Sunday, 12 September 2010

What should a blog be about?

I recently gave someone some advice about starting a blog, not that I am in any way an expert, but who is? So, it has made me think, what should be in a blog? Of course this is an easy question to answer for those blogs that are focussed on one subject area, such as the law, or science and skepticism. But for blogs written as a more personal experiment, what should they include? And I guess more importantly, what shouldn’t they include?

The problem is, there are no hard and fast rules to blogging. It is and should be an open forum, a way of expressing yourself and letting others read and comment on your thoughts. I think it helps if you have an aim for blog, even if like me, you don’t always stick to it. I aimed to try and use my blog to reflect on my thoughts and experiences, in a way to be more skeptical. For me reflection is a great way of doing this, I consider things I have learned and experienced and then how they may have shaped my thoughts and feelings and enriched my life or opinions. Often, just writing the blog is the part which cements my thinking. Of course I can always change my mind, I try to remain open minded about everything, so as I gain more information or experience I can reconsider what I think about a topic. For instance, I have written about luck in previous blogs, but then I saw Prof Richard Wiseman at the Fringe of Reason in Edinburgh and now I feel I need to read more around the subject, the concept of luck (even with its lack of evidence/logic) may not always be a bad thing. I will read the books I now know exist and perhaps change my views.

My blog is quite personal, for someone who states they don’t write lots of personal information online, I obviously do. These blogs are my opinions, what could be more personal than that? However, I do consider when writing them if it would be detrimental to my career if a patient or work colleague ever stumbled upon them. So I do hold back a little. I recently told a fellow blogger that I don’t post these blogs on FB, only on twitter. I have told a few close friends and family members that I write a blog and it’s purpose, but I haven’t showed it to them. It is not that I am embarrassed, or am I? My friends know me, they know I have strong views, but many are not into social networking in a way I am, nor are they as into science and skepticism as me. It is like I lead two separate lives in a way, the friends and family I grew up with, and my new friends and acquaintances on the internet, the ones who have more of a passion for the topics which vaguely interest my “real friends”. The lines are blurred of course, there are friends who dip into both camps, the “real friends” one and the “online friends”/science/skepticism one. These things are never simple, so I don’t actively separate them. If someone asks me about my blog or shows interest then they are welcome to read it. However, I am aware that many of my facebook “friends” would have a different perception of me all together from reading these rambles.

That brings me onto to another worry, one which I considered before even starting this blog. Does writing my thoughts and feelings in such a concise way change people’s perception of me in a good/bad way? I am unsure. Many people who are lovely enough to read this have met me at various comedy gigs around the country, and I hope to continue meeting more people at comedy/skeptic events. But having a blog can’t help but give someone an opinion about me, how I think, how I write. I guess it depends what you think of the blog? I worry that in concentrating my opinions in blog form I give the impression that I am overly opinionated or pretentious? In reality I am not (always, I hope). I mean I have views on subjects, but when I meet people I am just like everyone else, a bit shy and awkward at first and reserved until I know someone better. Does a blog give the impression that I am bolder than I am? I find it easy to sit back and write thoughts and feelings from behind the protection of my laptop screen. I don’t see anyone’s reaction, yes I get comments every now and then, but without the immediate social interaction of seeing a person give me feedback, I can again sit back and reflect on what people think without over reacting, getting offended or coming across as aggressive if my opinion differs (plus in all honesty I usually just get lots of lovely tweets and comments, even when I expect more challenging opinions to be stirred). Don’t get me wrong, I think I can debate a topic in a rational and polite way in face to face conversation, but not necessarily straight away with strangers (I am not that confident at speaking in public with strangers). In face to face contact I like to find out how far someone can be pushed, or how strong their views are; if the differ greatly to mine, if they are a rational thinker, or easily offended; whether they have a sense of humour. This can usually soon be found out once you have spent some time with someone (and yes, occasionally from lots of online contact over a period of time).

So, what should a blog contain? I still don’t know. I write this one for me, it helps me to think, to vent thoughts and feelings and practice my writing skills (or lack of). With the exception of a few blogs about comedy shows I have seen, I tend to keep it vague, not too much detail about my personal life, but at the same time I accept that it is a very personal blog, after all it is how I feel or think about things. A blog is what ever you need a blog to be, often a recording memories and life, a look at a subject which interests/outrages you or a way in which you feel you can express yourself.

