Film Review: Black Widow

It is a shame that the Black Widow film is unworthy of its heroine.

The makers of the film, director Cate Shortland and writer Eric Pearson, seem determined to evade as many problems as possible when telling this story. 

Why do Natasha Romanov, aka Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson and her one-time sister Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh, fight when they meet for the first time in 30 years? How do they still know and recognise each other? Why should they be trusting and helping one another? No satisfactory answer is given. 

“I tried to be something more than a trained killer” Natasha tells Yelena. “You’re fooling yourself,” Yelena says. “We are both still trained killers…I’m just not the one little girls call their hero”. There is clearly baggage between them. Johansson and Pugh carry it in their eyes. You can hear it in the sharp edge they give the dialogue, like flick-knives ready to be driven into someone’s heart. Yet Johansson and Pugh are not given the chance to pick away at these scars, to draw out the bad blood, and chip away down to the fractured bone. It is a sad waste of their talents and a problem that could generate so much conflict and action. But Shortland and Pearson don’t seem to want too much conflict. Therefore, they don’t produce too much action, at least not much that is interesting.

More problems Natasha and Yelena encounter in their mission, to destroy the Red Room that turned them into assassins as children, are glossed over. Where is the Red Room? How does its mastermind, Dreykov played by Ray Winstone, keep it hidden? Why should their surrogate father Alexei, played by David Harbour, help them? Why is he in prison? How does he know where to find their surrogate mother Melina, played by Rachel Weisz? Why should she help them? Why should the 3-years they spent masquerading as an American family be anything more than just another mission to these two long-term and at times enthusiastic Russian agents? Where is the Red Room? Such questions and obstacles could generate explosions, but instead they are treated in a way that generates as much interest as a cork popping.

The film’s fault is encapsulated in the single moment when Dreykov drops his ring that holds the key to his master computer for Natasha to pick up. He just drops it. He’s masterminded a web of master assassins, that he controls all from his computer, that Natasha must now gain access to, and he just drops the key. How easy can you make it for the hero to defeat the villain? 

Problems are what make a story interesting. Seeing someone go to hell, and then fight their way out, with their bare hands, is what makes a film worth seeing. The conquest of obstacles is also what makes a hero. It is what has made Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow such a compelling character. From when she was first introduced in Iron Man 2, to her final scene in Avengers: Endgame, Natasha has been a conqueror of problems. She has single-handedly defeated an entire squad of security guards, tricked bad guys into telling her their entire plans, and fought her way through alien and robot armies. Johansson summons all the relentless and unstoppable courage of the character. She brings it to everything. To how she walks in confident strides, which always make you think she’s the woman in charge, her hard stare when facing down a villain, and the sharp accuracy of her speech, like a shot from the master assassin she is playing.

Amongst all the evasiveness of the plot, there is one moment during Black Widow when we do get to see Natasha conquer the seemingly unconquerable. When she confronts Dreykov, Natasha is powerless, due to a pheromone preventing her from harming him. As long as she can smell him, she can’t hurt him. Taunting Dreykov’s cowardice, Natashas raises herself up, towering above the squat little villain, and smashes her face against his desk. “What are you doing?” he screams. “Severing the nerve” she says, smiling through the blood and the sound of bone cracking still ringing in our ears. She breaks her nose. She can’t smell Dreykov anymore, so she can hurt him. This is the Natasha Romanoff I have come to love, portrayed with the same beautiful strength from Scarlet Johansson who has become one of my favourite actresses. What you see is a woman who would cut off her own arm to do what she knows is right. A true hero. 

It is disappointing that Black Widow is the last the world will see of Johansson’s version of the character. You would not lose much by not seeing it. It might actually better if you don’t. It might be better if you preserve your memory of a great heroine, embodied by a great actress, as she was at her finest. It might be better if you keep your last memory of Johansson’s Black Widow as when, in Avengers: Endgame, she dangled from an alien cliff face, ready to throw herself to her own death to save the universe. “Whatever it takes” she declared resolutely. That was Natasha it a nutshell. She did whatever it took, and thanks to Johansson, she did it well. 

Makeup: A Two-Man Play in One Act

The Father sits across the table from the Son. The Father looks straight at the Son, his gaze never wavering. He is a fantastically macho-looking man, with shoulders as thick as his arms, and a jaw that could crush nuts. He’s wearing a t-shirt that clings to his beefy figure. But, the silver watch around his wrist, and the gently inquisitive look he directs at the Son, indicate that he isn’t a man devoid of tase or compassion. He may be beefy, but he isn’t a brute. 

The Son is looking at the floor. He is a puny creature, physically, compared to the Father. He is wearing a turtleneck sweater. His body is covered, while the Father displays his proudly. He is a fledgling, not yet comfortable in his own skin. While the Father sits still, he fidgets with his fingers, feet, and shoulders.

While they speak, the Son’s head moves occasionally, but they’re small, erratic and anxious movements. The kind you’d expect from a prisoner being grilled. His eyes move from the floor, up the table leg, to the top of the table, but never to look the Father in the eye.

Son: Can I go now?

Father: No. Tell me what happened.

Son: …

Father: You can tell me.

Son: No. No, I can’t.

Father: Why not?

Son: …

Father: Why won’t you-

Son: Is Sarah okay?

Father: Her eye’s badly bruised. Your mother is putting some ice to it. She’s also very upset. She’s crying a lot. Your mother will take care of that too.

Son: (Covering his eyes with his hands) I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

Father: I’m glad you are. But why did you throw that basketball at her?

Son: She walked in on me. She barged into my room.

Father: You never threw anything at her face before when she walked into your room. 

Son: Well this time I did. 

Father: Why?

Son: (Getting angrier, like a cornered animal) I just did, alright. Get off my back. I said I’m sorry let me go so I can go and apologise to her. 

Father: Again, I’m glad, and you will go and apologise to her. But not yet. You’re not leaving this table until you tell me why-

Son: (Shooting upright onto his feet and meeting the Father’s gaze for the first time.) Makeup! I was putting on makeup. I had the mascara across my eyes and was running the lipstick over my lips when she came in.

Father: (Pausing for a moment to consider the Son. His voice, his stance, and his words) Then you threw the basketball at Sarah?

Son: No.

Father: No?

Son: Didn’t you hear her?

Father: Hear her?

Son: She called out after she saw what I was doing.

Father: What did she call out?

Son: ‘Daddy’.

The Father sighs and leans back in his chair.

Father: That’s why you did it?

The Son nods slowly. Tears are beginning to leak out of cracks forming in his face. The Father gets up, walks around to the Son, and puts his arms around him. The Son keeps his arms hanging limply at his sides, not returning the hug.

Father: You can wear makeup. It’s alright. There’s nothing wrong with it.

Dad: (Shaking, both physically and verbally) You’re not disappointed?

Father: (Pausing to find the right words) Not with you. 

The Son breaks down, crying into the Father’s shoulder, and wrapping his arm around the Father. He clings to the Father’s bulky figure like a castaway does to a rock.

Father: Son?

Son: Dad?

Father: I’m sorry.

Review of Anna Karenina, the ballet

Anna Karenina is a ballet composed by Ilya Demutsky and choregraphed by Yuri Possokhov. The story is an adaption of the novel by Leo Tolstoy about Russian aristocrat Anna Karenina and her affair with cavalry officer Count Vronsky. The ballet is proof that you do not need words to tell a story on stage, even one that spans continents, years, minds and hearts.

When I saw the ballet performed on the 9th of July at Adelaide’s Festival Theatre, the first few minutes alone demonstrated the technical mastery and ingenuity of the production. Large, shifting clouds of mist were projected onto a screen pulled over the stage. Bodies and faces rose out of the mist like figures in a dream before disappearing again into the dark. 

Never have I seen a ballet create so much from so little. The set at most times consisted of just a collection of a few moving frames and screens, that shifted across, up and down the stage as the scenes changed. Added to by accessories, such as the couch upon which Anna and Vronsky consummate their romance, lighting and music, this sparse stage architecture brings setting after setting to vivid life. The train station where Anna and Vronsky first meet, the ballroom of their first dance, their Italian love nest, all are erected and projected across the stage with glittering and startling reality. For this, Tom Pyne (costume and set designer), David Finn (lighting designer) and Finn Ross (projection designer) deserve particular praise.

The ballet does not just succeed in spanning the breadth of all the story’s setting, but also the depth of the characters’ souls. Music, movement and setting join forces in communicating character. The inner realities of the characters, their subjective and inter-subjective worlds, are drawn out and splayed across the stage.

