September Links Post

Things I’ve done

Things my friends have done

  • Talent fountain and illustrator Kassie has at long last made it possible for people to commission her. Examples of her work can be found at the link.

Things strangers have done

  • Created a beautiful map of the London Underground out of printed circuit board, and made a functioning radio with it.
  • Used the rings of a tree to map a piano sound, and produced beautiful, chaotic music.
  • Called for submissions of short fiction to a rollerderby themed anthology.
  • Compiled a list of poetry publications who – unfortunately still a rarity – accept digital submissions. It is a particular bugbear of mine that poetry magazines, behind every other type of publication, refuse to accept poems via email or web form, especially as unlike longer submissions it is entirely possible to to attach a poem to an email without capsizing even the most stingy of email inboxes.
  • Compiled a handy ten-point list of ways not to write about comics.
  • Created a gorgeous collection of ominous clothing eerily reminiscent of the costume designs for the baddies in Lord of the Rings.
  • Written a not uncontroversial article about preventative therapy for paedophiles and hebephiles.
  • Weighed in on the subject of taboos in comedy.

The New Chivalry: How To Date Without Being a Douchebag

I keep telling people I’m going to write this, so before the guilt of not writing it completely destroys my will to live, I shall write it. My qualifications are these: I have dated a certain amount, and behaved like a prize pillock repeatedly. I have also dated some incredible specimens who could have used a sincere conversation about what they were doing wrong and, failing that, a slap upside the head. Further to this I have many, many hours of listening to friends of a variety of genders faceplanting their way through the turbulent world of romance, and there are a few basic rules which have suggested themselves to me from the off:

  1. Acknowledge that it takes courage to ask someone out. Whether you’re mustering it yourself to go and tell someone you’d like to go and see a lecture about the mating habits of penguins with them, or they’ve shown up in front of you with damp palms and are trying to articulate the phrase “maybe we could consume coffee in the same shop and not ignore each other sometime”, asking someone out is a scary necessity. Once you’ve acknowledge that it’s terrifying, you need to a) do it anyway and b) not be a dick about turning people down. This may well sound like it’s berating my fellow-ladies for telling weird hairy men who have crawled out of the sewer screaming HAVE SEX WITH ME JESUS SAYS SO to go fuck a bus, but it’s advice aimed at deal with sane members of the human race, not obvious lunatics covered in tar and liquid turds, and it’s for people of all the gender persuasions. Remember, if someone asks you out and you’re not interested, be firm but polite. “That’s really flattering of you but I’m not into men/women/people of no determinate gender”, or “that’s really sweet of you, but I’d rather not date anyone at the moment”, or “I’m really sorry, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person and will make someone a lovely partner but you’re not really my type, thank you for asking me though”. Note these are phrases men can learn too.
  2. Lose the sense of entitlement. This is more usually the province of straight men, but is something all genders and sexual orientations need to bear in mind. No one owes you their affections. While non-douchery may dictate that they have to be polite to you, there is no rule that says any human being on earth is required to find you attractive, interesting, or a potential partner, no matter how good you think the two of you would be together or how much you think their current partner is wrong for them. Yes, rejection is painful and sometimes humiliating. Sometimes people are dicks about turning someone down. There is no shame in having a bit of a private cry and a sulk about it, but the next thing you have to do is move on. If you ever catch yourself thinking “I’ll get them back”, “I’ll change their mind”, or “they want me, they just don’t realise that I’m right for them”, slap yourself in the face and repeat: this is demeaning me and unfair to them. I am better than this. 
  3. Realise that while you’re entitled to nothing, you are worthy of everything. This means not freaking out if someone you consider to be “out of your league” displays an interest in you. Yes, there is always the possibility they’re a dickbag and they’re doing this as a joke, in which case they’re not “out of your league” because they’re in some way better than you, but they are out of your league in the sense that no one with any self-respect should be dating the kind of tool who plays mind games with someone. Do not wind yourself up about dates as if one of you were the embodiment of all human beauty, and the other a monkey with a pitchfork: remember that you’re both human beings and both probably a little nervous.
  4. Accept that perfection isn’t the natural state of the world. Statistically, most of your dates will be boring. The person you’re sitting opposite won’t be outrageously weird or entirely wonderful. They might just be an average sort of person for whom you feel no particular spark. This is no reason to be an arse to them, or for them to be an arse to you. You can be civil, friendly, and go your separate ways. This does not make you a failure and it does not make them a failure.
  5. Remember that no one can read your mind. Don’t, for goodness sake, hang around letting your attraction to someone fester until it becomes bitterness and delusion. Don’t mooch about waiting for someone to do something, or for them to act on the supposition of your attraction by making the first move. Gird your loins and anything else you have lying around, gird them again, get a pep talk from your friends regarding not being a spineless wussbag, then send them a friendly and light “hi I quite like you in the non-platonic sense, would you like to investigate the possibility of mutual attraction over some kind of entertainment and/or intoxicants?” only in a manner that makes you sound less like a robot.  Don’t assume dropping hints will work. I say this as someone who spent four years dropping hints and only actually got anywhere once dropped the entire hint basket squarely on the other person’s head.

