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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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Modern Art

8 min read

This is a story about creativity...

Crack

Those who are blessed with independent wealth - trust-fund kids - may groan at my unoriginal and clichéd ideas. Those who have been lucky enough to attend public or private school (confusingly similar things in the UK) have been educated to be discerning snobs who act as a kind of judicial panel, deciding collectively what is to be mocked and derided as worthless, because it has clearly originated from the lower echelons of society.

We may study a piece of text and detect traces of vocabulary, style and grammar use, which indicates the author did not have the benefit of an expensive education, and as such we decide that their words are meaningless. We presume that the author holds detestable values and baseless immature views which have not been properly forged in the crucible of a fine university's debating society. We discern a certain lack of intellect from any impression we form of a person of being from a more humble background than our own. We prefer to only read works by those who are posh and impeccably well-presented in their homogenised manner of written communication.

We can quickly tell if somebody does a lot of writing, or if their writing style is a clumsy attempt to put their spoken words down onto paper.

Who has enjoyed the privilege of being able to read a very great deal, write an enormous amount, and have somebody paid to pore over their words? English is part of the mandatory school education of every child in the UK, yet as a nation we manage to produce many millions of people who don't know the difference between homophones such as "your" and "you're", which the public and private schools would not tolerate.

While an expensive education might give every child who attends those fee-paying schools a posh accent, an extended vocabulary and better grammar, it does not assure an academic future. Many children will prefer art to the prescriptive subjects, where there are right and wrong answers.

The position of power, gifted by privilege, is to decide what the "wrong" answers are in an area where there is no such thing as a "right" answer. With no more qualification than a posh accent and some snobbery, one can embark upon a career as an art critic, quite unwittingly.

Art exists in late capitalism as another rich man's hobby, like yacht sailing, horse riding, game shooting, vintage motor car racing and skiing. While some of the hoi polloi might have adopted those leisure pursuits in imitation of the wealthiest segment of society, a number of mechanisms exist to ensure that the poor man's version is inferior in every way, and not to be mistaken for things which are reserved for the wealthiest families. As such, the act of patronage is contained within that small group of individuals who speak in the manner of their patrons.

Who can really afford to write or paint for long enough to master the craft, without making creative sacrifices in order to be commercially successful? How many brilliant artists have been forced to become draughtsmen or take dismal tasteless commissions from gauche clients? We might love our favourite comics and assume that the artists are living happy, authentic lives which are true to their beliefs, but those who have seen it as a purely artistic endeavour find unhappy outcomes if they ever need to monetise their talents.

I can afford to give away my words for free because I have another source of income, but it means that my writing will never be anything more than an open journal - a daily diary which is publicly accessible. I don't have the time and energy to plan, execute and promote a piece of serious art, and I am forced to sell the most productive years of my life in order to pay rent and bills. I like to think that I am developing my craft, but the skillset for creative writing is quite different from the stream-of-consciousness which I produce.

Innumerable photographers have captured an image of themselves every day for considerable lengths of time, and countless more writers have kept daily journals. What I do is neither imaginative nor original. It would be easy to say that my writing is not art, or it is bad art.

It angers me that I should be denied the opportunity to be an artist. It angers me that my considerable creative talents and boundless energy for artistic projects, is thwarted by economic factors. I need to pay rent and bills, so I must sell my labour, but if I were to attempt to combine my job with my desire to create art, then I would be creating products not art.

What is art?

For me, I want to turn an exceptional period of my life - addiction and near-death - into a piece of art. My experiences have been so extreme that few people who've shared similar experiences have survived with their sanity intact and enough of a grasp of the English language to express themselves clearly on a piece of paper. Many people are lost to religion and other capitulations of the mind, or simply embroiled in family life, such that the difficult task of creating a piece of art which conveys some of the suffering endured, is rarely completed.

We might assume that a particularly rousing motivational speech or an incredible painting resulted from some God-given talents, but that's complete hogwash. We are a product of the surrounding environment and things that has driven us to repeat behaviours until they are innate. Anybody who says "I can't draw" has not practiced enough. When we look more closely at child prodigies, we see that their pushy parents are the reason why that child practiced a skill enough to become talented. There are no gifts - everything must be paid for.

My own so-called "gift" is a perseverance for tapping on keys in such a way which is mandated to be harmonious. A piano will happily play incorrect chords but if you press the wrong computer keys you will simply be told "command not found" or simply "error".

While I know that my writing doesn't get tested with the rigorous logic of boolean algebra, I feel confident that I can master writing as a lucrative craft, through practice and repetition, in exactly the same way that I taught myself how to program a computer as a child. I am certain that the skill of creating hundreds of thousands of lines of programming code which assemble together to make a functioning piece of complex computer software, is transferrable to the task of writing a few tens of thousands of words which produce a coherent story.

Few would disagree that music is an artform, but music is a piece of code executed on a machine - whether it's the notation on a piece of sheet music, or the laser-etched indentations on a compact disc, the creativity of the artist is coded and played through an instrument which adheres to strict rules. A grand piano only has 88 keys, while my keyboard has more than a hundred.

It's true that we've entered an era where almost anybody can call themselves a photographer or a writer, given the ubiquity of smartphones and the ease-of-use of apps which allow us to publish our photos and our words.

I offer up the photo at the beginning of this essay and these very words because I find both aesthetically pleasing and to have deep and profound meaning, beyond what you see at face value. In my text I offer up a glimpse of my inner turmoil, but I can never fully capture the full extent of every thought that races through my mind. My photo captures a moment that has immense meaning for me, but the viewer could never possibly know or guess correctly what that meaning is, which makes it a piece of art because it could only have been created by me, the artist.

"What even is it? I could take a photograph like that" I hear you say.

Yes, you could take a similar photograph, but it would have none of the meaning behind it, so therefore it would not be art.

"What are you even rambling about? I could write down my thoughts like you" I hear you say.

Yes, you could write down your thoughts, but they'd be quite different from mine and you wouldn't have the same motivations, so therefore it would just be yet another blog post from yet another blogger.

How can I claim to be creating art? In truth, I don't. I worry a lot that I'm wasting my time and creating a lot of meaningless noise. I worry that my creative energies are squandered on a pointless folly. However, this is still an impressive monument, whichever way you look at it. How many people have managed to write and publish more than a million words in a single document, with a consistent methodical approach, with regularity and with something interesting to say? How many people have catalogued their thoughts so thoroughly?

Not many.

 

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Why I'm Building NickBot™

8 min read

This is a story about projects...

Nick Grant

I work with a whole bunch of people who will automate anything you can possibly imagine - they're obsessed with automation. I suppose I'm an unusual engineer in the sense that I don't share the enthusiasm my colleagues have for robotic, repetitive, automated processes. If I do something just once I'm often satisfied, so I start looking for the next new and novel experience. I suppose that's why my skills are always in demand: Because most engineers want to build something that they think is going to last forever, but in reality there are always unforeseen problems. I take particular pleasure from diagnosing and fixing the gremlins that were never supposed to exist, making software scale up in ways it was never designed to do, and doing the dirty work of keeping the lights on.

How I came to be working as a software engineer and how I came to be a writer, has nothing to do with the pursuit of a childhood dream. I was simply inspired by a schoolfriend. Whatever he was interested in - which was writing, journalism and computing - was something that I became interested in.

It seemed obvious to put my programming skills to good use, once I'd found a problem that I wanted to solve: How do we let people who feel worthless and suicidal know that we care that they're still alive? It seemed like technology could easily solve this problem.

I built something.

It was just software. There was a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and behind it was a little piece of software.

It worked.

But, nobody really cared.

People build cool apps every day. In fact there are thousands of new apps being released every day. When I started building iPhone apps in 2008, there were just a handful of new apps every day, and everybody with an iPhone could check out the new apps to see if there were any good ones. Now, there are not enough hours in the day to download and try out all the apps that are released. We are completely overwhelmed with a deluge of new apps and websites that spring up every single day.

So, I decided to build something that very few people could build: A project so ambitious and substantial, that nobody except an eccentric rich fool would embark upon, because it was nothing but a folly. I decided to write.

People write every day. There are millions of people who call themselves writers. Some of them will actually publish. There is vastly too much published each day, to be able to read it all: It's the same overwhelming deluge problem, faced by anybody hoping that their new app will get noticed, in a crowded market.

However, the combination of vast amounts of experience, with an enormous variety of different technologies, plus the hard work of having written and published a substantial body of text, could provide a reasonable launchpad for something.

It takes next to zero effort to set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Thinking of a name, choosing a profile picture, writing a short bio... all those things are easy.

Building a following is something that's fairly easy to do, but is not quick to do. You have to offer something that people want, and you have to keep giving people what they want, so they keep coming back, until you reach the point where growth becomes organic; viral.

So, writing every day is the bait; the lure. You'll see it all the time - suddenly your favourite funny meme page, cartoon strip, inspirational quote tweeter or Instagram influencer is trying to sell you something. It's the old bait-and-switch trick. Sometimes you follow artists, but artists need to eat. You might be offended that they try to sell you a T-shirt, a mug, a book or some other branded merchandise, but how the hell do you expect them to pay their rent?

So, that leaves me.

I've kinda got the time and money - as well as the skills - to take on a ridiculous project that has no profit potential: Build a folly.

But what is this folly?

Perhaps it's already built, for me, at least. I tried to kill myself but strangers from the internet saved my life. When I was about to go bankrupt, a stranger from the internet lent me money. When I was about to become homeless, a stranger from the internet offered me shelter. Lucky me.

I can't tell you to follow the same path that I did, if you're in trouble, because that would be recklessly irresponsible. I nearly died so many times. I could so easily have ended up penniless and sleeping rough.

I need to do something I hate doing: automating stuff.

