Author Bio: Sonographical Sketch #1

Music and Memories

Now don’t say that I didn’t warn you, dear reader. I said posting was sporadic, didn’t I? And so the only way forward is to find a way to post more regularly so we can build up a bit more of a rapport. Here we have the chance to connect and share stories and opinions with all this modern technology, and so why not start a little series to help you get to know me better?

As a good friend of mine suggested that I might write something about music and I was supposed to be working on some biographical material, I thought why not combine the two? Music and memories are often very strong linchpins in people’s minds, each triggering the other. Songs that were playing at tempestuous moments in life often become firm favourites or emotionally charged.

So here’s a few of mine, starting with the first song that really blew me away.

Ah, no pun intended……

#1

As a child my parents had a box of records and a turntable, but we never really listened to it. I remember being fixated with the art in their copy of War of the Worlds but only ever really heard a small fraction of the actual music. Mostly music was listened to in the car on the radio, so usually whatever was being played on BBC Radio 2. I remember Paula Abdul being popular at the time, and the video had that animated wolf in it…..

It wasn’t until I went to school and made a new friend that I encountered someone who was really getting into music. He had an older sister and in his mildly tourettic manner bemused me by going on about breaking his rusty cage (Soundgarden for the uninitiated). Then he turned up with a copy of Nevermind. We were about 13 at the time.

At this point I hadn’t actually heard any of these songs. Then one Friday I went home and stayed over at his house. We listened to the Radio 1 Rock Show – back when BBC radio actually had a dedicated show that played hard rock and heavy metal. That was where I heard Vote With A Bullet. It was the first song I ever bought, a vinyl 12 inch single that had several remixes on it. I still have it today, lounging somewhere in my record boxes.

So it was that music became a focal point in the friendship we were developing, and it would be the starting point for gigging. It was my friend who gave me my first concert ticket – try not to laugh – Europe at Hammersmith Apollo. Oh yeah! I can say I actually witnessed the Final Countdown live! My next gig would be Napalm Death at the (now sadly no more) Marquee Club, and it would be here that I took my first stage dive and the crowd would promptly part so that I went face first onto the floor. Then a huge, hairy, leather clad mountain of a man picked me up by the scruff of the neck and set me back on my feet with the words “there ya go mate.”

Years later my father would reveal that he had actually worked as part of the broadcasting unit who were at the time filming a Thor concert at the Marquee. He recounted how the stage act including the singer blowing up a hot water bottle like a balloon until it burst.

But I digress, because perhaps the most striking thing about Vote With A Bullet was how this one song would sum up my developing attitudes towards not only politics, but towards authority in general. As a note in the sleeve informed me:

Politics is the control of wealth and power. You are being conditioned to condemn politics as petty and boring, thus granting all the more control to the powers that be. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.The choice is yours. The following groups are making a difference, & so can you.

Thus followed PO Box addressed to various groups like Amnesty, Greenpeace and Native Nations.

So I started to wear my boots to school and let my hair grow longer. I often came into conflict with certain teachers who didn’t like it. It didn’t fit the image of the school, a joke considering how totally insane half of the teachers were – I’ll never forget the drunken, stuttering chemistry teacher who attempted to say potassium permanganate, to which my friend smartly replied, “that’s easy for you to say.” Suffice to say that we didn’t learn much.

But music, ah, music had started to get me thinking.

 

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Reminder: Latest post Perfection/Impatience……..

Just a quick reminder that my latest post went up on Tuesday morning. Check it out here: Perfection/Impatience……. Now freshly edited for your reading enjoyment.

As my posts have been somewhat sporadic to say the least I will be attempting to alter the format of my posts so that they are shorter and more frequent. More on this in the next post.

Perfection/Impatience And The Nowhere/Somewhere

Once upon a time I rode a train through the Rocky Mountains with my family. I think it was before I had started college. For long spans we passed nothing but scenery. Occasionally we would stop at a town and disembark for a couple of days. Eventually we arrived in Vancouver. It was a series of starts and stops, a journey with intermissions, like alternating beads strung on a necklace. Taken all together it’s a journey, but experiencing the individual moments was the alternation of being somewhere, and then being in between, nowhere, a rolling limbo…..

Inside this limbo I find myself stuck with myself on a seemingly endless series of starts and stops, only ever half arriving.

When will we arrive at the end?

BUT FIRST, A CONSIDERATION: Perceptions Of The Artist

There is a tendency to reflect upon genius and ask what role their mental health played in either helping or hindering the end results, whether it be art or science or whatever field of endeavour they had applied themselves to. It has been suggested that without a bit of craziness some truly monumental shifts in thinking wouldn’t have been possible, and that pioneers in art and science couldn’t have broken free of constricting and conservative patterns of thought, i.e. patterns that society regards as being taken-for-grant and every-day-commonsense.

