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April 29, 2009

Today like every other day…

Like every other day, today I start again, today is time for change.

Everyday is not the same, there is always something new to change, something new was learned.

It is quite tiring but it is the same for everybody.

Standing now as an anybody, don't forget how hard it was to get here.


December 18, 2008

Maria

Heads up - spoiler alarm ringing now. If you're playing Gears of War 2 and you don't want the plot ruined... then what the hell is wrong with you? Why are you playing Gears 2 for the plot? Ugh. Anyway, if for some reason you care about keeping the plot pristine for your first playthrough, I suggest not reading on.

I accidentally completed Gears of War 2 today. Any game players out there know what I mean? You sit down in your bathrobe at eleven o'clock with your breakfast spaghetti in a bowl beside you, flick on the console, and then you don't stop playing until the sun has set, the game is over, and you've sustained significant kidney damage.

Anyway I did that with Gears today. It's good! Who'd have thought it. Well, everyone. The Gears series is getting a bit like Halo - it's a summer blockbuster in computer game form, it's very popular, it has huge production values, and you get a very polished product. This installment sees new weapons, new baddies, yadda yadda yadda. It's been out two months, if you're interested in the game content then you either read the reviews or bought it already. What got me about Gears was the romantic sub-plot.

Gears being a summer blockbuster, it had to have one. In this case its main support character Dom's search for his lost wife Maria, a human refugee who was separated from him at some stage in the war against the Locust aliens. For about the first two acts Dom spends a lot of time (in cutscenes) asking various people (the Military intelligence operative assigned to your patrol, other refugees, toothless old madmen) if they've seen her. We all know we're going to see a heartfelt reunion.

Which is why I did a double-take when the reunion actually occured. Maria is interned in a Locust labour camp deep underground when Dom finally catches up with her. The quirky robot sidekick cuts open her holding cell. And there is Maria sure enough, glowing with a warm filter and a soft lens flare, all the light of summer caught in her mediterranean tresses.

If this is wasn't a summer blockbuster, alarm bells would already have been ringing. Internment camp? Slave labour? Deep underground? Surely this woman should be showing some signs of wear and tear? But no. This is a summer blockbuster, and I was expecting that saccharine moment of reunion to be the end of the matter.

So I was surprised the next moment when main character Marcus says to his partner simply, "Dom", and the veil drops away. We've been seeing Maria as Dom needs to see her. The lens-flare dies and standing before them both is a husk, a starved and tortured physical shell with no human intellect behind its rheumy eyes. Maria is emaciated, scarred, blind, mentally dead.

The Maria story was utterly irrelevent to the plot. It did nothing to humanise Dom or Marcus or any of the other walking refrigerators who joke and banter their way through ten hours of testosterone fuelled alien slaughter. The cliche of the soldier with the soul, the guy who's just doing it for his gal, has seen more use than the bed-springs in a brothel. It tends to engender about as much of a reaction as showing Playboy to a corpse.

But that very, very brief moment in which I was made to look at a real aspect of human suffering - the truth of already fragile bodies pushed out of recognizable form not by armour piercing rounds or a sticky grenade but by hunger, forced labour and torture, actually registered. It made me feel bad. And knowing that that sort of reaction can come out of a completely by-the-numbers action story, even more so from a computer game, makes me feel good.


November 07, 2008

xkcd

Writing about web page http://www.xkcd.com/

Webcomics are generally the domain of the geek - the basic requirement for keeping up to date with them, that you're willing to check the internet regularly, although less of a barrier to entry since the proliferation of my.space and facebook, still suggests the edges of the realm - webcomics are an internet phenomena, and they belong to those who love the internet. Nowhere is this more true than with xkcd.

"xkcd" is a word with no phonetic pronunciation, and that about sets the tone of half of xkcd's humour. There are extremely geeky jokes here, and I don't mean "geeky" as in dungeons and dragons and lolcats (although that particular colour swatch of the geek spectrum is well represented). I mean geeky in the sense of obsessive about particularly obscure areas of learning - science, programming, mathematics. Check the bottom two questions on the "about this site" page for evidence -

http://www.xkcd.com/about/

One on sorting algorithms, the other on the writer's favourite astronomical entity.

xkcd does assume a certain level of knowledge for some jokes. For this one -

http://www.xkcd.com/472/

you've got to have read "House of Leave" by Mark Z. Danielewski to understand the entire thing (have I blubbed about House of Leaves yet? I haven't? Oh you're in for a treat...) The writing is generally good enough that even if you don't understand everything in a given strip, the latent charm and character will buoy you up through the nerd culture references and hard science. And sometimes there's something so funny you'll find yourself traling wikipedia for half an hour before you decide whether or not what's just been suggested is impossible, or merely vanishingly improbable -

http://xkcd.com/378/

http://xkcd.com/356/

Tie all that to incredibly simplistic art and a sense of pure fun and you've got an excellent comic.


November 04, 2008

Have a flash fiction

I'm lucky enough to be taking the Personal Writing Project module in the Creative Writing department this year. Here for you to enjoy is a flash fiction I wrote while I was trying to find my feet with the project.

________________________________________________________________________________

Plato at sea

Although the identity of the slave had been kept quiet, the shipmaster was well aware that he was taking Plato onboard amongst the human cargo. He did not know which of his charges was the philosopher, but he enjoyed the fact. Amongst the downturned faces was a great thinker whose words and name had been circulated across the entire world. He was sure that this turn-up: that a great thinker was walking unknown amongst human cargo: showed in large part how the universe felt about humans.

During the voyage he would walk amongst the slaves and see if he could hear any of them engaged in debate - a debate which would surely uncover the identity of the great man. But no-one spoke up. The slaves muttered and jibed with one another, railing against the human mass that encroached on them since they could not move against their true captors. But there was no revelatory discussion.

Then the captain changed tack. Perhaps Plato was the quietest of the slaves - perhaps he was afraid to reveal his identity to the mass in case they turned on him for his association with the king, even if that association had turned sour. Or maybe he did not want to waste his words on the common herd. Or maybe he was simply deeply, truly and deeply downcast. But there was no slave quieter than any other. Each muttered. Each jibed.

The captain began to worry. Perhaps Plato knew that he was listening for him? Maybe the man was leading the slaves into deeper and deeper discourse when the captain's back was turned. Their quietude - normal for slaves - was a cover for their secret dissent. At present that dissent was just an act of learning - learning, and disbarring the captain from joining in. But that implied that they had already discounted the captain from a brotherhood - and wouldn't that be a fine starting point for rebellion! Perhaps Plato had already seen his way around his shackles - these Philosophers were canny men. At night Plato would slip out of them, make his way on deck and by the light of the moon steal the key from the man's jerkin pocket. Then he would go back inside and let the slaves go - and then they would throw the crew overboard.

The captain became so consumed with these doubts that he lost sleep. Every time he saw the slaves in the flesh he was convinced that nothing secret was going on. Every time they left his sight he was convinced that they were plotting rebellion. He skipped meals, and he grew lax with the charts. After a week at sea, he drove them into a tempest.

It must be Plato's fault, he thought, as the men reeled in the sails. He struggled with the rudder, desperate to keep the ship on a straight course into the waves. He had forbidden the men to look behind them on pain of having their eyes put out with awls, because the sight to stern would have paralysed them with fear. The waves were as tall as the masts and crested with white horses. They reared up above the ship like the necks of sea-serpents. Plato must be to blame - this was a punishment sent by his father, Apollo. The tempest would break the ship into tiny pieces, and all aboard would be drowned, except Plato, who would float to the shore on a balk of timber.

Plato, with his hands in cuffs, prayed for the storm to end.


November 02, 2008

Jeffrey Rowland

Writing about web page http://www.jjrowland.com/

Jeffrey Rowland is the author of two long-running webcomics, the satyrical (and anarchic) Overcompensating, and the charming (and anarchic) Wigu.

Overcompensating falls into the realm of "journal comics". Ostensibly, a journal comic should be about the author's own life, but absolutely never is. There may be similarities - Jeffrey has written arcs about his necrotic spider-bite, the day he was certain he was going to die, hiring new staff at his company and similar mundane things. But as we all know not that much stuff happens in real life - certainly not enough for a daily update. So fiction is the order of the day. Jeffrey treats modern American culture and politics like a hypochondriac having a panic attack -

http://www.overcompensating.com/posts/20080926.html

And deals with the harsh realities of modern life like a man staying afloat above a nervous breakdown, using his WACOM tablet as a raft. The results are brutally honest, absolutely absurd, and tremendously funny.