It seems like a nice problem to have, to have gathered a group of people who have enough empathy and compassion to go out of their way to save another person's life, but I also know that I ended up in the situation where I was totally alone in a strange city, and I tried to kill myself. I've had enough brushes with death to know that those people we sorta-used-to-care-about can drift away and become I-wonder-what-ever-happened-to people. In fact, it's an inescapable inevitable part of persistent depression leading to suicide, that the people whose lives are at risk, will withdraw from actively staying in contact with their support network.

After a while, we get tired of tagging our friends in the Facebook comments section of things which remind us of a certain person. After a while, we get tired of sending messages that go unanswered. After a while, we get tired of 'liking' their stuff, but seemingly getting nothing back. All the attention dries up very quickly, when we go quiet and disappear into the darkness.

What I want to build is something that accumulates the longer somebody has retreated inwards, cutting themselves off from the world. What I want is to build something that focusses the attention and reminds those-who-used-to-care that there's somebody slipping away. What I want to build is something that aggregates all those people who care into a miniature ad-hoc crisis support group.

Am I explaining this well enough?

When I was in a coma on a ventilator, in a hospital intensive care ward, I had no idea that I was being discussed. I had no idea that people from all over the world had been in communication with each other, trying to find out if I was OK. Friends, old and new, learned of my predicament and they tried to find out what they could: Where was I? Was I OK? Was I alive? What happened?

However, I had a very poor prognosis. My chances of survival were 30 or 40% according to the medical team who saved my life, when I spoke to them afterwards.

It occurred to me that technology and automation could do a lot of the "heavy lifting" of figuring out who's drifting away, allowing us to respond and bring the people we care about back into safety and security, away from the dark place and the death.

Prevention is better than cure.

Suicide prevention is better done before somebody is suicidal, in my opinion, from my personal experience.

It's very hard to answer that "I wonder what happened to..." question for everybody we've ever cared about, because in the modern world we tend to travel further and move more often, in order to study, work, find love and find a place that suits us in an individualistic society, where traditional families and communities have almost ceased to exist.

The answer to the problem is to use technology to sift through the noise and find the really important pieces of information, while that information is pertinent.

It's no use finding out that somebody was horribly depressed, while at their funeral.

We have busy lives, and if I build anything, it should make our lives easier, not be another nagging, pestering and irritating thing, like spambots, chain emails and invitations to play Farmville on Facebook.

I am blessed with, what amounts to the time and the money to work on the project, as well as the people I need, insofar as I'm already well remunerated for work which I find very little effort. It will be a pleasure to work on something which I feel like the world needs, although I appreciate that sounds horribly arrogant and conceited. I apologise for the worthiness which accidentally spills from my mouth, when I speak on this topic.

Anyway, consider this a declaration of intent. My first fumbling stab at a plan. Some doodles on a napkin, so to speak.

Please write and tell me what you think of the idea.

Thanks,

Nick

 

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Open Source, Open Data

6 min read

This is a story about hacking...

PuTTY

How do we reconcile the concept of privacy, and our supposed desire for it, with the moden practice of sharing images of ourselves and our loved ones and publishing intimate pieces of information about ourselves and our identities, so publicly on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook?

Some people choose to maintain several versions of themselves. They have decided how they wish to present themselves - digitally - for different audiences, and they presume that the computer systems they use have sufficient privacy safeguards so that those worlds will never collide. Incredible trust is placed in those who build those computer systems and guard that data.

Those of us who are living double lives, or perhaps even triple, quadruple, quintuple or more lives, must have a shape-shifting and highly demanding existence as they constantly context-switch between their different identities.

How do they remember the different lies they've told to different people? Which parts of their life are common to all their identities, and which parts belong only to one distinct segment? How must it affect these people - psychologically - to maintain so many alter-egos, avatars and characters that they have created, which add up to a life with extra pieces left over if they were all combined into a single identity? Which are the pieces that don't fit? Which bits would that person have to give up if they were forced to unify themselves into a singular entity?

I can speak only for myself.

At work my identity is an open secret. Any of my colleagues can quickly and easily find this website, which contains every bit of information that most people would consider worthwhile keeping private. We generally don't want our colleagues at the office knowing about the less flattering things which have happened to us in our lives. We generally seek to avoid the prejudice which is still prevalent in a society where we live with the mistaken belief that our data is held safe and secure in computer systems, and the foolish notion that secrecy is assured.

Secrecy is not assured. Quite the opposite.

My knowledge of the limits of what is possible with a computer system, in terms of keeping data safe, comes from the place which society would deem most important: the bank vaults where all our money is kept. Capitalism's biggest fear is that a hacker could penetrate the inner sanctum of the banking sector and annul all our debts. The banks quite literally have all the money in the world to keep that money 'safe' which means they have manyfold more resources than any would-be bank robbers or philanthropic debt-erasers, keeping everybody out of their vaults.

I often wonder if my stance is due to the fact that the man who has nothing, has nothing to lose.

However, the origin of my exhaustive efforts to document the most private details of my life, came from when I had a lot to lose. In fact, the fear of loss is what nearly drove me insane. I realised that the threat of the dreaded event - losing my money and damaging my reputation - was sufficient to create a great deal of paranoia, which was impossible to control because of the insatiable appetite of people around me for the gory details of my private life. I became a human interest story and the only solution I could see was to take control of the story by writing it myself.

Writing a little bit isn't going to help.

Writing your version of events isn't going to help.

Writing the story of your life isn't going to help.

I decided that the only way that I was going to regain my sanity and my dignity was by making myself into a publicly accessible resource. I have emptied the contents of my brain into the public domain, but this is an ongoing process. Unfortunately, I can't just upload everything in my head to the cloud. I have to type it. Even if I typed until the day I die, there will still be things that die trapped inside my head, but at least I tried.

The more I have gone along with this journey of emptying out my head onto the pages of a public document, the more I have seen the benefit of doing so. The more honest and open I have been, the more candid and frank, the more comfort I have felt knowing that the greatest amount of data generated which pertains to me and my life, has come from my brain via my keyboard.

Before I started to write this blog, the bulk of my private intimate personal data was held by private companies and government institutions, who knew where I spent my money, where I travelled, who I spoke to, what I went to the doctor about, what medications I took, what my credit score was, where I had lived and where I was living and an enormous amount of other things too, such as how frequently I visited websites, what kinds of things I looked at on the internet and just about every single word of communication ever exchanged between me and another human being.

This sounds like paranoia. This sounds like insanity.

All I know is that I'm glad that I live a single life with a single identity and I've made myself publicly accessible. I'm glad I've published all my so-called secrets. I'm glad I've put my unflattering side into the public domain. I'm glad that those who would like to quickly and harshly judge me, so that I could be easily dismissed and cast aside, have a repository of all the dirt they'd ever possibly want to find, if only they weren't so lazy and stupid as to not bother to think to look in the most obvious place for it.

I enjoy living my life in plain sight. I enjoy having open secrets. It gives me pleasure and a sense of security.

I'm in the process of migrating my website and all my 1.1 million words to a new home, which will hopefully be a seamless transition for my readers - I've decided to utilise my technology skills to cement my digital legacy. I hope that I can move what I've written to a place where it can be easily migrated to newer technology platforms as and when they emerge, much like old cine films were transferred to VHS tapes and then transferred to DVD discs, to preserve those memories for posterity.

It might seem horribly arrogant and conceited to think that anybody gives a damn about what I've written, and that my writing should be preserved, but there it is: The modern age, where we take photographs of our food and share them with the other 7.6 billion people on this planet via the internet.

I've found the internet to be a place of friendship and connection, and of people who do care about what I write, so it's with little embarrassment that I admit to my efforts to preserve my own legacy.

 

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It Doesn't Have To Be So Complicated

5 min read

This is a story about putting pressure on yourself...

CPU die

When we see a completed masterpiece - a great book, a magnificent painting, or even an app or a website - then we can be fooled into thinking that its creators must have envisaged the end result from the very beginning, and worked methodically until the work was done and ready to be unveiled to the public.

What we don't see are the unpublished drafts and the unedited rough manuscripts. We never see the layers of paint beneath the top layer, where the painter's brushstroke might have been misplaced. We quickly forget how ugly and buggy the early versions of software are, and how few features they had.

We also forget that complexity is built upon complexity. The author depends upon a typewriter, paper-making and book-binding, along with typesetting, ink making and a thousand other innovations, which allow their words to be neatly condensed into the final product. The painter depends upon the many pigments which had to be discovered, as well as the paint-maker who will create the oils, acrylics and watercolour paints, and the canvas maker who will create the surface onto which the masterpiece will be painted, layer by layer. The software engineer depends upon the CPU, memory chips, hard-disk drives, motherboards, a screen, mouse and keyboard, plus an operating system and myriad other pieces of software, which enable them to code their apps and websites.

We only see the finished versions, and we do not see the vast complexity which is hidden behind. We do not see the thousands of years of discovery, innovation, invention and craftsmanship, which have evolved and progressed with iterative improvements, until the day when even a lowly common man or woman, with little money, can create something which would have been considered a rich man's hobby, not very long ago.

I desperately want to demonstrate to the world that I have a mind that can encompass enough of science, technology, engineering, mathematics as well as much more practical things such as paper-making, book-binding, typesetting, and the inescapable physical world, where food, water and energy cannot be delivered via your broadband internet connection. I can build shelter. I can fix a vehicle. I have knowledge that extends well outside the narrow confines of STEM. I want the world to know that, because I'm insecure and I feel like I was briefly written off and abandoned - assumed to be a piece of expendable human garbage.

I'm not going to push myself to write so much today. I need to tell myself that it's OK to write a little less on days when I'm either too sick, too tired, or unable to make enough time to write something that I think is worth publishing.

I've decided to allow myself to publish shorter pieces of writing, when circumstances demand it. Not everything I publish needs to be an essay.

