<< JAN ..F E B - 2 0..MAR >>


Phony Reality

..(or 'Made-up Stories')

I’m tinkering, for what it's worth, with my latest story... tapping intermittently at the keypad, pausing, wondering, musing… and I’m in the rumpus, which is large and serves as office, library and junk-room. How many stories have I written since I began this stunt? I was 46 then. Imagine embarking on a thing like that when you're 46... how crazy can a person be?

Only some of the stories are on this site. I'm not aware of them being read by more than one person, and some not even then. My friends have described me as a man who has no ambition, no desires, no goals, no purpose, no hope. Who am I to argue? They might as well have added: no talent. Did they want to avoid offending me? Though how can one be offended by truth?

My only concern is a growing awareness of my mortality, and how to best use the time I have left. Otherwise I have no anxieties, no concerns, no fears, no apprehensions. Who gives a stuff if no-one reads the stories? I write them for my own pleasure. All I'm interested in is making the stories 'good' according to my own judgment. If other people like them, then fine, but it's neither here nor there to me. Making a story 'good' is a matter of integrity - beside which I enjoy shaping a string of words into something that's aesthetically pleasing. It's like a jigsaw where the pieces can fit several ways. What I'm most focused on is grip. A story has to grip. If it has artistic flair then that's a bonus.

There's also the commentary; that must be good too - especially when it's controversial. I don't mind admitting I've been accused of preaching. As I see it, I'm merely presenting a point of view, a personal angle, hoping to inform myself as much as anyone else. Before addressing an issue, I dig fairly thoroughly into it, examine everything appropriate I can find. My aim is to expose an alternative way of perceiving to that taken by the established media - the imperialist, corporate media. If I'm lecturing, trying to persuade or enlighten, that's one thing; but if I seem to twist facts, manipulate, indoctrinate or otherwise dupe... then I'll have failed. Perhaps some people would say all my commentary appears like that - as the popular press does to me: deceptive, misleading, pushing a particular slant. News editors, after all, are not interested in objectivity. If anything, the reverse: their readers, listeners, viewers want opinions that reflect their own, which will match what over time they've been subtly deluded into adopting: that is, the reactionary ideals of the proprietor. As we know, their interests go much broader than merely the commercial. So, in a kind-of combat against that deceit, duplicity, fabrication... I strive to counter it with balance and objectivity. Who knows to what extent I succeed?

I'm also aiming for clarity, accuracy and even that elusive artistic merit. I know this 'striving' is mostly in vain; assessing any aspect of one's own work is a skill not easily acquired, at least for an amateur... yet to me it's a challenge that more resembles a game, an entertainment.

I've sent nothing to publishers or publishing websites, nor - apart from shoving the address on twitter - have I promoted or advertised the site. Who cares, I say? For someone whose efforts are as sporadic and whimsical as mine - never mind the dubious quality of what I produce - what would be the point? And if there are no hits then what's it to me? Without a counter I wouldn't know either way. I can imagine a million, if I please, or none...

Regarding what I write generally, I feel no obligation, no commitment and accept no responsibility. What else for a life of leisure, free from stress, hassle, etc., than to disregard mythical burdens and even more mythical prospects that society, the establishment, programmes and bribes us into loading onto ourselves? Prospects for what: to become a more efficient slave? I refuse to be a slave to anyone but myself. No-one knows better than me that I have no prospects of advancing beyond the half-rate, self-indulgent, part-time hack I've made of myself. And if no-one reads what I write, that's their loss (I arrogantly tell myself). What's more, I'm quite happy with that.

As for a subject, I decide according to impulse. And if I set myself a deadline then it's as likely I'll adjust it as keep to it. Which means I'm also a slacker, a loafer, a slouch, a deadbeat... an incorrigible, irredeemable idler. So when I'm not tapping at this keypad I'm doing nothing, which is how I spend most of the time. That is, nothing useful: indulging in trivia... dipping into this or that book, wandering this or that street, woodland, seashore.... on occasion, this or that town, city, country even .... I think of some of the cities I've driven through as well as walked around: London (many times), Rome, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Madrid, Seville, Melbourne, New York, New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Houston, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto... the list goes on...

Just now, concerning the story I'm working on, my intention was to imitate the style of a book I read more than a decade ago. The title has gone from my memory. I pause, swing around in the chair and scan the bookshelves. Where did I put that book? What was it called? What colour was the spine? More memory failure. The author? Yes - that comes back to me. I get up to search other rumpus bookshelves, then the lounge, then around the house - everywhere is bookshelves, dozens of bookshelves, bookshelves on top of other bookshelves. Despite once carefully arranging the books, they've become disordered, and by some curious fluke whatever I'm after can seldom be found without laboriously searching most of the 3,000 or so books - when suddenly there it is, where I first looked but somehow failed to notice.

In a sense, that's the story of my life: opening my eyes when the view has passed, spotting a chance too late to take advantage. Virginia Woolf describes an aspect of this universal phenomenon in 'To the Lighthouse'. Such experience, when repeated many times over, stifles motivation - as so eloquently described in Woolf's novel. One loses faith, even interest, not just in the thwarted pursuit but in all pursuits including one's own future.

