... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

386: What am I like?

"I'm glad I'm not like you.
I can go further and further into the wilderness;
because it's only there that transformation can take place.
My Black Square is a bare and frameless icon for our times.
Arise Comrades, and free yourselves from the tyranny of objects."

What drew me to this quote -or at least the first bold sentence- is perhaps the same force that endears me to Malevich's revolutionary yet absurd painting, Black Square. A blank black geometric form, rendered in oil paint, against white background. In the political rage it was painted, as Russia prepared to overthrow the decadent and useless Tsar (and hearald in almost a hundred disgusting years, of enforced human misery, in the name of a daft fantasy i.e. Communism), its sedate minimalism says much more then any garish splash of operatic scenery and clashing swords.

Does it? I don't know, I wasn't there. I have only Andrew Graham-Dixon's informed, but often speculative, historical interpretation. My own interpretation puts it in the same wonderful catagory as Sid Vicious' My Way and Malvina Reynolds' Little Boxes. I think that as I approach my thirties and shortly after will be married, I am becoming acutely aware of the need to do something to stand out. (Yes, a blog post that began about the Russian revolution is turning into a tedious inward look by a self-obsessed little dork.) By stand out I don't mean grow a handlebar moustache, get a silly fashionable haircut, shout about Jesus in the town square, wear a costume, or plagarise a manifesto and commit an atrocity.

I mean achieve something I consider worthwhile. What I mean by this is well defined (-ish) in my head. It involves the publication of novels, perhaps having one made into a film the proceeds from which inable me to live comfortably in whichever way whim and wind takes me. If I want a library with shelves to the ceiling and a ladder on wheels, then that's damn well what I will have. If I want the be able to express myself freely, entirely unfettered by the morals and traditions of self-appointed censors, that I will. A life self-suffient life dedicated to creativity is the purest and proudest way to be. Free from little boxes. Free from tsars and tyrants.

Money won't buy me happiness: Money earned under my own terms will buy me freedom, and freedom will buy me, and my family, happiness. (Communists take note.) When I have the three chapters and the treatment written and drafted by the end of october then I can begin the proper hard work of becoming an author. The proper hard work of getting rejection upon rejection with zero knowledge that I will ever be accepted. If by luck I am accepted by an agent, who can get a publisher interested, and I can finish the novel, and it's published, and is one of the teeny-tiny percentage of books that makes any money... then maybe one day in the future I might get a sniff of the life I am after. I just want to be a writer; I just want to provide. Boo hoo.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols has taken its rightful place back on the air molecules around me and in the beats of my heart, and its kicking energy reminds me of the drive to survive and succeed and create the world you want to live in. It is the sound of my mid-teens. If only I had had the fortitude to work hard when I was that age. Sid Vicious was a heroin addict and even he seemed to be a harder working teenager than I was. He was an heroin addict and yet still seemed to work smarter than I ever have. Perhaps his drive for success was the push from Nancy, and the need to buy heroin. Or perhaps he had no drive and just stumbled into fame. Why am I using Sid as a basis for analogy? I just stumbled into it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

385: Trying to get into the spirit of the football season

For the first time in my life I live within earshot of a major football team's stadium during the season. There is a big thing called Old Trafford football ground where a team called Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club, formerly of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Newton Heath depot, play their ball games. There is also this thing called LCCCCCCCC where Bon Jovi play and so do some cricketers. Newton Heath LYR FC now go by the less traditional name of Manchester United, having outgrown Newton Heath over a hundred years ago. In another hundred years they will be Greater Manchester United, and in two hundred they will be North West United FC, etcetera etc &c.

I walked to the shop (milk and eggs) to no more noise than the usual background fuzz of distant roads, children playing and larks singing. Minutes later, laden with dairy, the wind brought the roars and chants of 75,000 people, whose ability to pay up to £50 a ticket matched their enthusiasm for a self-important, over-indulged game. Personally I hate football; it's just two kids kicking a tennis ball against a wall. Having said that, over the next ninety minutes the open window of my mouldy flat let in the ecstatic cheers of frenzied fantatics. Not just once or twice, but eight times. I believe this is good. Football is fabulously fetishized past the point of perversion, but that sounds like fun.

