Archive for September, 2008

Manchester Blog Awards 2008

September 30, 2008

I have been nominated for this award, in the ‘Best Arts and Culture Blog’ category. From the Manchizzle:

Here is the 2008 Manchester Blog Awards Shortlist. We had 107 separate nominations this year, coming in from as far away as San Francisco. There was such a wealth of great stuff that it was harder than ever to do the shortlisting, particularly in the Best Writing on a Blog category (by far our most nominated-for.)

The force is strong with you, Manchester bloggers. Many thanks to all those who nominated.

Best New Blog:

Dear Kitty
Coco LaVerne
Follow The Yellow Brick Road

Best Writing on a Blog:

Diary of a Bluestocking
Every day I lie a little
Nine chains to the moon
Chicken and Pies

Best Arts and Culture Blog:

Quit This Pampered Town
Max Dunbar

Best Personal Blog:

Travels with my baby
Single Mother on the Verge
Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Best Neighbourhood Blog:

Hyde Daily Photo
Lady Levenshulme
Manchester Bus

This will now go to our panel of judges, which includes Sarah Hartley, blogger and online editor at the Manchester Evening News, Dave Carter of Manchester Digital Development Agency, Richard Fair of BBC Manchester and author Chris Killen, winner of last year’s Best Writing on a Blog award.

The winners (who each get £50 and a large metal studded belt that is very heavy) will be announced at the blog awards event Weds Oct 22 at Matt and Phred’s Jazz Club.

Thanks to everyone who nominated me – it is an honour and a pleasure. It’s good to see fantastic Manchester writers like Euphemia Niblock, Coco LaVerne and Maria Roberts on there too.

Obviously, it’d be great to win: but you can’t let these things go to your head…

‘My idea of an ordinary person is quite different’

September 29, 2008

Via Hak Mao, the novelist Margaret Atwood on proposed cuts to art subsidies. The piece is specific to Atwood’s native Canada but should be read by every elite-populist politician, every self-styled ‘Voice of the People,’ every smug conformist in the land.

At present, we are a very creative country. For decades, we’ve been punching above our weight on the world stage – in writing, in popular music and in many other fields. Canada was once a cultural void on the world map, now it’s a force. In addition, the arts are a large segment of our economy: The Conference Board estimates Canada’s cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada’s GDP, in 2007. And, according to the Canada Council, in 2003-2004, the sector accounted for an ‘estimated 600,000 jobs (roughly the same as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities combined).’

But we’ve just been sent a signal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he gives not a toss for these facts. Tuesday, he told us that some group called ‘ordinary people’ didn’t care about something called ‘the arts.’ His idea of ‘the arts’ is a bunch of rich people gathering at galas whining about their grants. Well, I can count the number of moderately rich writers who live in Canada on the fingers of one hand: I’m one of them, and I’m no Warren Buffett. I don’t whine about my grants because I don’t get any grants. I whine about other grants – grants for young people, that may help them to turn into me, and thus pay to the federal and provincial governments the kinds of taxes I pay, and cover off the salaries of such as Mr. Harper. In fact, less than 10 per cent of writers actually make a living by their writing, however modest that living may be. They have other jobs. But people write, and want to write, and pack into creative writing classes, because they love this activity – not because they think they’ll be millionaires.

Every single one of those people is an ‘ordinary person.’ Mr. Harper’s idea of an ordinary person is that of an envious hater without a scrap of artistic talent or creativity or curiosity, and no appreciation for anything that’s attractive or beautiful. My idea of an ordinary person is quite different. Human beings are creative by nature. For millenniums we have been putting our creativity into our cultures – cultures with unique languages, architecture, religious ceremonies, dances, music, furnishings, textiles, clothing and special cuisines. ‘Ordinary people’ pack into the cheap seats at concerts and fill theatres where operas are brought to them live. The total attendance for ‘the arts’ in Canada in fact exceeds that for sports events. ‘The arts’ are not a ‘niche interest.’ They are part of being human.

