Hello there 🙂

Welcome to issue six of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected and often delightful things I’ve recently encountered.

Grab yourself a suitable beverage and enjoy…

Part I: Good Things I’ve Encountered Online

Over the past fortnight I’ve been pretty much consumed by rewriting The Sleep Stealers (the play I submitted to Chickenshed). In fairness, rewrite is too strong – I wasn’t asked to rewrite it at all, just to make some amendments based on the feedback I’d received.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? And yet, dear reader, I found it incredibly difficult.

I’m not quite sure why this was. Ordinarily I don’t find stuff like this that hard. I frequently write many versions of a piece before I land on one I’m reasonably happy with. As such, developing a piece of my own creative writing is normally a process I enjoy. But not this time.

I’ve been trying to unpick why I found it so hard, and there’s a couple of things which occur to me:

Tasks have a tendency to expand to fill the time allowed…

I find that it’s often that case that a task will take however long I give myself to do it. By this I mean if I give myself 3 hours to do a task, it will take me 3 hours. If I give myself 2 hours, it’ll take me 2.

There are limits to this of course. I don’t think I could have done those rewrites in 15 minutes, (it was a bigger task than that), but they really shouldn’t have taken me the 12+ hours I actually spent. Those rewrites should have taken me no longer than about 3 hours. However, I didn’t set myself a time deadline, and perhaps as a consequence, the rewrites took me far longer than they should have done.

But maybe it’s not that at all… I’ve also noticed this:

Doing stuff feels really hard right now.

Maybe you can relate to this.

Doing pretty much anything feels like hard work at the moment. Getting up is hard. Exercise is hard. Even the simplest of tasks seem to require more energy than normal.

I would like to hibernate. Eat my body weight in rice pudding (or similar), and then sleep until Spring. It sounds lovely doesn’t it?

Sadly, hibernation isn’t really a viable option, so for now, I’ll just keep on keeping on.

If you’re finding things hard right now too, try to remember to be kind to yourself (I’ll be trying to remember this too), and I hope that you’ll find these words from Neil Gaiman fortifying:

“Hold on. Hang on, by the skin of your teeth if you have to.

Make art — or whatever you make — if you can make it.

But if all you can manage is to get out of bed in the morning, then do that and be proud of what you’ve managed, not frustrated by what you haven’t.”

You might also like to read Gaiman’s reflections on 2020, and his New Year’s messages from previous years.

Moar serendipitous finds:

It may not feel like it, but apparently, The Earth has been Spinning Faster Lately:

Several decades ago, the development of atomic clocks began allowing scientists to record the passage of time in incredibly small increments, in turn, allowing for measuring the length of a given day down to the millisecond. And that has led to the discovery that the spin of the planet is actually far more variable than once thought.

Since such measurements began, scientists found that the Earth was slowing its spin very gradually (compensated by the insertion of a leap second now and then)—until this past year, when it began spinning faster—so much so that some in the field have begun to wonder if a negative leap negative second might be needed this year, an unprecedented suggestion.

For more than 300 days, writer and illustrator Edward Carey has been doing a drawing a day. I particularly like this one of Lynda Barry, and the wonderful quote from her which accompanies it:

Do you watch The Walking Dead? If so, then you’re more likely to be handling the pandemic well:

“…the more movies about zombies, alien invasions and apocalyptic pandemics people had seen prior to COVID-19, the better they dealt with the actual, current pandemic.”

Dear reader, I’m not sure what “handling the pandemic well” actually means… Nevertheless, based on this very important piece of academic research, I have concluded that my own survival (and indeed the survival of humankind as we know it) is reliant on me bingeing *all* of zombie movies and tv series, plus the entire back catalogue of the X Files. I plan to do this whilst simultaneously attempting to break my own record for the number of jaffa cakes consumed in one sitting.

Rachel Charlene Lewis’ article on Stacey Abrams and the persistent problem of leaning too heavily on Black women:

“There’s a fine line between celebrating a Black woman’s efforts and burdening her with the responsibility to save us.”

Like Annie, I love it when I come across poetry in unexpected places, and also think the Beaufort Wind Scale is indeed lovely:

The Science Museum have created a thinger using their digitised collection. It only displays web pages with zero views, so you’ll be the very first person to view the object from their collection online.

First up I got a spoon. This didn’t blow my skirt up so I tried again. (And again, and again). Some of the stuff isn’t that interesting in fairness. I eventually struck gold with some papers from Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine (the project he worked on with Ada Lovelace) which I thought was pretty cool.

Finally, if you work in the SEO industry, I’d strongly recommend that you sign up to the Women in Tech SEO newsletter. It’s a fantastic initiative from Areej AbuAli to amplify both the work and the voices of the women in Tech SEO. It will be aces.

Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now

I’ve spent a lot of time reading this past fortnight. I won’t be talking about every book I’ve read (expect a blog post from me at the end of the month), instead, I’ll stick to the highlights.

First up, The Reason I Jump, but Naoki Higashia. I came across this book whilst I was doing some additional research for my play, The Sleep Stealers.

Naoki Higashida wrote The Reason I Jump when he was just 13. In the book he answers a range of questions about autism, including what causes him to have panic attacks, and, of course, why he likes to jump. The book also includes one of his own short stories.

