Book Review

Barbarian Days- William Finnegan

I’m currently reading this. It’s a surfing memoir written by a 63 year old guy- a lifelong surfer. When I bought it, for my kindle, I was vaguely hoping for ‘What it’s like to be cool: from the horse’s mouth’. The author isn’t the outlaw I expected though. He’s a deeply reflective chap- a journalist for the New Yorker magazine of thirty years standing. I hadn’t bothered to look him up or even read a review of the book before purchasing, so sold was I on the title and premise. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. There’s highlight-worthy lyricism and insight on his full-to-bursting, counter-culture skirting life every other page. It’s great.

 

The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli

A famous 16th century how-to, in short chapters, concerning holding onto power/influence once you have it. The main thrust: Where certain group dynamics are involved, life is such that you have to think and act like a bit of a bastard if you want to live constructively- it’s not possible to avoid it. When faced with social grappling I tend to just disengage and get by on a feeling of martyrdom instead. Above it. But I’ve had valuable things snatched from my grasp a number of times following that strategy. Perhaps I need to go over to the dark side and become a calculating kicker of asses. ‘Old Nick’, for the Devil, supposedly comes from ‘Niccolo’. I once saw a guy bench-pressing with this book opened face down next to him- man on a mission, clearly. I was meaning to read it since.

 

Submission- Michel Houellebecq

I’ve enjoyed this guy’s previous novels. He does modern-life disillusionment with hair-raising power- he really means it. So I was disappointed to realise this one wasn’t really working for me. It’s set in a 2017 where France is in the process of being remodeled around Islamic values, after the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has come to power democratically. It’s a higher-flown setting than in all his other novels- academics and politicians at the Sorbonne- where the permanently drunk yet revered narrator, Houellebecq, is a lecturer. I suppose that aspect pissed me off- those are perspectives I don’t share much with and probably resent a bit. And he compounds it by taking long chunks of each chapter to talk about the work of some obscure French writer, Huysmans, that seems unrelated to the other goings-on in the novel. Perhaps the point his was making with that went over my head, but it felt to me like he was playing a joke on the reader. He speaks eloquently through other characters’ voices, as the sozzled narrator listens on, about what will be the shape of the new Islam-centric society: Patriarchal family units as a force of social control and six wives for anyone with heft, like the narrator and his colleagues. You get the impression Houellebecq is pretty down with much of that, but it would be nice if the whole thing wasn’t such a frustrating guessing game.

Advertisements

Big Bad Demon Bitch Dream

I was in France it seemed, making my way along a city block on foot. It was a faded, local part of the center, where crummy real lives were being lived up above my head. There was traffic passing and cars parked along the roadside, but no-one to be seen on foot at that moment. I had stopped to have a gawk at the only shop-front in the vicinity: A old green awning extending a little crookedly out over the pavement. There were a couple of foldaway tables set up beneath it, bearing nothing at all. The place looked like it had been cleaned out of goods. Even so their door was ajar- business welcome. Further down from this was a tiled entranceway into the block, presumably leading to a stairwell area. I was nervous about something so I ducked into the entranceway for a second.

Then suddenly it was bucketing rain and I had made the decision to go for a drive around the city-center. On a whim I turned down into an underground car park. I took a 360 degree spin round the mini-roundabout down there. This caused the attendant in his glowing booth to stand up and gesture for me to continue on to the next level down. I took the circling ramp down as directed and came off at the bottom into a claustrophobic little area- a cave of sorts- smooth concrete and lit up like a car- park, but too small to be useful for car parking, and tapering off into irregularity and shadow at the end furthest from me. I could have just continued my circling trajectory and aimed the car immediately back up the up-ramp. It was unusually steep however. Also my attention had been caught by something -there was a woman down there in the shadowy, tapering bit, standing facing away from me. I was intrigued so I stopped the car and shut off the engine, bringing total quiet and stillness to this subterranean space. You could have heard a pin drop. The woman was up to something- fixing herself in some way, facing the wall. She was tall and sturdy and blonde. She looked ungraceful: her long hair was frizzy and she was wearing drooping stonewashed jeans with heels. I could tell she was large-chested, even from behind.

As an excuse for remaining there I had begun smoking a cigarette with the window down. The smoke hung thickly in the air around the exterior of the car. Once the cigarette was done I needed a new excuse. There was a sink on the wall near to me, a simple public-toilet style mirror screwed into the concrete above it. I stepped out of the car and went over to wash my hands. When I looked up from my hands the woman was there in the mirror behind me, very close-up, horror-movie style. It gave me a shock. But then she began studying her chest in the reflection, with just that area filling the whole mirror somehow. She was tugging at and rearranging her bra under her thin pullover. This was a little arousing- it was a pretty intimate situation. I rotated on the spot a bit and with a knowing half-smile extended my hand out towards the fixtures, offering to make way for her. Then I straightened up and looked directly at her. She stared right back at me. There was something off about her- she was beastly in some way- her skin was caked in stuff and perhaps her eyebrows weren’t all there. She continued to look at me blankly, and I became very afraid of her. She turned herself then, tottering back to her original spot. Now I saw that her back was slit open in a few places and simply creasing apart like card, revealing that there was nothing within. She was making a show of this to me. She continued over to her spot by the back wall to begin doing again whatever it was she had been doing before. Shitting myself somewhat, I walked all casual towards my car, which was now parked on the very steep up-ramp. I got in and locked it, panicking, trying to get the key in the ignition. There was a thumping on the back window just then. I didn’t dare look round, but I craned round a little to see if she was still over by the back wall. She wasn’t. Just a moment later, while I was still panicking to get the car started, I felt a pair of arms reaching low from behind the driver’s seat and encircling my waist, which was when I woke up with a fright!