What normal people might call sanity…..

Artists in particular are amongst those often depicted as being susceptible to manias and depressive troughs, perhaps schizophrenic and struggling with reality, and many are alcoholics, drug takers, hedonists and bohemians. People who are typically associated with anti-social patterns of thought and behaviour; free or alternative thinkers, morally ambiguous and just a little bit…. well, mad. It suggests that a certain level of madness is required to bring forth novel visions.

Who knows, perhaps such tendencies lie at the root of our departure from being just another ape and the beginnings of culture itself…..

But I digress, my point being simply that there is a perceived connection between madness and art. Yet beyond a simple connection, perhaps the question that lies behind it is not whether the madness makes the artist, but rather if the artist finds their madness in the making of art? Do they only crack under self imposed pressure to create?

UNDER PRESSURE: Perfection and Impatience

I put myself under pressure. I’m a perfectionist. What is the result of this? Seething frustration. I’m also an impatient person. I want to be further down the line than I am, to be at the destination already. The end result? More frustration.

And so overall I am unbearably bad tempered; I can snap and be intolerant, I don’t have time for bullshit questions while my work seems eclipsed by the neverendingness of the domestic chores that have to be done every day. Then it feels like the people around me are on my case which only makes it worse. They want to know why I’m so damned irritable, short tempered and obtuse.

It often appears to be hard for people on the outside of the process to understand the pressure that I put myself under, and worse is dealing with the way it warps reality, inch by inch every day. In my mind I see it like this: when I do something, it has to be done right, and that extends into the artistic process. I write, I edit, I write again, I edit again. Like a sculpture it builds in layers towards a finished result, constantly being worked over and over towards a state of completion.

So just as I see the destination, where the process is heading and I want it to be done already, I load up the manuscript to be faced with imperfection and the knowledge that all the work I have already done is only a fraction of what needs to be done. Just like the train entering the station it feels as if the closer we get to the end of the journey, the slower it is going. The train is slowing and slowing, and as it does so all I want to do is get onto the station’s platform, the end of the journey. So the impatience builds.

By extension there is the question of what underlies this impatience? Is it the knowledge that there is so much more work to do after this book? This effort to write one book is hard enough, and I’ve got a damned box of stuff on the shelf that wants to come to life! Then there’s that sense of mortality creeping up through the years. As I get older it feels like years have passed and here I am still complaining to all my faithful readers that I haven’t got anywhere. And it would be nice to actually earn some small income so that I could pay to get a few things fixed up around here……

Other pressing concerns certainly include a precarious feeling when it comes to my families living situation. Our original plan to live in a yurt was supposed to be a short term affair, one that would allow us to get our finances together, but instead its trapped us in a new dilemma. Without my extra income there’s no chance of getting free from the situation. We can only live our ‘alternative’ lifestyle thanks to the patch of land we rent from my folds, and now my father’s retiring there’s a real possibility that my parents will have to sell up and move to a cheaper situation. The complications of this  burns in my subconscious all the time, and so the vicious circle comes around and around: the pressure goes up, it feels like I’m not getting anywhere, and the pressure goes up because I feel I’m not getting anywhere……

It’s a constant, baseline stress that makes me such a moody, short tempered and negative bastard. It effects mind and body and begins to recontextualize day to day life as something that is an unending struggle, as a constant pointless attempt at getting anywhere, that life itself is passing every day while I’m standing still, that time is running out even as I watch my boy growing up so quickly…..

What doesn’t make it any easier is that I am bound by my artistic temprament to write what I am writing, to write something that is actually going to stand the test of time, that will be treasured by the fans who are like me, lovers of fantasy.

LEGACY: Suffering For Your Art?

So, perhaps you can see why I posed the chicken and the egg question at the beginning? As I grappled with the work of writing, and wanting it to be true to my vision, I feel I am struggling against myself. It’s not healthy for the mind. In regard to the train metaphor, it’s like being in the dark tunnel, then suddenly emerging into the light of relief.

The tunnel, of course, is only as long and dark as you make it. But why? Why do that to yourself. There are times that it seems like people make a virtue out of suffering, and there are those that suggest that I could have made life easier on myself by not writing something so damn complex. The irony is that I was attempting to write a more straight forward tale, to do just a basic introduction to the world and the characters. Yet it still came out as something complex. But I don’t think it’s the complexity that is the problem – the structure is all there, the narrative works – no, the problem is the final form, and as I am am making this world come to life I want it to be as perfect as possible, to be an offering to the genre I am compelled to write within.