Moreover, ‘ordinary people’ are participants. They form book clubs and join classes of all kinds – painting, dancing, drawing, pottery, photography – for the sheer joy of it. They sing in choirs, church and other, and play in marching bands. Kids start garage bands and make their own videos and web art, and put their music on the Net, and draw their own graphic novels. ‘Ordinary people’ have other outlets for their creativity, as well: Knitting and quilting have made comebacks; gardening is taken very seriously; the home woodworking shop is active. Add origami, costume design, egg decorating, flower arranging, and on and on … Canadians, it seems, like making things, and they like appreciating things that are made.

Studiously avoiding work

September 28, 2008

Another great post from my favourite agoraphobic cult novelist on that juggling act between writing and work that every author must perform at one stage.

The next day was my day for agoraphobia therapy so I set off several hours early and then just hung around uselessly for ages. Another very poor day, all in all. Though it was interesting being on a bus at 8.30 in the morning, something I haven’t experienced for some years. It was full of people going to work, and none of them looked very happy, which is understandable.

I haven’t been to work for many years, though I was employed full-time earlier in my life. My last job was as a clerk for the local council, and before that I was a library assistant, a clerk at the Brixton benefit office, and also a manual labourer.

When my first book was published, Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation, I kept on being a clerk for the council, but next year, 1988, when Lux the Poet came out, a magazine phoned me up for an interview. So I thought, well if magazines are phoning me up for interviews I must be close to being a famous and wealthy author, so I’d better just stop working. Which I did. And that turned out to be a mistake at the time, as I’d neglected to consider that I didn’t really have any income, apart from puny royalties of a few hundred pounds per year.

However, have studiously avoided work ever since then. Indeed this is my main reason for being an author, and always has been, so I don’t have to go to work. This has gone well, in terms of being able to lie on the couch doing nothing for days at a time, but has sometimes been a problem in terms of income. However, I’m doing better now. There is no need to send food parcels.

My Prozac experience is going okay so far – but I am worried that it will become a dependency. The first time I was on this med, I made the mistake of not refilling my prescription before going to work on Friday. By late afternoon I was jittery and sweating and took an early finish. Then it was a sprint from Leeds town centre (where I then worked) to the doctor’s surgery in deepest Hyde Park. Then nearest pharmacy. Dry-swallowed twenry milligrams. Relief.

A few weeks later, I was at a party at a house a few minutes away from mine. It was a great atmosphere with loads of good friends around, but for no reason I started getting increasingly tense and edgy. Then I remembered I’d forgotten to take the medication that day. Quick jog home, quick twenty milligrams, back. The symptoms disappeared, but I felt like a junkie. Even the most beneficial drugs can be addictive.

$12m worth of dead fish

September 27, 2008

Conceptual art gets a lot of stick, but most of the criticism comes from the standard anti-intellectual position that is suspicious of creativity and imagination in general. Stock phrases include: ‘My two year old could do better’ and ‘You can learn more from Life Experience than you can from books’ (as if anyone has ever argued otherwise).

So it’s nice to read these two pieces that give a more intelligent critique of the recent Damien Hirst auction and conceptual stuff in general.

First (and via B + W) we have Robert Hughes, who delivers a masterful demolition of Hirst in particular:

His far-famed shark with its pretentious title, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, is ‘nature’ for those who have no conception of nature, in whose life nature plays no real part except as a shallow emblem, a still from Jaws. It might have had a little more point if Hirst had caught it himself. But of course he didn’t and couldn’t; the job was done by a pro fisherman in Australia, and paid for by Charles Saatchi, that untiring patron of the briefly new.

The publicity over the shark created the illusion that danger had somehow been confronted by Hirst, and come swimming into the gallery, gnashing its incisors. Having caught a few large sharks myself off Sydney, Montauk and elsewhere, and seen quite a few more over a lifetime of recreational fishing, I am underwhelmed by the blither and rubbish churned out by critics, publicists and other art-world denizens about Hirst’s fish and the existential risks it allegedly symbolises.

One might as well get excited about seeing a dead halibut on a slab in Harrods food hall. Living sharks are among the most beautiful creatures in the world, but the idea that the American hedge fund broker Steve Cohen, out of a hypnotised form of culture-snobbery, would pay an alleged $12m for a third of a tonne of shark, far gone in decay, is so risible that it beggars the imagination. As for the implied danger, it is worth remembering that the number of people recorded as killed by sharks worldwide in 2007 was exactly one. By comparison, a housefly is a ravening murderous beast. Maybe Hirst should pickle one, and throw in a magnifying glass or two.

