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Location: United Kingdom

Some people know me as OrangeBlossomer because that's me on Twitter. This blog is a random collection of daily musings about life and stuff I love, such as journalism, dog (sadly my dog died in 2010 so probably no more), women, love and lack of love, boobs (only seldom but it does get me extra online traffic), taichi (I practise) and spirituality (should practise more). I have a day job as a jetsetting publishing foreign rights manager but I am also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a writer/columnist at heart. Writing is my opium.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The apostrophe that nearly made Kate pregnant

Hats off to the The Sunday Express for their front page headline in yesterday's edition, with one very cleverly placed apostrophe, which, if unnoticed, would have given the story a an entirely new meaning: Kate & Will's Hope for Children.

At first glance, the heading sounds like an official confirmation, by Kate and William, that they are indeed trying to start a family – news which would have delighted royal womb watchers.

The placement of the apostrophe is so cheekily subtle, hooked, almost like an afterthought, on the side of the  "s" in Wills, that many readers will not have seen it and may have bought the paper hoping to read a story about Kate' Middleton's impending pregnancy.

Notice how the order of the names is also intentional: Wills and Kate's would have necessitated an "s" after the apostrophe, making it too obviously into a possessive case.

The article is actually about a charity for disadvantaged children the royal couple is supporting. A non-story with a sensational story heading.

Brilliant subbing job.

What a difference an apostrophe makes.

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Monday, 9 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Cyberlove: the future of love on the internet

The Guardian Weekend Magazine published an interesting compilation of stories last week (The way we love now, 30.06.12) of couples who started their relationship online.

This is the 21st century. Relationships that start on social media sites are no longer a novelty. Among my Facebook "friends", at least two whom I have never personally met, met their other halves on MySpace, before Facebook became mainstream. Several friends of friends got married to people they met on dating sites. In fact my husband and I also met online, although, being old-fashioned, admitting it always makes me feel terribly awkward.

Cyberspace is the new clubbing scene. Cyberlove's in the air. Everyone's doing it.

Love in Second Life
Of all stories in the Guardian article, one caught my attention: the story of the couple who met in Second Life – as avatars. 

In real life, each already had a partner with whom they were not happy with. In the virtual world, they bought a land, built a house (using real money), moved in together, then he proposed. They got to know each other so intimately in Second Life, by the time they actually met in person, they were already in love and their real-life appearances didn't seem to matter. The rest is history. Staying true to their parallel lives, they got married first in Second Life, then, a year later, in real life. 

Four years and two children later, they sit in the same room and their avatars, now slightly changed in appearance, still meet in Second Life. Is this creepy? Is it sweet and innocent? Is this the new 'way we love'?

I have never immersed myself in Second Life but have seen a number of demos and videos. I know, for example, it is possible for couples to have a baby virtually. Honest to God. The boss of someone I know, who has recently had her second child, met and gave birth to one in Second Life with the man who is now her real-life husband and father of her children.

What is frightening about an immersive world like Second Life is that, unlike in Facebook and Twitter, you can acquire a new identity with a name and apperance that has nothing to do with who you actually are. You are, in effect, playing make-believe and the make-believe can sometimes spill out into the real world. Scary but tantalising.

I can relate to that. I grew up as a super-introverted, isolated child, who had far more friends in make-believe world than in real life. I can understand the attraction, the freedom that a virtual world encounter in a make-believe body can give you.

Mummy Porn
To me part of reason people pursue cyber-relationships links in with why erotica  is currently booming in the publishing industry led by the success of E L James' Fifty Shades of Grey, the novel with kinky sex everyone can't stop talking about.

Sales figures of the trilogy has surpassed the 10 million mark and made the expression "mummy porn" trend. Fifty Shades of Grey has also had some terrible reviews saying the book could not be less erotic if it tried, but women continue to buy it, either to find out what the hype is all about, or perhaps because they, to borrow the famous line from When Harry Met Sally, want to "have what she's having".  It could be a PR stunt, but stories abound of women claiming the novel spiced up their sex lives; one woman even wrote to the author saying she became pregnant as a result of reading her book.

The point is fantasy arouses women. Whereas men are turned on by visual clues, for women sex starts in the brain. Their minds need to be turned on before the body follows suit. Nothing better than a bit of erotic fantasy then to get the imagination going. The bondage and submission scenes in EL James' book may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is good escapism; it is irrelevant that the reader would never dream of using any "Ann Summers accoutrements" in real life, as Suzanne Moore cleverly put it in this column; to live the unimaginable in one's fantasy can still be a turn-on.

Out of curiosity, I googled whether it is possible for couples to have cybersex in Second Life and discovered this amusing guide to "getting started with sex in Second Life". Apparently avatars can take off their clothes, purchase genitalia and other body parts at the "Xcite store" to kit out their bodies, even have orgasms, but there can be awkward technical difficulties in manipulating the act itself. The whole idea sounds rather laughable and offputting but it may just be because I haven't got into the "spirit" of Second Life.

Starting early
If you thought befriending avatars in virtual environments was only for naughty adults, I would like to remind you that Moshi Monsters, Mind Candy's virtual world for 6 to 12-year-olds, currently boasts more than 50 million users. That means 50 million children (well, let's assume they are mosty children) are adopting a pet monster, or moshling, as an avatar, making friends with other monsters, paying for things in virtual money, playing virtual games.