I put immense pressure on myself to produce things which are impressive, or at least somehow 'magical' creations. Many people have now learned how to create a website using tools which have simplified the process, making it as easy as sending an email, but the way it works is still mostly 'magic' to them. We don't need to know how to fly a plane in order to be a passenger, but we should still appreciate that the pilot spent a lot of hours learning their profession, and so we shouldn't underestimate the skill involved in every safe landing, which we often take for granted.

Laid bare on these pages, dating back to September 2015, we can see the development of my writing style and the discovery of the topics I'm passionate about. We see how I refined my writing process and how my thinking has developed. I could have done this process by writing private journals and unfinished novels, but instead I offer up my stream-of-consciousness as an "open source" piece of software, complete with all the ugly early versions which were full of bugs and didn't have many features.

It's hard to find the time and the energy to write every day, but it's a lot easier if I allow myself the freedom to simply unload a few thoughts and feelings onto the page, without worrying too much about whether it meets some arbitrary quality standard, which I've imposed upon myself voluntarily.

It was very kind of friends who've stuck with me through periods when I stopped writing, to greet my return with enthusiasm and remarks which greatly encourage me that my writing is being well received by people who I care dearly about.

It needn't particularly complicate my day, or add unnecessary pressure, to get in front of a keyboard and bash out a few words... even if it's the merest dab of paint onto a huge canvas, it does at least cumulatively contribute to the finished artwork. I would hate for my readers to think that I've abandoned blogging.

Thanks for reading. It means so much.

 

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Milestones

5 min read

This is a story about arbitrary goals...

Dashcam

Why was I so bothered about capturing the exact moment that my car completed 100,000 miles? Why would I take the risk of videoing this non-event, while driving at 70mph on the UK's busiest motorway, while heavy downpours made driving conditions particularly treacherous? I guess the motivation must stem from the same place that has motivated me to write more than a million words on this website. I guess I've become obsessed with arbitrary achievements.

How do we measure success?

A colleague of mine regularly pleads poverty and accuses me of living a life of "fabulous wealth and luxury" because I'm childless, to which I retort that wealth can be measured in many different ways. Am I not poor for lacking the adoration of the children I've spawned? Is my life not lacking the riches of the filial affection, obedience and eagerness to please, which parents enjoy in abundance? Could there be anything more valuable than the pleasure of hugging and kissing your children?

I've decided to start writing again.

I've decided to start writing every day again.

Why the hell would I do that?

How does it profit me, to write every day? Where is the payback? What is the benefit?

Almost every single person has wrestled with the question: what is the meaning of life? What is our purpose? What set of values should I live my life in accordance with? What should I attempt to achieve, during my short mortal existence?

Examination of human behaviour overwhelmingly demonstrates the ubiquitous answer to that most difficult question: Why are we here? It seems to be that most humans want to spawn as many offspring as possible, and they pay little regard to the consequences to society, global humanity's quality of life or indeed the ethics of making a conscious 'free-will' choice to create another mortal creature with the capacity to perceive its own mortality, inheriting an overcrowded planet on collision course with unimaginably awful catastrophe.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a close friend who chose to end his own life. It's my intention to write less on the specific subject of his suicide, but it's worth noting that he struggled with the absurdity of existence and the psychological challenges of living in an age of scientific enlightenment and atheism, where our purpose in life seems largely driven by feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, created by late capitalism in order to turn us all into wage-slave consumers - part of the apparatus which will eventually destroy global civilisation, instead of delivering the much-vaunted "age of leisure" that we were promised.

Why do we want a bigger house, a newer car and children who will soon learn that their parents will die, and who will also die in pain and suffering? Why do we want more digits in our pay packet and bank balance? Why do we want to accumulate more and more pieces of paper with numbers written on them, supposedly designating some kind of 'score' to demonstrate that we're 'winning' at the game of life?

My own reaction to the absurdity of modern life has been to invest a significant proportion of my intellectual capacity and precious time, in order to create a website which captures my stream of consciousness in all its ugly gory detail. This website could be characterised as the ultimate folly: Serving no clear purpose, while consuming valuable resources. Perhaps I should be spending my time changing nappies and driving my precious little darlings to school in my gas-guzzling 4x4 truck, except that we understand that would also be a fool's errand, because at some point those children will inherit all the existential angst and will have to confront not only their own mortality, but also watch me - their beloved father - getting old, frail and dying in pain and suffering.

Don't have kids. Kill yourself.

You can do what you want. I advise you not to follow my advice. However, if you're truly a person of any intellect, possessing a moral compass and the ability to make rational decisions based upon overwhelming evidence, ask yourself if you're just a helpless blob of chemical compounds, being manipulated by your genes towards procreation, like every living creature that ever existed for hundreds of millions of years. Do you want to be an amoeba? Certainly, I see no difference between an amoeba and the 100+ billion humans who have lived and died since homo erectus sprung into existence 1.8 million years ago.

If you really believe that you're justified in having the sapiens as part of homo sapiens name of the species to which you belong, then you'd better start demonstrating some damn wisdom beyond that of the humble amoeba.

My current life plan is to work and write until I have sufficiently proven that I'm a competent, capable, productive, valuable member of society, and that I can not be easily dismissed as a flawed individual or a fool. Then, having achieved that, I can kill myself, leaving behind a substantial body of written work for anybody who cares to know why I would choose to use contraception for my whole life, and why I would choose to end my life in a pre-planned manner, concluding this absurd existence with some dignity.

So, I must write and I must work. It's time to get busy again and resume my writing routine.

I'm not sure what the next milestone is. I feel like 1.5 million words is a good objective, given that it would be approximately twice the amount of words than are contained in the Bible, which amuses me.

 

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His Funeral is on Friday

5 min read

This is a story about slow motion...

Skull

"He looks respectable..." began a work colleague of mine, talking about me. I deliberately walked away and somehow closed my ears, managing not to hear what he was about to say. I'm well aware that I do a very good job of keeping up appearances. It takes a lot of hard work to project a professional image, hide my mental health problems and leave any personal life problems at the entrance to my office. It's incredibly exhausting maintaining the illusion that everything is A-OK in my world.

The last thing I need is extra problems. The last thing I need is something or somebody, throwing a spanner in the works.

"He looks respectable, but underneath..." my colleague managed to say, before I successfully got myself far enough away to not hear the end of that sentence. I don't need anybody chipping away at me right now. I have plenty of reasons to feel like an imposter, without anybody actually calling me out as one.

I stopped writing.

I need to write.

I was at work when my friend phoned me to tell me how he was going to kill himself. He called me to say goodbye. He called me to thank me for keeping his secret. He thanked me in advance for not calling the emergency services. He thanked me for bearing the dreadful burden of knowing what he was going to do.

I was at work when I made the phonecall... the phonecall to have his door kicked down and his body taken away to the morgue. I was at work when I received the phonecall back: "We have his body".

I went back to my desk and carried on as if nothing had happened.

I've carried on for more than a month like nothing has happened.

Finally, my friend's funeral is going to be on Friday.

On Friday it will have been 50 days in-between my friend first calling me to tell me that he was planning on committing suicide, and the day of his funeral. That's a long time to wait for some kind of conclusion.

I've been waiting to grieve.

I've been waiting to cry.

At work, everybody thinks I'm just fine. At work, everybody thinks that everything is A-OK in my personal life. At work, everybody thinks I'm "normal".

I've been having a manic episode most of the last week. I've been letting my mask slip a little. I've been unable to completely cover-up my inner turmoil. However, nobody really knows or appreciates how much effort and energy goes into wearing my mask. Nobody really knows how hard it is for me to turn up at work, day after day, and to hold myself together.

The world is a shitty place. Shitty things happen every day. People are born into shitty lives. People have shitty luck.

I am by no means claiming to have the shittiest life out of anybody on the planet.

By all relative measures, my life is pretty peachy. If I were able to directly compare my life with the most unfortunate wretch in the entire world, it would be pretty obvious that I've got relatively little to complain about.

I can't write. I can't grieve. I can't move.

I just need to get to my friend's funeral. I owe him that.

What I've written about the past few times has been about me as much as it's been about my friend. So what? This is where I come to work stuff out when I'm hurting and/or confused. This is where I come to say all the things I can't say anywhere else. Writing is my therapy. Writing is my healthy outlet.

I said to myself I wouldn't write any more of "the world's longest suicide note" until after my friend's funeral, because it seemed disrespectful.

I've often asked myself if my words perhaps made it easier for people who were feeling suicidal, to feel less guilty about ending their lives. I've often wondered whether I'm being irresponsible. I've had to face accusations that I glorify, glamourise and romanticise suicide. I've had to defend my actions and my beliefs. I've had to defend my words.

When another person who crossed my path committed suicide and I wrote about it, I wondered whether I was co-opting his story. I wondered whether I was using that young man's name in vain. I questioned the legitimacy of writing about another person's suicide.

My friend was close. My friend expressed his wishes clearly and concisely. I know with certainty that I'm not a grief tourist and I take no ghoulish sensationalistic sick pleasure, or derive perverse benefit from writing about suicide. I'm not morbidly fascinated by suicide. I'm not reckless or careless. I'm not thoughtless or inconsiderate.

I started writing so that I would not die misunderstood, and an unexpected consequence has been that suicidal friends and strangers have contacted me to have frank, candid and brutally unflinchingly honest conversations about ending their lives. I've intervened - calling the emergency services - and I've advised - on therapy and medical help - and I've listened and I've responded appropriately. In the three and a half years I've been writing this blog, it's kept me alive and it's played a minor role in keeping some friends and strangers alive, where otherwise we would have perished: We'd have killed ourselves.

I haven't been able to write. I need to write to look after myself. If I'm not writing, I'm not looking after myself.

I haven't been writing.