Wigu on the other hand is the tale of a little boy's adventures in the world. It's not quite the same world that Overcompensating occurs in - the scope of the adventure is simultaneously contracted - Wigu deals with events in "real-time", so by and large a comic covers about the amount of time it takes you to read it - and expanded - the Tinkle family, the stars of the comic, have travelled to the ruins of Atlantis and the surface of Mars during their adventures.

Wigu's main protagonist is the titular Wigu, an 8 year old boy living with his alcoholic mother, gothic sister and porn-theme-composer father. The family disfunctions in a caring way - so far so Simpsons. The joy of the comic comes from the family's exposure to the insane realities (and fantasies) of human existence. Wigu sees the same awful world that Rowland presents in Overcompensating, but he sees it with the eyes of a child. Not to say that everything is consequently a question of innocence lost - Wigu is a fairly astute potrayal of an eight year old child, from diction through to television obsession, and he's too much of a character to be completely perfect.

Wigu and Overcompensating are different attempts to deal with the unpleasant realities of a lot of human life - the awfulness of the internet, the idiocy of politics, the idiocy of people. Overcompensating gives an exaggerated picture of human life in dissaray - Wigu filters the madness so that the world is the kind of awful place children imagine their adventures coming from. Both are superb.

(A note to the wise - jjrowland.com links to several places, amongst them Overcompensating, the Wigu archives, and the currently updating Wigu series.)


October 31, 2008

Scary Go Round

Writing about web page http://www.scarygoround.com/

Who makes webcomics? Here's a pretty common picture - they're American, they're a gamer, and they subsist entirely on a diet of Cheetohs and Pepsi Max. Unfortunately for this post most webcomicists don't reveal their daily diet. But by and large the first two elements in our picture hold completely true - the mainstay of webcomics are made in America, and a very large number are based around computer games.

Which is why I'm starting with Scarygoround - from the pen of British born and bred John Allison, from Chadderton in Lancashire.

Scarygoround tells the tales of the residents of Tackleford, a small fictitious market town in the north of England, the sort of place pensioners go to die and the young lose their minds to cloying boredom. It's also subject to repeated zombie uprising, visits from it's twin city Mechacropolis XF1 (it's Soviet and full of robots), demonic cults, smugglers, fishmen, occasional excursions into the realm of the dead, jelly-fish, leprecauns and... well the list goes on.

Scarygoround is written and drawn entirely by Allison, and updates five days a week - no mean feat. Perhaps the incentive to maintain production come rain or shine comes from the fact that he makes his living entirely from the website (advertising revenue, merchandise, and selling print editions of his comics with exclusive content).

SGR has gone through more artistic stylistic changes than any other comic, with every new arc being greeted by a change of art style. It's a little disconcerting in fact - if you follow the series for a long time you'll be surprised how much a change in the art unsettles your perception of the series. But it also speaks of a commitment to development and change which is carried through into the scripting.

The storyline of the series (which features a continuous narrative but no pretensions of an overarching plot) jumps and jiggles in random directions. Major characters are put down (perhaps even forgotten) only to resurface in a new context leading the plot off in another new direction. The best and most striking example of this is the change of lead characters - Tessa and Rachel (a pair of bar-maids / university undergrads) starred in the first SGR arc (an investigation of a mysterious murderous sentient gas which had carried off the university chemistry society) but were quickly abandoned in favour of the red-headed twice-murdered meddler Shelley Winters.

A lack of foresight? Yep. You just wouldn't do that sort of thing if you were planning the whole thing in advance. But you'll forgive it when characters are thrown off a bridge, saved by satan, return as mother superior of a nunnery devoted to evil and then casually burnt to death (and out of the strip) for banning all the orgies. If necessity is the mother of invention, then updating daily and never being allowed to contradict yourself must be the fertility goddess. And somehow it manages to stay more internally consistent and believably located in a physical world than your average soap.

SGR isn't based around jokes, but rather witticisms in a banterous style reminiscent of The Mighty Boosh - a lovely example of which can be found here -

http://scarygoround.com/index.php?date=20080111

And this is tied in with a marvellous sense of place. The England of SGR is satirised and idealised; all the knobs have been turned up to eleven. The characters are characatures, the monsters are twee (and deadly), the story arcs are absurd and compelling.

The main thing I can say to recommend it to you is this - you won't find anything more English than this on the internet. In fact it's a little more English than England. And it's absolutely hilarious.


October 30, 2008

Webcomics

I'm a webcomics reader. Well, worse than that really - I'm a webcomics addict. I probably pour twenty minutes a day into checking up on the latest editions of all my comics. When you think that most of those are just three panels long, that's a hell of a lot of webcomics.

When it comes to mass media, webcomics are ranked somewhere between sex tips and Big Brother. Their closest relative, the print daily comic, does a little better, since it has the credibility of it's patron newspaper behind it (Steve Bell's "If" and G.B Trudeau's "Doonsbury" both make credible claims to being adult satires of politics and the life of the West). But webcomics exist in the unfettered hinterland of the internet. Anyone who has been rickrolled, goatsed, or tub-girled knows exactly what sort of thing goes on in the internet (screaming zombie faces at the end of every video, porn sites consisting entirely of hyperlinks to other porn sites, teenagers arguing in mindless sub-English babble over whether "Black Obamma or jon MACcain is gonoig to wiN!!!")

All of which misses some of the most exciting things about the interweb. When it comes to artists maintaining ownership of their own work, controlling the means of distribution, and having unfettered editorial control of their own media, no other channel can make these practises thinkable, let alone practicable. Webcomics are at the forefront of that - some of the most prominent webcomics were established a decade ago and have grown from cottage industry to office business. They survived the dot-com boom and bust and they command advertising revenues in the tens of thousands. Others are amongst the most idiosyncratic and original works of art that have managed to remain accessible and incredibly entertaining.

Which is why I'm going to be giving a run-down of the biggest, the best, and the weirdest webcomics I've ever come across. Hopefully you'll find it enlightening - better yet, hopefully I'll point out a little gem that you've spo far missed.


Suddenly an editor

I'm on the exec for TAPfactory, The Arts Publication society. That means it's plug o'clock! We're a termly student arts publication. If you've got any work you want to submit you'd like to see in print, you have til noon on Wednesday of week 7 (that's Wednesday 12th November). We accept submissions of poetry, prose, book film and music reviews, photography and fine art - in fact anything arts related you can put down in print. Our submissions address is -

tapfactorysubmissions@hotmail.co.uk


October 29, 2008

It's been a while… here's why

It's been a while - but hasn't it always...

Life became surprisingly busy of late and, barring panic attacks when I realise I have to hand in a dissertation form in two days time, I couldn't be happier. I think of myself as a bit like one of those wobbly donkey things that you can occasionally buy from a souvenir shop. As long as the wires running through them are tense they stand upright - but press the base in and down they flop.

I'm working on a film script with the marvelous Jon Plant - he directed and edited Anhedonia, a 30-minute comic film that screened at last year's WSAF. The most interesting part of the process is that we have almost entirely divided it down the middle. Jon writes descriptions of mise-en-scene, camera motion, character appearance, camera shots and so on - I write the dialogue. It works remarkably well; I'm getting quite good at characterising people with their choices in conversation, and he has an incredible visual imagination which he is very good at expressing on the page.

It's interesting to me that despite being young, already mine and Jon's skills have begun to diverge. I think it can only be a matter of practise - I've spent much more time working on scripts (two months on Crowskin, on and off for almost a year with An Evening Without Dignity, and now almost a year of intensive work on another project which for the moment I will decline from naming.

I'm at a stage where I have to make a lot of choices which could have a serious impact on my professional writing career (assuming I'm good and lucky enough to have one). One of them is this - do I want to continue to develop my skills as a script writer, or do I want to try and broaden my abilities? For my personal writing project I have decided to try and pursue an extended piece of prose. At the moment I'm not ready to let my skills solidify into just one area of writing. But looming over my future is the old phrase "a jack of all trades is a master of none." I have rarely found any one activity sufficiently diverting that I can devote my entire time to it. As a result, I'm sure that I've achieved competence in most things I've turned my hand to - but I've never gone beyond that.

So. Do I take the plunge and launch myself with both hands at one form of writing? Or do I try and broaden my skills base as far as I can?

No right answer of course. And besides, even if I'm working on screen- and stage-plays and short stories at the moment, there are plenty of other art forms I can hope to try out. Perhaps my es muss sein will arrive when I'm polishing off the dialogue for a Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Game...


