ambition, anxiety, blogging, character, compassion, courage, craft, creative writing, creativity, culture, experience, fragile, friendship, grief, inspiration, loneliness, masculinity, mental illness, poetry, politics, psychology, separation, social media, stoicism, strength, Uncategorized, wisdom, writing

Raise your shield high

Silence has a weight

Texture

A rock worn smooth

By time

A delicacy as raw silk

Sliding over my rough, dark hands

Inside,

The screams – outrage, pain disguised

As signals of virtue

I stand askance

My path takes me through

These places

Once walled gardens of enthused discourse

Now the flowers drip blood

I hold my own counsel

Keep making my art

As though casting a suit of armour

Against the fragile, vicious beasts

Within

Without

My silence is my shield

And I raise it high

I raise it high

 

Standard
beauty, blogging, creative writing, emotion, fiction, flash fiction, fragile, friendship, loneliness, mental illness, short fiction, short stories, Uncategorized, women, writing

A Quiet Invasion

We sit over coffee

She looks at me wide-eyed

Tells me that New York is an alien city

I laugh, nervous,

Afraid to ask if she’s stopped

Taking the pills

But she smiles, almost nervous

Hear me out

Please?

Her use of the word is a songbird at dawn to me.

In love with her in a neutered, sorry way

Not like the guys she takes home

As small boned as she is,

She likes the bull, the bear

Dark with tattoos and beards

All my poetry looks weak

Compared to the sullen prose

Of her lovers

But New York, she continues to tell me,

Is an alien city

That what comes from the skies

Isn’t acromegalic heads and black eyes

Plants and insects

Mineral intelligences

Why not a city, she offers up,

The way it’s laid out

How we are when we’re here,

That’s every city though

A place for people too odd for their homes

An asylum and a carnival all at once

She’s been having dreams

Woke up three miles from

Her bed, she offers

And yes, she says,

She’s taking the pills

My love for her

Makes me vulnerable to her

It shouldn’t but it does

And so I kiss her

Dry on the cheek,

Close my eyes to the tremble

And I turn a corner,

She makes me wonder

Where it will lead

Standard
anxiety, book reviews, books, fiction, Uncategorized, women

The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne

61gxe32-cal-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Synopsis:

Littlefield, Massachusetts, named one of the Ten Best Places to Live in America, full of psychologists and college professors, is proud of its fine schools, its girls’ soccer teams, its leafy streets and quaint village centre.

Yet no sooner has sociologist Dr Clarice Watkins arrived in Littlefield to study the elements of ‘good quality of life’ than someone begins poisoning the town’s dogs. Are the poisonings in protest to an off-leash proposal for Baldwin Park – the subject of much town debate – or the sign of a far deeper disorder?

The Dogs of Littlefield is a wry exploration of the discontent concealed behind the manicured lawns and picket fences of darkest suburbia.

Suzanne Berne captures the unease and poignancy of lives lived with so much of the base needs taken care of, but instead the characters have decided to spend large amounts of time and energy on fostering the slights and insecurities that cripple and delude them at every turn. The central plot serves as a springboard to a lovely, scabrous examination of the people and the domestic events that define them. There are passages of exquisite beauty without, leavened by observations and revelations that tap into something universal, painful and she does it without descending into the mawkish or the melodramatic.

She resists the call to darkness that would have been interesting, instead she shows us the quiet agonies of these people. It is an entirely engaging slice of black comedy, amusing rather than hilarious and the clumsy humanity of the work lends itself to the descriptive passages and the plot. I was reminded of Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, in that the central strangeness is merely an opportunity to show and amplify the internal struggles of the characters.  There is a nervous charm to the book, and a willingness to follow things through to a downbeat yet hopeful conclusion. Berne gives off the impulse that things will go on long after the book is ended, for good or ill with a sharp eye for description and the black humour in the earnest lives of ordinary people.

It is worth a read, the prose is evocative and spare and it moves at a good pace whilst remembering where to draw the reader’s eye in order to reinforce the points of the work without it becoming too histrionic.

 

Standard
beauty, book reviews, books, creativity, culture, music, Uncategorized

Prince: Inside The Music and The Masks by Ronin Ro

41zgfhldnxl-_uy250_

Synopsis:

In his three decades-long of recording, Prince has had nearly thirty albums hit the Billboard Top 100. He is the only artist since the Beatles to have a number one song, movie, and single at the same time. Prince’s trajectory―from a teenage unknown in Minneapolis to an idol and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer―has won him millions of adoring fans.

