The cynical tales from a Christian outsider. I was not born into the church and I find it to sometimes be a strange and confusing place. This blog is an effort to better understand the church and how I feel about it with the further hope to help me become less skeptical and have more faith.
Picasso allegedly said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” I believe I understand what he is trying to say in the first part of this quote. I think he is saying, when someone intentionally imitates someone else’s style, it can be quite obvious what they have done, even though it takes a great deal of skill to pull it off. You have to be a very talented painter to create something that clearly replicates another artist’s flair. The second part, however, about great artists stealing, gave me pause. I knew it sounded profound and witty, and I knew I wanted to use it in this post, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I don’t know much about art, to be honest, but I wanted to sound clever by quoting Picasso. So, I did some googling and found someone far smarter than me who could explain it.
Michelle Gaugy, Art gallery owner, author, and art consultant said on Quora.com that Picasso was trying to say that a great artist will not just see great art and try to imitate it, but instead, they absorb everything that other artists have done before them and make it part of themselves. They literally take it without permission, internalise it and use it to feed their own creativity and transform it into something completely new and original.
I liked this explanation a lot. I especially liked how it indicated that art could become a part of you and not just something hanging on a wall. It can literally change who you are. I am going to try and appreciate things with this in mind from on.
It is also interesting to know that there is some controversy about whether Picasso was even the first to say this. Some people attribute the quote to T.S Elliot before him. Although he phrased it less concisely than Picasso did to be fair.
I have been thinking a lot about originality recently and whether it is even possible to create something truly unique anymore. Everything is inspired by what came before in some way and perhaps all we can do is just repackage and re-contextualise it for new audiences.
This all started after I recently stumbled upon one of my favourite ever internet oddities. Even better than, Nyan Cat, if you can imagine such a thing! It’s called the library of Babel and it has completely turned my concept of originality on its head. Basically it is a virtual recreation of Jorge Luis Borges’ vision of a universe in the form of a vast library containing every possible book. The idea comes from his short story, La Biblioteca de Babel, which he wrote in 1941. He envisioned this unimaginably large repository of 410-page books organised onto shelves, against four walls of potentially limitless interconnected hexagonal rooms. The books contained within this great library would contain every possible combination of 26 lowercase letters, spaces, commas, and full stops. These uncountable volumes would, therefore, contain the entirety of all human knowledge and everything else that was still yet to be known!
Of course, the vast majority of these books would contain complete nonsensical gibberish. It would be extremely unlikely for you to come across any prose that made grammatical sense purely by chance. You would be lucky to even find a single English word longer than five letters if you read for the rest of your life. If you did somehow defy the astronomical odds and locate an entire legible sentence, it would most likely not say anything relevant to you.
But in spite of this, the library would indeed still contain everything that has ever been written, would ever be written or could ever be written. If only you could find it!
The internet is full of amazing people who are willing to put incredible amounts of time and effort into creating things that they then offer to the world, completely free of charge. This altruism for the betterment of humanity has always inspired me and is definitely my favourite part of the modern world we live in. Jonathan Basile is one such person. He is the primary creator of the online virtual library of Babel, and it is an absolutely incredible accomplishment.
I have been totally obsessed with this thing all week, although I have yet to think of a practical use for it, beyond proving to myself that I am incapable of any originality whatsoever. At this stage of the project, you can type in any 3200 character block of text (containing lowercase letters, spaces, commas, and full stops) and the search algorithm will locate the volume, shelf, wall, and hexagonal room in which your phrase is located. You can then view it in its entirety, exactly as you typed it, nestled in amongst the random nonsense contained on the rest of the page.
Above is a screenshot of the first 3200 characters of this post contained within the library, word for word exactly as I wrote it. As though it was just accidentally typed by an infinite number of monkeys bashing on an infinite number of typewriters somewhere.