June 11, 2008

The Window

I can't believe that my last entry was in January. I have been unfaithful to this blog, but I have tried to be faithful to life and other people. Naturally, I'd prefer if the first poem in a while would be one full of hope, but this is the poem that I wrote. Enjoy it, if you can.

The Window


The door is open

Almost transparent

Propped up with a wedge.


There is truth in that

But also in

The window.


What can be seen inside

Should be taken for granted.

A desk, a table lamp.

Undecorated. Nothing special.


Feel attached to the items.

Feel free to touch them.

They are not yours alone

To touch.


The books you thumbed

Have been touched by a hundred hands

And the hands were greedy

Like yours, too.

They wanted to hold the books

And claim them forever

Like mine do.


There is truth in that

But also in

The window.


The chairs are comfortable

Until you find that others

Were offered a seat before you.


When you were not there,

The leather chair held someone

And kept them firmly close.


There is truth in that

But also in

The window.


Because the window is always open as well.

And beyond it are too many trees.


Those who leave by the door

Signed the book

Left a name and address.


The wood is harsh.

Beyond the window

Too many trees.


The furniture

That gave comfort to all

Betrays the guests.


Of all the guests

It is always

ONE TOO MANY

That leave.


Because everyone is invited.

No one should leave.

But people do.

One is too many.


And the book by the door

Remains unsigned.

It is left with


Blank


Missing


And the wood is deep.


I yell to the wood.


There is truth in that

But also in

The window.





Here's my hope for today, for people of the internets. Walk out and be happy. Find the person closest to you and hold them for 5 minutes. You don't have to say anything, and neither do they. Most importantly, remember the warmth of them. That warmth of another has no proper name, but you can think of your own.

I'll stop rambling now. Posts will follow this one. I hope to have something funny for you next time.



The utility of ethics

The ethics exam is going to come hurtling down on Philosophy students this Saturday, and naturally this means I am desparately trying to remember whatever parts of it I learnt in the first place.

The mode of analysing ethics covered in the module proceeds by the method of "reflective equilibrium". Here's how it works -

First off, we look through our beliefs about a variety of morally challenging scenarios, and see what sort of intuitions they generate. So for example, imagine that you are on a run-away railway trolley hurtling down a track at 5 workmen. The train-track is running through a valley, so there is no possible way for them to escape death - unless that is you redirect the trolley onto a siding by pressing a big red button. BUT! Another unfortunate workman is sitting on this siding. If you redirect the trolley, you will undoubtably kill him. Yet many people think this is permissible.

Once we have our intuitions about a range of cases, we look and see whether there is an underlying rule which can explain them all. Perhaps there are several cases like this - we can imagine lots of scenarios in which, unless one person dies, five people will die. So we will make a general rule - it is better than one die than that five people die.

Once we have our generalisation, we put it to the test again. Are there situations where the rule allows something that our intuition rules out? Suppose that we are a doctor with the power to perform perfect transplants: anyone he transplants an organ into will survive, and not only that, will live just as well as if the organ was their own. Now it just so happens that five of our patients are going to die from organ failure - two are missing lungs, one needs a new heart, one needs a liver and a fifth needs a pair of kidneys. In to our surgery walks a freindly janitor, whose tissue type happens to match all five. We ask him if he will sacrifice himself so that we can save the five, but he regretfully declines. It so happens that we have a small pistol in our pocket...

Is it permissible for the doctor to proceed? By our previous principle, he should be allowed to. After all, if the one person dies, and the doctor uses his organs, the five will not die. This will be the better course of action according to the last principle. But our intuition says that the doctor may not proceed.

We now have two options - we can reject the principle, or reject the intuition. Maybe we think the principle is good enough that it is worth ammending our intuitive moral judgements - or maybe we think the intuition is so sacred we will need to refine our principle before it becomes tenable.

Reflective equilibrium is the point we arrive at when we have bounced our general rules and our native intuitions together until they start to stick. When we have made a culling of our intuitions and a refinement of our principles, we eventually decide that this, right here, is our ethical system.

I don't much like this mode of procedure. For one thing it's conservative. If we spend enough time, we can finesse our moral theories indefinitely until we reach the point at which they produce a 1:1 match with our intuitions. But whilst this could be seen as refinement of the theories, taking away sharp edges, to me it looks like dulling them down beyond the point of interest. What is incredible about Utilitarianism is that it demanded every person be counted as one in the moral calculation, irrespective of social position. What it achieved it achieved through radicalness. By finessing the parts of Utilitarianism we find hard to swallow, we may also slip the loop of any requirements it places upon us. To refine the theory to match our existing convictions is to neuter it.

Another problem I have with the level of theoretical discussion is that frequently, the points being made have bearing only conceivably on the theoretical level. When we live in a world where thousands die from starvation and grain is dumped from container ships when prices dip low, it is surely irrelevant whether we believe that it is the lack of equality between rich and poor that is at issue, or the lack of priority that is given to the poor on an absolute scale.

I hold out hope for ethics' potential for making the world a better place, in what I can only think of as a trickle-down effect. Abstract debate informs less abstract debate, feeds into think-tanks, informs policy groups, and eventually arrives in the political realm as reforms in one direction or another. But to me the link seems painfully tenuous.


June 09, 2008

Freud and the first years

On the 3rd of March 2007 and on the 4th of April 1920, two workmen (John Parisman and Ulum the Bold) were doing excavations on the same stretch of the space-time continuum not far outside central Coventry. Some paperwork in head office had gotten crossed and consequently, when Parisman laid down the chrono-pipe in 2007 Ulum screwed it in in 1920 with a right-handed monkey wrench that wasn't due to exist for another two billion years. Thus it was that the following conversation snippet:

"Yeah, but what if you don't have a father? Steve - big Steve - he hasn't got a dad. So why would he want to do his mum then?"

Fell backwards in time from the mouth of the first-year undergraduate who had uttered it in 2007 while waiting for chips and arrived, more or less intact, at the ears of Sigmund Freud while he sat at his writing desk in the office over his practice. As often happens in cases such as this, the words were translated into German.

For a moment Freud sat in silence.

"Kein Vater." He said, softly. "Kein Vater."

With great solemnity he took up his pen and jabbed it into the leather surface of the desk. Twisting it to a violent angle he snapped the nib, hurled the pen-stub against the wall where it spattered blue ink. Pushing back his chair with sudden violence he rose, grabbing the unfinished manuscript for "Das Ich und dad Es" and pitching it into the smouldering awls lining the fireplace.

"Kein Vater!" He yelled as the flames took to the pages. "Kein Vater!" The cheap ink boiled from the paper and turned the smoke rising into the room a filthy purple. The clouds whirled in lazy purple whirls until Freud opened the windows and the dirty gas was drawn out. The wizened man screamed out across the cobbled street:

"Kein Vater! Was wenn man Kein Vater hat geschehen würde? Was! Kein Vater, oh mein Gott, kein Vater!"

He grabbed hold of the ivy clinging to the outside wall and pushed out of the window, emerging in a swirl of purple, his flat shoes skidding against the flints of the wall. He swayed unevenly for a second and then began to clamber up the thick ivy, occasionally putting one hand around the drainpipe for extra leverage. By the time he had reached the roof a crowd was staring.

"Kein Vater!" Freud screamed, slipping from slate tile to slate tile. "Kein Vater!" He yelled at the gulls. "Kein Vater!" He yelled at the clouds. "Kein verdammt Vater!" He yelled at the world.

Eventually he was shot by a passing mountebank with an inordinately accurate catapult, cracking his temple and sending him hurtling to the floor like a limp sack of books.

This was all sorted out in the same instant when George Potts came back on duty and gave Ulum and Parisman a loud drubbing and a pay drop.


June 03, 2008

Un–publicity

Here are some (rejected) publicity blurbs for the Baby Chimp productions WSAF show.

1. Euphemistic

Baby Chimp Productions, the Warwick sketch group, return to WSAF with a taster from their Edinburgh Fringe Festival comedy show. So imagine you're in Amsterdam. You're on a "business" trip. Maybe you're a banker. Or a businessman. And you're walking along a canal path looking in all the shop windows at the business. But most of the business you're seeing you could get back home, even if it was more likely your wife would find out. So you start looking into the back alleys of the business district. Maybe check out one or two of the secluded professional businessmen's clubs. And after maybe three, four hours you hit on this place where you can get two dwarf businesses and an amputee for under thirty bucks. OUR SHOW IS THAT BUSINESS.

