This is how it reads

“To the finder of this present,

This is for you. Please open it and listen to it, or pass it along to someone else who might enjoy it. This valentine’s day I have no one to make mix CDs for, so I have decided to make them for strangers.

This is for you – whether you have someone or not. This is for hand holding and for solitude, for bad breaks and first dates.”

And the picture of the first CD. Also this is the first thing I’ve done which has ever gone viral.

A flash fiction

His intentions are warm, his intentions are good. His hands are blue white in the cold air. His breath a plume. He walks with a slight sway, the guitar case pulling down his right arm. An old sofa coming apart in a musty attic, a lost pair of shoes. We always fail to make good impressions, we always hurt those we love. A place only slightly worse than heaven. A whisky bottle and a faded polaroid. A frayed corduroy jacket. A ticket to see a band. Nothing worse than another dried up angsty poet or frustrated musician, down on his luck but with a beautiful heart. It’s such a cliché and as worn out as the paint in the damp flat he undoubtedly lives in. The words carry you down like a coracle in a river, twisting and floating out to sea.

A lighthouse on a northern coast. The arc of water against the rocks. The tang of salt. A stiffness in the wind. Forgotten places. Dead coastlines. The Aurora Borealis flickering above windswept gulls. A fake star shining in the darkness, bringing the ships in.

And he walks, guitar case thudding against his thighs as he walks along the coastal road.

Write your life as though it were fiction pt 3

(because I’m getting all too good at removing myself from myself)

He went home again. His parents had worried him recently with their slip towards dependency. His father no longer walked with stick, but he began to realise that his parents had other crutches and more subtle dependencies. Barely an hour could pass without some seemingly mundane request for help. He found it wearying, and yet they were his parents.

Whilst he was home he thought about his flat in the big city. Silently it waited for him. He thought about the emptiness of it. No one waited for him back there. In a funny way it made him glad to be wanted, but he felt sick at the thought of having to meet someone else’s needs. Some sort of malaise hovered at the edge of his thoughts. A choice between facilitating dependency or tending towards loneliness.

Twice in the last twelve months, dear friends had moved away to other countries and now another was going. He wondered about this diaspora. How tenuous friendships could be when conducted through wires and pixels. He wondered at the complexity of it all.

He returned to his flat in the city. Bought milk from the corner store, listened to the whispering cadence of the fridge in the kitchen, observed the moon through the skylights. He wondered about where he might end up and what might constitute home for him. The buzz of the computer fan offered up no answer.

Untitled Poem

The maudlin drunk lagrange point /
slip-slide out of sight /
aching souls in Northern Pub half-twilight /
golden liquor newly coined /
from brass taps and full casks /
pulled by dead eyed bar staff /
and sad songs from jukebox born /
with cigarette burns on the chairs of the lovelorn /
the maudlin drunk lagrange point /
heading towards some sort of light /

Write your life as though it were fiction (pt2)

Our daring protagonist made it through his thirtieth birthday unscathed except for that continual nagging sensation, somewhere deep in his cranium. That sensation one would get if one had forgotten whether the hob had been turned off, or a candle had been left burning. That sensation had characterized his stream of consciousness for too long.

He imagined the content of his days as Tetris blocks falling from the sky, a straight piece of eight hours in the office. The awkward S shaped blocks that might be his social life, crammed into unoccupied spaces or abridging difficult relationships. A T shaped block might be a productive period at the end of the day, or it might signify four hours of computer games when he had vowed to catch up on his reading. The blocks kept plummeting down relentlessly and only occasionally did he manage to fill up enough gaps for a horizontal line.

His dad got better, or at least discharged from hospital. He took the train home to see him. It was strange and disconcerting seeing his dad walking with a stick, moving from room to room as though looking for something he might have lost. His father’s dozing in front of the TV seemed to happen that little bit more frequently these days and his father’s speech was that little bit quieter and that little bit softer. The doctors were still baffled by whatever had caused the collapse.