So, to recap: a sensible approach to dating is this –

Be kind, be brave, be realistic, be confident, be humble.

Happily those edicts work pretty well with most of the rest of life, too.

Jewellery Post: Johnny Walker Is My Only Friend

(Whining, which is undignified but unavoidable, is brought to you by an abscess under the remains of my wisdom tooth. Or in the idiom of the internet youth: grumpy Delilah is grumpy).

16 inch / 41 centimetre gold plate chain, goldtone links, czech glass beads, acrylic beads, and vintage brass Czarist cross pendant necklace.This bold, bright statement piece is not for the faint of heart! Only the sassiest, most in-your-face folks can pull of a necklace like this one.
Click on image for listing

16 inch / 41 centimetre gold plate chain, goldtone links, czech glass beads, acrylic beads, and vintage brass Czarist cross pendant necklace.

This bold, bright statement piece is not for the faint of heart! Only the sassiest, most in-your-face folks can pull of a necklace like this one.

Watchface, pin back.A little quirky cool for holding your collar closed or bringing unusual charm to your lapel. A perfect addition to a steampunk outfit, or an Alice In Wonderland themed costume.
Click on image for listing

Watchface, pin back.

A little quirky cool for holding your collar closed or bringing unusual charm to your lapel. A perfect addition to a steampunk outfit, or an Alice In Wonderland themed costume.

And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

I am still reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom (because it is a very long book) and for the most part I’m too caught up in the daily minutae of a desert campaign to pay much attention to the purportedly florid quality of Lawrence’s writing outside of noting his interest in and mild obsession with the geology of the desert places he passes through.

As with any good book I am largely unconscious of it as a written work at all, only allowing a flow of unfamiliar names and places to pass through me and a selection of well-illustrated scenes to arise in my mind with no doubt a mess of inaccuracies based on my lack of first-hand knowledge of what is being communicated. Appreciation of the prose and the structure of a work tend to come in the aftermath of reading, when the first full-blown blush of action and excitement have died down and there is time to contemplate just how the pulse was made to stampede and the blood rise: even in moments, quotable and poetic moments (such as Mary Renault’s “The touch of autumn struck from his youth that cosmic sadness, which time will tame like the bite of spring” in The Charioteer) which strike the reading mind like a hammer blow, it is only the appreciation of the words and never the sudden awareness of the author. Works which make me aware of the author before I have finished reading tend to be works where I am exasperated by the author: Yes, China, we know you’re clever, put the thesaurus down.

So it is with Seven Pillars that when I am reading I am only aware of Lawrence the narrator, Lawrence the figure in his own story telling his own story, a small and determined figure grinning into sandstorms (At this stifling price they kept their flesh unbroken, for they feared the sand particles which would wear open the chaps into a painful wound: but, for my part, I always rather liked a khamsin, since its torment seemed to fight against mankind with ordered conscious malevolence, and it was pleasant to outface it so directly, challenging its strength, and conquering its extremity.) and trying to achieve objectives that his conscience would not always support him in. When I look up from this dense report of raids, marches, and the cataloguing of water, I am occasionally struck by the presence of the author.

