Cultural Barriers

The first draft of the post you’ve just started reading (and are now continuing to read, God help you) was written in the tail end of last August, outside a Lyonnais café, on the last few pages of a small yellow notebook, in a hand quivering from a day of carrying overladen bags. My face still burning with the exertion of moving-day haulage and the shame of a dressing down from my ex-landlord re: the apartment’s dusty condition. (Dust, not dirt. Bloody dust.) You know the feeling I’m talking about: that ineffectual kind of shame you’d thought you’d left back in the dregs of childhood; a special kind of powerlessness that only comes with the arbitrary imbalance of a teacher-pupil or landlord-tenant relationship.

What I mean is that the emotions I’m about to describe are long-past now, but that at the time of initial writing, my soul was right down in the Mariana Trench of despair. I’m telling you. This last year, I have been through some seriously middling inconvenience.

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A load of old

*a small squeaking sound starts up, uneven and faint, as if from far away.*

*a long-forgotten ignition switch is flipped from 0 to 1*

**the squeaking begins to steady and smooth out, becoming a slow whine**

***peripherally, a blur, grey-brown: a mouse flashing right to left, its little nest disturbed by the waking machinery***

***the rest of its family too slow to escape in time***

****small crunches, like twigs underfoot or the crackling of kindling, as tiny bones and organs snap and burst****

****the blog is alive****

*****it is a tragedy*****

So — what’s up with listicles, right? (more…)

Beach of Bones

Let me just say up front: the post’s title has nothing to do with any upcoming Song Of Ice And Fire novels, but by heck is GRRM going to wish he’d thought of the place I’m going to tell you about today.

Let’s begin: it’s called the Salton Sea, and it was the first stop (excluding an overnight stay in a Palm Springs parking lot) on the road trip that you’re not allowed to be sick of hearing about yet.

To be totally honest, I’m not exactly sure how worldwide-famous the Salton Sea is. I first heard about it a few years ago via a Youtube video entitled The Accidental Sea. It’s a manmade lake over in southern California that was originally created about a century ago, as a result of a somewhat monumental engineering fuck-up.

When I asked, people in L.A. seemed to mostly be kind of aware of the place as a weird smelly region where homeless people sometimes congregate/live, but not much more. People back in Europe had rarely heard of it, except those who’d stumbled across the same video.

For those of you who don’t know it, here: I’ll try and sum up its history in even less time than it’d take you to hop over to Wikipedia and scan the summary.

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Springtime In Chicago

It was supposed to be a spring day. Mid-March, northern hemisphere: we’re talking equinoctes, flowers in bloom, the promise of growth to come. Yes? Yes?

IMG_3812No.

Evidently this time around Chicago’d angered some fertility deity or another, and the city hadn’t hatched out of its winter shell. The temperature was down to minus five or so, Lake Michigan was only just starting to melt back into actual water, and when I hopped off the L, the whole north-south stretch of Wabash Ave was moonlighting as an open-air wind tunnel.

Still, I’m a writer (or so I tell people now that I don’t have any other job), and writers have to do their research. I took my pen and pocket notebook, strapped on my knee brace, wrapped the rest of me up in boots, hat and various other bundled layers — and set out to do what we in the business (I assume) call location scouting.

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Our Beautiful Brontosaurus

I suppose really the first place I should have started is with the car. The whole idea of a road trip is only possible because of it, and when this one little metal box-on-wheels is your home for weeks — it’s hard not to get attached.

So you might, for instance, give your car a name.

You might, for instance, call her it Cara, which is short for (Dodge) Caravan, and long for Car, and is just a really clever joke that no one else will seem to get just how witty it really is.

You might begin to refer to it her as a brontosaurus, because she’s kinda big and kinda grey, and I guess that’s enough of a resemblance.
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It’s About Time

It feels very hard to believe it’s been nearly 5 months since I last posted on this blog. I’ve certainly done enough in that time to warrant more than a handful of posts, but haven’t seemed to find the time to sit down and type them out.