Sometimes I try to get football, but it's so rare it becomes interesting. Essentially it's a nerd subject: statistics, unpronounceable names, pointless tables of dates and numbers. I'm all for nerd subjects, just not this one. The conversations about it are boring at best, and unfathomably spiteful and bilious at worst. Imagine the radio is on, but instead of BBC 5 Live, it's just normal pop (Manchester Key 103 or something). A song by, for example, Olly Murs is playing. I'm shouting to anyone who will listen ahh, you know what his fucking problem is? Not enough going on in the lower register; too much up top. Then a live performance by Lady Gaga comes on, during which she plays perfectly, except for one note being a semi-tone out: stupid fucking wop, you're shit and you know you are, you're shit. After which David Guetta comes on, who I hate due to some ancient and obscure rivalry based solely on close geographical proximity: die of fucking AIDS and go back to where you came from.

I calm down slightly when Cher Lloyd starts to sing: you know what she needs to do? She needs a choppy electro-funk on the middle-eight, into a lilting reggae march for the chorus. Bring that down for the rap, and then a low mixed distorted guitar, and some retro tweekin' acid, during the chant-along outro. She pulls that off and she'll be top of the pops come the end of the season. Mind you, she needs to watch out for the new signing by Beyonce. She's got that new Swede in doing session drums on her latest, and he has good form. He helped take Basshunter to the top of the Swedish pops two seasons running.

Anyway you get the idea. Being a football fan requires a psychotic level of hate directed at people you don't know, both players of your own team and all others, and managers, referees and linesmen, too boot. Remember to throw in racial slurs and calls for unpleasant death. Then you need to feign a faultless knowledge of tactics and the uncanny ability to accurate predict the results of any slight tactical change. Back this all up with tedious trivia about youth squads, 'form' and whatever, and you are fully prepared to bore the pants off everyone, except your fellow footie folk.

All that aside, I am obviously guilty of the same boring rubbish. It's just my own obsessions don't allow me an instant topic of conversation with the surprising number of men who seem to enjoy football (or pretend to in preference to awkward silence). I'm obviously just jealous. Actually, I definitely used to be a bit. Back when Baddiel & Skinner's Fantasy Football League was on telly I wished I felt the excitement of football. The TV show was interesting, weird, likable, clever, and most importantly hilarious, self-aware, and down-to-earth. All attributes I have never attributed to the world of football before or since. Turns out it wasn't the football that made the show, they could have been talking about anything, and indeed they did on Baddiel & Skinner Unplanned which was just as good or better.

So, yeah..... whatever......

P.S. - I've just realised my last post was one in which I revealed I am a total wrestling statto nerd, which most people would consider a thousand times more pathetic, and that having just watched some Fantasy Football on YouTube I've remembered how much fun it all is. Oh Bollocks!

and because they've yet to get old:

384: How I discovered King Kong Kirk

Our FreeSat box only works sporadically. I don't know if the problem is with the dish, the hugely extended cable stretching all around the flat and back again, or the cheapo box inherited from the flat's previous tennants. Once we found the box (in the airing cupboard) cleaned the sticky gunk off and plugged it in, it worked fine for the first few weeks but now drops out inexplicably for hours or days at a time. FreeSat is probably not as good as FreeView – there is a different set of channels available, and at the moment I am slightly swayed toward FreeView having the better selection. FreeSat does have the excellent news channel Al Jazeera in its favour, and today I discovered a big tick in its box.

Men & Movies, which I had never noticed before, today drew my attention by showing three consecutive episodes of World of Sport Wrestling. Classic British wrestling from the 1970s with an audience largely comprised of elderly gentlemen in brown suits and elderly ladies in flower dresses clutching handbags to their chests. I had genuinely forgotten how good this was. I was too enthralled and excited to take notes and as a result cannot remember the names of some of the wrestlers, most of whom were new to me. The first match I saw was an excellent one-on-one between two grapplers who new how to seamlessly string together a huge variety of holds and locks. The second match was the polar opposite – like bad tailoring all the seams were visible. The pace was sluggish, and many of the reversals were flubbed. The commentator even admitted that everyone was just waiting for the next match.

Worth the wait was a tag team battle of Mick McMannus and Steve Logan against The name-forgotten. Mick and Steve are well known tough guys; weird too-black oily hair, and a sort of ol' fashioned London-psycho look about them. The other two guys started wearing poncho things which they stripped of to reveal light blue panties. Mick and Steve battered them, whilst controlling masterfully the crowd reactions with their well-established heel personae.