The love scene between Anna and Vronsky has as much artistry in its portrayal of the erotic as anything from the world of film. Anna’s orange dress lies discarded, a suitable distance from the couch where she and Vronsky have made love for the first time. Off, for the first time, it looks bulkier and heavier. Is this mass of glimmering orange fabric a symbol of the conventions of society Anna has thrown off? Or of the prosperous life she has thrown away by following her reckless passion? I am not certain. Anna and Vronsky twirl upon the couch and about the room, she in her silky under garments, he with his chest bare. Their smouldering passion fills the room with a low, warm light projected into their private little corner of the stage. Their limbs move like liquid, swift and coursing. While we do not see them make love, they move as if they were making love. We can hear their beating hearts in the low, melodic beat rising up from the orchestra pit.

With startling and at times over-powering beauty, brought about by technical ingenuity, musical and choreographic elegance, Anna Karenina is a masterpiece of modern ballet.  

Two Haikus on a Lily Pad (and Another)

Lily pad. Offers

Safety and food. Can eat

Safe from fish and snakes.

The frog leapt across 

The garden pond. The lily

Pad sunk beneath it.

I left the garden

For lunch. So sad so sad, I

Said inside my head.

Film Review: The Hitch-Hiker

Anyone who wants to write, or to see, a first-rate thriller should watch The Hitch-Hiker. The film was written and directed by Ida Lupino, and is in the public domain, so you may watch it for free on YouTube. I’ve embedded the video below for you to watch if you wish.

Like any thriller, the film doesn’t dive all that deep into the heart of what is good, what is evil, and why. It shows good and evil clash in intense action as Lupino sees them. Two friends, Bowen and Collins, are taken hostage by serial killer Emmett Myers. 

Condensing the action to within just a few days, Meyers forces the men to help him trek across Mexico to escape the police. Each step consists of a small battle between the wills of Collins and Bowen, and the lethal power of Meyers’ gun. He makes them get food, cook it for them, and even pose as targets for him to practice his aim. Yet, even when these conflicts within a conflict end, the tension remains. It’s present from the moment Meyers steps into the car and tells the two men he will kill them once they have helped them reach his destination. Each step is also, for Bowen and Collins, a step towards death. The threat of the gun is always there, until the very end. 

We learn very little about Bowen and Collins. They are decent men, with respectable jobs, homes and wives. They could be almost anyone, and that’s Lupino’s point. This could happen to you. 

Meyers is a more interesting character. In several scenes, he taunts Collins and Bowen about what he regards as their weak, inferior concern for each other, compared to his superior cold-blooded selfishness. Lupino shows he at least has some layers by peeling them back. His gun, always present, mentally if not visually, is all he has and all he thinks he needs. When finally deprived of it in the climax, Meyers’ vicious superiority collapses. Starring into the oncoming police search lights, he looks like a frightened rabbit. Meyers is his gun. Without it he has nothing. He is nothing.  

Lupino changes between high and low-key lighting as the scenes change between night and day. The blackness that envelops the characters and scenery when night falls is like ink poured across a page. For Meyers, this only enhances the terror of his physical appearance. His face is made waxy by the campfire light, which contrasts violently with the surrounding darkness. As he stands leering over his hostages, he looks like a vulture peeking its head out of the darkness, and licking its lips as it runs its eyes over its prey. For Bowen and Collins, growingly increasingly unshaven and unkempt, it is symbolic of their draining spirits. But Lupino uses light just as effectively as darkness. The intensity of the light with which she captures the shots of the sun-blasted Mexican landscape makes the scenes as deprived and isolated as when shot in the dark. The light bleaches and scorches the shots, making the three men seem like the only beings left in a wasteland. Imagine if you were left alone in a wasteland with a serial killer. 

Ida Lupino has created a masterful thriller, in which the sense of jeopardy remains unabated until the very end. I’d advise you to watch the film, which I have embedded below. 

Love’s Soup by William Barker

“Thomas, where’s your father?”

He didn’t look her in the eye. He stared at the drop of snot slipping down her upper lip. She wiped it away. “Where’s your father?”

“He’s working in his office.”

“No, he isn’t. I saw his car leave the driveway an hour ago.”

“Sorry Mum, I’ve got to go.” He was out of her bedroom door before he finished the sentence.

“Why?” She called after him from where she lay in bed, wrapped in her dressing gown, and beneath enough blankets to warm an army. 

“Homework.”

“It’s the holidays.” She clutched her throat. Talking alone made it ache. Anything more was like sucking shrapnel up her throat. 

She mouthed a curse, at her flu, at her husband who was out while she was trapped in bed with the flu, her husband who she’d nursed like a baby just a few months ago in this same bed when he’d had the same, miserable bug, and her son who was covering for him. 

She slumped back against her pillows with a huff and crossed her arms. After a minute of glaring at the ceiling, she uncrossed them and returned to her book about the starlets of Classical Hollywood.

While she was admiring the brunette locks of Elizabeth Taylor, a scent ran its tail under her nose. She snapped her book shut and bolted upright in bed. She looked to the door like a dog caught on a scent. 

She knew the scent. It was her favourite scent. The scent of her childhood, brought to her by her mother on every rainy day and to heal  every skinned knee. It was the scent of their first date, at what would become their favourite restaurant. It was the scent of their anniversary. It was the warm, embracing scent of bright red tomatoes crushed and cooked in a deep pot, and then served in a bowl with a loaf of crusty Vienna bread.

She leaped out of bed. Her book tumbled to the floor. “How dare he.” She was up here stewing in her own snot, and he was down there having creamy tomato soup. Without her!

She almost collided with him as he opened the door. It was good she stopped herself. Otherwise, she would have run into him. If she had, she would have knocked the fine china bowl, filled with bright red and steaming soup, the stainless steel spoon, and the loaf of crusty Vienna bread, all carried on a mahogany tray, out of his hands. 

“Thomas told me you were catching on,” he said smiling. “I didn’t plan on you seeing me leave to get the ingredients. So, I thought I’d better bring this up before I totally lost the element of surprise. I hope it makes you feel better darling.” 

Theatre Review: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

(This is a review of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, as I saw it performed by the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild in their 2021 season).

Set in Iraq in 2003 during the Iraq War, Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is a play with no heroes, only villains, and their victims. 

The plot is divided between multiple characters: two U.S. soldiers, Kev and Tom, Musa, an Iraqi translator and former gardener to Uday Hussein, and the ghost of a Bengal tiger from the Baghdad zoo. 

Kev and Tom are after loot. When they’re not terrorising Iraqi civilians or cavorting with local prostitutes, they are chasing after Hussein’s various bizarre treasures, such as a gold-platted gun and a gold-platted toilet seat. Musa wants to return to his former life as a gardener, when he could create beautiful sculptures of animals out of bushes. When he was not surrounded by war and death and wasn’t haunted by the ghost of his former master Uday. The Tiger wants to find out the meaning of life, whether there is a God, and why he is still walking around Baghdad even after being killed.

In his search, the Tiger subjects the audience to a series of didactic monologues that serve as a guide to how not to write philosophical fiction. But the Tiger does not just lecture the audience on philosophy and theology. He is not a symbol for humans as the animals are in Alice and Wonderland and Aesop’s Fables. His presence and role as a tiger that walks and talks like a human breaks down the distinction between humans and animals, and presents them as the same.

What emerges is an enshrinement of the law of the jungle as our fate. All beings are predators according to Joseph, who speaks through the Tiger, because that is how God has made us. Like the Tiger, who tries to be a vegetarian but gives up after a few minutes, we all sustain ourselves by feeding on those weaker than ourselves. 

The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild should be congratulated on how they have so beautifully performed such an ugly play. The performer is an artist in their own right and can create something impressive even if the playwright does not. Like tuning forks, all the actors channel the longing, sadness, hatred…all the emotions that bite and boil beneath the surface of each character. They show it in how they walk or pounce across the stage, in how they shout and whimper, even in the twisted contortions in their faces. The best was Nigel Tripodi in the role of Musa. With his head raised towards the sky in longing, and with the spotlight glinting off his teary eyes, he perfectly captured Musa’s longing to escape the carnage. 

But the carnage is inescapable and inevitable, says this play. That is what Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is about. That is what it shows. 

Sonnet I: Possums

Possums are

Wolverines, which

Live in trees.

