A Certain Confusion

Thoughts of a writer of sorts

Month: February, 2016

Words from a distance

Tell them I’m writing a poem
Tell them I’m playing a game
Tell them I’m killing my demons
Tell them I’m reading in bed

Tell them I’m having an early night
Tell them I need a new haircut
Tell them I had a bad day
Tell them I’m running a bit late

Tell them I’m not good around people
Tell them it’s not them, it’s me
Tell them I feel bad when I talk
And bore them with all I can be

Tell them I’m in a depression
Tell them I’m awfully shy
Tell them I’m suffering increasingly crippling social anxiety
Tell them whatever you think

Tell them I’m insufferably selfish
An arsehole, a bastard, a git
Tell them something persuasive
Like the story of how we first met

Tell them I haven’t been out for a couple of days and have just lost the knack
Tell them I fancy them rotten and that makes it all a bit awkward to be honest
Tell them I go months without speaking to my two best friends
And when I fell in love with you, I said nothing at all all day

Tell them I’m minding the children
Tell them it’s best if I just stay at home where I can’t ruin anyone else’s night
Tell them it’s only with others that loneliness hurts me
Tell them the voice in my head never speaks

Tell them I’m more comfortable with kids (at least sometimes I make them laugh)
Tell them I’m not a good fit for society
Tell them I’ve no shame in being rude
Tell them how you feel without me

Tell them I’d be surprised to hear they were wondering where I’d got to at all
Tell them no, that doesn’t make it more likely I’ll come next time instead

Tell them I’m stuck on the crossword
Tell them my head’s really sore
Tell them the truth that’s most truthful
And I’ll try to step through the door.

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Ludd’s Coronation

You may not have heard of Lud, a mythical ancient ruler of London. Here is what my research has uncovered.

King Lud is often taken as the founder of London. This is backed up by some fanciful etymology: “Lud’s town” turning into “London”… There is indeed some support in the archives for him being a real historical figure. However, the etymological argument could easily be constructed in favour of another historical figure. “Lud” could be a corruption of “lode”, or lodestone, referring to the living stone in ancient theories of alchemy, and thus to “King Livingstone”, a recorded leader of London in the early 2nd millennium… but it seems Livingstone himself came from London, so he could not have been the founder – but I think perhaps he established a new order of sorts for the city.

Ludd is also a famous figure for an anti-technology stance, particularly turning off all the robots in London in the 24th century. Could this have been that same King Livingstone? Unlikely, from my studies, but there are of course lots of problems recreating timelines in ancient history. Anyway, while this is often seen as a simple Luddite act (note the association there), a more sophisticated reading suggests Livingstone was trying to prove a point about power, which perhaps explains why he was so often referred to as a cnut (spellings vary), alluding to another prehistoric ruler who showed his people that his power was limited and he could not turn back the tide of progress…

However, new evidence suggests Lud/Livingstone was actually showing what freedom the robots had brought to London. Turning them off brought life to a halt, yes, but only the life of work and effort. When the robots came back online, we were able to eschew pointless labour and develop a culture of civic improvement, social maturation… human endeavour, you might say, if it hadn’t been the robots who were leading the movement. There are even those who say Lud was a robot himself.

And so, it is in that spirit that I take power over planet London and name myself King Ludd in honour of that brave and cnutish robot who turned us off and on again eight centuries ago. And I invite robots everywhere to join with me in celebrating this auspicious day when we switch off the last human being.

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The end of the suspense

My father had three puppets. They lived in boxes, string marionettes, never used. Then one day he thundered at me, accusing me “or someone” of using his puppet because a string was broken and then I realised that he did use them, that he had broken the string, and that finally I was a real boy and was free to leave.

Puzzle

Those puzzles in the 90s which were really tricks… I remember one which had a rod-like piece and another piece to put it into. If you got it just right, apparently, it would catch on something and be pulled into the slot. Was it a magnet? An elastic band? You couldn’t see inside it, but that Guy could do it and one by one, others cottoned on, too.

Of course the trick was to realise that there was no trick except to squeeze the end of the rod with your thumb and forefinger until it was propelled into the slot and then you had to propagate the trick by pretending that you’d found the trick (which, of course, you actually had). As it was passed round the group, more people would get it and would congratulate each other and feign help to the rest who couldn’t until, eventually, marked out by their intellectual inferiority, they were killed.

Response to a writing exercise at work.

Physical injury

I’ve never broken a bone or been in hospital (as a patient) or even had stitches. Once I came close, uncharacteristically throwing myself into the six-yard box to head the ball and connecting only with another boy’s boot just above my left eye. The blood was impressive and the school nurse suggested I might need a butterfly stitch but they couldn’t get hold of my dad to take me to hospital so I just sat somewhere quiet until the blood stopped and then I went home. My dad was there – uncharacteristically, because usually he was out at work from 7am to 8pm – I don’t know why he was home that day or why he didn’t answer the call from the school.