I watched all three episodes – it was a lazy sunday afternoon, what was I supposed to do? - and to be honest a lot of it has blurred into one forgettable fudge of flabby pale blokes twisting arms and stamping on each other. One thing stood out above all others. I have a new favourite wrestler: Malcolm Kirk, aka King Kong Kirk. This guy is fantastic. He is one of the ugliest, most brutal looking wrestlers I have ever seen. He makes Vader look like Trish Stratus. His ears were swollen with cauliflower scarring, the back of his neck had a beer belly, his eyes were tiny, his teeth rat-like, and his snarl was terrifying.

He battered and tortured his lesser opponent around the ring with such ferocity that he was inevitably disqualified. Furious fans rose to their feet and surrounded the ring, beating their fists on the apron, flicking the Vs and screaming for blood. The quality of King Kong Kirk's heel sell was among the best I have ever seen, and I felt that surge of pure childish adrenaline one experiences when seeing perfection in the art and sport of professional wrestling. I, along with the audience present, yearned to see Big Daddy run in and square up to Kirk. Unfortunately this was not to be, but I understand they fueded long and hard. Tragically Kirk died in 1987 due to heart problems immediately after being hit with Big Daddy's big splash. Big Daddy was not at fault, and Malcolm Kirk died doing what he loved. A terrible cliche.

King Kong Kirk is exactly my type of wrestler - talented, hard-working, and monstrous.  Although the name is new to me, he instantly falls alongside my favourites, Abdullah the Butcher, Big Van Vader, Cactus Jack, Chris Benoit (despite the terrible sordid end to his life he was among the greatest wrestlers I ever saw), Sabu, Terry Funk, Stan Hansen....  God, I love wrestling - thank you YouTube.  Oh, and thanks to Men & Movies for introducing me to King Kong Kirk.

383: A Genuine Expression of Love, or 'Exalted the Lozenge'

Most things are shit. Some things are not. Sometimes I think I focus too much on the shit; it is easier to take the piss than express genuine praise free from sarcasm or irony. My speaking voice often misleads people into perceiving positive comments as sarcastic. As a result I withhold praise as much as possible. I will attempt to rectify that. Here is a puff-piece about something good:

It's rare I find a product that I am prepared to stand up and be counted as a fan of. That might be because it is rare that products actually function properly as advertised. Usually tedious bits of plastic, chemicals or electrical gadgetry are held up as life changing wonders. Aftershave and deodorant are promoted as wielding the power to draw clunge and cunt (hendiadys?) uncontrollably from afar. Trainers with rounded heels can magically transform the flabbiest arse into a perfect photoshop peach. Fast food restaurants are saving the rainforests, and fizzy drinks manufacturers, airlines and credit card pedlars are creating better future; a unified chorus of humanity.

But there is at least one product out there that actually does what it claims. Even better than that, it does it with a presumably modest budget, deduced by the fact I have never seen any form of advert for it; not TV or print.

Jakemans ®
Est 1907
& Chest
Soothing Menthol Sweets
I am prone to sinus blockage. This is due to being a member of a species that walks upright on two legs, head held high, yet having evolved from four-legged ancestors. At some point our ancestors heads faced forwards and our sinuses drained freely. Now mucus pools in the evolutionary mistake we carry in our heads. Add to that my weak, allergic city-dwelling pigeon-chest and you have a recipe for a bunged up nose. My hearing goes and my head pounds as the concrete sets inside my skull. No amount of hocking, snorting or blowing will do anything to easy the pressure and clear my airways.

There is only one cure, the magnificent Jakemans Throat & Chest sweets. Tonight I had that very problem, and sucking on one menthol lozenge (also with aniseed and eucalyptus) caused my ears to pop and my nose to run. Two tissues later and my head was completely clear. The back of the packet claims once tasted they will be your favourite soothing sweet. I first tried them about three years ago on recommendation from a work colleague. I had never heard of them and was used to trying and failing with tunes, vicks, lockets, airwaves, and those little nozzles you jam up your hooter. None of them work. Jakemans do. I'm going to have another one, and quietly enjoy the freedom to breathe in and out of my nose. I'm not sponsored by them, but I wish I was.

