Seventeen

Prosaic, Pulpit

“I poured my aching heart into a pop song
I couldn’t get the hang of poetry
That’s not a skirt girl, that’s a sawn-off shotgun
And I
Can only hope, you’ve got it aimed at me

Suck it and see, you never
Know
Sit next to me before I
Go

Jigsaw women in horror-movie
Shoes
Be cruel to me, cos I’m a fool for you”

Oh Turner.

The Arctic Monkeys did their first gig when Alex was seventeen. Just a bit of title-related trivia for you there. While I’ll admit I am basically an Alex Turner fangirl, I think the man genuinely has a brilliant lyrical talent. Matt Wilkinson seems to agree. Only I don’t think it’s some slippery quality that enables Alex to write with such profundity. Not some vague talent or muse. It’s the connectedness, the insight. Not to everyone generally, but to specific and vital parts of our lives. Friendship, love, melancholy, finding purpose or avoiding purpose. More specific: nights out, strange observations on the long walk home, infatuation, lust, surrenders, loss…humaness, haha. Al seems to be able to speak to something deep and internal, not just for me, but for thousands of fans. And if poetry is some marker of success in the realm of words, he’s definitely a poet.

But he’s a poet of the everyday, and in the truest sense: he can process the content of our lives and regurgitate their defining moments in beautiful song. And not to forget the Arctic Monkeys, Miles Kane, Josh Homme – he’s got some proper good comrades that transform his wording from masterful to angelic. However, he’s the only one who, through the writing, I know is on the other side of the table with me, offering his glass for a playfully intoned cheers.

Enough of my gushing though. Connection is the theme. Alex has kept producing work since he emerged as a musician/singer/songwriter. He hasn’t really taken a break. This is because he lives the work and the experiences he’s writing about. This is because he’s never really lost track of things in the way that many of us do. With the Arctic Monkeys’ highly successful debut “Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not”, Alex was given everything he needed to write songs and perform forever. So, highly unusually, he took that and never looked back. Never worried substantially about needing to change style just for the audience. He’s changed a lot, sure, but it’s clearly reflecting him and not just what we want from him.

I mean it’s him talking to us from the same side of the bar. One of us, not a reflection of us.

And this is the really weird core it’s generally hard for all people to grasp: that you become closer to others by being comfortable as yourself. Honesty, folks, or as close to that as we can manage. It’s honesty that’s always produced my best work. I’m just quite scared of it. Alex, I reckon, isn’t anywhere near as worried as most of us. All of the fans he has and still baring his soul in songs, retaining his playful character in person, in between songs, in interviews, in recordings. Fame fucks people up and – at least in relative terms – fame has not fucked him up. That’s a damn miracle.

And, for those who are looking, it’s a heart-felt testament to the value of honesty in an artist’s work. Because look, if you can’t connect with yourself, if you can’t engage with how you feel about what has happened and what will happen to you…how can you ever seriously talk to someone else about their lives? And isn’t that most of what we’re doing? Talking, communicating in ever more complicated forms, trying to emphasise or hide our experiences, context depending? That’s art, man.

Last time I was writing about the disembodiment of words, how they carry us away from our immediate selves and into others’ lives and experiences in a very serious and real way. The brain projector kicks up and the body slows down in people who interact with our work, not just words, but all art. The act of communicating. But it’s so much easier to listen, to look, to feel, when that experience shown by someone else is so clearly also in us. There are always points of common ground but I think it’s only in a more-or-less unashamed work that the common ground is well and truly laid beneath the artist’s feet, when you realise that they are with you and not outside of you. The disembodiment becomes less of a departure of one’s soul or spirit into another, and more or a joining of souls. Sounds grand I know, but it’s right.

If the soul is a metaphor for your deepest self, physical, mental, everything that at a moment in time is your core, then it’s only in baring that that you can get other people to focus on you as much as themselves. You know, in philosophy, there are a lot of folks doubting that we even know other people exist. That’s because philosophy is quite an academic field and spends surprisingly little time engaging with the reality it tries to describe. Instead, philosophers ‘proper’ sit in stuffy rooms, often reading smelly books about long dead Greeks and Germans. They have so much to prove – literally they’re not even comfortable admitting they exist, and if they do it’s existence in very carefully defined terms. There’s a place for that sure, but it’s not an especially human pursuit. The part of us that we have to live with our entire lives, the part of us that drives our actions, the clearly and unashamedly human part, needs to be open and without shame. Because that’s how we very loudly and yet informally tell eachother “we are here! And its fucking great!”

I mean sure, maybe in the grand scheme of things something being great is irrelevant. But we’re humans. We’re specific. We’re not Gods or Angels or Fairies or any of that shit. We’re here together, jumbled up and living whether we like it or not, and we have so much room to like it. So much potential for good ting, fine stuff, merriment and happiness.

That’s why I fucking love Alex Turner. He looks a lot like a living embodiment of that truth, an example of how we all should be in our own lives. Full, honest, devoted to the pursuit of our own shit, whatever that is. It really doesn’t have to be, and probably won’t be bad. Because once you start doing that, your thing, you realise that’s just what everyone else is trying to do and whether you like it or not, it puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with all of them. Not in some ivory tower, not driving by in a Rolls Royce or some crap, but at the next desk down or opposite at the table in some café.