Not so much the mental image, romanticised, of Lawrence plugging away disconsolately in his attic, subsisting on chocolate bars and self-hatred; not so much the hard-chinned short Englishman eyeballing the ever-present reader from the pages, as he writes with the acute awareness of what people are already saying about him; more the cousin to a sensation I had recently (-ish) flying over the Gobi Desert, when I looked down through some very insubstantial clouds. An avid watcher of wildlife documentaries, I find there are whole landscapes I am familiar with from BBC Wildlife which occupy a position of near-mythology, lands where animals roam unconcerned by the trivial political whinging of humankind, and the sky is vast, and the storms are the size of cities. They are rendered unreal by the TV screen, and it was only with the jolt of understanding as I peered out of a tiny dirty window a mile up that I grasped the reality of that place: able afterwards only to say “I realised it was the actual fucking Gobi desert and I was annoyed because there wasn’t anyone I could tell so that they’d get it as well”.

The moments after reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom are the same: there is a moment of incredible height and realisation that he was a real person, and that he really wrote the words I’ve been reading. Part of me scolds the other part of me for being awestruck: the man was just a man. There are millions of books in the world, each of them really written by real people, all of whom would be worthy of awe. Why this one? Why experience an atheistic spiritual vertigo and hero-cultish these words came from his mind over this particular person? And I don’t have an answer for that, not a real and proper answer that stands up to analysis and doesn’t become ugly and revealing, much in the same way that I can’t give an analytical answer for why I love London, or my partner.

Perhaps it is the mythos, the pantheon of depictions that I was immersed in before I began to read what the man had to say for himself, which makes it such a revelatory moment when I remember that what I’m reading was written by the person it describes. As to his worthiness for adulation, I’ve no real, proper understanding of why so-and-so can be the hero of our dreams but such-and-such is abhorrent.

The great thing about dead people is that we can make them be anything we need them to be.

Jewellery Post: A Little Christian

Basics: Holy Christ lapel pin<br />Just a tiny little lapel pin of Jesus.<br />Click through for listing.
Click on image for listing
<br />17 and a half inches / 44.5 centimetre collar necklace with brass bobble chain, brass cross charms, brass hoops, brass frames, glass cabochons, glass beads, ceramic lustre beads, glass pearls.This bold and opulent piece of costume jewellery is guaranteed to get heads turning and will be the crowning glory of absolutely any outfit.<br /><br />(also cheers to anideaforamoth whose genius made this possible)
Click on image for listing

17 and a half inches / 44.5 centimetre collar necklace with brass bobble chain, brass cross charms, brass hoops, brass frames, glass cabochons, glass beads, ceramic lustre beads, glass pearls.

This bold and opulent piece of costume jewellery is guaranteed to get heads turning and will be the crowning glory of absolutely any outfit.

The Simple Pleasure of People-Watching

I like people who are engrossed in something. I like watching them. They behave differently to people who are conscious of an audience, or chasing their thoughts around while staring into space. People who are in a conversation are one kind of engrossed: they’re trying to present themselves to the other party, with some degree of mask, even if they’re on the phone. Exceptions: people who are very deeply in love (and I love watching them, the way they catch each other’s eyes or smile with the whole of not only their face but their body too), parents of brand new babies, exhausted but drowning in joy at this tiny human they’ve acquired and adore with every fibre of their being, smiling to something too small to really understand that he or she is being smiled at.

I like people who are reading, and they’re really into their book, and maybe she’s chewing her lip or he’s frowning, or they’re giggling at one of the lines. I like people who are intent on the motions of the pigeons by their table. I like people reading the menu who don’t quite know what one of the dishes is and don’t want to ask; I like people doing up their shoes. I like people who throw themselves entirely into what they’re doing, even when what they’re doing is stubbing out a cigarette or picking a spot.

I like would-be artists making ghostly, inky shapes in their talismanic sketchbooks or on paper napkins in Macdonald’s. I like revising students sprawled over their notes in the park. I like the patient unpicking of headphone cables by chipped nail polish hands and the quiet “fuck you” of despair at the knots they’ve mysteriously formed. I like the lone tourist with her headphones (finally) on, peering up at the peak of some monumental building with selfish wonder at the architecture. I like the man who is crying into a bunch of wilting flowers he is laying down at the edge of an unremarkable street corner. I like the drunk girl distracted by the motion of the river who is watching the reflections of the National Theatre’s lights upon the surface of the ancient Thames.

I like the way people watching sports on big screen TVs lean towards the action and mimic the people they’re watching without realising it. I like the way people dance to their own music. I like people playing games with the cracks in the pavement. I am wildly smitten, hopelessly in love, with people in museums of any age who are completely absorbed by learning something new, their faces splitting with that priceless moment of “I get it”.