Possums eat roses,

And sunflowers. They

Eat lilies, apples,

Daisies. Tomatoes…

Anything that hangs

From a tree, or that 

Springs from a root, the

Possums will always

Eat. They leave nothing

Behind. No branch un-

broken, no flower whole.

Restaurant review: The Guardsman

The Guardsman is hard on the ears if crowded, but the noise is worth it for what your eyes will get. The talk from the emerald leather seats set within wooden booths, and the round oaken tables, rises up into the air. It forms an audible smog, one maybe as thick as that that fills the train station beyond the restaurant’s doors. The bar occupies the centre of the long room. It is surrounded by a skeleton of metal rods, like the piston cylinders that pushed old locomotives. The artistry of the indoor decorating even extends to the bathrooms, with black-and-white-tiled floors, and a mirror set in a thick wooden frame. Outside seating offers an alternative to anyone who wants a quieter meal, under the vaulting square roof of the train station. 

My first impression that this would be a standard pub meal vanished when the waitress brought my appetizer. I was expecting bread rolls covered in some variety of garlic sauce. What I received was Zaatar bread sprinkled with Kangaroo Island garlic, served with olives and a thick orange gazpacho oil. The olives were better than those I ate while in Greece. They were tart without being overwhelmingly bitter. The bread was smooth with the kick that I like from garlic.

My mood dropped slightly when my meal came. I had to saw my burger in half to eat it. Even then I had to stretch my jaws to their limit to wrap my lips around it. I don’t like meals I can’t eat with cutlery, but the burger was worth the trouble and mess of eating with my hands. The amount of meat was generous, a patty and bacon, all divinely grilled. The pickles, tomato and sauce, prevented it from having the dryness of just meat thrown in a bun that makes a burger filling but unsatisfying. In each bite, a specimen from almost every major food group hit my stomach in a single blow.

My dessert surprised me more than my appetizer. It was not so much a lemon meringue pie, but more the contents of a lemon meringue pie. The lemon curd and meringues weren’t served inside a base, but on top of a bed of pistachio nuts. But it still was sweet enough to make my taste buds dance across my tongue. It also came with a scoop of lime gelati that cleansed my pallet when I was finished. 

I would advise anyone interested in dining at The Guardsman not to underrate this hidden, rough gem, and make a reservation. It is not just a cheap greasy spoon. If you don’t believe this, someone else will already know it, and will beat you to it, and deprive you of a delightful meal that will break both convention and assumption.

For anyone who wants to test my claims, The Guardsman can be found inside the Adelaide Railway Station, and you can look at their website to see their menu and make a reservation. 

Haiku I: Fountain Ode

Water comes like rain,

In drops that each make a wave,

From the fountainhead.

Book Review: Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima

This story has no inciting incident and no climax, and the goals of its protagonist are lofty and often contradictory. It may, like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, be accused of being a largely plotless tale of a neurotic individual. This may be true, but it does not make Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask a worthless story.

Like Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, Mishima’s protagonist is an outcast. He is alienated from the world around him. But his alienation is not from a longing for innocence in a phone world. It comes from his homosexuality. What Salinger takes Holden through in a day, Mishima subjects his protagonist to over several years, as he tries to understand and come to terms with his sexuality, and the mask he must adopt to hide it. The story is a collection of confessions (notice the plural in the title, Confessions, not Confession), a series of episodes united by the protagonist who lives them in his unique, complex, and often perverted way.

Mishima’s protagonist is a complex, tormented, and often evil specimen. What makes him evil is not his homosexuality, but his deception of both himself and others to conceal and evade the truth of his sexuality. Mishima does not excuse this evil. Even the protagonist acknowledges it. But Mishima does not allows judgement without understanding. Switching between narration and action seamlessly in the middle of scenes, Mishima shows the thoughts pulsing through the protagonist’s head, from the philosophical to the erotic, as he confronts his first crush, prostitutes, and the death cult of Japan in World War II. While this gives the prose a degree of unreality, dwelling more in the protagonist’s mind than in the real world, it allows for a full understanding of him to be built as we observe incident after incident, and reaction after reaction, varying from the sublime to the grotesque. No one may claim after finishing this story that Mishima has neglected any corner of his protagonist’s soul.

The clarity with which the protagonist, and through him the theme, is communicated is due to Mishima’s lucid and sensuous style. The violent emotions of the human soul, which “have no liking for fixed order” and “fly about freely, float haphazardly, and prefer to be forever wandering” (Page 161), Mishima grasps like a butterfly caught in his clenched fist that is then nailed to the wall.

Like a spider, Mishima weaves a glistening web with his words. At the centre of this web is the protagonist. The final shape of that web I will leave you to discover for yourself when you read Confessions of a Mask, as you should.

Message to my readers

To my readers,

I am once again changing how I operate my blog, and you deserve an explanation.

The change is a result of my thinking recently about my career and my blog’s place in it. I realised that I have not been using my blog as best as I can.

I decided that my blog can serve as a repository of my writing. That it can showcase my writing skills, both present and developing, to potential publishers and employers, and prove what I claim in my resume.

But I also was not enjoying writing for my blog, writing one Words for Wisdom after another. I knew I would find greater enjoyment in using my blog posts as an opportunity to practice different skills each time.

This is the dual purpose my blog will now serve: to practice my skills, and provide proof of them.

I will be re-designing my blog to serve this purpose.

You will notice a change in the design of the blog. I will still post new content every week, but they will no longer be Words of Wisdom. Instead, they will be of a variety of content, including short fiction, poetry, artistic criticism, food criticism, and journalistic feature stories. These are the areas in which I want to practice and build my skills, and then provide proof of this progress and ability to potential employers and publishers.

I hope those of you who have enjoyed my content so far will enjoy the new content I will be posting in the coming weeks.

Yours sincerely,

William Barker

How to overcome pain, according to Ayn Rand

Never think of pain or danger or enemies a moment longer than is necessary to fight them.

Ayn Rand, novelist and philosopher.

Anything that threatens some part of your life will cause you pain. Whether it is an immediately physical danger, like a lion trying to eat you, or the possibility you will lose your job, or the fear that your beloved will leave you, anything that could wipe out your life or reduce it will cause you pain.

This pain can be paralysing and all consuming. It can become a constant and unwelcome companion, that keeps you awake at night, and breathes down your neck when you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner…but it doesn’t have to be.

You do not have to think about what causes you pain, except when attempting to solve the problem that is the source of the pain.

Why?

Why not?

Why shouldn’t you only spend as much time with pain as is necessary? Why should pain be something done for its own sake, and not something to be endured for the sake of happiness?

There is no reason. The key to overcoming pain is realising and accepting that you are not required to feel it all the time.

Ayn Rand understood this. The quote above shows that she did, but so does her works of fiction. As a writer she filled her stories with heroes and heroines who endured pain without ever stopping in the pursuit of their goals. They could do this because they understood they were not doomed to pain, that if they kept going, if they overcame the danger and their enemies, they could emerge from Hell, and into the glorious Heaven where they truly belonged.

The hazard of being open-minded, according to Terry Pratchett

The trouble with having an open mind … is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.

Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series of fantasy novels.

Being open-minded is a valuable skill. But, as Terry Pratchett reveals, it comes with a risk.

An open-minded person is someone who is always willing to listen. It doesn’t matter if they find what they hear comforting to disturbing, they will listen. This does not mean the open-minded person believes everything. They will entertain and investigate all possibilities, never accepting something as true on face value, or immediately dismissing something as false. This is because they want the truth and will not risk over-looking it.

The closed-minded person is the opposite. They will believe anything that confirms what they already believe, and will dismiss anything that challenges these beliefs. Because they cannot tolerate opposing ideas, many closed-minded individuals try to force their beliefs on the world, and eradicate the alternative beliefs they cannot stand.

The open-minded person’s willingness to listen makes them vulnerable to manipulation and deception by the closed-minded. In their benevolence, the open-minded person may never think that the person they are speaking to is manipulating data or misrepresenting facts to get them to believe something, whether or not it is the truth. The innocent child may never think that their teachers, friends or parents are deliberately lying to them, not unlike the honest businessman or woman who does not expect to be cheated.

The open-minded should therefore be on their guard. They should keep their minds open, but remain aware that there are people who want to reach inside and bend it to their own shape.

When you should quit, according to Konstantin Stanislavski

Unless the theatre can ennoble you, make you a better person, you should flee from it.

Konstantin Stanislavski, theatre director.