Lastly and once again, writers’ block is just failing to recognise that. Nothing grand, but it can pin people for their whole lives. Fuck, it’s so simple. So complex, sure, but so simple. Even if I’ve not proved it right here, take the reins, be yourself, lead your life, you’ve got nothing to lose, pal. I mean this is something we’re likely to be fighting with our whole lives, but…balls to that. Do what you have to do. Find out who you are and be it. Then all your troubles in art and work will evaporate like water boiling pasta.

Have a B-side to set you on your way.

Picture above not mine. Review, educational, beautiful, etc. 

Sixteen

Prosaic, Pulpit

We’re starting up again. I feel like Phil Winter in Alice in the Cities, lost in the detritus of meaningless travel, deliberately accidentally swamped by advertising. Bright screens, short videos, long ads, everything blurring, deleting apps and accounts only to reinstall them again days later, once again broken seemingly from lack of wine. That’s me, not Winter.

So, I need to be back. I don’t believe in writers’  block. Related to this really useful piece of advice: don’t tell yourself you need to do X important thing. Tell yourself you want to do it. Writers’ block is a castle built on a swamp, it has no clear or meaningful basis and instead a miasma stinks about it: believability. It’s “well documented” says Wikipedia. We all talk about it. Any series comedy or drama that mentions writing does a bit on it. The assumption therefore arrives that it’s a thing. I even found myself trying to capitalise it earlier. Nope. It’s a nebulous gathering of different factors that together result in little or no writing – or quality writing – being produced, or published. It’s life, really. Things happen to you that you haven’t processed. You need time to process them in whatever way.

Phil Winter (played by Rüdiger Vogler) feels disconnected from the world around him to the point at which he’s doubting meaning or existence itself. This of course makes it harder for him to write about something as broad as “the American landscape”. He processes the disconnection by being given sole care of a stranger’s nine-year old daughter for a couple weeks. Well, he is given sole care of the child and processes by deciding to care. The microcosm – so to speak – of looking after an abandoned child helps him to resolve something in the macrocosm of his own sense of existence. Or puts his worries far enough on the back burner so that, in his distraction, he starts writing again. Enough of him is engaged in helping or being with this person that he returns to the real world and stops sponging, returns from his own sea of personal doubt. He spends what little he has on someone else, earns money from nothing for someone else, finds most of his entertainment in and provides regular entertainment to someone else. And he gets to go back home to Germany where he’s more comfortable.

Look, while I’ve just talked about writer’s block really being a complex web of personal factors, there is one uniting theme. Disconnection. It’s easy to get disconnected as a writer, or any kind of artist. It’s easy to fall into the trap of living in your own mental world, because that’s almost what you’re being paid to do. Or it’s what you enjoy. Both. Even if you’re writing about reality, it’s super out-there to be watching reality. Most of us just experience the real. If you’re experiencing it and watching yourself do that at the same time – that’s weird. The whole observational act in art is strange, and so is making up a false world. It’s stepping out of our basic bodily boundaries and woah are we not entirely comfortable with that.

Words and pictures and even a lot of our sounds and smells come to represent other things, mention other things, spool tapes in your head-cinema of stuff that isn’t immediately occurring in front of or around your body. Every word, every mark, is a small disembodiment. Yeah. And how you feel about that disembodiment determines whether you get…disconnected. Either you feel like you’re connected with something else or many other things – you observe common ground. Or you feel like you’re outside of everything and so temporarily lost, floating in the spaces between metaphor and literal description, having seen things ignored by the rest of the world.

Instead of the brutalist, Stalinist, anonymous excuse of a writer’s block, let’s just say disconnection shall we? Especially if this is writers on writers. We can find so many ways of describing disconnection. Oh, you did a Flammarion? Right. Someone cut up your heart? Damn. Is that a thousand-yard stare I spy in those peepers? …You get the idea.

I’ve been out for a while and this time it’s just a story showing someone who seems familiar – that’s brought me back. Nothing too grand. I got the good feels for Phil Winter and so – having earlier felt alone in my particular form of suffering – now knowing that I have at least one notional comrade has dropped the scales from my eyes. For a while anyhow. I just couldn’t handle how Wim Wenders in the interviews and then the blurbs I’ve been reading all referred to Phil as having writers’ block. I’m like no! he even fucking says he’s disconnected and he literally starts writing again as he develops a caring relationship with Alice. Do. Not. Be. Silly. Let’s use our words, the useful words, it’s what they’re for.

Ugh. Well, the blog must go on. See you again tomorrow I guess…? Maybe let’s expand on the disembodiment of words. I like the way that sounds.

Fifteen

Prosaic, Pulpit

The Flammarion Engraving. People have been aware of weird shit since before 1872, but this picture feels like a good illustration of what I’ve been feeling lately. There’s a point in any stage of society where the society’s members reach out for things they don’t understand, like space. Broadly speaking the engraving is about people theorising the existence of things beyond the sky. If we didn’t have astronauts and big-ass telescopes, that’d be quite a scary concept, no? A strange, unknowable existence beyond existence?

