a concept, not as a physical thing) itself is what will be outmoded by more short format communication tools such as blogging etc. I’m viewing books and eBooks as the same things, in essence.

One of the factors that I see behind the novel (a relatively recent** phenomenon preceded for millennia by the epic poem cycle) and the “serious nonfiction book” has been the publishing industry’s need to deliver a content package which will gain market respect. If it looks like a book, some people will buy it. This applies in e-form too.

We are increasingly able to finetune our content. I’ve spent a lot of my life reading journalists from PJ O’Rourke to Hunter S. Thompson (actually not that wide a range if you know them both). What I have had access to is book form collections of articles they released over time. This is what a large part of non-fiction book content is. Sometimes it’s honest about it, sometimes it’s hidden but well crafted and sometimes it’s painfully obvious and badly done.

I’d rather find new PJs and HSTs and hear what they’re thinking about the day they’re thinking about it. Yes I know there are issues of authorial voice – but I think that even the concept of author-as-unreachable-expert is breaking down. So for me, a lot of nonfiction publishing in any format is not just obsolescent but obsolete and still twitching. I rarely will read a nonfiction book. The marketplace of ideas is simply too rich.

Longer fictional narratives – ok you got me. I still like to read novels whatever I said above. But that’s me, who has been brought up to function in that system. I believe in it, I love in it – but I’m not so sure I believe it’s here to stay. I definitely believe that large-form text narratives will follow a similar decline as the ranks of gamers, Whedon freaks and right on down to LOLCATivores rise. I’ve watched my 74 year old mother-in-law’s reading habits change since we introduced her to the net. She’s still a voracious linguaphile*** but her wordplay lately includes telling me I’m being basement cat when she feels I’m being an improper son-in-law.

So what am I saying? I’m saying I think classifying long-form eReading as any different from the digital reading we’ve been doing socially since – well you pick. Teletext? BBS? The telegram?

Let’s start that one again. What I’m saying is this: There is no such thing as eReading. There is no eBook. There are short- and longform texts, and some companies around marketing longform (and combined shortform) content packages on digital platforms as eBooks. This too shall pass.

I recommend looking at TOR. They’re a science fiction publishing company. They’ve been putting CDROMs with entire parts of their catalogues in the back of their books for years. Yes, this is essentially freeware booklength content aimed at generating business based on reputation and fair dealing. Yes, this strategy was generated long before the eBook question. Heck, iD software did with the Doom franchise in the 90s.

As for libraries? I guess I’m saying Tom’s wrong, right and wrong again. He’s wrong because he knows full well libraries are aware and thinking of eBooks. He’s right that we should focus more on this question while it is in play. I think – and I’m happy to be told I’m wrong in turn – he’s wrong again because I get the feeling a logical conclusion would be to invest as much of our time in eBooks as possible. I think that would be putting all our eggs into very much the wrong basket.

*a strategy I highly recommend – when I did so over a Sunday Herald article I also emailed the article author to give them a heads up, which also felt like good practice.

** 18th Century or so according to my fave cheap reference source.

*** She was once kicked out of a scrabble club after she complained about people playing with the help of word lists which is my definition of awesome.