Death Becomes You, Dear Novel

The novel is dead, so eulogizes Will Self, the serious, difficult novel, which I suspect is the so-called literary novel that’s been hanging around on book corners ever since modernism and has caused a few scuffles with readers and critics alike.

I’ve read some of Self’s work. I like that he perambulates long distances. I even enjoy that he pulls words like “benison,” “Gesamtkunstwerk, “Panglossian,” and “melioristic” out of his rattlebag. But, then, when it comes to fiction, I favour Maximalism over minimalism — it’s the cherry picker in me.

But, sod you Self and your aging anxieties that you will cease to be as a writer for being the reason you’ve chosen to write about the death of the novel.

Although I must admit it’s sobering news for a writer like myself who is still brewing in the vats of the emerging writing life. It also brings on a tidal wave of creative anxiety to be told the book is dead even before I’ve even had a chance to get a book published. It’s akin to telling a child don’t bother living because you’re only going to die.

Ok, let’s say the novel is really dead, nails are in the coffin, mourners are dressed in black, and the Gutenberg press weeps tears of ink.

That’s fine by me. Bring on the wake! Let’s open the bubbly and get rip-roaring drunk on the death of the novel because all it means is that the Graustarkian literary standard by which all books are written is now demolished. There is no “great” book left to be written, no “great” writer about to swoop down in a blaze of tweed and pipe smoke to carry off the novices in his golden claws. Anyone now has a chance to write a book — and that includes me. A great new brave world of opportunity knocks. Open Sesame!

Unless, of course, it’s all premised on sell, sell, sell and there will be only a handful of novels that can shift the tectonic plates of the mind to new visions, eclipse and super nova the life of the emotions, and locate the soul in the overwhelming somatic rush of flesh. If the death of the novel is simply leading to a land of mediocrity, then I want to go down the mine with Self and his canaries and face the subterranean gases. I’m not interested enough to live with the endless flow of entertainment toxins that will pass through my body pretending to be art. Thanks, but no thanks. My kidneys are working well enough to know piss when it streams before me.

But if the novel is dead and a panoramic vista of new horizons opens up with the Millennium Falcon on the nearest hill, I’m up for the ride. Let’s park that old literary junker out back and get into something more relevant, more post-postmodern, something that isn’t flashy but is made from the recycled goods of the past. Everything under the sun has been done before, and done better, so let’s space hop to new frontiers on the magic of the past and the literary genius of the moment will become less obvious and more fulfilling.

Why should the death of the novel be such a bad thing? Ovid, a writer, proclaimed the beauty of metamorphosis, the power of mutability over the fragility of things, the freedom of the finite self to the many selves. And what is fiction but a series of little deaths of the selves. A writer dies with each book he or she writes and is reborn again with a new one.

So if the novel is dead, I for one am not going to let it go gentle into that good night. I’m going to rage and fight and get as many words down as possible. I’m going to write as if the devil himself is at my heels and wants my soul for eternity.

The time is ripe to rise like the phoenix from the ashes of dead novels.

Le livre est morte, vive le livre!

Pink Moon

April is almost over and its pink moon gone. The Indians called the moon pink after the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox. There was supposedly a pink moon on the 15th of this month. I didn’t see it only because my family and I were in the middle of moving into our new home in the middle of the woods.

I love our new place. Love it! It’s the currant in the bun. It’s the perfect place for us; fits us like a glove. To be finally in a place that is spacious and almost built to our sensibilities is like grapes between the toes of the wine maker. And as an added bonus, we are looking after 29 hens and a rooster, who continues to crow our good fortune. And there are eggs in every nook and cranny.

One of my all-time favourite short stories is “The Distance of the Moon” by Calvino. The magnetic pull of the moon. The major transitions in life. The attraction to what is new. The repulsion for what is hackneyed, worn out, spent.

It’s time to let the happiness in.

Change is easy when you’ve been living off the dust of nostalgia and boredom. But transitions can be tricky cause there are metaphors collecting in the unconscious. For all the tumultuous anguish and joy of change, a person must find his or her own metaphors to make sense of it all. The public metaphor has no place for things undergone by the self.

And so a new chapter has begun in a new house.

Kingsley Amis once wrote. “Whisky is my favourite tipple, though I recommend never giving it to a Welshman as it’s wasted on someone with an IQ of less than 80.”