See, I love fantasy. I want to contribute something worthwhile to it, just like all those classics that I loved so much over the years, to be like the classic fantasy authors who made it into the Masterworks collections. That takes effort, it takes an exertion of pressure on oneself artisitcally, not just to make a living but to make a legacy. Under that pressure I imagine that I’m turning the base carbon of words into something like literary diamonds, something that’ll stand out, something that’ll stand the test of time so that when you re-read it two, five, ten years later it’s still as enjoyable as the first time you picked it up.

So surely it’ll be worth it, right? Or perhaps it’s nothing more that an appeal to vanity? I guess time will tell. For all the perception of being nowhere, I am actually somewhere in this process. We’re closer to arriving than departing, and while I’ve got a new set of problems to deal with, I just need to reapply myself without losing heart or succumbing to the feeling of just getting back into bed. After all, we’re on the right track to be done within a reasonable amount of time: it took some of my favourite authors two years to get their books together. Thinking back it’s been a year and a half, so I’m doing pretty good (and some of that was part time due to child care).

And doing work like this blog helps to unload the burdens that surround me as an author, so for those who keep reading this blog, I’d like to thank you. It certainly acts as a pressure valve; once it’s done and posted there’s a sense of relief and gathering momentum. It’s another inch closer to arriving at the destination, another step out of nowhere and on to somewhere.

UP NEXT: We’re gonna have a little talk about getting on board the hype train. The results of which may very well determine the first steps in publishing.

 

 

 

Initial Criticisms: Three Questions of Flow

Here we are then – 2018: Part 2. The post-Solstice blues and sure, Summer was a nice break. I let myself relax just long enough to stop worrying about the book, but by exhaling in relief I’m now out of breath. The next step, the event that should have snowballed into my life on the heels of the pre-Summer momentum, has simply petered out. Entropy has taken hold and the ball has stopped rolling…..

Oh dear. Instead of results there’s a stasis, and I hold my hand up and say yes, I know, what did I expect? The reality is, as many successful writers will no doubt tell you, that even if you’ve finished your book you’re still only half way there. You can’t just wait for the universe to drop success in your lap without putting in the hard work.

Acknowledged, but…… how does one get that momentum rolling again. It’s not even writers block, more that I’m just not writing what I want to write. Instead I’ve tried to focus on typing up interviews for a biography that I’ve been commissioned to write. Whilst it’ll be nice to get paid (i.e. yeah, I’m not much of a materialist but….), it’s not really what I want to be doing, nor is it particularly satisfying (even if I have discerned the narrative structure linking my client’s disparate sub texts – yes, there IS a pattern hoorah!).

So with my first (near) fully fledged novel languishing in a state of semi-preparedness, and the beta readers are at the task, I’ve been given to thinking about how to break the stalemate.

And the best way to do that is to throw away all the serious considerations and get down to doing what I actually enjoy…..

GET THE BALL ROLLING: OF SEQUELS AND BLOGS

Yesterday I set about writing for the fun of it and sketched out the initial elements of the next book in the series, lovingly entitled “Local Talent” (strictly WIP!).

And it worked. The creeping stasis was dissipated and I got a sense of enjoying the act of plotting and envisioning the way that the characters are going to interact, in working out what the pay off for the narrative will be and how it ties up to the next book. The key experience was to enjoy progressing instead of waiting around, and although I wont be committing to the full writing until my son starts school, I think there’s room enough to start sketching. It’ll give me something to do until I can get the final edits done for Red Star Rising.

What it allowed me was the feeling that I enjoyed working. For those who write, we know that working on our projects can be hard work, but it’s enjoyable in its outcome. Instead I was working hard on transcriptions, and it had taken me over a week just to do three quarters of a two hour interview. Not fun, and the kind of thing that you put off doing. Nor had I written for my blog, but now I was feeling the old magic coming back I felt more like sitting down and writing to the wider world about something.

Thus was the question begged, what shall I talk about today? In the past I’ve written with little notion of a specific demographic; should I focus on articles regarding fantasy or sci-fi? Should it be personal? My first posts were a way to explore procrastination, and then I wrote about the writing process. So why not turn our attention to exploring some of the thought processes that have come with the first round of feedback?

AND THE GOLD STAR GOES TO…..

A big thank you to Mike and Sasha (who got the gold star) for their initial feedback, and Chris who was very positive on the initial chapters. Also thanks to Dan who only had time to read the prologue but was enthusiastic about the style.  I’ll be drawing on these initial reports in the following, as well as one or two others who are in the middle of reading.