There’s a pleasure, guilty, perhaps, when you lock eyes with someone because you’ve both been ogling the same beautiful individual, a moment of comradeship as you grin sheepishly and look away.

But people who are engrossed: they make involuntary facial expressions. They smile and twitch and sigh and lean towards their engrosser. They are alive and self-contained, nakedly so. They show you themselves without a mask, and under those circumstances everyone looks the same, we are all children, bending to yank a damp branch out of the stream; we are all children, captivated for a moment by the dancing colours reflected off window glass.

I think it’s impossible for anyone to look ugly in those moments.

Write What You Know: An Introduction To This Autumn’s Book.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has been a boon to me in terms of productivity in the six years I’ve been doing it. Prior to that point it took me a year or more to finish writing a first draft, on the occasions that I finished it at all; the last two years, I’ve been able to complete a first draft in 30 to 32 days, and even Pass The Parcel (which is something of a behemoth) was mostly written over the course of two consecutive NaNo bouts. It turned out that for me, intensive day-after-day writing was necessary to maintain my interest in a project, and that the more I had it mapped out and planned in advance, the easier it was to complete the initial draft and the less of an insurmountable task editing it felt like. Other people, of course, work differently, but “knuckle down and throw everything else to the wind” appears to be my style.

There are several projects I want to write which have been laid aside gathering dust because they involve research in order for me to feel confident that they’re going to work when written, and as previously discussed my feelings towards research are not enormously dissimilar to the average six-year-old’s (and mine) feelings about tidying their room. I don’t want to do it, I will only do it if forced to, I would far rather someone else did it, and even if someone else does do it I resent that I’m going to have to deal with the aftermath.

This November I’m trying to sidestep my usual objections to research by writing something which draws on non-fact, and on non-fact in an area I enjoy reading about regardless. Less write what you know and more write what you’re interested in. In this instance, I will be returning to the same stamping grounds as Pass the Parcel, my home and major inspiration source: London.

In Pass the Parcel I envisioned a London of comparable time period, but peopled with an extended variety of sentient beings, some of which weren’t human, some of which weren’t even biological. But London itself remained recognisible to the modern dweller, and indeed I’m told that unless you’re familiar with particular “scenes” in the city a few of the references don’t quite hit home.

This time I’m planning on taking a closer look at how people think about London, and the expectations and beliefs people have about the place, whether it’s non-visitors who nourish rumours that it’s a crime-ridden hell-hole where a mugging takes place every two seconds, or dreamers who think that moving to the metropolis will be the answer to their prayers. I’m also trying to incorporate a lot more of people’s beliefs from throughout history, drawing on the urban legends and the folklore of the city which imbue The London Stone with a variety of mystical powers and see all kinds of horrors prowling the streets at night.

As with any book, this is only a starting point. The world-building will develop the nature of the place away from a base of legend and expectation to give it a sense of structure: in this case the London of the majority of the story is a non-place, a construction built on myth and lying parallel to the physical and real London we’re familiar with. It lives out of time and is all times. Knowledge really is power, and ignorance too. It is manifestly unstable, washed this way and that by tides of opinion and sudden bursts of public fear (this London, the “Ideal”, is subject to the Four Minute Warning far more frequently than the real London ever was); residency is usually a result of permanent comatose state or having been bred from the city back in the early Roman days, when the borders between “reality” and unreality were thinner.

Humankind has a continual and recurring need to control or feel that it can control its environment through its own actions. The more chaotic the environment, the more superstitious the community and the more elaborate the forms of religion or attempted environmental control through ritual. Misattribution of cause and effect are rife, and while those rituals which have grown up within the Ideal are as hit and miss as real-world ritual, real-world superstition is functional within the Ideal because it is believed in.

One theoretical alchemist mind predicted the existence of such a place, described its nature in the form of an equation, and promptly forgot about it in the pursuit of better things.

Some few hundred years later an alleged descendant of the thinker’s research partner digs up the equation again while researching a book on his supposed ancestor, and in the course of trying to explain the thing finally comes to understand what it means, leaving them stranded in this alien and theoretical world as physical entities.

