Saturday 29 August 2009

What...what IS it, Spider?

On looking back into the mosh pit

This was never about fun, you rotten liar,
never about fun, but something higher,
never about fun. Yes, about drums,
pounding like the feet of some
thing slouching toward Bethlehem,
and, yes, about the Bedlam-rush
Blake and Kerouac once felt behind their eyes,
but to spell ecstatic as just happy is to lie.
This is not happiness. This is where happiness
comes from, but the feeling here expressed
is more than just a sticking-plaster smile.
The make-up and the clothes mean more than style.

Exile is the option chosen here, self-imposed
retreat from a weekday world purporting to oppose
the slavery and cruelty that the normal folk like us
perpetrate: the laughter on the bus,
the joshing in the corridor, and worse
where authorities will not look, out of choice,
the turning shoulders and the pungent looks,
the managers who have no time for books,
the bookshop shelves which creak beneath the weight
of self-help schrifts which seek to venerate
their smiling rule. No negatives allowed!
The can-do nostrums of the lucky and the proud.

All the girls who cut their hair like boys,
the boys who paint themselves to look like girls,
know, all, how it feels to be crushed
by the weight of a world so criminal
and so obsessed with being proven right,
it calls out in its sleep for punishment. By night
the west is lost in dreams of youth gone wild
and risen demons,
by morning once more lulled
to acquiescence by the television sermons,
by the guys in suits who talk before the game;
will drink its coffee and displace its pain
again on these young shoulders, wishbone-slim
in fishnet tops, and go back to its usual kind of sin.

But morning’s far away. For now, the hurt,
the covert cultivar of rage each one has brought,
finds in this pounding dark a place to effloresce,
to bloom in noise and loving violence.

It's...the TRUTH!

A while ago I wrote here that one of my reasons for abandoning All Haste is from the Devil was that I had reached the conclusion that some of the poems in that book were lies? Well, the poems that were lies were about a subject extremely close to my heart. A subject of great import. A subject which I feel, just possibly, may be the single most important thing in the world.

I speak, of course, of rock 'n' roll.

Or, more particularly, the peculiar mix of goth, metal, rock, grunge, techno, industrial, etc which I, and most of the other misfit weirdo kids around my way grew up listening to. Time was, Newcastle had the most awesome rock club in the world, the Mayfair. I loved going to that place, and so did thousands of others from far and fucking wide. So of course Newcastle Council decided to tear it down and replace it with The Gate, a soulless mall of a place full of chain bars and restaurants topped off with a bloody great multiplex cinema where people can take their mewling, screaming kids to shriek at Disney flicks. Bastards.

I wanted to commemorate those wild nights at the Mayfair in a poem, and I had a bash at producing a couple, and they went down well with audiences. So well that it took me a long time before I realised they were lies.

They were lies because in writing them the way I had I had created the impression that going to the Mayfair was fun. That it was a good laugh. That it was all just some kind of crazy happy joy joy funny time. This, of course, wasn't true.

In my youth, when I used to go to the Mayfair, I was, to put it mildly, going out of my fucking mind. Of course I was: this is what being young is for. And the reason I enjoyed going to the Mayfair was because it was a place where I could dance along to the soundtrack of my own mind unravelling. In 'Bittersweet Symphony' (a song which surely has to be a candidate for most FAILed video ever), Richard Ashcroft sings 'I need to hear some sounds which recognise the pain in me'. That's what the Mayfair - and the subsequent revival nights which Newcastle's rock resistance put on after its demise - meant to me. Thrashing to Nirvana, moshing to Limp Bizkit, miming depraved sex acts to Nine Inch Nails, even leaping about like a loon to 'Just a Girl' by No Doubt, these were the ways in which I, and many other beautiful, confused little freaks who were just like me only in the sense that they were totally, wonderfully different, dramatised the pain we felt in a world which told us to be good girls and real boys, and which tormented the shit out of us on a daily basis for refusing to do so.