Stanislavski in the above quote may have been referring to a life in the theatre, but his principle is relevant to any person, not just those who work in the theatre, and to any pursuit, not just artistic pursuit.

His principle is that if something does not make you a better person it is not worth your time and energies. If a job, a university, a relationship, does not add something valuable to your life, you should abandon it. Implicitly, Stanislavski urges not just fleeing from, but to something. If you should flee from something that does not add to your life, then logically you should flee towards something that does. Stanislavski’s principle, which he applies to the theatre profession, can be applied to any endeavour, any task that you must devote time and energy to, and it should.

Because, if you are not adding value to your life, if you are not gaining something from your time and energy, then what is the point of what you are doing? Should you waste your time and energy on pursuits that give nothing in return? Should you devote yourself to a loveless marriage? A tiring friendship? A boring job?

From any of these, apply the principle of Stanislavski: flee!

What is valuable in art, according to Frank Lloyd Wright

All fine architectural values are human values.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the greatest architects to ever live.

Frank Lloyd Wright understood architecture, both as a task of engineering, and of artistic expression.

The above quote from Wright shows he knew that architecture, like any artwork, is a vision of another world, and that we respond to this vision, we like it or we hate it, based on whether it is what we think the world should be. What you find valuable, that which you prize and desire, in your life, you will most likely find valuable in architecture, and in art in general.

If you have a friend you love because they always mean what they say, never contradicting themselves either in thought, word or action, then you will likely love the building with angles and shapes that align with a single theme, never at odds with one another. Both the building and the friend have integrity, a loyalty to a principle.

Wright’s words call attention to the link between morality and art. What we find valuable, pleasing and desirable, in how we live our lives, working and interacting with other people, we often do, and should, carry with us when we look at a building, or a painting, or a sculpture, or read a book or watch a movie. Artistic value is derived from moral value.

When is the best time to start a book, according to Agatha Christie

The best time to start planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

Agatha Christie, author of some of the best mystery novels of all time, and creator of the immortal Hercule Poirot.

I discovered this quote on Twitter, posted by Darling Axe Editing. It seemed so bizarre, particularly as advice about writing, that it stuck in my mind as I tried to decipher what Christie meant by it. This is the answer I arrived at.

Doing the dishes is something you do everyday. Jut like getting dressed or eating lunch, it is one of those constant actions, that can, and often should be done everyday, and often are, which is why we call them routines.

I believe Christie meant that the best time to start planning a book is like these routines. It is present everyday. There is no special time for when you can start planning a book, you can do it while washing the dishes, getting dressed, or eating lunch. Every time is the best time to start a book.

What is fame, according to Lauren Bacall

Stardom isn’t a profession, it’s an accident

Lauren Bacall

Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of Classical Greece, once said that fame tells you more about the people who grant it, than the people who receive it. Several hundred years later, Lauren Bacall, the greatest actress of Classical Hollywood, showed a similar knowledge of the nature of fame.

What determines if you are famous? Is it how good a person you are? Or is it your skill in your profession?

Being a virtuous and talented person can help make you famous, but there are many people who had both virtue and talent and did not become famous until after they died. On the flip side, there are people who are famous who are without virtue, others without talent, and some that don’t have either.

In the end, what makes you famous is other people. Just as you can only become rich by selling something other people want, you can only become famous if others know and are interested in you.

This is why becoming famous shouldn’t be your aim. Because to be famous you must do and be what interests others, which may not be what interests you. To choose any other life than the one that pleases you is to condemn yourself to a life of torture.

Your profession should be your aim. It should be your aim to do the work you enjoy, and do it as best as you can. If you become famous by doing it, that’s just a happy accident.

Why being democratic doesn’t make something right, according to Margaret Thatcher

Being democratic is not enough, a majority cannot turn what is wrong into right.

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990.

We often think that is something is decided democratically, by the will of the majority, then it must be right. This ideas is not as innocent as you may believe, and more dangerous than you may think.

In Ancient Greece, a jury of Athenians voted to condemn the philosopher Socrates to death, for corrupting the youths of Athens with his constant questioning of all values and institutions. In Germany in the 1930’s, the German voters almost delivered the Nazi Party control of the country’s parliament. In 1930’s Britain, British voters approved Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement towards Hitler, allowing the Nazis free reign to pillage and terrorise Europe.

These events from history are proof, not just that the majority sometimes choose to vote for what is wrong, but also that a majority approving something does not make it right.

Executing Socrates was wrong. Giving the Nazis power was wrong. Appeasing Hitler was wrong. The fact that a majority voted in favour of all these actions does not change their immorality. It cannot, because what is right is an objective fact. Human wishes and whims can no more change what is right than they can prevent the sun from rising and setting everyday.

If what is right is untethered from objective reality and decided by a majority, then a majority may decide that lynchings, witch hunts, and gas chambers, are right. Anything may be right, if the majority decides it is, which means nothing is right.

Why following rules doesn’t make you insignificant, according to Thomas Reid

The laws of navigation never navigated a ship. The rules of architecture never built a house.

Thomas Reid, philosopher of the Enlightenment and champion of common sense.

Everything that exists has an identity, a collection of traits that make it what it is. Trees, rocks, wind, oceans, houses, all have aspects of what they are that are unalterable.

Because of this, there are rules you must obey when interacting with, anything, if you want to accomplish your purpose. You must accept and work with an entity’s identity, whether it’s a person or force of nature. When buying a present for someone, you must respect and accept their likes and dislikes if you want to get them the best present. When making a fire you must respect and accept that the wood needs heat to burn and that the fire needs oxygen to burn.

But these rules do not make what you do insignificant. Even if you follow rules that determine if something will happen if you act in a certain way, you still need to act to produce the result. Using Reid’s own examples, if you navigate a ship through a storm, even though you follow the laws of navigation, it is still your choice to follow them and steer the ship to safety. Similarly, if you build a house according to rules of architecture that specify what a good house must have, it is still you that does the building.

Why you should aim for perfection, according to Verdi

I have striven for perfection, it has always eluded me, but I surely had an obligation to make one more try.

Giuseppe Verdi, one of the greatest composers of Italian opera of the 19th century.

Perfection is the absolute best. To call something perfect is to call it of the greatest quality possible.

Even if you aim for perfection, you may not reach it, almost all of us never do, for whatever reason. But you may achieve something very close to it. Not it, exactly, but enough like it that you can look upon what you have achieved, smile, satisfied that it is good enough.

But what do you think you would achieve if you aimed at less than perfection? Would achieve something close enough to it that it might as well be perfection? Or something mildly satisfying, or just plain adequate?

You can never hope to learn everything, so why do you learn at all? Because if you keep learning, while you may not know everything, but you will not a lot. This exemplifies the reason you should strive for perfection. Even if the ultimate point is unreachable, trying to reach it will still give you something of immense value. You may not achieve something that is perfect, but you will most likely achieve something good, possible great, maybe even magnificent.

By aiming for the best possible, for the highest bar, you may still achieve something very close to it, and almost certainly something greater than if you aim lower. You may not reach perfection, but you may reach the best, and everybody deserves the best.

What motivates an artist, according to Tim Burton

Anybody with artistic ambition is always trying to reconnect with the way they saw things as a child.

Tim Burton, film director, creator of classic films such as Batman (1989), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Alice in Wonderland (2010), Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and many more.

What drives the artist?

To know that, you must first know what art is.

Art is the projection of a vision of how the world could be. It is a re-creation of reality by the mind and hands of the artist. But an artist does not re-create reality as it is, but as they believe it should be. They create a version of the world that is more beautiful, more interesting, and more virtuous than the real world. What they project is an ideal. (When I use artist I am referring to the highest quality os artist).

Artists seek to create a fictional ideal world because, like all of us, they have never experienced a real one. Only an inkling of one, during childhood.

Childhood is, for most, as it should be for all, a time when the world seems ideal. There is no lies, war, or death. It is a time when everything seems perfect, and it is bliss. It is a time ended when we meet the hardships and cruelty of the real world, never to be lived again…except for a brief moment, when we watch a film or someone dance, read a book, or listen to music.

The ambition fo the best artist is therefore to reconnect with the ideal world they saw in childhood.

What you can tell about someone from their laugh, according to Dostoevsky

One can know a man from his laugh, and if you like a man’s laugh before you know anything of him, you may confidently say that he is a good man.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the greatest writers of all time, author of Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground.

