Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lone Mosquito Blues

It's too late in the year for mosquitoes. But the few surviving mosquitoes remain doggedly unaware of this. We are now in the nightmarish time of 'the lone mosquito'.

When there are lots of mosquitoes, one becomes used to the massed buzzing, blots it out - may even be soothed into sleep by the gentle background bbbzzzzzzzzz. Or one may summon the energy to actually take precautions, dig the bug-zappers out of the bottom cupboard and plug them in. With just one, it never seems worth the effort. After all, what harm can a lone mosquito do?

Well, for one thing, emboldened by finding themselves in sole possession of the huge ranges of your apartment, they start indulging that little trick of flying right up to your ear. There seems to be some kind of rigid rule of mosquito etiquette that you shouldn't do this when other mosquitoes are present. Perhaps they are all modest creatures at heart, unwilling to assert alpha status over their peers. But when these social constraints are removed, oh yes, the ear becomes an irresistible beacon to the lone mosquito; approaching oh so slowly, only very gradually tightening, lowering its circles around your head; lower and lower and lower, louder and louder and LOUDER (bbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!) until finally..... it is directly above the entry to your ear canal, poised to plunge inside - like 'Star Wars' Rebels making a suicidal bombing run on the Death Star.

You hesitate to try to swat the pesky critter at this point, for fear of batting it deep down inside your ear and getting it stuck there, beating its frantic little wings right against your eardrum until it finally expires many days later. (I have touched on my paranoid streak before.)

Indeed, you hestitate to swat them at any time - something recoils at the idea of the huge splodge of your own blood on the wall that will result. And with the lone mosquito, that splodge will be HUGE. How many times can one mosquito bite you? There appears to be no limit. I think last night's visitor got me at least a dozen times. I pictured the greedy little bastard lumbering through the air with its bloated belly fat and round and red as a cranberry.

Another night of insomnia. Another array of itchy facial blemishes.

I'm going to dig those bug-zappers out of the cupboard.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Haiku with a back-story

I first fell in with one of my dearest Drinking Companions, The Arts Entrepreneur, many, many years ago, when we were both doing "the Paul Pennyfeather thing" (i.e. inspired by the great Evelyn Waugh novel 'Decline and Fall', we had fallen into teaching as a first post-University job - largely because we were too feckless to think of anything else; and at least it didn't hold out any threat of ever becoming a career [dread word!]; and maybe, just maybe [as in the novel] we might be able to get ourselves seduced by one of the bored, glamorous mums..... and find ourselves swept by chance into some far more exciting profession, such as white-slaving).

The environment we found ourselves in was so oppressively dull - a tiny boarding school in the West Country of England, bothersomely remote even from the nearest small town, practically out of touch with any kind of 'civilization' - that we turned to each other for subversion and solace on an almost daily basis. One of the few worthwhile perks of the job was that there was a comfortably appointed Masters' Bar, which sold draught beer and a small selection of spirits and snacks at pretty much cost price (and on an 'honour' system at that - often abused by others, but not by us: we were too grateful for the facility!). It wasn't long before The Entrepreneur, a much more determined social networker than me, had managed to charm himself into the good graces of the senior staff and got co-opted on to the Bar Committee: this gave him the privilege/responsibility/temptation of a key to the reserve liquor cabinet. Our first few months of late-night drinking together had been curtailed whenever the whisky or gin on the optic dispenser had given out; but now, The Entrepreneur could hook up a new bottle at will, and we could go on all night if the mood so took us.

It didn't often, although there were a few occasions when we continued until near dawn; many, many more when we carried on until 2am or 3am. However, the drink was merely a useful prop - a source of energy, a kind of fuel for the imagination. Ultimately, it was the conversation rather than the alcohol which made those late-night sessions such a joy.

It was around this time that I was first becoming fascinated by haiku. This, then, is one of my earliest compositions (and still one of my best) in this form, in honour of those times, that friend.

Night Talk

Now we dream awake
And conjure the sun's return.
One drink, one thought more.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What job do I do?

Part of the reason that I occasionally get mistaken for something terribly exotic - like a spy, or an escaped convict, or an eccentric, down-dressing millionaire - is that I am always determinedly evasive about discussing my employment.