The first poems I wrote on this topic didn't capture that feeling. To be honest, they were more like Tenacious D songs. And I've got nothing against the D, but while I have been told on a couple of occassions that I look like Jack Black, I don't want my poetry to sound like the fucker.

So I junked those poems. And today, I decided to try and write something which better describes what it was to be young in those days. What you see above this entry is the first draft of that poem. I'd appreciate anyone's thoughts on it.

Friday 28 August 2009

God Forbid There Should Be Good News...

I've mentioned before on this blog how much I despise the Daily Mail and, to a similar extent, the Daily Express. I hate these papers because, unlike the red-tops, which are essentially a more text-heavy version of the Beano, they aspire to respectability. People who read these papers are aspirational, middle-class folk who think that a paper with a fancy masthead and a posh font confers an importance on them. Sun-readers, in my experience, don't integrate the paper into their self-concept: they know it's bullshit, and they read it for the football and the tits. But the middle-market tabloid readers do integrate their paper into their self-concept. This is particularly strong in the case of the Mail, which openly admits that it advocates for the interests of its readership rather than presenting news impartially.

A large part of that self-concept has to do with identifying as British, or more particularly English, being anti-immigration and weeping over what Britain's coming to (quite often from an expat reservation in Spain, but still). The weird upshot of all this though, is that the supposedly pro-British Mail readers have the most negative opinion of this country of anyone you're likely to meet. They don't live in the same country as the rest of us - a place which, yeah, has problems, but is still one of the best countries on the planet in which to live. I mean come on: we have hardly any natural disasters, we have a health service which is, in spite of all its problems, one of the best in the world, our government, corrupt as it is, isn't actually fixing elections, crime is not out of control and, though we aren't one of the Scandinavian countries, we at least have some kind of safety net to protect people from the effects of the recession. And hey, immigration's falling too! Not that I see that last thing as an unalloyed good, but to the Mail crowd a fall in immigration is like the second coming. Surely, for the first time, their front page, and that of the Express, will have something positive to say, for once?

Yeah, right.

This is the ugly reality of the Mail: they hate this country. For them and their ilk, Britain has to be Hell on earth or they'll have to find some way of selling their papers that's based on something other than fear. And that, of course, is what the Mail fears most of all. So, even when a story about which they should genuinely happy comes along, they pick the one tiny aspect they can use to spread the virus of fear and convince their readers that Britain is a suburb of Hell where you'll be killed by a Muslim teenager with a swine-flu-infected knife and now they'll end up living in your house because of 'yuman rites' and you couldn't make it up gnash gnash grind teeth seethe

The Daily Mail hates Britain. I don't, which is why I hate them. Fortunately, as the now-one-year-old Daily Quail points out, 'readers are deserting print media because they can get everything offered by The Mail or any number of other newspapers for free online and not be treated like morons.' And, in the case of the Mail, it can't happen soon enough.

Thursday 27 August 2009

I Love It Here

And one of the reasons I love my job is that every now and then someone comes along looking for something that isn't shit. Yesterday I had a guy buying a couple of good books on US history. I had a guy who wanted me to find the new Arthur Ransome biography for his wife. I had a young guy come in wanting a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and a couple buying a shedload of heavyweight literary fiction. I even had a guy buying both the Guardian and the Mail who laughed when I made a joke about the inevitable cognitive dissonance that would result.

These are the good guys. They're the people who haven't yet let their brains atrophy, the people who still believe in good writing, good art and good culture instead of unit-shifting celebrity bullshit. These are the people who help those of us in the book trade who also believe these things to keep the faith. And if you're reading this, then you're one of those people. And I'd like you to do something for me.

Tomorrow is payday for most of us. The day we get our hard-earned money. And what I'd like you to do is take some of that money and go to your local bookshop. Could be an independent, could be a Borders, could be a branch of the W; could be a Barnes and Noble if you're in the US. Hell, if you're in the UK, it might even be a branch of WH Smith *shudder*.