You know what else is not shit (litotes?)? Loperamide. In fact it has the power to bring about the opposite of shit: no shit. But that's another story altogether. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

382: Short Story from Random Words

Random Word Generator gives me a very common noun, a common adjective, an averagely common transitive verb, a somewhat uncommon intransitive verb, an uncommon adverb, a very uncommon interjection, and an obscure preposition:

software, waiting, disavow, levitated, contentedly, ochone, malgra

The first five are fine, words we all know. Ochone is a Gaelic cry of oh, woe! and malgra is such a non-word that not even google knows what to do with it. I can only assume that malgra is an intentional obscurity (or misspelling) of malgre or maugre meaning notwithstanding, in spite of, or as a noun ill-will or spite. In a sentence: For if the Iudge doe condempne thee, then maugre thy head thou shalt be constrayned: and if contrariwyse sentence be giuen on thy side, thou shalt be likewyse bounde to paye me, by thy verie couenaunt, sithens thou art bounde, when thou pleadest first, and sentence should be giuen in thy behalfe (The Palace of Pleasure, Vol 1). What am I to do with that? Let's find out:


He opened the box. Within it were eight black three-and-a-half inch objects; magnetically-coated floppy circular sheets, kept safe within flat plastic squares and accessible via a sliding metal cover. Also in the box was a small pamphlet; folded pieces of paper held together in the centre by short piercing pieces of bent wire. Small black symbols in orderly rows covered most of the white surface.

His mother always said the box and it's contents belonged together and that they had been in the family for many generations. She spoke of a time when ware as we know it was primitive and split into distinct and separate categories of soft- and hard-ware. Soft-ware was the thoughts and ideas of our ancestors, and hard-ware was their bodies. The two were brought together by the Mans of Lore and ware was created. He did not believe or disbelieve these stories. He recalled times when he sat waiting for his mother to speak, contentedly, of the ancestors.

Early ware, pre The Rise had been incapable of thought – mere tools the Mans used for creating more ware. Now there seemed to be no widely accepted truth on the purpose of such objects (despite them, and others like them, being fairly common), or the whereabouts of the creator Mans.

He was a hobbyist, an amateur scientist, and long felt that this primitive ware, although free from thought, could still speak given a voice. His mother often told him to disavow attempts to communicate with the disks. They were like the animals; stupid thoughtless. Objects. Working on an interface he felt he could access the so-called soft inside these insignificant, rather cute little pieces of ware.

He had built a system which could interface with the data stored so strangely on a magnetic surface. It was just patterns to read, all it required was decoding. He had tried his homemade contraption on other strange archaic ware; small shiny disks with recognisable digital information, much larger black disks with grooved surfaces (he was as yet unable to read these). Today he had finally convinced his mother to allow him to talk to the eight black floppy disks.

He levitated them in the field and began trying to communicate. At first he heard nothing but after experimentation he tried holding the square plastic drive steady and spinning the inner disk. It spoke:
But knowing her owne guilty conscience and proper whoredome, lest her lover should be hurt lying in the bin, she willed her husband to goe to bed, but he having eaten nothing, said that he would sup before he went to rest: whereby shee was compelled to maugre her eies, to set such things on the Table as she had prepared for her lover.-The Golden Asse
He listened but didn't want to hear. Embarrassed by the quaint language and the inappropriate revelations of his ancestor he silenced the ware by removing it from the levitation field and returning its primitive plastic to the box.

OK, that was a short story. No idea if it's any good because I just wrote it and haven't read it back yet. First drafts, eh? So embarrassing, ochone!

381: Some Stuff I don't Believe In

When faced with an otherwise rational and sane person professing to me their belief in spirits or the spiritual, or their feelings that they may be psychic or able to predict the future, I quite reasonably express scepticism. These are extraordinary claims which require extraordinary evidence. Intangible feelings that there must be something and anecdotes about someone who heard or saw something they just can't explain do not class as extraordinary evidence. Saying I'm usually quite sceptical, but... does not magically imbue the story with believability.

At this point I am invariably asked well, how do you explain it then? How do I explain what? Well, my friend/pet/grandfather experienced this and it's weird isn't it? This is a story and holds no more value as evidence than the ravings of a child who, due to a combination of an experience they cannot explain with their limited knowledge, an overactive imagination, and a burning desire to believe, insists to a parent that they really did see Father Christmas, they really did.

Well, we took a photograph (almost invariably at a church, graveyard, house that is meant to be haunted, or battleground; never at a sporting event, restaurant or orgy) and there was a figure/spirit/aura/orb. How do you explain that? What a loaded question; more importantly how do you explain that? I can't explain it. It may be a camera glitch, lens flair, finger print, dust or steam. It may be that it's photo-shopped by a prankster aware of your gullibility. How should I know?