Whilst he was home he walked to the next village, to the pub there. The moon was fat and white over the wheat fields, like an old woman’s face. The wheat stalks swayed in the evening air. Somewhere in a back lane a dog barked. The sound carried far in the stillness. He felt he could get his head together here, away from the city. The continual drum of traffic had been getting to him. Here there was only a Zen garden of calm. He could cope with that.

Write your life as though it were fiction

He had been having difficulty parsing recent events. They refused to collaborate with him, hanging apart like ill formed flatpack furniture. Like cupboard doors missing hinges. He thought hard about it. It seemed to him to be a form of cognitive indigestion.

He traced back through things. His father had collapsed in the laboratory, breaking his nose on the lab bench on the way down. He called our protagonist from the hospital, telling him not to worry. Of course the doctors didn’t have any real idea what had caused the collapse and so our protagonist did worry. The worry rattled around in his mind, like a peanut in a coke can. That’s the sound the worry made inside his mind. A metallic *plink*

Another thread he tried to trace: His employer had short changed him on some work, cutting pay for no real reason. He worried about his friend moving to Montreal. “Montreal is very far away”, thought our protagonist to himself, “and on this low wage, low prestige job it is going to be very hard to visit my friend” – This was the second friend in twelve months who had moved abroad. Everyone seemed to be moving to other countries all of a sudden. He thought of ocean liners and of stowing away under piles of sun-dried rope whilst the ship rocked from side to side. He thought of icebergs in the Atlantic, bobbing up and down with deeper roots than you can imagine.

The other thing was that he could no longer deny that he was getting older. His thirtieth birthday loomed. Thirty orbits of the sun. Orbits that heralded receding hair and growing paunch. The untold aeons of the world and his life just a blink in the eye of the planet. He used to wish for some epiphany, some moment of ultimate sense or of total awareness. These days he suspects that he may have cauterized his sense of wonder in order to minimise any pain that might come his way. He suspects that this cauterization has rendered him immune to epiphanies.

Of course this is all just a story.

Also this song is worth a listen
Building Better Bridges

At the cutting edge of post-modernism

I am, by and large, in favour of post-modernism. I think the ability to critique western cultural values from within is a good thing.

And then we have this:

“We see the emerging opportunity to ‘snackify’ beverages and ‘drinkify’ snacks as the next frontier in food and beverage convenience,”

– The above is a quote from Pepsi Co’s latest press release.

This, dear friends, is the cutting edge of post-modernism. Leaving aside the appalling mangling of the English language (again, I have the view that linguistic shifts are also, generally, good things). Here we have market research, as it would be, if it were conducted by Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. What does a ‘drinkified’ snack actually look like? Probably some amorphous fructose jelly that perfectly embodies Jean-François Lyotard’s conception of the rejection of the hegemony of epistemology.

I’m going to drink a beef smoothie and then go to bed. Happy 2011. This is what the future looks like.

It’s Haiku time!

teeth of winter /
fingers on a window pane /
scarf on a coat stand

ice halting rivers /
the call of birds heading south /
naked tree branches

gulls on a pierhead /
driftwood on the tide /
the long sea

Iron rails scar /
hillsides and valleys /
etched in pure white

Ghosts of trees /
unyielding in the wind /
ravens in a field

Crowdsourcing for Fun and Profit

Hello dear readers,

I apologise for my long absence from the realm of Blogdom. I am currently trying to leverage the power of social media to find myself a new job. Maybe you could help me crowdsource one by pointing a link in the direction of this blog?

I am looking for some sort of work, ideally in the North Of England (but I am open to moving). Preferably in a role that will let me leverage my IT skills and bibliophilic tendencies. Some sort of web content creation or new publishing type of thing would be ideal.

Failing that I can cope with the existential mundaneness of another generic office job.

If you know of anyone that can help please let me know.

Sorry I generally try and keep things whimsical around here but The Big Society doesn’t seem big enough to accommodate my future employment right now (I would include an angry political rant but much has already been said on that by people far more eloquent than I).