Go to your local bookshop, and buy something good. Doesn't matter what genre. You like biography, buy a decent biography. You like sci-fi, buy some good sci-fi. You like crime, buy some good crime. Whatever. Buy something that rocks. Something where you know the guy writing it played from his fucking heart, in the words of the late Bill Hicks, instead of just advancing a career or servicing a demographic. Buy something that you know the writer burned to fucking write. Buy something that you burn to fucking read. Buy that book you always said you'd get around to. Buy some Nabokov, some Proust. But buy something good. Something written by a writer, not a celebrity.

Because if you do this, you'll make the person behind the counter feel, just for a second, that we are out there. We haven't stopped resisting. That the world of literature is indeed a fine place, and is indeed worth fighting for.

Because, dear reader, there are people out there who don't actually care. People who think that unit-shifting's the whole of the game, that books are the same as bananas and lager, a commodity that should be sold for maximum profit and no more. And these people need to be reminded that, while they want to impose a moronic monoculture on us all in the endless quest for profit, some have different dreams. And, in the days of shame that are coming, in the nights of wild distress, those of us who share those dreams of a vibrant, smart and genuinely beautiful culture are going to have to stand up for them.

So let's stand up together, tomorrow. Because after all, it's not too late to make a better world.

When will I be famous? Hopefully never...

As I write this, they’re having a party in the street outside. Not, as you may think, because my return has led to an outbreak of unconfined joy on the part of the natives: in fact the ostensible reason for this soirée is the fact that the street itself is 100 years old. The real reason, I strongly suspect, is that a new family has moved into the street, and the grandees of Glebe Crescent, like the Verdurins in La Cote de Chez Swann, wish to add these newcomers to their own ‘little clan.’

You might guess, from my tone, that I’m rather dismissive of the tiny society of this little street, and you’d be right. And yet, isn’t this an inspiring example of a community pulling together? Isn’t this the answer to all the problems of our uncommunitarian times? A street party! The spirit of the Blitz or, better yet VE Day! Isn’t this all that I should be in favour of, as a good citizen?

It might well be: but then I am not, nor have I ever been, a good citizen. From the age when I was old enough to decline to take part in a conversation with someone because the topic on which they discoursed didn’t interest me, I have always been labelled, by the kind of people who dread the thought that you might find them uninteresting, as, horror of horrors, anti-social.

I avoid parties as a rule, unless I know that someone I genuinely want to speak to is going. At work, I decline attempts by customers to engage me in the joshing badinage by which they shore up their self-image as ‘a good laugh’. I don’t want to be a good laugh: I don’t want to be a good sport, a good egg, or a good chap. I don’t want to be considered on the same terms as the kind of people who self-identify as such, the whole tedious golf-clubbing, car-venerating, opinion-recycling mob of them. And I never have. But ‘anti-social’? Really?

I don’t have any great desire to be the centre of attention. I do have a desire to express myself, and I quite like to know that people think well of such expressions: but I can stand the thought that people might ignore me. I don’t want people to make a fuss. I don’t want to be the life and soul of the party. I don’t mind if people don’t laugh at my jokes. Actually I rarely tell jokes; the fact is there’s nothing less funny than a guy who tells jokes at a party. And it usually is a guy, jokes being one of the more successful strategies by which many men avoid the effort of having an actual conversation. I’ll bet an awful lot of jokes are being told at the party outside.

I would hate to be famous, and I imagine most intelligent people would too. I would quite like the advantages some kinds of fame confer: I would like to be able to book a table with ease at a quality restaurant, to stay in a fine hotel, to have a production company or record label to pick up the tab. But then I know one or two people who have became famous, and from what I can tell, it isn’t actually much like that. One of my famous acquaintances has a gig at the moment in which she provides voice-overs for a Saturday night children’s comedy show in which comedians overdub footage of animals doing funny things, a sort of reheated Johnny Morris caper. No doubt it pays well, and raises the profile. But I can’t get over the thought of earning my cash by going into a recording studio and providing a funny voice for a snowy owl. I just couldn’t do it. I don’t need to be loved badly enough.

