I'm free. A freelance writer. A free spirit. You name it. Currently a bachelor.
So why don't I feel better? Where's the lift of adventure, the sense of new horizons?
In my experience, the advantages of living alone are generally clearer when you’re living with somebody. (And vice versa.) Meanwhile I recognise another unfortunate fact of nature: Money serves in much the same way a shiny new Johnson Weedless Silver Spoon does when you’re fixin' to catch a nice pike or two. But here I am casting away with nothing except a rusty old hook.
Whatever. Collin’s move to hit the philosophers up for a bankroll has inspired me. Check this out.
Wanted -- one reasonably (or even extraordinarily) attractive woman, educated, with a sense of humor. The successful candidate may be of any color (except some shades of green) and any philosophical persuasion (except Marxist-Leninist or Middle American). Willing to relocate, sometimes at the drop of a hat, and willing to go anywhere your man says you’re going, by God. Willing to live in garrets on the off chance that someday the money will roll in, but it probably won’t. Your man is going gray, has just been fitted for a two-tooth denture, and can still do 60 push-ups in a minute but generally doesn’t feel like it. He’s often incapable of saying anything courteous before 10 o’clock in the morning. He once had a few dollars but he squandered them on beer and the Thai stock market, and if he had a few more dollars he’d probably do the same thing all over again.
Get your applications in early. A heavy response is anticipated, and it’s going to be first come first served. Where there’s little to choose between two obvious winners, your man is willing to consider ménages à trois.
Oh, yeah. It would also be to your advantage to have money. Lots of it.
Not only am I fishing with a rusty hook, Collin tells me, now I'm also asking the fish to slip some bait onto it.
Jack Shackaway here. I’m worried about Collin. Take a look at this e-mail:
One of the UK publishers I most respect has just declined my 180,000-word science fiction novel, saying how much they like the writing and world-building, and how they understand and admire the structure, but for some indefinable reason they haven’t “fallen in love” with it. So we turn to other ways of generating an income from writing.
I’m thinking I’ll run this classified ad in Mind, the Oxford Mail and various other likely publications:
Attention professional philosophers and scientists! Author stumbles upon the secret of consciousness and the structure of the universe while writing a science-fiction trilogy. Said author is your standard starving writer, and secrets of life, the universe and everything are notoriously uncommercial. Thus he is willing to entertain contractual arrangements whereby a deserving and nicely cashed-up philosopher or scientist gets famous, while this deserving but currently destitute writer gets rich. Contact, in the first instance, email@example.com.
And here I was, all worried about starving to death. Just goes to show you.
P.S.: I’m also selling shares in the movie versions. Get yours while they’re going cheap.
Not only is Collin trying to flog the first two finished sci-fi novels in a series, he’s working on another, not part of that series. All of them long, all of them “crossover,” inasmuch as they add literary pretension to an already savory stew of science, metaphysics, humor, sex and violence.
Still, his postscript has me thinking. I don’t suppose any of you people out there want to buy 2% of Free Lunch now? That’s 2% of any returns, from movie sales to book royalties. I still have some way to go before I actually finish this book, so I can give you a very good deal if you hurry. Contact, in the first instance, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kickstarter image from Wired magazine.
Jack Shackaway here. Of Kicking Dogs fame.
It’s true, as Collin says (here and here). Nearly everybody’s a writer these days. And — given all the media interest in current publishing-industry convulsions — the few who aren’t writers are experts on publishing and books.
I used to tell people I was a novelist. I don’t anymore. That’s as interesting to your average citizen as saying “Every night I go to sleep.” Who isn’t writing a novel?
But if they nevertheless do get wind of this idea you’re writing novels for some reason, they ask you whether you know how much 50 Shades of Grey has minted as of that very morning, and then they tell you exactly how much before asking how much you earn from this pursuit.
So you mumble a bit and gesture skywards and say, “Do you think it’s going to rain?”
Next they ask you what kind of novels you write. And, if you tell them, chances are they’ll respond by telling you what class of narrative you should be writing instead. One nice Thai woman, for example, asked me at a cocktail party recently why I didn’t write romantic novels. A European entrepreneur in a suit asked me last week why I didn’t write like John Grisham. Yeah, and a cute girl looked at me funny on the Skytrain this morning. Maybe she was a groupie. (Joking.)
Learn to pay attention
At the risk of offending you, I’m now going to reveal related advice I got from a woman some years ago.
This cruise-boat hostess, who was a piece of work, passed me a book entitled The Amber Anklet and said, “This is the kind of book you should be writing.”
