Dreading January? Try a Little Decadence

December 12th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink


Here’s a fact, just 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s Resolution. 8 percent! That means most of us don’t have a fighting chance.

Do we make those stupid resolutions so we can spend January, February and most of March feeling crushed by our daily failures? Lost a in mental whirlpool of self-loathing? Damned by a willpower out of control?

Enough! Why do we do it to ourselves? Don’t we deserve better? The end of one year and beginning of another is an event in itself. Do we have to compound the situation by reckless goal-setting? Methinks not.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you seasonal cheer turns dirty in January. The most common things you’ll hear people say include, ‘God, I hate January;’ ‘January is so long/boring/dark/quiet’ or  ‘I’ve been to the gym three times this week. By March I’m going to look like [insert name of insanely good looking movie star here.]’

By the time March comes around it’s likely we’ve nestled into old routines such as not going to the gym, watching too much TV and eating a diet that includes take away food, chocolate and beer.

Psychology offers three main reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail: 1. People make unrealistic resolutions. 2. People don’t have the right mindset to fight off doubt and distractions. 3. People use fear and guilt as motivation.

All of us can identify with one of these reasons. We’ve all done it. Come the end of December we proclaim all the fabulous things we’re going to start doing in January.

Most people’s lists include goals such as going to the gym (gym memberships go up by 30 per cent in January); quit smoking, quit drinking, quit eating carbs; learn a language; lose weight, take up a new sport, meditate; volunteer at a local charity or spend more time with family.

Whatever is on on your list, it has two things in common with everyone else who makes a list: 1. It contains things you don’t do. 2. It contains activities that lead to self-improvement. For some reason we all become obsessed with self-improvement in January and think that doing things we don’t normally do will get us there.

This thinking is flawed. If you want to start a new activity, start in November. That way you’ll be up and running by the New Year and will have the comfort of a familiar routine to guide you through any dark days in January. This goes for meditation, spending time with family and especially exercise.

But ok, so you didn’t start a new activity in November and January is looming and you – like 92 per cent of people – are dreading it. You want the transition to be easy but you’re aware that easy is rarely worthwhile. You know it’s going to hurt. You resolve to take the pain and soldier on, fight through, be better.

Every January there are millions of people walking around telling themselves to be better: Come on! Move it lazy arse! You’re not good enough! Better! More! Now! Doesn’t that sound exhausting? How the heck is anyone expected to improve under those conditions?

In my humble opinion, a shift in thinking can solve the problem. Forget trying to ‘improve’ you, instead have fun. Do things that absorb you. As Einstein advised his son in a 1915 letter, do the things that give you ‘so much enjoyment you don’t notice the time pass.’

Don’t make a list of resolutions, make a list of things that make you happy. Some of these things will be part of your life already, some won’t. Look at the list. What are you not doing? Why aren’t you doing it? How will doing these things enhance your day, year, life? How can you make it happen?

Forget guilt. Instead get decadent. Do one thing that is deliciously decadent. Then do something that is ridiculously kind. You know yourself, one man’s decadence is another man’s kindness, so choose whatever is fun or kind according to you.

Most importantly be kind to yourself. Silence the critical voice in your head and replace it with a voice who thinks you’re amazing whether you’re at the gym or slouched in front of the TV. This January kill the blues by adding a little sugar. Shake things up with one decadent and one kind act. Everything else can wait till February. Or November.


Do We Really Want Google Glass In Our Bedrooms?

March 28th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Google is working hard to develop all the possible uses and benefits of its latest gadget, Google Glass. Also known as ‘The Glass Project,’ this gadget is wearable tech – worn like a pair of glasses – that gives the wearer access to the digital world at eye-level whilst also enhancing the wearer’s view of the real world.

As Google is keen for others to explore possible uses for this technology, the company hosted a day-long hackathon in London which gave students at London’s Central Saint Martin’s art college the chance to come up with ideas.