And Nick Cohen asks: why is there so much conceptualism? It seems that every Turner Prize winner is a big-concept installation of some sort.

The rather magnificent Stuckist movement of figurative artists has a simple explanation: the art establishment in London has been dominated for too long by an in-group which favours only the conceptual art of Hirst and his colleagues.

All outsiders claim the system is rigged against them and that who you know matters more than what you do — but the Stuckists have a point. The Turner Prize nearly always goes to conceptual artists. Their friend and patron, Sir Nicholas Serota, has been in charge of the Tate for 21 years. As the Stuckist sculptor Nigel Konstam says: ‘Few dictators have lasted so long or been able to implement their policies so completely. Sir Nicholas has presided over a monoculture more complete than any other European nation.’

The annual Daily Mail wailing about sensationalism really misses the point.

Literature’s bad guys

September 26, 2008

The Torygraph has done a top 50 list of fictional villains. There’s O’Brien, Lecter, Patrick Bateman, and a nice para on the elusive motives of Iago (‘behind the smiles and jokes, Iago’s mind is seething white noise’). But as with any such list, there are significant omissions – fair enough, considering the bad characters are so much more fun to write about.

No Carl Hiaasen villains make the cut, bizarre considering his imaginative power: Hiaasen’s bad guys tend to have a deformity or injury from the start (Snapper’s misaligned jaw or Tool’s ass-lodged bullet) or to gradually degenerate throughout the novel in which they appear. ‘I always try to burden even the villains with some weird predilection they have to cope with,’ he explains. ‘It helps make them memorable, and gives them a human side.’

Also, there’s no Franco Begbie. Christopher Brookmyre’s relative newcomer Simon Darcourt makes no appearance. And where is Flashman’s sociopathic, Ovid-quoting nemesis, John Charity Spring?

Another psychopath who didn’t make the cut is Terry Pratchett’s Vorbis, head of the Omnian quisition and the embodiment of religious fundamentalism. ‘A murderer, and a creator of murderers,’ Vorbis has ‘a mind like a steel ball… nothing gets in, nothing gets out.’ Although he professes belief in Om and is hailed as the next Prophet, ‘the only voice Vorbis has been listening to is his own.’

When he died, Vorbis awoke in a vast, empty desert with the Death of the Discworld beside him:


‘Yes. Yes, of course.’

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Considering that he brought the entire world to ruin, you would think that Randall Flagg merited a place on the Telegraph‘s list. Many of King’s antagonists are root-cause sociopaths, more to be pitied than hated – think of Henry Bowers, the ‘tired and bewildered child sent down a poison path for some unknown purpose’ – but Flagg is a genuine monster who revels in cruelty and destruction entirely for its own sake.

Quasi-immortal and supernatural, he first appeares in Stephen King’s The Stand, where he heads a fascist state in post-apocalypse Vegas. Travelling dozens of different worlds under dozens of different names (Marten, Walter o’ Dim, Richard Fannin, Robert Fry), involved in chaotic and violent events from the Patty Hearst kidnapping to the Kennedy assassination, Flagg is feared to be the devil by characters in The Stand but the Dark Tower books reveal him as just another hustler:

He had belonged to none of the cliques and cults and faiths and factions that had arisen in the confused years since the Tower began to totter, although he wore their siguls when it suited him.

Just before his death, we learn that he started out as a farm boy:

He who had run away at thirteen, been raped in the ass by another wanderer a year later and yet had somehow withstood the temptation to go crawling back home. Instead he had moved on towards his destiny.

Stephen King says that the character was based on Donald DeFreeze, who masterminded the Hearst kidnapping, but I always saw Flagg as looking like Jim Morrison.

I think the Torygraph‘s compilers had better listen out for the click of dusty bootheels when they walk home.


End child detention

September 25, 2008

The New Statesman has been running an investigation into the plight of children in detention centres for refugees (unfortunately, it seems that the popular choice of an expose of the link between South Wales suicides and New World Order technology will just have to wait for another day.)

