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

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Kimchi And Grooving Off My Own Portable

The sun has risen in Maine.

Have you ever noticed that those who make the most noise are the conformists grumbling downstairs?

Deep down in a vegetable part of myself, I feel like fermented cabbage. I suppose it helps to have taken a sudden liking to kimchi.

Sometimes the world delivers: the UPS truck drives up and hands you an unexpected parcel. Other times, nothing. But I’m not the kind of person to go down on his knees and pray. I tend to get on my bike and shout: “I’m not impressed at all!”

God, the sky is that rich blue with drifting clouds and the sun is hanging there in fiery suspension of belief.

Last night I put on headphones and listened to Roxy Music’s Avalon followed by New Order’s Lost Sirens. I slept well, only once turning over to glimpse Morrissey pouting in the corner because I hadn’t listened to him.

I am a man who loves to fill a basin with literary quotes and bathe my perambulating feet. Here’s one by Virginia Woolf that gets right between the toes:

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery.”

Feud for Thought

With the passing of the Augustan figure and intellectual bruiser Gore Vidal, I’ve had cause to think about literary rivalry.

It’s well known to each and every keyboard hitter about the hostility between Vidal and Norman Mailer(youtube.com/watch?v=C8m9vDRe8fw).  The Titans of Swing really had it in for each other in both the intellectual and literary ring. In some sense, their acerbic brawls overshadowed their literary outpouring — well almost. For me, they both seem marked, I think, by the immortality of posture that Milan Kundera wrote about.

As a young writer even I had my own bouts with writers. And it began with Hemingway. I never got what all the fuss over him was about. Yes, I got his use of economical language (but is writing solely about balancing the books?) and his great macho persona where each of his heavy testicles were raised high on the bookshelf of every poor male writer who seemed to have catkins between his legs in comparison. I never could bring myself to drink at Papa’s Hem’s animalistic trough of masculine greatness. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of a writer like Mervyn Peake, strolling around the Island of Sark in his cape and poet’s hat like he’d just stepped out from a Harry Clarke painting and was infused with the light of a pansexual being.

Oh, the spats I had with dead writers! You should have seen me, hidden away in my room, stomping the floorboards, shaking whatever writer’s book was du jour that day in my hand and railing against his or her departed spirit who I imagined took a break from the great library in the sky and popped down to have an argy-bargy with me. And I always lost the argument, callow writer that I was. Or maybe I made myself lose, cause who really could best the likes of Camus, Henry Miller, DH Lawrence, Tolkien, Peake, Ursula Le Guin, Simone de Beauvoir, Anais Nin, Satre, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Lloyd Alexander, Knut Hamsun, Hesse, Dylan Thomas, Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, Tove Jansson, Kundera, Joyce, Blake, Byron, Shelley, Arthur Machen, Tennessee Williams, Ted Hughes, Black Adder, Del Boy, Basil Fawlty, Judge Dredd, Fungus the Bogeyman, Morrissey, Ian McCulloch, Mick Jones, Paul Weller… and the list runs ever on, and on, and on.

Writers are always going on about the importance of reading, and, yes, it is important if you want to write. But I would add it’s also important to get into intellectual scraps with the writers you love, even if you never ever meet them. And it’s especially important to rattle the bones of dead ones — if for no other reason than it keeps their work alive.

In fact, I have a secret rivalry of my very own, too. A bit of an Edwardian, gentleman’s feud with a writer that’s all imaginary cricket bats and cravats and smoking rooms and letter openers and spats and tops hats and stuffy libraries and port. But neither of us have ever admitted to the other that there’s anything between us but a book — if even that. It’s more a rivalry that’s all in my head with us two pygmies of the intellectual void wrestling and wrangling in muck like pagan fools both destined for a ritual killing. Writing about it now, the whole thing sounds petty, stupid, and enormously entertaining. Every writer needs distraction and the impulse to create. And god knows what we’d even spat about if we ever squared off with our six-shooter mouths and our saddlebags of favourite writers strapped to our hips. It would probably be over what flavour ice cream we prefer and insults that would probably go something like this:

Me: “Your book’s crap.

Him: “You haven’t even finished yours.”

Me: “I hate your hair. It’s like liver and onions.”

Him: “Shorn boy and sheep shagger!” (*)

Me: “And what’s with those testosterone tanks strapped between your legs? Do they give you a squirt?”

Him: “It’s better than your bottle of dandelion wine.”

Me: “Yeah, well, for all your hot oven of masculinity, why is it you turn out cupcakes.”

Him: “Pigeon breath.”

Me: “Hog anus.”

Him: “You write like a lobotomized squid.”

Me: “Is that the amount of your intellectual fireworks, a pathetic squid? You know what, I don’t even know why I have a rivalry with you. You’re a lousy writer who can only string together sentences that have been around the block so many times they’ve actually built a necropolis. Plus as a person, you register on the humanity scale as a single-celled organism. Go try another phylum or else pack up your DNA and take a holiday by the genetic deficiency gene pool. And one last thing: I just realized you’re not even worth the effort.”

Shit, I maybe on to something here.

*Author’s Note: For the record, I have never shagged a sheep. But I have eaten Sunday mutton.

No Roadside Picnic

What if some alien race stopped off on Earth and left behind all these artifacts but we couldn’t tell if they were simply junk or advanced technology….

Yeah, I know, it’s been done, and done so fantastically well, I’m in awe of two Russian brothers.