Inclined to skepticism, once home again I nevertheless left it on my night table, thinking, who knows, some fine morning it might serve as hangover fodder.
So lo, and verily, in the course of time a contingency of that very nature did indeed arise. And I was lying there thinking I needed something to distract me from the pain, and what should I discover on my bedside table, buried not too deep under cold pizza and other things, but The Amber Anklet. So I picked it up and started reading.
Despite her pleas, the heroine was abused on at least three occasions before the end of the first chapter, by which time she was being loaded aboard a pirate vessel manned by Turks, all of whom were gigantic in every way. By the end of chapter two I was struck with a wild surmise, and got to thinking about the how the cruise-boat hostess had kept touching me and sighing and so on, and this soon had me rummaging through the mess of old name-cards that had fallen down behind my desk.
I called the cruise company only to find that she had left their employ some months earlier and they had no idea where she was or what she was reading at this time.
There was a point to that story, but now I forget what it was. Something to do with why people tend to believe I should be writing every kind of book except the ones I’m writing, except for those who think I shouldn’t be writing any kind of books at all.
My own father never used to tell me what kind of books I should write. He said I should study engineering because then, if I failed to get my degree, I could always work as a draftsman.
Of course digital technology threatens to make draftsmen just as redundant as writers will soon become.
I hasten to add that I can’t imagine writing books of The Amber Anklet class. For one thing I don’t approve of rape under any circumstances; in fact I'm personally incapable of even pretending to rape someone according to the script of someone's fantasy. Not that this opportunity has ever actually materialized. In fact 50 Shades offends me with all of its rough sex, though I speak mainly on the basis of heresay in this matter, having found the quality of its prose so offensive I couldn’t get beyond the first few pages to see for myself.
Not only that, I don’t know what I would’ve said to that cruise-boat hostess supposing I'd managed to contact her. Maybe did she want to borrow my copy of Infinite Jest.
Jack Shackaway presents a review of a recent Mickey’s Muse product:
Take the lead scene, for example. Mr. Ambit presents everything that Hollywood wants—a startling instance of random structural violence, with much smoke and flame and opportunity for the action hero to squint in the general direction of the shitstorm and wince in a way that suggests strong emotion. That's good. And this scene employs another device that offers the comfort of familiar cinematic narrative convention, inasmuch as it relates in no obvious manner to the story that follows.
The problem is that the opening fails to exceed the degree of property damage and loss of life, plus attendant noise and smoke, that we’ve seen in so many earlier novels of this type. It’s hard to say what made the human partner-in-crime-fiction draw back at this critical juncture. Namby-pambyishness adds nothing to this sort of genre thriller — certainly not if you want to appeal to Hollywood and, after all, who wouldn’t?
A little later in the yarn, perhaps because of a similar failure of nerve, the mandatory innocent female victim of a psychopathic killer is despatched with all the flair of an abatoir worker despatching a cow.
Those who wish to inspire Mickey’s Muse to maximum effect may profitably observe Ellie’s Law:
"The quality of a movie is inversely related to the quantity of money available to make it."
That is to say, the more money Hollywood filmmakers have, the more they spend on special effects, vying with one another to annihilate a world-historical number of vehicles, preferably expensive sports models, and blow more and larger buildings higher and higher into the air.
Bear that in mind, if you’re planning to produce a novel that clearly supplies the frame for a winning screenplay.
The question: Do the shortcomings of Dark Night of My Quick Guns XVII reflect a failure on the part of Mickey’s Muse, or are they merely the result of undue delicacy on the part of MM’s human collaborator?
I'll just say this: Mr. Ambit might be quicker to consult the Help menu.
The bots are coming, the bots are coming
“If anyone needed a wake-up call about how much the world, as we know it, is changing, consider this: China betting its future on robots is certainly about the starkest signal imaginable.” (“The big trade-off in the world of labour,” The Straits Times, 1 May 2015)
And it isn’t just drivers and maids and things who face imminent unemployment (see “Don’t tease the Homebot” and links therein). Professional and even “artistic” types may soon have to adopt some brand-new bags.
“... Oxford University researchers forecast that, within 20 years, as many as half of all jobs could be affected. This includes quite a few job categories that are widely considered to require high skill levels.”
Writers don’t necessarily need the skill levels characteristic of aeronautical engineers, given that the consequences of writerly incompetence aren’t generally as dramatic, but they do have to know a few tricks, and it may surprise some to learn they’re under threat as well.
In fact, we may witness an ever-increasing deluge of new books at the same time the number of writers begins falling off to vanishing point. Read on.
The other day a Fitz’s Bar habitué whips out his smartphone and shows me a revolutionary tool for writers.
