The guest post series continues this month with Alastair Miles, who is not only a wonderful comic writer, but also the founder of the much-mentioned Comedy Literature Only Group (CLOG) on Authonomy. Part of a small and very select group of top-hat wearers, he has created an online community of writers that feels, for a number of us, rather like home.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the excellent Mr Miles.
"Why not write a blog?" Rob said. Well actually he wrote it - or words to that effect. But he may have said it too. I don't know for sure. MI5 won't tell me, they're too busy watching.
On being asked said question, I thought, "Why not?" Of course, it doesn't help that I don't normally read blogs. There are some exceptions, but it's been a good few years since I last followed someone's musings. But Rob's a great guy and a great writer who has been really helpful to me on several occasions so [deep breath] here goes.
All I need to do now is find something truly deep and meaningful to write about…
No, nothing yet.
Or, perhaps, I could write about something that happened to me in my everyday life….
Again nothing, clearly I need to get out more.
OK, enough of that, I'm actually pratting around because, truth be told, I do have something I'd like to discuss. It's a bit heavy and I wanted to have a bit of fun before I got started. But let's get going – and don't say I didn't warn you.
Basic freedoms and specifically, Freedom of Speech, are something that I, and I dare say you, take for granted most of the time. And I don't think we should feel bad about that, in an ideal world that should be the case.
The trouble is we can't help having boundaries as to what each of us considers acceptable and unacceptable. This is natural, we can't help it, it's purely a function of nature and nurture. The key is how we react to what we don't care for. What should happen is that we simply ignore it, or switch over, or don't read. In general, do nothing that supports or propagates a particular point of view. Even better, argue back, express your own opinions. Explain why you disagree.
What you don't do is threaten violence or, worse still, carry it out. No one can be allowed to seek to silence those whose views they don't care for. I look at any number of events in the news recently and I'm sickened. From the tragedy in Paris, life imprisonment for Abu Hamza, even the vile threats against football clubs looking to sign Ched Evans. In all cases, I'd far rather these situations didn't exist. I also have my own opinions that I won't bore you with. The important point is that we need freedom to act as we will, without that being torn down by threats of, or, even worse, actual violence. There are many better, civilised ways to protest.
Most have heard of Voltaire's maxim, but I rather like the way Neil Gaiman puts it, “…if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.”
There's little point to life if we don't push boundaries. Be it at work, rest or play. We all need to try and go a little outside of where we feel comfortable. It doesn't have to so far as to be Earth shattering, it's a personal thing, but we must have the freedom to do so. This is how remarkable things happen. This is what makes society. That society can then argue over what it thinks and ideas stand or fall, but we're all the richer for it.
My own modest bit of boundary pushing is a comedy book called Going Afterlife. It takes some religious beliefs and, well, messes around with them. A lot of it is for the sake of humour, we all need to smile. But, part of me likes to think that we don't have to accept the religious point of view put in front of us. Whatever happens, or doesn't happen, when our time is up, I can (almost) guarantee it doesn't happen as depicted in my book, but who's to say it's anymore right or wrong than anything else?
The vast majority of people read it and have a good laugh and that's great, I'm happy with that. It even makes some people think (I try to slide ideas in when the reader isn't looking) and that's even better. What I'm pleased to write is that those with Faith take it in good humour, it's not always their thing but if that's the case they just stop reading. That's fine too. Some comment, some argue, politely, and I enjoy the feedback and debate.
The key thing is no one suffers. No one is imprisoned or gets killed. We're free to think. And it's important that we never let that be taken away from us.
So there you go. You can't say I didn't warn you. And now, for some light relief (and a little plug), here is an opening portion of my 'great' masterpiece. Think of it what you will; that's actually the point.
My name was Denton Smith. That much I was sure of.
What was less clear, was how I'd come to be sitting at a large desk piled high with paperwork.
In front of me, in the only clear space on the entire desk, was a
form. With no better alternatives, I picked it up to study it, before
wishing I hadn't. It required me to explain how I'd just died.
That's right, died.
I had absolutely no idea where I was. Yes, I admit the form was a bit
of a hint but rationality was hardly top of my priority list at this
particular moment. With an effort of will, I resisted the urge to panic
and took a look around me. There was little to see. The room was
cramped, there were stacks of paper everywhere, I couldn't even see
across to the far wall.
I wondered again how I'd got here. With my only clue being the mysterious form, I steeled myself to read it once again.
'The premature nature of your death during your prior existence
requires the completion of a Post Life Incident Report (PLIR42/B).
Failure to file a PLIR42/B in a timely manner could result in delays in
I tried to comprehend the meaning of what I
was reading, but the words swam in front of me, as if they too were
unhappy with the sentences they found themselves in. I couldn't say I
With the form a non-starter, I tried instead to
salvage something from my wayward memory. All I found was one solitary
image, hidden away in the empty reaches of my mind. It seemed to be the
final moment of my former life and involved looking up at an oncoming
train from what was soon to be an extremely unhealthy angle. I had no
idea why I would place myself in such a perilous position, but there
was no denying the finality of the situation.
At this point I
strongly considered the merits of going mad. It was the easiest option,
it would save a lot of trouble, and I already felt like I'd earned it.
The trouble was, considering that I had no memory of how I'd got here,
and given the contents of the form I was holding, my claim to any kind
of sanity was already dubious at best. If I was cracking up, then
cracking up was not all that it's cracked up to be.
If you want more, type "Authonomy Going Afterlife" into any well known, tax-avoiding search engine.
Note (RG): Alternatively, you can use the following links:
Alastair Miles (profile page)
Going Afterlife (preview or download the book)