CBS Action started showing Star Trek at 5pm on weekdays. In a development which should surprise no one, I found myself in front of the TV most afternoons to watch it. They’ve moved on to TNG now, unfortunately. I wish they were still showing the original at some point during the day, but the early episodes of TNG are close rivals with the original series for cheesiness and bad special effects (and bad acting).

My mum is a huge fan of TOS (as it is referred by those in the know– that is to say, huge geeks). When I was a kid, she watched taped episodes over and over again, so there are a handful that I practically know by heart. I’m not sure why I’m embarrassed about being a Trekkie kid, given that I have publicly stated how much I enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons. I’m a huge geek any way you slice it.

And now, some thoughts:

  • Turns out there are actually more than the episodes my mum used to watch when I was a kid. (There are 79!?)
  • That said, “Amok Time” is still one of the best, running a close second to “The Trouble with Tribbles.” “City on the Edge of Forever” is shit, though. And Harlan Ellison is a dick.
  • Yes, I know the names of Star Trek episodes. What of it?
  • There seems to be a Doomed Romance Subplot for pretty much every main cast member. James T. Kirk: Intergalactic Gigolo has about twenty.
  • LOL THE 60s. Goofy hair. Blue eyeshadow. Flared trousers. Space hippies.
  • Speaking of space hippies, Star Trek is really sanctimonious. I know it was fairly progressive for the times, but jeez, tone down the clumsy metaphors and high-handed sermonising about peace, love, and understanding. What’s so great about those things anyway?
  • Spock has surprisingly revolutionary and communist leanings.
  • He is also surprisingly popular with the ladies. Hey, I’d hit it.
  • On that note, I had actually forgotten completely about the Star Trek reboot film until just now. I think this says a lot.
  • Kirk is really rubbish at fighting. Obviously this is the fault of the fight choreographers back then (if they had them), but it still makes me laugh every time he has a tussle with someone.
  • The Enterprise (Original and Next Generation) is apparently the easiest ship ever to take over. Boy geniuses, omnipotent aliens, space hippies– it seems like all they need is a quick minute of exposition about How the Ship Works, and they become capable of rerouting the controls to wherever and locking the captain out. Might want to fix that bug.

When I’m not busy wallowing in misery about the state of my own life, it occurs to me that quite a few of my friends are having a really hard time of it right now as well. Unemployment, debt, deaths, loneliness– it’s probably just my imagination that everything seems so shit at this particular point, but the illusion does remain. It’s gotten me thinking about what I do and say when someone pours out their troubles.

A friend of mine sent me an email today that was basically just a ramble about the problems he’s been having, and it made me realise that the important thing about being a friend isn’t trying to find the right thing to say. When someone talks about how shit they’re feeling, I think too many people feel pressure to say something that will be comforting– which often ends up creating the opposite effect.

For example: “I’m feeling really stressed out right now. I can’t find a job, and I’ve got no money.”

Friend:  “Well, at least you’re better off than someone starving in a developing country!”

Whether said with a chirpy, ‘chin up’ spirit or the patronising tone of a parent trying to get a kid to eat vegetables, that sort of thing usually doesn’t help. I don’t know why it is that you can say these things to yourself, but hearing them from someone else provokes rage and depression. I guess it’s because if you’re feeling too horrible to tell yourself ‘it could be worse,’ the last thing you need is to hear that from another person.

This is not to say that our personal problems are always the mountains we make of molehills, but sometimes they are very mountainous indeed. Things could always be worse, but that’s not the point. The point is, when you’re upset about something, you don’t necessarily want platitudes or empty promises that Everything Will Be Okay.

I think what it comes down to is that too many people want to say the right thing when they probably don’t need to say anything at all. When someone you love is in trouble, you want to do something to help, and if you can’t, you at least want to say something that helps. It’s hard to know whether to say anything at all. But what’s more important than getting answers from people is just acknowledgement. To feel a little less like you’re shouting into a void.

The hardest thing about the last few months for me is when I encounter puzzling silence from people. That silence itself may not have any meaning, but the problem with any blank is the temptation to fill it in. Are they quiet because they don’t know what to say? Because they don’t care? Because they’re preoccupied? It’s mental, but then again, so am I. When you’re already feeling down, it’s easy to read darker meanings into things than they already have. It’s ridiculous and irrational, but so are human beings.

I guess if anything I just wish there was a brief way to acknowledge that you empathise with someone, that you care about what they’re going through, that you don’t have answers, that you wish you could do something to help, that you love them, and that you want things to get better for them. Although I guess you could just say exactly that.

Things I Would Like

I haven’t been updating much, partly because my life is fairly repetitive right now (rooms, reception, lunch, laundry, Star Trek, dinner, sleep) and partly because I am pretty sure that a post consisting of nothing but OH MY GOD WHAT IS MY LIFE WHAT IS HAPPENING OH MY GOD OH MY GOD would not make for good reading. So instead let us have a brief segment of Things I Would Like.