It will be a relief when the funeral is over.

I hope I will be able to write again, after the funeral.

I need to write.

 

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No News is Bad News - Part Two

6 min read

This is a story about radio silence...

Hotel room

On June 20 of this year I attempted to write my life story from 2011 onwards, covering the happiest, most successful period of my life and the pinnacle of my career - doing a tech startup accelerator program in Cambridge with a cohort of incredible people - and the subsequent reasons why I stepped down as CEO, separated from my wife, sold my house and settled my acrimonious divorce.

I wrote 10,000 words in a non-stop brain dump. Once I started I couldn't hold back - the words flooded out onto the page.

It was supposed to be succinct. It was supposed to be a simple set of bullet points.

It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought, to write down even the first part.

Part two has a lot to cover:

  • Homelessness
  • Hospitals
  • Police
  • Drug addiction
  • Psych wards
  • Suicide attempts
  • More banking jobs
  • More IT projects
  • Moving to Manchester
  • Moving to Wales
  • Several relationships and breakups; love and loss
  • Psychosis
  • Self medication
  • Alcohol
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Financial problems
  • Near-bankruptcy
  • Salvation

I'm not going to write part two in the same way that I wrote part one.

That was 6 months ago. This is now.

A lot can happen in 6 months.

As a quick recap, here are the problems I've been trying to tackle this year:

  • £54,000 of debt
  • Homeless
  • No job
  • No car
  • Single
  • Addicted to prescription drugs: sleeping pills, tranquillisers and painkillers
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder

As if those problems weren't enough, in June I had relapsed onto supercrack. I'd been working but I'd lost my job - through no fault of my own - and I was in no hurry to get another one, because my addiction had returned with a vengeance. I was in a place with no family and only a handful of friends, none of whom were equipped to deal with my clusterfuck of issues. I was more-or-less alone, except for the people who I try to connect with on a daily basis through my blog, Twitter, Facebook and other digital means.

I came up with the title "No News is Bad News" because it's usually true. I came up with that title, because a period of silence on my blog is usually cause for concern. It's usually time to start phoning round the hospitals to see if I've been admitted. It's usually time to start worrying if I'm dead or dying.

Back in June - 6 months ago - the title was very apt, because I hadn't been online for a while. Losing my job had completely destroyed my hopes of dealing with the mountain of issues I was facing. Losing my job had wrecked my plans for recovery.

Today, my world looks very different.

I can't tell you too much - because it's private - but I'm writing from the comfort of my girlfriend's bed. Her bedroom is very pink and girly. She just brought me a plate with a generously buttered thick slice of toast and a glass of orange juice, which I am eating in bed. I'm getting crumbs in the bed and greasy finger-marks on my laptop.

I'm no longer living out of a suitcase in a hotel and eating in the same gastropub every night, sat at a table for one. I'm unofficially co-habiting. We only met a few weeks ago. The relationship is going fast. Too fast some might say.

I kiss my sweetheart good morning and wish her a good day as I depart for work. My journey takes no more than 15 minutes when the traffic is kind to me. I'm finding it easy to get up in the morning. I don't dread lonely evenings in a bland hotel room. I don't dread the unsustainable interminable monotony of miserable days in the office, and miserable evenings spent alone.

I'm going too fast though.

I'm working too hard.

It takes vast quantities of alcohol, sleeping pills and tranquillisers to prevent me from working 12 to 14 hour days. It requires a huge amount of effort to stop myself from working at the weekend. I'm desperate to achieve results as quickly as possible, because the finishing line is within sight.

It could be months before I'm well-and-truly out of the danger zone and enjoying some long-overdue financial security. It's definitely going to be a long time before I get truly settled at home and at work. I need to decide where I'm going to live and what I'm going to do for a job, on a more long-term basis. At some point, my good luck is going to run out and I'll be forced back into living out of a suitcase, maintaining a long-distance relationship, and having to face the anxiety and stress of proving myself in a new organisation, with a new set of work colleagues.

Mania has arrived. There's no doubt about that.

My manic energy has been ploughed into my day job, instead of my new novel. I worry that my work colleagues have noticed that I've completely obsessed by my project. I worry that the undesirable accompanying behaviours - irritability, rapid and pressured speech, arrogance and delusions of grandeur - will become so hard to hide in the office that I might be forced to disclose my bipolar disorder to my colleagues, in the hope that they'll be sympathetic.

My blog has been neglected, along with my friends.

I work too hard. I'm moving 'too fast' in my new relationship - the "L" word has been used and she has given me a key to her place. We're going on holiday together. All my original problems are still there, to some extent. I need to decide where to live, pay off my outstanding debts, drink less, quit the sleeping pills and tranquillisers, get my mania under control.

What else can I tell you?

I can't try to tell you too much all at once, even though I desperately want to. I want to sit down and write 10,000 words without taking a single break. I want to pour my heart out onto the page and tell you everything, but I'm trying to pump the brakes a little bit. I'm trying to be a little bit sensible, even though I'm clearly going too fast.

It feels like the week-long hiatus from blogging was not bad news. Perhaps it's good news? No. It's not good news. I'm not looking after myself. I'm not managing my bipolar very well. I'm allowing myself to become manic, for the purposes of achieving 'great' things at work. It's exciting to be manic after so many months of depression and misery.

It would be a good idea for me to resolve to resume my daily writing, but I'm wary of making unrealistic promises. Today, I'm coming to terms with the fact that my 3rd novel remains unfinished, when I had hoped to have completed it yesterday.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is my present situation in a nutshell.

 

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Dear Diary

9 min read

This is a story about having too much to lose...

Indecipherable scribbles

I offer to you, the reader, a specimen of my handwriting which I liken to a form of shorthand. Having spent my adolescence and adult years in front of a keyboard, my brain forms words more quickly than my hand can move a pen on a page. I never learned the technique of neat, fast, legible handwriting, because it was always very clear to me that the skill was being made obsolete by technology.

It might surprise you that I can write at all, when my handwriting is so bad.

I'm genuinely mortified at my own incompetence at something which most grown adults managed to master as children. I'm a little hesitant to publish this unflattering piece of evidence.

I have no idea how many words I write per day. I'm a professional writer, in that I'm paid to write, but what I write is very technical so perhaps it doesn't count. Certainly I need a creative outlet during all those times when I'm not able to cut loose and let rip, in my rather drab beige corporate world, where artistic types could never survive and thrive.

I've almost fully abandoned my creative writing endeavours recently, because my time is neatly divided between my career and my attempts to fall in love. 8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, 8 hours romance.

My blog is the lynchpin of my identity. Of course, my highly paid employment affords me the luxury of being able to plough vast amounts of time and energy into a project which generates zero income - pure art - but my chosen daytime profession brings back so many memories of being labelled a geek, nerd or bookworm, and subsequently bullied, that I take no pleasure nor derive any self-esteem from my paid job.

It occurs to me that if I cease to write every day, I will lose my regular readers. I could easily melt away like snow in the sun, and be forgotten. I've often written about how the internet is littered with abandoned blogs, where the authors were initially filled with incredible enthusiasm, only to quickly get bored and wander off to find something more instantly gratifying.

I persevered through a very difficult period where pretty much nobody was reading, which was tough going. I persevered and then I popped out the other side and felt like I was getting somewhere. I started to feel like I was letting readers down if I didn't write every day.

Not writing for a few days - or more - was usually symptomatic of me coming unstuck. If I disappeared off the grid it was usually sensible to start ringing round the various hospitals to see if I could be located, or failing that the morgues. I really needed my readers, because ultimately they saved my life last year, quite literally.

I now find myself in very different circumstances.

I like the people who I'm working with - I think they're smart - and I like the stuff I'm doing at the office. I'm challenged and entertained. I'm finding that my days in gainful employment are passing increasingly effortlessly and that I'm taking a great deal of pride in the work that I do.

I like the special person I've recently met - I think she's amazing - and I like spending time with her. I'm finding it very easy to swap out the very many hours I spent in a pit of despair, for hours spent kissing and cuddling. I derive an enormous amount of enjoyment from abandoning all self-preservation instincts; allowing my emotions to run riot; my heart and soul completely laid open and vulnerable in a very childish and immature way, as I'm carried along with the initial excitement of a new relationship.

A more calculating and shrewd fellow would not write this.

My writing could be the undoing of both my job and my girlfriend. My writing could easily cause me to find myself unemployed and single. My writing could get me into big trouble.

I write tonight, because writing came first. There was madness and sadness, then came writing. I had so much to say. I've still got a lot to say.

I'm predisposed to short-lived obsessions. I'm predisposed to boom and bust. I'm predisposed towards highs and lows.

I could very easily decide tomorrow that I hate my job and the organisation I'm involved with, because of the vagaries of my mood. I could very easily decide tomorrow that I'm horribly heartbroken and that I'm irreparably damaged. I live my life to the very most extreme that it's possible to do.

I write because it would be foolish to make any sudden changes. I write because it's a very healthy and useful part of my routine. I write because of the enormously valuable connection it gives me to people all around the world, to whom I owe my life, quite literally.

It's regrettable that I haven't been able to keep up my daily blogging. I regret every single time that somebody came to visit this website, hoping to find something new, but they didn't find the latest instalment in my egotistical escapades, because I was too busy wooing my new love interest; too busy courting.

I had hoped that I would be able to squeeze some writing into my working day, but the perfect storm arrived - as it does so often - such that I haven't been bored at work for a long while. It would be churlish of me to abuse my privileged position, having spent so long complaining about being bored out of my mind and unfulfilled during office hours.

As has been the case for most of my blog posts recently, I'm writing more quickly than ever, in a desperate attempt to decant the contents of my mind onto the page during a snatched moment when it feels like an opportune time to write. I'm writing with an urgency that exceeds even my completer-finisher obsession with reaching my million-word milestone. Nobody is stopping me from writing - I have plenty of spare time - but it would be very easy for me to abandon my good habits.