Edit, like about 2 years later: This is shite. The dream was a cool neat little package, but the writing is awful. Even I can’t visualise anything from this, and I’m the one had the dream. It’s all stiff and laboured as hell. I was so excited too when I first produced it. Jesus. Lesson: I’m not good at writing descriptively. In fact I’m bad at it. That’s demoralising. It’s fairly clear you either have it or you don’t. It’s not something you can learn. You either have soul or you don’t. Fuck. Some of my other opinion and criticism-type posts are still quite entertaining though, even reading back two years later. So, yeah. Fine.

Dante’s Peak

The movie Dante’s Peak has been on TV a lot lately. For reasons I don’t understand, I simply cannot get enough of it. I find it hard to tear myself away any time it’s on. It’s strange, because I can’t stomach even five minutes of other disaster movies from that era, like Deep Impact or Armageddon. Everything Pierce Brosnan does in Dante’s Peak is him embodying a particular conception of perfect masculinity and maturity. I liked the idea of trying to subvert that fantasy, using a sequence of events from the first half of the movie. I’ve done it in pairs of paragraphs, with the Dante’s Peak version first, then my version:

Brosnan’s instincts are spot on- the volcano is going to blow; everyone else is wrong.

Brosnan hasn’t been known for having good instincts, and the on the job training he’s received has gone to his head in embarrassing and unforeseen ways. His shallow understanding of volcanos and his arrogance are a big problem in this delicate situation. He’s been fixated on a paper he read which documented a similar previous case where the volcano did erupt. He took the best part of a weekend day over reading and understanding the paper and now he can’t hear anything that contradicts it or provides counter-evidence.

…….

He is dismissed from the project by the team leader, who instructs him that he ‘needs a vacation’. The team leader is a more conventional mind, unable to fathom Brosnan’s heightened sensitivity, mistaking it for erratic behaviour.

He is dismissed from the project by the team leader, who instructs him that he ‘needs a vacation’. The team leader is finally taking the action necessary to prevent this puffed-up idiot wasting any more of the team’s time.

…….

The team enter a bustling, cozily lit establishment that evening for a drink. They see Brosnan sitting alone at the bar, contemplative, a bottle of beer in front of him. The old barman turns obediently as Brosnan calls for the ‘same again’. The team leader takes a stool at the bar next to Brosnan and attempts to explain himself, talking about the muddy politics of putting a town on alert, the economic fallout that could result, the feathers that could be ruffled. Brosnan listens patiently, lets him finish, and after a pause looks him square in the eye and says ‘Ok’, before shooting a peanut into his mouth- using his closed fist like a cannon in an interesting and decisive gesture of impatience that concludes the scene.

After being suspended Brosnan buys some booze and heads directly back to his motel room. He cracks open the wine he got and as his laptop boots up he gets half a glass in him, while huffing a cigarette too quickly over by the window. He’s jumping out of his skin at the offense of it all. He’s going to email the team leader and tell him what’s up. The bastard got the best of him in the face to face encounter, he’s no good on the spot. Some time later he’s done. The finished email is good, he’s pleased, even if he did interrupt the writing of it for a wank. He fires it off, tops up his glass and heads over to the window to rake another fag, this one well deserved. His motel is situated in the center of the small town and the sounds of Friday night revelry are filtering in through the window. With the wine nearly gone he makes the sudden decision to head out, emboldened by the booze. At the bar he buys his drink and makes a beeline for a shadowy spot off to the side, by a column. By the time the team walks in several pints later he’s graduated to a chair at the bar and is testing the young bar guy’s patience with his attention-seeking chatter. The team leader somewhat reluctantly invites Brosnan to join the team at their table for a drink. The team are uncomfortable with Brosnan’s brash drunkenness and take the opportunity to leave when he goes to the toilet.

Viva Forever

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”

I can’t recall ever having a pleasant dream. My dreams are always fraught these days. I would guess the reason for this is the fact that I’m missing important shit from my life, like fulfilling work, love and sex. Any one of those sorted and I’d probably sleep well again. The hour before my alarm goes off is the worst for demented dreaming. This morning it was a woman and me exchanging videos of her having sex. Only she was visible in the videos, looming over a low angle camera pointing upwards. I’d send her one and say ‘you’, then she’d send me one back saying ‘me’. But overshadowing it all was this terrible feeling that she was in fact a transexual man. (I’ve had transexuality on the brain lately. I think it’s having a moment) Then the alarm on my phone kicked in. It couldn’t tune radio 4 this morning so it went to its second option, some European pop station I had decided on at random, to broaden my horizons. Viva Forever by the Spice Girls was playing. What a tune, with sporty spice echoing back each line of the chorus in her silly Liverpool accent. I lay there listening, in that adrenaline pumping yet physically exhausted state of discomfort that I’m always waking to lately.