But at least this acquaintance is an actual comedian, and quite a funny one at that. The idiots who tell jokes at parties share with professional comedians only this relentless desire for your love, your attention, your approval. In this respect they’re like stalkers. They need you to give some value to their existence. Worse than stalkers, in fact. I can just about see where someone might want Nicole Kidman to give value to their existence. What I can’t understand is why anyone would give two per cent of a shit about whether I considered their existence valuable or not.

And this is where I and the joke-telling good sports of the world part company. It isn’t because I have a healthy level of self-esteem where they lack confidence. Quite the reverse. I know that, at the end of the day, I’m a pointless, absurd sack of shit: I accept it and I try to find what joy I can in a similarly crapulent world. But the Mail-reading bigot who corners you at a party and regales you with hilarious jokes about ‘elf an’ safety and yooman rights and political correctness gorn maaaaad actually has an overly-developed sense of self-esteem but is desperately looking for people to justify it. You don’t win even when you start an argument with the bastards, because, just like the naughty kids at school, they accept a telling-off as a form of the attention they desperately crave.

I don’t give a shit what people think of me: in fact, I probably regard myself in more negative terms than anyone else ever could. But as a result of that I don’t inflict myself on people, I don’t advance on them with a bag full of warmed-over jokes and a desperate hunger for attention. If I talk to you it’s because I at least think you might be more interesting than I. This, I would contend, is pro-social behaviour. The really antisocial person is the one who goes to every party going, expecting all eyes to be fixed on him.

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.

Thursday 20 August 2009

On Proust

In the film Little Miss Sunshine, Steve Carrell plays a suicidal academic who is depressed because, among other things, he is only 'America's second-best Proust scholar' (one of the other things about which he's depressed is that the man acknowledged as the best Proust scholar in America has stolen his boyfriend). This literary aspect of the character's persona is really tangential to the main action of the story, but the filmmakers clearly feel they should include a scene in which he demonstrates at least some knowledge of his subject. They therefore include a scene in which, looking out to sea like a character in a Caspar David Friedrich painting, Carrell explains to one of the other characters that the thing about Proust is that 'nothing really happens in his books, but he writes about it beautifully.'

This is the standard 'how to talk about books you haven't read' position on Proust, and I can't help but think that it's, well, wrong. I think it's an impression people have probably gathered from reading around the book - particularly from the tidbit that the first publisher it was submitted to rejected the book on the grounds that people wouldn't want to read a novel about someone 'who takes thirty pages to turn over in bed.' But this idea is wrong, also - yes, in the novel's present, those pages only cover the narrator's shifting about in bed, but they also deal with his memory, and establish the settings and characters which will be subsequently so important in the rest of the novel. And, nearly at the end of The Way by Swann's, it's fairly clear to say that actually, at least by the standards of the literary novel, quite a lot actually happens in the story. It takes a long time to happen, sure, but it still happens nevertheless.

The first part of the description, then, is inaccurate. The second part - at least as far as I can tell from the new Penguin translation - isn't. The writing - the long, winding, idiosyncratically-punctuated sentences, is at least part of the pleasure of reading Proust's novel.

What annoys - no, annoys is too strong a word, what irritates me about assertions like that made by Carrell's character is the sense they create that certain areas of the arts are essentially mannerist, that they have no real value in the world of life as it's actually lived. Then again, given that the only other popularisation of Proust recently was his transformation into a self-help guru avant la lettre by the platitudinising pop-philosopher Alain de Botton, that kind of notion may actually be preferable.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Slowly, my possessions emerge from the plastic crates in which I brought them here. It took a lot of trips to bring them all, multiple runs back and forth. It takes a lot of trips to decant them. Books. CDs. Films on DVD and, in the case of The Pillow Book, VHS. A lifetime’s worth of interest, art and culture. All so small.