In my previous post, Why do we laugh, according to Mark Twain, I explained how laughter is a tool for destruction. To laugh at something is to declare it so far from what should exist in a sane world, that it has no right to be taken seriously. To laugh at something is to say “You should not exist, so the fact that you do is a joke.”

You therefore can tell something about a person by what they laugh at. It gives you an indication of what they value, of what they regard as important and desirable, and conversely what they find bizarre and stupid.

Imagine you are walking along a street with your friend, having just enjoyed a good lunch. You come to a building on fire. Your friend looks at the firefighters risking their lives to save a group of children in the building, and they laugh. What does this tell you about your friend? That they regard the fire-fighters’ attempts to save the children worthy of ridicule? That they believe the children are not worth saving and therefore that any attempt to do so is foolish? That the fire-fighters should not risk their lives and let the children burn?

Now imagine a different scenario. Instead of a burning building, you see a man attack a police woman because of a dispute over a parking ticket, but the police woman easily subdues him with her superior self-defence skills. Your friend laughs at the man. What doe this tell you? That they regard the man’s attacking a police officer over such a trivial matter exceedingly stupid? That they find the man’s belief that they could just beat up a police office arrogant and foolish? Maybe they believe the man assumed a woman would be easy to beat up, and they are ridiculing their buffoonish sexism?

Either way, you can tell something about your friend from their laugh.

What kind of people are dictatorships designed for, according to Hannah Arendt

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.

Hannah Arendt, 20th century philosopher

What is the purpose of a totalitarian government? To control.

This is the purpose of a government that holds all power, over everything and everyone. That can have you watched, seized, searched, and shot at any time. It is designed to control everything, to let nothing remain free. No action, no word spoken, not even any thought.

The ideal person for this system is the person who is easiest to control.

The person who is easiest to control is someone who does not distinguish between what is true and false. This person will willingly believe anything, and then believe the exact opposite the next day, just as willing. They will do anything, say anything, think anything they are told, because without any concept of true and false to give their thoughts shape, their thoughts become like clay to be moulded by any hand powerful enough to do so.

Why science is valuable, according to Richard Feynman

Is science of any value? I think a power to do something is of value. Whether the result is a good thing or a bad thing depends on how it is used, but the power is a value. 

Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum electrodynamics.

We often think of power as belonging exclusively to people like presidents, kings and generals. We often think of it as the power to make laws or make war.

This is a kind of power. It is the power to force. But this isn’t the only kind of power.

There is the power to create. To create sculptures and symphonies, bridges and banks, formulas and philosophies. There is also the power to persuade. To convince and influence.

Power is the ability to act, for good or evil. It is the capacity to translate thought into physical reality. Someone who cannot act is powerless.

Science gives power because it gives knowledge and understanding. These are the basis of any power to act. You cannot act, at least not effectively, without knowing and understanding what it is you are doing, and what you are doing it to.

You have the power to make water safe for drinking because you know boiling the water kills any germs within it. You know how to boil the water because you know that adding heat to water causes it to boil. You know how to add the heat to water because you know the physical laws of energy. All this knowledge comes from science, the systemic and logical discovery of the truths of our world.

Any power is of value because it gives you the ability to act. This ability can always be used for good. No knowledge, and therefore no power, can only be used for evil. A gun can be used to defend as easily as it can be used to kill. If you know how to commit a murder, you can solve one as well. If you know how to split an atom, you know how to stop someone else from doing it.

Why everything can be okay in the end, according to John Lennon

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. 

John Lennon, sing, song writer and Beatle.

Who decides when it’s the end?

You do.

The end of anything. A friendship. A marriage. A rivalry. They are all dramas enacted by people who play a part in them.

But, unlike in staged dramas, in the real dramas of life, there is no director. There is no guiding will telling the actors who to play, and when the story will end. The drama can only end when every actor ceases to play their part.

A mystery only ends if the culprit is revealed, or the detective quits. A love triangle only ends when the competing passions of those involved are eliminated.

You do not have to stop if you are not satisfied with the ending. If you do not think the ending is right, not okay, you can keep playing your part and try to bring about the ending you think should happen. By continuing to act, even if you are alone, you delay the ending until you see fit to stop and let the curtain fall.

Every person that plays a part in a drama, whatever its scale or theme, has the power to make everything okay in the end.

Why some people don’t believe in free markets, according to Milton Friedman

Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winning economist.

A market is wherever there is trade. Where there are people exchanging something they have for something they want. It is not so much a place, but more a way of living and interacting with others.

A free market is just what it says it is. A market that is free. Free of nay needless obstacles to the act of trading. You still need to go through the sometimes difficult task of convincing people to buy what you have, but this is an obstacle inherent in the act of trading. It is necessary and unavoidable. What is not necessary and unavoidable is outside forces restricting what you can sell, who to, and for how much.

There are arguments that have been made against free markets for decades, by politicians, philosophers, and economists. Two of the most common are: one, people’s surplus wealth should be taken from them and redistributed to prevent inequality. Two, that if left to their own devices, people will act in an idiotic or immoral manner. They will waste their money on stupid items, employers will exploit their workers, and workers will accept this exploitation.

The common thread in both these beliefs is a disbelief in freedom. A belief that people should not have freedom, that they should be treated like slaves and forced to work for others without choice or pay, or as children without the capacity to make adult decisions. They assume that, when free, humans will sink to their lowest possible level. That they will succumb to temptation and become bullies, or rising themselves to being serfs.

All arguments neglect the value of freedom. They do not accept that a person’s life is theirs to make the most of, and that people will choose to do just that.

Arguments against a free market are often based on arguments against freedom. Political ideas are not thought up in a vacuum. They are an application of what a person believes is true and good in this universe.

What is drama, according to Alfred Hitchcock

Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest film directors of all time.

Drama, the kind Hitchcock refers to in the above quote and that most likely springs to your mind when you hear the word, is defined by excitement. It involves a mission, a quest, obstacles, battles, maybe a few car chases and explosions though these are not required, and the solution, where everything is resolved and comes full circle.

Of course, you do not sit behind the wheel of the car driving through the chase sequence. You see someone else there, either, in your mind as you read a book, or played by an actor on stage or screen. You encounter drama almost always as art.

Art is a recreation of reality, guided by the artist’s values. The artist chooses, out of all the contents of the universe, what they think is significant, important and exciting, and shows just that. Art is an artificial reality, containing only the meaningful and purposeful, not the dull and coincidental.

There are people in real life who do not have a mission, some purpose guiding them, and there are people who do. Not everyone is James Bond, but not everyone is Joe Bloggs either. Which kind of person do you find most exciting? That is the person you make a movie about. They are the protagonist of your drama.

Drama is therefore a slice of life, but just the interesting slice. It is life, without the dull bits.

Why do we laugh, according to Mark Twain

Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.

Mark Twain, American writer, author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

In the above quote, Twain expresses laughter’s effect, and by doing so suggests its purpose.

Before there was the atomic bomb, there was laughter. The power of one to destroy in the physical world is as great as the power of the other in the conceptual world.

Why do you laugh at something? Why do you laugh at the man who insists that he is not going death when he obviously is? Because he is ignoring the obvious fact of his condition, and as a result is unnecessarily handicapping themselves. It is something no sensible person would do. It is their irrationality that you laugh at. Why? Because it is ridiculous, unnecessary, and self-defeating. No one should act in such a bizarre and irrational manner. It shouldn’t happen.

We laugh at that which shouldn’t be, the grotesque, ridiculous and nonsensical. That which is so far removed from sanity, that its very existence is a joke. Laughter is the mechanism for stripping this ridiculous thing, be it an entity, a characteristic, or action, of any claims it makes to being taken seriously.

This makes laughter a powerful weapon. To laugh at something is to declare it incongruous. A chuckle is like the blast of a bomb, which wipes away all claims to importance and significance.

Like all weapons, laughter is good or bad depending on how it is used. Be careful what you destroy with you laughter, and be certain what you find funny, and why.

What is the most dangerous mistake you can make, according to Raymond Chandler, writer of hardboiled crime fiction.

There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.

Raymond Chandler, one of the best writers of the gritty, hardboiled detective genre. His works include The Big Sleep, and The Long Goodbye, from which this quote is taken.

A trap is a situation, dangerous, potentially fatal, where escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Entering a trap is obviously a mistake, and like all mistakes, happens because of two errors: errors of knowledge, or errors of judgement.