2. Edgy

Baby Chimp Productions will be hitting up WSAF with their fit new sketch show "An Evening Without Dignity". This show is like a cool blast of coke straight to the main brain, on acid, with a tequila slammer straight through your nose. If you've seen public defecation and live mutilation then you have seen fucking nothing compared to Baby Chimp. This show will rip your head off and shit in your nostrils and don't you think you can get away - we're blasting out for 60 cool minutes of pure comedy pain! Parental Advisory - EAT YOUR PARENTS.

3. Low self-esteem

Baby Chimp productions have made a sketch show, it is called "An Evening Without Dignity" that is because it is undignified and I suppose that would make it funny for you, I guess. We actually talked for quite a long time about the name but the name was really hard so in the end this was the best we could come up with even though we didn't think it was that good. But some of our other names were worse, for instance we could have called it "We're going to make you laugh until you cry" because that is a descriptive rather than a proper noun and it lacks punch. Also I wanted it to say "We're going to make you laugh until milk comes out your nose" because that is less violent. I guess we've done pretty okay, come and see it?

4. Daily Mail

"An Evening Without Dignity" is the only chance you have to laugh since Jim Davidson was CRUELLY ARRESTED for tax evasion. This TIMELESS ENTERTAINER was FORCED from his home and made to live in a MANSION in DUBAI, where he was safe from the tax inspectors. WHEN WILL THE MADNESS END? One after the other everything that makes Britain Britain is being crushed out of our nation by BONKERS BRUSSELS BUREAUCRATS and the TIDE OF ASYLUM SEEKING BENEFIT CHEATS! See Baby Chimp productions' new show - WHILE YOU STILL HAVE THE CHANCE!!!


May 27, 2008

Europe's largest electromagnet

The other day I wandered into the room which contains Europe's largest electromagnet.

"Oh." I said.

The CAPITAL centre was originally a cross-universiy investment, with cutting edge learning environments for every department. Gradually however one department after another pulled out its support, until funding was being supplied solely by the Warwick Writer's Programme, Theatre Studies, History of Art and Physics. Consequently CAPITAL contains a writer's room, several performance spaces and rehearsal areas, a gallery viewing space and anelectromagnetic field that can pull the small change out of your pocket.

So the rumour goes.

The room itself looks at present like a bond villain's main workspace under construction. Tubular piping, irregular machinery - an internal workroom sealed off from the rest of the space by curved glass walls. Large arcane contraptions with dials and blipping things. Computers.

The technician who asked me to leave was very polite - or more than polite, very English.

"What are you doing here?"

"Looking around."

"Why?"

Good question. "Because it's here?"

"I'm sorry, you're going to have to leave. Didn't you see the sign?"

I saw the signs. There are several. They're about two meters across. They read: "Danger - strong electromagnetic field. May kill you dead."

"No."

"You're going to have to leave."

I wonder what I looked like to this poor technician. Flat cap, dishevelled gray jacket, large blue rucksack, plastic bag with two slowly defrosting pizzas in it swinging against my leg. Industrial saboteur? Moron?

"How did you get in?"

"Oh, my card let me in. That's why I came in. I figured I was allowed."

"Ah. No we're going to have to change that. Are you a physicist?"

"No, philosophy."

"We're going to have to change that."

The whole escapade had been motivated by curiosity, so I ended it where I started.

"There's this rumour that - due to budget funding and things - CAPITAL centre now has the largest electromagnet in Europe. Is that true?"

"Yes. Well, the largest electromagnetic field. Please make sure nobody comes here again. We're going to have to change that keypad."

I assume that they now have.


May 23, 2008

The man with a huge ball sack

I have a philosophy of life I call "the joke". It's not very complex: the universe is a joke (dead baby or racist? Who knows - the philosophers will argue it out).  Viewed as a joke, the universe begins to make sense.

Not long ago I was at the pub, talking with a girl whose boyfriend masturbated eight times a day.

"Well he wakes up at about six," She says, "And he has a little wank, and then he goes back to sleep. And then maybe at seven thirty he wakes up again and goes to the bathroom and then has another little wank. And then he'll come back to sleep. And at maybe ten o'clock he'll wake up and have a little wank, and then he'll go to the kitchen and make himself a snack, and then he'll have a shower, and then he'll have another little wank. And that's just the morning, and then it's sexy time."

Apparently, the boyfriend has an enormous scrotum and testicles of a normal size. Something about this seems right. We know that the universe must contain a man with a huge ball sack but regular testicles - we have always known this. His capacity for masturbation must be prodigious, and here is the proof. It is very comforting to meet his girlfriend, although not the man himself. That would be like encountering the second law of thermodynamics at an evening party, sipping Irish coffee, twirling a mathematically improbable hat on the end of a cane. The scene is too real, the ontological weight is too great. To meet the girlfriend of the man with the huge ball sack is like encountering the ship-wreck - we can infer the ice-berg, our satellites have detected evidence of its presence for months, and this is the closest to proof we are comfortable to come.

Seven times, we ask?

"Eight!" She says. "And that's not counting sexy time."

His bell-end must be made of leather, we suggest.

"Suck my dick!" She laughs, and has another little drink.

__________________________________________________________________

Anyone who can tell me where I got the philosophy of "the joke" from wins a warm feeling of self-satisfaction.


May 15, 2008

Last Night's Cabaret

Living the student life (eating cockroaches out of a baked-bean tin, wearing a soiled singlet that I clawed from the bluing corpse of a mathematics student) I don't watch much TV. Sure there's BBC iPlayer, but I'm really lazy. It's just not happening. However, I do make a regular point of popping along to the Freshblood Cabaret, which is pretty much the most fun you can have with one hundred and five people crammed into the same room without a cheesy 1970s soul beat starting up on a synthesizer and a man arriving at the door to investigate the plumbing.

For those not in the know, the Freshblood Theatre Society is Warwick's new writing society for drama. If you've got a play-script you've written and you want to sort out workshopping, crew, cast, production team or venue, we're the people to go through. And twice a term we run the Freshblood Cabaret, a wonderful cavalcade of... well, just about anything. You get a whole host of material at the cabaret, because as long as it can fit into the top room above Kelsey's bar, we've got room for it.

Here's a little run down of what happened last night. 

James McPhun relinquished his usual role as house stand-up to take up the reigns as compere. Armed only with a vintage joke book and a blood alcohol level that rocketed through the evening he prepared the ground for a veritable army of talent:

Opening was Jimmy Kent who, despite protesting to having a terrible cold carried off the unenviable opening slot with style - and rapturous applause when he ended onhis (much-in-demand) "Red Light Girl". Think of it as a far less judgemental "Roxanne" and you're about there.

King Freshblood himself Sam Sedgman fired off a series of poems. Happy they weren't, but that didn't deter the audience, who stuffed the interlude between each poem with wild applause, even when he told them not to.

Hannah Tottenham (who had been protesting all week that she didn't want to perform) spoiled us with three violin solos. How the hell do you make a violin sound good? It's like the opposite of a harmonica, it's almost impossible to get a nice sound of it. Anyway Hannah managed it: she deserves some kind of tiny medal.

Cabaret had a virgin performer this time in the form of Martin Bowman who gave us an outstanding tragi-comic tale of one man's obsession with Hobby-Craft and origami, complete with 4,000 page flick-book and tiny paper frogs. A totally outstanding debut: I'm looking forwards to more.

Following the greenback came seasoned veteran Fiona Cox, one of those singer-song-writer types, ticking every one of the boxes - stage presence, check, beautiful guitar playing, check, masterful voice control - oh you know she's got it all. She's been before, no doubt we'll see her again - and bloody lucky we are too.

Rose Biggin, Queen of Cabaret (and the event co-ordinator if you've got an act you'd like to put on!) relinquished her role as compere for the first time to step up to the mike and blast us all down with an epic prose narrative composed entirely from Shakespeare puns. Laughs and groans in equal measure-for-measures!

Rounding out the first half were Joe Oldham and Kieren Thorpe, two students who fell through a time hole in the mid 1970s and landed in present-day Warwick. A real tour-de-force of protest rock and psychedelia, I can only commiserate with these guys that they never got to play Woodstock.

I feel I should comment on the interval, which was well rounded, filled with good conversation (and beer), and (as always) lots of lovely thespy people. I'd give it an 8 out of 10, at least.