“This,” he tells me, “is a new and improved version of Mickey’s Spillane’s secretary.”
“Weren’t Mickey’s secretaries generally leggy and nice?”
“Yeah,” he says. “But.”
Spillane’s modus operandi, many of his admirers liked to believe, was to kick back with a bottle of whiskey, feet up on desk, and dictate his novels to a leggy secretary du jour. Who knows, these individuals might have even administered a few mid-stream stylistic adjustments to the flow of immortal prose. “Mickey’s Muse does better than that,” says my friend, discounting any associated lack of legginess. “It spins the whole yarn for you.”
Choose from a typology of genres. (The New Yorker goes farther than you might expect in championing genre novels.) Select one of a few generic plots and two or three standard themes, specify your preferred era and setting, assemble a cast drawn from a grabbag of customizable prefab characters, and let ’er rip. A standard novel takes about 2.3 minutes in draft.
“Then you upload it to your computer. Make some revisions, fill in a few blanks. Change a name or two. Soften the female lead’s voice, maybe give her bigger boobs.”
“And Bob’s your uncle. You’ve just authored another book. Feed it from your word processor or phone directly into Publishit.”*
And whoosh. Writers join the ranks of outmoded middlemen. With this latest technological breakthrough, writers go the way of literary agents and conventional publishers. What do you need with writers when you’re able to download and instruct Mickey’s Muse as easily as any writer can? All hail the digital millennium.
Disruption as progress
But who am I to oppose newness and improvedness, contemporary successors to older ideas of Progress?
“Even if you’re only a reader,” my friend tells me, “you can name the hero after yourself. Give yourself any personal attributes you like, maybe a facility with automatic weapons and a giant dick. Cast yourself as a famous writer with too many groupies to count. Hire yourself a nice leggy secretary. Hell, yeah.”
Never mind. More newness and improvedness lurks right around the corner. Given qubital computing together with fully immersive virtual realities, soon anyone who wants them will be able to enjoy the pleasures of life as a famous writer. Who wouldn’t skip the hard parts and go straight for the perks? In the meantime, you can outsource all the slog and sweat of story creation to Mickey’s Muse.
I’m sold. “Madrid-based artist Alicia Martín’s amazing installation at Casa de America cultural center in the heart of Madrid appears to pour out of the building like an avalanche of literature. This piece is part of an ongoing series of installations around Spain titled Biografias or Biographies. Each one incorporates approximately 5,000 used books.”
Spillane vetting secretarial talent?
* Google has revealed the following anticipations of my 'Publishit' (above): Publish-It (poster software); PubliSHIT (a magazine); PublishIT (encryption stuff); and lots more. The Internet makes it harder and harder to think of things no one else has done already.
Jack Shackaway now looks at a third such group -- those, including himself, who take motorcycle taxis in Bangkok. Jack offers this as a follow-up to both my “How I quit smoking” and my “Immortality for Joe Atheist” posts.
He claims the following sketch has been sitting on his computer since back in a time (or a parallel universe) when the motorcycle helmet rules were actually being sort of enforced in Bangkok and back when neural plasticity was indeed the media flavor of the month, and not merely old hat.
Here I am, in Bangkok traffic, sitting on the back of a motorcycle taxi, telling myself, yet again, that I should remember never to find myself sitting on motorcycle taxis in Bangok traffic. My driver’s spare brainbucket, being too small for my head, hangs from the side of our vehicle. Anyway, the strap’s broken, not to mention the helmet is shocking pink. Whatever. Right away, I can see my driver has little or no depth perception. Given the way he leans the wrong way into corners he may also suffer an inner-ear infection. From the outset he keeps seeing openings among the contending currents of traffic, holes that no one else — especially me, what with my eyes closed in terror — can see. Never mind his apparent death wish, I can only conclude he’s either the unluckiest attemptive suicide in the world, or else he knows something the rest of us do not. Perhaps it’s due to some understanding on his part of extra-dimensional physics that we don’t have a head-on collision with any of these cars, trucks, buses, tuk-tuks or other motorcycles.
Big surprise — we actually get to the printer. But it’s closed. So what do I do? I suggest he takes me back to a noodleshop on my soi, my sub-street, thereby indicating serious brain damage on my own part even if we have avoided leaving my brains strewn across the road.
Never mind. The media flavor of the month is neural “plasticity". Back when, in the Stone Age of behavioral psychology, we were told with confidence that, after the age of 15, our neurons started popping off at the rate of about one a second. I was never really able to relax and enjoy life after watching one prominent scientist standing there at the podium telling us this while she snapped her fingers, counting off the death of our brain cells.