Firstly, the initial feedback has been very positive. I might be overstating here, but I think I can say that I’ve written something that people are taking seriously as a professional work. Secondly, there hasn’t been any real complaints about the narrative itself. Therefore, assuming that the narrative functions to deliver a story which is a). not riddled with holes and b). provisions the reader with a satisfactory experience, there are the considerations of how the narrative is delivered and whether or not this delivery flows. The the skill of the narrator lies in conjuring the world without dislodging the reader from their immersion in the flow of the story.

To break it down, we might frame these considerations as three questions:

#1 Exposition (or how much do you spoonfeed?)

The challenge of informing the reader without writing a wall of text is often tricky. Too little and the progress of the story is hindered by a lack of understanding. Here we have the issue that the characters take much of their immediate world for granted and so we must be sparing in the use of text to explain things. Too much and it bogs down the narrative with unnecessary details and can make the author look amateurish.

So, just the right amount…… easier said than done.

This task is arguably made harder in fantasy and sci-fi where there are often many more things that are regularly taken for granted: aliens, technology and magic. However, I would argue that one of the appeals from these genres is the explorations of new worlds, that they provide a sense of discovery as you uncover the layers of reality within them. This exploration is what heightens the sense of adventure. Therein lies the skill of giving the explorer just what they need at each stage of the narrative. Given that this will be a series, there will be plenty of time to explore the wider world, so for now I will have to follow my own advice and investigate this flow of information.

One final note: additional solutions to fleshing out the world might include a glossary of popular terms (perhaps rendered as a pamphlet for new city visitors), a map of the city and its environs, and the oft used trope of exerts from imaginary academic journals, historical documents and mythological quotes.

#2 Description (can you see it/them in your mind?)

The flip side of explanation is the more direct appeal to the reader’s senses via descriptive language. We use the senses to conjure up the feel of a scene or the representation of a character, and again, too much description slows the pace, but too little and it’s just a vague sketch. To keep the pace we must perform a balancing act once more.

What is important is that the reader can get a good sense of a place or character in their mind. One of the criticisms that I received was that I was overly sparse in some of my description, and here I think it’s important to distinguish whether it’s the environment or the characters.

Typically I like to focus on a characters key points with only a brief description because the reader should be able to see the character in their mind given that the palette of character types is usually a replay of similar tropes.

But where I suspect I have been ovelry sparse is with some of the descriptions of the environment, and this goes hand in hand with the explanations of those places. It is the city as character that has not been given due exploration and I’ll be paying special attention during the next round of edits to colouring in those outlines just a little more.

#3 Text (do you need a dictionary? (because my ego doesn’t))

As a writer it might be nice to use sophisticated words, but you’re asking for trouble if your readership isn’t….. ahem, as literate as you are. But seriously, unless you’re writing a philosophical essay, it’s just not needed because if there’s one thing that jars the flow it’s having to whip out the dictionary in mid sentence. You want your reader to be immersed, and those long words are just obstacles.

It’s a criticism that I’ve had from a few people, and every time someone has told me that they needed a dictionary there’s one word that instantly springs to mind: “Mordaciously” (adjective: 1. biting or given to biting, 2. sharp or caustic in style, tone, etc.) No doubt there are others but this one is the one I recall. 

Remember, it’s not necessarily what you’ve got (a giant vocabulary) but rather how you use it (did the reader understand?). If the reader didn’t understand then you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’re writing can still be artistic, poetical and edgy, and in this it is likely better served by keeping it simple.

And don’t forget, the reader isn’t going to remember every little word, but rather the overall feel and experience of the narrative. It’s best to eliminate the lumps and keep the final product smooth.

THE FINAL PRODUCT (results may vary)

The end result of these initial criticisms has therefore been a nice little framework for looking at the overall form of the narrative, and as writers all over the world know, you will not succeed without constructive criticisms. By taking a step back, putting the manuscript out there and opening yourself up, you should be rewarded with the knowledge of just where you need to focus.

It shouldn’t be too much longer before the rest of the beta readers finish the manuscript, and with the framework outlined above, I have a structured means to interrogate them. No doubt that there will also be things that fall outside of these three categories, but I feel that these are probably the most pertinent to moving forward. So I hope that this might have been some help to those of you out there who are writing.

That about sums it up for now. There’s plenty more to be addressing but for now I’ll leave you with a little video from a series I’ve been enjoying. Please feel free to comment or make a suggestion. Until next time, stay cool.

DJC

Letting It Go

Anyone would have suspected that some kind of happiness would follow the completion of the revised draft, but for reasons unknown it been an anticlimax. It all came together so fast, tied up nicely and then just dropped off. I had arrived at the destination with such speed no one else was there yet. I blinked and looked around, then scratched my head. What now?