Prince is the first book to give full treatment to this 30-year career of epic proportions. Acclaimed music journalist Ronin Ro traces Prince’s rise from anonymity in the late 70s, to his catapult to stardom in the 80s, to his reemergence in the 21st century as both an artistic icon and a starmaker. Ro chronicles the music, showing how Prince and his albums helped define and inspire a generation. Along the way, Prince confronted labels, fostered other young talents, and took ownership of his music, making a profound mark on the entertainment industry and pop culture.

In this authoritative biography, Ro digs deep to reveal the man behind some of the most important music of our time

I love his music. Prince has been one of the constants in my musical appreciation since discovering him in the late eighties, early 90’s. I can wax lyrical about my favourite unreleased tracks (Shockadelica), the way that the songs with a slightly sped up vocal are often his best (Camille’s vocal on If I Was Your Girlfriend) and even which brand of guitar he uses, Telecaster, in particular the one with the leopard print plate beneath the pick up. I thought that the line up between The Revolution and Sign O’The Times was the best one.

Ro does a solid job of providing information but I can get that from anywhere, what rock biographies need to have is the dirt, the weirdness, the damage and the scars. When Prince got married and had a child, which was a strange and tragic situation, Ro does not give us context other than that he’s a private person, which if you’re anything close to a fan of Prince, you’re aware of.

What’s interesting is that Prince kind of calcified, when he isolated himself from collaborators who challenged him. His best work was with Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, who in a perfect world, could have kept with him and pushed him. His average work is superlative, but the stuff that screamed came from the period when he was working with these women and the ambient tensions within that.

Why isn’t he working with, rather than being admired by Questlove or Trent Reznor? His genius, and I would argue that it really is an expression of that, is as much a gift as a curse because it isolates him. Part of the misstep he made was when he started to chase trends rather than make them.

Those sorts of questions haunt this book, which is disciplined and put together really well, but it gets us no closer to the who of Prince. All these facts carry the same tone, and great biography gives us insight into the person behind the image. When you read The Dirt, and then go listen to Motley Crue, you feel the decadence and the earnest, playful vandalism of their lives. I listen to Prince and feel what I always have. Ro, if he had been able to write that book, might have given me something more to feel about him.

I don’t believe that Prince’s own autobiography will be any more open about why he does what he does. He really does need someone who can curate for him, introduce him to the world so that he can bring the music that is truly within him. Stephen King doesn’t publish his shopping lists so forgive me if I don’t look at everything Prince does with infantile awe because I know that not everything he does is genius, it’s always interesting but he’s produced stuff that felt like it took no more effort than it did to work out a cramp.A lot of his decisions get heralded as moves of inscrutable brilliance when really they’re affectations. Why can’t he have his work on YouTube, so that you can introduce someone to his work and then they’ll buy or download an album? Why doesn’t he have someone run his feed so that we can see him jamming with Third Eye Girl?

Frank Zappa said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, and yet there are superlative books about music and musicians, that enhance the experience or cast in a new light, the artistic expressions of individuals and groups. This book is close, but it doesn’t finish the lift.

Maybe I’m just sad that I won’t ever play bass for him, I don’t know. I can totally do that two step thing where you dip the neck on the fourth beat. If you want to know Prince, listen from Dirty Mind through to Lovesexy with a candle burning. Ronin Ro works better with something that he has more access to, Have Gun Will Travel is a far better book and example of his talents than this.

My favourite Prince albums, in no particular order:

  • Parade
  • Sign O’The Times
  • Lovesexy
  • 1999

 

Standard
book reviews, books, freedom, politics, social media, Uncategorized

Trigger Warning by Mick Hume

51fja0ywcil-_sx321_bo1204203200_

Synopsis:

In this blistering polemic, veteran journalist Mick Hume presents an uncompromising defence of freedom of expression, which he argues is threatened in the West, not by jackbooted censorship but by a creeping culture of conformism and You-Can’t-Say-That.

The cold-blooded murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in January 2015 brought a deadly focus to the issue of free speech. Leaders of the free-thinking world united in condemning the killings, proclaiming ‘Je suis Charlie’. But it wasn’t long before many commentators were arguing that the massacre showed the need to apply limits to free speech and to restrict the right to be offensive.

It has become fashionable not only to declare yourself offended by what somebody else says, but to use the ‘offence card’ to demand that they be prevented from saying it. Social media websites such as Twitter have become the scene of ‘twitch hunts’ where online mobs hunt down trolls and other heretics who express the ‘wrong’ opinion. And Trigger Warnings and other measures to ‘protect’ sensitive students from potentially offensive material have spread from American universities across the Atlantic and the internet.

Hume argues that without freedom of expression, our other liberties would not be possible. Against the background of the historic fight for free speech, Trigger Warning identifies the new threats facing it today and spells out how unfettered freedom of expression, despite the pain and the problems it entails, remains the most important liberty of all.

