The Life of Idle

I saw the sun! It was like a big yellow Popsicle melting in the sky. Now it’s cloudy again, like surf’s up in the sky.

When I grew up in Wales, there were TVs and telephones and radios, which I listened to a lot, mostly John Peel on Radio 1, when radios were portable and lived by the side of one’s bed like faithful pets.

Last night I watched Eric Idle’s brilliant radio play, What About Dick? The Python man has described it as “ Oscar Wilde on acid,” and “Downton Abbey, only funnier.” The cast is some of the best Brit comedians, who are so dangerously funny, you might die laughing: Russell Brand, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Jim Piddock, Tracey Ullman, and Sophie Winkleman.

What I loved the most about the old-fashioned radio play, besides its anachronistic approach to entertainment (radio drama with the cast all decked out in dapper Edwardian threads), is that it’s full to the brim with satire, sexual innuendo, smart humour, absurdity, and just plain British silliness. Then there was its irreverence and dismissive tone of the hollow twang of pop culture, like “taking a Donald Trump” for “taking a dump” or telling it like it is about the Kardashians: “Is that some kind of disease?” “Yes.”

But that British silliness, where you can wander around for hours and not care who you offend because what is there to offend about the wonderful tragedy of our lives seen through the lens of wisdom, empathy? That’s classic comedy; trading clean spots for the cosmic dirt on humanity and making us laugh until the sacred cows come home for the slaughter.

“Brits excel at laughing at themselves. Americans don’t really like to laugh at themselves that much.” Eric Idle.

And I love a good dose of absurdity when it comes to humour, like surreal wings on the body politic, making us fly over reality one crazy moment to the next. The media, governments, religion, they don’t like absurdity, the derailment of the senses, they want nice happy, productive workers, happily buying with rational minds with a clear objective in mind when all around us is curved space. That gravity of spending and attaining takes up so much energy, no wonder none of us has time to change our lives, change the world, reorganize reality into something that aligns with what all of us inside know we want to hang out with like the daily washing on the line. We’re so down by laws, we don’t know our way around our own hearts and minds.

It’s time for something absurd to this way come. And fast. We’re drowning in complacency for the want of a passion, the beauty and sadness of life’s flux and mutability. “To set oneself up against all proponents of the grand idea – of progress, of perfectibility, of the right and only way to live.”

I don’t know who wrote this, maybe Joseph Campbell: “The power of myth is in making meaning from the wreckage of meaning.”

Here’s some Morrissey


Worries On A Farm Boy’s Wages

Yet another wet day in Maine. A land of fog wrapped in ghostly white. Maybe the sun has packed its bags and rented a cheap motel in Florida.

“Good morning, Eeyore,” said Pooh.
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning, which I doubt.”
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

Call me frivolous, call me bored, but since I’ve been without upright employment, I’ve been full of brio. And busy.

Sometimes, though, I find myself nursing a mug of tea and watching my youngest play. At the moment she loves to put her favourite toys, Pooh, Piglet, and Tigger, to bed in shoes. Big shoes, little shoes, doesn’t matter, as long as the A.A. Milne characters are tucked up with a good sole beneath their heads. She’ll play like this for hours, re-tucking, re-shoeing, finding other toys in need of sleep, like Mr. Toad and his motorcar. And she’s so content, absorbed, I wonder if she worries about anything. Maybe whether Pooh could do with a pot of honey as he snores or whether Eeyore has nightmares.

My tea goes cold. I worry I’m wasting my time on the sunny side of domesticity.

Yes, I have all the same worries as most: can I support my family? Are those more age lines or crows feet of laughter? Should that mole be crusty? Are my shoes too big? Should I have punched that kid in school? Why does my backache? Should I have told my former boss how I really felt about him? Is there life after 50? Should I write like me or should I write like some writer who’s already selling books? How long do I have to keep on waiting to get something published? If you shake me, will fulfillment pop out with the rattle? Do I have to Twitter? If life’s what you make it, why is it so hard to make it? Will death come in the night or will it steal across the kitchen floor, open the fridge, and kill me when I reach for the milk?

