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I left Facebook last week.

It was something I’d been mulling over for a long time. I realised long ago that the thing was a total time succubus, and with my inclinations for procrastination it was quite a hindrance to productivity. But I’m a sentimental devil, and I couldn’t bring myself to part with my hard-earned friends, many in far places, with whom this was my sole connection. I also hoped that I could show some strength of will and be more disciplined about the time I spent gawping at it…

Alas, the gawping continued. And other, more pressing things began to niggle at me. The insidious advertising: sometimes blatantly there in the newsfeed, completely uninvited; but more often through ‘sponsored links’, things that friends ‘like’ showing up. (Note, the first thing on the drop-down menu at the top right-hand corner, before account or privacy settings, is ‘advertise’).

This was only an aspect of a newsfeed that was becoming ever more disinteresting, or rage-inducing, due to a growing accumulation of meaningless ‘friends’, some of whom were turning out to be racists, fascists, or just total blockheads (no Tories though, thank goodness). Even if they weren’t themselves posting racist/fascist/blockhead material, posts that they ‘liked’ would appear: “Dear British Goverment, i think our country z shite becuz u hav let in all the forein immigrint scum n they hav takin all tha houses and tha jobz and the money n they r the reason that i am a fat twat with no grammar or other skillz.”, “Dear Tayside Police, why were yooz out pure catchin me speedin when i seen on the news their wiz old ladies bein mugged n that?”…

Get your ignoramus beliefs and piss poor grammar out of my eyes.

Nonsense like that contributed to a growing unease about the way that Facebook leads you to accumulate people. I have no interest whatsoever in sharing my life with fascists, et al, and yet here they were, in my face every day. Not to mention countless posts about children I’ve never met, dogs whose existence I care nothing for, what people eat for all meals of the day, what time they go to bed, what time they get up, whether they took a shit that morning, what car they have, what phone they have, what fecking handbag they desire, when they’re drunk/hungover/high/bleeding/vomming/dying – oh wait, they’re not dying, just hungover, bleeding and vomming. (And I can’t deny having made such posts myself). But an irritating etiquette has emerged whereby you’re obliged to be ‘friends’ with co-workers, ex-classmates, ex-lovers, wives of distant cousins, friends of parents – a whole array of people you would never normally have communicated details of your personal life to. And people never move into the past… That’s a bit creepy…

A friend of a friend used an analogy I liked – normally in life you have a jar, and there’s a little hole in the bottom of that jar, and as people become less important to you they get smaller and shuffle down and eventually fall out the bottom of your jar. But with Facebook – there’s no hole in the jar! People just collect and collect until you’re drowning in amongst them.

I’m also, I think, augmenting the ‘grumpy old Scotswoman’ aspect of my personality. Conversely to communicating with people you wouldn’t normally communicate with, you also end up not communicating with the people you would want to communicate with. Increasingly, people can’t be bothered to call, or to write an email, or (proper old school, I know) to send anything in the post. ‘Liking’ a friend’s new profile picture has become all that’s needed to let people know you’re thinking of them, and that’s rubbish. I took the time a couple of weeks ago to write some proper emails, and it was wonderful. Wastebook-based communication, in contrast, is SO superficial, and vacuous, and narcissistic. Well, I unsubscribe from the enforced Facebook ephemera!

Just this week, reading about status anxiety in ‘The Spirit Level’ has confirmed to me that I’ve made the right decision. Worry about social status is something that has become a huge burden to people in economically rich countries, and Pusbook* totally exasperates this, plays and even depends upon it.  Whether you are willing to admit it or not, anyone that uses it regularly gets drawn into waiting for friends to like or comment on their posts. For some people, especially teenagers now, their social status truly lives and dies by the sword of Pusbook. So, I thought, why add to all the other anxieties already assaulting me in this post-modern century? Since deleting only days ago, I’ve felt a notable decline in anxiety, like I’ve been unburdened from a pernicious responsibility. I feel almost emancipated!

There are things I will miss. It is undeniably useful for organising events and keeping up with developments in my spheres of interest. I had a variety of pages I followed for aesthetic or literary fixes (Magnum Photos, Rumi, Beware of Images, for example), and for quality or leftfield news (Al Jazeera English, BBC World Service, Jezebel). I will miss having a network of knowledge and advice at my fingertips. And I will miss spying on people who I perhaps haven’t spoken to in a long time but like to check in on. Equally, perhaps, there are people who liked to spy on me from time to time and will miss me too…

But deleting my Facebook will be a pretty good indication of which friends are important to me: they are the ones that already have my email or phone number, or I have theirs. They are the ones that, when I posted that I would be leaving, got in touch. They are the ones that I made sure to let know, because I want to keep them… As for the others, it’s once more up to serendipity to bring us back together…

*Local slang name, from the Scots vulgar vernacular for ‘face’.