I've never found myself in a job where I felt really at home, where I said to myself, "This is me." And perhaps I am never likely to find one. I am not one of those people who feel themselves defined primarily or solely by their work. Perhaps I am more defined by my avoidance of work. Not that I am lazy: I like to be busy, I like to work hard - but never for too long at the same thing. I have always been deeply sceptical of conventional 'career paths'. I prefer to dodge full-time or long-term employment, and if I do find myself doing the same kind of thing in the same place for more than a year or two I start to itch for a change of scene.

When challenged about my job at cocktail parties, I sometimes like to say that I am a beachcomber. Not literally, but metaphorically. I walk the lonely strand beside our turbid ocean of culture, and occasionally, very occasionally I happen on something I feel I might be able to fashion into something beautiful or useful - or just sell on to make a quick buck.

A collector of shiny things, that's me.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Shadows and Froog

Earlier this year I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover a favourite poetry anthology (the eccentrically eclectic 'The Rattle Bag', compiled by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney) many years after I had last seen it; many years after I had lost my only copy; many years after I began to assume it must have gone out of print. English books - outside of the 'World's Classics' series - can be pretty hard to come by in my strange adopted home: there is, in fact, only one really good, but fairly small, supplier in my city. Seeing three copies of this great book suddenly before me on the shelf, I was tempted to buy them all; but then I chided myself for such selfishness, and settled for just the one. Days later, the other two copies had vanished as well, never to be replaced, and I was rather regretting my altruistic forbearance.

Delighted as I was to have the book in my hands again, I couldn't shake the nagging conviction that at least two obscure poems I had particularly liked in the original version were no longer present. Is this a revised edition? Is my memory playing tricks on me? Is the Universe playing tricks on me? Aaaarrgghh!

Anyway, one favourite piece which was still there - not a phantom of false memory - was 'Games', a group of macabre 'nursery rhymes' by the Croatian poet, Vasco Popa.

I was inspired to attempt a number of pieces in a similar vein myself. Nothing quite as good as the original models, I fear, but some quite good, and this, I think, the best (shadows are always a good theme for poetry!):

The Shadow Thief

He thinks of himself as a collector
He likes shadows, collects them
He sneaks up behind people
When they're not looking
And snatches their shadows away

It is easy
People seldom look
At their shadows

He takes them home
Stores them in a cupboard
Steals and stores, steals and stores
Saves them for a sunny day

The shadows don't like the dark
They form a union
Plan an escape, break out
Together, they create the Night

On paranoia

Of course, it's not really paranoia if 'they' are out to get you.

Another of those instances of "there really ought to be a word for that".

It was some years ago that I first canvassed a group of my friends by e-mail as to whether there was an appropriate term to denote 'justified paranoia'.

One of them suggested 'hunted'.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Where in the world am I? (4)

I am in a country with, it would seem, a decidedly sweet tooth.

Recently, I was on an internal flight and the attendant came around offering drinks. Beer did not seem to be available, and the fruit juice here is never very good, so I asked for a cola. "With sugar?" the attendant beamingly asked. I assumed he was offering me a choice of diet or regular cola, but diet is just about never available anywhere here (although you can buy it in stores easily enough), and a quick glance at the trolley confirmed that only regular Coke was on offer now. "Sugar?" I boggled. "Sugar!" he agreed eagerly, proffering a handful of the sugar sachets we normally associate with undrinkable airline coffee. "No, thank you," I said,"just the Coke."

Was I the victim of a bored (or mad?) hireling playing a cute little practical joke on a gullible foreigner, or do people in this country really feel that regular soda drinks are somehow not sweet enough? I almost suspect the former, since friends who travel on the domestic airlines more than me claim never to have encountered this bizarre drinks option before, and locals I've quizzed about it purport to find it as ridiculous and unbelievable as I did.

I'm almost sorry I didn't take him up on the offer, though, in a spirit of scientific enquiry. Surely adding sugar to a carbonated drink would lead to massive foaming, frothing, and spillage? Maybe I'll run the experiment at home some time, with plenty of kitchen towels on hand.

This, then, may have been a freak occurrence, a misleading guide to the palate of my new countrymen. However, a lot of the food here is very sweet, sugar being a regular addition even to meaty, savoury dishes. And some years ago, on my first visit, I was treated to the memorable culinary innovation of chips sprinkled with sugar (that's 'French fries', of course, to my American friends..... or do the NeoCons amongst you still insist on 'Freedom fries'?). Actually, they weren't at all bad; though that again is an aberration I have yet to see repeated.