  • A visa. Pretty much my entire, ahem, adventure this summer is part of my quest to actually be allowed to stay in the UK and work. I don’t care about benefits (in case the gubmint was wondering), I would just like to be able to earn a living. I still live in perpetual anxiety and terror that somehow, some way, I will be denied, so I try not to think about it.
  • A job. For all my anarchist principles, I am pretty tired of being a hobo. I don’t need a luxurious lifestyle, just a living. It would be swell if that job could be ‘writer.’ I’ve got a couple of queries sent out, so some interest from an agent/publisher would be a nice change from things so far.
  • A place to live. Again, no luxury required, just some stability would be nice. I’ve pretty much had my fill of moving every six months or year or whatever. I hate to use the phrase settle down, but that’s more or less the shape of things.
  • Cats. Specifically, my cat plus at least one more. Hey, I like cats.

I believe this summer is what is euphemistically referred to as ‘a growth experience.’ To be honest, I could do with a little less ‘growth’ and a little more ‘chilling the fuck out.’ Perhaps in the near future I will be able to tell myself that it was good fun (it is, sometimes) and a good experience and all that hoo-ha, but there are times I really really really really just want to go home. I caught myself referring to ‘where I’m from’ the other day as the south of England, which makes me sad in several ways.

I have been really crap at staying in touch with some people. I meant to buy more postcards and send others, and I have done neither of those things. I’ve also realised that I will be here on my 30th birthday. It would have been nice to be amongst my friends that day. I’ll just have to make up for it by having an insane party in September. Who’s coming?

A Culture of Sadism

I see this comment a lot, and I’m tired of it:

“People don’t care about [public sector/higher education/benefits cuts/strikes/protests] because [group implicated] have it so easy. They should stop complaining!”

This is the biggest single obstacle to genuine change. It isn’t Labour MPs scabbing, it isn’t the Tories gleefully slashing at the bellies of the vulnerable, and it isn’t the tax avoidance of the very rich. It isn’t even the specious reasoning that ‘cuts have to happen.’ The biggest problem of all is the self-absorbed and cruel attitude of a significant part of society. “Sod these people trying to change things, I’ve got it hard and so should you!”

Who are these people? They seem to be omnipresent on the internet, filling up Guardian comment pages with the spleen of tiny-hearted misers. Everyone’s a scrounger, everyone wants something for nothing, everyone’s a thief and a liar and a violent thug– everyone else, that is. One can only assume that the commenters in question are hard-working, upstanding members of society.

This is what decades of capitalism and consumerism have wrought: a culture obsessed with a perpetually out of reach image of success, which we are told is attainable if we just work a little harder and behave ourselves a little better. And because we don’t live the life of ease that capitalism and advertising have promised us, the taste left in our mouths is the bitter ash of being hard done by.

Now, we could take this sense of injustice and turn it against the people responsible: MPs who have no qualms about campaigning on an issue and then backtracking once they’re safely elected (that is to say, pretty much all of them); employers who violate labour laws and get away with it because taking action against them is risky; the very rich, who profit from a system designed to exponentially expand their wealth; the police, who murder and assault with near impunity; the middle classes, who don’t gain as much from these institutions as the rich but still manage to hold onto their comfortable standard of living by stepping on everyone beneath them.

Instead, what appears to be the case is that society wants those who are already suffering to suffer a little bit more. They want the poor to starve, because obviously if they’re poor it’s their own fault for being lazy and on drugs. They want the working classes bound and gagged to prevent them from striking, because how dare they inconvenience more important people! No word on why disabled people are also expected to starve– their fault for not having magical healing powers, I guess.

This is the problem with our society. It isn’t teen mums or drug use or benefit fraud or divorce; it’s a culture of sadism. It’s not ‘reason’ or ‘sense’ or ‘sustainability’ or ‘value.’ It is, quite simply, the urge on the part of the privileged to make other people suffer as much as they can. It is sadism.

The urge to punish someone for things being fucked up is understandable. What isn’t understandable is the cultural equivalent of someone kicking the dog when they get home because they’ve had a hard day at work. I’m sick of it being rationalised and justified. Stop it.

Everything changes when someone you love dies. Everything is wrong. The unfairness and impersonality of the world become, for a little while, completely irrefutable, and you are left without words. Nothing will suffice. Solemnity feels self-indulgent but gaiety seems frivolous. There is nothing you can do or say or feel that is right. Everything is wrong.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

Genuine grief makes self-pity look like the pale shadow that it is. There’s no guilt in this revelation, either– just the knowledge that life and love and work and happiness and anything that means anything does not emerge from a cowering anxiety about everything. Death reasserts your priorities.

I’ve lost someone that I love very much. It hurts. And I would slap anyone who said this to me, but it has made me realise that no matter how awful things are, I still have my life. I can still make words, and it is time that I stopped making excuses.

I have to be honest. I have to face the things I try to look away from when I write. I am not invisible. Who I am will emerge in every word I type onto a screen or write onto a piece of paper, and what I have to do, what I must do, is stop fucking apologising for it. It’s a stupid way to write. It’s a stupid way to live. It’s not productive. It’s not meaningful. What could be more tedious than a work that constantly apologises for its own existence? What could be more tiresome than a person who does the same thing?