I hope I am doing a sufficient job in explaining what this thing means. I hope that I have managed to convey to you the excitement and wonder that the Library of Babel can produce when you start thinking about what it is. It becomes really addictive once you start playing with it. You can’t help but believe you can somehow retrieve some truth from it in some way. I keep thinking about how that somewhere in there is the name of the woman I will one day marry and the date and location of our wedding. The first words of my first born child are in those volumes somewhere and the exact details of my eventual death! All the answers to the mysteries of the universe could be mine if there was only some way to filter through all the nonsense. To me, this is completely mesmerising.
I was wondering if this is a bit like how God sees the universe. All this limitless potential laid out for humanity, but down which path will our free will lead us? If God truly knows everything, does that mean he knows all that isn’t true as well as all that is? After all, the Library of Babel surly contains more lies than truth. Does God know in advance what we are going to do or is He just capable of holding all possibilities in his mind simultaneously? These are the questions that keep me up at night. Not out of worry or existential dread, but out of wonder and fascination. It can be really fun to ponder on something you can never truly understand.
Perhaps ‘lie’ was the wrong word to use back there. Man, may have come up with the mathematical formula to create the Library of Babel, but there is no intent or meaning behind anything inside it. Jonathan says about it this. “Imagine a demiurge were to create the shoreline of earth’s continents, not with the coarse tools we use in constructing artificial beaches, but with enough resolution to know each grain of sand by name and recall its exact location when asked for it. The pages of rational text which this algorithm can locate are rarer than a single grain of sand in that collection, yet intrinsically no more meaningful.”
It’s just maths and probability at the end of the day. Nothing more than that. Although, as much as I try and tell myself this fact, my wonder, awe, and reverence never cease.
I never did very well at school. Nor in education generally for that matter. It’s quite ironic then that I’ve ended up working at a University.
It all started in primary school. Almost straight away I could tell that I was falling behind the rest of the class, and that reading and writing were concepts that just confused and frustrated me. I started to wonder at the tender age of five years old if I was a dumb kid, and that was simply my lot in life.
I went to Uplands County Primary school in Sandhurst which was a short walk from my house. I remember my first day quite clearly, and the confusion that one kid had about the box we all kept our playtime snacks in. He basically treated it like a free buffet, from which he could feast on whatever he wanted. It was quite the scandal I can tell you. It wasn’t really his fault and he wasn’t a bad kid - it was a confusing time for all of us.
I also remember on this first day of our education the teacher handing out, to every budding young student, a laminated card with their full name written on it. This was to keep in our trays under our desks so we could refer to it whenever we needed to spell our names. As the school year progressed and we had learned the basics of the alphabet (and enough vocabulary to help us survive in the Rodger Red Hat universe), it was time to hand in our laminated name cards. We would not be needing them anymore.
This was probably my first attempt to hide what I perceived as my lack of intelligence from the world. I opted to keep my name card hidden under the rest of the things in my tray. Although I had nailed my first name, my surname always gave me trouble. How many R’s did it have again? How do you draw an X? Satisfyingly enough, the name Horrox still seems to trip up a lot of other people to this day. However, I can’t stand seeing the name “Horrocks” written on an envelope!
I had gotten the impression from somewhere that it was not good to be the ‘dumb kid’. If people ever found out that I was that kid, I would never get a job, or a car, or any of the other adult things. So, I became a master of deception and trickery to make sure no one could tell. This was quite a smart thing to do at the age of 6 really, which is of course my point. I wasn’t a dumb kid at all; I just had some learning difficulties that were not too well understood at the time. And it didn’t help that what little my teachers and parents did know was not communicated to me at all. So, I made my own (incorrect) conclusions about why I was struggling. This, I think, has held me back in life more than anything else.
I continued this belief that I was dumb all through primary school and into secondary school where I began to really struggle with the concept of homework and time management. This caused me to start to withdraw from education - not physically but mentally. Occasionally I did withdraw physically and this got me into a lot of trouble, so I stopped bunking off pretty sharpish. I would never participate in class and my homework issues were exacerbated by the fact that I decided it was better to fail by not trying than it would be to try and still fail. My confidence in myself was incredibly low and I also thought the other kids might think that I was just a badass who didn’t care for authority. In my mind that was much better than being the ‘dumb kid’.