One of the things about getting divorced is that it deprives you of a sense of meaning. Before the marriage, these fragments, taken together, added up to a self. After the marriage has broken, the equation no longer computes. Perhaps mathematics is a less useful metaphor than chemistry: the marriage a catalyst which fundamentally transforms the substance of one’s being. When the catalyst is exhausted, when it decays to nothing, what once was whole dissolves into its parts. The covalent bonds between the elements of who you were are broken.

This metaphor, too, is imperfect. I remember little from my GCSE chemistry lessons, but one thing that sticks in my mind about catalysts is that they are always, themselves, unchanged by the reaction they provoke. The marriage, however, did change. The evidence is there to see in the photos which I copied onto this computer on Thursday night, before my trip to Glasgow.

In the photos from New York and San Francisco, she smiles. Her eyes light up. Such hope. In the photos taken three years later, in the place that gave New York its name, she tries to smile, but her eyes are weighed down with the despair of a love in its death throes.

Yesterday I finished rereading Preacher. I read an entire issue of the London Review. I went to the library to update this blog, and, while there, was amazed to see they now have a fine selection of books by Joyce Carol Oates. I came home and ate pizza for tea. I settled down to watch Iron Man with my parents, on the big TV in the living room, only to find that Sky Movies had rescheduled it. I went upstairs and watched Withnail and I for half an hour, then changed my mind and watched Love is the Devil instead.

Not an epic day, but by no means a bad one. Before the marriage, probably a day with which I would have been as happy as my melancholy temper would allow. But now: all is changed. The centre around which all these things once cohered is no longer where it was. Because the centre of those fragments was me: and, all the time that we were together, my centre was migrating, imperceptibly, away from me, and toward her. And with her, for the time being at least, it still remains. And so now I wander, I read, I watch films, I rearrange the glass bead game of my mental life first one way, then another, everything enough to distract, to engage, to entertain: and all of it pointless.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Back from Glasgow

So I'm back in Washington now, though not quite back at full capacity: the broadband gets installed at the ancestral pile in around a week, and so for the moment I'm stuck using the PCs in the recently-renovated Washington Library. To which I was going to include a link, but the OS these things are running won't allow me to c&p URLs, it seems. Whatever.

Glasgow was pretty good. GOMA has two fine exhibitions on at the moment, one a survey of LGBT art which includes a couple of Mapplethorpes, a piece by Pierre et Gilles, and a sculpted hermaphrodite tree, the other a really nice exhibition of abstract art which has something like five or six Bridget Riley pieces. I never really got Riley before, but seeing those massive op-art canvases up close is quite an experience. Some of them are actually physically difficult to look at - by which I don't mean they have unpalatable subject matter, I mean the arrangement of lines and colours on some of them makes it really difficult to take them in, visually. Like a fugue: you can look at one detail of the picture, like an individual line or pattern, but when you do that you literally lose the rest of the piece.

I've also got started on The Way By Swann's. I was expecting Proust to be one of those hyped-up writers who I would take an instant dislike to after five pages of the book, but I'm actually enjoying the experience. There isn't time for a detailed critique here, though I suppose I'll put one up here when the nice men from BT have given me my HomeHub; but the best way for me to point you to the brilliant thing about it is to suggest that you pick up the new Penguin translation (which is the one I'm reading), turn to page 122, read the description of the asparagus, read it again, and notice the point at which, while never being less than perfect, the description pivots from being a fairly standard description of the glories of nature, to something far more, um, physical. And the way he even inserts a tremendously backhanded Shakespeare reference into it. Marvellous.

Also finished off Exit Ghost recently too. Patchy. What Roth is really good on is the failure of the body and the torments inflicted on it by the mind during the aging process, and those bits of the novel are well worth reading - but there's some obvious recycling of other stuff going on in the book, such as the long obituary for George Plimpton that takes over the narrative for about five pages halfway through.

