July Links Post

Things Other People Have Done

Book Release: Year of the Ghost and the Mortuary Remains

Despite the sound of this title, it’s not actually the story of a quirky goth band’s rise and fall, but in fact a collection of poetry covering the period of 2011-2012, with subjects ranging from the life cycle of the universe to the pestilence of London’s history, from love to death, from profound sadness to cosmic joy (often over the course of one poem).

Click on the cover to purchase the print version

There is not only a print edition, but also a very affordable Kindle edition, available in the U.S. and U.K. and a variety of local Amazon sites.

The Awkward Moment When Your Great WW1 Hero Sounds Like A Teenager On Tumblr

In which your blogger reaches another period of Lawrence’s introspection in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and identifies a little, but mostly feels moved to make fun of him for sounding like an angst-ridden fifteen-year-old.

It irritated me, this silly confusion of shyness, which was conduct, with modesty, which was a point of view. I was not modest, but ashamed of my awkwardness, of my physical envelope, and of my solitary unlikeness which made me no companion, but an acquaintance, complete, angular, uncomfortable, as a crystal.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence.

Lawrence here complains of being shy and awkward and of people mistaking these “vices” for the “virtue” of modesty, which I see on Tumblr every other day in the form of people belabouring the fact that just because they’re awful at socialising doesn’t mean that they’re not also horribly arrogant, usually while demonstrating entirely the opposite. The more sophisticated manipulators will sigh tragically about how they wish they were any good at something and how terribly embarrassed they are to be putting something online but … if you insist … I say “sophisticated” here and I mean the opposite; Lawrence’s pre-emptive thuggery towards his own supposed modesty is infinitely more complicated.

But wait! There’s more.

There was my craving to be liked — so strong and nervous that never could I open myself friendly to another. The terror of failure in an effort so important made me shrink from trying; besides, there was the standard; for intimacy seemed shameful unless the other could make the perfect reply, in the same language, after the same method, for the same reasons.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

Would unsettled, self-loathing teenage girls on the internet get more respect for their short-term internal miseries if they phrased “I’m just so unique and alone and it’s terrible and I can never love anyone because I might fuck it up and besides nothing will ever be perfect so why bother” – a common refrain I remember from my diaries aged 16-19 or so – in the same educated voice as Lawrence does here? Because he is communicating exactly the same sentiments.

There was a craving to be famous; and a horror of being known to like being known. Contempt for my passion for distinction made me refuse every offered honour.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

In which Lawrence manages to bruise a perfectly normal desire for recognition (hardly surprising given his upbringing and his background) with the idea that it’s somehow beneath him, which demonstrates partly the notions of religious cleanliness of the soul and correct conduct pummelled into him by his mother (A Prince of Our Disorder, John E Mack), and partly a kind of classism evident from the time. The idea that wanting to be known was uncouth, lacking in taste. Or, to put it in the critiques of teenage girls on Tumblr, he is disgusted in himself for being like those attention whoring bitches.

I liked the things underneath me and took my pleasures and adventures downward. There seemed a certainty in degradation, a final safety. Man could rise to any height, but there was an animal level beneath which he could not fall. It was a satisfaction on which to rest.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

Here Lawrence departs from giving an elevated preview of blog complaints from teenage girls, but I’m not sure it’s much of a leap in the direction of insight and praiseworthy sentiment. Rather he’s displaying a very obvious secret of his own nature, something which comes as no surprise to anyone who has read a) A Defence Of Masochism by Anita Phillips or indeed b) the rest of this same damn book. As demonstrated in several more quotes:

Always in working I had tried to serve, for the scrutiny of leading was too prominent. Subjection to order achieved economy of thought, the painful, and was a cold-storage for character and Will, leading painlessly to the oblivion of activity. It was a part of my failure never to have found a chief to use me. All of them, through incapacity or timidity or liking, allowed me too free a hand; as if they could not see that voluntary slavery was the deep pride of a morbid spirit, and vicarious pain its gladdest decoration.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

As the pressures of leading or at least finessing an entire revolt bear down on his shoulders, Lawrence finds himself fantasising more and more about not having to make difficult decisions and being able to trust his superiors to carry things, even though he has placed himself in the position he is in and keeps himself there. Besides this, he is being brutally unsubtle about things which are to follow both in his life and in his legend.

Thus we’re straying onto what I like to think of as a different part of Tumblr, the one that is being carefully segregated. But never fear, Lawrence will now return to bleating about self-hatred and the difference between his view of himself and his view of everyone else in terms which sound almost identical to my Livejournal before I pulled my head out of my own arse:

The hearing other people praised made me despair jealousy of myself, for I took it at its face value; whereas, had they spoken ten times as well of me, I would have discounted it to nothing.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

You and everyone in Year 10, Lawrence.

When a thing was in my reach, I no longer wanted it; my delight lay in the desire.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

The premise of an ungodly number of pop songs.

Indeed, the truth was I did not like the ‘myself’ I could see and hear.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

Welcome to the internet, Ned, I hope you enjoy your stay among people who are exactly like you.

