Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The copycat quoteth

I have nothing original/witty to say for myself today. Sorry folks. However, my reading of Huxley's, surprisingly dense, Doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell continues apace so I thought I'd ride on his coattails again and share some of my favourite quotes so far, a sort of 'diet' Huxley. Here goes.

"Most visualizers are transformed by mescalin into visionaries. Some of them - and they are perhaps more numerous than is generally supposed - require no transformation; they are visionaries all the time."

"That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul."

(Huxley gets us people, he's one of us.)

"For the intellectual is by definition the man for whom, in Goethe's phrase, ' the world is essentially fruitful.' He is the man who feels that 'what we perceive by the eye is foreign to us as such and need not impress us deeply'."

"If you go to New South Wales, you will see marsupials hopping about the countryside. And if you go to the antipodes of the self-conscious mind, you will encounter all sorts of creatures at least as odd as kangaroos. You do not invent these creatures any more than you invent marsupials. They live their own lives in complete independence. A man cannot control them. All he can do is go to the mental equivalent of Australia and look around him."

"Most dreams are without colour...about two-thirds of all dreams are in black and white."

"Reading these accounts, we are immediately struck by the close similarity between induced or spontaneous visionary experience and the heavens and fairylands of folklore and religion. Praeternatural light, praeternatural intensity of colouring, praeternatural significance - these are characteristic of all the Other Worlds and Golden Ages. And in virtually every case this praeternaturally significant light shines on, or shines out of , a landscape of such surpassing beauty that words cannot express it."

I love Huxley's way of writing, even if I do have to re-read it several times to understand. And I may even get around to reading one of his novels one of these days. And despite his descriptions of the wonderful effects of mescalin and other drugs, I still have absolutely no urge to try it.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

"A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."

You may have heard, goodness knows I have, that Jane Austen has recently been announced as the new face of the Bank of England £10 note. Having spoken to several friends about the justification for choosing our beloved Jane over any number of other women from history who were equally important, and maybe had a wee pinch more grit/clout to their achievements, I'm still fairly happy with the choice. Yes, Jane may be a tad too middle-class, too middle-English to reflect today's population of fantastically diverse women in Britain, but then no historical female figure is going to do that, none that exists yet anyway. And I just love her books. They're funny, they're often poignant, they come from a place of experience. She wrote about what she knew and she did it really really well, bless her. Her legacy left us with one of the most beloved, colourful pictures of Georgian England and I think she deserves a turn on the rotisserie of faces appearing on British currency. Why not? 

Enough fan-girl gushing. 

I was re-watching Lost In Austen for the millionth time this afternoon (it's a brilliantly made four-part tv series that aired on ITV in 2008) and I got to thinking, what else had the chap who played Mr Darcy, Elliot Cowan, acted in? One short journey via a search engine revealed a gem of a short film. Now me, I love a good short film, but it was weirdly serendipitous that I should stumble upon this one. Baring in mind what I wrote about the late, great Mr Huxley's views on wonder, I encourage you to watch Hamish Jenkinson's Leo and Lisa. Maybe it was just the combination of Elliot Cowan, Thandie Newton and the fantastic Kevin Spacey but I thought this play was intense and poignant. Austen would have loved it.

Leo and Lisa:

Monday, 29 July 2013

Disco kettles and Darius

The black plastic of the electric kettle had an eerie sheen in the late evening gloom. It was positively spooky the way its innards glowed with an ethereal pink LED light. She bent closer and watched through the illuminated aperture of transparency where you could measure the water.  The light emanating from inside the jug made the bubbling water pulsate to an aquatic disco rhythm. 

The kettle switched itself off and the light disappeared, leaving her in the near darkness of the kitchen, staring gormlessly into nothingness. She splashed water unenthusiastically into two mugs and squished the teabags apathetically against the sides with the back of the spoon. She just couldn’t be bothered anymore. Who was it this time? Darren…Derek…Darius? That was it, Darius. She didn’t know why Amy felt the need to be a serial monogamist when it was so much more fun being a free agent. At least that way she wouldn’t embarrass herself by becoming pathetically and dramatically heartbroken when things inevitably didn’t work. But then, knowing Amy, she probably still would.