A typical testimony:

Then my mum start talking and saying things to me – that if she died I must never forget that I had a mother that loved me, that she did everything to save me from the horrible life that she had, and that me and my sister must always love each other because that is the only thing we might have left in this world. Then she was all quiet, and then I saw she was trying to kill herself. She had the seat belt around her neck and she was trying to choke herself. I had to bang on the glass then and they did stop the van for a bit.

Our first night in Yarl’s Wood was just terrible. We couldn’t eat and we couldn’t sleep. There were special people there to look after my mum to stop her trying to kill herself again. I thought, if you are scared she will die, why won’t you let us stay in this country? Because if she goes back to Cameroon she will die.

There’s a pitiful response from immigration minister Liam Byrne.

Nobody wants to detain children. So, why does it happen? As a parent myself of three small children, I have a simple motive. I insist that we keep families together and not split them up.

The sad fact is that children end up within our detention estate because their parents refuse to go home – even when an independent judge reviewing the case at first hand, or on appeal, says they have no right to stay.

Since I became immigration minister, we have tried new ways of solving this problem. For example, asking families to report to airports without detention involved. The result? Disappointing. Virtually none turned up.

Awww. Disappointing, isn’t it? Poor old Liam.

Has it occurred to the Minister that perhaps families may not want to return to countries where they will be tortured and murdered?

His claims, including an assertion that detention centres provide NHS-standard care, are taken apart in the comment box.

It’s quite amazing that Mr Byrne doesn’t seem to know about all the families taken to Yarl’s Wood, then released back into UK society, as their deportation was not legally supported.

It’s also quite amazing that he hasn’t read the official reports by Anne Owers on that famed 24 hour health care. There is not a nurse available to detainees 24 hours a day at Yarl’s Wood. Anne Owers in her report of last month, details that if you request medical help at night, you have to wait until the next day and be seen in the shift time. And the on-call Dr is on the end of a telephone, and has never once, in living memory, attended the compound during the night. Mothers report asking for medical care for their children at night, and being told they can wait ’till morning. Anne Owers recent report confirms this.

Only if someone collapses, is an ambulance called, and Bedford Hospital picks up the pieces for Yarl’s Wood.

The magazine has a petition to sign:

Dear Home Secretary,

We welcome the UK’s recent commitment to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in full. In the spirit of that convention, we call on the UK government to end the practice of detaining children and families for the purposes of immigration control.

The government’s stated policy has been to detain children ‘only when absolutely necessary and for the shortest possible time’. In reality, however, children are often held for long periods in centres with inadequate healthcare and education. Many have been deeply traumatised by their experiences. This situation is unacceptable in a country which claims to adhere to high standards of human rights.

Our clear message is that the UK’s policy of incarcerating innocent minors must stop. Immigration detention centres are no place for children.

(Via John O at NCADC)

Unjust Rewards

September 24, 2008

Cross posted to Shiraz

We tend to see inequality as man’s natural state, but for most of the twentieth century people’s incomes became more and more equivalent. It’s only during the last three decades that society has gone galloping the other way. Thatcher’s cabal of free-market evangelists removed all conceivable obstacles to businessmen’s ability to become as rich as possible. Selling this to the public, the elites of Britain and America used the analogy of a ‘trickle-down effect’; if the rich were allowed to create and keep as much wealth as possible, some of this wealth would make its way down to the middle classes and the poor – perhaps by a kind of osmosis.

It was a myth: the lie of the century. The wise rich invest or save money rather than pump their cash into the economy in a way that others can benefit from it. (State handouts, on the other hand, roll into bank accounts and then roll straight back out again to be spent on rent, utilities, drink and food.)

For all the talk of freedom and opportunity, social mobility ground to a halt. Nick Cohen describes the current state of affairs:

Jo Blanden of the London School of Economics, Stephen Machin of University College London and Paul Gregg of Bristol University examined the two big generational surveys from the last half-century – the National Child Development Study of 1958 and the British Cohort Study of 1970 – which followed newborn babies through schooling and into adulthood. They looked at how children had done compared to their parents; whether they had risen or fallen in the pecking order, or stayed pretty much where their mothers and fathers once were. They found that, on average, a boy born to a well-to-do family in 1959 earned 17.5 per cent more than a boy born to a family on half the income of the rich boy’s parents. If the equivalent Mr and Mrs Moneybags produced a son in 1970, he would grow up to earn 25 per cent more than his contemporary from the wrong side of the tracks.