That was about the same time I discovered booze and the fact that sufficient quantities of this substance could erase the fear of steady neural attrition at the same time, sufficiently applied, it could erase millions and millions more cells, preferably the ones in charge of inciting anxiety about such matters. But good news! Current wisdom says this steady and inevitable brain death is not a fact of life. Indeed, freelance writers and other piss-artists get another shot at sentience. That’s right. Brain cells regenerate, in some uncertain way and at some uncertain rate. I’m actually hoping that they regenerate faster than Dr. Donald Hebb, the behavioral psychologist, claimed they died in the natural course of events, or else, by my own calculations, I’ll have to live 2,700,000 years to regenerate what I lose in a year, at a very conservative estimate of 1 million cells per booze-up at the rate of 2 per week, or around 700 per year, given that there are nearly 2 trillion seconds in a year, and that’s only if I stop boozing now.
I’ve just revisited that last paragraph, and it confuses me, which is no more than one should expect given the fact that I’ve been drinking too much twice a week all my adult life. … Wait a minute—if there are really nearly 2 trillion seconds in a year, and my neurons had been dying at the rate of 1 per second, I should have run out of brain cells long ago. … What’s that you say? …
Ha, ha. Anyway, I’m a writer, not a mathematician.
I could really use a beer.
But wait! My point is this. Collin has recently offered us other grounds for hope in such matters, where I can fall on my bare head off as many motorcycles as I like and still persist reasonably intact in a bunch of other parallel worlds where, as it happens, this doesn’t actually occur. Hey, and doesn’t that also mean I inhabit infinite other universes where I can erode my brain down to a nub, a game of Pong between two remaining neurons, and so what? Because a bunch more universes remain where I haven’t done this yet and can still do it if I feel like it. Collin doesn’t generally go around tsk-tsking people but, if he did, he’d be doing it now. Maybe in the next adjacent universe, eh?
In fact I think I’ll go get that beer right now. * The multiple universe cartoon is from Max Tegmark's website. * The Whole Brain diagram is from http://www.suzanaherculanohouzel.com/azevedo-et-al-2009-j-comp-neur/, which is a rich source of related information. * The massed motorcycles shot is from http://www.thailandodyssey.com/bangkok-local-private-transportation/.
I’m lucky to be alive. For one thing, I began smoking cigarettes at the age of nine. By the age of 12, I was smoking at least half a pack a day and, by the time I left home at the age of 15, I had a 40-50 a day habit. By the time I was 16 going on 17, I’d smoke another pack if I spent an evening in a tavern. I eventually stopped after 28 years of smoking, by then a heavy smoker of both cigarettes and pipe tobacco. Until that point, through parental tirades, sore throats, and occasions where I had to choose between buying a pack of cigarettes and eating something, I’d never once quit.
How did I accomplish this to-me nearly miraculous feat? By hard dint of two home-grown devices. Deep breathing or rigorous exercise helped stave off the monkey every time it really started to claw at my back. More importantly, I owe my continued existence to a mental exercise: I imagined a future version of myself standing there in a doctor’s office absorbing the news I was dying of emphysema (or cancer or heart disease), and being told there was no cure.
If only I’d stopped smoking years before. I imagined my sheepishness — shame, really — at having known for so long, at least on an intellectual level, that I was killing myself, yet never deviating from that course of action. And now it was too late. I could quit all I liked, and I was still going to die soon and unpleasantly. What really got me was a vivid sense of the futility of wanting things to be otherwise, to be somehow empowered to go back in time to a point where I could decide to quit before it was too late.
Then I realised that, in this imaginative communication with my future self, that self's devout wish might in fact be granted, and this moment was my chance to change the course of events.
Our global fix
Anthropogenic climate-change deniers behave in much the way I did, all those years I kept smoking despite the fact I was pretty sure this would eventually kill me. (Yeah, but that would be then, eh? At some time, who knew when, probably way down the road. What does that signify when you want a cigarette right now?)
And now Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway have given us The Collapse of Western Civilization. The authors introduce their book in this way:
“Science fiction writers construct an imaginary future; historians attempt to reconstruct the past. Ultimately, both are seeking to understand the present. In this essay, we blend the two genres to imagine a future historian looking back on a past that is our present and (possible) future."
In short, the protagonists of what its authors describe as a science-fiction book are looking back at our time from a future where the planet has been devastated in much the way the scientific community long promised us it would be, and they’re wondering at the wilful stupidity, compounded with short-sighted cupidity, that led us — especially those among us who were supposedly responsible policymakers — to let this catastrophe happen. Never mind policymakers and the general public alike were in full possession of the facts of the matter and had been warned again and again by the scientific community as a whole.