Exactly you don't know do you? It was an aura, a spirit pressing against our realm, blah. In other words: you don't know either, you're just too dishonest (or open-minded) to admit it. Can you describe to me this aura? What is it, what does it do, how does it work, what is it for, what is it made of? I don't know; There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You think it's an aura, but you don't know what an aura is? You'd save a lot of time looking silly if you'd just admitted from the outset you didn't know what it was. It must feel warm and lovely to be able to counter genuine scepticism with an accusation that the sceptic is closed or closed-minded, while simultaneously using your own feigned-scepticism to pretend your delusions are rationally constructed and logical.

With the knowledge currently available there doesn't appear to be anything explainable only be supernatural means, or any reason to suspect that one day the advance of our natural sciences might be scuppered by woo-woo or hoo-haa. Everything is material. If amazingly, some photo-evidence does turn out to be something genuinely spooky (i.e. outside the realm of science), then that would be genuinely fascinating for everyone – including me, and any scientist worthy of that honourable and greatest of all professions.

Small orb in bottom left corner of image.

The ghostly and spiritual is often claimed to exist somewhere outside the limitations of our closed-off science (or some similar hogwash) – exactly the reason I don't believe it. I've said it before and I'll say it again – science is the technique of separating factual truth from opinions, delusions, preferences, misconceptions, fantasies, etc. Am I to be expected to disregard, or at least doubt, the entire body of scientific knowledge about fundamental forces and physical mechanisms, based simply on a story about someone who felt a bit weird? If that is closed-minded, I am proud to be so. There is an old quote, stated and restated by many of the world's great thinkers: Keep an open mind – but not so open your brains fall out. Be swayed by such stories, or even interested in the waffle of those who are swayed, and your brain has already begun sliding over the edge.

The reason I don't believe in spirits, ghosts, intelligent aliens among us, demons, fairies, gods and goddesses, "orbs", spooks, vampires, banshees, mind-reading, astrology or premonitions is because all of these would require physical (material) mechanisms to function, the likes of which we have found no convincing evidence for. When you see something you can't explain, and the first rational person you speak to also can't explain it, that does not mean an off-the-shelf supernatural explanation will do. It means you don't know, and there is nothing wrong with admitting that. The balance of probability is swung heavily toward their being a fairly simple rational explanation, which will be fascinating because it is likely true. The explanation that it is a ghost trying to communicate something important is tedious in the extreme (like someone describing at length the events of last night's dream) because it is likely not true.

I am occasionally surprised by someone who makes claims to believing in some aspects of the supernatural, yet who turns their nose up (cliche alert) at the idea of god. This I cannot understand; it is surely the same form of unthink (or perhaps double-think; I don't know) which allows some people to be certain of the existence of Yahweh or Allah, but laugh out loud at the honest (if sarcastically loaded) enquiry as to whether they also believe in Zeus or Thor, Ra or Xenu. New age pap about spiritual, white-witchiness just seems to be in vogue, and the very same silliness when attached to organised religion is unfashionable.

Religion suggests dogma and preaching – proscribed thought, intolerance, unchanged over time – whereas spirituality and magic suggest free thinking, connection with nature, oneness and yet individuality. Both are similar in that they consider their own subjective experience to be evidence for universal truth, and both have passive-aggressive ways of condescending the the non-believer (I will pray for you). Both hold beliefs in the unbelievable – illogical unrealistic propositions held on to despite a lack of evidence (or in the presence of contradictory evidence). They confuse the feeling of wanting to believe with the concept of truth.

Perhaps most importantly they are ignorant towards the methods, purpose and power of science – choosing to reap the benefits when convenient, but ignoring it when they don't immediately understand it. I don't get it so it's bollocks; It's just a theory; Yeah well, how do they know that though? I reckon they just make it up as they go along! Science is especially easy to dismiss when it contradicts our feelings or preconceptions.

If premonition (for example) were to exist, I suggest we would know it for a fact now. Scientists would be fighting each other to make the breakthroughs, to discover the mechanisms. If the ability to predict the future were genuine it would open up an entirely new branch of science, setting the discoverer up for life and making their name immortal, and revolutionise the world. This isn't happening; correct me if I'm wrong. If someone could predict the future – regularly, with a hit rate far exceeding that attainable by just guessing, under strict laboratory conditions, and recording failures as accurately as successes (so as not to allow cherry-picking of positive results) – then it logically follows that the same physical mechanism could be used to change the past. I've never heard anyone claiming that ability. That is because it is ludicrous, but no less so than claiming to be able to see the future.