Errors of knowledge are precisely that, errors in your knowledge, when what you know is incorrect. Errors of judgement are errors in the judgements you make based on what you know. They are errors in judging, out of what you know is, what is right and wrong. The distinction between the two is that one is committed in the cognitive field, the field of knowledge, and the other the normative field, the field of morality.

For instance, if you do not know you that pushing button would kill someone undeservedly (whether death is deserved is another matter entirely), then that is an error of knowledge. If, however, you do know the lethal effect of pushing the button, and still push it, that is an error of judgement, as you have judged something that is unacceptable to be acceptable to do.

When you judge, you use an already conceived idea of what is right and wrong. You have pre-existing premises that set the bar against which you judge something. If these premises are incorrect this can lead to errors, both of judgement and knowledge (as the two are more inter-twined than I care to go into here), which can lead to mistakes, including falling into traps.

These are then traps you set for yourself, because they emerge from your premises, the basic ideas you use to operate in the world, just like how a computer will malfunction if there is a mistake in its programming. Because of this, these traps are also the most deadly, as they come from you, from the errors in your thinking, and since you must think in order to live, you will remain at risk so long as those errors exist. The trap will always be waiting for you to step into it, unless you prevent it at the source.

What does it take to be a champion, according to Jack Dempsey, heavyweight champion

A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.

Jack Dempsey, world heavyweight boxing champion from 1919 to 1926.

A champion is the person of success. The person who wins, in any given battle, whether it is between them and nature, them and other beings, to them and themselves.

A champion, all other qualities aside, is a person of unshakable persistence. They defy everything that pushes them to give up and stop moving towards victory, whether it is external obstacles or internal weaknesses.

A champion continues towards victory, even when others, and maybe even themselves, believe they can’t. Because for the champion, can’t does not exist. Their only concern with obstacles is how they will overcome them. By acting as if they have no limitations, they transcend those they do have.

Message to my readers

I am writing to inform all my readers that I will no longer be posting any works of fiction or non-fiction every week. I will continue to post the Words of Wisdom series every Monday, in which I unravel the answers to life’s questions given by the greatest men and women of history. But, I will not be posting any more short stories, articles, or poems.

As my readers, whose attention and support has built my following and driven my traffic, you deserve an explanation. I have decided to devote more time and energy to my writing career in other areas, which means I will not be able to produce the same level of material for this blog. Now that I know I am capable of producing a writing piece every week, I have set myself the goal of producing one short story, poem or article every week. These I will send to every publication I can, from The New Yorker to local newspapers and magazines, and any writing competitions I can find.

This was not an easy decision. You, my readers, were one of the greatest considerations that weighed on my mind while I deliberated on my choice. But, I have come to the conclusion that this is the best way forward.

I will not say goodbye, because you will still see me posting work. I will say thank you.

How to stay young forever, according to Henry Ford, American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.

Henry Ford, who turned the car from a luxury into a mass available commodity.

To stay young, your mind must stay young, because your mind is everything. It is your thoughts, memories, and, despite what you may think, your feelings. Your mind is your soul, everything you are. To have an eternally youthful mind is therefore to be eternally youthful.

A youthful mind is one that is never done learning. A mind that says to itself, “Yes I know enough. But I could know more. I want to know more.”

Learning is gaining any new experience. This new experience adds something to the mind that it did not have before. Learning does not have to be intellectual, such as learning a new mathematical equation or memory skill. It can be physical, from learning to ride a bike to how to pilot a spaceship.

Always looking for something new to add to what you already have is what keeps you young. It makes life a constant mission, a never ending expedition. A life where you break open new frontiers, and unearth new treasures, everyday. That is the essence of youth. The never-ending search for something magnificent around all of life’s corners.

New Year

I stand

At a crossroad.

My feet are hanging over the pavement,

As I look ahead across the road,

Staring down the other street. 

The watch around my wrist ticks

And ticks,

Counting down towards the last…Moment,

Hour, second,

Minute,

Of this passed year.

The hand moves closer to

The first…second, minute, hour, week, month,

Moment, of this New Year.

My still body, falls through the wind.

With my back straight, and my head high,

I plummet, towards…

My feet are still, but my heart beats,

As I crash into…

The hand strikes 12. 

A tolling bell sends me forward.

I step forward,

Through the wind.

Across the street. 

I’m on the other side now.

My feet are on the pavement.

My watch keeps ticking.

I look back over my shoulder

And see no one there.

So I stare ahead, down the street,

And I shout: “A New Year!”

Teaser Post for the 1st of January: New Year

This week I will be posting something different to my usual writing. To welcome the new year, I will be posting a poem, all about endings and beginnings, to celebrate the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.

The poem, New Year, will be posted on the 1stof January, 2021. 

What kind of job should you choose, according to Steve Jobs, entrepreneur and founder of Apple.

It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy.

Steve Jobs

It is better to work freely for yourself, like a pirate (minus the killing and looting), than for someone else within the confines of their organisation, as you would in the navy.

When you work for yourself, when you fly your own flag and set your own course, you can set your own terms on your work. You can set your own goals and your own schedule, rather than have to abide by someone else’s.

This freedom means that you are limited only by your own abilities. There are no rules, no orders, no instructions, preventing you from achieving the best you are capable of reaching.

Is Santa Claus Real?

Is Santa Claus real?

This is a question that is second, perhaps only to is there a God, in the elusively of an answer and its apparent importance.

As we grow old, we all realise that Santa Claus does not, in most probability, exists as we thought he did when we were children. We come to appreciate that it is highly unlikely there is a jolly old man in a red suit, who somehow lives at the North Pole, despite the geographic and ecological hazards of such a residence, who has a fleet of flying reindeer, and manages to travel around the world in one night.

But letting go of our belief in Santa is both difficult and painful, no matter how rational it is. We have a sense that we are committing some kind of betrayal, and that we are cutting ourselves off from something that we should hold onto. Yet we are unable to define clearly what it is we believe we are betraying and why it is worth keeping.

Santa Claus is more than just a mythological figure. He is a symbol. He symbolises the ideal of a kind world. The conviction that human beings can let go of the anger, greed, and despair, which blackens much of our lives and the world around us. That we can all just be kind.

It is this better vision of living on Earth that Santa embodies, and which Christmas allows us a brief taste every year.

Santa Claus represents values. Values are universal and abstract ideas that are held as important and worth pursuing. Universals exist in particulars, in the concrete and individual instances, from which the abstract concepts are derived. The value of kindness does not exist in some mystical realm, but in every act of kindness committed here on Earth. It exists in the person who holds the door open for the next one coming, who helps an elderly person up the stairs, who comforts a frightened child.

While Santa may not exist in reality, the ideas he represents do.

An eloquent example from history is the Christmas Truce during World War I. Over Christmas, soldiers on both sides of the bloody conflict laid down their arms. They left their trenches and met in the middle of No Man’s Land. They shook hands, exchange Christmas greetings, sang, laughed, feasted together, even playing football. Despite the war, everyone could, if just a few days, put their guns away, and be kind.

The values Santa symbolises exist in the real world, and can be rationally believed in, and therefore the symbol may also be believed in. So, while you cannot rationally believe in Santa as a person, you can believe in him as an idea. The idea that we can all lay down our arms, and be kind.

Teaser post for the 25th of December: Is Santa Claus Real?

Is Santa Claus real? While the question may seem juvenile, it lends itself to more interesting analysis then you might think regarding the nature of belief, and the answer is actually more complex than many believe.

Read my non-fiction post this week, to be posted on Christmas Day, to learn how you can still believe in Santa Claus, even if the man himself is not real.

What is Christmas, according to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the U.S.A.

Christmas does not need to be held on the 25th of December. It could be held anytime. It is no longer primarily a celebration of the birth of a religious figure thousands of years ago, but of an ideal.

It celebrates the ideal of peace and goodwill amongst all. Of kindness given and received, free of animosity and hostility.

The celebration of Christmas is an enactment of a way of life that hopefully, someday, will no longer be an isolated holiday, but the way every day is lived. It allows for a yearly taste of a peaceful and loving existence. It is a yearly truce amongst all humanity.


For anyone interesting in reading more about Coolidge, I suggest the page detailing his life and presidency on the White House website. The story of his life and career contains instances that are impressive, and delightfully humorous.

Saving Santa Claus

I

With a click the lamp turned on, throwing thin light out across the bedroom. Arthur’s shadow wobbled along the wall, as he lay on his back on the floor, trying to force his left foot into a heavy black boot, his left leg dangling in the air. 

