A Profound Look Back at the Week: August 16-22

It is said “May you live in interesting times” and it appears the last one who said it really meant it. Even in the middle of summer, in the laziest month of all, boredom has remained out of reach for much of the world, it seems, and for me.

The Great Vaccine Wars

I have always found it not a little amazing and a bit gratifying how resilient basic human characteristics can be even in an environment of continuously accelerating progress. The direction of the progress is irrelevant. The fact is that the world is moving faster and faster towards the future and yet we continue to be just as charmingly ready and willing to separate into Us and Them as Stone Age hunter gatherers were.

Science has an explanation and it is that our brains evolve much slower than the progress of civilisation moves. In our brains, we’re still Stone Age hunter gatherers. (Side note: I haven’t googled Stone Age humans. In case they happen to not be hunter gatherers, feel free to chastise me. I know it would feel good.) So we still need to pick a tribe to feel complete. Social media, of course, has made this easier than ever.

For an observer, the situation is probably a godsend — to organise a social behaviour experiment on such a scale would be impossible without a lot of money if it’s possible at all. And yet here we have literal millions of people who make perfect research subjects and they are not even asking for payment for their participation.

Occasionally, I wish I hadn’t given up on my psychology-related career plans but I know that even if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be doing social behaviour studies because I’d have been an alcoholic, a junkie or dead by this time. Because I would have become a therapist and there’s only so much suffering I can take without breaking down. Good thing I gave up on those plans.

Puzzle time

Speaking of suffering, I endured some earlier this week, from an unlikely and rather unexpected source.

When I was little I enjoyed jigsaw puzzles a lot. There wasn’t much of a choice in puzzles then but I still remember the biggest one my family did together, of some painting or other that had a red background and a lot of tiny little shapes on it. My dad glued it to a board and it survived for years before sinking into oblivion somewhere.

Before we started our summer retreat in the country, I made an impulsive buy of a 636-piece Gibsons jigsaw puzzle of a Philip D. Hawkins painting with a steam train on it for Little C. (Hawkins I did google. Saying his painting had a steam train on it is like saying Wordsworth wrote a poem about flowers and these flowers were daffodils.) Anyway, I thought Little C. might get bored at some point so she should have something interesting and productive to do. She’s ten and I still delude myself I can plan her time, isn’t it cute?

I was the one who got bored first. In fairness, we did start doing the jigsaw together but she soon went on to more exciting things and I was stuck with the thing. In the space of two days I went from stuck to hooked. I had a mission and this mission was to finish the puzzle, glue it to a board and hang it on my wall. It is a painting that harks back to simpler and possibly happier times even if they didn’t have modern medicine, contact lenses, and laptops.

When I’m on a mission I tend to get rather competitive, even if it’s against myself. The further I got, the more competitive I became. And the other day I almost dropped it all because I couldn’t find the place for not one, not two, and not three or four pieces but six pieces. They were the only ones left to fit in the corner and they were all nearly identical in colour. I turned them around and swapped and reswapped them and nothing. Which is when I learned a valuable lesson.

Not that I didn’t already know this but apparently I needed a reminder that anger does not help do a jigsaw puzzle or anything else, really. Anger is quite refreshing and energising but helpful is the one thing it isn’t. So, I’m now learning to take a step — or a dozen — back from what I’m doing the moment I feel the first tendrils of anger, and do something else until it goes back to sleep. Need I say I will be buying another jigsaw puzzle the moment I’m in the vicinity of a relevant shop?

P.S. See the dark patch on the left? I had put one piece in the wrong place and it screwed up the whole thing. One single piece. Very profound.

A criminal mind

I’ve been reading a lot of criminal literature lately. I’m not really sure why but it started with Journey into Darkness, which was gut-wrenching and heart-breaking, and then I continued with Inside the Criminal Mind because obviously I had nothing better to read. Now I really need to write a crime novel. I can’t let all this new knowledge and insight into criminality go to waste. Also, I’ve downloaded three other books on criminal psychology.

Compared to Douglas’s books, Samenow’s work is what camembert is to mature cheddar but it is still very interesting (and I like camembert). He challenges a lot of dogma around criminality and I’ve been hard placed to accept this challenge fully. This is why it’s important to read outside our comfort zone, by the way. A different perspective on life and everything in it a day keeps nightmares away. Incidentally, I discovered I have the makings of a criminal personality.

I wish I was joking. I’ve always lived by the rules, never broken a law except once when I didn’t file my annual tax form because I didn’t know I had to. Which was when I got precious advice from an accounting acquaintance: ignorance is no justification. Wise words. I’ve been at war with my ignorance since then.

Back to the criminal mind, Samenow has an elegant way of describing mental and behavioural patterns typical of criminals, arguing that because of these patterns, there is no such thing as “He snapped” or ‘She committed a crime out of character”. I’m afraid I’ve recognised some of the mental patterns he discusses. This doesn’t make me a criminal, luckily, and it does not mean I’d inevitably escalate to a criminal but it did disturb me for a second before I realised it could help me write a better criminal in that crime novel I now need to write.

I guess many of us have some criminal tendencies deep inside that never see the light of day, unless they are pulled cruelly into the light of day by some trigger event or other. After all, we’re all potential killers — if you don’t believe me, you’ve never loved someone more than yourself, which is totally okay and I envy you. It’s a bit like reading the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or a medical encyclopedia — you’re bound to self-diagnose with half a dozen conditions.

When it comes to crime, though, it’s more real, I think, and, because of this, scarier. On the flip side, I’ve come to know myself better so I’ll be watching out for those trigger events and working on my self control. Also, I’m already writing the crime novel. It wasn’t supposed to be a crime novel but it’s already gone in that direction. The killer resents a particular work of Shakespeare’s that he plagiarised from Marlow and has an excessively acute sense of justice. I am truly writing my literary alter ego.

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As always, welcome to my book-peddling corner (because books won’t sell/download themselves much as I’d like them to).

For dragons and vampires, press The Lamiastriga (which you can’t read for free on this blog).

For a mystery featuring a vanishing plane, press Sky High (which you can read for free on this blog or on Kobo. I always appreciate feedback).

For random scary stories, here’s a complete list of my published shorter fiction.

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