If God suddenly showed up in a pearly white Limousine that stretched on into eternity, I wonder if I’d admit to having a split personality? One side that wants success, measured by me, of course, and one side that wants a quiet life under the lotus tree of dreamy indolence.

Here’s some XTC.

This Much I Don’t Know

It’s raining so much in Maine, I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes. The sky is like the underbelly of a dead whale. Even the leaves look jaded.

On a day like today, if I was still at my job for the magazine of Maine, I’d have had to look at glossy pictures of the state in its nuptial bliss and tell the slightly deaf older reader on the phone that lighthouses never get wet and that, yes, Maine is paradise all nicely sealed up in a souvenir bottle.

I recently read that when you meet someone form France for the first time, they never ask you what you do for a living. That’s refreshing. Here, it’s always exactly the following:

“So, what do you do for work?”

“Well, I’m between the daily bread just now.”

“You don’t work then.”

“Yes, I do. I’m writing a book.”

“Oh, you’ll have to excuse me, my husband just fired someone and he feels queasy.”

In my morning tea leaves, I noticed Alan Moore’s face and he spoke to me: “I’ve developed a theory that there’s an inverse relationship between money and imagination. That if you’ve got lots of imagination then you don’t really need much money, and if you’ve got lots of money then you won’t bother with much imagination. You’ve got to be able to pay your bills, otherwise you’re not going to sleep at night. But beyond that, the world inside my head has always been a far richer place than the world outside it. I suppose that a lot of my art and writing are meant to bring the two together.”

I’m packing off now to a dank cellar to dream of the muddy fields of the Glastonbury Festival.

Here’s some Peter Murphy.

The Line Between the Devil’s Teeth and That Which Cannot Be Repeated

I’m certain that the Devil made distractions. If it had been God, I’d be racked with guilt right now.

What kinds of distractions do I like? Mostly literary ones; the obscure, forgotten, abandoned, forsaken, unrecognized, and overshadowed. Then there’s thinking about what kind of shirts do I want to wear in the fall, what kind of new jacket would look good on me, what kind of internal conflict should arise, what kind of flashbacks….

“Art is a house that yearns to be haunted.” Emily Dickinson.

I wonder if it’s wrong to think of writing as another way to bunk off?

I have this feeling that I need to read some Robert Aickman. It came over me the way modern society has industrial capitalism on one side and romantic love on the other.

This is comforting to someone who is uncomfortable with plot: “Shakespeare never invented a plot line and worked from what preoccupied him.”

Dear Yes, why are you such a peculiar, affirmative thing? A sharply drawn character who struts about my skull with a half groan and half acceptance that means, “life’s like that.”
The Bishop

Smash the world, start again, or fall into it completely. It’s those little riots of the mind that get me all the time.

In the David Jones’ In Parenthesis, Dai Greatcoat delivers a warrior’s boast that he has participated in every battle from the fall of Lucifer to the present. As a writer, I continually boast to myself that I am writing in a tradition that began with Homer and shall end with another finished novel.

“It is only an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.” Nietzsche

I read this somewhere: What can be imagined, can be formed into the image of truth. A vision can be created.

The Way to spot a Writer:

They give no deference or civility to their supposed superiors. They also give no deference or civility to their inferiors.

“The creative process is not concerned with originality of source but originality of re-making.” Jeanette Winterson.

Here’s some PIL.

The Great Leap Forward

It’s been scorching in Maine the last 2 days, air like a rattled tiger, sun like a gangster with too much hubris.

I can’t write in the heat. So my family and I drove to Lake St. George and swam, lounged, and grilled spicy veggie burgers. I suppose I could have sat in my closet (this is where I write) in nothing but a loincloth, but that’s too devout for me. “Life is a process to be experienced, not an object to be coveted.”