This was an entertaining, thoughtful and robust book. It made me marvel at how fragile freedom of speech has been throughout our collective history.  Hume starts from the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, and how it went from #jesuischarlie to calling for limits on speech that offends people. He goes into the history of free speech, it’s adherents and how the weight of government has been set against it, and every right has been fought for.

It’s a fast paced, passionate set of arguments, even providing some education and perspective on campaigns like Hacked Off, reframing them as inverted snobbery and the drive for a purity of thought and speech that touches on Orwell and Kafka. You may not agree with Hume but what I really like is that Mick Hume would fight just as passionately for your right to criticize him as he would to make his own argument.

The tone isn’t grating or histrionic. The humour is balanced at the right level, an amused disbelief before he expands on some basic ideas and talks about the excesses that we are seeing, that people are imprisoned for 140 characters, that nebulous shifting terms are being used to justify legal decisions that bode ill for the free market of ideas.

People say and believe things that might offend or sound stupid to us, but the right to say them is important. It seldom offers easy options or choices but like most things that matter, it’s important that we uphold them. Hume makes a compelling argument for the ongoing fight to have the right to think and speak freely. As someone who writes, it’s even more important for me to feel that I am free to speak my truth.

It’s not heavy, it’s thoughtful and funny, irreverent in a good way and it made me think about things.

Here’s an example where I’ve self censored:

Ok, so Neil Gaiman posted a denial of a rumour that he was co-authoring George R R Martin’s next book, The Winds of Winter and I tweeted that he should make up false spoilers. I considered sending the following:

SPOILER: Tyrion turns out not to be a dwarf but simply far away. 

Now it was not intended to be derogatory of people with that condition. Tyrion is my favourite character but I didn’t send it. People are not only quick to take offence, but they are not shy about getting others to join in. So there you go, we’re perhaps more affected by it than we care to admit.

So, you came for the book review and got a joke that most people won’t get.

 

 

 

Standard
beauty, book reviews, books, character, compassion, culture, emotion, fiction, grief, life, love, nature, passion, reading, Uncategorized, women

The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

51oxfod2bbil-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Synopsis:

The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko’s English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river…

Sometimes a book has exquisite, beautiful language but loses it’s way in terms of story, or a book can have a solid, engaging story with prosaic language or leaden dialogue. This book has both, capturing a time and a place outside of my realm of experience.

Which is always what I love about literature, it’s an opportunity to explore the world and minds of people who’ve never existed but feel as real to you as actual people. Roy delivers a story that is simultaneously epic and intimate, populated with characters who could veer into parody but never manage it, their emotions and motives driving the story to a riveting and heart breaking conclusion. It is a hymn about love, the denial of it and the damage that it can cause, the caste system and how it corrodes progress and interaction. It interests me, the caste system because it’s an observation of Grant Morrison that we have more of one in England than we publicly admit to.

The writing is delightful, poignant and beautiful, it’s funny, knows when to delve into the micro details of the world on the page and when to draw back in it’s pacing. This book really does sing and I am sad that I won’t get to read it for the first time again. Some books make your soul ache in a good way, and this was one of them. You can be drunk on words and here I am, describing to you something that suited my  palate but may not suit yours. Regardless, pour yourself a glass of this and drink deep.

 

Standard
blogging, book reviews, books, creative writing, Uncategorized, writing

Book Reviews – Consumed by David Cronenberg

I love his movies.

I liked his book.

It is a disturbing, technically detailed, visceral read. It manages to check off a range of taboo subjects, I learned about a few fetishes that I added to my mental list of things you never want your mum to google as well as some interesting ideas about consumerism and philosophy. It’s dense, uncomfortable and as I learned yesterday morning, not the book you want to read with your breakfast omelette.

I respected it rather than enjoyed it. Liked it rather than loved it.

It lacked a solid story. The details, the characterisation all were impeccable and he managed the trick of complex, selfish, damaged characters that were actual people rather than a collection of traits like a NPC in a role playing game really well. However, it ended really abruptly as though this were a misprint.

I respect Cronenberg immensely, I love that he’s captured his obsessions on paper and at 71, it saddens me that we won’t realistically get as large a body of work in print as we have in his films but this book is something to respect rather than love. Sure, it’s disturbing but there’s a ton of stuff out there that does that, written by hotel receptionists during quiet hours and gas station attendants at four in the morning. No, it’s David Fucking Cronenberg and he jobbed the ending. It frustrated me because it was damn near perfect at points, a chilly unnerving ride through the cold places in our culture and yet the ride stopped too early to appreciate it properly.

I am open to narrative experiments and the sheer freedom of formats in literature, but you finish what you start. This kind of shut off, like a child called in from playtime to eat. Shame, really as I was enraptured by it at points.

Standard