100 Works of Art: (Audio) Town Called Malice, The Jam

The 100 Works of Art series is still going, albeit slowly. There have been 25 posts about visual art and 5 about audio art so far. The premise behind this series of posts isn’t analytical writing but a kind of sloppy marriage between analysis and personal connection, which is exactly as dreadful as it sounds.

30. Town Called Malice, The Jam (1982)

The Jam provide solid-if-vague politically aware white-boy-with-angry-guitar music, ragged with sarcasm and generally quite danceable. Once, when I was 17 and in a shit nightclub in Plymouth, I slapped a man I’d been flirting with because he called Courtney Love a psycho bitch and opined that Hole weren’t as good as Paul Weller’s solo stuff, because I cared a LOT more deeply about music at 17 than I do now, writing essays about it. “Going Underground” is one of my favourite songs, although it went down in my estimation when my far superior mondegreen of a sarcastic commentary on manufactured outrage (“at this point shout! at this point scream!”) was revealed by Googling to be a much less inspiring standard-issue general anger (“make this boy shout, make this boy scream”).

Because I grew up in a household with bizarre and unfriendly musical tastes, I came to The Jam via unorthodox routes; I only found out about “Going Underground” because of the excellent Fitness To Practice spoof “London Underground” (which I still secretly prefer), and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I only knew “Town Called Malice” because a friend gave me the soundtrack to “Billy Elliot”.

Once upon a time I worked in a demoralising and monotonous job. Well, several times upon a time, really. For reasons that don’t make a lot of sense to sane people, I used to get up between 3.30am and 4.30am and, via a series of strategic naps, make it in to work long before everyone else and avoid the rush. The problem with this tactic of people-avoidance, apart from the terrible sleep patterns and likelihood of running into foxes on the way in, was that I ran out of energy before the working day had even started.

And so I had to compile a playlist of songs that had the function of providing me with pep and vigour. This was one of them: just as it provided a perfect soundtrack to Billy Elliot exploding with the joy of movement through a dour and oppressive town, so it got me out of darkness and sleep every morning and gave me enough life to deal with eight hours of data entry. It seems like an abuse of a song.

It’s one of those songs where the lyrics and music clash, producing a contrast in concept or tone; by now readers of this series will be aware that I have a great love for that kind of cognitive dissonance in art. Town Called Malice brings together lonely housewives, impoverished children, boozy husbands, and the slow death of a town with a tune that inspires frantic, emotive dance. The tune is upbeat, a sing-along song for cold mornings and drunken evenings, and the lyrics are a sad, barely-hopeful description of life in a dying town.

Dying towns slipped by my periphery when I was a child in the 80s. We spent six months in a place where poverty was more visible, drawn in primary colours and a lengthy drought, and when I came back my horizons had shifted: as far as I was concerned the people in debt for their colour TVs were rich, and it’s only in hindsight that I can see the dead cities in the streets I used to run down, the grey faces surrounding the rainbows of the imagination. Songs like this one bring a kind of valour to what must have felt like slow rot to live with every day: when I was a child I didn’t know any different, but through the fearful eye of adulthood and the emotive transport of music, it’s easy to take on those miserable ghosts and just kind of … dance at them.

After all, the world does appear to be heading back into a dead-towns-and-lonely-housewives direction once more.

Interim activity: Dresses.

Some of my friends are hideous enablers. One of them decided to enable my obsessive clothing-making spree by buying me a wadge (technical term) of pretty fabric:

Chinese dragons, peacock feathers, and near-instant fraying are features of this fabric.

Endless swearing was involved in making this dress, because while my cohabitee had to deal with sizing up the pattern (a re-purposed “medieval gown”, sans sleeves) from an 18 to a 28, I still had to sew this bitch festival fabric and unpick at least two seams because I managed to sew it wrong, with it fraying more and more every time.

More cooperative fabric and a hidden zip.

This is a re-purposed pattern for a 1940s skirt and blouse, minus the sleeves. The fit is actually surprisingly good, and I’ve had to install a zip in one of the side seams so that I can actually get it on and off.

Remaining are olive green taffeta and gold lace, as well as a pile of things (bodice, waistcoat) which need me to do finishing touches and fitting which I don’t want to do because it is hotter than Satan’s ballsack here and putting on clothes repeatedly makes me want to cry.

The best kind of procrastination is the kind that comes with photos of actors.

In which I make a pathetic stab at trying to use actors to represent the four protagonists in this story, despite them being varied ages and in the case of Michael Jenn, impossible to find photographs of from the appropriate age despite knowing full well that the internet has screencapped every second of Another Country.

casting for the book which is either called reflections of smoke or all done with mirrors: 
Dan Stevens as Samuel John Young Russell, Earl of Bedford (MSc.)

Samuel Russell inherited his father’s estate and title at 17, and assumed that with his ascension to King’s, Cambridge, that the majority of his non-exam-based troubles were now over; of course, they were merely beginning.

casting for the book which is either called reflections of smoke or all done with mirrors: 
Michael Jenn as Albert Edward Bisley.