Just 104 pages long, the book economically and, given the authors’ backgrounds, authoritatively offers us a collective perspective on our behavior much like the POV that led me to quit tobacco.
Some say it’s too late for our planet. Maybe so. But I’d smoked heavily enough long enough that I feared I’d stopped too late. As it turns out, however, the human body is remarkably resilient, and so far it appears I may not have to pay the Piper after all. Let’s hope that homo sapiens and our planetary habitat will prove similarly blessed.
Perhaps it’ll help if enough people read Collapse.
The cartoon is from http://www.quitsmokingtoday7.com/blog/how-to-quit-smoking-according-to-doctors.
Are you a Bangkok Old Hand?
In which of the following situations would it be appropriate to use the common Thai expression mai pen rai (“never mind; no problem”)?
(a) A guest spills a little water on your coffee table.
(b) A waiter accidently dumps your beer into your lap.
(c) You go downstairs one morning in the rainy season and find that those of your possessions that float are floating, while everything else is under water.
(d) You read that the greenhouse effect—the gradual warming of the global climate and the subsequent melting of the polar ice-caps—means that all of Bangkok will be under water by the end of the century.
Or perhaps even much sooner than the end of the century, given recent evidence.
It turns out the “mai pen lai” attitude is far more widespread than a certain class of Western expats resident in Thailand would normally grant. It seems we even have the upper legislative house in the modern world’s leading superpower formally suggesting that current climate change is not anthropogenic, and (in effect) we should at all costs vote in favor of commercial interests, and screw the rest of the world as well as future generations everywhere. (“Senate says scientists are wrong, climate change isn’t real” [what they said was that it isn’t caused by human activity] by Sean Cockerham, 22 January 2015.)
'The chairman of the environment committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ... an enthusiastic denier of climate change, [says] it is the “biggest hoax” perpetrated against mankind.
Well, shit. Yeah. Heaven forbid we should let such patent hubris on the part of human beings inhibit the march of commerce, eh? Because it appears the bottom line here is that nothing should interfere with the Keystone pipeline project and other US energy self-sufficiency measures.
For more on this, see my next post on this site, “How I quit smoking,” which in part provides brief notice of a new book that should be required reading for everyone in the world, starting with our political, business and educational policymakers.
Answer to the above Bangkok Old Hand Quiz item: In all of those situations: a, b, c and d.
This is in response to S. Tsow's comment on my last post.
Cautionary note. Ease off when your brain begins to bubble.
Bonus lore. Rx for hangovers: The Joy of Hangovers
Tbe aafe is the work of Carole Spandau.
Rule to live by #1: Bring black peppercorns to any dope-smoking contest the like of which nobody is likely to win
The fix. Neil Young, in a Rolling Stone interview with Howard Stern, offers this treatment for weed-induced paranoia: chew some ‘black pepper balls.’ I’m thinking he must mean peppercorns.
On the off chance that peppercorns are the latest panacea, I tried chewing just two of them. Not because I’d been smoking dope, and not because I was feeling especially paranoid. Just because like, whatever, eh? And they were good. Not as good as finding one by accident in a nice salad or pasta dish, but good. And, I imagined, I became suffused with a sense of well-being. A kind of oneness with a generally benign world.
The panacea. Next thing I was routinely chewing peppercorns as a hedge against insomnia, sleepiness, melancholia, bad breath, hunger, Angst and simple boredom. I’ve hesitated to try smoking myself into a proper state of paranoia but, given all the pepper I’m ingesting more or less for the hell of it, I’d probably find I was immune.
Mind you, I now resist the notion of ever again dipping into a Reader’s Digest (only in dentists’ waiting rooms, okay?) for fear I’ll learn that peppercorn addiction notoriously induces apathy and general emotional disconnectedness. For the same reason, I no longer read the health pages in newspapers.
Living forever. The other morning I inadvertantly entered into an insomnia-induced trance akin to that typically experienced by shamans. It was in this altered state of consciousness that it occurred to me that I should steep cracked black peppercorns together with a bunch of parsley and drink the tea. And damned if it didn’t taste pretty good. Not only that, but I listened to my body as I drank this stuff, and my body said “Dude!”, which I took to mean something like good shit. Not only that, it was much cheaper than sencha tea, my usual swill.
My suspicion is that if I went online to look — which I’m not going to do because I don’t care — I’d discover that once again I’ve reinvented the bicycle. Generations of New Agers and their ilk have probably already been there and done that.