Since then, they have been working on a project that takes Glass to a whole new level, into our bedrooms and our sex lives.

The project started off with the question ‘how can we make sex more awesome with Google Glass,’ says Sherif Maktabi, the founder of the project. The answer Maktabi and his team came up with was shared live streaming and voice controls connected to your home.

During the hackathon, which was held in November 2013, Maktabi got to ‘play’ with Google Glass and come up with some ideas. He was immediately drawn to the notion of ‘Sex with Glass.’

The cornerstone of ‘Sex with Glass’ is the shared live streaming: ‘See what your partner can see… Just say “OK glass, it’s time” and Glass will stream what you see to each other. And if you feel like stopping everything, just ask: “OK glass, pull out.”’

‘Some people find what we do repulsive,’ Maktabi says. ‘But a lot of other people – and I am basing this from the emails we are getting online – really desire to try this. People have fantasies, desires and needs. It’s personal. What they do with that is up to them. Guilt, dogma and shame is something we still widely experience when it comes to sex and how we talk about it.’

As well as providing live streams, the app also records the action but the video is deleted after five hours. If users want to go totally Matrix, it’s also possible to link the app up to your home, which means lights and music can also be controlled by voice commands. Anyone who needs a little inspiration can call on an in-built Karma Sutra file loaded onto the app.

Needless to say reaction to the app has been mixed. While Maktabi is adamant that the app does what it says on the tin: enhance sex, many people are concerned by its limited view, potential breach of privacy and biased advertising.

One of the main concerns people are asking is, ‘why would I want to see myself during sex?’ And more worryingly, is this kind of data collection just providing covert agencies with new opportunities for breach of public privacy. What’s next? The National Sex Archives?

Plus the advertising campaign that promotes ‘Sex with Glass’ only features heterosexual couples and has some odd taglines such as: ‘You’ll be able to watch your videos for five hours until they are deleted forever. That’s for all the ladies out there.’ Great idea! After all, it’s well known that women like to lie around for hours watching videos of themselves having sex?

While Maktabi and his team push on with the development of ‘Sex with Glass,’ policy at Google HQ may thwart their efforts sooner than expected. Back in June 2013, Google updated its policy with regard to apps that contain sexual content.

The new policy reads: ‘We don’t allow Glassware content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. Google has a zero-tolerance policy against child pornography. If we become aware of content with child pornography, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and delete the Google Accounts of those involved with the distribution.’

The app that prompted this policy change from Google is an app called Tits & Glass, made by adult company, Mikandi. The idea for this app is similar to Maktabi’s insofar as it allows users to share experiences through live streaming along with some other creative features.

However, MiKandi co-founder Jennifer McEwen said in an interview with Mashable magazine that although the porn industry has been quick to adapt to emerging technologies, levels of innovation have slowed in the last few years.

‘The old adage that porn drives tech is sadly no longer true,’ she said. ‘Over the last decade, adult companies have seen themselves locked out of more and more technologies and services — the latest being mobile applications. Adopting new technology is costly and time consuming, so it’s no wonder why some in the industry have become risk adverse.’

Despite these concerns the porn industry is looking for ways to marry their services with future developments at Google.

‘The reaction to Google Glass has been 50/50 between companies such as MiKandi, who see the potential of this new device and plan to develop products for it, and those who prefer to wait and see,’ McEwen said. ‘We’re excited at the possibilities Glass holds for more interactive applications as the technology matures.’

Clearly Maktabi and his team at St. Martin’s College are excited too, perhaps a little too excited.

Why Do Writers Drink?

October 21st, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

A new book by Olivia Laing called The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink explores the mysterious and murderous relationship between American writers and drinking.

Although there are numerous writers who would qualify for inclusion in this book, Laing focuses on six: John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, John Berryman, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams.

American literature is littered with hard drinkers such as Poe, Faulkner, Hart Crane, Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker (“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”), Ring Lardner, Raymond Chandler, O Henry, Jack London, Delmore Schwartz, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Anne Sexton and Patricia Highsmith to name a few.