In conclusion then: meh. This whole business recently certainly hasn't killed me, but it doesn't exactly seem to have made me any stronger or, indeed, stranger. I am writing, though. The work's getting done which is, I suppose, the important thing.

Now to see if this library PC'll post this without mucking up and deleting half the

Thursday 13 August 2009

This is Zero Hour, and your hands are free

Today's the day I move, temporarily, back in with my folks as part of the whole divorce business. Because my folks don't have broadband set up at their place (yet - obviously once I'm ensconced I shall be setting up and paying for some kind of internet access, but these things take time...), I shall be on-line with less regularity than normal for a while. Don't worry though, I haven't gone away for good: I will be back. Yes.

Be seeing you...

Friday 7 August 2009

Littlejohn in total lies non-shock

My day at work today was, as usual, rendered a little less bearable by the constant procession of Daily Mail purchasers making their way to the tills. But today it was made even worse by the smug face of Richard Littlejohn being emblazoned across the top of the front page.

I hate Littlejohn, because he and his ilk are poisoning British politics by pumping it full of lies. I was going to post a long post here eviscerating Littlejohn for his bullshit, but it's late and I'm tired.

Besides, the blogosphere's beaten me to it: here's a link to an excellent Tabloid Watch post doing a bumper Fisk of Littlejohn's most recent brainfart. Enjoy.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Bubble Bus People

Had to get the bus back from work after half eight today. Always a great opportunity to witness the lively behaviour of the North East's very own brand of ignorant swaggering fuckwit bastard, the charver .

The bus is mostly quiet until we reach an area of town well-noted for its low ratio of normal people to these fuckers, and sure enough four of them get on. They head straight for the back (thus showing they've never succeeded in breaking years of social role-conditioning from secondary school), and the rest of us wind up being treated to a spectacle with which anyone who's came into contact with these types will be depressingly familiar: the sound of them regaling each other with a series of unfunny remarks and anecdotes, each one punctuated with braying, inhuman and obviously false laughter.

It got me thinking, this. And I realised that this little interaction between the four charverteers wasn't a real communication between them: it was a performance of sorts, from each to his peers and also on behalf of all of them to the rest of us on the bus. The goal of the performance was to show what a good time they were all having. How much of a laugh everything was for them.

Which was ludicrous because, on any objective measure they weren't having a good time. They were poor, they had no prospects, and they were on a bus full of people who already regarded them with suspicion when they got on, and who, within five minutes of them boarding, actively hated them. This was their life: a never-ending drama of suspicion and animosity, all played out against a backdrop of inevitable failure. Not much of a laugh in my view.

But then it occurred to me that the laughs weren't real. They were a pretense. The charver lads were well aware of how they were regarded by the rest of the bus. The demonstrative fake laughter was a way of showing that they didn't care. Cos they were 'ard.

And I sort of realised - this is their whole life. Going through your days putting on a fake laugh and trying to perform 'hardness' to hide how fucking scared you are of the world of shit you're in. Every single one of them probably feels terrified when they think three hours into the future, never mind three years, but they're fucked if they'll ever show that to their mates. Don't want them thinkin' they're fuckin' queer or summat.

It's a choice, and it's their choice. And if I was in the same situation as them, maybe it's a choice I'd find myself making too. But it set me thinking and, you see, here's the thing:

You will never truly feel anything of worth in life unless you open yourself completely to the terrifying extent of your own vulnerability.

From a strictly self-oriented viewpoint every laugh, every tear, every smile, every scream, every orgasm, is an admission of weakness. Because you're admitting the power of someone else - a comedian, a poet, a lover - to make you feel something. To get in your head and affect you.