Opening up round two was stand-up maestro Gareth Morina and a clip-board of delights. Ever laughed at a dead cat on the moon? You don't know what you're missing. Gareth's going to be the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, so make sure you catch him if you can.

Michael Sweetman & Friends (to my annoyance I don't have the names of the friends!) continued to be disgustingly talented with a mixture of their own music and Decembrists covers. I'm now considering buying the Decembrists' discography on the basis of hearing Sweetman and co. playing, and I'm worried that the original won't match up to the cover. They're worryingly good, and definitely my pick of the evening.

Next up was me, reading a little story called Dogs which I'm not going to be posting because I'm hoping to get it published. Anyone who saw it and has crit or comments, please post! I'm always on the look out for analysis. Apologies to anyone I might have made cry.

Tanya Wells brought the mood back up with more singer-song-writer shenanigans, with Bob Dylan style narrative songs and exquisite vocals. I've not seen her before, and I hope she makes a return visit to the cabaret so we can get a second round.

There was a wild scrabble for tables as An Evening Without Dignity (Zoe Bob Roberts, James McPhun Rose Biggin, Tim Gutteridge) set up for some sketch comedy. To my mind they were inciteful, witty, and absolutely hilarious - then again, since I'm directing them I might be somewhat biased. But the audience agreed with my glowing appraisal (the laugh for Dr. Halifax's overzealous smile alone fills me with warm fuzzies). For anyone hoping to catch more of the sketch show, you can see us at WSAF, the Warwick Student Art Festival, and at C-Central at the Edinburgh Fringe from the 1st to the 25th of August

Sadly I only had time to catch one more act before I was forced to run screaming from the venue and catch the last bus back to campus - fortunately that act was Poppy James. treating us to a rendition of Roald Dahl's "The Three Little Pigs". You got the impression that albeit Poppy has never shot a wolf, she might well keep a pistol in her knickers - she certainly carries Dahl's poem in her heart (as well as reciting it beautifully from memory).

Leaving when I did I missed comedy from Reckless Moment compere Tom Hughes and the excellent Nick Brown, and a musical number by the incredible Fran Lobo.

If you've never been to a cabaret before, you still have a chance - this year the Best of Cabaret will be performing at WSAF, with the pick of the year's acts. And if you're still at Warwick next year, then I have to recommend you come along - watching or taking part, you're guaranteed an incredible evening. 


May 13, 2008

Weird Love

Last term PENCILfest ran a fund-raiser, with China Mieville and George Ttouli running a workshop on Weird love poetry. Mid-way through I had that old dilemma - knowing a lot about a creepy topic, do you stick your hand up and tell people? After all, if people hear what you know about Furries, what'll stop them thinking you are one? No-one wants to be mistaken for a Furry, except perhaps the Furries themselves.


That's irrelevent but I'm practising writing anecdotes. Anyway, there was a competition to produce the best Weird Love Poem and I managed to win. Frankly I think Rowan Rutter's (her blog is http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/rowanrutter/ although the poem isn't up there) entry with prosthetic limb sex-scene was better. Still, I'm not sniffing at the teddy bear I won (I'm not a plushophile). Belatedly, here's the poem - 

_________________________

Glancing out

The tree crab loses her grip,
slips,
falls suddenly
and splits
on the upright tip
of a coconut spike.
Her innards slop
downwards to meet
the sand;
while mango juice drips
from my mouth and teeth
to touch your feet
and you clutch the sheet
in one hand
and trace my skin
with your fingertips.


May 12, 2008

Short–shorts

Writing about web page http://www.ommatidia.org/

Ommatidia is a webpage of 101-word short stories. Now this is something I can get behind. I have the attention span of a bole-wevil, but I still manage to read my webcomics every day. That probably takes me 15, 20 minutes before I have my shreddies. A daily update of a smidgen of fiction lets me feed the same habit, yet exercise my reading muscle at the same time.

The website also bounces back to the penultimate Icw session of term, looking at short stories. The point of a short story (under one reading, anyway) was to present the moment in a characters life when something changed; the story was the fulcrum between past and present, the lens through which both would forever be seen. If that was the case, I said, you could abbreviate the story into a flash fiction and be damned with the whole lengthy edifice of words.

And here we have a vast tract of flash fictions; neatly enough it provides a total counter-example to what I was saying. Because these stories, although (mostly) complete in and of themselves, suggest larger stories that could capture a greater moment. My favourite is "Jenna" (at least of the dozen or so on the front page - I'll trawl the records when I have a day), and I'm wondering how legal it would be for me to write out an expansion of the story. It is so terribly suggestive. 


May 11, 2008

Big Monsters = yay

It's been a little while since I watched Cloverfield - how long ago was it in the cinemas? eh - but better late than never with my two cents.

So - giant monster, check. Minor gribblies, check. Love story? Inevitably. Armed forces? Oh yes. Tanks batted away like toy cars? Yep. It's all in there. How would we know it was a monster flick if it wasn't?

But something keeps creeping in around the edges. There's the well considered, funny, (slightly over-long) intro-sequence setting up the characters' motivations in detail before the raucous business of mass-death kicks off. The handicam footage which, although contrived, works, the most sensible way to convey the everyman protagonists' point of view.  And the everyman protagonists! Sure the army trounce back and forth and (we assume) the scientists work hard, but the characters are 

That substance seeping in around the edges is called innovation. Not true innovation, not that grade-A stuff you have to treck to the edges of intelligibility to find (The Girl With the X-Ray Eyes, loudly touted in the arts centre press, accompanied by a curious but enjoyable theramin rendition and an excellent essay reading on the origins of the X-ray dream, was drek, dull, uninspired drek, which neither challenged the subject of the documentary nor engaged the audience. The accompaniment by live theramin - presumably a nice exampe of the existence of imperceptible forces and metaphor for the possibility of x-ray vision was enjoyable in and of itself but pointless as an addendum to the film - but I digress). But that kind of slow, lumbering movement as an ancient genre behemoth starts to shed the barnacles. I suppose all it really is is good writing - but in a film so decidedly commercial, that feels innovatory.

Of course, whoever had the radical idea to make the film intelligent (not by a thousand miles intellectual) was shouted down midway through production. At one point, standing in a tunnel, the characters ask "what's that sound?". Now not only does the audience know that the large monster has been shedding little monsters, little monsters that can crawl through tunnels, but so too do the characters. Perhaps they are congenitally stupid? Perhaps their Manhattan champaign and coke lifestyles have rotted their main cortexes?

Whatever the answer the dullards have significant difficulty adding two and two, and certainly don't reach fucking four - instead they turn the camera onto night-vision, see the monsters, and finally, finally decide to run. Perhaps this piece of laboured long-winded direction is supposed to create tension? I don't know. Anyone in the audience who didn't see the surprise coming must have been too busy messing with the genitals of the person in the seat next to them.

It annoys me. The movie wavers violently between treating the audience like grown-ups (grown-ups who like to see fuck-off monsters), and suiting them up in padded clothing and sending them off to special school. It could be worse. But if someone had shot whichever producer decided that people with brains can't watch monsters, it would have been great.


May 01, 2008

The essays I'm not writing

I'm nearing the end of the 5,000 word monstrosity that is my ICW extended essay. After researching almost entirely at random, here are all the essays I haven't written:

Alienation and possession: engendering emotive and intellectual responses to writing, Toby Litt, Mark Z. Danielewski, M John Harrison

Escape Velocity: writing against escapism, Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, M John Harrison

Fucking Thatcher!: writing as a political response, China Mieville, Alan Hollinghurst, M John Harrison

I'm just not happy: trying to induce suicide in your audience, Thomas Ligotti, H P Lovecraft, M John Harrison

Some of those are jokes.


March 23, 2008

A few thoughts on Battlestar Gallactica

So, I've been watching season one of the new Battlestar Gallactica with my girlfriend. Loving it - a seriously cool example of what you can do with sci-fi. But what's especially interesting is the show's relationship with the war on terror.

The modern remake of Battlestar is, not contemporaneous, but distinctly in the same era with, the first convulsive sprawlings of the war on terror. The show deals superficially with terrorism - in the first six episodes (and preview), the human race is all but destroyed by espionage, a ship is infiltrated and fitted with a dirty bomb, and there are two explosions, one in a military target and another a straight out explosive-backpack suicide bombing. The Cylons are also religious fundamentalists.