Laing’s book which is part travel log, part memoir as well an exploration of the link between whisky and literature was inspired by her love of these writers and the affect alcoholism had on her own family.

She takes her title from a line in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where one of the characters says “I’m takin’ a little short trip to Echo Spring” – his nickname for the drinks cabinet and the brand of bourbon it contains.

Laing travels across America, bringing to life the backwater towns and watering holes that these writers frequented. In the process she describes their lives and how alcohol both shaped and destroyed their relationships with friends, families, lovers and work.

Tennessee Williams won three Pulitzer Prizes for A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Night of the Iguana, but he died in February 1983 in a small New York hotel, lonely, unhappy and with his best writing years far behind him.

He suffered from depression for most of his life and drinking eased his anxiety. A diary entry from 1957 reads: “Two Scotches at bar. 3 drinks in morning. A daiquiri at Dirty Dick’s, 3 glasses of red wine at lunch and 3 of wine at dinner. Also two seconals so far, and a green tranquillizer whose name I do not know and a yellow one I think is called reserpine or something like that.” He was in rehab at the time.

When his long-term partner, Frank Merlo, died in 1963, Williams’ already fragile life, nosedived. Somehow he survived for another two decades on a daily diet of black coffee, alcohol and barbiturates. Each year he put on a new play and each year, it failed.

He was interviewed in the Paris Review a few years before he died and he said, “American writers nearly all have problems with alcohol because there’s a great deal of tension involved in writing, you know that. And it’s all right up to a certain age, and then you begin to need a little nervous support that you get from drinking.”

From Berryman’s Dream Songs to Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, there exist dozens of works of art in which an alcoholic writer reflects on their own disease and tries to uncover its mechanics as well as its effects.

Probably one of the most telling lines ever written about alcoholism comes from the play, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof when Big Daddy asks Brick why he drinks. Brick says he drinks until he hears “the click…This click that I get in my head that makes me peaceful. I got to drink till I get it.”

Is this what Williams and the others were chasing, the click, the peace? There is no question that the creation of art, in whatever form, forces the creator to delve into the depths of their conscious in order to reveal the truth of the human condition. But creating art also demands mental agility.

“A short story can be written on a bottle,” Fitzgerald told his editor Max Perkins, “but for a novel you need the mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern in your head and ruthlessly sacrifice the sideshows.”

As with Williams, all of these writers, who continued to drink, suffered physically and creatively because of it. Fitzgerald was sacked from MGM and took to writing stories for Esquire magazine about a small-time hack, which is pretty much what he’d become.

Both writers and alcoholics have to be good at lying in order to survive and many of these writers told themselves a clever lie: that they needed the drink in order to create. Hemingway was famous for this and regarded his ability to drink and write as a sign of his manhood; although he did also say, “write drunk, edit sober.”

By the time Hemingway had reached sixty, his liver was so swollen it protruded through his skin, an embittered internal organ, straining to escape the man that had poisoned it. In the end, Hemingway put an end to his misery when he put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. John Berryman went to a bridge and jumped off.

Only two of these men, Raymond Carver and John Cheever, managed to dry out in later life. These two men met for the first time in 1973 while teaching at Iowa and recognising a madness in each other, became drinking buddies.

Carver had his last drink in 1977, moved away from his family, the source of much of his problems and moved on to a sober life. He fell in love with the poet Tess Gallagher and built a stable life with her, one that enabled him to continue writing, proving the old adage, a writer writes, and the real writer can do it just as well without alcohol.

When Carver was interviewed in the Paris Review, he said, “if you want the truth, I’m prouder of that, that I’ve quit drinking, than I am of anything in my life. I’m a recovered alcoholic. I’ll always be an alcoholic, but I’m no longer a practising alcoholic.”

Is There Any Shame in the Selfie?