If you're willing to let that be the case, you pay a price and you get a reward. The price is that things will happen that make you cry, that make you scream, that make you weep and tremble. The price is that you will spend whole nights and days flat on your back in your living room, cursing god and wishing for death. And the reward for accepting that kind of burden is that you will also experience things that make you laugh, that make you smile, that make you happy in ways you never knew you could be. The reward is that you will experience moments of elation, not chemically-induced, that will make you feel at one with every being in the universe, a dancer inseparable from the dance of which they are a part, a cog in a great organic machine which turns and throws out endless light.

I call that a reward worth paying the price for. Many don't. And if you're one of them, the people who don't want the pain, there's another option. You can close yourself down. You can be hard. Armour up with regulation sportswear and the regulation nothingness behind the eye. Spend your life presenting to others as hard and aggressive and dangerous to pre-empt their ability to hurt you, to get through the chink in the armour and make you feel. Hurl words around like shit-encrusted rocks and stab fake laughs into the air in a desperate attempt to make it look like you're having the good time in your little robot world and to stave off any doubt you may feel that the others, the ones who aren't hard and don't mind people knowing that they cry, are feeling something you can't imagine.

Armour up like that and treat every day as some kind of endless, hellish shit-war and you might survive, in a fashion. You'll move through time and space, anyway, and you probably won't be harmed too badly. You'll have the satisfaction of knowing you scare people, at least. The satisfaction of knowing you're hard. The satisfaction of knowing you'll never be hurt.

But the price of that option is you'll never share a real laugh, or a real smile, or, yes, a real orgasm. Because you'll be forever trapped in your sad little bubble of I'm-hard-fuck-you.

I know which one I'd choose.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Are you still banging on about this, Fish?

They tell you men just want sex and women just want love. They're full of shit. When I've been on my knees crying my eyes out in hotel rooms, it wasn't because I fancied a quick screw. It's because I hate sleeping alone. Still do. That's why I'm still up now, typing these words at almost one in the morning, anything to delay that awful moment of going to bed on my own and giving in to that crushing sense that there is no-one. If you sleep alone in a house with other people, you have the consolation of knowing that there's somebody in the next room that you know, and that, if you had to, you could see them and talk to them and make the bad feelings go away. And most of the time you don't, of course, because it's bad manners to rob people of sleep just so you can unburden yourself of your problems. But the potential is there. Hotel rooms rob you of this, in the most mocking way: there are hundreds of rooms, and there are people in them, loads of people: but they're total strangers, and so are you. You're a stranger among strangers, and the only people who talk to you are those who are paid to do so, and they secretly despise you anyway.

This isn't as bad as all that, because I know this house. Hell, I should do: I've lived in it for more than five years. But there's a weirdness to it, a sense that it doesn't belong to me anymore. It's a stranger now, too.

But I've written more. I've worked on new poems. I've been tidying up work-in-progress. I've submitted work to magazines again for the first time in ages. I'm blogging furiously. I think since the divorce became a reality, since I got back to sleeping on my own again, I've probably written more, in terms of word count, than I managed in the whole of last year. Obviously an awful lot of this has been crap, but if you write more in general then the tiny fraction of your work that is any good will usually be bigger too.

So it looks like solitude is good for my writing. Being alone forces me to think about things, I try and grapple these thoughts into some kind of shape using language, every now and again this results in something good enough to publish or perform. I may hate the solitude, I may hate feeling cut off from the rest of humanity, I might sob late into the night, desperate for the consolation of another human body in my bed, but the fact is the solitude works.

Maybe the price of a productive artistic life is the knowledge that, no matter what you do, no matter what you achieve, every single time you go to bed you go to bed unhappy. That's how it is for me, anyway.

Night night.

Monday 3 August 2009

Us Islamic-loving Leftie Liberals

I'd imagine that a lot of you reading this are familiar with spEak You're bRanes , the funniest epiphenomenon on the web, where much hilarity is enjoyed at the expense of the right-wing social cripples who post their ill-thought-out vitriol on the BBC's 'Have Your Say' pages.