I had also fallen in with a bad crowd of friends who were not very encouraging. Any weakness once sniffed out would be used against that person mercilessly. This group propelled me down this self-destructive path all the way up until year 10.
Within the first couple of weeks of my first GCSE year, I fell out of a tree at the back of the playing field at the school. I badly broke both bones (alliteration is fun!) in my left forearm and dislocated my wrist because of this fall. I was rushed to hospital where I underwent surgery to correct the damage.
This event made my bad friends consider me an embarrassment to their group, even though it was not actually my idea to climb the tree, nor was I the only one doing it! I digress. When I came back to school after two weeks of recuperating, I was banished for inviting negative attention to our little gang. This turned out to be really great timing. In fact, it was one of the turning points of my life. Up until GCSE’s, the whole school had been split into two sets of form groups. This meant that there was a whole group of people who had no idea who I was or about any of my history. I could start again with a new cohort of friends who were weird and nerdy just like me. Best of all, though, they were kind and loyal. This new group of peers arrived just in time for me to start knuckling down for GCSEs.
To my surprise, I actually came away with some half decent results; not spectacular enough to get my picture in the local paper by any means, but I was pleased nonetheless. They were good enough to make the step up to sixth form.
When I got to sixth form I was determined to continue as I had during my GCSE’s. However, the old demons came back to tell me that I wasn’t good enough to succeed. They told me that there was no point even trying. The freedom that educations systems give you in sixth form didn’t help me much. I could choose to skip classes and there was nothing they could do about it. I did pass my A-levels but they were pretty bad results. They were, however, good enough to get into an average university via a foundation access course. So, I moved to Birmingham to study Television Technology and Production, where I still live today.
I wasn’t great at studying at university either, to be honest. But I still learned an awful lot when I was there; things I still use every day, such as graphic design and video acquisition and editing, and web development. It was tough for me there though, and I ended up having to drop out due to money problems and depression. This decision always made me feel ashamed and I wouldn’t talk about it much. I found that most people seemed to assume I had a degree and I tended to let them continue to think that.
I was still hiding from everyone and keeping my shields up so they would never discover that I was the ‘dumb kid’ and now I was a drop out too. By this point, I had quite refined cheats to help me live among the smart people undetected. I could scan text and get enough of a gist of it so that I could pretend I had read it all. I could figure out how things worked quickly with only a little bit of information to point me in the right direction, and I had a myriad of memorised trivia because I realised that people often mistake knowledge for intelligence.
I have always been fascinated with technology ever since I got my hands on the old 8 bit BBC Micro computer in the reception classroom when I was 5. When we finally got our own computer at home, I was beyond excited. I remember it seemed to take forever to arrive (there was no Amazon Prime back then!) but when it finally got to my house, I was absolutely transfixed on the technical wonder that was Windows 95! I remember I used to break it a lot by messing with stuff that I didn’t understand. I never had the fear that a lot of people do with technology, like if they press the wrong button they might fire a nuke at China. If I didn’t know what a button did, I would press it and find out. For me, the fear came after the wrong button was pushed. I would use that fear to motivate me to frantically fix it before my dad got home. My stupidity cloak skills helped me a lot with fixing things, and I became an excellent problem solver.
It wasn’t until I entered the world of work that I finally got over the idea that I wasn’t smart. I could suddenly see my value to the world and that there were loads of things that I was actually really quite good at.
I now work at a University I could never have gotten into with my results, in the constantly expanding field of learning technology, which seems to use a very broad range of my skill set. I sometimes feel like God has ‘Slumdog Millionaired’ me; I look back at my life and see how he used my fears and doubts and my will to hide from people, to shape me into the person I needed to become. Maybe I didn’t take the most direct route here but God made sure I learned everything I needed to know on the way, in order to excel in my future career.