There is nothing respectable about insecurity. There is nothing admirable about guilt. You can’t pre-empt everything, and it is a pernicious exercise in self-defeat to even try. Stop it, cut it out, and knock it the fuck off. Life’s too short for this shit.

Filing this under ‘advice to myself.’

A Little Bit Mor


The eternal struggle.

Human versus nature.

Me against an established network of tubers and runners, weeds, thorns and nettles. I have a shovel, so I think we know who is going to emerge victorious here.

Nonetheless, it’s slow going. I’ve done perhaps eight or so hours of work, and I’ve barely made a dent in the vegetation. Weeds have been growing unchecked, so that I had to hack through stems nearly the size of my wrist. It’s mostly nettles and some large weed that I can’t identify. They were just about to come into flower before I annihilated them, a tiny Godzilla with a pair of hedge clippers. There’s something satisfying about taking a wasted piece of land and doing something constructive with it. I’d be happier if I could just do that, but circumstances (like the weather) make that difficult.

It doesn’t help that there’s building waste and just general rubbish dumped on the site, either. I’m always appalled by how many people treat their surroundings like a landfill. Never mind environmental laws or groundwater contamination or just how ugly it looks, just toss it over a fence or around the corner. It’s disgraceful. Thousands of years of evolution and cultural progress, and this is what we do with our surroundings.

Anyway. I find myself getting grumpy a lot. Perhaps no more than usual, but I think the consistent backdrop of the island highlights it. I know exactly how much human interaction I can take before I have to flee to my room. It’s tough being on an island with people you don’t know very well, especially with a constantly changing flow of newcomers.

I assumed I knew what sort of people came to the Arans before I got here, and apart from the nasty group that was here the first weekend, I’ve been pretty much correct. Gore-Tex clad people carrying huge backpacks, ruddy-faced from sun and wind. Most of them are pretty nice, although I do find myself wanting to distribute tubes of sunblock. All the fresh air in the world doesn’t prevent skin cancer, people.

Speaking of fresh air, I haven’t been getting out as much as I should. I went for a nice long walk the first weekend I was here and a shorter one the other day, but apart from that I’ve spent a lot of time indoors on my computer. I spent hours every day when I first got here responding to emails and messages. Those have tapered off though (ahem), which has given me more time to write. I think it’s a good sign that I’ve been neglecting my diary in favour of my work– particularly since my diary started to consist mostly of comments about the weather and the latest group of tourists.

“Rainy. Now sunny. Rainy again. Windy. I dislike Americans. I’m worried about my visa application.”

Et cetera. For all my grumpiness, I don’t find myself stressing out about things here, partly because of the quiet environment and partly because I can’t do anything about those big life issues anyway. So I garden and I change beds and I write, and I try not to subject myself to too much awful television. Or too many awful people, heh.

There’s also the selection of food and drink. You can drink anything you like in the pubs here– as long as it’s Guinness or Bulmers. (In all fairness, that’s not true: you can also drink Carlsberg and other things that come in a can or bottle.) The Spar (the only shop on the island) stocks gluten-free biscuits (at €4 a package) but nothing else that’s gluten free. I can’t be arsed with the hassle and expense of going to Galway on the ferry, so I’ve been eating a lot of gluten lately. Oops?

One thing that’s nice is being close to the sea. Living in Brighton has ensured that I can never be very far from the ocean again. There’s just no substitute for walking down to the water and listening to the waves.

The island is rocky. There are beaches of grey sand with worn and crevassed flats of limestone. Clumps of little pink flowers grow on the rocks. From the hostel, I can see the pier and the little bay. On windy days (which is to say, most days), in the distance, I can see huge waves breaking on the shores of Galway Bay. It’s breathtaking. Today the water is cerulean and fairly calm, glittering in the sun.

I wish my friends could be here to see this. I’ve taken some photos on my phone, which don’t begin to do the place justice. I’m planning to send some postcards once I find some good ones. I wish I had my camera. Well– I wish it worked. Although I don’t really think a picture can really express everything about this place anyway; the windswept rockiness of it, the colour of the water on a clear day, the way the sun warms everything when it’s out and makes it feel like summer. The glowering greyness when the clouds come in off the Atlantic and the bleak colouring it gives the scenery.

I want to write something set here. The isolation and the weather lend themselves well to something hair-raising, but someone’s already written The Shining, so I’d like to do something different. We’ll see what happens.

The Aran Islands are the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I can’t think of a way to describe them that isn’t a little clichéd, but I think the closest you can come is ‘Celtic.’ They’re stony and rocky and rolling and hilly. They’re old. I can imagine that very little on the islands has changed in the last hundred years or so, maybe even two or three hundred. They’re a step back from the cities in a lot of ways: geographically, psychologically, atmospherically. It’s the sort of isolation that could be amazing if you enjoyed it and hellish if you didn’t.

Continue Reading »