In other words, the rags-to-riches journey is harder today than it was in the 1950s. Destinities are set early and set in stone. In Unjust Rewards, their seminal polemic on the mess we’re in, Polly Toynbee and David Walker reveal that life’s courses are laid in ways we don’t even consider. Like vocabulary:

By the age of four the child from a professional family will have had 50 million words addressed to it. A working-class child will have heard 30 million, but the children from families on welfare will hear 12 million. Here was another shocking fact: by the age of three the child of the professional family will have a bigger vocabulary than the adult parents of the welfare child.

The divide has become so pronounced that even the Daily Mail rants about ‘fat cat’ executives and boorish City traders. The gap between the middle class and the rich, and even between the rich and super-rich, is as wide as the historic chasm between rich and poor – itself encapsulated in the recent story of the private equity manager complaining that he paid less tax than the person who cleaned his office. Old money is worried: ‘the toffs or would-be toffs of the Tatler are willing the Tories to say that exponential incomes are socially damaging, corrosive and destablising.’ Middle England, too, ‘thinks the rich should pay more tax.’ Yet government spends far more time and resources going after petty benefit fraudsters.

I don’t know who coined the phrase ‘socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor’ but its author deserves a knighthood. We know that tax planning schemes are employed by the top percentile to help them avoid making a substantial contribution to the society in which it makes its money. We know that government is soft on high-end tax fraud because it fears that Britain would collapse without the Belgravia set. We know about the ridiculous bonus culture in which high earners are given additional rewards just to do their jobs. Toynbee and Walker ask us to do a thought-experiment:

Imagine if workers had to be bribed with extra cash just to carry out their contractual responsibilities. Jobseeker’s Allowance would be raised and raised again in order to make the people getting it strive harder to find work. Hospital cleaners would be paid a bit more every week, to make them scrub harder. But in the real world the logic of low pay runs in the opposite direction. At the poor end, benefits are cut to encourage more endeavour in job-seeking; cleaners’ pay is kept low to clock up higher productivity per pound spent on the NHS.

They go on to argue that serious redistribution of wealth would not only be morally right, it would also save the taxpayer millions of pounds of public money that we spend on prisons, doctors, mental health teams and other agencies picking up the pieces of broken lives.

There has been some redistribution but not enough. The authors point out that the minimum wage is not a living wage – the true figure is around £7:20. £200 a week doesn’t make work a route out of poverty, especially factoring in transport costs – many low-paid jobs are based in supermarkets and call centres far from residential areas.

Class is the one prejudice no one talks about. At my comprehensive school the biggest targets for bullies weren’t the black or Asian kids but the poor kids. It was social death to be labelled a ‘scrubber’; and our uniform didn’t conceal the class differences: as Toynbee and Walker write: ‘[I]t doesn’t take long in the playground to sort out where they stand in relation to the rest.’

Different classes are like different worlds, and the triumph of their book is in showing the gap not just in income but perception. As part of an aspirations programme group of working class pupils from Brent were taken up the road to Oxford University. ‘What had they imagined university to be? They said ‘like a prison,’ ‘really hard work and no social life,’ ‘horrible, worse than school and locked in all the time.” Undergraduates showed them the halls of residence.

At home the Brent pupils shared rooms with siblings but here was a room of their own, with their own bathroom, use of a kitchen and common room… were students ever allowed beyond those great college walls? Yes, all day and all night. They asked if they could have visitors and if their parents could come and see them? Yes, any time and even have a cheap room to stay in overnight. And was term time just twenty-four weeks of the year? Yes, but they could stay on in the holidays if they liked. They could even have people to stay in their room too, if they signed them in. The opposite sex? Yes! Wow!

This little anecdote shows us that maybe the way forward is to close this gap of perception. As Irvine Welsh said, the key to who wins in society isn’t money or connections. It is the power of expectation.

Rule number one

September 24, 2008

And speaking of novel writing.

Finally: enjoy yourself. ‘A writer who hates the actual writing,’ Raymond Chandler once observed, ‘who gets no joy out of the creation of magic by words, to me is simply not a writer at all.’ That’s the essence of being a novelist, and if you don’t feel a surge of recognition on reading those words, it might be advisable to do something else.