LETTING IT GO

I knew it had to be done. I had to let go. It needed reading. Easier said than  done. Just making the announcement was difficult. It’s the acknowledgement that you’re lowering your defences, that the fear inside you is saying “come on, savage my efforts.” It should have been a moment of triumph, but instead was an exercise in gritting my teeth, waiting for the kicking to start.

I sent out the first copy  and the first thing I did upon sending it was spot a small error. Nothing really. Just wording, but I set about fussing over it with a will until I forced myself to stop. So crazy, to have finished yet knowing that I still had work to do….

It reminded me of a video I had watched where the gentleman says of scriptwriting: “Show me someone who is happy with what they have written, and I will show you an amateur.” Just got to remember – IT’S NOT PUBLISHED YET DAVE!

So, resisting the urge I sent out a couple more; paper copies went to friends, family and assorted others. A nice age range and a mix of fantasy/sci-fi fans and people who weren’t. Different perspectives and all…..

I’d let it go. It was out there. All I need do is sit back and relax.

Right?

PRAISE!

Wrong. One of the first readers enthused that it was “bloody good” and that he was “impressed with the writing style.”

Oh my days! I tried to keep calm, but what came to grow inside me wasn’t more confidence. It was the reverse. It was anxiety that it was all going to fall apart, that days later he’s said nothing , well, that first bit, yeah that was awesome! But then you went and did this thing and the story went over here and it all kinda sucked arse in the end……

I’m constantly waiting now for any word, checking email and social media, but more often stopping myself from checking. It’s only been a week I say to myself. People have lives that don’t entail the same level of obsession about the book as I do.

Got to let it go. Sit back, and relax…….

LIMBO

Instead of relaxing, I’m waiting. This is the impatience of completion. It’s a limbo where I don’t know where to direct my efforts, like the energy has sort of bled away now that I have arrived at that point. The party wont start until everyone’s caught me up.

So here I am, floating around in space, directionless. I consider that the reason it’s so hard is that I’ve been travelling in one direction so long it takes time to realign myself.

And it’s certainly not improving my mood as I find myself regularly standing about, wondering what in the Hell am I doing? I’m short tempered and impatient. Worse, I’m resenting my partner even though I have no right. I’m relying on her to not only give me criticism, but to help me gauge how much work I need to do for the book to fit its niche/genre. Her understanding is key…..

But like I said, I have no right to be angry about it. I’m just so impatient because this feedback will be the decider. It’ll determine the next step……

Publishing. Which path to choose? I’d like to say, that with the nice things that have been said by one or two people, that this work deserves to be taken up by a specialist publisher in the field of fantasy. It means they soak up some of the cost (as I have no real money to undertake self publishing) but I’ll need to find a literary agent. It equally means not receiving most of the revenue from sales, but balanced against that is the promotion and returns over time of a series.

It should be exciting, but instead the feeling seems to have drifted off into that limbo zone….

AND IN THE MEANTIME

So, in the meantime? What to do? Time to turn to a task that needs some love. I have dubbed it the Newman Project: several years ago I was approached to write a biography. It’s a long story, but the core of it revolves around false imprisonment, a contract killing and a vendetta, all mixed with a little reincarnation, petty crime and a hangman’s noose outside of Mitcham police station.

I’d put transcribing the interviews off because they’re a real pain in the arse to do, and like most people I hate the sound of my own voice.

But…..

Needs to be done. I couldn’t turn the work down, because it was free material that, no matter what, is gold dust for a writer. It was mainly that I needed to finish my own work first, and that I hadn’t been paid for what I had done so far (there’s often problems of cash flow when your income is from a questionable source and you’ve never had a bank account).

On top of the monotony of catching up on this admin, there’s the next book in the series to contemplate. I’ve got a few neat ideas, a set of characters and a situation that stems from the book I just finished, so it’s already shaping up in my mind. The circle is complete: back to the drafting process. As Burroughs says “destroy all rational thought.” Do it as fast as you can and don’t think about it until you’ve finished.

It’ll be my new rocket to ride, speeding off into my own little kingdom of clouds inside my head…….

OH, ONE LAST THING

I said I’d learn People Are Strange didn’t I? Well, the splint is off and I’ve been getting involved in the local music scene in the nearby town. I’ve made some new musical friends and I’ve started playing guitar again. So, no more excuses. Time to step forward. In much the same way as the book, it’s no good sitting at home practising. I’ve got these songs (even one or two I wrote myself) and if I don’t let them go, if I don’t let people experience them and (hopefully) enjoy them, then what’s the point of it all in the first place?

DJC

(PS, why Parquet Courts? It’s just been on the radio lots. Love that bass!)