Rested and ready for the day

Rested and ready for the day

 

 

 

Sweating the Small Stuff

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “State of Your Year.”

My major challenge of the last six months was furnishing the flat I moved into, to which end I used the savings I had from a very fortunate purchase and sale of bitcoin in 2013. I dreaded the task and thought about hiring an interior decorator. Decorating and even dressing and stuff is always more about self-assertion than self-expression with me. Trying to position myself a certain way to outside eyes over an entire flat was not a fun prospect. Plus the interior decorator, namely a cool girl, would charge just 15% of the price of the stuff to make all the choices for me.

I couldn’t bring myself to hire one in the end though. I thought I couldn’t live with myself if I ducked that responsibility. It’s a rite of passage, doing up your first home. I saw it in an ad for Mastercard once- the young woman covering a crack in her wall with her new mirror from the fleamarket, then dancing around her new living room in joy. Priceless. What kind of monster would I be to hide in the gloom while some girl comes in and does these things for me? I’d be barely human. And then to live in an environment someone else has created. It would have been a capitulation. On top of that, one of the first things I found was a nice lamp which I liked with instinctive certainty. That encouraged me to keep going with the rest.

But as it turns out the lamp was nearly a one-off (a two-off- I like the table I bought too). Everything else was a complete ordeal of endless second-guessing and I’m only lukewarm about the result. Being able to create a pleasant home for myself would be good but I’ve found out that for me it’s more worry than it’s worth. If I ever had to do this again I would give the 15% to a decorator. It wouldn’t be giving in to weakness, it would be the smart move.

A Trip Away to My Happy Place

Fight or Flight

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

What has sprung to mind is the time towards the end of my accounting course when I returned home from an exam feeling that I had failed it. It was a situation where failure was not an option. As well as needing to pass in order to get employed and not have wasted a year, things were arranged so that my sense of self-worth was riding on success. I badly needed to prove to myself that I could do what other people do and that me having made very little progress in life was not due to laziness. So when I felt I hadn’t managed, and that I was where I was indeed because I was a dumbass or lazy or a lazy dumbass it drove me into a panic. It was a mild panic attack, after driving home, where I became extremely agitated and a little disoriented. I was desperately grasping for comfort of some sort and it was kind of interesting to me what I had to turn to. In terms of the immediate thing that I needed TV wasn’t any kind of prospect. Neither was eating or even drinking. It was Peter Biskind’s book ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’ about the ‘New Hollywood’ of the 1970s, which I’d read before obviously and had a copy of sitting there. Tales of De Niro, Scorsese and company discussing the Taxi Driver script in an eaterie off the main boulevard in Cannes 1973, bumping in to a stoned Nicholson and Angelica Houston on their exit! Scorsese had been wearing the same white suit for weeks don’t you know. Friedkin wasn’t well liked, and The Exorcist was a distant memory at this stage etc etc. I just opened the book randomly and this kind of stuff had an opiate like effect, calming me down immediately. It was exactly what I needed. I ‘went to my happy place’ in a big way and emerged about an hour an a half later right as rain.

Ice Cream Challenge

A daily post prompt: A local ice cream parlor invites you to create a new wacky flavor. It needs to channel the very essence of your personality. What’s in it?

My goal is tasteful unremarkableness these days. That’s the ideal. It’s a strategy rather than the essence of my personality, I reckon. There’s an urge in me to defy. I tried to make fashion statements at university. Not a feather boa exactly, but things like oddly patterned cardigans and black boots instead of trainers. It was a strenuous, joyless effort to look cool in an alternative kind of way. But there was no ease, so no cool. I should have and still should take Henry Rollins’ example and just own being awkward, gauche, a bit of a clenched psycho. Doing that would be a major lifestyle choice though, it looks like. I think I’ll just continue to lack integrity but at least know my place while I’m at it. So anyway I was a lonely reject for a lot of university and deservedly so. Now I avoid like the plague being arch in any way, which is good. I feel like I was doing the wrong thing then and now I’m doing the right thing, despite the bad rap ‘conformity’ gets.

I do like some element of fun, once I’m sure I’m doing things as they should be done on the whole. In my flat that would be my beloved boldly coloured bedsheets- purple with black pillows and black with green pillows. Then on my person it’s my purple t-shirt which I wear going out sometimes with my inoffensive grey hoodie and jeans.

So in terms of the ice-cream flavour, there’d have to be vanilla. Then a scoop of garlic seems right, looking at a list of ice-cream flavours on wikipedia. And raspberry ripple. I’m happy enough with that.