Perhaps there's just a conspiracy against me to keep on offering me joke food & beverage choices to see what I do with them. Have I been set up on a website somewhere as the 'Sugar Boy', so that half the country is now looking for opportunities to inflict hastily improvised 'sweet treats' on me?

I'm getting paranoid again, aren't I?

Friday, September 22, 2006


Here is the seed of a poem I've been noodling around with recently. Thus far, it refuses to sprout and grow. But I have hopes for it, hopes.

Religion is the sum
of all the fears we cannot shake
and the stories that we tell
to charm the night
and ease us into sleep

There ought to be a word for it

I have just learned that my good friend Tony 'The Chairman' had a precisely similar experience to myself when re-entering the country last weekend through the same airport that I vilified a few posts ago. The same seething mob of bewildered passengers, the same incompetent and unconcerned immigration officials, the same excruciating 2-hr wait.

I feel oddly uplifted by this news. It's not schadenfreude (though that is a fine word and a very useful concept); I take no delight in my friend's distress, even in the relatively non-malevolent form of consolation-by-comparison (viewing my own troubles as less when set alongside his), and certainly not in the sense of sadistic glee. And yet I do feel comforted in a way, my sense of grievance salved; yes, I admit it, my occasional paranoia is assuaged. "Why seems it so particular with thee?" "I know not 'seems'!" When shit like that happens, I do take it personally: I convince myself that the unseen directing forces of the Universe are singling me out for special attention. It's good to be reminded that other people are experiencing identical shit.

I would like to find a word for this undercutting of self-pity and the diminution of paranoia that arises from the reflection that our sufferings are commonplace after all. What could that word be?

Haiku time again

Sadness falls like night:
Sudden cold dark everywhere.

Stargazers yet smile.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Where in the world am I? (3)

I live in a country where hospitals are actively discouraged from keeping records of road accident casualties, because the statistics are just too horrific to contemplate.

Even the WHO, which tends to be very conservative in such assessments, estimates that the official figure for annual road traffic deaths here may be only around 55% of the true total. And the official figure is plenty bad enough.

The situation on the roads here is so chaotic, so murderous that we live in a perpetual state of heightened awareness, alert to even the most seemingly remote and improbable possibility of sudden homicidal incompetence in our vicinity. After some time away, this nervous hyperactivity slowly settles back down to a more normal, complacent level. But, while visiting London and DC - and even New York - this summer, I never quite got over being surprised when cars slowed and stopped for me as soon as I stepped off the kerb. Here, they speed up and aim towards you!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What's up with Yahoo?

And while I'm in a whingey frame of mind - what the f*** is up with Yahoo? For the past week, all the buttons in the read-email windows have been inactive, which makes it a complete pain in the arse to do anything (constantly going back into Inbox to carry out deletions, having to cut & paste address lines because the automatic 'Reply' feature is disabled, etc).

Is this a worldwide problem, or just another another little (unfathomable) local glitch of the kind that is so, so common in my new homeland?

Where in the world am I? (2)

I am in a country where it can take 2 hrs to clear the Immigration Hall.

Now, that is not perhaps such an unusual thing, not a unique identifying feature of my adopted home. I suffered a 50-minute queue the last time I came through JFK. However, on that occasion, perhaps faced with an unusual and unexpected simultaneous deplaning of passengers from several 747s (or are they all 757s now? I betray my age....), certain steps were taken to ameliorate the problem: the US Citizen gates were changed over to deal with the international passengers once the relatively small number of Americans had passed through, and - eventually - they even managed to find some extra staff to take on a few of the numerous vexingly unmanned processing stations.

And the 'snake' queueing barriers did keep the several hundred-strong horde in reasonable order. I never thought I'd find myself praising the 'snake'. I hate the goddamned 'snake'! I hate the way it forces you to constantly double back on yourself. I hate the way it makes you repeatedly shuffle past the same miserable faces in the parallel sections of the queueing line. Above all, I hate that there is no way of getting directly to the front when there is nobody else in line. (There used to be a particularly oppressive one corralling the visitors waiting for the elevators to the observation deck of the Sears Tower in Chicago - ceiling-high barriers of polished metal sheeting, so that you and your immediate neighbours were endlessly mirrored into a seemingly infinite throng, while the ends of the queue were invisible: extremely claustrophobic! A really, really, really bad idea. I wonder if it's still there.)