“What are you doing?” Sally said to him, sitting up in bed in her sky-blue pyjamas. She looked down at her husband sprawled on the floor in a bright red Santa suit, the white beard and red hat with a snowball-like bauble on top, lying next to his head. A bulging red sack lay in the corner of the room. 

“I’m going to fix this,” Arthur said, finally managing to pull the boot up around his foot. 

Arthur grabbed the hat and beard as he jumped up off the floor. He was a pencil-thin man, with orange hair that was beginning to go grey, and a face like a heart. 

“Fix what?” Sally said, her voice as bewildered as her eyes as she looked at the large red suit dangling about his thin body. 

“Dorothy,” Arthur said as he put his beard and hat on, “I’m going to save her belief.”

Sally rolled her crystal blue eyes. She was tall with deep blonde hair, and an intelligent, business-like face. “You’re being ridiculous.”

“I am not. Doesn’t our daughter’s happiness mean anything to you?”

“Don’t be an idiot, you know she means the world to me.”

“And Christmas means the world to her, just like it did to me, and still does. It’s one of the few good things the human race has done for its children, and Santa Claus is the symbol of that. Now, she says she doesn’t believe in him anymore.”

“That’s not what she said. She said she doesn’t believe in him like she used to.”

“She said she wasn’t going to put the milk and cookies out this year,” Arthur said with suppressed hysteria, “and that she wasn’t going to stay downstairs to wait for him to come.”

“I call that a relief.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Yes I do. Not about the milk and cookies, but certainly about her not staying downstairs waiting for Santa Claus. You know how much trouble that’s caused us these last few years, waiting for her to fall asleep so we can put the presents under the tree.”

“That’s not the point. She doesn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore-”

“She didn’t-”

“-and that means she doesn’t believe in Christmas anymore.”

“-say that.”

“The two are one and the same.”

“Well then why did she decide to stay downstairs and put the milk and cookies out this year after all?”

“I convinced her to.”

“You’re joking.”

“No. I’m going to rescue her belief and save Christmas for her.”

“So, what is your plan? Dorothy’s a smart girl, how are you going to trick her into believing there is a real-life Santa Claus? Go downstairs and let her see you putting presents under the tree?”

“Exactly.”

“Oh, Arthur.”

“What? It’s a brilliant plan.”

“If by brilliant you mean ridiculous, then yes, it’s brilliant.”

“What’s ridiculous about it?”

“Firstly, that suit is too big for you.”

“This was the smallest size they had.”

“Exactly. Santa Claus is a jolly old fat man, and you are a 31-year-old English teacher who’s as skinny as a flagpole. Apart from the size difference, that’s quite an age gap.”

“I have a beard.”

“I can see the straps holding it around your ears. And your hair isn’t white.”

“It’s hidden under the hat.”

“I can see the orange out the back.”

Arthur jerked the hat down with both hands, pulling it to just above his eyebrows.

“How were you going to get down there?”

“By the stairs. How else?”

“Santa comes down through the chimney.”

“Come on Sally,” Arthur said exasperated, “I’ll be quiet, she’ll be asleep by now, she won’t see how I come in.” 

“What about how you get out?”

“I-” Arthur’s mouth hung open, and his eyes became immobile. 

“You’ve either got to climb up the chimney or have a sleigh with a fleet of reindeer parked out front.”

“Oh, I don’t care how ridiculous it is,” Arthur said, grabbing the sack and swinging it over his shoulder and marching towards the door. He turned back to look at Sally with his hand on the doorknob. “I’m going to make sure our daughter can go on believing in the miracle that is Christmas. Even if I make a fool of myself.”

Arthur pushed the handle. The door didn’t move. 

“It’s too late for that Arthur,” Sally said shaking her head. “You don’t push the door, you pull.”

II

Arthur carefully placed one foot after another as he went down the stairs, walking as if it were on glass. 

Looking over the rail, he could see the light still on in the living room. 

He peaked around the living room door and saw Dorothy lying on the couch, her head resting on a pillow and her eyes peacefully shut tight. A plate of cookies and a glass of milk sat on the coffee table next to her. 

Arthur passed through the door, stepping lightly on the tips of his toes, moving straight ahead to the Christmas tree. He was halfway there when he felt a sudden jerk under his leg, which made him tumble face first onto the floor. The sack collapsed open on the floor. 

“Hello Dad.” Arthur turned over onto his back and saw Dorothy sitting up and looking down at him from the couch. He felt his beard hanging limply by one strap, exposing his clean-shaven face. 

“Hello sweetheart,” he said, pulling the beard off and tossing it weakly onto the floor. 

She was her mother in miniature, with the same blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. “Why are you wearing a Santa costume.”

“I’m sorry Dorothy,” Arthur said, sounding defeated. “This was…it was a stupid idea I had to make you believe.”

“Believe what?” Dorothy slid off the couch and stood beside him. She still looked down at him with those eyes that were like microscope lenses. 

“In Santa Clause.” Arthur felt his face grow red like a boiler. “It’s just that…I know how big a part Christmas is of your childhood. Of being a kid. Christmas is just…a time of joy. A time of peace and goodwill, when no matter what’s happened, everyone can just…be kind. And believing in Santa is a part of that. When I stopped believing in Santa when I was your age, I stopped believing in what he represented. That belief that, no matter what, we all can be kind, and I became miserable.”

“Are you still miserable?”

“No. Not since I met your mum, and we had you. I just wanted to spare you from that misery, if just for a little while. Because, when you stop believing in Santa Clause, you stop believing in Christmas, and to stop believing in that is to stop believing in the best that humans are capable of.”

“But Dad,” Dorothy sat down on the floor next to Arthur, “I do believe in Santa Claus.”

The red drained out of Arthur’s face as if someone had pulled a plug. 

“And Christmas.”

“What? But you said-”

“I said I don’t believe in him like I used to.”

“When? What? How?” Arthur babbled. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t believe in him as a person. I don’t believe he is a real man who lives at the North Pole and delivers toys to all the children in the world. But I do believe in him as a symbol. A symbol of what you were talking about, of kindness, peace and goodwill. Of the spirit of Christmas. I don’t believe in the man anymore, but I still believe in the idea.”

Arthur just stared at the pure shine of her sapphire eyes, before wrapping his arms around her. “How did you get so clever?” he said, hugging her tiny little figure, a tear rolling down his eye. 

“I had a good teacher.”

III

Sally walked into the living room, her blue dressing gown flowing around her figure. The morning sunlight flowed into the room, falling over the green of the Christmas tree, and the mountain of presents under it, dancing across the shining wrapping paper. 

Sally looked to the couch. Arthur lay stretched out and snoring, his leg hanging over the side of the couch, with Dorothy nestled on top of him, her head cushioned against his chest. An empty sack lay on the floor next to the couch. On the coffee table, a few cookie crumbs remained on the plate, and the glass was empty, with the white residue of milk covering the inside. 

As Sally bent over to wake them up, she saw crumbs and chocolate stains, and dried milk, around their mouths. 


A film I would highly recommend to anyone to watch these Christmas holidays, or anytime at all, is Miracle on 34th Street (1994). The film juggles Santa’s existence as part of its core conflict, with the very idea of Santa Claus literally put on trial. You can watch the trailer here, it’s available on Disney+, and for this those who don’t subscribe to the streaming service, I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult to find at your local DVD shops.

Teaser post for the 18th of December-Saving Santa

Arthur is a devoted husband, and a loving father, who knows better than most the important place Christmas holds in childhood. So, when his 8-year old daughter tells him that she no longer believes in Santa Claus, the symbol of Christmas, like she used to, Arthur immediately concocts a plan to convince her that the jolly old man is real.

Read my special Christmas short story this week when it is posted on the 18th of December.

What is courage according to John Wayne, classic Hollywood actor

Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.

John Wayne, one of the greatest stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, known for his roles in films set in the Wild West.

Courage is universally recognised as a virtue, a characteristic we all should possess. It is defined more often than not by its defiance of fear. 

Courage is an overcoming, not of an external obstacle, but an internal one. It is overcoming the fear you feel when faced with external obstacles. This sense of dread makes the difficult seem impossible, and a risk of injury appear like certainty of death. 

You therefore cannot have courage without fear. Courage is triumphing over your fear. It is the willingness to walk despite your legs turning to stone, to jump when the chasm opens up before you, to not run but stand your ground when you feel the cold breath of death down your neck. 

