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On Uncertainty

It’s been nearly a year since I posted anything. That’s probably Indicative of Something, whether it’s the distractions inherent to a relationship, the stress of working temporary jobs and looking for something permanent, the addictive and photocentric nature of Tumblr and any number of other things.

I live in London now. It hurt to say goodbye to Brighton, although it was probably time. It was a strange feeling, leaving my new flatmates behind, like moving out of my parents’ house for the first time and going off to uni. Relinquishing my comfortable and familiar home for a strange new place. It’s not so bad. I have a cosy house and a little garden to look after, and it is admittedly nice not to be woken up at 3am by seagulls.

It seems my life since I came back has been a constant tug between the desire for stability and a comfortable little sanctuary and the awareness that there is always something threatening it. The alienation of wage labour, capitalist consumerism, racist and classist immigration laws, burgeoning fascism and the question of what, if anything, I can do about these things. When I’m not railing against these problems I’m wondering how on earth I’m going to resolve them in a way that doesn’t sacrifice my integrity or lead to exile.

I’m afraid. I’m afraid there is no workable compromise between preserving my mental health and fighting for what I believe in. I’m afraid of returning to a country that takes two steps back for every step forward. I’m afraid that this country is irreversibly trudging towards fascist dystopia. I’m afraid that everything I’ve built, everything I’ve fought for over the last three years will be for nothing. I don’t know what to do. All I know is that my urge to escape, physically and mentally, will not save me from it. I wish I knew what would.

11.22.63

Someone gave this book to me, so despite the sluggish pace and boomeriffic orgasming over The Good Old Days, I wanted to finish it. But I cannot. I cannot, because I did the smart thing and read the Wikipedia entry. My rationale was that, if I knew the ending wasn’t completely idiotic, I would be able to continue reading in good faith. In fairness, the post-time-travel post-apocalyptic ruin part of it did sound pretty good.

Unfortunately, this book is fucking stupid. Not just predictable and hackneyed, but just plain stupid. This is the sort of book that would have made a much better Hollywood film. The embarrassing nostalgia, the passing shallow acknowledgment that actually the 50s weren’t so great for a lot of people, and the painstaking attention to How Much Research I Did would have suited it. At least if I had watched a film like this, I would only have two hours of my life that I’d never get back instead of about 12.

It’s bad enough that King treats us to repeated scenes of the hero and his old-timey girlfriend in bed, complete with coy nudge-wink euphemisms for sex. It’s bad enough that the paint-by-numbers Crazy Ex-Husband subplot could have come straight from a Lifetime TV movie. It’s bad enough that the book manages to perform the impressive liberal contortion of decrying racism while at the same time failing to actually include any minorities as even ancillary characters. I’m not even going to get into the issue that not one but TWO female characters are disfigured and the point is made that it would be really great if they could get their faces fixed (because that’s what’s important: making them pretty again).

But what really fucks me off, what has actually enraged me to the point of writing about it, is the fact that the stupid bastard broke one of the most important rules of writing, which is this:

START THE STORY WHEN THE ACTION STARTS. NOT A MOMENT BEFORE.

We know the time travel tropes. Killing Hitler, stopping the Kennedy assassination, we know all the cliched events that people would go back in time to stop. And we know also the cliche that, as sure as you go back to the past to change something or help someone, you will find that somehow something equally bad has happened. Despite this, despite actually seeing the process in action the first time he went back in time via the magical diner, King’s intrepid protagonist gamely ventures back to 1958 so that five years later he can save JFK’s life. Because that will fix everything. No, really.

And it feels like five fucking years. We watch the protagonist create a new life for himself thanks to convenient fake IDs. We watch him move to Smalltown USA, become attached and start a relationship, all the while keeping a beady eye on Mr Oswald. Did he act alone? Was it a conspiracy? At this point, I don’t even fucking care, which is why I went to Wikipedia to find out if our hero succeeds. SPOILER: he does.

CAN YOU GUESS WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

If you said ‘nuclear war,’ congratulations, you too could write a Stephen King book. And congratulations to Mr King, since this is the only part of the plot summary that didn’t sound like shitty Mad Men self-insert fanfiction. Turns out, if JFK had lived, George Wallace would have become president and incited nuclear war. Or something.

Once again the profoundly stupid hero learns that you should not fuck with the past, and apparently at the end there is a sappy reunion between him and his would-have-been girlfriend and oh my god are you fucking kidding me. Did someone kill Stephen King and replace him with Mitch Albom?

I can count on one hand all the books I’ve never finished. Well, now it’s probably two hands. I am not going to finish this book. And not because I find the baby boomer wish fulfillment sad and empty. Not because the gender and race politics are dodgy (I have read pretty much all his other books, so that is not unexpected). Not because it’s a lame idea that’s badly executed, and not because the book is one lengthy cliche. Because more so than any of these things or all of them put together, this book is just fucking dull. It is the literary equivalent of that guy at the party who’s not especially offensive, just a self-indulgent knob, so when he sidles over to tell you about his family history project (or his novel), you pretend you have to use the toilet and then go talk to someone outside.