But 'snakes' have their uses - they do impose discipline, they do give you a sense of how long you may have to wait, they do promote equality of queueing opportunity (none of this desperate gambling on which of the individual lines may move faster). When I returned from Europe 12 days ago, there was just a huge formless scrum at Immigration. There were probably well over a thousand people waiting to pass through, with more arriving all the time. And the booths were so far away, we couldn't even see them clearly when we started our long wait; there were no signs or markers to indicate clearly where the lines should form; the only lane barriers were in the last few yards before the booths, and even here they were four people wide, so didn't provide much help in deciding who should take priority - they merely created ugly choke-points at which hopeful but increasingly impatient and ill-tempered mobs 8 or 10 abreast would try to compress themselves into this suddenly narrower space.

On this particular occasion, it didn't help that I had picked the SLOWEST-MOVING line: an especially bumbling immigration functionary was taking a minimum of two minutes to deal even with an utterly straightforward case like me, and 5-10 minutes with many of those who were unfortunate enough to have omitted something from their landing cards or carried passports from countries he didn't recognise. It didn't help the mood of the crowd in general that not all of the booths were manned, yet there was a central cubicle of supervisors - 6 or 7 of them - who were conspicuously laughing and joking and lounging around on their fat backsides doing nothing at all while this seething mass of chaos around them threatened to approach the threshold for riot.

This, then, is the country in which I live. Shit like this happens all over the world. But it tends to happen more often and worse here, and with no indication that anything is ever going to be done to make it better. I mean, this is a very big and modern airport we're talking about here, for gawd's sake! I don't think I'll be using it again in a hurry.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"As a dog returneth to his vomit..."

This has always been one of my favourite Biblical proverbs - a memorably lurid analogy for our foolish human propensity to revisit and repeat our past follies. 'Dog vomit' (as in "Don't go doing that dog-vomit thing again with Louise") has become a regular piece of conversational shorthand between me and my best college drinking buddy, The Bookseller, when we are warning each other against trying to go back into a failed relationship.

Do I always practice what I preach? Well, mostly, but not always. And The Bookseller is not on hand to snarl his discouraging scorn at me.

A few days ago, I went and had lunch with The Ex. And it was lovely. One of the nicest times I've ever had with her. Until she mentioned in passing, just as she was about to go, that she was "still in love" with the guy she had supposedly left for me nearly a year ago (but, actually, hadn't quite; and who was presumably the guy she left me for shortly afterwards), and that it was making her miserable. What exactly does she expect me to do with this information? Make another doomed attempt to 'rescue' her? Give her the 'tough love' advice she needs, that might help her to extricate herself from this self-destructive non-relationship, but would almost certainly sour - if not destroy - our friendship? Or smile sadly and say,"I'm sorry, but I can't help you with this problem." Talk about a 'conflict of interest'!!!

Quite apart from the appalling complexities of this relationship of hers - and of the brief, mad, wonderful affair that we had - I will always have difficulties in dealing with her because of the extraordinary strength of the connection I feel with her, the depth of the affinities I sense between us, the absolute adoration I have for her. Scoff, if you will, at the New Age hokeyness of this, but... minutes into our first conversation, I recognised her as a 'soulmate'. We share so many interests, ideals and prejudices, the same passionate enthusiasms, a common zest for life. We get on - most of the time - terrifically well together; we get each other (which happens very rarely with me: I am a very weird and unfathomable guy!).

We could have been, should have been - perhaps still could be - best friends until our dying breath. But then, of course, I had to go and fall in love with her, and fall into bed with her, and it all just got way too intense and complicated and messy and overwrought. I think the lesson I learn from this is that you should never sleep with your soulmate - sleep with people you fancy, not with someone who you feel is destined to become the most important friendship in your life.

I'm over the worst of it now. I think I can resist any temptation I might occasionally feel to try to get back together with her. I have managed to curb and contain the dominating lust I once felt for her. I love her, but am no longer, I think, 'in love' with her in that hopeless, dizzy, intoxicating, obsessive, infatuate way - that we all so enjoy, until it goes painfully wrong. ("Falling in love is like getting drunk. A relationship is the hangover." Discuss.)