As if in acknowledgement, the caterwauling from her bedroom grew louder and echoed down the corridor. She sighed again and tipped the teabags into the bin. Opening in the fridge she paused a moment in the chilly glow of the internal light. She shut her eyes and let the cold wash over her in wispy waves. She just couldn’t fathom the appeal of this repetitive cycle. Hunt for appropriate guy, fall sickening head over heels, the slow realisation (or sudden shock) that he isn’t the one and then the separation and inevitable heartbreak. Not to mention ruining your flatmates silk bedsheets with salty tears and dribbles of snot. Yuck. She shivered and made a grab for the milk. Splashing some into the tea, she fervently hoped Amy’s desperation would be magically cured by the brew. Sometimes it was enough to send her packing to her own bed at least.

She returned the milk to its icy home and ventured forth from the darkened sanctuary of the kitchen with the two mugs. Heartbreak be damned, she wanted some peace.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A trio of links

Brandon Stanton is a photographer that runs a blog called Humans of New York (HONY). I've been following his work for a little while and I love the way he marries stunning, often breathtakingly beautiful, photographs with insightful and humbling captions. Check out his website

YouTube celebrity Michael Stevens and his team run a series of channels under the name of Vsauce. He produces videos that often ask and investigate questions we've all thought about at one time or another, but never actually had them answered. I think his brilliantly child-like, open and boundless curiosity is infectious. Here's a recent video which asks 'Why Are Things Creepy?':

Lastly, I read an article on The Mary Sue called Thoughts On The Death of Books, The Emptiness of Video Games, The End of The World, Etc. It kind of struck a chord, and it was wonderfully written.
I would tip my bowler hat to you, Becky Chambers, if I had one.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

'The Truth' and other truths

Things I realised today:
1. I really like bowler hats
2. There is something unutterably romantic about gramophones
3. People can be surprisingly polite in the service industry (seriously, count how many times you/your friend/the waiter/waitress says 'thank you' next time you eat out)
4. There's nothing like a good jacket spud and beans after a long day
5. This blogging thing may be even tougher than I first thought.

I also finished a wee story I've been at for a while. 
I watched this video for a bit of inspiration: 
But I also had a prompt: A drunk man sits next to you in a bar, thinks he's your buddy and starts talking about 'The Truth'. Write about 'The Truth'.