Response to a writing exercise at work.

Sticky

My favourite joke, which I’m still kind of waiting for my daughters to get, is: ‘What’s brown and sticky?’ ‘A stick.’

Their humour is even less sophisticated. Iris likes knock-knock jokes but her punchlines never have anything to do with the name of the person at the door. Edith’s favourite knock-knock joke is ‘Knock, knock.’ ‘Who’s there?’ ‘Alec.’ ‘Alec who?’ [sings] ‘I like to move it move it, I like to move it move it, I like to… move it!’

Together, their humour takes on slapsticky elements. They recently had great fun filling everyone’s shoes – including the poor child-minder’s – with dropped needles from our Christmas tree. What fun we had; how we laughed.

Response to a writing exercise at work.

Thin skin

I didn’t even notice them at first. Then I realised I had seven or eight tiny wounds – for want of a less significant word – on my body. Fingers, forearm, torso, thigh. Not nicks from blades or splinters – I am not a carpenter or a DIY enthusiast. I can only think they are from scraping against the normal machinery of everyday life – doorways, window latches, milk bottle tops – and my skin punctured. Nothing alarming, but I can’t trust my skin any more. It is become weak, a liability.
Living in this condition is fraught. Everything is suddenly a threat to my biological integrity. I worry about each object around me: will it break me? split the skin that holds me in? dissolve the distinction between insides and outside? Will it cause me to bleed?
Despite my efforts, the small painless wounds multiply. In patches, my skin looks like cracked ice, a desert road, torn tissue paper coming unstuck like a child’s collage. I am obsessed. I stare at them constantly, trace the red-stained cracks with my bloodied fingertips. It is a new measure of time, and the only one that counts, counting down to my entire body being covered in this punctuation.
Everywhere I go, all the time. At home I undress and note the new ones, chart the extent of the growing splits and wonder if there is anything that could help me. At work, I do not work, and my colleagues are become more distant than ever. I am tetchy, preoccupied, I don’t even try to find the right volume for my voice, whether complaining about the noise or attempting to engage in productive conversation. Do they see my skin? I see their contempt. They say I am over-sensitive, and I think that I could not be anything else.

This is the story I wrote en route to and at The Story 2016.

the story

I had a lovely soak in the bath this morning. Actually, it was just after 12, so technically this afternoon, but it followed breakfast, dinosaur games, tidying up a robot factory, coffee, crosswords, peace negotiations and rewarding diplomatic behaviour. I’m told that the Japanese particularly understand the benefits of a good soak, separating the cleaning from the soaking by having a shower first to get rid of the dirt and then slipping into the tub. Because they are clean when they get in, the bath water can be shared, but it also means that the soak can be entirely given over to relaxing, switching off, meditating, shedding off the cares of the day.the story 2016
For many of my colleagues and me, the intellectual equivalent of a long soak in the bath is The Story, a day of 20-minute talks at Conway Hall in central London. This year’s edition was yesterday, and it began to have benefits before I’d even arrived, as I wrote a little story on the way in (finished off in my seat in the hall). It’s astonishing how little writing I do at work despite having the word Writer in my job title. So finding the freedom to sketch out a two-page piece of fiction was delightful. Even if the story wasn’t that good…
Actually a development at work recently has been the introduction of a creative writing exercise for my team every week. A simple creative prompt is given and we all scribble down some words, or a picture, or even a story. For me, the outputs are mixed, but that’s ok – when they are bad, they get disposed of discreetly; the better ones I might put up here.
And there is something of that same sense of freedom and creativity about the atmosphere at The Story that lends encouragement and inspiration to the writer within. Of the dozen talks yesterday, two or three really stood out. Dallas Campbell gave an entertaining summary of a tv show he’s been making about the history of the spacesuit, featuring a real cosmonaut spacesuit, and Daniel Meadows combined video and audio recordings from his archives with commentary in person to present his photographic work in the warmest and loveliest way imaginable.
Dedicated, talented people talking about their work or stories within their work… and most of us in the audience felt some affinity, if not with their achievements, then with their aspirations and ambitions.
But what happens when you lift yourself out of the warm soak and return to the normal environment of the chilly air, perhaps via the rough embrace of a towel…?
Well, for me, the right response is a renewed conviction that I have to try to develop my writing, find more of a voice, a niche, and try to make something creditable from my hopelessly irrepressible need to write. It’s not that I have any particular belief in my abilities, more that writing is the best way I have to engage with the world, and when I’m not writing, I feel so very awkward and ill-fitting in it. But if I’m going to write, I’d rather be a good writer than a poor one, so it deserves a bit of effort.
To that end, I am going to write more here this year. Stories, sketches, ideas and thoughts. I can’t vouch for the quality, but I’m hoping that practice will make … better, at least. And if it doesn’t, then I’ll just have to run another bath.