So let’s talk about something else: like the need for enjoyment in the writing life.

You see, it’s been eroding lately, sort of falling off like dander. Not good. Makes for a lot of brushing aside of important questions.

What I want to know is why all this heaviness, all this seriousness when it comes to writing?

Let’s go back a decade to when this young fellow decides he wants to be a writer. What makes him decide? Nothing so moribund and banal as money. Nothing even so lofty and unlikely as fame.

Here’s the god’s honest truth (and this is coming from a man who wouldn’t even acknowledge God if he was standing in line before him at a Morrissey concert): All the writers beginning writer loved all took to writing as a way to have adventure in their life, to enjoy life, to get away with not entering the gown-up world of work as quickly as possible, to not start down the road that led to work in an office or even worse in a tie. And they also didn’t even want to work that hard, all serious and out-flat and believing they were either advancing civilization or enriching the gene pool or maintaining evolution in its great mall of human shopping, the great advancement of the human race and proof our our intelligence.

No, these writers wanted to work hard at life. They wanted to live. They didn’t want to decide what to do next, what to take seriously, what not to. They wanted possibilities; not the possible, the attainable. They wanted the unknown as a sidekick. They wanted to live on the edge, the chasm so close they could smell its hard ground. And the poverty, the struggle, the obscurity, the mad loneliness kicking up dirt like a wild horse they had no interest in taming. And they wanted to fail like failure was a drug, but not as an addiction, as a shamanistic journey to something they were aware of that existed in that far-off place where others had gone but so many many rejected in the face of the over-whelming effortless reality served up like a saint’s head to lick and devour in heavenly peace.

And fuck knows they didn’t pamper themselves with some notion of making a career out of writing, like putting on a shirt and tie and making it respectable and profitable and routine and slick and wear it like a status, like it was something to attain, like middle-class living. None of them wanted this, they’d rather lounge around in foreign countries, idling still, writing like a silent storm, but living, living, living, and not calculating, calculating, calculating their writing life as if such a thing can be mapped, keeping track of it all, recording it all, trainspotting for that runaway success.

They scavenged and lived like deviants and eccentrics and misfits at the best of times and completely mad lunatics and monsters at the worst. But bless their little hearts, they lived, lived by their own free will, their convictions, their visions, their purpose, their hunger. They didn’t come to writing and publishing all pre-packaged, all sorted, all educated up to their frenetic gills, all book smart and literary blessed and connected to all the right roots and tendrils. They came shabby and drunk and stinking of failure and boozed-up on the unknown and as ignorant as they could be and still they were able to survive because writing offered them the chance to live, to chase things they didn’t know, because why know everything to begin with? Why even bother writing if you’re already hard-wired to know it all, to even function as if the writing life has been molded to you like wings.

And you know what else? Some writers even took years before writing their next book. Some didn’t even write another one. And some wrote and wrote and wrote into complete anonymity and became famous. And some even said, “Hey Muse, what’s so wrong with never ever selling another book? Is that bad?” And they answered, “Well, you know, nothing was ever promised to me, so I’ll drift along and being creative to begin with, I’ll find some other work to do, cobble something together to pay for needs to be paid and then if things turn in my favour again, I’ll live off the writing, take it back like a spurned lover and continue the dalliance.” Who ever said writing is conjugal love? Who? Point me in their direction. Because they’re filthy little liars.

The fallen angels. That’s where writing begins. It ends when it’s ascending angels, cause, well, where else is there left to go after that?

Which brings me back to enjoyment. Goddamn it, you’ve got to have enjoyment, you’ve got to have rollicking fun and unorthodox pleasures and merrymaking and high spirits. Otherwise you might become just another respectable writer with healthy book sales and a reliable readership.

And where’s the fun in that?

An Open Letter to the Good Looking Man About The Kitchen Sink

Dear Mozzer (if I may be so Rusholme Ruffian to call you by such a sobriquet):

This may sound rank, but is there any way that you can come around to my place and do the dishes? Hopefully I don’t sound too Pope of Mope, but I can only fantasize that you at least might read this blog and think about the way water drains in the western hemisphere.

I shall try to persuade you like a good suedehead of the importance of good clean dishes and cutlery. Certain people I know refuse to believe in clean dishes. (And I don’t need to tell you who these people are because, as you know, that’s how some people grow up).

Stop me now, of course, if you’ve heard this one before, but another famous rocker who goes by the name Bryan Ferry got up to his elbows in suds at my place. That’s because I love the perverse and the contrary in my kitchen, which is a custodian for twentieth-century, Modernist appliances. (Except right now my toaster isn’t working.)

It would be such a fulfillment to my Fairy Liquid, soft sponge, and the baked-on vegetable goulash (meat is murder, damn it!) if you would consider standing before my sink. I dream to see you run the hot and cold taps, the draining board bulging and spilling over with the weight of clean dishes.

Any other kitchen just won’t do. It won’t! Because such a little thing makes such a big difference. (It’s a bona drag, I know, but come on, you always need a clean fork by your side.)

History demands it — and just remember, the more you ignore me, the closer I’ll get. (And you should know all about that since you wrote it).

Mozzer, the doors of my kitchen are open to you, wherever you may be: the bathroom, the closet, the master bedroom.

With warm, soapy wishes

A Fan

PS. I used to be a sweet boy, but no more if you refuse my request. In fact, you’ll be the first of your gang to squeeze suds if you don’t pop over.