Today’s overcast, with that maggoty white sky and a haze like a weeping gauze, and I’m back to the writing. Sort of. It’s more like mowing the grass without the bag on and letting the clippings fly.

And fuck if I’m not in a funk. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s my mood, maybe it’s the size of Roget’s International Thesaurus that seems to hold more words than I can ever hope to.

As a child in Wales, I used to have this recurring dream. My grandparents lived in a council house on this long stretchy street, all of the houses joined at the hip, and neat, or sometimes overgrown, narrow gardens of equal size out the back that were separated by a wall. Most days there was laundry flying high and dogs barking. Well, in my dream, I would always climb onto the roof of my grandparents’ house and like a Puck, who didn’t know he was a Puck, I’d jump from roof to roof, sometimes disturbing the roosting chimney sweeps (remember, this was a dream) and have to sneak past the crows dressed in busbies and carrying muskrats and occasionally interrupting Mr. Parry and Mrs. Jones joined at the lips and ascending into the heavens, Mr. Parry’s suspenders attached to the rising moon.

And where was I going? Anywhere, nowhere, I didn’t care. I just wanted to live out a life, even a make-believe one, above the mundane. Even in my dreams, somebody would wake, open a window, pop their head out, and shout, “Keep off the Roof! You’ll ruin the flowers of youth with all your mad running about.”

It never stopped me. I’d race on and on, the end of the street nowhere in sight, the candle in my hand with the nervy flame whispering words as the empty smoke from all the houses drifted off across the sea.

I never got to the end of my street in my dreams. But that was never the point.

I don’t dream of running across roofs now. Maybe because where I live there are no connecting houses, just the uneasy masts of trees and the moon that’s too small for a sail. I sometimes dream of lifting the house I live in up on my shoulders and striding like Bendigeidfran (Bran the Blessed) across Penobscot Bay and out to sea, dolphins jumping at my side and my two girls waving to them and my wife at an open window, the wind playing in her hair.

If I ever really spent some time thinking about these dreams. I might come up with something about myself. But I think I already know what it is.

Maybe that’s why I always won’t settle for what comes easy. Maybe that’s why I have scribbled on the soles of so many of my shoes my own simple magic that wants to live a livid life, a life that is a great leap forward into something extraordinary. A life like a row of roofs on a long stretchy street with no end in sight where I can always run.

Here’s some classic Bragg.

Trapped Water Holds Ancient Life

I find Mondays like a runt the teat.

The novel I’m writing, it’s picking at me now when once it was swallowing whole. Go fish! Who wants to read about a writer’s private shames and dissatisfactions? Surely readers would much rather hear about what goes on in a suburb after dark when the lights of stark realism are turned low.

I love the Irish writer Anne Enright’s idea of a novel: “A book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, breathes, refuses to die!”

I turn over in bed a lot these days and I am not easy on the pillow. Is what I’m writing good? Will anyone read it on their way to Bridgton, Maine, to live out their last days of summer under the dome of King?

“If the world doesn’t value us, we won’t value the world. We seek solace in books, in solitary and sometimes fantastical thinking.” Howard Jacobson

Sometimes I think this whole Western idea of the individual as the purest form of experience is over-rated. Sure, Thatcher said that society is dead, but now she is, and it’s time to start redefining what we mean by society. I really miss the kind of livid life I grew up with on the streets of Wales, where people gossiped, encountered each other and strangers in a messy, noisy way and nobody seemed to care if you had money or not. I want to bring that back and topple Facebook. What we need is a new Marx and Engels, who instead of going to Manchester during the Industrial Revolution and witnessing first-hand the sad plight of the working class, need to recognize the utterly boring plight of the virtual world that’s making us all so much poorer when it comes to a livid life.

Somebody in the house ate my last Ginger Snap! God, the embarrassments and ignominies you have to suffer as a writer.

I’ve never had what you’d call a relaxed attitude towards life. People I only sort of know suggest I should get out more, mingle, crash a political party or two and get a feel for the new continental divide that is building up like a wall around us all.