The future
It cannot be that far-fetched then to think that the moshling avatar user of today may become inhabitants of Second Life tomorrow. In 20 years' time, we may all have more 'friends' online than in real life; we may be juggling real and virtual lovers.

While old schoolers will still be obsessing about their privacy settings on Facebook, the generation who grew up communicating through instant messaging and Facebook walls, casually dipping in and out of virtual environments, those young people may be setting new rules for cybercourtship, redefining concepts of loyalty.

Relationship boundaries may shift. Will we have a revival of sorts of the hippie movement of the 60s, or will virtual couples live by the same societal rules as in real life?

The future of love sounds promisingly titillating.

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Friday, 6 July 2012

Dr Moncrieff on depression and drugs: dopey but not cured

Could psychiatric drugs, such a antidepressants, cause rather than cure mental disorders? Is chemical cure a myth? This was the topic of Joanna Moncrieff's talk at the Lewes Skeptics in the Pub's monthly event this week.

Dr. Moncrieff is a clinical lecturer in the department of mental health sciences at University College of London. Her book The Myth of Chemical Cure is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Her talk was centred on the current mainstream view that an emotional or mental disorder is a result of a chemical imbalance, which drugs can help correct . However, these drugs have a psychoactive effect, just like alcohol or narcotics, which create a drug-induced state, altering the way we think, feel and behave. These effects, says Dr Moncrieff, may end up numbing or masking actual psychological and emotional problems.

This short discussion on the Today programme between Joanna Moncrieff and consultant psychiatrist Trevor Turner from 2009 gives you a good taster of the controversies round this topic.

Informed consent
Joanna Moncrieff did not say drugs can't or don't help. He concern is that patients are not always being given the full picture on the unpleasant or harmful effects psychiatric drugs may have on their bodies and mind. The emphasis is heavily on the pro-drug view that they will fix some sort of underlying chemical imbalance they have in their brain.

In truth, science still knows very little about how the brain actually works, or what the chemical makeup is of emotions, elation, depression, love, what have you. Not enough research has been done on how drugs work (apparently, the effect of antidepressants have been shown not to be that different from a sugar pill's), their mental and physical impact, their long and short term side effects, side-effects, and the withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them.

A modern malaise
Statistics show that over the past decade there has been a four fold increase in the use of drugs in mental health treatment. It does not come as a surprise. We are all popping "happy pills" prescribed without hesitation by our GPs, as nonchalantly as if they were sweets.

Someone in the audience asked, "Are antidepressants overprescribed these days, or are more people depressed now?" Dr Moncrieff's answer made me sigh and prompted me to write this post:
"As a society we tend to see our problems through the prism of depression. Life now is far more demanding now than 50 years ago."
She pointed out, quite rightly, that performance expectation in all areas of our lives is much higher these days, and drugs like Prozac are even promoted as making you perform above normal levels.

Balancing act
No wonder we are all so depressed. We are balancing12-hour shifts in the office with school runs for the kids, trips to the gym (because everyone else is doing it), the obligatory visit or call to a parent, the mustn't-forget drinks with friends you haven't seen in a while, the grocery shopping, the hoovering, the laundry, the ironing, the cooking and the planing of the next holiday. All this, while looking amazing, showing top poductivity and staying emotionally balanced.

Even if you haven't got children, your parents are dead or don't talk to you, and you never cook or clean, in your head, you are still responding to someone's expectations: your boss's, your spouse's, your parents (even if they are no longer alive), society's. We do not like letting people down, and maybe therein lies the problem. Are we constantly trying – and failing – to be the perfect colleague, the perfect boss, the perfect wife or husband, someone's dutiful child or parent?

No labels
I am surrounded by people who have overstretched themeslves physically, mentally or emotionally and have suffered nervous breakdowns as a result, people who needed to take long sabbaticals before they were able to work again, others who regularly rely on drugs and/or alcohol to keep functioning in the high-speed autobahn of life. I have personally experienced a near-breakdown on a number of occasions for having demanded too much of myself. I do it again and again; I never seem to learn...

Why do we try so hard? Why can't we embrace our limitations and admit we can't please everyone all of the time? That we have widely varying stress tolerance levels, and none of us are super-heroes?

I want to applaud Joanna Moncrieff for her belief that people should not be universally labelled as "depressed" and given random chemicals to suppress its symptoms, that they ought to be seen as individuals with specific problems for which different solutions are possible. Maybe the pharmaceutical industry, colluding with pychiatrists and politicians, have bundled us all into one large nut case sac, and called us depressed, psychotic or bipolar to suit their own agendas, doping us with drugs to keep us sweet and troublefree. Who knows?

Acute cases of mental illness excepted, let's face it: we are all prone to some degree of gloom and melancholy at times. Just because pills are readily available that make you feel happy and confident, we should not shy away from a more important debate – on how we can change attitudes in society, and in ourselves, that could lead to less depression and a better understanding of ourselves and our vulnerability.

After all, being vulnerable is part of being human. Give us licence to fail.

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