Bryce walked from the abnormal heat of the July sun into a dusty and somewhat gloomy bar. He plonked himself dejectedly on one of the faded leather barstools and slumped forward onto his elbows, his youthful chin jutting out to rest on his balled fists. He was that confusing combination of frustrated and saddened. His girlfriend of four years, Sarah, had told him that they were finished. He hadn’t put up much of a fight because he knew they didn’t and couldn’t love each other anymore, but he was pained that they hadn’t been able to make it work. They had been sweethearts in school and after he’d come back from college they’d picked right up from where they’d left off. If he’d felt her feelings had changed for him, that her eyes weren’t full of that same hopeful future they once had been, he didn’t pay attention. And if she noticed he wasn’t as content as he once was with the small town, or as comforted by her caresses, she hadn’t said a word. Well, not until this morning.
He sat upright, smoothing his skinny tie against his short-sleeved, somewhat grubby, white shirt. It was a habitual gesture, and it bolstered him somewhat. He signalled with his hand to try and get the barman’s attention, but the guy sat behind the other end of the bar had a large, dull-looking newspaper hiding everything above his pointy, polyester -covered knees which protruded outwards from his own seated position. Evidently midday wasn’t the time for unfamiliar customers or good service.
Bryce turned at the low, raspy chortle that escaped from the older man sat a ways along from him. The man caught his eye and shuffled slowly forward, then sat down next to him, uninvited. He leant over conspiratorially and said quite jovially,
“Samson don’t pay strangers no heed son. The regulars get what they want themselves then pay up after.” Bryce flicked another glance towards the hidden figure of the barman then asked in a lowered voice,
“Shall I do the same?”
“I wouldn’t if I were you, he keeps Betty at the ready always.” The old man took a large gulp, emptying his tumbler of the amber liquid it contained.
“Who’s Betty?” Bryce asked. The guy wheezed another laugh out from between his crooked, yellowing teeth.
“Who? Ha, ha, ha, oh boy, you city folk crack me up. It’s a what, son. Betty’s his shotgun. Can’t be too careful with bandits and ruffians roaming about these parts.”
‘These parts’ was only a four hour drive from Bryce’s home in sleepy, wholesome suburgatory. It was sunny, and the last fifty miles or so had been looking increasingly lonelier, but it was hardly wild country. He didn’t bother to argue with the drunkard, he wouldn’t win, and it would serve no purpose.
“Yah. Sure. Say, would you mind?” He scratched his chin and motioned meekly towards a dusty bottle behind the bar.
“Oh. Sure kid, what’ll it be?” The old guy eased himself off the stool with another worrisome wheeze, then ducked and shuffled under the bar, crab-style. If it weren’t for the sound effects, you might think this guy was quite nimble for his age, but it was clear than most movements were fairly laboured.
“Just the Jim Beam, if you’d be so kind”
“No problem, think I might join you.” The guy filled the greasy tumblers generously, then leant across the bar, offering Bryce the drink. He reached for the glass, but the old man didn’t let go.
“Son, I’m gonna offer you some advice.” He rasped a rattling breath. “You look like a guy ‘could use some advice.”
 Bryce considered his options. He didn’t want to hear yet another person’s two cents. But he desperately wanted this drink. It was hotter than hell on a Sunday outside and this was the only stop for a goodly while. He didn’t think the old guy would let him get away without saying something. Best just to let him speak.
“Er, sure.”  Bryce took a sip as the guy waddled back under the bar and resumed his seat.
“Well son, you look like a guy that’s looking for something.” Not very eloquent, but he had a point. Bryce took another sip.
“You look like a guy that just cut and run, wanted to be somewhere new, wanted to see the big ol’ world. Ammirite?” Bryce nodded hesitantly.
The guy took a long look at him. From his slim fit black trousers to his skinny tie and square specs, Bryce looked like your average college graduate. Eager for something, but not knowing what. The old guy’s sigh was knowing.
“I’m gonna let you in on a little something I call ‘The Truth’.” He took another gulp of whiskey and Bryce watched as his hand spun the glass around, spilling drops on the faded beer mat.
“Y’know that something you’re looking for? Well…you ain’t never gonna find it.” Bryce grimaced. Here we go.
“Don’t screw your face up son, it’ll stick.” He gulped some more whiskey.
“What is it that you’re running from?”
From his slumped position he squinted into Bryce’s face. Bryce grimaced again.
“Ah, girl trouble I bet. You young boy’s have gotta buck up. It wasn’t so easy in my day y’know. You hadda court a girl for months before anything serious happened, then be on good terms with her pa so you didn’t get a hidin’ went you brought her home late.” He chuckled again and his whiskey-soaked breath almost misted on Bryce’s glasses before the heat hijacked the moisture.
“But seriously boy, go home and sort things out because you ain’t never gonna get over this girl. Folk never do.” For a minute the old guy looked almost sentimental. The crags of his face softened momentarily and there was something almost sweet about his expression. Then he belched.
“Yessiree, them broken hearts just follow you ‘round like shadows. I mean you’ve probably got ambitions, sure. And they’re commendable in young’uns like you but it just isn’t the same if you don’t have y’girl’s support.” He got up to shift behind the bar for a refill.
“College kid are ya?” Bryce took a sip, then found his voice.
“Yessir. Engineering and Business.”
“Well, whaddya doin’ out this way then?” The guy seemed genuinely anxious to know. After all, it was ‘these parts’ according to his reckoning.
“I’m on my way to New York. My pa wanted me to work at the oil refinery like him, but I’m not a chemist, y’know?”
“Sure now, that’ll be the one up in Tulsa?”
“Yessir.” Bryce was waiting for the rebuff. This guy was gonna tell him his pa was right. He shot a glance his way. He looked thoughtful, one hand on his creaking hip, one hand stroking his scruffy beard.
“Well son, you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Bryce sagged with relief. He hadn’t realised how much he’d wanted someone to say that. How much he’d needed someone not to immediately contradict him. He’d hated the inevitable outcomes his parents had sorted for him. They had his whole life neatly mapped out. He’d get a job at the refinery, move into another house on the block with another white picket fence, marry Sarah once the time came and raise a family of his own. It was so neat and ordered, so depressingly predictable it made his head throb with panic. He wanted excitement, adventure, intrigue maybe even a little danger. He wanted to see things, and do things, that would shock his frighteningly virtuous neighbours.
The old man rearranged his craggy face into something vaguely beneficent, and gestured towards the door.
“Well, I shouldn’t keep you from that big ol’ world son. Go on, git, before I decide to send y’back to pa. I bet he doesn’t even know where y’are, oh lawdy he’d probably skin me for lettin’ you get away.” Bryce didn’t need telling twice. He downed the dregs and slapped a few bills on the bar. Then smiled lopsidedly at the guy.
“Thanks. For the drink. And for the…well…‘The Truth’.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and ambled out into the sunshine and the heat.