Well, here’s the thing: the problem doesn’t go away with the Great Humongous telescopes. We may have stretched perception even to the edges of the universe, but there’s still the barely appreciable question of what lies beyond that. Or beyond the multiverse. Or about the nature of infinity. And the idea of all the significant shit we don’t know has really been messing with my head lately. It’s not even about death yo, I’m just worried that when I die my capacity to work this out will be substantially reduced. I wanna know what’s going on. I want the next answer in the infinite chain of “Why?” questions we can ask.

Gah. I feel like the dude in the engraving. I’ve just poked my head and arm out into space and I’m taking these heaving breaths of nothing, it’s inflating my skull to pop territory and maybe I’m even burning from the fictitious fires of the Firmament.

I love what I do – philosophy that is – but really. This is the worst. The worst feeling ever, you know, when you reach a little too far and get off balance. I mean fuck. I’ll get over it but in the meantime I been dazed and confused so long it’s not true (wanted an answer, never bargained for you).

Here’s how it is:

Existence is self-justifying. In human terms anyway. It’s ironically similar to the Christian God as described by various medieval and early modern theologians, except it definitely isn’t a man, nor human, nor particularly comprehensible. Our slice of it is what’s comprehensible, the rest is clearly way out West. I mean, banditos ride through it regularly and burn down evidence of the crime. Tom Waits is there, getting money – they’re giving it away. It’s chaos, man. It’s so chaotic that all metaphors are borderline mockery, if it could be mocked.

Existence is more or less infinite. We can’t really look at infinity to check, but logically it makes sense. In the way that it made sense to various Greek scientist-philosophers that the world might be made up of small particles, the world might be round, the world might orbit the sun…that kind of thing. The way that Flammarion has someone poking their head through the Firmament. People who have no idea what they’re talking about, but 200, 3000 years later, someone exonerates their account. Kinda. Given the limits they were working under.

In short, your being aware – of anything at all – means that something is happening, something exists. If something exists, very quickly any kind of non-existence starts to seem impossible. Which, by definition, it is. Don’t forget that.

You want to quote the philosophy that says nothing exists except when you’re there to experience it? Get all Burroughsey on me? I’m going to Occam’s Razor that shit. What, the entirety of existence pops in, consistent, rational, scientific, just because you move your head? Or just because your ear develops as part of the natural course of things – which are what by the way? – and you can hear a little further so a few more noises have to exist? Sure, it’s possible. Likely however…I’m not convinced.

The point of that whole thing is quantum mechanics. Broad strokes: a thing (an electron I hear) could be anywhere until something measures it. But it doesn’t pop into existence, it exists somewhere, or exists everywhere and gets measured somewhere. Weird, but not temporary un-existence.

You’re going to have to do your own research and soul-searching on this but it’s probable that things exist, just because existence is the way of things. Linguistically for sure,  but it checks out in all that we know about human reality. We live, we die, when we die our parts are re-distributed through natural processes. No matter is created or destroyed. The big bang might have happened, and if it did all the contents were already there. Human existence…our little lifetimes, our big lifetimes: nothingness is pretty much irrelevant to us as humans. Us as matter…maybe it’s relevant. Maybe even to us as conscious entities. But in our capacity as humans it looks as though everything is in its right place. Suck it.

We are part of an expanding universe, and our interest in that is to further a stable expansion or evolution. Broad strokes. If you want to put that in God terms, we’re building the Kingdom of Heaven. Brick by brick but hey, better than nothing right? Never say I exclude y’all religious folks.

Good and bad, there are absolutely efficient decisions which tend to fall more or less along traditional moral lines. Killing is usually bad for example. It hinders the progress of evolution because we’re destroying when we can modify or redirect.

This stands up under scrutiny even if I’m not doing it justice right now. Once you get past the irritatingly subtle “the point of existence is to exist more” or “morality is just about getting better”, it really looks like it has legs. More so than most other propositions of an absolute philosophy or morality. Humans kinda are that simple.

And yet the point of the beginning of this post: it’s not enough. We might get the validation we’re looking for as humans, great. I’m terrified of not getting my “why”, the understanding, validation, value as a conscious being, or as the caretaker of billions of atoms that make up my body, if that’s what we are. The bigger, non-human question which probably extends beyond human understanding so…fuck. End of the tunnel? Where are the limits of existence or if there aren’t any then why the fuck? Infinity? Really? We start again at the end? We just exist in Aristotelian Prime Mover bliss?

I don’t know. Head sticking out here, my eyes haven’t adjusted to the dark yet, maybe I’m about to breathe in a vacuum. Goddang Flammarion has more to it than initially appears.

Let’s just take solace in the possibility that there are the equivalent to answers out there, and we just don’t have the capacity to know them…yet.

Fourteen

Prosaic, Pulpit

So I’m working on a kind of collection at the moment. I’ll start leaking bits on here so we have content again, mostly poetry but I’m slowly trying to ease back into a little prose, a few dialogue stories. Actually, how do you feel about dialogue stories? Literally stories composed entirely of dialogue. Impossible? Impossibly boring? Very sensible?

I did one as a creative writing exercise a while back and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s a lot like poetry – carefully selecting words to create the context, the feeling, the implications you need your reader to understand, if vaguely. I admit though, I prefer to have my stories mostly as opposed to entirely composed of dialogue. It’s based on screenwriting I guess – you still need a few directions, setting descriptions.

Anyway, here’s some prose for you; from a few years back now, but I like it.