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We arrived early at the Estadio Nacional in order to claim a good seat, quickly losing patience as person after person jumped the metal railings in unashamed disregarded of the queue. As four ‘gringos’ we were reluctant to try the same tack, but our irritation got the better of us and we skipped on through with a thrill of adrenaline.

 Honduras, as with all Latin America, takes its football very seriously. The atmosphere before the League final in capital city, Tegucigalpa, was frenetic.

We claimed a spot in the middle of the concrete terracing with a reasonable view and no reprieve from the midday sun. The stadium filled up with red, white and blue. And up and up, crammed far beyond capacity. The final was a showdown between Tegucigalpa home team, Olimpia, and Real España of second city San Pedro Sula. Only a handful of España fans had dared make the trip, the Honduran League notorious for supporter violence.

 The match kicked off and even I, far from aficionado, found the level of skill displayed underwhelming. But that mattered nothing. The season ticket stand was an inferno, chants and fists thrown to the air unceasingly. Boy vendors leapt between terraces selling beers, plantain chips, and 5 Lempira bags of water. Boisterous onlookers pelted the policemen encircling the pitch with empty cans. Occasionally they would spot a culprit and two officers would stride up the stands and eject the offender. Mexican waves did the rounds. Olimpia scored and supporters threw their hands to the sky, beers, hot dogs and all.

Ninety minutes up and with a score of 1-1, the anticipation surged on into extra time. Olimpia scored again, the crowd roared again, the final whistle blew, the crowd exulted!

 Exiting the estadio, hawkers still a-hawking, we were thrilled to have witnessed like locals this celebration of our adopted city, and unimaginably relieved by the prospect of emptying bladders painfully full with the beer that had seemed so irresistible in the baking sun.

*

This was my entry for the World Nomads/Rough Guides travel writing competition the other week. I’m not particularly happy with it, though it does fit the remit and that particular vein of travel writing. I’m never particularly happy with anything I produce so I suppose I shouldn’t take too much from that.  I do, however, think it superior to some of last year’s wank entries.

Two things to note:

– It was alarmingly difficult to think of an interesting episode which didn’t involve some kind of wrong-doing, miscreancy, or terror.

– The amount of detail which my brain has let go of over these short years is astounding. Stories that I wrote at the time are filled with minute observations and occurrences of which I now have no recollection. Oh how I have abused this grey matter of mine…

On the plus side, it has made me think about writing again and I think I’ll rework some old tales. With this as a starting point, I might begin with a series of Honduras pieces, incorporating my work from Spanish class last term which I promised a couple of friends I would translate.

But Time, I have given you all away…

I am so relieved to see the back of this year. It felt for a time like it would never come. This has been straight up one of the most difficult years of my life, if not thee most. Not the worst, mind, but the most difficult. Financially, emotionally, physically. Mostly emotionally.

We moved into the House of Doom right at the beginning of the year – that certainly got us off on the wrong footing. Senile barking dogs, mosquito infestations, unbearable breezeless heat, builders with man-sized speakers belting Jesus-themed country and western, the Loudest Van in the World that roared up the hill every a.m., the loopy man-obsessed drug-addicted Quebecois drama queens next door, insomnia, scheming sociopathic flatmates, inadvertently becoming the ‘party house’, the falling apart of friendships and relationships…

All that before we even got to the shooting incident, the ruination of my ankle (still quite ruined), further disintegration of House of Doom-based relationships, dwindling funds, and a whole swilling island full of crazed and broken souls, some of them my dear, dear friends and indeed an inadvertent boyfriend who I did my best to look after.