It offers an incredible insight into how he perceives the world, and (I think) proves just how much of what we think we know about autism is just plain wrong.

I also read No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, a slim volume of some of Greta Thunberg’s most notable speeches. Many academics would disagree, (various criticisms have been levelled at her – her speeches aren’t rhetorically interesting, or her speeches aren’t linguistically interesting), but I think she’s an incredible speech writer.

I think her speeches have impact precisely because she refuses to employ traditional persuasive techniques. For example, her speeches frequently begin indignantly – “how dare you?”, and she pulls no punches:

“…Now we probably don’t even have a future any more.

Because that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money.”

Some might say that you’re unlikely to win an argument by kicking off with “hey stupid!”, which, I’d acknowledge, her speeches frequently begin with the equivalent of, but I think that’s why her speeches have power.

Also, she employs some really interesting techniques to drive her points home; her “Can You Hear Me?” speech to the Houses of Parliament in London in 2019 is a fantastic example of that:

“Did you hear what I just said? Is my English okay? Is this microphone on? Because I’m beginning to wonder…”

Book recommendation of the fortnight goes to The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey, a reimagining of the story of Pinocchio, from the perspective of his father, Geppetto.

You may or may not recall this, but in the original fairytale, Geppetto is swallowed by a gigantic fish. Somewhat bizarrely he survives, and lives for several years in the fish’s belly, making himself a home in a shipwreck, which, fortuitously, said gigantic fish has also swallowed. However, in the original fairytale (if I recall correctly), little is made of Geppetto’s ordeal – Pinocchio’s adventures are the focus, whereas here Geppetto takes centre-stage.

The book is an absolute delight, and includes one of the best opening lines ever:

“I am writing this account, in another man’s book, by candlelight, inside the belly of a fish.”

It’s a book about art, about parenthood, about love, loss, and regret. It’s beautifully-written, and much like Carey’s previous novel, Little (the fictionalised story of Marie Grosholtz, the real life Madame Tussaud – which incidentally, I’d also highly recommend), the book includes Carey’s illustrations throughout. I’m not quite sure how well these sketches might be rendered in ebook format, so if you feel like you want to read this one, I’d recommend getting hold of a physical copy of the book if you can.

Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching

I’ve not been watching much TV, however I really enjoyed the second series of Staged, and was delighted by Jim Parsons’ adorable cameo. Dad hadn’t seen the first season, so we binged the lot which was lovely.

Having previously been delighted by Penguins: Meet the Family, I was very keen to watch A Perfect Planet on the BBC. The first 4 episodes are ace (although I feel like there should have been more penguin footage). Highlights for me included vampire finches, flamingoes, camels, iguanas, and the fire ants.

However, episode 5, which deals specifically with the impact we humans are having on the planet was frankly disappointing. I felt like the episode did a great job of highlighting what an unholy mess we’re making, and the consequences of our actions, and yet, it let us (the viewers) off the hook.

The overarching message seemed to be: “Things are awful – but there’s hope. No need to trouble yourself dear, continue as you were.”

I feel like it would have been a great opportunity to encourage viewers to take personal responsibility over their own consumption, to encourage people to lobby for change, to highlight the importance of acting, and acting now, before it’s too late.

As Greta Thunberg has said on numerous occasions: “Our house is on fire”, and I can’t help but feel like this “keep calm, and carry on” message from the BBC is at best naive, and at worst outright irresponsible.

Part IV: Things I’m doing

As mentioned previously, this section is here to keep me honest. I’m hoping that by documenting some of the things I’m planning to do, it’ll give me the extra motivation required to actually do them. 

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

As I mentioned earlier in this newsletter, I’ve been working on rewrites of the The Sleep Stealers. Those are now done (yay!), and we’re moving into the rehearsal phase of the process. Speaking of which here’s a shameless plug:

Tickets are now on sale for The Sleep Stealers (part of Monolog 4 at the Chickenshed)

Theatres are of course closed right now, but if you’re interested in seeing the play I’ve been blethering on about, you might be pleased to hear that you can watch it from the comfort of your own sofa. Chickenshed will be broadcasting pre-recorded performances, and you can get your mitts on a ticket here.

Please note, my play is being shown within Group B (when you go on to book tickets you’ll see you can select either Group A, Group B, or both). When you book you will receive an email containing a link which will be available to watch between 11th and 20th February.

So what’s next?

I’m still at my Dad’s helping out while he recovers from his knee-replacement surgery – he’s been making great progress, and his physiotherapist is very pleased with him. I have bought even more books to read, and plan to continue to play with my gigantic box of lego.

In addition to this, my lovely friend Laura has suggested that I start playing Stardew Valley. 2020 was the year I filled my flat with houseplants and given that most of them survived I feel like becoming a farmer (albeit virtually) is the next logical step for me to take.

Laura tells me that you can date (and even marry) characters in the game. It is very much like real life dating, in that you can buy the affections of various characters by giving them gifts. Real life dating is off the table right now, and I’m not great when it comes to commitment in any case, but a relationship with a video game character feels like something I could potentially work myself up to.

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