Welcome to the world of the spiritual and the supernatural.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

380: Advice to Writers

...and now I am trawling AdviceToWriters.com for no good reason. Some of the quotes are incredibly stupid; most disagree with the others; some are pretentious arse; and the ones I like are just the ones that make me squirm in self-satisfaction, I'm doing that already... and now I'm starting songs and starting the next one too soon on spotify. After Autechre and Cylob I settle on Brian Eno Music For Airports. It has no beats, vocals, or distractions. It's just a background humming along by itself. Like a conversation in an unknown language it provides atmosphere without making unwanted encroaches on my attention.

I almost went for my second post-midnight cup of tea, but we are down to the last two bags, and they must be reserved for the morning. Instead I sup barleycup; that earthy caffeine-free hot brew that has been with me my whole life. Usually only found in healthfood, vegetarian and vegan shops, I am pleased to know it is owned by a company largely involved in producing pork and bacon (Smithfield Foods: Take a tour of our hog farms). Eat that, veggies! A recent disturbing trend is the arrival of barleycup granules. It's supposed to be a powder; stop pandering to the masses and their I don't know what to do with this instant hot drink because it doesn't resemble coffee which I am familiar with mentality. If they can't work out what to do with a jar of brownish powder, labelled with a picture of a hot drink in a mug, and named barleycup, then fuck 'em. Let them drink coffee; let them stay awake a little bit longer than intended.

Until I was about seven, I thought books were just there, like trees. When I learned that people actually wrote them, I wanted to, too, because all children aspire to inhuman feats like flying. Most people grow up to realize they can’t fly. Writers are people who don’t grow up to realize they can’t be God.

This may just about be true. I have yet to be convinced I cannot be, or indeed am not already, god. There is a void there that a lot of people seem to want filling. Many people even seem to think that their desire for a filling in the god-shaped hole means that god must be in there, being all creatory and spiritual. Man created the gods in his image, therefore I should fit fairly comfortably inside that little god-hole you are aching to fill.

Since the Satanist understands that all Gods are fiction, instead of bending a knee in worship to—or seeking friendship or unity with—such mythical entities, he places himself at the center of his own subjective universe as his own highest value. We Satanists are thus our own “Gods,” and as beneficent “deities” we can offer love to those who deserve it and deliver our wrath (within reasonable limits) upon those who seek to cause us—or that which we cherish—harm.

Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially.

Sleeping on work; hiding it away. These are unavoidable; I've been sleeping on the same book blastocyst for five years now. I only got a vague idea of how to develop a plot last summer (2010) and it has literally only started to make vague sense in my head in the last month. Various ideas I had put aside as been seperate projects for some distant imaginary future point, I suddenly reaslised would work combined as various characters and plots of the same book. But how can I never venture a whisper about it to my friend, or indeed family? People are want to ask how are you, what have you been doing, what are you writing, what's it about, etcetera, etc, et-fuckin-cetera.... The answers to those questions are fine, stuff,stuff, I don't know. There's a guy and a thing happens, and a dead guy, and someone, and there is a sort of thing and a thing and I haven't written it yet. If I wanted you to know what I had already written I would offer it up, and if I knew what was to happen I would be writing it now.

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

I have no idea where the story is going, but I'll get lead there eventually. The same applies to everything in life. The immediate example that springs to mind is this here blog post: I started off simply stating what I was doing, went around the houses, and got to this bit, commonly refered to as The End.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

379: Why I Write

There was a time before I felt like writing. I was young; various ages of young – very young, a bit young, young adult, youngster – those times. I sometimes wrote a poem or a story on a whim. Often these rare events would coincide with a prompt, such as the introduction of an electronic typewriter into the family house. I remember my sister, probably aged about seven or eight, desperately wanting a typewriter. This was like me and my guitar – never really used, and largely a waste of money. Just a thing you inexplicably want when you are at a certain age. She did author a couple of excellent juvenelia stories (I remember one being called Not Now, Stephanie), although I can't remember if the typewriter was her tool for this.

I scribbled a poem called Why? (sample shittiness: Why does a pig have a curly tail, why does England's team always fail? I blush.) aged perhaps eleven or twelve. At the same time I can recall writing a letter to my granddad who lives in Spain. He would write very occasional letters to my mum, in a chatty self-depreciating lightly-humorous tone that I admired. I attempted to emulate this style in a letter to him. During the course of writing the letter my pen began to run out and I switched to a pen of a different colour. I made reference to this and said "... it's running out". Beside the "it's" I placed an asterisk referencing a note at the foot of the page. Explaining the word "it's" I wrote "my pen is", however due to the confined space it read "my penis". I didn't notice. Upon proudly showing my lettered composition to my dear mother, she gently chuckled at my faux pas and pointed it out to me. In my desperate childish embarrassment I tore the letter up, and didn't write again for some time.