Bisley’s presence at King’s is unexplained and inexplicable. No one knows what school he was supposed to have attended or whether he passed the entrance exams, who his parents were, or why his accent occasionally wanders into the gutter. Bisley is in no hurry to enlighten anyone.

casting for the book which is either called reflections of smoke or all done with mirrors: 
Ben Whishaw as James “Brötchen” Baker, BA

A solid member of the suburban middle classes with pretensions towards the Bohemian and a sound if unremarkable interest in Indian mysticism (and later Indian politics), Brötchen is typified by a series of outrageous scarves and moderately scandalous remarks. No one takes him very seriously: this is their mistake.

casting for the book which is either called reflections of smoke or all done with mirrors: 
Jamie Bell as Roger Lewes Crumb, BEng.

R L Crumb has risen to his place at King’s through hard work and determination, and this combination is what takes him everywhere he goes: what is unfortunate is that his ascent through hard work is about to pick up some very destructive passengers, and at least one of them is an aspect of himself.

Of course to get an accurate picture of these protagonists, it’s also necessary to imagine they’re all dressed as turn-of-the-century Cambridge undergrads.

A writing exercise disguising an epiphany

Try writing about a secondary or supporting cast member as if the story was their story, about their life, and the events unfolding are interacting with them as part of their own character arc. You may not know how their story ends or begins, but knowing what they want, fear, feel, and how much of the “main plot” they care about or know about is instrumental in making their moments within the story three-dimensional.

Ideally everything in any story should be a walk through a solid world where all the scenery has functional backs, the metaphorical toilets flush, and the rest of the population of the earth continue with their own dramas that have nothing to do with your protagonist and antagonist, and keeping in mind the fluctuating patterns of reality helps give weight to your own story. The “background” feeds into the foreground and nudges it in unexpected ways. It may offer up subplots. It may change the direction of the story entirely. But what it does more than anything else is raise the story from the flat of the book and make it into something which lives and participates in its own world.

The writing exercise version of this is: write about a secondary character from their point of view.

Snapshots from the early stages of a book:

how to write book, part #392: spend hours Googling an increasingly-weird selection of search terms, fall down several Wiki holes, and after some swearing and with crossed fingers, finally get a suitable name for that supporting character you’re going to kill off.

how to write book, part #9876: create an enormous word file with a table of contents you can click through so that you can navigate your own hysterical attempts at plot outline, information dumps where you are storing any research that could conceivably help, and a long list of secondary characters who need fleshing out beyond when they’re going to die.

research hell

how to write book, part #3: explain different variations of the plot/characterisation to everyone who can be persuaded to listen to you, jot down the new points you come up with each time, and find when you finally collate all the bullshit that your protagonist has changed names about six times and that three plot points contradict each other. Swear profusely.

how to write book, part #200: note that a friend has used the phrase “Oh dear, yes. I was recently jolted right out of a book set in around 1914 by the use of ‘okay'” on Twitter, and despite not having started writing yet, panic that you are unable to commit to a different era’s language use.

how to write book, part #50: waste two to three days trying to work out what the themes of your intended book are (interclass exploitation? The essentially destructive nature of man? The ambiguous qualities of romantic love? A metaphor for storytelling?*). Discuss these ideas at length with your increasingly bored and annoyed partners. Worry that people will misinterpret the themes you have just pulled out of your arse.

* If you chose this option you are probably Neil Gaiman.

how to write book, part #67: make an entire suit from scratch:

the suit does not have to be good.

if you do not sew, substitute “make an entire suit from scratch” for whichever of your hobbies combines “wasting a lot of time” with “a sense of accomplishment that allows you to pretend you’re not procrastinating”.

how to write book, part #921: write an eminently pointless blog post about the writing you’re not doing.

Confluence of events

On the 2nd of July two things happened which affect my sewing progress on the million projects I have laid out for myself (including the accidental production of a pair of red snakeskin trousers).

  1. A friend and patron bought me about an acre of really beautiful burgundy taffeta with gold foil patterns on it, and another friend instructed me that I’m making myself a dress out of it.
  2. Which might be a little hard to do, as while I was trying to finish off the aforementioned red snakeskin trousers (made from an adapted leggings pattern), my sewing machine had a tantrum. I fixed it, it promptly threw another. This continued until the whole thing was completely locked up, at which point my partner in crime and cohabiting and I took the thing as much to pieces as we could (it’s been out of warranty for about 5 years, probably longer, given that I got it in late 2005). It was pretty much fucked, and I was faced with a choice between getting a service on it and potentially paying for new parts, or just ordering a slightly less decrepit sewing machine.

I opted for the latter, but even scraping the “special buy” section at John Lewis has set me back more than I can really handle, so…

… I am doing what I’ve just been told is a “buy my shit post”, or more accurately the less humiliating version of begging for Paypal donations (I don’t think I’m down to that yet).

If none of it appeals to you personally, remember that having a box of “gifts for emergencies” is super useful and makes you look like you’re thoughtful and on the ball. Also that I will definitely thank you for it.