The novel, among much else, follows the fate of a small boy through several seasons at his family's annual holiday home by the sea. Each year he asks to go on a boat trip around the lighthouse. Every time, to the boy's great disappointment, his cantankerous father refuses - always with some trivial excuse. Finally, now a teenager, the boy has lost interest. But this year the father at last decides conditions are perfect. He's angry the boy no longer wants to see the lighthouse and insists he go on the trip. The boy just sits in the boat feeling miserable reading a book; he no longer has any wish even to see the lighthouse.

(That might not be an exact description, but it's how I remember it.... perhaps I most identified at the time with the kid... though it's a book about much else besides, and is a supreme example of 'stream-of-consciousness'.)

Perhaps the least ruinous outcome from successively thwarted hope/anticipation is that a pursuit/activity without a clear endpoint is hard to begin; for instance, writing a novel. One has little if any faith that circumstances will allow it. Although they never experienced this, Hemingway and Sartre - to name two - spoke of how they often embarked on an intended short script that turned into a much longer one. For me, it's the only approach. If a piece takes-over, as it were, and begins to stretch-out dauntingly, then a strange apprehension creeps in that says: 'this is getting out-of-hand', 'you can't handle a thing this big', 'It's turning cyclic like the crazy convoluted narrative Mark Twain stumbled into towards the end of his masterpiece: Huckleberry Finn'.

So everything I write begins with brevity in mind. Yet in contrast to commentary, a story for me is best written blind, or half-blind. By which I mean: its development, even outcome, is unknown. The story unfolds as I write. This uncertainty has power. It nudges the subconscious into action, so long as - and this is the tough bit - the conscious can be kept quiet, dormant, in a state of rest, merely assisting with the mechanics of writing. The choice and ordering of words, events, characters and so on becomes automatic and beyond conscious control: the process is effortless, mesmerising, intriguing, captivating. Alas, this happens rarely for me. How does one induce it instead of having to rely on chance?

One technique is to ponder an idea for a few days or even years, letting it 'soak' into the subconscious until it ripens and suddenly you're itching to write. And I think of those 'stereoscopic' computer pictures that appear flat until you relax your eyes so they find their own focus and a whole new panorama opens. Learn the same trick with your brain and Voilà!

Events in my own early experience, like for the kid in Woolf's novel, are probably why I have little motivation for starting anything where the outcome is 'out-of-sight' or where the benefit is 'uncertain' - except when the investment in time and effort are small, as with a short story. I suppose this also explains my lack of any kind of ambition or faith in what I might achieve. So like millions of other idle 'conformists' I muddled along at the bottom of the capitalist hierarchy. In my particular case as a bog-standard technician.... until I was 39 when something awoke in my brain and I threw-in the towel to go travelling.... on-a-shoestring, as the saying goes, which is the best way for authentic experience - as well as for many months at a time. Otherwise, especially if only a few weeks, one is inclined to get smothered by an easy comfort that turns the experience into a kind-of waking dream.

Being on-the-move, to open your eyes every morning on a new vista, a new dawn, to find yourself free of all the usual encumbrances, obligations, limitations, is a fabulous way to live. If you can tolerate the discomforts and inconveniences, which one soon becomes used to, then the rewards are incomparable. Even so, the brain can after many months become tired, so occasionally when I stumbled on some agreeable oasis I'd settle for a while to soften the impact of constant change.

Unlike a few intrepid individuals who literally spend years scraping along like this, working here and there at low-paid seasonal jobs, then moving on, going from one place to another, one country to another... unlike them I, being an idler, eventually returned to base, settled back to conforming (outwardly, at any rate), and even - against my better judgment - took a job.

By then I was well adapted to the lifestyle of an idler - an active idler true, but an idler nonetheless. So after a couple of months I chucked the job and began what became several years as the quintessential non-conformist idler that more closely matched my new authentic self. Though a lot less wonderful than being on-the-move, this - in contrast - was effortless.

I wasn't quite on the breadline - not after years of working, even at basic level. But if there's a way to supplement one's income without work, who wouldn't go for it? After all, I was in a country where making money without work formed the essence of one side of the political system: ie, capitalism... City idlers rake-in £millions every day from the stock markets, as brokers do for non-City idlers. If these 'investors' are not idlers they might as well be - they're mostly incredibly wealthy, unlike the much larger other side of the system: people who actually work as I did before I 'awoke'.

All this was well-more than 20-years ago when I was out of work and signing-on. I'd tried every way to brush-off the pressure to get a job. I played the idiot, the crank, the invalid... and so on. Whenever they began a new approach, I changed tack. Each time it worked for a few months - until their next initiative when I'd switch tack again. Then the government changed - from solid-Tory to soft-Tory (ie, Labour impostors/undercovers). Within months the new regime launched an entirely different approach. They issued a 30-page questionnaire... I thought: if I fill this in honestly, I won't be eligible for benefit; if I lie they might catch-up with me. And if that happens, after claiming for years, I'll be in big trouble - maybe have to pay loads back? And If I just stop claiming they'll wonder what I'm doing and check-up on me, perhaps launch an investigation...

My only escape was to get a job. Without giving it much thought, I took the first option they gave me. After all, I had no intention of remaining more than a few months - just long enough to dispel suspicion.

And this is what happened: YOWWW!!! ... as I say: > 20-years ago...

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