I know that I will ruefully regret ever skipping even a single day of writing, should disaster befall me. I know that I will be doubly sad about abandoning my readers if there are any hiccups or bumps in the road which ruin my present twin obsessions: work and love. My blog is my backup plan. My blog is the thing that's always there - the steady constant in my life; the thing that loves me unconditionally; my loyal friend.

I appreciate that I lazily aggregate together all the many people whose lives I've touched, by egotistically broadcasting myself in this mostly one-way stream. I appreciate that I have innumerable very real friends who I'm neglecting, by interacting with people in this very strange way.

I can imagine some future point in time - when it all ends in tears - when I might perhaps find myself feeling suddenly very alone and realising that it was a mistake to hurl myself so completely from one thing into another. It does concern me that I only tend to think about what I'm gaining and never about what I'm losing.

I was accused of wanting to please everybody; wanting to be loved by everybody. That accusation is pretty fair and reasonable to be honest. Why not chuck in wanting to be the centre of attention too, while we're at it?

I don't feel very sorry about anything, it has to be said. If I'm a show-off narcissist, so fucking what? If it's all about me me me then do you think I really care? Do you think I haven't noticed that most of my sentences have started with "I" in this blog post?

Does it make me a bad person? Does it make me a bad friend?

I don't know and I can't answer every question all at once, even though I very much want to try. I've written at least twice as much as I wanted to. I wanted to be short and succinct, to give my friends a flavour of what's going on in my world; to give a little peek behind the curtain. However, as per usual I've launched into an all-out egocentric monologue about nothing in particular, except my total self-absorption.

In short, I'm scared of losing my job and my girlfriend, but I'm also scared of losing whatever the fuck this is... this blog... this website... this digital anchor in a physical world. What is this? Why is it important? Why bother?

If I had to choose - and there's no reason to suggest that I have to - then I choose to connect with the maximum number of people. I choose the stable thing over the unstable and unreliable thing. It's a brutal thing to say, but jobs and girlfriends have come and gone, but my writing has been a constant companion, delivering continuous improvement to my self-esteem and sense of identity.

I need to be a little careful, because I don't want my colleagues or my girlfriend to feel like I'm not crazy about them, and totally obsessed, but I also want to protect something I've worked really hard to build - my digital identity and the relationships which it has enabled me to build and maintain.

I've written more than I intended. I've poked and prodded at things which could very well have been left alone.

I'm going to intentionally hold my tongue now, because if I keep writing I'm going to keep digging a deeper hole.

 

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Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution

6 min read

This is a story about sedition and treason...

Security vetting form

Questions A, B and C seem pretty reasonable to ask. It seems like a good idea to ask people if they're spies, terrorists or saboteurs, if they're going to tell you the truth. It seems logical to assume that spies, terrorists and saboteurs are enemies of civilised society. It seems sensible to exclude spies, terrorists and saboteurs from positions where they could be a threat to public safety.

Upon closer examination, spies and saboteurs could sometimes arguably be said to conduct their actions in a responsible way, in the course of the furtherment of their laudable objectives, in the absence of other available options. Spies exist when diplomacy and co-operation have broken down. Saboteurs exist when tyranny, oppression and exploitation are so great that a worker must throw their clogs into the loom, to save themselves and their kin. Without wanting to fall foul of the nebulous terminology, it would be remiss of me to acknowledge that a person could certainly understand the reasons for spying and sabotage - in a theoretical and academic sense - and perhaps even excuse those acts, where the outcome clearly results in a positive outcome for the greater good, according to utilitarian philosophy.

Of course, I must tread very carefully.

I have to watch my words.

What on earth is question D getting at? I once destroyed my ballot paper as a political protest at the lack of a candidate and a party for whom I wanted to vote. Does that count as "[undermining] Parliamentary democracy by politcal … means"? Should I tick "YES" to this question? Is my spoiled ballot paper recorded in "national security records" which I'm reminded my answers will be checked against? Why even ask me if you already know the answer?

Of course, the idea of asking people "are you a terrorist?" is pretty ridiculous, so why shouldn't this same 66-page form ask vague questions which are almost impossible to answer, unless you think of yourself as such a perfect citizen and well-behaved patriotic loyal subject of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, its dependencies and its overseas territories.

Do I believe in the Westminster system of Parliamentary democracy? Do I believe in democracy at all? For the purposes of my rational economic self-interest in the immediate short-term, within the context of filling in this 66-page form, which is of vital importance for the future of my career, the answer is "yes" for sure.

Why am I using such cautious and measured words? Why am I couching what I say in caveats and disclaimers?

The question arises: Is it irresponsible, socially destabilising or otherwise contrary to the interests of national security, to discuss the merits of 'political change' in a purely academic and theoretical context?

Do scholars who study, think about, write about and discuss alternative political systems, imply some "intent" to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy. For example, in the instance that a learned professor were to stumble upon compelling evidence that there is a better system for the decision making which is supposed to improve the human condition and the lives of the masses, then is that professor allowed to discuss it; perhaps even to promote the idea? What if other academics take an interest in that professor's ideas, and they become supporters of the theory? What if this group of academics could be said to be a group of likeminded individuals, similarly swayed by the evidence and the ideas?

Have I made myself into an enemy of the state by taking an interest in philosophy, politics and economics, which has forced me to consider the question: Is our Parliamentary democracy the best available option, or should we change to a different system? Does posing this innocent question constitute an act of undermining Parliamentary democracy?

By the time we get to question F, I must surely answer in all truthfulness that I almost certainly would have - at some point in my life - had a close association with somebody who's been a member of a group or supported a group whose intent could easily be interpreted as 'offering an alternative' to Parliamentary democracy. This is about as close as I'm prepared to go, to admitting something which is against my rational economic self-interest in the short-term, for the furtherment of my career objectives.

Most of my friends are technologists. Many of my friends have created pieces of technology which must surely have undermined Parliamentary democracy. Many of my friends are the original engineers and architects - the visionaries - who are responsible for the birth of social media. What greater threat to the ruling elites has been born, since the invention of the printing press?

Terrorism and violence are hard to defend; seemingly always unethical. It's beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the ethics of violent rebellion by the victims of tyranny and oppression. I'm in too much of a vulnerable situation to say something like: "I can understand the reasons why desperate people might resort to violence, in the absence of all other options, like any cornered animal".

I may hold unspeakable views, which have no place in a civil position of public servitude. My upbringing in the company of academics, in and around the buildings of Oxford University, may well have scuppered any ambitions I might have of playing a role in the running of the country, and hopefully making a positive difference to as many lives as possible.

Even within the walls of a British university, an academic may find themselves falling afoul of laws - new and old - which are designed to punish any agitators who might threaten societal stability and the established order. The power of the internet allows compelling academic arguments to be disseminated to vast numbers of people at incredible speed, and for the public's imagination to be captured. Academic papers are no longer written in Latin and kept safely out of the hands of the hoi polloi, lest any revolutionary ideas they might be harbouring be provoked.

Do I hold my tongue for the greater good - in support of a paternalistic and elitist establishment - because it will perpetuate the state of unhappy stability, which is at least preferable to civil war? Do I speak my mind, because to do so is a privilege afforded by the unpalatable actions done in the interests of national security? If I don't take advantage of freedom of speech, am I really a patriotic citizen, loyal subject of Her Majesty and supporter of Parliament, given that wars are waged on my behalf so that I might enjoy the luxury of being able to write essays like this?

I think I'm just going to tick "no" to all the boxes, because I can't be bothered to have this conversation a second time, when I'm being interviewed by the thought police.

 

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Playing the Long Game

10 min read

This is a story about sustained effort...

Mound of wires

I like to concentrate on one thing at a time. I like to be hyper-focussed and blinkered, and to devote all my energy and attention towards achieving a single goal. I like to live my life in an artificially simplified way, by aggressively cutting away anything which seems superfluous; a distraction from my main task.

Unfortunately, I have several concurrent tasks:

  • My work
  • My debts
  • My writing
  • My love-life

There are more - such as friends, family, health & fitness, hobbies etc - but I'm not listing those, because I've deemed them temporarily nonessential.

In fact, I had deemed dating to be nonessential, but my life had become too lonely and austere to be bearable. I was torn between investing in my [nonexistent] social life and looking for love. I chose the latter, because of how long it had been since I'd hugged or kissed anybody. Intimacy is important.

My work is arguably a task which will never be completed, but my debts have almost been dealt with. The sum total of my savings is £30,000 and the sum total of my debts is £29,000, so I'm finally 'in the black' although it will be some time before I'm able to release the money and free myself from the bonds of usury. Then, the question is how much money do I really need to live a happy life? I have to decide about this thing people call "work-life-balance" which I always thought was a myth. Without the millstone of debt around my neck, suddenly I gain enormous freedom of choice.

My writing has been the casualty, of late.

Hypomania was rearing its ugly head, threatening to destroy all my hard work building a good reputation in the office. I got a cold and my brain was horrendously sluggish. I suffered alcohol abuse, bad diet, lack of exercise and general neglect of everything in my life, because I was so single-minded in my mission to pay back my debts. My mind was telling me how brilliant I am, that I've managed to rescue myself from a dire situation, successfully deliver some software projects, impress my colleagues, work hard and generally function in society pretty well. I've been getting up early and going to the office. I haven't been taking time off sick. I haven't had much time off on holiday. I've just worked and it's paying off, but I'm so exhausted that I'm going a little crazy. It's hard to deal with the reversal of fortunes; my boom and bust real life triggers psychological problems.

