Friday, 21 August 2009

Life Reboot: Y/N?

In the 1970s, Batman writer Denny O’Neill decided that Stately Wayne Manor was too conservative and staid for a hipster playboy like Bruce Wayne, so he contrived to kick him out of the mansion and make him live in a flash penthouse apartment in Gotham City itself. Eventually, of course, a later writer decided that it was time for Bruce to go on home again. Because this is how it works in comics: your franchise-redefining idea will always eventually be shelved as an act of fanservice to the hordes who believe, with the zeal of suicide bombers, that comics are only right when they’re the same as they were when they were growing up with them.

(I think the fastest any company pulled this particular reverse-ferret was when Grant Morrison killed off Magneto during his New X-Men run. I don’t have the exact dates for this, but I’m pretty certain Marvel brought Mags back in a new iteration of X-Men tie-in book Excalibur not three months later. Even Superman was dead longer than that.)

If my life were a comic book – and I have often, in an experiment in what one might term applied magical thinking, imagined that it is – then it can only be assumed that its rabid fan-base consists of people who think this book was at its best, dammit, back when I was a scabrous adolescent wannabe poet living in one room of my parents’ rambling fin de siècle pile. Because that’s where I am now. In continuity terms, my life has been rebooted.

Except, of course, that, while I may be scabrous still, I’m hardly an adolescent anymore. I’ll be thirty-two years old this September. I was a crazy, damaged, pretty kid back then. Now I’m fatter, older, and uglier – but the crazy and the damage never really go away. I still have all of the parts of the old me that make life less liveable (and therefore more dramatically interesting, I suppose, if you want to sustain the conceit): it’s the good bits of the old me that have gone away. There are times when I feel like the Adam West Batman dropped into the terrifying crimescape of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

But that’s the thing about continuity-redefining events, I suppose. Whether in four colours or three dimensions you have to face them, as the Flaming Lips put it, when you’re not prepared to face them. So I guess this is the time to embrace the New Order and admit that this is Year Zero, at least in terms of my writing.

Some of the more keen-eyed readers of this blog may have noticed that the little potted bio to the right no longer makes mention of ‘the forthcoming All Haste is from the Devil’, my planned second chapbook of poetry. The reason it isn’t mentioned is that it’s no longer forthcoming: it’s dead. And it’s dead because I killed it. Contacted the publishers and told them not to go ahead. There are all kinds of complicated reasons I could go into for why I did what I did, and the motives I had at the time don’t really chime with what I’ve came to think about it since, but in the end it all boils down to this:

I finished putting together All Haste... in 2004. Since then, there’s been a lot of re-editing, a lot of adding new and stronger poems to the collection and getting rid of weaker ones, a lot of checking and re-checking and let’s-try-this-again. And somewhere along the line it became clear to me that, essentially, it had stopped being a collection. It didn’t hold together anymore. Worse still, I no longer found myself quite as impressed with some of the poems that were doing the heavy lifting as I had been at one time. Two poems in particular struck me as, for want of a better term, lies. Egregious, attention-seeking lies: and these were two of the stronger poems in the selection. And as much as I liked many of the other poems therein, I realised that to let the thing be published as it was would be akin to erecting a building, otherwise perfect, which nevertheless contained a dynamic, if unsightly flourish which concealed a major structural defect. It would stand, for a while: but it would never really look right and then, at one point, inevitably, it would all fall to pieces.

So what could I do? Well, there was only one thing for it: I would have to go back and gut the thing, start from scratch, rebuild it in a way I could be happy with. Except...

Except that, if I did that, it wouldn’t really be All Haste... anymore. It would be, to all intents and purposes, a completely different book. It would still contain more than a few of the poems in the original – but these would be augmented by a new selection of material which would give the book as a whole a different cast, and reflect the older poems in quite a different light. And if that was the case, if it would really be so different, then the only thing to do was start completely from scratch, with the whole thing. Including preparing, editing, and submitting the manuscript.

So that was that. Five years of work would have to be given up, like a valuable chess piece whose sacrifice is the only way to release the King from check. Just as my marriage, just as my expectations of what my future held as a husband have had to be given too would I have to abandon all the assumptions I’d made about my artistic future. Like the Fool in the Tarot deck, I would have to take no more than I could carry, leap smiling into the void, and see what happened. What happens when you lose everything? You start all over again.

At least, that’s how I explain it to myself. But cognitive science tells us that most of the ways in which we explain our behaviour are lies, post-hoc rationalisations for innate, preconscious drives of which we never become aware. Maybe I only think this is the reason why I abandoned All Haste is from the Devil. Maybe the actual reason is much simpler.

Maybe it happened because it had to happen. Because everything had to go back to square one. Because this is the reboot.

Because: this is Year Zero.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and optimistic outlook at such a radical change at our stage of life (more or less).

    Cause (and I have envisioned my life as a comic book too) as humans our lives press ever onward, whereas our comic heroes remain ageless. Despite change of digs, Bruce Wayne is still 30something 80 years later, whereas we have to change.

    With the thirties being a time of consolidation, at least in my opinion to have to "reboot continuity" now, without the ability to retcon, has got to be rough. Good luck my friend.