Thanks for reading this entry, please feel free to comment on it, or tweet me any thoughts you have, they would be much appreciated (I need them in order to learn, honest).

Saturday, 4 September 2010


Ok I realise this is not the happiest of subjects to have a ramble through, but I was inspired yesterday when I read Peter Harrison’s excellent blog on the subject, read it here. As his blogs often do it made me consider my views on the subject.

I too do not believe in afterlife, I am an atheist so when we are dead we are gone, I don’t have a spirit that will live on in some other plane of existence. When my heart stops and my brain ceases to function that is it. However, there is one way in which I believe I will live on, I hopefully leave behind people whose life I have touched in some way (I cringe as I write that phrase). The memories I create with others and the impact I have on other people is my legacy. In a sense this is what scares me about death. I wonder what will I leave behind? How will I have impacted on anyone’s life? I have no great ambitions in politics or to write a book or anything like that, but that does not mean I leave no long lasting impression on the people I interact with. While the thought does scare me, I fully accept that once I am gone I won’t care. I can’t, there is no way I can have a thought or regret once the moment of death has passed. In a way this is a benefit to death, I can’t focus on what I leave behind as I won’t know or care beyond the moment of death. The only way I can look at my impact on others and how I live my life is to look at it right now, to talk to people, meet new people and reflect on what happens or has happened in the few insignificant years I have been alive.

Considering death should and does inspire me to live a full life, not necessarily to do great things but to be happy and hopefully make those I surround myself with happy in some way too. I can’t live life totally without regret, I will make mistakes, but I can learn from them and move on. Mortality is a great motivator, I would hate to think I was immortal as I can’t see how I would have so much ambition and motivation with an infinite amount of time in which to make mistakes or realise goals. It is like when you go on holiday (stay with me on this bit), you know you only have your two weeks to enjoy the particular destination, it has usually cost a lot of money and excitement has be built up over a number of months. So off you go, things go wrong or not quite to plan, but you carry on making the best of things, not wanting to ruin the precious hours and days you have. People on holiday try to create moments they will remember, day trips, great views, shows, anything to have great memories of that time. To me this is how we should look at life, we may not know how long we have but we should make the best of what we have and create as many wonderful moments as we can, there is an end point.

I understand that for some theists it is a comfort to believe there is an afterlife, but I would consider such a concept much more frightening than not believing in one. A theist would fear the judgement of their life after death, whether they go to heaven or hell would be decided once the moment of death has passed. At least I know (yes, I know as I have no evidence to the contrary) that once death has occurred it doesn’t matter one bit, what is done is done. So I don’t fear death, I fear not living life to it fullest but more so than that I fear not knowing the impact I have on others. The answer for me is to ask, talk to people, tell people how you feel, get the answers and the reactions now. I do not have to wait for some God to pass judgement on how good or full my life is, I am happy and grateful I can find that out for myself now. And if I don’t like what I find, I’d better do something about it.

I can think of times when having this view has helped me, there have been periods in my life where I have stopped and looked back and decided to change. This may be partly influenced by my job, I unfortunately do have patients who die, which of course is very sad and often tragic. But in order to do such a job I have to have a reflective process in place, I have to consider what was done, what could have been done and if mistakes were made can they be learned from. We cannot “save” everyone. This is of course no comfort to relatives, and not a discussion I would have with them. But working with death makes me appreciate life. Add to this the belief that I have that my life is finite, there is nothing after then you can see how I am motivated to “get on with it” and try to live it to the full. So I think I am grateful for death, not frightened of it. I too, like Peter accept death as a part of life. Of course if I know when death is coming (I think I would rather not know in a way, but that is another discussion) I will be frightened of that moment, but more of the possible physical pain and the emotions my loved ones have to go through that I have to see, it is the build up to death, but once the moment has passed there is nothing to be afraid of, well there is nothing at all for me.

In my view having such a view on death and life should make my eventual death easier on my family and friends, I would hope that they understand that I hopefully have said what I wanted to say, and done what I wanted to do, not because of fear of judgement but because I wanted to live a full life, because I am inspired by death.

Thanks for reading, do read Peter Harrison’s much more eloquent discussion on the topic. As always comments are welcome on here or twitter if you wish.