During 3 years of writing my blog almost daily, I never start writing a blog post on one day and then finish it on another. My mind races so much and my feelings change so violently that the tone and content of what I'm writing can veer from one extreme to another, faster than I can pour out words onto the page. One reason for writing so much so quickly, is to capture the variety of my moods and give myself a fighting chance of being able to spot more general trends. In fact, I rely heavily on my regular readers to spot those trends - they're a far better judge of whether I'm swinging into a high or low episode, than I am myself.

To have skipped days of writing really upsets me. I feel really bad when I neglect my writing and my readers.

I have no idea where my writing will take me, especially when I suffer major setbacks such as a sudden loss of thousands of Twitter followers. These things shouldn't matter, but they're psychologically damaging. My digital identity does serve as a substitute for a lot of the things which are presently missing in my life, such as a group of local friends, social engagements and a healthy relationship with my family.

That my life is so damaged should come as no surprise when you consider the magnitude of the tasks which I've been set. Divorce, drugs, alcohol, homelessness, debt and all the accompanying loss of status, stigma and family estrangement - the sense of failure, disappointment and "letting everyone down" - can each be fatal on their own. In combination, those things are a toxic whirlpool; a quicksand which nobody could ever hope to escape from. I could be very upset and depressed about all the things which are broken in my life, but instead I struggle not to get carried away with the minor miracle which has happened: I've bounced back and re-entered civilised society, seemingly without any permanent damage.

So many parts of our society are set up with the optimistic presumption that people are capable of turning their lives around and being rehabilitated, but it very rarely happens. While those who work with addicts, criminals and the debt-laden are very keen to see lives transformed for the better, the reality is that most of the stories do not have happy endings. Most of the stories have sad predictable endings, which are quite tragic.

I'm terrified that I'm going to hit a glass ceiling soon. I will have a mental illness until the day I die. I will always suffer from social jet-lag and a personality which is incompatible with the rat race. I can't change the past - the stigma of addiction and the paper trail which got left in my wake, during an unfortunate period of my life, will follow me around forever. There is no limit on what the organisation I'm presently involved with is able to see: they have access to a vast database of unflattering things, which can never be deleted. My mistakes can never be expunged from the archives.

I could delete this blog, but then where is my reply to the opinions of me expressed upon records kept by organisations who I unfortunately came into contact with?

I would be so much more vulnerable to stigma, prejudice and discrimination, if I allowed other people to lazily sum me up in a few short sentences. Human lives are so much more messy and complex than any amount of words on a page could ever possibly express. It seems like the most natural reaction to being pigeon-holed, to do something like this: to create a document so large that it doesn't even fit in a goddam pigeon hole.

It might seem obvious that I'd be quickly identified as a nut; a crackpot; a madman. That seems like an easy label to attach to me.

However, my long and successful career, the vast sums of tax I've paid, the wealth I've generated for the economy, the tangible products of my labour and intellect - all of these things contradict any attempt to lazily dismiss me as a ranting madman, of no use to anybody, who should be quietly nudged towards the fringes of society until I'm completely marginalised.

My writing is the only thing in my life I have complete control over. I can write as much as I want. I can publish as much as I want. Every act of writing and publishing is an act of rebellion - a protest at the excessive burdens of life - as well as an addition to a growing cache of proof of my productivity and usefulness. I write because it will frustrate and contradict any attempts to write me off.

On paper, I was a write-off.

Nobody would touch me with a barge pole.

If you were presented with a list of all the unflattering things about me - my mistakes; my debts; my problems - as a bullet-pointed list, then you'd have dumped me straight onto the "no hope" pile.

Technically, I don't exist, because my existence is too improbable; my problems were too insurmountable. I should not be alive. I should not be debt-free. I should not be clean. I should not be working. I should not be housed. I should not have money. I should not be out there in the big wide world, walking around like I'm a regular normal member of mainstream society.

I could place put my faith in those who have sworn to make decisions without prejudice or discrimination. I could entrust my whole future - my happiness and my livelihood - to people who've never met me, who will judge me based on a few bullet points. That seems pretty risky to me though.

This is what I anticipated would happen. I knew that sooner or later, if I kept telling my story, I'd reach a point where the rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle would either conclude - in my suicide - or else I would finally get a chance to have a liveable life. This document contains a vast number of mistakes and unflattering things about me, but it also charts the course of a stupendously unlikely journey, which was almost certainly doomed to failure. If somebody in a position of power is going to thwart me, I want them to do so with a guilty conscience, because they were too lazy to consider all the available information. I'm so much more than a few bullet points on a page. I cannot be dissected with a 66-page form.

Of course, it's terribly teenage angsty to think of myself as a misunderstood character. It's horribly conceited and arrogant to think I'm special and different. I try not to concern myself with such judgements and instead to concentrate on my continued efforts to produce tangible things: to create.

Lots of people have written lots of novels, journals, diaries, blogs, newspaper columns, magazine articles and all the very many other works of printed words. There are quite a lot of prolific writers, who have churned out vast quantities of prose. Does that mean I shouldn't bother? Does that mean I shouldn't even try?

I haven't been very productive during the past couple of weeks, but it doesn't matter because what I've produced is cumulative. Every little effort is slowly adding up to create some big achievements. It's painfully slow, but the progress appears to create sudden overnight success. Nobody really notices all the hard work and nobody can see where it's headed, until one day a huge milestone is reached and everything all makes sense.

The relief of having more-or-less reached one of my most important goals, is highly destabilising and is triggering hypomania: it's hard not to get carried away with the perceived magnitude of my achievement. It's hard not believe my own bullshit - that I'm invincible and that I can overcome any obstacle. It's tempting to act recklessly, believing that I'll always be able to rescue myself from disastrous situations. It's hard to keep reminding myself that my luck will run out eventually, if I keep tempting fate.

I've missed this blog and I've missed writing. I've been destabilised, but I'm going to force myself to continue with my routine, because I think it's very healthy and stabilising for me.

Sorry for the gap in my regular writing.

 

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NSFW

6 min read

This is a story about my big mouth...

So many screens

I have had a pretty simple game plan for my re-entry into civilised society: keep my damn mouth shut. Every time I think I've got something interesting to add or that I'd like to join in a conversation, either because I'm bored or maybe just because I'm feeling left out, instead of doing that I say to myself "that's a bad idea" and I attempt to busy myself with my work.

I'm trying to keep my head down.

I'm trying not to be noticed.

I don't do a very good job of keeping my big mouth shut sometimes. When I'm tired, sick and otherwise destabilised, I over-compensate for my insecurities by talking loudly and confidently about things I know almost nothing about. So far I've been patiently tolerated, and managed to luckily say things which have not been altogether wrong, useless, offensive or otherwise completely revealing the true extent of my imposter syndrome.

Sometimes I'm very good at quietly getting on with a difficult piece of work. Sometimes I'm able to do exactly what I need to do, which is to concentrate on producing a lot of high quality work, and staying out of trouble.

I'm highly opinionated and I've got a lot to say. I have a lot of thoughts and ideas. The office is not the place to explore those ideas. The best colleagues in a large organisation are the ones who don't rock the boat. If you get too many people in an organisation who think they're hot shit, the whole place becomes hell on earth very rapidly. It only takes a few arrogant assholes like me to ruin a lot of people's day. The best possible thing I can do in the office is to rein in my motormouth.

Writing without a filter every day has gotten me into the habit of engaging my mouth before my brain. When I write, I do so without considering whether I'm making myself look like a dickhead, whether I'm upsetting anybody or generally thinking about the consequences of what I write. I generally assume that what I write is harmless.

At work, the tiniest slip of the tongue could be disastrous. There are things which are simply unspeakable at work, and it's best if you don't even hint that you might have an opinion. Gender, politics, religion and other emotive topics are best avoided in their entirety. To express liberal-minded sympathies with the wrong thing could cause your colleagues to assume that you're in favour of legalising murder, rape, pedophilia, bestiality, terrorism and the distribution of syringes filled with heroin to newborn babies.

It's best to say nothing.

Although it's very difficult to do, I avoid looking at any websites which are not work-related. I don't want to take the chance that somebody might even glance over my shoulder and assume from the title of the Wikipedia article that I'm reading, something about who I am.

Obviously, it's a patently absurd situation, where I spend a very great deal of time writing and publishing a public document which explicitly declares every single weird thing which goes on inside my head, as well as my unflattering mistakes of the past. How can I go to so much effort at work to present a bland beige nondescript and mostly absent personality, entirely designed to obfuscate any identifying features, and yet at the same time put so much time and effort into making every minute detail of my entire life publicly accessible?

I suppose if I didn't write like this, I would struggle a lot more to keep myself contained at work. My inner turmoil would express itself in unhelpful and unprofessional ways in the office, through the way I speak, write and interact with my colleagues. I often have the impulse to sneak a little bit of my real personality into the dry technical work that I do, but I'm able to resist that urge, because I have a creative outlet.

Today was not a good day.

I've been tired and unwell, which compromises my ability to think before I speak. I've been procrastinating, because I've got a difficult piece of work to do and my brain hasn't been fully functioning. I have some interesting and eccentric colleagues, who are truly delightful to spend my working week with, but I've been unable to resist the temptation to keep myself to myself and stay out of trouble. In short: I've been far too outspoken and unguarded.

I'm not such an idiot that I haven't carefully considered most of what I've said. I've managed to deliberately stay out of conversations which almost definitely should never be held within the four walls of a respectable organisation. I've managed to remind myself to be evasive and vague most of the time but when I left the office this evening, I was suddenly filled with regret that I was not more secretive and opaque.

It's hard to resist the temptation to have an unguarded social interaction with somebody, when they genuinely seem interested in who you are and what makes you tick. When colleagues are showing a genuine interest in my life outside work, beyond simple nosiness, it's flattering and makes me feel wanted. I have such a desperate need to belong and to be accepted, that it's hard for me to maintain my defences and keep my mask in place.