If Amis wasn’t dead, I’d write to him pretending to be the whiskey bottle he’d abused and I’d complain about his loose lips slapping on my imperfect rim, his grubby nicotine-stained fingers squeezing my glass sides, his pudgy, sweaty face secreting all over my label. And I’d threaten to tell all about the night he drank me dry, guzzled me down to nothing more than a stale odor, and how he locked the door to his study, covered his typewriter, shoved the full ashtray aside, and kissed his copy of Lucky Jim.

“I do not judge myself or others. That is far too common for a tired aesthete.” Cyril Solipsist

Artifice is all we have. Take life at its face value? Boorish. You do that and all you have is the mundane, spending and getting, fucking and dying. Artifice is what’s given us art. It’s what’s given us life. Without it, we’d still be gnawing bones, afraid of what we don’t know, hoarding fruit and nuts, shagging in dead furs, and waiting for the pantheon of gods to wipe us out.

Time for some Nick Drake.

Bring It On Home

It’s spring. Life is stirring again. But first, there must be mud, at least in Maine. And then there are the pigheaded strips of snow that refuse to trot off.

Darwin and his Beagle, it’s lonely being a writer. Not the physical solitude (I’m equipped for that), but the loneliness of never knowing. I probably shouldn’t have read Adam Phillips’ Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. Instead of inspiring me to greater heights of sufferance, I can’t nudge free the idea that I’m missing out on something.

And what do I feel like I’m missing out on? A gang of one’s own (instead of a room); John Ashbery talking to himself; a lovely coterie of friends; more involvement in the literary world (although I don’t even know what shape that should take); a vintage pair of jeans; a book deal.

“We make sense of our lives in order to be free not to have to make sense.”

My life at times feels like a boat in dead waters: waiting to get an agent to love me through the leafy vines; waiting for the sun to go supernova; waiting to hear if there is water on Mars; waiting for a physicist to find the God particle. If only it could be just Waiting For Godot. Why can’t I get a Golden Ticket like Charlie? “I never thought my life could be anything but catastrophe….”

But as King Lear told me the other night, “The art of our necessities is strange.” But the night before that, Mad Cyril told me: “The future is simply a ship in a bottle waiting for the right wave to let you out.”

What has happened to universities and the academic life? Send me off to American Idol with a song in my mediocre heart, but aren’t universities and colleges the Land for the Lotus Eaters? I thought it was the last refuge for exiles, eccentrics, the obsessed, thinkers, libertines, seekers, the disaffected, the lonely, those who don’t wanna grow up, those who fled the working world with Ginsberg’s Howl in their veins, those whose backs were pushed up against the wall by the world and who hopped over it into some cerebral paradise. How did all this professionalism and success and play the bonny tenured prof come about? Shouldn’t universities be letting misfits and miscreants and the mad teach the bright young things of the future?

Why is it that the middle class always work like dogs and yet never have anything to show for it but debt and mortgages and exhaustion and unfulfilled dreams? I don’t want that. I want the Alexandria Quartet in my backyard. I want the sun and moon to pass over my writing desk. And I want to someday go to Bruges as a hitman.

I have gone on long enough. I must get back to my bean field. If I don’t, somebody will think me a curmudgeon in the prime of life. I’m not that irascible. I just have this thing called life breathing down my neck all the time.

Gravity

Hello?

I’m not Major Tom, but is anybody out there? I mean really.

I don’t want to be packed in like a sardine, blowing blood bubbles to myself.

But if somebody knocked, would I peel back the lid?

Someone with more hair on his chest once wrote:

You must go on.
I can’t go on.
I’ll go on.

Don’t take the writing so seriously. Don’t take the role of writer so seriously. And if you’re looking for approval, you’ll never find it.

Write what you will and let the world decide. Write what the world wants and you’ll never decide.

Poor bugger, see how he looks so forlorn with his head on his chest. Must be because, because, because, because.

Let’s start again, you and me, shall we? Let’s rip it up and start again.

Cut the life line and float….

Can it be done?

I don’t know, but someone’s got to try otherwise it’s down to the writer or the man and everybody knows how that story ends. Except you, of course.

If you find beauty in logic think how much more beauty you’ll find in fiction.

Isolation. It starts the moment you turn back.

Gravity. Feel it one word at a time.

My comic short story “Survival of the Fittest” has recently been published at the Lowestoft Chronicle, a fantastic online literary magazine that mixes humour and travel. Take a read, if you like, and while you’re at it, read the whole magazine — there’s lots of good fiction there.