Another memory I cannot exactly place in time. It seems to be happening in my childhood home (I was eleven when we moved from there), although I can't shake the feeling the following event happened after having read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. I cannot believe I read Trainspotting at this young age, although I may have been exposed to it by a friend's hip Jazz-singing mum. I wrote a short story highly derivative of a Trainspotting-type thing, the plot or content of which I cannot remember. I excitedly showed it to my dad; it was the first thing I had written in a long time, and I knew it was rubbish, but none-the-less I had written something. He cast a glance over it and passed it back with a final, "I don't like it". I didn't write again for some time.

Older again, this time around fourteen or fifteen, and as a family we rented Army of Darkness (The Medieval Dead) from the video shop. The next day at school in English lesson we were required to write a story in pairs. I lead the way in an unoriginal and graphic story about someone being quartered with a chainsaw. Why this poor soul suffered such a fate I cannot recall. The result was a severe bollocking from my teacher, and "a word" with my parents. They seemed more concerned that I had just copied something from the film we watched instead of coming up with something original, as if I was just supposed to sit down and immediately begin producing non-derivative works. I pathetically maintained (i.e. lied) that I hadn't been influenced by Army of Darkness and my co-writer must have seen it.

Older still, and I wrote thousands of words of stream of consciousness pseudo-poetic prose about Miscellaneous Sal and Polar Bear Mo. Miscellaneous Sal was a name taken from a till receipt on which the final letter of the phrase 'miscellanous sale' was omitted. Polar Bear Mo was the nickname my sister gave to the matriarch of the Slater family on Eastenders. A combination of late-teen reverie and pit-dwelling, cannabis consumption, and drastic sleeping patterns fuelled the composition which I named Why I've Got to Ruin the Moment, and which I still have bound in yellow plastic.

More years passed; I went to university and studied a dreadful course at a backwater satellite college, which I chose simple because I couldn't decide between Art or Creative Writing. Gradually I began to notice that writing seemed to be something I was ever so slightly better at than some of my peers, even those also studying writing. This had never happened to me before. I have never been good at any sport, any instrument, any anything. As MC Paul Barman put it, I'm the ne plus ultra over B-plus culture. The reason for this is simply that I am inclined towards inactivity; a lazy wee shite.

Even after spotting an emerging talent for writing, and an enjoyment at doing so, I still just didn't bother. I fucked about wanting to give this and that a go, instead of knuckling down and putting in some hard work towards developing a skill, and perhaps developing a craft. I simply lack discipline. I wasted years and years of my life by not writing. I stressed and struggled with thoughts and emotions I could not pin down. I did drugs and drank heavily, I ran away to Japan, avoiding anything and everything.

But now I write every day. I don't write enough, but I certainly write more than I would if I hadn't made a concerted effort. One day (inspired by Richard Herring's Warming Up) I just started writing a blog every day. Once or twice I tried to write a diary in the past. I never had the motivation to keep it up, since it wasn't public and no one was checking up on me; and I never had the confidence to write anything interesting in it, in case it was seen and I might be mocked. I recently discovered that the science fiction author Michael Moorcock writes 15,000 words a day. I've not read anything by him yet, but regardless this is an impressive amount. But I see no reason why I shouldn't do this too.

Often a thought will pop into my head; a short poem ("Dog turd turns, from black to brown, as flies take flight, and fill the air, with shards of shite"), a powerful turn of phrase, an amusing alliteration, a theme, plot or character. It will haunt me, obliterating any room for independent thought, repeating itself over and over again. I have no control over this. The only cure is to write the bloody thing down. Sometimes on a scrap of paper that I will lose. Often this happens when I am in bed with the lights off. Occasionally I have written in the dark only to discover in the morning that the pen wasn't working and the page is still blank. Sometimes I even have no memory of writing whatever, and awake to a notated dream-thought. The instant I have committed the thought to paper, it leaves my mind, and peace descends.

It's like the internal nagging has been alacazam'd away; the act of writing literally is a spell to dispel the acursed repetitions. (Perhaps the musically talented could use a version of this technique to dispel earworms. Aside: I recently discovered I could vanish any annoying tune from my head by triumphantly humming the theme from Beethoven's setting of the poem Ode an die Freude: DA DA DA DA DA-DA-DA-DA DA-DA-DA-DA DA-DA-DAAHH, or whatever.) If only I had committed myself fully to developing as a writer years ago I might have made more of my teens and twenties. Ah well, such is life (as my dad says). Best just make the most of my thirties, hadn't I?