 

 

 

 

March Madness: The Shadow Over Spring

I’m sorry I haven’t written you sooner. Life has been crazy, tenuous and suddenly full again. Let me tell you about it…….

It started while I was reading Erich Fromm’s The Sane Society. It brought back concerns that had occupied my thoughts as a teenager and that would eventually take me into anthropology:

“[M]any psychiatrists and psychologist refuse to entertain the idea that society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. They hold that the problem of mental health in a society is only that of the number of ‘unadjusted’ individuals, and not that of a possible unadjustment of the culture itself.

The Sane Society, Erich Fromm

THE WORLD IS DEEPLY NUTS TODAY…..

I’m standing in the supermarket; the strip lights are cold and bright, the consumers wittering away and all those check outs are going beep….. beep….. beep! I feel a little like Bruce Willis in Breakfast Of Champions when the tarmac turns to rubber. For a moment I see it all clearly, objectively, not as a shopper but as total of the human  journey to this moment in time. It has an aspect of madness, this lens of clarity, and it’s saying that this spectacle just cannot be normal. Humanity’s evolutionary environment has never seen something like this. It’s so very recent. There is nothing natural about this sci-fi utopia with its unimaginably vast amounts of choice in food, drink, clothing, medicine and nappies and cultured yogurt……

I take my Energizing Smoothie and Vegetarian Sushi rolls and get the fuck outta there……

At home I’m rolling my eyes as I wonder why the news on the radio wants to troll me every day. It’s just relayed an opinion that Trump should get a Nobel Peace prize for his North Korea diplomacy.

Wrong on so many levels…..

Meanwhile our glorious leaders have desperately tried to convince us to support them in their latest geopolitical posturing by cooking up some truly fantastical bullshit. It reminds me of the lawyer in Robocop 2 when he says, “whether the evidence exists or not, I know I can find it.”

Worse, these people have nukes. Lucky for me that they probably wont push the button just yet, although I recall an article that there have been around 12 near misses since the 50’s, once when a Russian radar computer showed incoming missiles that weren’t there, or when a US naval ship dropped a practice depth charge on a Russian submarine for a laugh.

One has to wonder what kind of sane society would stock pile such things. No wonder life is feeling tenuous…..

Anyway, most likely they won’t be using them just yet. They’ll wage their wars over the last scraps at the table first, the last oil and water and minerals. Then the loser can have the final word as we all disappear in a blinding flash.

Later I’m standing in the chippie waiting for an order of cod, chicken goujons, chips and onion rings because it’s Sam’s birthday. Someone picks up a paper, rustles through it while they’re waiting. The staff are shouting orders. The food hisses into the fat fryers and I think to myself, “please don’t let the world end while I’m in a chippy”. It would really put a crimp on the day to be hit in the face by a nuclear explosion without getting off a snarky comment.

This reminds me that some years ago I had a strange dream: I’m in the city, standing just outside some building when the person next to me turns and says “someone just let off a nuclear bomb”. I turn to the horizon and see the mushroom cloud, and just before I awake I hear myself say with exasperated disappointment one single word: “Meh.” (Perhaps my subconscious is just better at summarising).

The days go by and I don’t do myself any favours by reading about Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd fame). He claims to have been approached by a Saudi business man who wants him to support the White Helmets, an NGO purportedly created by an ex-member of MI6 and funded with millions of £ and $ of taxpayers money. They ask him if one of their representatives can take the stage before his Barcelona concert and give an address in the name of Syria’s children. Waters ignores the request and instead tells the audience that they’re nothing but the PR arm for the jihadi head choppers. I wonder at the notion of militant fundamentalists having a PR campaign. Later still I’ll wonder at the notion of Libyan rebels taking time out from fighting Gaddafi to set up a bank.

And the day before yesterday (last week or so) I heard that Iran just rejected the dollar.

Oh dear……

…….AND TIME IS SHORT

Sometime’s you should just turn Youtube off. That way you wont get to see a video where a scientist is telling a day tv host that humanity could very well be extinct in 10 years due to the severity of temperature changes that are occurring. They are exponential. The tv host is flippant, blasé,  but what can he say other than ask what is this guy going to do with the rest of his (short) life? The scientist says he’ll “live it as fully as possible”.

The shadow of mortality falls over me. It’s relentless, enervating, humbling. I’ve read enough to know that ‘experts’ call this era the Anthropocene Extinction. And those leaders I mentioned earlier, well they dont want to do anything to upset the markets, to upset the money men and the oil industry. No, all they can ask you to do be a bit more gentle, recycle and buy an electric car even as the crops are withering in the fields. They are the epitome of procrastination, literally putting off reality until tomorrow. If ever a species could win the accolade it must be us, number one for mass delusional procrastination, a metacrastination if you will. We are ‘homo procrastes‘ and we all know what’s happening, but there’s always something more important to do than worry about global auto-genocide.