September 22, 2008

Work rhythms on this blog may change over the next weeks. Two reasons for this:

1) I have started a novel of fiction and the first draft will take up some time.

2) I’ve been asked to contribute to Shiraz Socialist, a blog I admire and enjoy. So there’s maybe an argument for putting a lot of the political/secularist stuff on Shiraz, and leaving this blog as purely a ‘Brit Lit Blog’.

Whatever happens – posting here is bound to slow down.

Update: I have just introduced myself at Shiraz.

Happy Go Lucky

September 21, 2008

‘You can’t make everyone happy.’

‘No harm in trying, though, is there?’

I’ve never seen a Mike Leigh film but this ‘anti-miserabilist’ story of a relentlessly upbeat primary school teacher merits his reputation as the grand old man of British film. Lots of people pretend to be positive, sometimes out of a desire to suppress pain, or as a means of social control. But Happy Go Lucky’s Poppy is a genuinely good, outgoing woman dedicated to making everyone’s lives that little bit better. Whether she’s clubbing, breaking up a playground fight or attempting flamenco, she acts with warmth, humour and candid sensuality. Everyone pretends to be non-judgemental as well, but only Poppy would spend ten minutes chatting to a homeless person in the dark, and actually seem interested in his nonsensical replies.

The film put me in mind of this quote from Richard Curtis:

I really do believe that there is a tremendous amount of optimism, goodness and love in the world and that it is under-represented. But if you do feel it and experience it then you should write about it. The dark side is always dominant. What is the nastiest thing that has happened to me? What is the worst thing I can imagine happening to me? What were the worst three days of my life? Ah. I shall write about that. It is a sort of sentimental conspiracy about violence. You write a play about a soldier going AWOL and stabbing a single mother and they say it is a searing indictment of modern British society. It has never happened once in my entire life. Whereas you write a play about a guy falling in love with a girl which happens a million times a day in every corner of the world and it’s called blazingly unrealistic sentimental rubbish. It has always been that way. Nobody has really written anything intelligent about Shakespeare’s comedies. People prefer to write about tragedies because they can’t get to the bottom of happiness or comedy.

But Curtis’s films tend to irritate the intelligent audience because they concentrate on the lives of the rich and depict a impossibly shiny and compliant world. By contrast, the London of Happy Go Lucky is recognisably ours. It’s a London of graffitied tenements and underfunded schools. Poppy’s bike is stolen in the first few minutes, she puts her back out from trampolining, one of her pupils is being battered at home, she rents a flat with a longtime friend, her love life is nonexistent. Poppy isn’t blind or naive. She acknowledges the darkness but does not let it affect her.

Instead she appreciates the pleasures many take for granted: having a beer after work, getting wrecked with her friends, making bird hats for class. In one of the film’s best scenes, Poppy’s married and pregnant older sister nags the teacher about her single lifestyle: ‘You’re thirty… thirty-five is considered a high risk mother… when are you getting on the property ladder, when are you going to get a mortgage?’ It’s obvious to us that Poppy’s sister Helen is lashing out because she envies Poppy’s freedom, but it’s left to others to acknowledge the insecurity Helen feels about her own life choices.

The film’s centre is Poppy’s relationship with Scott, her driving instructor and a disturbed and disturbing man. Scott is everything Poppy is not: bitter, prejudiced, conspiratorial, pedantic, narrow-minded and sexually repressed. Leigh pins down Scott’s character in his very first scene, when the driving instructor refuses to shake Poppy’s hand. He provides the film’s darkness.

It’s a classic device to throw two antithetical people together and force them to get on, and you can’t get much more claustrophobic than the cramped hub of an automobile. In each succeeding lesson Scott deteriorates a little more, ranting about numerology and multiculturalism while hurling the car around at terrifying speeds. Most of the time, Poppy isn’t fazed by this. She follows his tangents. She teases him but doesn’t, in my view, lead him on. Leigh says on the DVD extra that Poppy just wants to help Scott rather than torment him.

By the end of the film, Poppy has changed a little. She’s realised a hard truth about the world – that some people cannot be saved. This makes her more reflective and subdued, as if something’s shifted inside her chest. But it’s obvious she still believes that we only get one life: best to make that life a positive experience, both for yourself and for others around you.