Yes, the trouble with falling for your soulmate is that you value the friendship more than the sex, and become reluctant to take any risks in trying to initiate or rekindle a sexual dimension to the relationship. I am determined that I can be quite content with a Platonic relationship with her from here on..... but I am sure that any number of my crass (or perhaps just "refreshingly direct"?) young American buddies would say, "Oh God, man, she is SO hot - you've totally got to try and jump her again."

But I don't listen to them. And the little voice inside me that occasionally echoes their advice has been locked away in an oubliette, never to be allowed out again.

I just wish, wish, wish (since I feel her happiness and unhappiness so much more acutely than my own) that the silly girl would learn the knack of being happy a bit more often. Perhaps, one day.....

Christopher Robin goes down on Alice....

An old joke, but I've always had a soft spot for it. Forgive me.

I toss in this untypical crudery not in a cynical attempt to attract readers, but purely as an appropriate introduction to my latest bizarre little anecdote.

I happened to be wandering through the Embassy District last night - a little boozed-up, I confess - when a troop of soldiers appeared in front of me. Time for the changing of the guard. This was not a particularly intimidating apparition because the soldiers in this country (even the 'cream of the cream' selected for diplomatic protection duties) are almost invariably scrawny teenagers in ill-fitting uniforms; I am always more concerned about the danger of their zits exploding on me than I am that I might be cut down in a hail of bullets for taking a furtive piss against the wall of the Embassy of Benin.

It somehow occurred to me that the slightly jaunty tempo of their marching exactly matched that of the old Cars hit 'My Best Friend's Girlfriend', and I couldn't resist launching into a few bars: "Here she comes again.... with her suede blue eyes...."

The boy soldiers were discomfited.... got out of step.... the moment was lost.....

Time for another haiku

Slightly late, but it's been a frenetic week.

Alone at the bar,
Pondering my empty glass
And my empty dreams

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years on

It's become a commonplace to say that anyone who was alive in 1963 can remember exactly what they were doing when they first heard the news of Kennedy's shooting. My father, for one, was always rather sketchy on that.

But then, of course, there were no live television pictures of that event. Horrors that unfold in living colour, real-time, live as they happen, etch themselves in the memory far more vigorously, more ineradicably than the transmission of news by word-of-mouth alone ever could. I think the news coverage of the Falklands War in '82 was the first time I can remember experiencing such vivid, horrendous news almost as it happened - though not quite: I'm not sure that there were any live feeds during that conflict; always, surely, there was a delay of at least an hour or so, with some intervening censorship.

The explosion of the Challenger space shuttle was the first time I witnessed a remote, appalling news event at the very moment that it happened. Terrible though that was at the time, its impact pales in comparison with 9/11: the shock less brutally unexpected (space exploration is inescapably hazardous), a product of ill luck and human error rather than wilful malice, and the casualties so few.

The casualties so few, and known immediately. One feature of the WTC attacks which made them uniquely horrible to behold was the dread they struck into so many watchers around the world that someone they knew personally might have been caught up in them, the uncertainty as to who might have been in the buildings or the planes or the emergency service crews, and who might have been saved, the anguished speculations that the death toll might run not to hundreds or thousands but to tens of thousands. Almost everyone in the world was familiar with the iconic Manhattan skyline, almost everyone has fantasised about going there. Very many of us, particularly in Western Europe and North America, had been lucky enough to do so. And many of us had college friends who had worked at some time in New York, in Manhattan, in the financial district, maybe even in or near to the Trade Center itself. I thought someone I knew might have died that day as I watched the pictures on TV; and I'm sure that was a sensation shared by tens or hundreds of millions of other onlookers, however tenuous the grounds for that identification with the events may have been; and it was this sensation which helped make those events so lastingly memorable, so psychologically damaging.

I remember exactly where I was when those planes flew into the World Trade Center. I always will. I think most of us will.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Where in the world am I?

I am in a place where it may be particularly dangerous to joke about becoming a spy.

I mentioned in my last post that I am fond of maintaining a sense of mystery about myself. Mostly that's just a frivolous attempt to make myself more sexy; but part of it - especially online - is a genuine (and not especially paranoid) concern for self-protection. The kinds of things I say and think and write could, from time to time, offend my hosts in my adopted country. And I'd rather not get myself deported just yet, thank you very much.

So, I'd like to see how long I can go without mentioning what that adopted country is.

I will, however, throw out occasional hints.