Some of the things I’ve seen, in memory-accessed (a.k.a. no) order:

  • Three states in one 800-mile-spanning day.
  • One million(ish) elephant seals fighting and fucking on a single stretch of beach.
  • Walter White’s house!!!!
  • Four National Parks.
  • A typewriter on fire.
  • Coma-inducing-sized icicles falling onto the pavement around me.
  • Nothing (it was supposed to be a lighthouse, but the fog entirely obscured it, which kind of makes you wonder what the lighthouse keeper’s getting paid for).
  • The ticket office to the best-preserved meteor crater on earth (but it cost something like $30, so eff that).
  • The inside of a mountain, from the warmth and comfort of a car I was driving through a mountain tunnel.
  • A midwest snowstorm, from the warmth and comfort of a car that I was driving through a midwest snowstorm.
  • The inside of a giant redwood, from the warmth and comfort of a car that I was driving through a giant redwood.
  • The Grand Canyon from both the ground and the air.
  • A man executing a perfect seventeen-point turn in his pickup so that he could drop his empty can into the recycling bin (like, for the environment and stuff) from the driver’s side window.
  • Lake Michigan, frozen over.
  • Lake Michigan, melting.
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On (and off) the road (and on again)

I’m writing this in a wooden cabin a few miles outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Also in the cabin are: my girlfriend, two sleeping bags, three beds, four jackets, our suitcase, car keys, a bottle of water, a space heater, a bag of dried fruit, a bag of something that describes itself as “milk chocolate covered toffee popcorn”, and a desk.

On the other side of this desk is a chipboard wall; on the other side of that is an insulated outer wall that spent last night keeping out -10°C temperatures and preventing any of my valuable extremities from falling off.

If you continued another ~600 miles past the wall, the temperature would drop considerably further. Up until this morning, our plan was to head right into that bleak void of coldness, then spend a couple more weeks driving around, sleeping where and when we could, and exploring the American Midwest as much as was possible on a shoestring budget.

That plan no longer exists. It’s funny how a bottle of ice (formerly mineral water) in the morning can change your mind.
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Books of 2013

No one likes lists. Least of all end-of-year lists. Least of ALL end-of-year lists that didn’t even make the titular deadline.

Anyway, here’s a list of all the books I read in 2013; at least, all the ones I can remember, in no particular order whatsoever. It’s a pretty meagre haul, looking back at it. Must read more in 2014.

Lavie Tidhar — Osama

Thoughts on this are detailed in an earlier blog post. But overall: an alternate/parallel/dream world where Al Qaeda is a schlocky invention of a pulp fiction author is a brilliant idea, and Tidhar does it really intelligently. It gives you a new twist on the hard-boiled detective genre (and that alone is tricky enough to pull off) with some jaw-dropping atmospherics and something genuine to say about the surreal geopolitical situation we find ourselves in this century.

Really psyched to read his new one, The Violent Century, this coming year.

Osama
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The Most Obnoxious Film I’ve Ever Seen

Recently I finally found myself bored enough to watch a film Netflix’d been pushing at me like a stubborn drug dealer for weeks. The reason I’d been avoiding it was that the combination of title, tagline and cover picture had given me the impression that I could tell exactly what the film would be about before I’d watched a single minute.

The film was called God Bless America, the cover looked like this, the tagline was “taking out the trash, one jerk at a time“, and my initial assumption was something along the lines of: oh, I see, ‘edgy’ piece of ‘satire’ trying to channel the mood of Natural Born Killers through Super‘s cynical sense of humour.

And that is pretty much exactly what it was. Your middle-aged anti-hero teaming up with an dorky/badass teenage girl to murder a succession of thinly-veiled stand-ins for real-life celebrities and reality stars. Which, okay, fine: I don’t like the whole tabloid culture either, and who doesn’t enjoy a decent cinematic bloodbath from time to time?

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer self-righteousness and utter obnoxious hypocrisy that towers over the whole film and eclipses any gory fun that might have been found.
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