Boxes

Dave stands alone in the murky attic, staring at the splitting rays of sunlight blasting through the single window. In the midday heat, he’s somewhere else. There’s a persistent and noisy creaking of wood, then Steve’s head bobs up through the access trap.
“Carpenter” he says.
Dave doesn’t move.
“David Carpenter” comes Steve, dragging himself up through the trap.
Dave turns.
“Why is it so damn hot in here?” he pauses “Why is it so damn dark?”
“I don’t know, Carpenter. Maybe it has something to do with the sun being in the sky.”
Dave looks at him, doesn’t reply.
“Well seeing as you’re not doing anything useful, help me lug some of these boxes downstairs.”
Dave thinks.
“Why is it so damn dark, Holden?”
“I don’t know, David.”
He picks up an average sized box.
“C’mon.”
Dave stares at the boxes.
“It’s cooler downstairs, Carpenter.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Dave drops down and starts examining one of the boxes. Steve looks, raises an eyebrow, and starts to walk downstairs. He struggles.
“Where’s my red box?”
“What was that, David?” Steve’s still struggling on the small steps.
“Where’s my red box.”
“Probably in the corner somewhere.” Steve jerks down through the trap.
Dave trains his eyes on the different box-filled corners of the room, squinting occasionally in attempt to pierce through the grey mass of paraphernalia and make out a streak of red. Eventually, he picks a corner and starts digging. He’s doing this until creaks herald the return of Steve. Steve Holden’s now wearing a pair of heavy-duty gloves and looks at Dave in the corner. “What are you doing, David?”
He’s answered with the ruffle of cardboard and paper. Picks up another box.
“Stop acting stupid Carpenter. Help me out here.”
“Don’t call me that.”
The sound of cutlery clashing against cutlery.
“Carpenter!”
Dave stops.
“Fuck you Holden. Where’s my box?”
“Help me clear out this place and you’ll find it, doofus.”
There’s silence. Dave is sitting on the floor, covered in a thin film of grey. Steve struggles and jerks down the stairs again. Then the same. Third time, Dave picks up a box and walks it down too. The attic is quiet for a moment. Flecks of dust are buzzing around the shafts of sun like daytime fireflies. The two men return. Steve picks up a box. Dave watches him.
“Hurt your hand? You oughtta take your time more, Holden.”
“Job needs doing. I’m just being careful.”
“Careful? You could wear those gloves in Hell and you wouldn’t get burned.”
“When you’ve moved 48 of these and you’ve found your red box, then we’ll see whose hands burn in Hell, Carpenter.”
“Shut the fuck up Holden.”
Steve picks up a box. Then he’s going down the trap. Struggling again. Dave cradles a box.
“Watch your feet.” he says, and follows.
The stairs leading through the trap are narrow, well worn wood. So old they’re starting to look more beige than brown. The men go along a dusty carpet and down through the house. The odd grunt announces that they’ve hit the ground floor.
“Well done you men” comes a female voice from some other room. Holden shuffles his hands around the box.
“Pfft. Men.”
“What was that David?”
“Nothing Holden, you go clunk your way outside.”
“And you tippy-toe along now Carpenter.”
The door is lit like a gate to another world as they leave. The blazing sun burns the eyes. The neighbourhood is beige. The big car is dull silver. They load up the boxes. Maggie appears at the door, squinting as they huff back along the drive.
“I hope you’re being nice to our neighbour, Davie.”
“Neighbour no more, sweet thighs. Ain’t that right Holden?”
“Still friends Carpenter, still friends.”
“Fuck you very much, friend.”
Maggie’s eyes glare at him under the shade of her palm.
“David! Don’t say that in front of the kid.”
“Look, Maggie, I know Holden ain’t the brightest but…”
Holden sort of slaps him and he giggles.
Maggie scowls as the men go inside and disappear up the stairs. She bathes in the sun for a moment. Walks over to the car. Brushes it with her finger which comes back covered in dust. Spies a bit of yellow by a wheel, bends over and picks out a child’s train, a toy, all in bright colours, and the body in a red that’s very red. She takes it back inside, calling for someone.

 

Twelve

Prosaic, Pulpit

I think I need a bit of a creative diary here. Some help to go over the process and piece things together.

Right now we’re on a little break after that storm of poetry earlier. Poetry can take a lot out of you, man. Or at the very least I find too much in a short few days and you start repeating yourself. Favourite words, favourite techniques. My sibilance is off the charts. I reckon we need a pause so look forward to some more prose, hopefully a short story at some point (but I’m a bit out of practice) and plenty of metaphysical meandering. I used to have a section called that on an old blog from my university days. I dropped out by the way. Go figure.

What do you think of my poetry though? I really prefer to do formless in a very formatic way. That’s not a word incidentally, but it could be. Yes, the formatic of only a vague glass wall at the end of each line. Well, more of an escalator or a teleporter. I like to use line breaks as punctuation is what I’m saying. Mysterious punctuation that somehow still works. I feel like there’s something very important about the experience of reading poetry, becoming familiar with it. I think standard punctuation is too obvious, gives you part of the reward too early and tempts you to forget about the rest of that pot of gold further down the figurative rainbow. Remember kids, it’s all about the journey.