I fear there may be unexpected negative consequences. I'm paranoid that I'm damaging my reputation and weakening my position. I'm more worried than ever that my spotless image is being tarnished, by my own words.

I live constantly in the exposed and vulnerable position of having more than a million unflattering words easily accessible to anybody with an internet connection and the ability to use Google, but it's the comparatively few words I've uttered in the office which trouble me the most.

Perhaps I should feel heartened that my colleagues want to know who I am but I'd almost prefer it if they read my blog, rather than got to know me through my thoughtfully considered and highly sanitised words, designed to be safe for office consumption.

I feel like I'm repeating the mistake I made in 2014 and 2015, where I was so confident in my technical abilities, the quality of my work and the value of my contribution, that I relaxed too much. Being myself in the office was not a good career move.

It's hard work, putting on a corporate mask, but it's financially rewarding. I really don't want to be the architect of my own destruction.

 

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Workload

4 min read

This is a story about métier...

I'm on a bus

It never rains, it pours. I had envisaged being able to quietly beaver away at my novel during my working day, in order to make the torturous hours in the office pass more easily, but fate has conspired to deliver me a delightful challenge in my day job at exactly the same time as I embarked upon the ridiculous task of holding down full-time employment, writing a daily blog and completing a short novel within 30 days.

I love it.

I have heaped pressure upon myself, like I always do, but not as much as I did last year. I was unemployed and homeless last year, so I was desperate for something to cling onto for my fragile self-esteem, and I had pinned a lot of hopes on creating a passable novel as a way of feeling as if I was using my time productively. This year I've managed to avoid over-hyping my writing abilities and over-estimating my potential as a fiction author. However, I still secretly hope that I'll be able to bash out another finished novel.

I had quite an exhausting day at work today. I'm a little burnt-out.

I'm in the enviable position of having something to do at work, which is right up my street.

The reason why you'd hire me is not because I'm a steady dependable guy who can be relied upon to churn out an endless stream of predictable results, but because I'm the sort of freaky weirdo who'll keep on plugging away at a difficult problem which has been declared "too hard" to fix by everybody else. There'll be no shortage of people queuing up to create something brand new on a blank canvas, but almost none of them will want to stick around to complete the job. There's no shortage of people who'll say "we should throw everything away and start over". However, the devil is in the detail and finishing the job is the hardest thing. Hardly anybody will stick around to deal with the unglamorous task of tying up all the loose ends and dealing with all the crap that got brushed under the carpet.

I'm already feeling overwhelmed with the workload of having a full-time job, commuting, living out of a suitcase, writing my blog, dating, staying on top of social media and writing a novel. It's day two and I'm falling to bits.

My life is pretty weird. Family and friends don't really figure in my daily life. My life had become completely dysfunctional for more years than I care to remember, so I exhibit none of the patterns of behaviour that normal people do. I don't have many face-to-face interactions. I hardly ever speak on the phone. I don't socialise. I don't spend my time in good company.

I spend my life in front of a screen.

I thought that I would be re-invigorated after a holiday. I thought that I would feel energised after reaching the point where I'm finally owed as much money as I owe: break-even. I'm worth literally nothing, which is a huge relief after having spent so long being more valuable dead than alive, thanks to a life insurance policy which would have paid out enough money to settle my debts and leave a decent chunk of surplus cash for dispersal.

I'm definitely a writer, but I'm pulled between three competing demands: to write concise and efficient code for my employers, to write my daily blog for my readers and to write another novel, to satisfy my deep yearning to scratch my creative itch.

I was writing a chapter of my novel today and I realised that I could express the whole thing in 10,000 words or fewer, which might be a little too condensed and concise for the average reader to enjoy. I know it's arrogant to say this, but I thought about Buckminster Fuller's Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth and wondered what the hell I'm doing writing a work of fiction, when my purpose in life is clearly to write instructions for idiots (i.e. computers in the most part).

Often, I think that if I start writing a manifesto or a prescriptive guide on how to live life, I'm heading down the rabbit-hole of madness. Too many psychopaths have written manifestos. I don't wanna go there.

I'm going to deliberately cut myself short here, because I'm enjoying the rare privilege of perceiving the value of the finite commodity which is time itself. For once, I'm not bored at all.

 

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Writing my Third Novel #NaNoWriMo18

3 min read

This is a story about traditions...

Tapping away at the keyboard

Writing my first novel without the competing demands of a full-time job and a blog, was an incredible experience. I had a great deal of help from my girlfriend and my guardian angel, who patiently read my daily efforts and offered a lot of support and encouragement, so that I could complete the project. I had friends and my regular readers following the progress of my draft manuscript as I publicly published it. It was a dream writing project.

I was overconfident for my second novel. I thought that I would easily repeat my achievement, so I set myself a very ambitious challenge. I was somewhat carried away with the notion that I'm a good writer and as such I expected myself to be able to churn out high quality prose with ease. I thought an excellent novel would flow straight onto the page with little or no effort.

I persevered with that second novel for 42,000 words before finally abandoning the project, because it wasn't going to be finished by 30 November, in time to win NaNoWriMo and I was deeply unhappy with what I'd written. I'm quite a perfectionist, but what I'd written was truly abysmal in and in dire need of some serious editing. It embarrassed me that my bad writing was on public display.

My blog writing has become an ingrained habit. I have no difficulty producing an average of 1,200 words per day for this website.

What I hadn't realised is how important it is for me to be able to express myself every day on my blog. I need this outlet. By the end of 30 days - because I'd decided to stop blogging temporarily - I missed my blog so badly I felt like I was dying of heartbreak.

So, this year I'm writing my new novel in private, although I'll share a link with you if you ask nicely. I'm writing without worrying about making my efforts fit for publication. I'm writing for the sheer enjoyment of crafting a story, without worrying about what the public think about it. When I'm finished, if I'm pleased with it then I'll edit it and think about publishing it, but for now it's my own private project.

I've written 1,653 words so far and I'll probably keep you posted about my progress from time to time, because I'm excited about the project and I'm enjoying myself a lot. It's nice not to have the pressure I had last year, even though this is the first year where I'm also working a full-time job and writing my daily blog at the same time, which is quite demanding.

I've picked a story which is allowing me to have a lot of fun. I've abandoned all the restrictions I placed upon myself the previous two years. I'm not worrying about whether or not I'm writing good fiction at this stage... I'm just writing the novel that I want to write. I have complete artistic freedom and I love it.

Having written over 2,000 words today, I'm going to wrap up this shorter-than-usual blog post, feeling like I've done a good day's work.

 

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Barrier to Entry

9 min read

This is a story about prejudice...

Way out

If somebody has decided they don't like you because something has invoked their prejudices, then almost anything you say or do will be twisted negatively. There's no way to win somebody over once you're seen in a bad light, because it's possible to create a monster out of a saint if your mind is that way inclined.

I photographed the exit from my office.

I shouldn't have done it.

I knew it was wrong.

Nobody's told me off yet. Nobody's caught me. My wrongdoing has been entirely unnoticed by the universe.

This. Does. Not. Matter.

I'm not supposed to put photographs of an entrance into a secure building up on the public internet. In fact I'm probably expressly forbidden from doing such a thing depending on the interpretation of deliberately nebulous bullshit.

Provided I'm the golden boy and I'm making myself valuable around the place, nobody really gives a damn who I am and what I do. I could write about the specifics of what I do for a day job - which is all public anyway - and I wouldn't suffer any consequences, so long as I retain the aura of a person who's desirable to have around; so long as I'm wanted.

The moment that the sands shift and I'm viewed as an undesirable scumbag then I'll suddenly come under much closer scrutiny. Those who are looking for reasons to reject me are sure to find many things which they can twist to their advantage.

"Aha!" they will exclaim. "We've rumbled you!"

Of course, the joke is on those who seek to act with prejudice, because this identity existed all along. Everything has been on open public display. I was welcomed in with open arms when you wanted something from me and you thought you were getting the better end of the deal.

"You mean to say I hired a junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt tramp with mental health problems!" they exclaim.

The indignation is palpable.

The prejudiced are always unreasonably angry and upset to discover that their trusted and valued colleague who has successfully delivered their large and complex IT project is nothing more than a low-life loser.

"I could have paid you peanuts!" seems to be the thing that's most upsetting to these people who'd think nothing of kicking a homeless person to death and urinating on the corpse.

It's not true.

You cannot pay me peanuts.

I cut my day rate by over 50% when I was utterly desperate last year, and I was taken advantage of worse than I've ever been in my 21 year career. I was treated disgustingly. I will never do that again.

Do you think you're getting a bargain every time you beat somebody down on the price they've quoted you? Do you think you're succeeding when you ask somebody to do more work for less money?

Wrong.

Pay less. Get less.

Do you think you're making the world a better place by refusing to work with vast swathes of society? Do you think you're more likely to succeed if you surround yourself with people who are just like you: A-grade achieving, 2:1 degree holding, compliant and conformant worker-bee drones who've got manicured CVs?

I should not be allowed onto the hallowed turf.

My face does not fit.

I'm an intruder.

I'm an interloper.

However, I'm not a fraud.

Stuff comes out of my mouth and even I'm surprised. People wander over to my desk and they want to talk to me. They want to ask me questions. Somehow I know the answers. Believe me... I'm more surprised than anybody.

I'm acutely aware that when people are having a tough time and living in a precarious situation they are more inclined to accept less money. People who are going through economic difficulties are easier to bully and exploit. It's relatively straightforward to fuck the poor.

In a poker game you have to have your chips on the table. Everyone can see the size of your stack.

I seem to have gained a somewhat posh accent, although I'm not entirely sure where I got it from because my parents are Northern and I was born in Wales. My cut-glass accent is apparently a close enough approximation to that of a privately educated and privileged member of the set who are destined for greatness, such that I haven't had to suffer the indignity of being offered insultingly low wages by the exploitative rentier class. They assume I'm one of them.