October 21st, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

If you think it’s just your annoying friend and Rihanna that are constantly posting selfies online, think again. At the moment, there are around 90 million selfies on Instagram. Yes, 90 million! Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are awash with the selfie too.

Head tilted, lips pouted, hair flicked and camera held at arm’s length is the classic selfie pose that’s been popularized by stars like Kim Kardashian, Kelly Brook and Tyra Banks. Rihanna takes the art of the selfie to another level by posting pics of her buttocks or of herself with two huge joints in her mouth.

But then Rihanna wouldn’t be Rihanna if she didn’t take things to another level. For the vast majority of selfie-image makers, it’s not about pushing the boundaries on social mores. Instead, it’s simple a way to record a moment in time and share it with family and friends.

Katie, a student from Birmingham, posts a selfie a few times a week on Twitter. ‘I like it because my family live far away and I can show them what I’m up to. I also use it before I go out, to ask friends if they like what I’m wearing. If I get positive feedback, I feel a bit more confident going out.’

There’s no doubt that this is part of the lure of the selfie: the ability to take a photo of yourself, control how you look, share it instantly with the world and garner approval that makes you feel good.

The term ‘selfie’ was first coined in a ‘how-to’ photography guide by the photographer, Richard Krause. He wrote, ‘The guesswork that goes into selfies often results in serendipitous photographic surprises.’

In February 2007 the photo-sharing site Flickr created a group called ‘selfie shots,’ defining the selfie as: ‘A photograph of oneself in an arm-extended posture. Not to be confused with a photo of oneself in a mirror or other reflected surface.’

But the biggest turning point in the rise of the selfie came in 2010 when Apple launched its iPhone 4 which had a front facing camera that enabled users to easily frame and take photos of themselves.

The release of the iPhone 4 coincided with the launched of Instagram, another photo-sharing app that features easy-to-use tools, which can blur and enhance amateur photos. By April 2012, Instagram had more than 100 million active users.

Michael Pritchard is the director general of the Royal Photographic Society and he attributes two factors to the rise of the selfie. Firstly, he says that that the ‘cameras on smartphones are incredibly good.’ The second reason is the increasing number of single people in today’s society.

‘The number of single-occupancy households is rising, more people are divorcing and living single lives and people go on holiday by themselves more and don’t have anyone else to take the picture. That’s one reason I take selfies: because I do actually want to record where I am,’ he explains.

The idea of people wanting to record where they are and what they’re doing is nothing new. Caveman carved on cave walls for this exact reason. Fast forward a few hundred thousand years to the Renaissance and Europe was witness to a huge rise in the popularity of portrait painting.

Wealthy families such as the de Medici’s became infamous because they regularly commissioned up and coming artists of the time to paint their portraits. Many artists also became famous for painting self-portraits. During his lifetime in the seventeenth century, Rembrandt painted more than one hundred self-portraits charting his life over forty years.

Other artists who are well-known for their self-portraits include painters as varied as Albert Durer, Vincent Van Gogh, Gustav Courbet, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol.

Isn’t part of the excitement of modern technology is that it allows us all to tap into our inner artists, granting us – to paraphrase Warhol’s famous words – our fifteen minutes of fame?

For celebrities the appeal of selfies is different. It allows them to have a sense of control over their public image, something which crudely snapped shots taken by paparazzi robs them of. That said the key to a great selfie is a veneer of casualness, which masks an intentionally posed shot.

The person in the photo should looked relaxed, equally aware of their own narcissism and vulnerability. We should feel like we’re peering into a private, caught-off-guard moment, even though we know we’re not.

Again Rihanna is the master of this art. Leading PR Mark Borkowski says, ‘every aspect of Rihanna’s life is about her letting people in. Some people are very natural and normal about it and completely comfortable with being ‘on’ and that’s fine. But it becomes unstuck if it’s not real. A selfie has to be ‘the real you’. It works if you can give people a manageable piece of reality which is who you are.’