Let’s take an example:

I can smell your flat Shandy Bass
Crazy fresh open window Streathamings despite 4x4s
Maybe the orange
Lube seal guardian
The prickle of Sainsbury’s soave
Demented cartoon solipsism
And no questions
Some kind of pure morning sun feeling
Histories now seemingly too similar to be counted
Vague attempts at siphoning
The hairy butterfly embrace catches
In oesophageal anticipation
Exhausted Tadcaster blur moaning
Like Pink Floyd behind the eyes
The drowned sugar between sheets
Invader Zim acceptance
And white emperor armour self-inflicted orange somehow unjust
Like discarded lines sweat-patched
And lonely perfumed shower soap irritating unknown orgasm
A world set above the world
Your shiny glass skull self-reflecting or alien crystal
Talking fish singing penitent
Discarded shirt tie lissom French letters
Vapor boots neatly stacked with wine glass columns
Your epic poetic resounding sweet chill pizza
I could have laid the whole mourning through
No cold in the exhausted breeze cradling

N.B. I just found a lone comma after “columns” and expunged it from the historical records. Remember to proof properly ya douche.

Now, the effect I’m looking for is that you’ll be a little confused on first reading, but eventually your mind and your inner voice will force a certain kind of order into things, as it always does. And I want to try and influence that subtly. More interaction that way, more oneness between author and reader perhaps. So, the positioning of words, the line breaks, the assonance, the placement of particular images just so…these force you to impose what will hopefully be a peculiar kind of rhythm that matches the one I heard in writing. Cute, huh? Oh and peculiar used to mean particular. I like it like that.

Sometimes I wonder about just using grammar but really I’m doing this in the first place because of grammar – it’s little functions and directors have multiple interpretations. Hyphens and colons, semi-colons, square brackets and styles of speech mark all have specific meanings, but they’re still interpreted differently by different people. Misunderstood or properly understood. I might be using them wrong, thinking it helps, when really I’m not. I decide it’s best just to try and do it without them. Make the words feel like they have some of that stuff there necessarily. Naturally. Maybe it’s like hanging a picture. If you nail it into the wall, or bluetack it, or tape it, there’s all these weird bits distracting you from the picture itself. Sometimes, with some pictures, it’s better just to lean them on the side. Leave gravity be. Use it to help, even. Know what I mean?

I’m also very much into romance at the moment, which is troublesome. It’s often so messy and confusing and for me that’s a huge amount of the appeal. To turn madness into a poem that’s had a surprising amount of structure go into it is quite weird. I’ve done nature poems before. Thinking I might try and go back to that for a bit, or at least inject a bit more pagan wonder into what I’m doing now. Also there’s this strange compulsion to analyse past loves and process them by putting them into poetry. I’m running with it but…mainly happily confused about doing so. Maybe it sells well? I don’t know.

I’m not necessarily expecting anyone to answer (except in your own head a bit dear reader) but how do you feel about writing? Guessing most of you are wordpressers, so you have some kind of regular relationship with the technique. Is it something you don’t have to think about so you can just diarise for fun and profit? Is it a fine art you sometimes get tired of and have to rest? Is it an uncomfortable need, a part of you shouting out, demanding a fairly fair hearing? Does structure help you? Like, other peoples’ pre-ordained structures? Because there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m part copying Allen Ginsburg, John Cooper Clarke, lyricists like Alex Turner and various others. I mean they’re at least huge influences.

Let’s end on originality:

Pretty much everything’s already been done one way. It’s up to you to do the same thing, differently. Lots of different ways to do the same thing, which hopefully makes you realise, it’s all in the details. Like even if I directly copied Chickentown and performed it, and didn’t sound like JCC, that would still be an original performance. Because I could never sound like that guy at that time. Even he can’t sound exactly like himself the night before, or the minute before. And suddenly, everything seems original. If not substantially so, still technically…if not legally, still technically…and it’s all the little technical originalities that make up a brilliant big one. Big originality doesn’t just appear from nothing after all, it’s forged, consciously or not, from everything you do. Think on it.

Ten

Prosaic, Pulpit

On Gender, Sexuality, Identity, Mental Health

If you ever get the chance to sit on the bench at the top of Pump Hill in Loughton, Essex, you’re going to see something interesting: you’re going to see humanity spread out over miles running from forest through hamlet through town, finishing up in the bright lights and tall towers of London, the spires of Crystal Palace, the dome we now call the O2. Human society is a surprisingly complicated mesh of contrasting attitudes and cultures, and that’s what you’ll see looking out over the spread from Essex into London. So many different details all acting more or less coherently as part of one societal web. It’s mad good.

I went to a chat last night about John Perceval, son of the only assassinated British Prime Minister. John was notable for ending up in a lunatic asylum claiming he was a prophet from God. After he was eventually released from the asylum, he campaigned to improve conditions for all like patients across the country. This was a time when women could be declared mad for thinking, anyone could be declared mad for talking about democracy, and the equivalent of psychiatry was conducted by sadistic quacks more mentally deranged than many of their patients. It was a time of radicalism and unrest across Britain, some would say reaching a peak in the death of Spencer Perceval, PM. Anyway the author holding the chat was Robin Holton, and he had this pretty perceptive comment to make on mental health: that it’s not so much a problem within one individual as it is a problem between individuals. The common theme among many mentally ill people is a form of loneliness or isolation, either literally, or in their lack of empathy, even despite a kind of gregariousness or charisma.