One of the things that particularly enrages the HYS commenters is the fact that comments on the HYS boards are moderated - the beeb obviously not wanting to give space to every BNP-voting nut with an unhealthy fixation on the punishment of paedos.

So naturally enough, like the crew of Battlestar Galactica (well, actually more like the crew of the Pegasus , but you get what I mean), some of the angrier elements from HYS have migrated to a new home at the Biased BBC blog.

And there things may have ended. After all, spEak You're bRanes already have their hands full mocking the HYS posters. To give the B-BBC contingent the same treatment, you'd need a whole other blog. Fortunately, however, someone's started it. And if you need a recommendation to read that blog, Opinionated Beyond My Education, look no further than the considered and thoughtful response that its author has received from the courageous and principled freedom fighters on whom he comments:

"Only coke snorting, rent-boy shagging faggots, actually like the BBC! Think about that next time your sucking muslim cock"

Now, come on. You can't not follow a guy who inspires that kind of response.

Days of Pain and Wonder

It's been erratic here these past few days. I'm still adjusting to the divorce, and living here on my own is like some kind of retreat: it's throwing the kind of things with which I have to deal into very sharp focus. If this sounds like therapy-speak, apologies. But next time someone tells you that they're enjoying being alone, because it gives them time to get in touch with themselves and who they really are? Punch them in the face and send them my compliments.

Because it isn't fun at all. I can't speak for all of us but personally, spending time on my own and getting to know myself better is the most goddam depressing thing on earth. One of the many great things about being married, it seems to me, is that suddenly you slot into a position in which your selfhood is defined in relation to someone else. You don't have to work out who you are, because you're x's husband, y's wife, z's secret gay mistress. And this is much less demanding. The other person becomes an anchor, a fixed point around which you construct your persona.

When you lose that anchor, you go into freefall (if no-one minds me mixing metaphors ridiculously for a moment). Suddenly there is no-one to define yourself in relation to: you have to define yourself in relation to, well, yourself. And also, weirdly, everyone else. You have to look at all the other shambling, farting monkeys in the street and say, hell, where do I fit in among all this? Which cage do I have in this zoo? Am I a babboon or an orangutan? Am I a fucking snake?

The idea of going back to the trenches of the tawdry, low-grade state of civil war that passes for sexual relationships in this monkey house doesn't exactly fill me with excitement. Mainly because I've seen the other troops on my side of the lines. I mean, have you looked at men lately? Have you listened to the bastards talk? Have you seen what passes for social interaction amongst 'em? The constant bloody blokiness of it all. Save me, O Blessed Virgin, from ever becoming the kind of man who winks at people and calls them all 'mate.'

It's at times like this when I wish I was a lesbian. Admittedly I possibly have a ludicrously idealized view of the sapphic lifestyle, but for me the chief advantage would be the ability to still date women but not to wind up being associated with the kind of club-brained moron who genuinely thinks he's a modern-day Casanova because he's sprayed some Lynx on underneath his regulation Ben Sherman oxford shirt.

And what's most annoying is that this is the version of manhood which is most widely touted in the culture. It seems these days that if you're not listening to landfill indie, following the football, drinking carling, watching reruns of Top Gear on Dave, and tugging one off over the Girls Aloud calendar, you may as well sign up for the hormone treatments and select your pre-op wardrobe. Why? Why isn't there more of a space for less obvious kinds of masculinity? I mean I don't begrudge the Clarkson-wannabes having some space, I just wish they hadn't colonised almost every inch of the man-territories, leaving those of us who don't buy into the whole package trapped in a tiny metaphorical village like some weird genderqueer version of Asterix.

So, yeah, these are the thoughts which have been carroming around my head of late. On the other hand, though, it's not all bad news. After four years of beating myself against the byzantine bureaucracy that is the world of the mature student, after endless writing of reports, interview transcripts, essays and pages and pages and pages of bloody bloody references, I have at last finished my postgrad psychology diploma. I can do science, me.