The verdict? There is no shame in the selfie, as long as you make sure you’re ‘keeping it real.’ Happy self-snapping!


The Artful Entrepreneur

January 10th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Maria McMenamin is a woman at the top of her game. In seven short years she has defied all expectations and revolutionised the way art is bought and sold in Ireland. She is the tour de force behind the country’s only commercial art fare, the ubiquitous Art Ireland.

Speaking with her on the phone, I imagine a bourgeois art lover, a lady who likes to lunch while dropping the names of her husband’s Golf Club friends. Her refined brogue and reputation are all the evidence I need.

But within seconds of meeting her, my preconceptions are shattered. In person she is easy-going and completely devoid of pretension; rare qualities in an industry that lauds the ability to build up an image and then live up to it.

Disarmed by her youthful looks and radiant smile, I can’t picture her taking the Irish art world by storm. When I tell her so, her response is characteristically animated while her humour is self-depreciating.

“Can you imagine me at twenty-four, twenty-five,” she says, leaning in closer, emphasising the ‘me’ and dramatically pointing to herself, “approaching established art galleries and telling them I wanted to host an art fare. But no, I have no experience, and no, I’ve never done anything like this before. They didn’t even laugh at me, they just ignored me. That made me want to do it more.’

From a young age Maria knew she wanted to run her own business. She went to UCD and completed a degree in Business Studies with that objective in mind. After college she moved to London. It was there that she discovered art markets. Immediately she loved the buzz.

“I’d been to galleries in Dublin and just found them so snotty, completely unapproachable and of course way out of my price range. But in London it wasn’t like that. Here were these huge weekend markets where you could go, talk to the artists and buy affordable but original art.”

She was inspired.

“I thought why don’t we have anything like this is Dublin. It seemed like a huge market opportunity to me.”

From that point on, the lengthy process of finding an exhibition space and filling it began. Quickly she realised that she was on to a good thing. The dismissals she received from the galleries were outweighed by an overwhelming support from artists.

“The artists loved the idea. They were just so happy to have a way to reach the public that circumvented the restrictive process of dealing with a gallery. The vast majority of artists simply cannot afford the 50 percent commission that galleries demand. With Art Ireland their only outlay is in the stand. They are in control and they really appreciate that. Also London galleries were hugely supportive from the beginning. Many of them are still taking exhibition spaces today.”

That first year every spare penny went into promoting the event. She’d convinced the artists to come on board but unless the public came with money in their back pockets, she knew the whole thing would be a pointless exercise.

“I will never forget the doors opening that first year and seeing a queue at the door. What a relief that was!”

For the next three years she continued to work full-time in London, selling software for Iona Technologies and organising the fare during every spare moment.

‘I’d be on my way to a sales meeting for Iona and taking bookings for the fare. I had a few mobiles. I’d be talking to an artist, get to my client’s office, switch off one mobile, set up my presentation and talk software. But Iona was fully aware of what I was doing and had no problem with it.”

This hectic pace continued up until four years ago when she made the decision to move back to Ireland and dedicate all her energy into Art Ireland.

But slowing down is not an option for Maria. Within two years of moving home she got married, expanded Art Ireland to Cork, added an additional date to the Dublin calendar and had a baby boy. And in the two since, she’s had another baby, a girl, and this year sees her launch the show in Galway.

Her success, it would seem, is unstoppable and I wonder why she has succeeded where so many others have failed.

“A few things are important,” she explains, “location for one. That’s why the RDS in Dublin works. There’s parking, catering and public transport, all things, which make it easy for the visitors to come. But the artists have to sell work. If there are no sales, it’s just a pointless exercise for everybody.’

In 2008 her efforts will come full circle when she launches the Dublin Art Fare, an event exclusively for Dublin’s galleries. Now, not even they can snub her hard-earned influence. Just as the success of Art Ireland cannot be overlooked, few can ignore the sheer determination of this skilled business woman or deny that her indomitable entrepreneurial spirit is artful.