  But there's a lot more going on than that, and it's shockingly conservative and reactionary. The human race is pushed to the brink of extinction in the initial sweep of the Cylon attack. Although the nuclear holocaust which causes this might be expected to have a certain savour of the cold war to it, it reeks instead of dirty bombs. The attack is unpredicted - the enemy, unseen to the audience (every attack being related rather than portrayed). The attack is facillitated by a breach of military security. So an act of warfare has been translated into an act of subterfuge - war is equated with terrorism.

The human race is undeniably at stake in the show. But at least as often as people say "the future of our race is at stake", they also say "the future of our culture is at risk". The colonists are fearing for their culture - their way of life, another term bandied about freely in the war on terror. That culture (semi-Christian, although referring to the Lords of Kobol rather than Jesus), is distinctly American.

The real sucker punch is in the numbers game. Battlestar, disturbingly, allows the Americans to act out the perverse and xenophobic mindset necessary for the war on terror to make sense. In real terms, the American military might, it's capacity for power, its sheer numbers, outstrip the conceivable forces amassed by any collation of terrorist organisations. It probably outstrips the entire Muslim population of the middle-east.

But in Battlestar, the human (American) population has been culled to less than 50,000. The Cylons are effectively numberless. Which is exactly the characterisation given by every oppressive regime to justify its persecution of a minority. The International Conspiracy of Jewry - the malignant Tutsi tribe - the Muslims, Christians and Buddhists in Cambodia - the tiny group is inflated, made deamonic, given impossible powers of conspiracy and collusion. Just like the cylons - just like the mythic Muslim fundamentalists.

All of which depresses  me more than a little, because there is so much about the show to love.

Anyway, I urge you to watch it. 


February 20, 2008

Intercepted Transmission

So, I probably shouldn't post this, but - an e-mail conversation that shouldn't have happened got forwarded to me. A student (I'll erase their name) wrote to the head of English complaining about George Ttoouli. George got the e-mail by mistake, and this is his response. It's pretty... yeah, you can see. So, here they are.

________________________

(Student's email)

Dear Sir,

I had hoped that the study of English Literature at Warwick University would be an example of high academic and moral standing. I am thoroughly disappointed in the teaching methods of George Ttouli who seems to disregard both of these important virtues by engaging the class with an exercise in writing offensive literature aimed at other seminar members. I would have expected such behaviour at Hertfordshire university, but never here, I expect an apology from the department.

(Unsigned)

(And here's George's response)

To the concerned but nameless student.

I'm sorry that you interpreted that particular exercise as an attempt to bring seminar members into conflict with one another. That was not my aim at all, although reviewing the lesson plan I can understand where you got the idea that it might have been by intention. I now regret including "The Butter Game" and "Onomatopeaic pistol whipping" in the first seminar of term - however, "Sexually aggressive pass the parcel" and "The three minute birch whip" will remain. If you want to progress in your writing, you're going to have to press your own boundaries. Try Olaf Grunison's great work "Svy svyortig von skronlinson" in the Harper-Collins translation ("Aggressive-herring-sales and their effect on my work"), or perhaps "The folded lily garden is a vagina" by Jasmin Al Fayed for examples of how interpersonal conflict can lead to great art.

George T.

____________

I think I'm justified in saying me-yow! These cats have claws.


February 18, 2008

A whole lotta poems

Okay, so I haven't posted any of my poems this term because I have been lazy.  Very lazy.  And now here they ALL are:

Week 2:

Her caucasian hair’s bleached blonde on top, and

She’s soaked the bottom in silk cold coffee.

She puts gloss on with the car mirrors like

She’s going out tonight. Combat boots and

Her shortest skirt – rocker dress rehearsal.

She plays groupie, a “love destiny” mind,

He plays bass, feels entitled to the goods —

He’s a demigod star in the mirror.

He looks down through the bright blowfish colors

She looks up, embraces her destiny.

She’s beyond the backstage doors, another

Socal Susan for the demigod.

2.

The Diamante Form was created by mestizos in Latin America sometime between 1639 and 1652. It is said to have been the favorite form of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. It is intended to take the shape of a diamond when completed, but only great proficients and ancient wise-people have been able to create a perfect diamond on the page. The poem must start out with no more than 8 letters. For the first half of the poem, each new line must be one letter longer than the previous line and one letter shorter than the following line, until exactly halfway between the beginning and the end, at which point the proceeding and succeeding lines are both one letter shorter than the middle line. Following this point, each line then becomes increasingly smaller, letter by letter, until it matches the length of the first line of the poem. The letter limit does not include punctuation, but the letter “h” cannot begin any word in the poem. Diamante poems are usually one stanza in length, although there can be any amount of stanzas so long as they each follow the overall rules of the poem.

Where

are you

going my

adorable

little gem?

O pearl ‘mong

flora, flower

divine! Whence

‘ave you arrived

and whither your

way? Tell me, flower,

or you risk quick

decay. For I will

pluck you, take

you away. Will

you still be

pretty and

new? No, you

shall be

rather

wilty.

Week 3:

Here are a few "different" versions of poem 1 from Week 2, none of which are really all that different:

1. 

Her hair’s bleached blonde on top

And she’s soaked the tips in silk cold coffee.

She tilts her head, piles gloss on over last night’s lipstick

Looks like she’s going out tonight.

Slinky black boots and a skin-tight skirt

The regular rock groupie uniform.

She’s got destiny on her mind like its got to be love

The natural outcome, no other conclusion.

He plays bass and girls and basketball,

Accepts the complimentary sacrifices,

While he checks the mirror every six seconds,

Makin sure he’s still there, still sexy.

He dedicates the next song to himself

She sings along, smiles as she’s beaten down

Doesn’t notice pain, pierced by images of him

Bright colors blind her, bind her to the truth

And she’s guided backstage,

Offered up, compliments of the region

Another sacrifice for the demigod.

2. 

Her hair’s bleached blonde

The tips, silk cold coffee.

She piles gloss on over last night’s lipstick

She’s going out tonight.

Slinky black boots, a skin-tight skirt

The regular rock groupie.

It’s got to be love

No other conclusion.

He plays bass and girls

The complimentary sacrifices.

He checks the mirror

To make sure he’s still sexy.

He dedicates the next song to himself

She sings along, smiles

Doesn’t notice pain.

Bright colors blind her, bind her

She’s guided backstage,

Compliments of the region.

Another sacrifice for the demigod.

3.

Hair’s blonde on top,

Electrified.

The bottom, silk cold coffee;

Coffee from the border.

She puts gloss on like

It was made for her.

Combat boots, a low neck line.

Just add her shortest skirt.

She’s dressed up for the kill,

A “love destiny” mindset,

Fixated with fate.

He feels entitled to the goods —

They throw themselves on his altar.

The mirror says he’s

Without a true reflection.

He looks down through

The dark haze;

She looks up, begins to fray.

Neon bracelets lift her up

And she’s crossed the river,

Another innocent

Given to the demigod.

4.

Heir’s bound, unstop’d,

Interjectified.

He bought them, and Wilkes told Cathy;

Copied from an order,

Shepherd’s blogs online —

It was maid fur.

Come by boats, alone recline.

Just had her du jour Kurt,

The rest is up to Bill.

Hello, just tiny, mines hit,

Rebated with weight.

He goes and tattles to the guilds

They thrill stem cells on a salter.

The mere cess ease

A thatch roof infection.

Elixir Dan threw

The arcades;

Sheila locks up, big ends to pray.

Yawn braces live, erupt.

Banshees crops deliver,

Another in her sin

Gin to the dumber guy.

Week 4:

Okay, and here are two Sestinas and two Word Poems, because I am wishy-washy:

Charlie made the sweetest candy

Honey drops the color of earwax

Seb would come in and check his pocket-watch

Eye the sweets laid out like polka-dots

Or a fiery array of party tea-lights

And, of course, the streaks on her apron.

Then Charlie would take off her apron

And stand by Seb to survey the candy

And think about taking out some old tea-lights

Remembering when she’d tried to light a thimble of earwax

The smoke of which left her skin with angry red polka-dots

And ruined Granddad’s pocket watch.

Granddad loved that pocket-watch

So she’d hidden it in Grandma’s lacy old apron

Which Cousin Tawny had covered in crayon polka-dots

After eating an inordinate amount of candy

And using 53 Q-tips to scrape out her earwax

Before burning up all Grandma’s favorite tea-lights.

Grandma found the burnt up tea-lights

Just as she found the broken pocket watch

And the 53 Q-tips with bits of earwax.

She kept the ratty old apron

And wore it to make candy

And died in that old thing, covered in polka-dots.