And that just seemed to link up mental illness to identity generally – the sense that it’s something defined by relationships with others. I mention it because so much of what is now largely termed “identity politics” is actually a fundamental element of our existence: interactions with others. That’s the simplistic core often deliberately ignored by critics and pundits. I don’t know about you reader, but I find that a great deal of commentary on issues of mental health, sexual orientation, gender orientation, is unselved. It’s taken away from people, from society, and turned into specific phenomena applied only when certain terms are invoked, when certain “appropriate” rituals are performed.

Oh yeah – if you’ve not already tuned out in anger – why am I linking mental illness and gender/sex? They’re all about identity. Personhood. Society. Being human. The all-uniting theme. That’s the point I want to make here before you hear the polemic incoming. That’s why a guy whose prime was around 1830 (ACE, not PM) is relevant to this. John Perceval lived in a world where much of “mental derangement” was defined quite explicitly by how other people viewed you. Today we live in a world where the basic “how other people view you” is filtered through advanced layers of supposed professionalism and entrenched political filibuster. Try to ignore all the layers of politics and assumption for a moment. Try to just think of the core person.

Here’s just my opinion on the titular topics.

Gender: your chosen take on your biology. Because, all you people who say you either have a penis or a vagina – biology also applies to the feelings and desires that lead people to homosexuality, becoming transgender or anything else. All of that is biological. It’s now commonly accepted that our understanding of the body through science is not limited to the appendages that appear on our skin. Not to try and cut you out, but, get over it. Biology is everything, not just your genitalia.

Implicit here is that there is no absolute heterosexuality or homosexuality – it’s all choice. It’s all a kind of bi or pan or whatever. You can always be your best you.

Sexuality: a social construct built from thousands of years of sex. The backdrop is early humans not having much culture beyond “good to receive penis in vagina/good to put penis in vagina”. That’s the root of modern sexuality for sure. But today we have all sorts of nuanced approaches to those basic desires rooted in chemistry and biology. I think of masculinity as sexual feelings and identification based in the old “my penis goes into your vagina” whereas femininity would be sexual feelings and identification based in “your penis goes into my vagina”. So, male or female or anything else, a person chooses which of those best suits them. Or no particular sexuality at all. You don’t need to have a penis or vagina to subscribe to one or the other. We now have, and really have always had, useable equivalents. Mouths, tongues, fingers, fists, oily sticks made of various materials, anuses. Options, basically. The option of nothing too.

But now more than ever we are aware of our options and capable of expanding them. I’m going to be straight with you, I have more of a feminine sexual identity. I think that’s fine, I don’t think it means all women have to get fucked, I don’t think it means all women have to fuck. I don’t think it means all men have to get fucked. I don’t think it means all men have to fuck. I think every individual person chooses who they are. Influenced by what happens to them sure, but they make the final decision, have the final veto. That’s sexuality. A person chooses and acts on who they want to be.

Identity: a terrifying mix of how you see yourself and how other people see you. Everything you remember as being a prominent part of yourself, and, to a large extent, everything you are seen doing, or understood to have done. It’s your professed values, your internal values, something of the values other people think you have. Your emotional composition, the things you sometimes do to change that. Your favourite clothes, music, movies. Your physical health, what you feel about your physical health. It’s all that stuff to do with you. But really, when you think about you, how can you think without considering the world around you, the people around you, and your place in it.

I guess I’m saying identity is the changing nature of the place in which you put yourself, or find yourself in the world. You and your surroundings are separate and yet inseparable. Different parts of the same connected scheme. A big flowing interconnected entity. And that’s not even getting spiritual.

Mental Health: the extent to which you are publicly viewed as being normal or sane. Mass and community reactions to your behaviours and tendencies. Basically responses to your identity that my go on to form part of your identity.

Your own sense of emotional composition, stability, your ability to express or restrain yourself. The feelings that force themselves into your perception, the thoughts that repeat in your head. The sounds, smells, sights, textures you encounter through your own particular means to engage with them. It’s everything your mind does in response to what you physically, biologically, chemically encounter. And it’s the way you reason through all that, or don’t.

And, in a slightly different context, the biological integrity of your brain and sensory functions. Fewer people will have a substantially damaged brain, whereas all people have physically different brains, biologically, scientifically different brains and minds. That includes different sensory capacities, emotional tendencies. Difference on its own isn’t grounds for disability. Difference rejected by society will cause disability.

That’s one of the major misunderstandings about mental health. Depression and like disorders are built from experiences, encouraged by genetic predispositions. They aren’t mysterious imbalances of the humours (cheers Galen) they are built from profound trauma or joy or endless streams of emotional demands. And they can become accidentally entrenched in the way someone thinks about themselves in relation to the world, self-propagating, remaking beyond the point at which they’re at all healthy.

This is what I think anyway. I’m certainly no great source of knowledge on the matter. Just someone who thinks about stuff a lot. You decide whether any of this thinking helps you. And check out that bench in Loughton if you can, the view really is special. The Gardeners’ is fine too.