The Take Off & Landing Of Almost Everything

After what seems like an age, I have decided to get back to my blog. Whole galaxies of experiences, emotions, and thoughts have passed through me like an existential shuttle weaving a myriad tapestry of the unsexy, the common, the tedious, shot through here and there with something so extraordinary I don’t think I’ll ever find the time to write about it.

I’m thinking big, but staying particular, so as I write this blog, I have my headphones on, listening to Beck’s new album Morning Phase. I’m in love with it. There is something perfect about it, the way any mastery of an art form allows a person to slip free from the mortal coil and enter some place you never thought you ever would.

Today my eldest daughter, Vienna, learnt how to knit. She sat on the couch and the only sound that came from her was the clicking of needles. By the end of the afternoon she had knitted a coaster. I felt a surge of fatherly pride, such a strong feeling I hope will carry me through life’s crush of circumstances and little waves of elation. I loved just watching her, so absorbed, not caring about the coaster’s perfection, just lost in the creating of something. For me, that is the truest sense of art: the sense of being lost to everything but this unending sense of love for what might happen, the unexpected that will bulge over the brim.

Here’s a fantastic quote from the great Ted Hughes: “You spend your life oscillating between fierce relationships that become tunnel traps, and sudden escapes into wide freedom when the whole world seems to be just there for the taking. Nobody’s solved it. You solve it as you get older, when you reach the point where you’ve tasted so much that you can somehow sacrifice certain things more easily, and you have a more tolerant view of things like possessiveness (your own) and a broader acceptance of the pains and the losses.”

Today I dashed around a corner and ran into the writer I’m supposed to be. I came away with two black eyes, broken ribs, and guilt. And that’s the greatest threat to a writer’s life, isn’t it, the guilt. It will do you in. It will stop you writing. And you’ve got to write, whenever you can. That’s the writer’s life in a chestnut, myth, proverb, cliché, epigram, parable; it’s the biological source of every great story. And most of us have to have jobs in the day-to-day trenches of adult experience. Okay, there are some writers who need no day job, but I’m sure they have either inherited money, are supported by a spouse, or are a freelance writer working for a big company. I think it’s almost mission impossible to get to do nothing but write what you really want to write.

Wasn’t it Ted Hughes who said we are all little creatures sitting behind armour, peering through the slits.

The big question for me is always: How do I stop doing everything else and just concentrate on my writing? But because all I want to do is write, I wonder if I will disappear into the blank page. But I always feel so renewed, living boldly with each moment when I’m so deep inside a story, living it as I write it and not knowing what will happen next, just trusting to the inevitable. And even though it’s hard, I try not to play God, because that gives me a complex, and that never helps the writing, ever.

Fuck, actually that is probably good advice to take into my other life: not to try and play God, to start really exercising some control over what I think. That’s my wooden leg, I tend to over-intellectualize everything known thing under the sun, moon, all the planets, including forgotten Pluto, instead of paying attention to what is actually going on in front of me. God knows there are so many more people whose lives are harder, more painful, complex, tedious, and all the other awful crap.

It’s like David Foster Wallace wrote: “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

Sometimes I try hard to get back on track to a normal life, you know, and then something kicks up the dirt into my eyes and I see clearly that there is no such thing as a normal life. Well, maybe on TV or in adverts or in some deepest despair. But the TRUTH is normalcy is like an addiction: the more you need it the more fucked up you become and the more the addiction takes hold of you the more you become nothing but the drug. Nobody, not artists, not anyone is normal. We just pretend we need to be in order to spend and get and think happiness this way leads.

I want out of my mind. Is it possible? Because I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not really seeing the prison I’m getting myself locked within. Like that cliché says, the Mind is a really terrible master.

Again I’m turning to Wallace, but I want to see the world “with the same force that makes the stars, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”

This is why I have to get back to the writing. I have abandoned it recently as my life has taken on new upheavals and changes. But writing is the only way for me to come to terms with the world. It’s the only way I have to live a real life so that the writing will turn out to be real for someone else.

The screenwriter/playwright, Martin McDonagh wrote something that caught my eye the other day. He basically said that it helps to be a writer in some way if you’re not quite connected, that you see things from a skewed point of view. I think he’s right. In fact, I think that too many of us have become over-educated at the expense of wisdom and art and life and that the rest of us have become pitifully ignorant and simple doppelgangers of the lowest interests and intellect that’s killing the heart and soul of our humanity.