At the funeral her dress, too, had black polka-dots,

And surrounding her coffin were candelabra tea-lights.

Charlie put in a tin of homemade candy

While Granddad stood fiddling with his pocket-watch

As perplexed as when he’d seen Grandma in that ugly apron.

And Tawny talked to Uncle Mort about earwax.

I’ve eaten Charlie’s candy the color of earwax

And seen Grandma in the apron covered in polka-dots,

If you can still call it an apron.

I think of it when I light tea-lights

Or when, in a repair shop, I spy a pocket-watch

And I feel the want of a cozy kitchen and homemade candy.

I’ve tried; I’ve made candy the consistency of soggy earwax,

Timed it with a pocket-watch, laid them out like polka-dots,

But they looked like melted tea-lights and my hands stuck to my apron.

Outside my window there was a tree

The perfect picture for a postcard

With at the bottom a bed of thyme.

We used to pick and put it in the pantry

Dry it for some evening to, on the terrace,

Burn it and divine our futures in the smoky plume.

When I was sad I would see in the plume

Some handsome prince climb to my window by the tree

And waltz me out on that same terrace

And take me on a Continental Tour, sending postcards

Back to my mother to hang on the door to the pantry

Near the springs of drying thyme.

And when I was happy the thyme

Would tell, though a similar plume

Of disasters so devastating that I’d hide in the pantry

Or climb up in my window-tree

And think of those Continental postcards

And avoid for a time the terrace.

Eventually I’d be drawn back to the terrace

With my brother and a sprig of last summer’s thyme

Prodded, perhaps, by the real postcards

Sent by aunts and uncles, not seen in some plume

Drawn in tacks on Tim’s map, spread like branches of a tree

With all the postcards on the door to the pantry.

I played a lot in that pantry

More so than on the too-big terrace

Though my favorite place of all was the tree

And the yet uncut, fresh growing bed of thyme

At twilight turned prophetic, blurred to a plume

Like on the helmet in one of Aunt Barb’s postcards.

I used to sit and stare at the postcards

On the same stool I used when I hid in the pantry

Before we caught it on fire and tried to read its smoky plume

When no one was around out on the terrace.

It burned so much better than the thyme

That we also threw on branches from a tree.

The tree branches burned like a bonfire postcard

Much better than all the sprigs of thyme in the pantry

Until the fire left the terrace and the smoke became more than a plume.

Tingle.

The word Tingle. Tingle. I can’t say it without feeling the result spread across my skin. That first bit, the “tee,” the prickle of excitement, anticipation, height! The flying “teeeeeeee!” And then the “gle,” drawing it out, bringing it down, finishing it off with a soft polish. Vibrating, yes, but fading too. A tingle would still feel like a tingle if it was called a klaburt. That’s a fact. You see, anthropologists living with bushman tribes in Africa have found that of all the words they’ve read the tribesmen from the OED (as is the wont of English anthropologists), tingle is one of the few the tribes-people have understood without any need for description or of hand motions (along with blue, jingle, and arachnophobia).

        The word itself dates back to 1189, the year King Richard I ascended the throne. And it was Richard I, in fact, who revolutionized the word. Before, the sensation of prickling and light stinging across the skin was called after the French word “tintement.” However, when King Richard, after various attempts to steal the throne from his father and brothers, finally managed to attain the crown, he allegedly told a friend at the coronation after party, “What I’m feeling isn’t tintement at all… it’s a… tinglen!” That’s the legend that surrounds this word, anyway. And, of course, over time “tinglen” has wisely lost the n on the end and become the word nations, from England to Cape Agulhas, know and love as “tingle!”

Alrededor.

        Alrededor… that word, which, from the first Spanish lesson has been as fun to say as it has been elusive to memorize. Alrededor. Say it. Roll your erres in an over-the-top, almost obscene manner. Alrrrrededorrrr. How could the Spanish language novice, that neophyte of the Romancitc tongue not succumb to the siren call of that word. Alrededor. In fact, the word so calls to the souls of the students of that language that each of you stops caring about the meaning all together. As the high school teacher reads off words from the vocabulary section:

“Ábaco – abacus, abandonado – abandoned, adaptación – adaptation, alba – another word for dawn, alrededor –”

you stop. You don’t hear the rest of the vocab, much less the meaning of the word because in your mind you are saying “Alrededor… alrededor… alrededor!” each time with more and more passion and excitement. When you try to study your vocabulary for the quiz coming up you don’t even notice the meaning of alrededor because you are so caught up with the sound of it. You fail that vocab quiz, five years go by, and so it is that you are a great proficient in Spanish, but still don’t know the meaning of alrededor. You’ve looked it up many times in the past, but always you get distracted. Alrededor. You could guess around at what it meant, alrededor, but you never know for sure. The meaning escapes you. This is the power, the beauty, the danger, of Alrededor. I’d tell you what it means, but that doesn’t matter. The beauty is in the sound, and, anyway, by tomorrow you’ll have forgotten the meaning all over again, and all that you’ll have is that word. Alrededor.

Week 5:

Triolet: Barley’s boot(s)

When everything was a kind of live quiet,

I heard the thump of Barley’s boot

Which looks a little like pirate loot,

When everything was a kind of live quiet.

If I had the money I’d surely buy it,

But since its Barley’s my desire’s moot.

When everything was a kind of live quiet,

I heard the thump of Barley’s boot.

Villanelle: Erased faces

None of the victims have full faces

Even in pictures their outlines dim

Nameless as water and time erases

A litany of unsolved cases

The finding of a severed limb

None of the victims have full faces

Bodies of women found in different places

Most seem to have gone for a swim

Nameless as water and time erases

The killer has only left small traces

Body pieces that stood out to him

None of the victims have full faces

The girls’ absences leave unseen spaces

Like that relevant, unsung hymn

Nameless as water and time erases

A new victim the old replaces

With some foreign patronym

None of the victims have full faces

Nameless as water and time erases

Pantoum: Morbid Thoughts

We all walked slowly to the Mead Gallery that day

Or perhaps quickly, but not quickly enough

And when we got there, we were afraid to talk

Although eventually we began to speak among ourselves,

Or perhaps quickly, but not quickly enough

To stop my morbid thoughts and imaginings

Although eventually we began to speak among ourselves

And I found I was not the only morbid one

To stop my morbid thoughts and imaginings

I went over to a group in the corner

And I found I was not the only morbid one

Because they were discussing Chinese water torture

I went over to a group in the corner

To keep my mind off mutilated corpses

Because they were discussing Chinese water torture

I didn’t find much help there

I wanted to keep my mind off mutilated corpses

But when we got there, we were afraid to talk

I didn’t find much help there, since

We all walked slowly to the Mead Gallery that day

Week 7:

Okay, and here are my translation poem, my word poem, and my name poem, in that order:

If you’re tired of following fog tracks,

Tired of catching sins like common colds,

Tired of spinning yourself a cocoon of ominous verdicts,

Then come to our moon commune.

There are no secrets here on the moon

Where six suns shine down continually

Like six omens that bleach sins clean,

Or at least bleach them invisible.

The spaghetti tastes like hand rags,

So don’t come for the food, served in a room

Hung with Tusken Raider skulls.

But don’t worry, don’t worry; they’re long dead.

Here you’ll find yourself tied to the tracks,

Like that popular scene from Old West cartoons.

You won’t escape, but don’t worry, don’t worry.

You’ll be reborn.

Yes, the train will run you over,

Make a mess of you, you can’t escape.

But then maybe you’ll find

That it didn’t matter anyway.

So bring your sins, your cocoon, your elusive searches

and your SPF 500 (it won’t help, but habits…)

to our friendly commune on the moon

Where the six suns burn up all the fog.

You’ll probably find there wasn’t anything there to begin with.