Seven

Prosaic, Pulpit

Petty Revolutions: My Old Blogging Manifesto

“You’re gonna wake up one morning and know which side of the bed you’ve been lying on.” Is a quote.*

I’ve finally got to the frame of life where I have to write. Sickened beyond capacity of the inevitable sentiment that if I don’t do art enough I’m not an artist. Fine, I’ll accept it. You can have the art. I don’t want it anyway.

There’s only so many brilliant young somethings you can read about as a disenfranchised twenty-two year old before you lose it. I want to be able to join Louise in saying I’m like forty-something. I’m experienced.

I want to make anyone with half a brain look and say I’ve had more than enough time to get performing. I want people to look at my artistic life and say I’m lazy. I want people to know, like I do, that I should’ve made a start the moment I could write. That the one national poetry competition for twelve year olds wasn’t enough. I want people to realise that every year of your life is an experience you can and should communicate to inform and entertain, like they should’ve said in an exam question somewhere. “Inform and Entertain around the subject of panda nipples”. With the internet you don’t even need to use your own experiences for performance, you can basically just hijack everyone else’s.

I am not still young. It is not okay.

You don’t need Microsoft and Adobe to write and edit. You’ve got apache and gimpshop. You don’t even need them because you can thieve a Sharpie from Morrisons and scribble on smooth public surfaces. You don’t even need that because you can walk up to someone and introduce yourself like chuggers, muggers and beggars do not.

Teenagers are bringing out the new wave of Grime.^ Some of them not even out of school and still making significant record or publicity deals. Meanwhile what the fuck am I doing? Why am I not being written about in Vice and Dazed? I mean Grime is basically fucking open mic. I mean they calls themselves MCs, what more do you want? Pretty artworks and a beatbox called Echo? Alright. I’ll get it. I’ll start mixing fucking White Stripes tunes on audacity and call it Cheesy McFlapsface. I don’t know. Art. Art is going to happen.

Seriously though look at these kids. They’re fantastic. I mean it’s not exactly my sector being as I’m basically a white suburban punk¬ of one kind or another. An aspiring anarchist. I’d call them out on accidental misogyny and proper game in equal measure but maybe that’s part of why I’m not where they are. Or haven’t been where they are. Different discourses work at different times, and there’s plenty of room in paradise folks. We can all get there if we try. Though I guess we’d all rather get there before than after death. Even this morning there was a programme on about Constable essentially saying people loved him most after he died. So many people have to face – or not face – that. Look at the 27 Club for one thing.

That must be one of the biggest issues facing down artists and radicals everywhere. What if I’m not my job, what if I can quit, but then, when I do…I’m not successful enough. What if I’m a starving artist like forever and only get famous after I die? What if the work all comes to nothing that you can see or use to make you feel better about the endless peregrinations of existence?

Well, if that, then you didn’t sell yourself hard enough. You should’ve done that pelvic thrust with a little bit more energy. Cos kids, the world is what we make it, and we can make anything.

All of our celebrities, adored stars and key societal influencers (thinking more behind the scenes there) worked fucking hard to get where they are, but as part of that they worked to ignore expectation and routine. They levelled their sights on what they really needed and started cutting away the weed and dross surrounding it, all the fucking mess we’re sold by leaders and advertisers to make shit smell like roses. It doesn’t matter how it smells. Shit is shit. It has only a select number of uses, mostly involving its being destroyed or otherwise broken up to help make something else better.

And you don’t need to be sitting out in some Brazilian jungle or up on Machu Picchu to become a Guevara or write a Stones song. You’ve got everything you need right where you are, it’s just you might occasionally need to travel one way or the other to realise it’s there. Like when you can’t find the remote because you’re sitting on it.

So forward this blog has to go, and all that follows from it. We need those photos to finally get here. Videos! A new website build! I’m gonna have to learn programming languages! Fuck. Ah well, it’s all for the art.

*I read it as a sort of title for “collection by Mark Jackson” in a Dazed&Confused back issue. Think it was number five. It had beautiful androgynous people 🙂

^http://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/blog/the-square-novelist-teenage-crew-future-of-grime

¬ “white suburban punk” epitomised for me in this song, which really deserves a post of its own https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoF_a0-7xVQ

 

Four

Political, Prosaic, Pulpit

Anarchy for the UK in 2000 Words (part 2 of 3)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Chaos 

Anarchism has had some bad press, okay, but that’s because it’s a bit of an easy target.

It eventually recommends the total restructuring of society, which, whether violent or not, tends to find enemies throughout the existing structure of any society. Understandable, right? Look at Gandhi: first he just wanted Indians in South Africa to be treated as equal human beings. Then later he just wanted his country to be able to govern itself. The whole time he demanded non-violent resistance only. He didn’t seek excessive power or pleasure. Although trained as a lawyer in Britain, heart and mind of the empire, he chose to accept and love the simple way of life led by the Indian peasant, the Hindu holy man, Christian monk, or devout pilgrim. He took pleasure from having some food, some shelter, and the ability to help his fellow human. And he was repeatedly imprisoned, sometimes beaten, as a revolutionary. A threat to the state. Can non-violent demands for better treatment really be considered “threatening”? Surely not in anything like the way a club to the head is threatening, a long sentence in jail is threatening.