Friday, 26 July 2013

A piece of the Huxley pie

Today, despite having been a member of the library for over a year and a half, I actually, genuinely, honest-to-goodness got some books out for the first time. Not that your average passer-by would guess this about me, but I'm quite a nervy person, a worrier by blood and petrified of the socially incorrect. So, I was playing an internal game of chicken with myself. But my decisive self won out and I took my choices over to the desk, ready for the judgey-looking clerks behind the desk to judge me with their judgey eyes. But they completely failed to notice my paltry fair and the whole event passed totally uneventfully.

Ten minutes later, as I sat in the park - back against my increasingly favourite tree, chomping my apple, trying to ignore the slight, but persistent, smell of dog's mess - I commenced my first book. In a bid to broaden my literary horizons I'm trying not to default to chick-lit with inevitable happy endings, so I went in the opposite direction with Aldous Huxley's "The Doors of Perception". For a first-time reader of his work, this is perhaps a bit of a bizarre choice because rather than one of his, no-doubt brilliant, novels, it's a short piece recounting his experience of taking mescalin.

I began with the foreward by J.G. Ballard, and I stumbled when I came across this passage: "Huxley believed that our brains have been trained during the evolutionary millenia to screen out all those perceptions that do not directly aid us in our day to day struggle for existence. We have gained security and survival, but in the process have sacrificed our sense of wonder."

Well. Speaking as a recently ex'd student, who is, quite frankly, retreating further into an self-imposed sense of denial disguised as imagination, I can safely say that my brain constantly throws things into my path that impede my daily struggles. This normally goes something like:
Brain: those library clerks glared at you when you came in, escape! Escape before they inevitably yell at you and publicly shame you for not being dressed appropriately for the library/for breathing too loudly/ for existing in their domain
Me: but I came here to get books. I want to read something improving this afternoon.
Brain: but they look scaaaaary, and you could just lie in bed!
Me: dude, we played that card yesterday.
Brain: but you liked laying in bed. It was comfy.
Me: yes, but I achieved bugger all....Nope, I'm braving it, I'm going to get these books out.
Brain: don't say I didn't warn you.

Yup, I am that neurotic. And I know I'm not alone. However, I can't help but agree with the second part of Mr Huxley's credo. I am in essence, secure and surviving but ultimately bored and unoccupied. I've lost my sense of wonder. This is what I want to rediscover.

And so from Huxley to pie. Today's attempts at recapturing wonder included making cherry pie from scratch. It's cooling in the tin as I write this. It is wonky, probably quite bland and possibly inedible, but wonderful all the same.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Do you

I am not a fan of copy-cats. It's a phrase that gets bandied about in playgrounds by unimaginative kids who wish to taunt others and, unfortunately, bandied around in newspapers usually in reference to unimaginative murderers. But I can't claim that this, hopefully one in a long line of future posts, makes me anything other than what I dislike*. 

A friend of mine has, over the past two years, done an absolutely wonderful job of blogging. Not the vapid, pointless blogging that lists what the author had for lunch and what kind of celebrity they want to grow up to be, but the unerringly sincere, thoughtful and colourful type of writing that genuinely inspires. I want to say thank you to that person and also make myself a promise. From today and for the month of August, in this grand old year of 2013, I will post something to this limping, wounded blog everyday. I plan to use the inspiration from my dear friend and resuscitate it RoboCop stylee. It might be a story, a photograph, a link to a stupid website or some more pathetic ramblings but, fingers, toes and other body parts crossed (minds out of the gutter people), this will hopefully give me the creative boost I need and maybe inspire some other people too. 
So in deference to my, somewhat militant, inner voice, I say to thee and me: Get creative. GO GO GO!

* a copycat folks, not a murderer or a child. just in case you were wondering.