The author Bob Goff says that God loves most to use broken people because there are more pieces to work with. If this is the case, I imagine there is a great deal more He can do with me yet to come.
I am talking about autumn for those reading from the future. This isn’t, I imagine, one of my more popular opinions, however I do not see the appeal at all. Yes, I agree the colours of the leaves changing on the trees can be quite breath-taking. But to be honest, I think you can only really appreciate all the beautiful golds, reds, and oranges when they are properly illuminated by the increasingly elusive shining sun. I’m not too crazy about pumpkin spice or Halloween either. I feel I should add that my distaste for Halloween is not in any way for religious reasons; I just think that as I got older it seemed a little childish and way more effort than it was worth. But if you love it then by all means have at it.
Ultimately, autumn is about decay for me. The days get shorter, the weather worsens, and I find that this time of year often ushers in some kind of awful life changing emotional turmoil; the kind that weighs on your heart constantly without any respite and becomes all you can think about. Yeah, the autumn is the time of year when I get dumped (or occasionally have to do the dumping myself). I don’t know whether this is coincidence or by design but it does seem to be the case - for me at least. Perhaps relationships that are failing have enough momentum to get through the summer, but as the cold, dark, English winter appears on the horizon they can go no further. So, I find myself kicking through the damp dead leaves on the rainy grey streets of Birmingham with my mood perfectly reflected in the dying world around me. Most people feel this way about winter (with Christmas being the exception to the rule of course). But by the time winter rolls around, I have usually gotten used to my life without the person who seemed to make it all worthwhile. That is not to say that I am over it, nor have I lost hope of reconciliation; that takes a good deal longer. I just get used to the loneliness, the regret, the guilt, and the anger. The emotions live in me and swirl around the empty place where she used to live inside my head. I occasionally open the door and let the emotions wash over me but this is usually too painful so I do what every good Englishman does and I try to ignore them and get on.
I read an article once about how men and women experience breakups differently. It said that although women will often have a more severe reaction to the end of a relationship in the beginning, they will later go on to make a full mental recovery. The article continued to explain that while men appear to have more mild symptoms of heartbreak in the beginning, they never fully recover and therefore carry a piece of the pain with them for the rest of their lives; even after they have met someone new and moved on. From my past experience I tend to agree with these findings. However, I really would not describe what I have experienced in the past (and now as I am writing this) as “mild”.
I don’t want to give you the impression that I started this blog as a means of just venting my sadness (although there is an element of that). It is not my intention to try and make you as sad and as unhappy as me; quite the opposite in fact. I intend this to be a cathartic healing experience for myself, and I hope that it helps others as well through reading. I have found that although I rarely do any writing besides short emails to work colleagues, when I do I am able to be far more articulate and emotional than when I’m speaking to someone face to face - even someone I really trust and feel comfortable around (although I try my best to keep my emotions out of work emails!). So, in an effort to encourage this more expressive side of myself, and dig out some truth from my messed up head, I decided this would be a good and healthy exercise.
One of my all-time favourite writers, and a man I am very much attempting to channel as I write these words, is Donald Miller - or Don to his friends (which I very much hope to be some day). I heard him on a podcast recently say that it is not possible for you to change yourself while you are happy. He says that joy precludes the option for true introspection and personal growth and that only sadness and conflict can help you to become a better, more rounded human being. This seemed a very strange idea to me, as when I am this sad, if I can make the change from lying in bed to being dressed and out the house I consider myself to be coping brilliantly ("who needs her anyway!"). How could I possibly deal with any of my deep set emotional problems at a time when I can’t even remember to eat? But as Don is a man I greatly admire and respect I decided to try and follow his advice and make the most of this time of great pain; I decided try to get something positive from it. As I thought on his words, and with the help from additional reading, I realised he was absolutely right and it was in fact my severe aversion to conflict that was partly responsible for the breakup of my relationship in the first place. This nugget of wisdom was enough to spur me on further, and so I discovered reading.