But what do I know? I’m a Welshman who can’t even land a job doing something he would enjoy. What can I say? I’m tart and ruthlessly independent like Little My and have a will that would rather do whatever the hell I want. Who am I kidding? If I was anything like that, I’d be making my writing work for me or else editing or something, so I must not be doing enough to make it happen. Maybe I’m too lazy or not as driven as other writers seem to be. In fact, as much as I strive to be like Moominpapa (easygoing and enviably hopeful), I’m more like Jansson’s Little My, who drowns the ants in kerosene and when Moomintroll is shocked, she replies: “You knew exactly what I was going to do with them! All you hoped was that I shouldn’t tell you about it. You’re awfully good at deceiving yourself.”

And I am so “awfully good and deceiving” myself. I’ve always thought that because I have a spare bit of talent for writing (especially on toast) that someday I would be a writer. But I’m learning that that is an immature outlook. There is always so much more to writing than just writing, especially in this Age of Distractions. A writer, it seems, is expected to create something for absolutely nothing, and lots of it. We are all waiters now, dashing from reader to reader, imploring them to eat our tasty escargot or frogs’ legs when once we sat at the moveable feast and even designed the menu.

“The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making.” Anais Nin.

Hypnotizing Chickens

Sometimes I get annoyed as a writer. At what? Anything or anyone that gets in the way of my work. I realize that this does little in the way of moving me closer to a balanced life. But who holds the scales? And what’s the point of being balanced if a pound of feathers weighs exactly the same as a pound of annoyance. The thing is, I can always see that my annoyance is not rational or even good, but it certainly is necessary if I want to write something good that is worth all the crazy hours of solitude talking to oneself in fictional tongues. But the truth is, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without “a broad margin to my life… in undisturbed solitude and stillness” (Thoreau), the brooding and the writing and the reading and the fretting.

I just remembered it rained last night and the day before. The slow build-up of thunder. The flash behind the white slop of clouds. The rain in a panic. The damp hanging around like a lost tourist this early in September.

I just finished reading M John Harrison’s Viriconium. I couldn’t put it down until I was done. I never thought I would discover a writer that makes the ego drop in the Id shaft so fast, I’m all lost in the basement of superego. How does he write words that fill up my body with the essential nutrients I was told by the state and teachers was only absorbed by eating a regular diet of “literary” writers. It’s all genre, isn’t it? Even Shakespeare was a polyglot for art and entertainment.

One day, I will never have an apartment in the Simmeringer Haupstrasse.

Here’s some Lloyd Cole.

I Got Ants in My Pants and I Want to Dance

It’s time to write a little reminder note to myself to remember to watch my two children walk across the fresh-cut lawn in bare feet.

When I read interviews with writers bitching about how hard it is to write, rewrite, how the writing profession is like some kind of density of misery with no space for relief, I wonder what’s the point of writing if all it ever does is make you feel bad, bad about it, as well as put a bad taste in your mouth.

Today I overhead 2 people reminiscing about their youth. Remember when we….Remember how we…. Remember that girl who lived in the next town…. Remember those fantastic empty relationships with anything or anyone…. We drank so hard, I remember nothing….

I wouldn’t go back to those days if you paid me.

I just finished Edward Carey’s amazing Observatory Mansions. It is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Pithy, clever, unusually constructed, non-linear, comic, dark, depressing, bathetic, easy on the pathos, not trite with honesty, and wholly human in its depiction of fictional characters. I loved Francis Orme for his wickedness and his compassion for saving his dead brother’s remains. I have already requested his novel Alva and Irva from the library and look forward to reading his YA novel Heap House set to come out in September.

Last night I pitched our tent in the back garden as a way to get away. And next week, I’ve booked a 2-day camping adventure for my family at Lake St. George. We haven’t gone anywhere in years. Not since the children arrived with their soft toys. Sometimes I tell my wife, let’s pack our portmanteaux and move to Normandy. I could teach English to existential street kids. But we have no savings. And my wife doesn’t speak French. Neither do I, but that wouldn’t stop me.

It’s raining here in Maine. Grey sky like liver and clouds like onions.

I must go and clean my house. I never knew household chores could be such work. I think I was swapped at birth with a working-class baby. I want a castle, no disposable income, and some national trust to turn my castle into a tourist attraction while my family and I live in 10 rooms and I proudly state that all I can do is write, stoke the fire, catalog the inherited treasures, and never get involved with casual work.

Here’s some Iggy. And if this song doesn’t make you dance wildly, then you really have no lust for life. And shame on you.