And so the shadow darkens even as Spring is in bloom because the oceans will rise, the deserts will spread, the supermarket shelves will be empty and I’m suddenly recalling the horror of the Mountain People, Colin Turnbull’s account of a society self-destructing. There is no society, no family, no hope…… and it’s likely that I’ll starve to death with my son.

He’ll be 14.

ONLY IN DARK THE LIGHT

Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.

A Tale Of Earthsea, Ursula LeGuin

Feeling heartbroken I took a break from working and a little later picked the little guy up from pre-school. That afternoon I took him for a walk over the local hill, the space and light and air providing a welcome relief. It was such a pleasant afternoon, not too hot with fresh air blowing over the slope. I stared out over the rolling green landscape. The sun was shining through gaps in the cloud and in the background I heard Bruce burbling about something that I didn’t quite catch. For a moment there’s that sense of clarity again, the perception of something real and natural that’s all so alive, so enduring, and I wonder “How can this ever end?”

I give Bruce a hug and remind him that I love him….

The truth is that no one can say how much time there is left, and even if it as short as might be claimed, well, the burden is on us to make the most of it. This doesn’t mean abandoning ideals or ceasing to give a shit about anything, but rather it is about finding a new motivation to live a full life without worrying. It is a continuation of the path that I started on in March (see last blog) and a development of the personal need for change.

So, more than ever, I’m getting myself out and enjoying what time is left. I’m done with hermitting away because faced with death I’ve found a great desire to live. Suddenly I want to be with people, even if we might not share the same ideas, but it’s healthy to remember that you’re not always right. Faced with possible extinction, does it even matter? It’s just so much pointlessness to care what anyone thinks when time is short. I’m not going to worry about the madness. Hell we might as well embrace it and feel alive instead of worrying.

So I’ll try to make the world a bit brighter, try to love a bit more and promise to stop wasting time being critical of everything around me. It’s time to make the most of the good fortune that I have been given.

And so, as I started with Fromm, I’ll finish with this from The Sane Society, written over 60 years ago:

“A new question has arisen in modern man’s mind, the question, namely, whether ‘life is worth living’, and correspondingly, the feeling that one’s life ‘is a failure’, or is ‘a success’. This idea is based on the concept of life as an enterprise which should show profit. The failure is like the bankruptcy of a business in which the losses are greater than the gains. This concept is nonsensical. We may be happy or unhappy, achieve some aims, and not achieve others; yet there is no sensible balance which could show whether life is worth while living. It ends necessarily with death; many of our hopes are disappointed; it involves suffering and effort; from a standpoint of the balance, it would seem to make more sense not to have been born at all……

On the other hand, who will tell whether one happy moment of love, or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies? Life is a unique gift and challenge, not to be measured in terms of anything else, and no sensible answer can be given to the question whether it is ‘worth while’ living, because the question does not make any sense.”

The Sane Society, Eric Fromm

DJC

 

A Self Reflective Inquisition

Here we are, on the cusp of a new venture for me and only three weeks on from the last post. This will be the first post that goes up on the new Facebook page I’ve created. As much as I’m happy to be pressing on, being proactive in the manner that authors must be, I can’t say that I’m thrilled at the prospect of social media. It’s the hermit in me, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard about the introvert writer, but as hackneyed as it sounds, there is a shred of truth in it for me.

It’s a question that I’ll return to in good time.

Severed

Three weeks ago I might have made (somewhat) light of cutting my finger. In typical fashion I hadn’t gone to A&E, being blasé about just taping it up. “It’ll be fine.” It wasn’t. I’d severed the tendon and wouldn’t be able to straighten it. The lovely NHS lady that saw me at Caterham Dene was shocked that my GP hadn’t referred me. I sat waiting for news, reading HP Lovecraft in the hope that other-worldy horrors would take my mind off the prospect of having my finger cut open and the tendon sewn back together.

It didn’t happen and I was referred to the finger specialists at Queen Victoria in East Grinstead. But no operation. I was splinted up and waited for Physiotherapy to contact me. Another week. By now I was deep into No One Here Gets Out Alive (the Jim Morrison biography) in the waiting room. Not long and I’m sat down for the good news. The tendon is apparently only partially severed and give it about eight weeks of being in a splint and it should be okay.

Probably…..