So, why do I write. Because it helps to clear the cache of my conscious, it exercises my mind and excises my thoughts, it relaxes me, it excites me; I'm good at it and getting better. It may be the only marketable skill I have, and if I worked as a writer – self-employed and working on stories, novels and articles – I would never have to do a day's work again.  Reading, writing, researching; getting out what I put in.  I write because I have to, I need to, I love to.  I want control of my life and my future, and know only one way I might achieve that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

378: Your opinion is worthless...

"I think": a worthy opinion.
...and so is mine. 'You' believe that evolution is just a theory, and your opinion is that it's wrong? Your opinion is worthless. I happen to believe that evolution is a theory. Partly this is because I actually know what the word theory means (an explanation of phenomena that conforms to the available data, as opposed to a hypothesis which is an explanation of phenomena as yet unconfirmed by evidence), and partly because I trust the authorities on the subject. Over the last one hundred and seventy-ish years, the evidence has been gathered, tested, re-tested, filtered, boiled, bubbled, stirred, purified, brewed and confirmed. The result is a massively self-supporting structure of empirical evidence which provides the best explanation we have of the diversity of life. Yet my opinion on the subject is still worthless. Your belief that it is false, and mine that it is true, does nothing whatsoever to add to or subtract from the theory. It remains robust and unchallenged.

The fact is that there are a huge amount of subjects that the majority of people can make no contribution to, and as such their opinions are utterly worthless. I used the example of evolution, because popular science books on the subject are amongst my favourite reads, and over the years I have met creationists, and other truth-deniers. The world is full of them. What would it take for a evolutionary disbeliever's opinion to matter? They would have to be a respected (but not neccessarily well-known), honest scientist, working by strict established scientific standards, checked by their peers, working to allow the evidence to wobble evolutionary theory, as opposed to any personal biases. As a sound scientific theory Evolution (yeah, capital E) is falsifiable. This does not mean that it is false, but that if it is false it can be proved to be so by observation and experiment.

A commonly given example of the falsifiability of evolution is "if rabbit fossils were found in the Precambrian era". Other "conceivable lines of evidence which could falsify evolution [include]:

  • a static fossil record;
  • true chimeras, that is, organisms that combined parts from several different and diverse lineages (such as mermaids and centaurs) and which are not explained by lateral gene transfer, which transfers relatively small amounts of DNA between lineages, or symbiosis, where two whole organisms come together;
  • a [natural] mechanism that would prevent mutations from accumulating;
  • observations of organisms being created."

If any of these could be discovered and proved then the entire scientific community would have to, and would enthusiastically, rethink the theory. The theory is dictated by the evidence, not vice versa. Back to my original point; there is currently no evidence which falsifies evolution, therefore disagreeing with it puts you in possession of a worthless opinion. My opinion on its truth is also worthless because I am not a biologist, examining and working with the evidence on a daily basis. I rely on these authority figures to do the work for me.

I think it's probably a difficult thing for people to accept that their opinion is worthless. I recently heard the sincere and innocent expression of the opinion that homosexuality is a choice. It was not meant to be offensive, it was simply a naive opinion. I politely tried to explain some of the more obvious reasons why it was wrong, such as the universal nature of homosexuality in the animal kingdom, and the fact that nature never produces entirely uniform results. What I wanted to say was your opinion is worthless, but felt this wouldn't have been entirely constructive.

There are plenty of things that people can have worthwhile opinions on, but probably these all boil down to subjects of personal preferrence (this might not be true, and I will surely rack my brains as I try to sleep tonight). For example, the opinion Manchester United are my favourite football team is entirely valid if spoken by someone for whom it is true. However the opinion Manchester United are the best football team may not be valid. Depending on how the quality of best is examined there will be true facts to discover. It may be who has won the most trophies, or who has scored the most goals, etc; but whichever way you choose to look at it there will be certain facts that opinion can not touch.

You and I have our delusions compounded on a daily basis. Television shows and (the lesser) newspapers ask we text in our opinions on factual matters we have no insight into; televised news offers talking heads and public opinion; the comments, opinions and feelings of crime victims are offered as news. Opinion is not fact. Fact is fact and opinion has no bearing on this.

Thank you, and good night.
(What was all that about?)