I’ve been made redundant. It wasn’t really a great surprise. Business was bad and not getting any better. We were not meant to be– you were a stressful, extremely detailed and socially-orientated job that required a great deal of mental exertion simply to get through the day, and I am an introverted, slightly warped nutcase. Given how unhappy I was in the job it’s not a tragedy, but it is rather inconvenient. Still, I’ve left a good working relationship behind, which is important considering how difficult it’ll be to find another job. Finding another job in publishing? Forget it.

My fairly chipper outlook on the situation has faltered a little now that my week of ‘holiday’ has passed and I’ve actually begun the soul-destroying process of updating the CV, looking for jobs, tweaking the CV, applying for jobs, contacting temp agencies, and wondering if I am ever going to find work again. The initial feeling of freedom has given way to stark reality: freelance work is hard to find, and without any contacts will probably be impossible. I have no qualification beyond my degrees and my skill with words, and let’s be honest: loads of people think they are write good. The last job was proof of that.

Again, as when I came back from my period of exile, I must face the possibility of leaving Brighton (over my dead body). I alternate between reminding myself that I found a pretty good gig during the worst time of year to look for work and thinking I will never find another job, oh god, will end up destitute on the street with a sign saying ‘WILL EDIT FOR FOOD.’ To be sure, the job listings in this area are scarce, unless I consider unpaid work a job (I don’t). I will stop myself going on a rant, but suffice to say if you won’t pay someone at least minimum wage to do work for you, I don’t think you deserve their labour. End of.

Anyway, one of the toughest things about being unemployed is finding a way to structure my days. A 9 to 5 gig may monopolise your time and make it difficult to do anything at the end of a day, but it does get you out of bed in the morning. What I need is a reason to get up. Something to be excited about. I’ve been thinking about what it would take to start my own publishing cooperative. I’m trying to think of this blank space as an opportunity to do something different. If only I knew what.

On Protest

I went to a protest today, the first one in a long time. Predictably, Trots showed up with their meaningless, banal chants and their newspapers and their megaphones. Equally predictably, they proceeded to babble incoherently about how shit it is that people are being forced to work for free or lose their benefits. Somehow the actual issue got lost in a mess of rambling and stammering. The cops, apparently bored beyond belief, decided that my friends had to censor the word ‘fucking’ on their banner as people might be ‘distressed’ by it. I wish I was making that up. Unpaid labour = okay. ‘The F word’ = alarming. This is the society we live in.

I’ve been considering my hiatus from politics for a while now, weighing up my anger about the government forcing people who are dying of cancer to find jobs against my experiences with political involvement in the past. On the one hand, I feel guilty for not doing anything– despite the fact that I’ve only just got my life in order after a year of misery. On the other hand, I’ve been there. I’ve seen what these half-hearted protests achieve, and unfortunately it isn’t much. I think if nothing else we made a few more people aware of what’s happening, but I wonder how many other people just felt alienated.

One of many things that struck me this afternoon was when one nutter in particular was babbling into his megaphone about ‘the idiots who shop at Tesco.’ Everyone seemed equally embarrassed and annoyed by him, but no one actually asked him to shut the hell up and stop making us all look stupid. Well, I did, because that’s just the sort of person I am. And it’s part of the reason I had to get out of politics. Because not every Trot shuts his piehole when you ask him to.

There are other things too, like the absurd waffling the left does when it comes to organisations like the NUS and the Labour Party. Neither of these groups has our best interests in mind, and they make that clear on a regular basis. Yet Trots persist in seeking their validation and their approval, because at the end of the day Trots don’t seem to be able to conceive of a movement that doesn’t rely on existing (oppressive, capitalist) power structures to succeed. Trots may hate their parents, but they still need a ride to the school dance. The moment they can justify it to themselves, they cosy back up with the same people they were vilifying a few months before. They don’t seem to realise how silly and hypocritical it makes them look.

If you criticise the (patently ineffectual) practices of Trots and their parties, you’re being ‘sectarian’ and not trying to ‘build a movement.’ That is to say, you’re not playing ball, so they want you off the pitch. To torture this metaphor a little further, the Trots are Charlie Brown and organisations like the NUS are Lucy. No matter how many times Lucy pulls the football away and lets Charlie fall on his ass, he still runs at it and tries to kick it. When will he learn?

I guess my point here, if I have one, is that I’m not convinced. I know capitalism is crap, and I think it needs to be demolished. I think it’s obscene that anyone is ever expected to work for free. I think our society is seriously sick (but not for the same reasons the Daily Mail does). But what are we supposed to do about it? Join another march? Sell a newspaper for some party that is more or less just another group of people who want to exploit my time and labour? Go to interminable meetings? I want to do something that makes a difference. I wish I knew what that was.

One Thing At a Time

I’ve started a new job. It’s difficult. Now that I’m into my second week, I’ve reached the point where think I know what I’m doing, only to find that I’ve fucked something up– sometimes something really important. This is doing wonders for my anxiety disorder, but I am trying my best not to let it drive me insane. I can’t, really. I need this job, I need to do well at it, and what I really need is to focus.