"Hang Out"

Picture this: you are a girl. You might have to dig deep for this, but trust me, it is there. Got it now? Okay, you are a girl and you’ve spent the last four years positively sequestered at an all-girls school. There were a couple of male teachers with bushy beards and ‘Nam stories, but you have been more or less completely surrounded by girls day and night, night and day. You’ve graduated (not top of your class, but not too bad) and moved to a university, far enough from family that you have the blessing and curse of not being able to go home on the weekends. At this university there are dorms and study rooms and, so they say, boys. In fact, there you happen to meet one of these hither-to elusive specimens. He introduces himself as “Exhibit A.” Exhibit A is “nice” and “friendly” and after a suitable amount of chat about the “nice” weather he mentions that he has a car and offers to take you (yes, YOU!) to the mall to “hang out” sometime. Ah, now there it is. That fakest of fake phrases, that Beelzebub among the other, more straightforward invitations. Remember now, you’ve just come from four years of fun “hang out” time with all your friends back at the all-girls school. All your all-girl friends. Warning lights are not worsening the migraine that is not forming at the front of your mind from the thought you aren’t having. Your own private set of police sirens, for better or for worse (read: worse) are switched off. No, no, instead you are thinking “Oh, wow! My first guy friend. That wasn’t as hard as I was expecting.” You enthusiastically agree (it’s the all-girl’s school way, after all), and the following Friday you go. Now, let’s just fast-forward here, because the things he said, the things you said, the awkward silences, the things he shouted and the tears you cried aren’t important. In fact, at this point, if you happen to be finding the whole you-as-a-girl thing distracting, you can stop imagining that you are anything-but-you. If you find you kind of like it, go right on ahead. Right now you need to focus, though, on that prince of deceivers, that dirty little phrase which just caused so much imaginary damage.

Hang out.

What a disgusting word! It is triply disgusting because for the first part of your life, your childhood, it meant something innocent and fun, and when it changed, when it went from “let’s all hang out and play football and have happy platonic fun” to “let’s hang out, just you and me, and I will make suggestions to you that may or may not catch your interest,” no one told you. It’s like Anakin Skywalker joining the dark side without first sending an inter-office memo to people like Padme and Obi-Won saying “Sorry guys, I’ve decided to pursue other career opportunities.” No, they had to figure it out on their own. When did “hang out” make that “dark side switch?” I guess that’s what I want to leave you with. That image of “hang out” personified and wearing a chunky black breathing apparatus. I mean, I don’t have the answers. I’m as baffled as Obi-Won, reviewing all my teaching lessons trying to figure out how I could have skipped the “Don’t Kill Younglings” lecture or the “The Dark Side Doesn’t Have Casual Dress Fridays” lesson.

Canto I

Megan.

That’s my name.

Kind of simple.

Okay, really simple, actually.

None of that extra a-h “nonsense” (I say nonsense ‘cause I’ve got a friend named Meaghan whose gonna flip her lid when she reads that). Actually, I think of the whole Megan Meghan Meaghan thing as a kind of friendly rivalry amongst a group of clearly superior girls.

A very LARGE group of clearly superior girls.

And then we have to go and add “Harrison.”

Do you know how many Megan Harrisons there are out there???

Okay, I don’t either, but there are at least three in California (at least)!

Yeah, real original.

And then there’s Jane.

Plain Jane. As in “John and Jane.” “Jane Doe.” “What a pain, Jane.”

So that’s me. Average name.

Everything else is pretty average too.

Average like beans.

Canto II

When I was little — I don’t mean just one year, or something, but all the little years — I used to dream I had a pretty, English name.

I watched Errol Flynn movies obsessively, so I knew names like

Mary

and Elizabeth

were the British names to have.

I couldn’t have them.

My name was (and still is, actually) Megan.

Like beans, remember?

And you can’t change beans.

If you did, to something like Hicklebingerportencedes, they’d still taste, smell, and congeal the same, they just wouldn’t be able to fit the name on the can as well. They’d have to use .5 font size.

And substitute teachers will always mispronounce Hicklebingerportencedes.

Anyway, I couldn’t ever be Mary or Elizabeth, so I invited them over to afternoon tea. They were just names, so they didn’t have faces or anything, but they could faint just like the women in the movies.

Canto III

I used to spend a lot of my after-school afternoons imagining.

I imagined I was a Governor’s daughter, like Olivia d’Haviland.

I imagined I was the Scarlet Pimpernell’s neglected wife.

I imagined I’d married Blue Beard by mistake.

I imagined I’d been transported back in time, and met stunningly handsome Indian guy who would help me escape ritual sacrifice.

Okay, so pretty much everything I imagined was stuff I’d read in books or seen in movies.

But just like Anne and her hair, I couldn’t imagine my name away. For my French roles I managed to squeeze into Marguerite, but everyone still called me Meg.

And I’m pretty sure Blue Beard never married anyone named Megan.

Canto IV

I went to a far-away summer camp once

Where they gave out sour gummy worms at the entrance

And I didn’t know anyone.

Someone had put Mom up to this idea. This “hyphenated name” idea.

She signed me up as Megan-Jane.

She introduced me as Megan-Jane.

I didn’t mind. There are Mary-Janes, but not as many Megan-Janes.

I met my cabin leader: her name was Squeegee.

“Hi! You must be Megan-Jane. That’s a bit of a mouthful. Mind if I just call you Megan?”

“Everyone does.”

Mom wasn’t even five minutes down the road.

I didn’t tell her, though. She was so excited about that hyphen idea, you know.

Canto V

In high school nicknames were all the rage.

We gave them to all our friends.

No one gave me one.

I gave myself a few, over a period of time, you understand, not all at once… but they didn’t stick.

I was always Megan.

“Hey Panda! Hey Pip! Hey Zebra! Hey Char!

Hey Megan!”

Beans.

Canto VI

Usually I can’t escape my name.

Open the door — Megan.

Wash my hands — Megan.

Travel to exotic countries full of strange spices and ancient traditions — still Megan.

There is one way, though.

Its called Deadline.

“That 10 page research paper due in two days, with no research done and a questionable thesis? No, I don’t think I’ll start that till tomorrow.”

Oh yes! As I feverishly read about the way to make crepes more crunchy (add more eggs) and wonder if I can make it last an entire paragraph I slowly lose all forms of identification.

I am an intrepid adventurer searching for clues —.

I am a prison inmate trapped forever in a small, sunless cell —.

I am a sleep-deprived, slightly crazed student adding dubious secondary sources to back an already flimsy argument — no time for a name!

Not until I hand in my paper and stumble into the light do I start to feel human again.

Canto VII

Bronze. Sterling silver. Wood. Grass. Dogs. Underwear. Brown. Sticks. Tissues. Trashcans. Cardboard. Pavement. Curtains. Mud. Rope. Chairs. Bacon. Buses. Windows. Samuel L. Jackson. Frozen pizza. Apples. Rotting bananas. Hairballs. Black umbrellas.

Beans.

Ha!  That is really long, and I certainly hope no one read all the way down to here.  Or do I?


February 12, 2008

Translation

This is a translation of another poem. It's had about 6 stages of random additions and subtractions. I just kinda liked it. 

Red roll from flaring England

Bam! His still black carcinogen

Drink and pass peaceful puce blame.

My magenta sound needs refurbishment. Thud.

I indignant, punch, call out cyan.

Magnolia is to curdle. Drip done.

I feel apathetic grey slip.

Marinade, zoom away beyond gold.

Flustered route to white gun.

Reassures that green tap heart.


Thoughts (Sestina)

Thoughts

Thoughts, emanated from cerebral case
Tumble onto the floor.
Some by happy chance fall into our arms.
Your eyes aren’t a window they’re a door.
They offer fruit outward to me like a laden branch,
But I can’t take it on board.

Let’s write caught thought up on a white-board!
Let’s share the experience just in case
The fruit goes rotten whilst left on the branch.
The next fall leaves all inspiration on the floor.
Fading steps are muffled by the slammed-shut door.
I let another thought grow cradled in my arms.

We spend our life in a race for emotional arms,
When the fire-power is accrued prepare to board.
I barricade the door.
“You won’t get in here, in any case!
It happened before, knocked me to the floor.”
But I soon wave the bone-hued flag hung from a branch.

Subdued and compliant I lay down my branch.
I let myself be levitated by culture’s arms.
People get carried away all the time, but do all hit the floor?
“I can’t see your mind through your eyes anymore, just the board
That you put up.” I say, “It’s in case
Someone sharp wants to enter the door.”

My mouth has become an out-swinging door.
From cynicism’s tree has grown a branch,
And its fruit is all that is all that leaves this head-case.
I won’t let any fall into your arms.
It’s too precious to waste. No, my meeting of the board
Has one voice taking the floor.

Really, I want something to make my chin press the floor
Down. I want to fling… no unhinge the door
In order for me to take another on board
Wholeheartedly. Someone with a different fruit on their branch,
A sweet fruit that I can barely reach round with my arms,
The produce of a love that absolves my case.

The thoughts are a point in case, saved from the floor.
Placed on paper from my arms, offered through an unhinged door,
On a branch that was not too heavy for Him to take on board.