But still, he was going to change the status quo – and you can see why the British rulers and competitors for power in India (he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist) didn’t want that. He proposed a way of living that prevented them from dominating. He was going to deprive them of their chosen lifestyle. Through non-violence and reason, yes, but they didn’t care. They were still going to lose, they thought, and he was going to gain. The well-being of millions of Hindus, Muslims and other denominations be damned.

This is the problem with the mass perception of anarchism. Our criticisms of present societies, our proposals for radical change: people can only imagine that we would right wrongs and enact changes by destroying what already exists. By harming. That’s what happened with communism after all. Well, anarchism doesn’t want to take over government. Doesn’t want to destroy. It wants to help people to learn about the world so that they choose to form their own self-sufficient communities within society. It wants to enable people to effectively govern themselves, to exist in a true democracy, legally of course. It wants to build a new structure over the rotten model under which we presently exist, replacing it as it naturally fails.

Really anarchism is best defined as a thinking discipline. It’s the tendency to completely deconstruct anything and everything, but especially commonly accepted and influential concepts that change how people live. In deconstructing these things, anarchists get a better understanding of what structures are strong, logical, workable, and which ones aren’t. But this process is conducted in a way that’s entirely defined by the individual. There are no official anarchist texts or thinkers. What influences anarchist philosophy is what influences the individual in question. That person’s central feature is an open-mindedness extending beyond anything normally considered reasonable, usually mixed with enough self-restraint to stop that open perspective becoming problematic.

Politically we tend to share one goal: ultimate democracy, or, in plainer terms, “localism”. But at the same time, we want to become apolitical. Anarchism contents that centralised or top-down government isn’t needed, and so politics proper departs with it. We want to restructure society, build power from the bottom up. Small community groups – familiar with each other, grown to understanding and trust – making ultimately unanimous decisions about their affairs. Anarchism is about steadily achieving real democracy. And some war-torn North African and Middle Eastern communities have already achieved that kind of anarcho-democratic rule as a necessary response to power vacuums created by war. So right now we’re just trying to de-mystify the cause and just get people interested in learning more, seeing real democracy in action. After all, there is no official anarchist organisation, no anarchist bible, just people doing what they think they should to make the world better. That’s what we want, that’s what we need.

Two

Political, Prosaic, Pulpit

Anarchy for the UK in 2000 words (Part 1 of 3)

A Note on Oligarchy

I just want you to take a look at the UK political system. I don’t see this as a criticism per se, just as a more honest description which highlights the flaws you already know are there in systems like this one.

I would classify the British government as a Parliamentary Oligarchy. That is, a state in which governmental power is held by a small minority of individuals, most of whom exercise their power though an elected parliamentary assembly.

We have 650 elected members in the House of Commons, tasked with representing the majority views of over 65 million people. Yes, we are ruled by 0.001% of the nation. Maybe 25 of them are involved in Cabinet – the core of government decision-making – while around 100 become different kinds of Ministers. So the 0.001% itself is dominated by 3.8% of its number. In 2016, Official Labour Market Statistics estimated the population of Hastings Council’s area of responsibility at 92,200. It has 32 councillors: not much hope in local government either. And the European Parliament isn’t worth mentioning because – never mind Brexit – it can’t legislate. It’s the European Union equivalent of our House of Lords. Our Watson chamber is the Lords, theirs is the only vaguely representative arm of European Union government. Go figure.

Moving on to parties. In 2015, the Conservatives formed a government on the “majority” of 37% of a 66% turnout. That’s 11,334,920 people getting representation versus 51,846,855 people in the general population (figures based on the 2011 Census) being given a government they disagree with.

In 2010, it was 36% of a 65% turnout: 10,703,744 people, so what roughly a sixth of the population – 17%! – getting minimal representation. Everyone else left high and dry, most still paying taxes. Over 40 million people regularly left without even the smallest tip-of-a-hat to representation.

That’s nationally. Locally, once again taking Hastings as a sample area, 2016 council elections, the highest turnout was in St Helens Ward: 47.2%. And that was the highest turnout of all wards by 6.3%. The Labour candidate got in by a relatively substantial 50.3% in St Helens. In rough terms, this all amounts to 1,000 people out of 4,000 getting what they voted for. 25% being represented.

In 2013, the Conservative party announced that it had 149,800 members. About 0.23% of the population. Labour claimed 552,000 members in June 2017. About 0.85% of the population. A September 2017 Parliamentary report on party membership put the total membership of Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP at 1,024,600, based on the most recent official figures available. Almost at full strength our very much disunited system of political parties might represent 1.58% of the population.

These figures alone show that we do not live in a democratic nation. We do however live in a nation where oligarchic government needs to seek some kind of approval or at least participation from an electorate of 46,835,433 people – based on the 2017 election – which translates to around 72.1% of the population. This is probably better than any other level of governmental representation in at least 1000 years of British history. So it’s still progress, but it’s not democracy. I’ll address this further in the following two parts, but to emphasise: voting is not equivalent to democracy. Voting is just voting.

All of my percentages are based on a rough tally of a total population of 65 million people. The latest UN estimates put it at 65,431,223 as of April 2017. Our 2011 census put it at 63,182,000. I suggest that even British people who are not part of the current electorate deserve consideration and representation under any kind of decent social contract. This is why I keep providing percentages out of the total population and not just the electorate. We’re talking about democracy here, not just voting.