My boss said to me the other day, “I know you’re a bright girl, so you’re not used to getting things wrong.” I didn’t have a response to that. She’s right, of course. This is the first job I’ve ever had that really challenged me, and I’m kind of terrified that I won’t be up to the task. I want to do everything right. I don’t want to make mistakes. The problem is that I’m so fixated on not making mistakes that I, predictably, make mistakes. I need to focus on doing the particular task at hand right.

This is partly an issue of attention span. The internet has destroyed my ability to focus. In the midst of writing this I’ve jumped to other tabs and other programs at least a dozen times. Words make connections in my mind, so I leap to the next thought without finishing the first one. My system of thinking is not linear; it’s a web. This is all well and good, but it presents problems when I follow a thread somewhere instead of anchoring it where it needs to go.

So. Focus. This applies to my work (as opposed to my job) as well. I know I’m capable of doing this; the problem is that I get sidetracked with new ideas and possibilities and oh look a butterfly so that I lose the actual thread of what I was doing. This creates confusion. This confusion is a smokescreen for what’s really going on under the surface of my thoughts, and that is this: I don’t wanna do this it’s haaaaaard.

My habit of allowing myself to be distracted, of demanding that I get everything right the first time, in the end comes down to my own laziness and my own desire to be right. I was a really smart kid. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know and didn’t learn until much later is that being smart isn’t enough. In school I learned to rest on my laurels. I took the easy way out. I saw that being smart gave me the opportunity to do less work, and being lazy, I took it. I’ve spent the last ten or so years of my life paying the price.

But the time has come, the Walrus said. I’ve had enough of being a slacker. I’m thirty years old and have just now got my first proper job. I’m deeply in debt, and as of writing this, I’m still a hobo. I haven’t published a novel. I don’t even have an agent. I’ve got to sort myself out.

I have to focus, and part of this focus involves precisely what the title of this post describes. Instead of letting my mind flutter all over the place, I need to figure out what’s important and fucking let everything else go. One thing at a time. One task at a time, done correctly, equals everything done. This goes as much for my work as for my day job.

I’m proud to say that for the last four paragraphs, I did not open another tab or look at another program. I did not allow myself to be distracted. I resisted the little imp that’s tired of focusing and doesn’t want to think too hard, and as a result, I might have said something coherent.

One thing at a time.

 

Postscript: I’ve just seen a tag in my cloud called ‘talent envy.’ What I think I still fail to take into account very often is that what we mistake for talent is actually that habit called hard work.

new year

Writing about the New Year is a cliché I guess, but I don’t give a fuck. This year is important to me, because my personal crisis more or less began with last December. One year, seven months in exile, god knows how much money, a lot of misery, anxiety, rage, and isolation. I never used to understand why exile was such a horrible punishment. So you have to leave. What’s the problem? I don’t wonder about that anymore.

People kept asking me, what’s so special about that place? Why do you want to go back? Is it so much better than here? It was hard to explain that my attachment to this place isn’t about a list of pros and cons. It’s about my experiences here and the people I know. It’s about the fact that everywhere I go in Brighton, I remember a friend used to live there or that I went to a party there. It’s about the fact that right after I got off the train when I came back to Brighton, I ran into someone I know. It’s about the sea and the stuff that I find washed up from it. It’s about fireworks the night after I came back, the shops that change, and the fact that there’s a big fucking ferris wheel on the beach now, which somehow seems appropriate. It’s about finally feeling that a place is home.

There are things I want to write about America, funny things and sad things and weird things. The place where I grew up is surreal. Brown fields and boarded-up shops and drive-thru nativities. It’s a foreign country to me. This is home, and I hope I never have to leave again.

I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions anyway, but even if I did, I wouldn’t feel the need to this year. I’m back on track. All things considered, I’m doing pretty well. That’s the thing about feeling as low as you imagine you can go. Things can only get better from there. And they have. And for the first time in a while, I think they’re going to keep getting better.

  • Actually turn pages. It might sound weird, but there’s a tactile pleasure in turning the pages of a book that scrolling a little button does not give.
  • Use it as a doorstop. If it’s a thin book, wedge it under the door. If it’s, say, The Stand, prop the door open with it.
  • Build a fort out of them. Unless you have a lot of money and a lot of Kindles.
  • Do origami. Fold paper airplanes. That sort of thing.
  • Throw it at the cat. Well, you can throw a Kindle at a cat, but only the once, and only if you don’t want to use it ever again.
  • Burn it. Apparently books don’t actually burn that well, on account of the chemicals in the paper, but I bet they burn better than a Kindle.
  • Close it or put it down with emphasis. If it’s a thick enough book, you can get a lot of emphasis. And you don’t have to worry about cracking a screen.
  • Write things in it. I think Kindles have some kind of note-taking capacity now, but it’s not the same is it?
  • Hold it up in just such a way to display the title to any interested persons who might be impressed by it. If you were that kind of twat.
  • Lend it to someone. You can lend someone your Kindle, but you can’t lend them a book off your Kindle, now can you?
  • Write smartarse notes in it. I enjoy picking up books I used for courses and finding things like ‘LOL NO’ written in the margins. For I am a child.
This post brought to you by curmudgeonliness, intractability, and boredom.
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