Thanks for reading

Sore thumbs – a column about videogames

[For context the below was written as part of McSweeney’s column contest. It failed and so I present it here for your enjoyment instead]

My first experience with a computer set my life on a new trajectory, almost Damascene in its nature. Somewhere in the 8-bit sprites, the high keening wail of the tape deck, the reassuring click of micro-switches in the joystick, something numinous was lodging in my psyche: There are other worlds in there. It was November and my father had brought home a ZX Spectrum for my brother’s birthday. This slab of grey plastic would become the altar upon which I sacrificed countless hours and slew mono-paletted abominations.

I could be wrong but I think the first game we had was called Oh Mummy – it came on a cassette tape. It took about ten minutes to load. It was – in hindsight – awful. At age six, I had no objective criteria to judge the relative merits of a medium I had no experience with (take note, Roger Ebert). I thought it was brilliant. In essence it was a clone of Pac-Man. The player was trapped in a maze with the titular Egyptian mummy and had to excavate the sand around various tombs to get their contents, without touching the mummy. People this days complain about the likes of GTA promoting violence, but the essential message of Oh Mummy (some 20 years previously) was: “Hey kids, meddling in other countries, desecrating their holy sites and stealing their valuables is cool”.

Oh Mummy was my gateway drug. On sunny days I could be found crouched over wireframe models of the Death Star or roaming through pixellated forests. At one point in my early teens my mum started checking my arms for track marks because she was concerned about my antisocial behaviour and my permanently drawn bedroom curtains. She didn’t buy my explanation that it was to reduce the glare on the monitor screen.

That’s not to say that I never played outside. I kicked a ball around in the park the same as anyone else. But away from the phosphorescent world of binary, truth be told I was a bit geeky. Too tall to be comfortable with my body. Interested more in science than in sport. The computer provided me the opportunity to be a hero. It’s not really suprising that the biggest selling videogames of all time have been power fantasies. Who wants to play a game where you have to go to work or school everyday? (As an aside please play
It’s an art game where you do precisely that).

I can’t speak for all gamers however. The lonely nerd stereotype is precisely that. I’ve met girl gamers and boy gamers and dad gamers and gamers who happened to be grandmothers and gamers who happened to be disabled or poor or all of the above. One thing that I think does unite us, is that videogames allow us for a brief while, to escape from the mundane and quotidian. To consider reality from another perspective, whether that be defying the laws of physics (for example Sonic and Mario), considering our own humanity (Deus Ex) or toying with other lives and ways of living (The Sims, Black and White and countless others).

Somewhere in that stark pixelly world is the version of ourselves that we’d rather be. I think videogames are morality engines. Teaching ourselves right from wrong. Sometimes I think that anyway. Sometimes I just think that they’re damn good fun.

Human beings are built to play. Leaving aside teleological questions about the nature of human life, play is the one thing that no adult ever has to teach a child. It comes as naturally as toenails or freckles. If you know any young children, then maybe you could borrow one for a brief period? Leave them in a room full of lego bricks or toy cars or Barbie dolls. What happens? Well assuming that the child establishes swiftly that the aforementioned toys are not in fact food (baby’s first ontology, if you will) you should witness some play. Some of that imagination. Children become miniature shamans when equipped with toys. They infuse them with life and power. There is something totemic about Barbie or lego, a force that whispers “This is not all there is. Other worlds are possible”.

It is that abundant optimism that gamers experience when stepping into the World of Warcraft or walking through the forests of Hyrule. Of all the ills that have been laid at the feet of the games industry (the Columbine high school massacre for example), very little in the mainstream media has ever addressed the positives that gaming can bring. The disabled can experience what it is like to walk again. The weak can be strong. It is fundamentally escapism we are talking about, but escaping to a platonic ideal. And when we come back to reality, and the luminous haze of our artificial worlds are stilled, we are different. The heroism and self-sacrifice of Halo, the urge to explore every nook and cranny of Super Mario World, the sheer persistence required to complete a game of Final Fantasy. These are the positive virtues that we gamers bring in to the real world too. I am all too fond of announcing “I levelled up”, every time I learn something new. I think videogames are there to remind us of those virtues, to hold our hands and show us what is ultimately real.