For example: I live in a country where, when they dig a road up, they dig all of it up - however long it may be. Hence, the road around the lakes near my apartment, my favoured early morning jogging route, is currently completely impassable. It is almost all dug up. And it is a three-mile circuit. I fail to see any convincing logic behind this approach.


I have just been accused of being a spy. What a laugh!

Not by the police, thank heavens. No, by a chance acquaintance I met at a wedding party last weekend. It seems I somehow impressed him with a certain quality of spyiness. Apparently, my surprising athleticism (I run marathons, but only very slowly) and enormous capacity for alcohol were cited as evidence for his suspicions. No reference to a Bond-like smoothness with the ladies, alas. I rather think this bizarre supposition has more to do with my determined evasiveness about my background (I occasionally try out the line: "I could tell you what I do.... but then I'd have kill myself."). I'm far from complaining. Spying is generally perceived as an oddly glamorous profession, isn't it? I've been trying to cultivate "an air of mystery" for years, and it seems I'm finally succeeding.

I fear, though, that I am far too impatient to tolerate starting off as an entry-level spy, especially one of those poor street surveillance plodders (Do they still call them "lamplighters"?). I see myself more at the Evil Genius level. I always aim high. But you don't see those jobs come up in the classifieds very often.

The great irony of this little episode is that my 'accuser' is quite clearly a spy himself. Nobody actually knows his full name; he is invariably referred to simply as The German. He attends regular meetings with his old Oxford tutor, despite not actually having been a student for some years. He briefly had a rather lucrative job in banking or somesuch, but abruptly gave that up to follow a much more nebulous career in "international development". He disappears for 6 months at a time to places like Afghanistan on mysterious "research projects", and will never tell any stories of his experiences upon his return. Now, to my mind, that all screams 'SPY'. I've read my Le Carre.

Perhaps I should take this as a useful cosmic hint; maybe spying would be a worthwhile career option for me. My need for a job of some sort is becoming rather acute. I think I'll whizz over to the MI6 website and see if they've got any vacancies in the 'Q' Section.

However, I somehow doubt they would see me as "the right stuff", since I am terminally irreverent and perhaps the least patriotic person I know.

I am reminded of a story I heard some years ago about a friend of a friend at Oxford (it is supposed to be true, but I can't vouch for it personally) who somehow impressed one of the MI5 recruiters there as being suitably bright and patriotic and - crucially - of the right social background. He flew through successive interview rounds, and passed the background vetting with ease (because, of course, none of his friends or family were likely to say anything bad about him), and so ended up in a very chummy meeting with some senior intelligence officers who were going to offer him a job. They asked him if he had any final questions he'd like to ask. "Well, yes," he said. "I'm an alcoholic homosexual gambling addict. Doesn't that matter?"

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Why Froog?

A reference to a favourite film - 'Dark Star', a science fiction black comedy (a genre of one?), the film school graduation project of John Carpenter (who went on to fame with the likes of 'Halloween', 'The Thing', and 'Escape From New York') and Dan O'Bannon (who later reworked some of the ideas in his script for 'Alien'). The Time Out Film Guide once called it "the last great hippie movie", and Carpenter himself characterized it as "a sort of 'Waiting For Godot' in Outer Space".

The leading character, played by O'Bannon himself, is ostensibly called Pinback (one of the bleak gags in the film is that the astronauts have all been in space so long they have forgotten their own first names, and can perhaps only remember their surnames because they are stencilled on the front of their overalls), but at one point, in a rather poignant video diary sequence (and that's pretty prescient for 1972), he claims that he is a victim of mistaken identity, and is in fact a lowly member of the ground crew called Bill Froog who has come on the mission by mistake - "Sgt Pinback's uniforms do not fit me. The underwear is too loose."

The secret alias of a fictional character in an obscure cult film makes an appealing nom de guerre, I feel.

Some years ago, I was browsing in a bookshop in New York - Coliseum Books, in its old location just off Columbus Circle (it has since moved to much airier, but far less characterful, premises in Midtown, just over the road from the New York Public Library) - when I happened upon a book (on the 'How To Write A Screenplay' shelf, I believe) written by one William Froug. He had been a professor of film studies in the 60s and 70s - at UCLA, possibly; I forget. So, it seems very possible that Carpenter and/or O'Bannon were surreptitiously paying homage to a favourite teacher. And it would appear that I have been misspelling my favourite alias all these years. Ah well - I'm too set in my ways to change now.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Why Haiku?

