Jane Austen does MMA

Sitting on a plane with a laptop and Jane Austen is bound to lead to trouble. Reading the arch-observer of human nature while shooting forwards through the thin upper atmosphere in a metal tube gives one plenty of time to think, to watch, to listen. And to worry.

My nature is relatively simple. I look at what I’ve done, think to myself that it ought to have been better, and contemplate ways in which I can. ‘What do I need to do’ is almost a mantra. Recently, several things have changed. I have a job, doing what I actually think I do best – teaching. For all my intimidating presence and propensity to hector my students, they tend, in the end, to listen. Sometimes they even grow to like me. A recent facebook thread I entered into is a case in point. It was an odd argument, with my antagonists singularly failing to get what I was on about, and getting very right-on holier than thou with their argument – it was a girl singer who plays some metal guitar on her single. They were in rhapsodies. I said they wouldn’t be if she were a guy. They said it doesn’t matter what ‘between your legs’ (interesting they didn’t go chromozonal) even though earlier one had suggested he could watch it all day ‘with the sound off’ – when the original poster, an ex-student, stepped in. ‘I understand where mr langman is coming from (they don’t know who you are)’. I was taken aback by the sudden respect, almost reverence.

So, I’m thinking about my advancement. Whether I’ve wasted a year training in shotokan when I not only seem to have gone backwards, but am increasingly treated like a novice. Interesting. But it’s time to move on. To something more direct. So next year will be the year of tae-jitsu. Interesting, and more chance to hit people (and get hit). I love the form and discipline of karate, but its sharp, controlled techniques are becoming increasingly hard to control. As is my own nature.

My nature, as I suggested, is simple. I just want to be good. Damn good. And yet the timescale within which I have to work is increasingly small. I seem to be having more left-hand trouble. More evenings when it is recalcitrant, when forks are a bitch, and when it hangs stiffly by my trouser pocket, as if held by a long, invisible sling. My concentration is shot. Five years ago I would have read Mansfield Park by now – now I’m just over one quarter of the way in. but I seem to be developing new strategies.

At nets on sunday, when I finally got to bat, I noticed that not only was I coping much, much better than usual, but was complimented on my straight bat, and how I looked like a natural front foot player. So the work is paying off, it seems. Will it translate into runs? I think so. In fact, I know so. I have grand ambitions for next season, and they include at least one century. So I seem to be slowly adjusting to my new deficiencies – on this flight I have had probably ten discrete sections of activity. Editing, reading, writing, reading, editing, reading, writing, reading, contemplating, writing … and when approached in these quanta, so to speak, I seem to be achieving.

Though it’s my natural inclination to fight, to argue, to rage, it is increasingly obvious that this is possible in a new way. How better to defeat an opponent than to refuse to engage on their terms. Make them come to you. Marc Antony forgot that at Actium. Look what happened to him. But it feels so like admitting defeat. But I must ignore that feeling, and concentrate on my own advancement. And that means focusing on myself, and fighting when, where, and with whom I choose.

A blog in time

Nunc stans

The idea of publishing old blogs – in this particular case two from the end of last year – is a strange one. The real question is one of editing. Does one edit to add value, to jazz up the prose, or does one simply leave the words as they were sprayed back on that day that they were conceived?

I chose, have chosen, will choose (tense is difficult when you’re writing for a different time, different times), to leave them as they are. They may not, as a result be accurate let alone interesting. I talk of performance anxiety (particularly ironic, considering some recent events), I and II. Right now I could expand upon them both, but I am going to pass up the opportunity to rewrite what was, in effect, my instantaneous re-writing of the past, via the then present, now past.

This last year has been a unreserved fuck-up. I am now in a position where I have none of the things I want, none of the things I need, simply because of my strange inability to control myself. My admission of fallibility has led me to living with a strange feeling of invulnerability. But the past always catches up, which is strange, considering it’s done and dusted.

But it’s never dusted, once done – it is dust. The past isn’t another country, it’s the mote in your left eye, that stops you looking to the log in your right. This is what blogs and memoirs are about. The opportunity to clean up the dust, to sweep it into a corner in a neat little pile, arranged perfectly in the way in which you want it. All it takes is a puff of wind, a swish of a cat’s tail, and it’s all uncontrollably swirly and alights wheresoever it wishes. And damn the consequences.

Once, we took photographs at concerts because they look good, sometimes, and because they transport us back to the experience – they are a gateway to re-experiencing. It’s a benign acid flashback, post-non-traumatic stress syndrome. We conjured the past.

Things have changed. Once, where we might have played the revisionist to make our set of personal life artefacts fit with the life we wish we had led, now we behave very differently.

Some years ago, I was watching David Byrne in some club in London (he did the most fantastic cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘I wanna dance with somebody’), up in the gallery. I suddenly noticed something rather strange. It looked like the audience were holding up lighters in the time-honoured fashion, but they were all square and luminous. I realised suddenly that they were the screens from digital cameras and mobile phones. The audience were half-listening, half recording. Some of them were, presumably, phoning up friends – ‘guess where I am!’

Now, this is far more prevalent. The advent of facebook, blogging and, most importantly, internet-ready phones, have led to an awful lot of live blogging. Last week, the guardian blogged a film live … dammit, we’re back to Plato again – the blog of the film of the script which was a fictionalised version of the revisionist histories of something which actually happened. The trend for live blogging is intriguing … as rather than watch and experience an event, the creator is fixed on interpretation from the outset. So they are creating our view of the past at the very moment that it’s happening. The past not only catches up with the present, but leaks into the future. The blogger blogs the now which will shape the past in the future.

Similarly, the facebook poster posts now so that friends can see what they were up to … no matter how contemporaneous the reading and the writing might be. How candid is the poster? Well, I’d say they’re invariably more than aware of what they’re writing. To whit one poster recently posting thus: xxx is drunk enough to know that I’m drunk, but not drunk enough to broadcast this on Facebook. I think I’m doing well … Damn.

Even my tagline on this blog is self-aware.

So past is created in the present. But we know this. The shift is that the revisionism which always occurs with the past when it is recalled is now increasingly built-in to both accounts and artefacts. No longer is experience the point, but the transmitting of experience. And yet the experience we communicate is the experience we want to happen, rather than the experience as it happened … and the revisionism happens immediately.

Recent events make me wonder whether I’m losing my grip on the real world. Whatever that is.

So. The question is, what am I revising here? Oddly enough, a Radio 4 gameshow called The Unbelievable Truth. The repeat, naturally.

© Pete Langman 2010