I went home, frustrated, but with a discrete, molded splint. At the end of the week I was in Brighton at the Concorde for Jonathan Wilson, drinking Blue Moon on tap and trying not to break down in tears……

The Inquisition Begins

As this situation developed I became increasingly unbalanced, and it triggered a difficult, depressive state that left me much awry. Attempts to communicate this were met with frustrating disinterest.

And as I began to question, those questions seemed to go deeper and deeper…..

Firstly, I considered whether or not I would play music again. In something like self pity I considered that it might just be a signal to give up. After all, I hadn’t really done much with it in the 15 years I’d been playing guitar.

It was, very clearly, all or nothing. Moreover, what began to surface were the historical moments connected with it, going back to when I was at school. I remember being made to do a talk in front of the school that damaged my confidence, and then how a friend turned on me just as I was gonna play bass in his band. Years would go by and perhaps my musical highlight as a performer was a karaoke rendition of I’m The Urban Spaceman (which was included in my current repertoire, of course).

It wasn’t until I returned from New Mexico that I picked up a guitar proper, and over time my aspirations developed; I picked up bass again and I eventually started trying to learn and write songs. I could be in a band…..

But now I was faced with the reality that my aspirations might not only be unobtainable, but might have just been wishful thinking all along. Why hadn’t I done more? I didn’t get out there and play, I was barely trying to do anything about finding a band. I was afraid. I fully realised the nature of my hermitting, that fear was part of the hermit in me. I was cut off, had done so with some intention, and now I was wondering where all my friends had gone, why I avoided people and whether it was just the nature of home life.

Therapy

So it was with great relief at the end of that time that I actually went out, kicked back and cut loose. I remember checking into the B&B, sitting in the bay window and feeling the faintest hint of lingering unease. Then  Sam and I walked up the road, checked out part of Brighton I’ve not really visited before. We ate in a great restaurant then hit a local bar called the Sidewinder for a pre-gig beer.

I was beginning to get into it.

We strolled down to the Concorde, down at the sea front, a place where I’d seen many bands in the past (most notably Love). It was damnably cold, but there was no queue and we strolled in to find the place quiet. Two pints of Blue Moon and no support band, just straight into two hours of Jonathan Wilson.

And goddamn it went fast.

I bathed in that sonic goodness, and it was a catharsis for me because I always feel a real connection with JW’s songs, as if he’s one of those artists who’s caught a glimpse of life’s deeper aspects, of what’s just beyond the door of everyday life and although he can’t quite explain it, he hints at the greater wonders that he found there, like a great vivid dream or strange trip……

I had more beer.

And I loosened up, all the pent up angst and memory that was bottled found vent, and as it was washed away I felt elated and emotional. It was a healing experience.

And when the encore was over we were wandering back to the bar for another round where a DJ with a Misfits t-shirt on played a variety of music at great volume (but no Misfits – bummer). Sam and I spent some time talking (or rather, shouting), getting things off our chests. This time I was listened to which was a relief, but also, I got to hear about my partner’s fears and anxieties. We purged it all in a drunken shambles that helped reaffirmed the strength of our bond, as partners who work together to get through the weeks and months.

We are, after all, a team.

Through The Door (The Guide)

And as this new wave of energy rolled on I fell into reading No One Here Gets Out Alive. I’d had it for years, bought in a charity shop for 80p, but I’d never got around to reading it. At this point I was past the childhood story and into the formation of the doors.

So entered the Lizard King……

Reading about him, about the rise of the Doors, it was like the next step in the mental process. Jim reminded me that I too had set out looking for something and yet I’d become somewhat negligent.

Jim Morrison was so social, always out drinking with others, and he seemed to understood people. I wondered then that perhaps the cliché of the introvert writer might be a bit of a problem. I had hermitted away, and that can’t be good for those of us who are writers. We lose something of the reality of people, and perhaps the need for just a little more thought and tolerance that rounds us out as individuals. Perhaps I had just forgotten how strange and multifaceted people were. It was, after all, one of the reasons I studied anthropology, so that I might meet and better understand people, and by extension know myself a little better.

So for the past week I’ve been listening to the Doors a whole lot, and I fell in love all over again with their music. I don’t think I’ll grow out of it as I recall one journalist saying she had, “that it was cool when she was young but then you grow up and see it for the pretentious twaddle it is.” (I might have misquoted, but that was the gist)

Nah! I’ll always remember that People Are Strange was once something of a theme song for me among certain friends. Who knows, now I’m on Facebook I might even see one or two of them again. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know just yet.

And as to the question of whether I’ll play music again, I know that I have to follow Jim’s advice and break on through to the other side. I’ll find a way, keep playing and once this finger is healed up I’m gonna learn People Are Strange, resist the hermitting instinct and go down the open mic.

Who knows, I might even share a video of it in a post some time this year.

DJC