Australia vs China: Why Democracy and Dictatorship Cannot Co-Exist

In recent months, what many had led themselves to believe was a prosperous and productive international relationship has taken a remarkably sour turn.

The economic and political relationship between Australia and China is at its most confrontational in recent decades. The Chinese government has imposed tariffs on multiple Australian goods entering China, the highest being up to 200% on Australian wine. Even those goods not subject to tariffs are still being beaten by China’s iron fist, as ships loaded with Australian coal have been trapped in Chinese ports, prevented from delivering their cargo.

This economic beating is the Chinese government’s means of punishing an Australian government that increasingly refuses to submit to threats from Beijing. As the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the world, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison led the charge for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Tariffs and condescending remarks and thinly veiled threats from the Chinese foreign minister quickly followed. Other grievances the Chinese government claims with Australia include criticism from the Australian media, the Australian government challenging China over its despicable human rights violations in East Turkestan (called Xinjiang by the Chinese government) and Hong Kong, and attempts by the Australian government to counter the Chinese government’s perverse influence on Australian affairs.

The deeper conflict: democracy vs dictatorship

The escalating feud is about more than just wine. It is a manifestation of the decades-long struggle between democracy and dictatorship.

I use the terms democracy and dictatorship here extremely loosely, and with immense generalisation, simply for the sake of making my point quicker. Both are political systems, but as I use them in the context of this article, I am using them to refer to not just political but also economic and social systems, which along with political systems, are systems under which we associate with our fellow human beings.

Democracy is the system that prioritises freedom. Where the government cannot rule without the consent of the governed, and where each individual has inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by either their government or their fellow citizens. Dictatorship is the system that prioritises power. Not power over nature, but over people. Not the power to build, but to coerce. Where the government may rule however it pleases, and may do anything to its people, from forbidding them to speak, from locking them up without trial, even kill them. The distinction between the two can be visualised just by comparing the United States of America to Nazi Germany, and Great Britain to Soviet Russia.

The difference between the two systems is the difference between breathing the fresh air freely, or gasping for breath with a boot crushing your throat. The difference between the skyline of New York, and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Between life and death.

Why democracies and dictatorships cannot co-exist

It is precisely because of this difference that democracy and dictatorship cannot co-exist. One is the antithesis of the other. There can be no compromise between opposites. You cannot have both freedom and tyranny, that is a contradiction.

Within a democracy, the freedom that people must have for it to be a democracy, will lead to there being criticism of dictatorship. If you allow all possible voices on all possible subjects to be heard, you will eventually find one or more voices who will speak against dictatorship. In a democratic society, it also to be expected that the people will believe in democracy, and also despise dictatorship as the exact opposite of the principles of democracy they believe.

Dictatorships will not tolerate this criticism of their system of government in a democratic society. Dictatorship is a system incompatible with human nature. Humans can only be truly happy if they are free. A system that denies freedom therefore can only survive if the people are willing to put up with it. The people will only do this if they believe there is no better alternative. If they believe a better way is possible, they will rebel, as the White Rose did in Nazi Germany, or they will try to flee, as many tried to escape across the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Every dictatorship, if it wishes to survive, must therefore destroy all possible alternatives. It must spread across the globe until all that lives does so under its boot heel.

Dictatorial governments will therefore try to silence criticism of their system by those living under democratic governments. They may either force the individual critics to be silent, through threats, blackmail, or murder, or they may seek to force the democratic government to make the critics stop. A democratic government cannot allow either of these to happen. It cannot abandon the principle of freedom and force its citizens not to speak out, without ceasing to be democratic. Nor can it allow outside forces to rob its citizens of their freedom, as the mission of a democratic government is to protect the freedom of its people. The two governments cannot be anything other than antagonists, unless one ceases, in some way, to be a dictatorship or a democracy.

Australian democracy vs Chinese dictatorship

This is the theme that is the root of the current feud between Canberra and Beijing. The Chinese government will not tolerate being criticised, yet the Australian people and media, believing in democracy and despising dictatorship, cannot but criticise them, and they expect the government whom they elect to do the same.

Australia and other nations have allowed themselves to become too entwined with China through trade, ignoring the nature of the beast they are dealing with. The current meltdown in relations is a rude awakening. It is the uncomfortable truth that democracy and dictatorship cannot co-exist now making itself apparent.

I urge all those who believe in freedom and despise tyranny to buy a bottle of Australian wine, and let raising your glass be a blow struck for democracy against dictatorship.

Teaser Post for the 11th of December- Australia vs China: Why Democracy and Dictatorship Cannot Co-Exist

These past months have seen an increase in both trade and diplomatic tensions between the governments of Australia and China. This week I will be posting a non-fiction piece, examining how this particular string of political events is a perfect manifestation of the universal law that democracies and dictatorships can never co-exist. The piece will be posted on the 11th of December.

If you haven’t been following the news and want to get up to date on the current diplomatic duel between Canberra and Beijing before the 11th, I would suggest reading the following articles from The Washington Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian.

Apologies for late post

I would like to apologise to all my readers for my failure to post my regular weekly blog post on the 4th of December. I was unaware of the error and have now corrected it.

What is the difference between talent and genius, according to Robert Schumann, composer and pianist

Talent works, genius creates.

Robert Schumann, one of the greatest musical figures of the Romantic era.

Talent is the ability to work well, to intelligently and skilfully re-arrange what already exists.

A talented engineer can re-connect wires and bulbs so that everything works. A talented writer can write the latest detective thriller or romance novel. A talented architect can build a house or building that doesn’t fall down, has no leaking roofs, and does not make you sick when you look at it.

Genius is more than just producing variations on what already exists. It is to create something that, until then, had not existed.

A genius engineer does not just fix or build machines, they create new machines that make the old obsolete. A genius writer does not write well within the current styles, they create a whole new style, a new genre, a new kind of literature. A genius architect does not just give you a roof over your head, but a temple the likes of which has never graced the face of the Earth.

The difference between talent and genius is therefore the difference between mere work and creation. Between the hands that pull the levers of the machines and the mind that bring the machines and their levers into existence. Between a mortal, and a god.

Why not thinking is deadly.

This is the world. No matter how crazy and frightening it may get, like it or not, you have to deal with it.

To deal with it you have to understand it. To understand it, you must think. If you do understand, you can predict, and if you can predict, you can plan. But, if you understand, you can also control, and then you can create. Understand and control nature, and you are a scientist. Create with it, and you are an engineer. Understand and control language, and then craft with it, and you are a wordsmith.

In this sense, when I say thinking, I mean rational, logical, critical thinking. Thinking that accepts nothing on faith or whim, and does not become distorted by emotion or prejudice.

If you do not think, you create blindspots. Within these blindspots, uncertainty breeds danger. Every gap in your knowledge and understanding is a vulnerability. This may form the path of a bullet through your heart, or the crack that splits the ground beneath you.

To not to think is then to court death. To invite it with avoidable risk and weakness. To risk failing, to risk losing. To risk a negation of some part of your life: your health, money, dreams. To lose any is to experience a piece of death.

To cease being rational is therefore to invite death.

Teaser post for the 4th of December: Why not thinking is deadly.

You may know not thinking is stupid. But did you know it can be deadly?

Read my non-fiction piece, Why not thinking is deadly, to be posted on the 4th of December, to find out how not thinking can put your life at risk.

What is freedom, according to Albert Camus, philosopher and Nobel-Prize Winning writer.

Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.

Albert Camus, one of the greatest philosophers of 20th century, author of The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel.

Freedom is when you are unrestrained, from both external and internal chains. It is a personal state as well as a political state. Oppressive laws, lack of confidence, overbearing parents, and fear of what might happen. These are all chains, because each prevents you from walking forward, at your own pace, in your own direction.

Freedom is the space you have when those chains fall away. Within that space, you can do anything, because there’s nothing stopping you. You can just sit there, as if the chains never came off. You can kill yourself if the space is too great for you, or not great enough. You can leap upwards, and soar, grow higher and higher, or die trying.

Freedom is therefore the chance to soar, to become better, to improve upon where you are.

Teaser post for the 27th of November: Reason Unto Death

There is a mysterious creature stalking the castaways on the planet Ammit. It cannot be seen, it cannot be touched…but it can see and touch them. It may be trying to help them, or destroy them. The only way to know is for them to sacrifice one of their own.

Read my post for this week, the short story Reason Unto Death, for the final story of the survivors of Ammit. The story will be posted Friday, the 27th of November.