Now obviously I could already read, as I imagine so can most of you. I have even managed to finish the odd book from time to time (although it takes me most of the year to do so). However, the vast majority of books I start reading, I never end up finishing. So, although I did read sometimes, I hadn’t truly enjoyed the process since I was a kid, when I could happily devour a "Goosebumps" book in a single evening. I recently realised it had gotten so bad, that I had not even attempted to read anything longer than a listicle for over a year! This aversion to reading was partly down to my dyslexia, but mostly due to my ever-shortening attention span. I couldn’t even go down the road to the shop without taking a pair of headphones with me to deafen the terrible silence. I needed to be distracted and occupied at all times to be sure that no stray original thoughts would cross my mind! However, reading books could never sufficiently distract me. Every time I tried, I would get a few pages in, and then find reasons to stop and check my phone or go to the kitchen to eat something - anything to get away from this ancient archaic medium. I even made it into part of my persona, and would routinely tease people who love books (particularly my sister who works in publishing). I would say things like, “Have they made that into a film?” “No, I don’t think so.” they would often reply. “Can’t be that good then can it?” I would gleefully say back to them. I especially enjoyed doing this if people were reading something that couldn’t possibly be turned into a film, like a cookbook or a history of the Nazi space programme. Actually, you could totally turn that last one into a film and I would watch the shit out of it. You know, for the space stuff not the Nazis.
Just after she left, I was clearing up some of her stuff from the living room at home, because I couldn’t bear to look at it anymore. This activity really didn’t help, because basically every single thing in my house still reminds me of her in some way anyway. But I felt like I needed to do something proactive. As I was looking at the books on the shelf, one in particular jumped out at me and stuck in my mind. It was Love Does by Bob Goff, which I didn’t know much about but I think I had heard good things. I figured I would later add it to the growing collection of books that I had read two or three chapters of and then forgotten about. A couple of days later, I was back at work trying to find the will to be productive but I couldn’t stop thinking about that book! I felt like God was telling me I needed to read it and it couldn’t wait another minute. So, I made my excuses and went home early. I got home and grabbed the book off the shelf and began reading and reading. I took a few short breaks, but I finished the whole thing that day. I hadn’t read a whole book in a day since I was ten years old. I was really proud of myself that I had managed to stick with it the whole time.
I found the book really inspiring and I was amazed at how much it had affected my attitude and mood. I am finding that reading, as well as being a great source of information that I can use to re-orientate my life, it also seems to dull the heartache; it’s kind of like pouring cold water on a burn. Every second with my head in a book is sweet relief, but as soon as I stop and put it down, the pain fades slowly back in. It’s clearly not a long-term solution, but a little break from the pain is quite nice.
In short, reading is good and I am determined to make it a permanent part of my life from now on. I even considered cancelling my Netflix subscription but decided that might be going too far. Besides, Stranger Things season 2 comes out this week!
I asked a good friend of mine recently if he thought that Americans call autumn, 'The fall' because it was a reference to the fall of man. He said, "It's because the leaves fall from the trees, you idiot!" "Oh yeah" I said. I guess my negative opinions on autumn were just reaching out for some kind of religious symbolism to justify my opinions. Maybe I will try and think of autumn differently from now on. Maybe I will see it like the necessary death before rebirth. In the spring I expect to emerge from a chrysalis completely healed of all my shit!
I asked a good friend of mine recently if he thought that the Americans call autumn 'The fall' because it was a reference to the fall of man. He said, "it's because the leaves fall from the trees, you idiot!" "Oh yeah," I said. I guess my negative opinions on autumn were just reaching out for some kind of religious symbolism to justify my feelings. Maybe I will try and think of autumn differently from now on. Maybe I will try and see it like the necessary death before rebirth. Besides, it's not like the trees have actually died... They have just shed the parts they have no use for right now. I think I will try and consider myself more as a creature of this Earth that also has seasons of death and growth, cold and warm. So in the spring I shall expect to emerge from a chrysalis completely healed of all my shit!