A broken heart (the most acutely painful to date), a deportation, the death of my grandmother, a sorry retreat to my sorry hometown, another half-broken heart, the death of a once-vivacious aunt, a forced return to retail (oh woe!), a royal fucking-over from Canadian Immigration, and yet another bit of heartache later, I thought 2011 had finally spat all it could at me. Until this week. A final twist of the knife had to be had…

It’s not just me though. This year has been a motherfucker for numerous friends. And people seem to have been dying off all over the place, almost as if they are getting out while they can; they sense the change coming… The world is revolving – revolution in the Arab world, the killing of Gaddafi, Bin Laden,  the death of Kim Jong Il; the continued economic decay of the United States and the European Union; the rebirth of powerful public dissent in the West as well – both civilised (the Occupy movement, especially in the States), and feral (the UK riots – see my earlier article); not to mention an onslaught of destructive climatic events – earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding…

It would be nice to think that this was just a blip, but I have the foreboding feeling that in 2012 it’s about to intensify… I don’t believe that the world is going to end on 21st December 2012, or that the aliens are going to come, and I certainly hope that the planets aren’t going to align and cause a freak gravitational event whereby we will all float up off the earth and explode (as Dado, my old boss, is expecting to happen)… I’m not prone to airy-fairy notions but I do think there may be something in this Mayan shit. Not that we are facing the End of Days, but an End of Days. Things are afoot. Things feel different. Change be a-coming…

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In terms of the world order we’re about due a change, and if that makes our lives in the West more difficult, so be it. We reap what we sow. Hopefully our new condition will jolt our society out of its stupor (I like to think the signs are already showing).

On a personal level, I did say that though 2011 has been exceptionally difficult, it has been far from the worst year of my life. So many lessons learned and new things experienced and things figured out and falling into place and FUN had and god damn me for being sentimental but so many good good friends and, for the first time in my life, I have found myself looking to the future with something that is not fear.

Hello 2012…

When I go to write a post that starts as a fleeting thought in my mind, it invariably ends up as something bordering on an essay as I think of more and more aspects to add. I’ve always suffered from this – my uni essays were without fail ludicrously over word limit. I find myself thinking of things to write about, and then not doing it cause I know it’ll end up taking hours of my time. That’s clearly not productive, so as a challenge to myself I’m going to try writing more often but less. Let’s see how this goes…

After writing the last entry, I began wondering exactly what I meant by ‘innocence’. Although it feels like the right word, I’m not sure that it is. The obvious definition would be ‘lack of worldly experience’, or ‘freedom from sin’. I don’t believe either of those things applied to me at that time. Nor can you come back once those lines have been crossed. So what do I mean by having felt ‘innocent’?

I think what I meant is innocence not as the things you have or haven’t done, places not seen or sins not committed; but the things that have happened to you and around you and how those things affect you. The more difficult things are, for you or those around you, the more you become sensitive to this and this becomes your perspective. The struggle permeates you, any vestige of the childhood feeling of blissful ignorance worn away and you are left with a weariness.

But if circumstances change and positivity abounds in your surroundings, those feelings can be washed away, perspective swung back around and something of that childish innocence given back to you. Time as healer. It’s like being in a submarine, looking through the periscope, and although it can turn 360° you can only take in a snapshot of that at any one time. Swivel your chair around and the picture might change completely.

Innocence is probably the right word after all.

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For reasons unknown, Rosario is in my head today.

I spent a week or so in the Argentine city just before I went to Buenos Aires, at the end of September 2008.  Unsure at first, it grew on me after a couple of days, and I spent hours wondering its avenues of early 20th century Parisian facades, falling in with the relaxed spirit of its roots-n-reggae youth.

I stayed in a backpacker hostel where a cute, muscular, intense blue-eyed boy manned the desk and courted me, bringing me black coffee and flowers in the mornings and beckoning me to smoke with him in the evenings.

I was at his apartment one afternoon when it started raining. It seemed as though I hadn’t seen the rain in weeks; the fields around the city were brown and dry. I lay on my front on the mattress on the floor with my chin on the backs of my hands, and stared out his window at the rain falling on the leaves of the trees in the street. They looked so happy. I was so happy.

Something about the innocence of that time struck me today. I was youthful and innocent. Now, something intangible has been lost. Or acquired… I miss my innocence but I like to think it is not lost. Before I left the first time, I felt broken and tainted by life. And yet here I was but a few months later, feeling youthful and innocent in Rosario. Renewed by change, renewed by time.

Time: it giveth and it taketh away.

It’s a total mind-fuck. It won’t let you go back. Every day just now I look in the mirror and see the skin under my eyes filling with lines. But time fixes. Or heals, at any rate (they are not quite the same), and sometimes it brings worse things but sometimes it brings better things, and sometimes it just lets you let go.

We are not unfixable.