The Ideal London [Working title, but I am keen to preserve it] shall hopefully be not only a weird journey through the lore of London but also an investigation of the value of stories, the hopes people put into figureheads, and the degree to which “truth” matters in people’s personal histories.

I will be trying to scared up some ephemera to help root the world and characters more firmly in my head before I start writing and to finalise the plot: I hope a few of you are interested enough by this to come along with me on the shouty and tantrum-filled process of burdening the world with the first draft in November (there will be a lot of swearing).

Book Offers: NaNo Special

Click on image for purchase link

In the run-up to NaNoWriMo (I’m starting planning now, so I’m assuming other people are too), I’ve knocked 25% off this fella if you order direct from Lulu. Even if the essays and exercises don’t help, you will at least find it a useful, pocket-sized provider of continual exhortations to JUST WRITE SOMETHING, YOU SOD, which I find helps a lot with the NaNo word count.

William Morris and Ideological Convictions

Hello chums (oh good lord never let me say that again), I have just returned from a jaunt to Walthamstow, better known to fans of early 90s pop music as E17. My purpose in that neck of the woods was to investigate the William Morris Gallery, which has recently reopened after an extended period of renovation. Much to my annoyance I’d apparently failed to discover that Michael Rosen was doing a reading there, and therefore to buy tickets before they sold out.

This isn’t a museum review, so I shall say little except that it was rather lovely and that the chance to have a go at weaving was hugely appreciated. William Morris seems to have been largely what I expected him to be, but with an unexpected sense of humour:

Which made him all the more palatable, as did his later-life commentary on his earlier antics, deeming himself “arrogant” but clearly amused by them. He put a lifetime of work into pursuing his passions and making them profitable enough to raise his family on (which of course he would have been unable to do without the background he had etc.), and had a keen and long-lasting obsession with beauty which I find is mirrored in my current object of obsession and admirer of Morris, Lawrence. Other similarities stand out, and it’s them I was moved to talk about.

  1. They are both men of conviction, and I envy them wildly for this. No doubt it was a combination of the era and their position in life, tempered with the fact that both were very intelligent polymaths inspired by the same period of history to invent their own personal notions of chivalry. But beyond Morris’s youthful ideals he continued to believe in his old convictions: beautiful things were important, the world could be changed, consigning people to the hell-hole of industrialised London was wrong, and the old skills of medieval craftsmanship could be brought into his modern era. He remained faithful to and energetic about his ideals and his visions without, as one of the VTs in the museum said, “being ugly and preachy”. He combined beautiful artefacts with his politics and allowed his rigorous belief in the worth of the aesthetic to breed with his later-life rigorous belief in the value of socialism. This made the trip to learn about him a little sad for me, as I’ve long since given up the majority of my ideals and while my beliefs remain my convictions and optimism do not. Morris’s fierce later-life optimism is untenable to me, as it was untenable to the Lawrence broken by the peace talks of Paris and subsequent media nonsense. What caused Morris not to succumb to the cynicism of later adulthood?
  2. In an odd way the exhibition demonstrated how despite both being inspired by the past – the age of chivalry and the legends of Arthur – Lawrence and Morris were each very much men created by their time. Just as Blake would not have been inspired to visions of a glittering and utopian London had the London he dwelt in not been so abhorrent and grim, so Morris and his philosophy of beautiful things and the need for pastoral skills and the later-life embrace of socialism could not have come to pass without the repellent working conditions of Victorian London and the changes to society and technology that lead to his reactive position. Lawrence, likewise, would have no grounding for his passionate beliefs about assisting the united Arab peoples out from imperial rule by the Turks if he did not live in a culture in which the Imperial was so favoured and his hunger for the freedom of empty places and the comparative classlessness of Bedouin society must surely have been fuelled to a degree by the very restrictive moral codes and class practices of the society in which he had grown up, especially as his family specifically suffered from it (cross-class relationship and absence of legal marriage).

For an exhibition chronicling the life and work of a craftsman and political agitator it did a great deal of service in providing me with something to chew over in terms of introspection (how does one refrain from becoming excessively cynical and losing all hope/sense of worth in one’s own convictions?) and also to once more create a sense of historical context not only to the past but to present events as well: what I believe and what other people around me believe are also products of our time, and we can only be as good or as bad as the era we are in will permit. We can’t know what is going to happen next, we can only guess at it.