I'm racked with guilt that I enjoy privileges conferred by social status - when the people who I interact with in a work environment mistakenly think I've had a fine and expensive education - but yet I've rubbed shoulders with enough rough sleepers, junkies and alcoholics on the streets of London to know that intellect doesn't magically happen to restrict itself to upper-middle-class white families in the Home Counties.

Nobody knows that I should be stacking shelves in a supermarket for minimum wage. That's my so-called place in society, and I should be grateful to lick the boots of the capitalist pigs. (Caveat: I know that our supermarket shelves need stacking - it's a vital role - and I'm grateful to those who do the job).

I'm careening towards a collision with those who believe it's their rôle in life to police the social strata. They will find this document interesting reading. There is much ammunition here to construct a fabricated reason for my dismissal, on the flimsy and patently absurd basis that I might be exposing the country to terrorist attack by publicising confidential details about the entrance to our impregnable fortress. Perhaps I'm bringing my profession into disrepute and otherwise stepping out of line; conducting myself in a manner unbecoming of my position of responsibility. Bullshit.

Of course I might feel a pang of regret if I succeed in raising my profile sufficiently that the powers-that-be feel they have to take some action and eject me from the world I'm not supposed to belong to. "This isn't for the likes of you" they'll say as they boot me out of the door.

"What have I done?" I'll momentarily ask myself.

It seems two-faced to sit on the fence. It seems awful to take the big bucks and not impoverish myself as a charity worker. What the hell am I doing trying to change the world without first making myself poor and destitute?

Actually, I did make myself poor and destitute.

Am I now turning my back on the struggling masses?

I like to think that I'm doing the very opposite. I'm a bridge in-between two worlds which would never normally meet. There isn't much more I could do to challenge the prejudices of those who live in sheltered worlds, inaccessible to ordinary people and especially those who are tainted by the stench of poverty. I have specifically set out to become liked and respected, while also maintaining an open secret of my chequered past. My situation is no accident.

Three years ago I grew impatient. Three years ago my project was in its infancy and I was rushing things. Three years ago I was too tired, stressed and destabilised by the traumatic experiences I'd been through. Three years ago I had a plan but I was too unwell to execute it with any finesse. Three years ago I tried to force things to happen, which was "contrived" to put it in the words of the BBC journalist I was dating. She was right.

What I'm doing right now is still somewhat contrived, but it's not easy.

You'll find plenty of writers who'll have spent a single night sleeping rough, or perhaps in a psychiatric institution, in order to provide material for them to write about.

You won't find many people on the right side of the tracks who can write with any depth of experience and knowledge about the afflictions of modern life.

Life is a one-way street.

I feel quite unique in having been able to resume a life to which my entry should be completely barred. A great deal of effort goes into stopping people just like me from being able to enter the realm in which I inhabit. A vast system exists to thoroughly exclude ordinary mortals from getting anywhere near the restricted areas where I tread.

Instead of thanking my lucky stars and being wowed by the privilege, such that I become afraid of being ejected, I try to keep doing the brave thing of being honest and open. I refuse to hide my true identity.

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm careful to blur portions of images which show things which are confidential. I'm careful to never mention anything which is sensitive or classified. I never say where exactly I work and who I work for. I never divulge any details which realistically could be ever used for nefarious purposes, or expose anything which should be secure.

Of couse... my real name and my face are public property.

But.

How would you go about blackmailing or otherwise manipulating me, if I've already made everything about me fully public?

What do you think I'd say if you said you knew my boss' name and were going to send them the link to my blog?

You're failing to appreciate the value of living an open life.

You're failing to see that secrecy and privacy are illusional.

You're failing to accept that the pressure of maintaining your spotless CV and so-called reputation is an instrument of tyranny, which makes you easily manipulated and exploited by the capitalists.

The most rebellious thing you can do is to create a public identity you're proud of; refuse to sanitise and hide your true self and your mistakes.

Never hide.

 

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I Work Hard: The Proof

7 min read

This is a story about brainwork...

Graphite piano

In 2008 I became suicidally depressed. I'd been part of the project which had been at the centre of the global financial crisis: namely the trading of quadrillions of dollars worth of credit default swaps (CDS) which had grown in notional book value to be manyfold greater than the aggregate value of all the tangible things, such as precious metals, rare gemstones, property, factories, oil, gas, coffee, coins, banknotes and anything else which you could point at and say "that's worth something".

The world had lost its mind.

I knew it was coming of course. I had bought gold in 2005. I had negotiated a great mortgage in 2007 knowing there was a credit crunch on the horizon. In some ways I had tangible proof that I had been doing something valuable because I owned property, cars, boats and other things, as well as considerable amounts of liquid assets. In short: I was rich.

I got rich from data and software. I got rich off the back of investment banking and derivatives contracts. I got rich off a whole lot of nothing.

In 2008 it really felt like I'd presided over the most awful crime ever perpetrated against humanity.

I'd worked hard and I'd done my job very effectively. I thought about the bigger picture and I knew - deep down - that what we were doing at JPMorgan was wrong, but I'm an engineer and I like delivering engineering solutions. If somebody asks me "can you do this?" then I want to be the problem-solving can-do guy who comes up with the solution and delivers a working system. Often times I stop and take a step back, and think about the context of what I'm doing - I consider the ethics - but that's not really my job. I just design and build software systems.

The whole "I just work here" or "I was just following orders" thing is how the Nazis managed to kill 6 million jews, so I'm not going to hide behind that flimsy defence.

I know what I did was wrong.

So, I decided to completely ditch investment banking. I decided to do something that was the polar opposite of investment banking. I retrained in the building trade.

Instead of working in an office, I worked in customers' houses. Instead of working to devise arcane and impenetrably complicated ways of moving imaginary wealth around the globe, I helped build houses for people to live in. Instead of working for a massive faceless global corporation, intent on destroying the worldwide economy and plunging us all into the deepest and longest recession in history, I worked for myself - I was a sole trader; a man with a van.

I discovered that what I'd always suspected was true: I work hard.

It's hard to prove that you work hard, when all your hard work is hidden away behind the scenes. You have no idea how hard it was to build all the websites and apps that you use every day. You completely take for granted all the facets of the modern world, where you can speak to your phone and express your unique special snowflake personality on social media. The geeks and the nerds are derided as autistic-spectrum weirdo scum, who are all potential paedophile predator perverts who deserved to have a miserable childhood getting bullied at school.

While we celebrate the doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen and suchlike, because their contribution to society is conspicuously obvious and easy to understand - like a game of cops & robbers - questions such as "what is the internet?" belie the hideous complexity of that innocuous 4-word question. If you're looking for a convenient Google-provided soundbite synopsis that you can parrot to other people, in the vague hope of sounding intelligent, you're doing a disservice to those geeks and nerds who you persecuted at school, who are the architects of the fourth industrial revolution.

It's very hard for me to prove to you that I've been working very hard during my 21-year full-time career. You're quite likely to accuse me of not working very hard at all, because there are people out there who do a lot more physical labour, and what they produce is a lot more tangible and more easily understood in a childlike brain.

It was immensely frustrating to me that I had no easily understood empirical evidence to prove how hard I work; to prove that I'm a busy bee.

I started to write.

I've written the equivalent of 22 novels over the course of 3 years.

Of course a lot of what I've written is manic rantings, but one should be mindful that during the course of the 3 years I've also written a lot of software, and software doesn't work if it's wrong. One missing semicolon in millions of lines of code and the whole thing will be kaput. You should consider the fact that it's a facet of my profession to write with coherence and attention to detail, because my editor has zero tolerance for mistakes: the computer can't handle errors.

It pleases me that I've produced 1.1 million words in my spare time as proof that I'm not an idle drug addict loser. It pleases me that I have a tangible asset, which vastly exceeds the length of the King James Bible.

Would you accuse an author of a bestselling series of novels, as being unproductive and not working for their living?

I say again: I've been writing in addition to my full-time day job.

It's true that sometimes I find my day job very easy and unchallenging, but there are other days when there are gremlins in the incomprehensibly huge and complex computer software systems, and those problems are very hard to diagnose and fix. Manual labour is governed by a simple and well understood set of physical laws: the energy requirements to lift and move heavy objects is quite easy to calculate. The amount of brainwork required to fix a problem with one of your beloved apps or websites - to give a facile example - which might affect millions of people, is not an easy calculation at all. If you think what I do is unimportant, you should see the public response every time Instagram stops working or Snapchat introduces a major change.

My motivation for writing this is, of course, insecurity. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Imposter syndrome asserts itself and I wonder what the hell I've been doing with two decades of my life, with nothing to show for it except a lot of crummy software which almost nobody is aware even exists. I would struggle to explain to either of my grandmothers what I do for a living, especially now they're dead.

I exist in a strange part of the world. I'm a 'tame' geek who can speak plain English. I don't surround myself with other technologists and I'm cursed with a bleeding-heart liberal streak and an inquiring mind, which causes me to question whether I'm part of the problem or part of the solution.

Because of my guilt, work ethic and insecurity, I feel like I have to create a very conspicuous and public display of my productivity, which can be easily understood. Here's the headline: 1.1 million words in 3 years.

I write because I'm afraid that you'll write me off as a lazy junkie waste-of-space loser who doesn't do anything productive or useful. I write because I don't see much other evidence that I ever existed or did anything notable; that I ever contributed to society.

"Use your talent and energy for good" I hear you say. Yup. That's working out really great for the oppressed workers, isn't it? I'm so glad that charity has been so successful that it's made itself completely redundant as a concept.

I write because I haven't decided what else to do, but I'm still thinking, of course. You might think that thinking is useless, but what is writing except for thinking on a page?

 

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