Here are a few things that annoy me:

Early risers who hammer.
Conservatives who ride into town, shoot a couple of liberals, and call it a good day’s work.
Tepid tea.
Anglophiles who think because I’m Welsh, I don’t wear Union Jack underwear.
Being no good with plots.
A fly in the vinegar.
Vacationers to Maine who linger too long.
Wet summers.
Tax cuts for the wealthy.
People who grumble but are avatars of wisdom when it comes to TV shows.
The dirt that never comes out.
People who always act as though they are at home in the world.
Revenge that is driven by stupidity.
Any clock.

Since it is a well-known fact that to end on a negative note is almost as bad as admitting you once made love in the rain, I shall end on a surf board, riding positive waves. And some music. “Sleep No More” from the brilliant Sheffield band the Comsat Angels

Let’s Be Normal

My breakfast is half English. Where did that come from? Well, it’s half bacon, sausage, eggs, sunny side down, and toast smothered in marmalade and freshly squeezed Florida oranges.

Today I thought of 10 writing rules to break. I’ll write them tomorrow.

Here are a few of my favourite memories:

Moving on with the windows half down.
A night out drinking with my brother at the pub my grandfather used to drink at and coming home so drunk I let a whole box of Black Magic melt in my lap.
Finding a dead goat in the miner’s pit.
Winning a Donkey Derby in Kent, the Garden of England, and getting to celebrate with my winning bottle of champagne.
Modeling for Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe with my wife in a cow field in Ireland.
Racing my bike under the gates of the railroad crossing as the Intercity 125 raced towards Carmarthen.
Eating bara brith in my grandmother’s kitchen as summer rain fell on her conservatory.

“Art is made by those who consider themselves to have failed at whatever isn’t art.” Howard Jacobson.

Kick my backside if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Holmes, that failure has been outlawed in our dangerous days of success?

I have no idea, Dr. Watson, I have the imagination to fail.

There are 2 kinds of failure: private and secret.

Somebody with more butter on their bread and maybe plums in their apple trees said that being a writer means having 2 ambitions. One is to get known, make money, and wave to the gathering crowds as if you aren’t really drowning in their expectations. The other is to write a really good book.

I’ll take what he’s having.

Oh, will you? How about one reader at a time? Can you spare one? I think so, I’m crowd sourcing. Is that like licking the cream out of an éclair? I don’t know, I don’t go in for pastries, I prefer a crowd of blueberry muffins.

Ok, say there was this bloke, who hadn’t met Billy Bragg, but, still, he was a bloke. Now this guy he liked to identify with those he admired and kept notes in his pocket about those he was determined not to identify with. In fact he kept so many notes about one such incompetent, pompous drunk of a writer that he started to believe he had a book. Then he realized it might turn into a success. And that was shaving way too close to the stubble of things.

If you cut me, do I not bleed? Yes, but make damn sure the blade’s sharp enough, there’s a good fellow.

Way over yonder there is another yonder way over still. When it gets to be like that, it’s best to stay at home, potter around the garden, and then sit in your beach chair and watch a sailboat tacking and hauling until the sun sinks like a giant life buoy.

The moon last night was 30% bigger than usual. I’m not sure what to make of that. Is it on moony pills, cosmic testosterone, universal enlargement, or does it simply mean it’s closer to the Earth? I think such attraction is wonderful if you can pull it off. If you can’t, well, imagine yourself as a star in your own private universe of one and half a billion others.

I wanted to be the Milky Way! Well, you can’t. You’re way too nervous, frightened. It takes a lot of nerve to be a faint band of light that high in the sky. Stick to terrestrial goals like a football in the back of a net.

Written on a headstone now covered in vines, weeping with weeds, and pissed on by a passing stray: We are all beautiful, all clever, all happy, all successful.

I love this Tooting trio, the Kitchens of Distinction. And this song, “Drive That Fast,” is about as good as it gets for someone from Wales.