Well, they're short. And I'm lazy.

No, I'm kidding. I really don't think I am lazy (though some of my thrusting, go-getting friends might disagree).

It's more the Zen thing, the quiet discipline of distilling a scene or a thought into a few simple images, artfully juxtaposing them...... and keeping track of the bloody syllable count. It's not as easy as it looks. Yet it is strangely restful, meditative, therapeutic. I've been writing quite a lot of them recently (not quite the one-a-day that an American writer friend of mine aims for, but quite a lot).

Counting syllables
Soothes me. I almost forget
How much I miss you.

The Friday Haiku

The long journey home:
Not all the dark is nighttime,
Nor all the cold, snow.

Why blog?

Oh, take your pick from all the usual reasons.
1) I'm bored.
2) I can't sleep.
3) I'm out of work.
4) I'm recovering (or am I?) from a bad love affair.
5) It's raining outside.
And so on.
Most blogs I've encountered are ferociously boring. Thus far, perhaps, this one is little different. But that is one of the challenges I set myself - can I write regularly and keep finding interesting things to say? (Things that interest me, that is. I really don't give a rat's ass whether I ever attract a readership.)
I feel it might also be a worthwhile exercise to get into a regular writing habit. I fancy myself as a writer, but procrastination rather than productivity has been my trademark in recent years. Forcing myself to write - something, anything - a bit more often may perhaps lubricate the mental processes, breathe some new life into my almost extinct creative fire.
This is my hope, anyway.
We shall see.

The Odysseus challenge

After some minutes of pondering my last self-directed question, this is what I came up with. (At least, after a brief interval of vain fretting over the fact that Post Two somehow got its text size and paragraph spacing all screwed up. Ah, technology - dontcha hate it?)

Why am I blogging, when the very concept inspires the deepest contempt in me? Well, I think a large part of it is my wariness of narcissism, and a desire to examine whether I really am as proof against it as I'd like to think. By exposing myself to this supremely narcissistic environment, I am testing my strength of character. If I can be a blogger and not succumb to the myriad temptations to preen before that huge (?) unseen audience out there, not descend into the rampant self-regard, self-importance, self-love that I see in so many sorry blogaholics out there, then I will have achieved something, some comfort, some peace of mind, a reaffirmation of myself.

I fancied it was somewhat like Odysseus' celebrated ordeal of exposing himself to the ultimate temptation of the Sirens' song. Except, of course, that he was cheating. He'd had himself tied to the mast, so he didn't have to resist temptation. No such luxury for me. I'm out here on my own, with nothing to hold me back from disaster.

In dispraise of blogging

I don't like the idea of blogging. Not at all.
Yes, partly it is my Neo-Luddite distaste for technology. The Internet is too profuse: it challenges, overwhelms my inner calm. But I've never liked the idea of keeping a paper diary either. There seems to be something so desperately needy, attention-seeking, praise-demanding about it. (Nobody ever keeps a really private diary, do they? I'm sure all diarists have half an eye on publication of some sort, yearn to have their thoughts read by others - whether the public at large, or generations yet unborn, or the intimates from whom they supposedly strive to keep the book hidden.) A strange mix of insecurity and megalomania - it's all so "Look at me! My life is so interesting and unusual and special!"
And I've always been sceptical as to whether anyone who spends that much time writing about their life can actually be living one. Maybe Pepys et al could toss off a few thousand words in a mere fifteen minutes or so, and then call it a night, slipping immediately into deep repose. Me, I'm a slow writer. Careful. Thoughtful. And if I try doing too much writing late at night, the turbid brain runs out of control, condemning me to hours of insomnia.
If there's a problem with diaries and the kind of people who keep them, then that problem is 100 times worse with blogging, where the writer dispenses with any pretence of recording his thoughts only for his own benefit, and actively seeks to parade them before the whole world. The blogosphere (and what a portentous, comically ugly word that is!) is, I fear, an orgy of narcissism.
So why am I doing it?
Hmmm. An interesting question. Let me ponder.

The First Post

A blog is born.

OK, bad start. How many times has that been said in Post One? Millions, I would guess. One day, if I'm really bored, I might try Googling it.

So, we're up and running. Just noodling around with the technology here, really.

What next???