It can give you pause for thought – the way in which your argument is shut down. There is an assumption, or rather an accusation levelled at you about your emotional state, your rationality, your intellect, and at base your entire education. The thing is, no questions have been asked, and no effort has been made to truly understand the background out of which you are operating.
I scared my dad early on because I gained more data than he had, and I was able to think with it an apply it to different spheres of operation. I understood what I read in The Bible, but I didn’t learn it by rote, I learned it in a way that made it available for me to ask questions given that data. A lot of people read it, but they just about understand it in an unquestioning way that allows them to hate, fear, or love it, but never to test it as an operating system by which to live. I never got the point where it became my source of data because there were a few kinks I wanted to iron out by asking questions to clarify. When you have set rigid with something and prove you acceptance of it by parroting it back, someone asking questions doesn’t really work. Now, I don’t want to do my dad down here – I know he believed in that book, but I think he actually used be a good person as an operating system more than he used the words of the book he felt he had to protect from my inquiry.
I read books around the good book – The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, the Apocrypha, various things on line about it. I went to Bible study classes as a kid; I did Religious Studies in school, went to groups after that; I liked talking to Christians. I was held to have a good understanding of the subject matter. As soon as my Dad flunked on answering a question I had about the First Cause and nothingness and the void, I started to look elsewhere.
I was trying to find something in Mythology and I read through every damned tangential reference in Celtic Mythology, whatever cycle, until I could think through it better than most. I started reading Aldous Huxley, T S Eliot, the Beats, and Les Fleur De Mals religiously. I’d hook in and make lists of all the books around the subject and hunt them down and devour them. My local librarian was fantastic and really fed the urge – I was responsible for getting a lot of weird books ordered in. There was a pretty good split between the entertaining and the educational. Somewhere around here I think I happened on the notion of metatextual reading, and pounced on it – meaning I hoovered up anything associated with a text.
I found Buddhism through Dharma Bums and Ginsberg, and some monks that sold texts around Cambridge and Ipswich, but never really liked the abnegation of self involved in the attainment of Nirvana. Yogic traditions also interested me somewhat, but again ended up becoming more of an intellectual interest.
I watched a lot of art house cinema, and began t become interested in painting schools like the impressionists and the surrealists, all those modernist schools, and eventually found myself digging into Freud, and from there dabbling with both psychology and philosophy.
At the schools I was at I don’t really remember philosophy studies being readily available, but psychology was. I’d shifted from creating visual art quite so much, and wanted to be able to create convincing psychological portraits of the characters I wanted to flesh out in my fiction – not realising I already had my most important tools set there either side of my nose. As I studied psychology I developed a way of studying that involved powernaps inbetween reading swathes of psychological theories, and then writing poems that encapsulated them; so this era of my writing, as I was also a student of the classics and form, as well as starting to branch into modernist territory with free verse and stream of consciousness writing is pretty ripe. It was remarked often how able I was to apply things learned from one discipline to another.
You can add in here Media Studies, where I started to learn how messages were constructed, and the often complex political and social mechanisms that went on behind them. Most of my reading was extracurricular. I found courses at school to easy, a little tedious, and not warranting of more attention than my art. I could read a passage we were supposed to study while others fumbled through sophomoric attempts at dissecting the text, and come up with something I’d never remember after that others would note down, and I could break down the structure and metaphorical drift and possible games being played in a text with ease.
Politics was always something I was interested in. I hated the red tops of the time – they were totally antithetical to me. I read some Socialist Worker papers and I was proud to be part of the Anti Nazi League. I stayed politically informed because being born into an era where you are working class and Thatcher is the country’s leader demands it of you. Shows at the time like Brass, Bread, Boys From The Black Stuff – even the soaps like Coronation Street, Brookside, and Eastenders, were steeped in Politics. The National Front was about. Punk music edged into post punk through two tone and reggae, and I remember being kind of angry a lot of the time. That sketch Eddie Izzard has about downsizing ambitions and being working class isn’t quite as funny if you can remember what that felt like – comedy is great at cutting to the bone.
Psychology wasn’t a cohesive whole though – wasn’t the Holy Grail. I thought Philosophy might be – or maybe the framework of University would be. I liked Hume, and the Political Philosophy I studied. I liked some of the language of Philosophy, but again, I was trying to cross-pollenate, and you learn that specialists hate that shit … what could Burroughs writing about the Word Virus possibly have to say about language? I stopped going to the lectures, and some of the tutorials because they gave me no insight into the books I was reading. I was writing essays which would have got me firsts in order to get 2:1s because they’d deduct percentages for attendance. What a waste of time. Metaphysical philosophy might be more interesting if undergrads were expected to be more than just ego-strokes for self-indulgent philosophy teachers. I went after Machi Kaku and Wittgenstein on my own, inspired by film habits and signposts therein.
I loved the books I had to read at Uni and some of the people. I wrote a lot at University. I could read and write and get free money, and drink, and learn how to live (some bad lessons to be sure), but I held my own with smart people, and discovered I was smarter than a lot of people. I continued to educate myself. I argued with people who knew how to argue, but they also knew how to listen, and so I became used to the courtesy. The best thing about University was that I didn’t have to pretend to be dumb. Then time there came to an end, and I had no fucking clue what to do next. I had only thought that far ahead, and the choices beyond bamboozled me, and this coincided with being in more debt than I had ever had, and being fucked over by a politician for the first time. Goodbye official student life.
Comics threaded back into my life again – later teen years substituted embarassing comics, 2000ad and Blast Magazine, and Toxic and Strip aside, ah and I loved Marvel UK stories, and some X-Men, for music mainly – I built a great collection of eclectic metal, punk, rock, jazz and reggae. But at the end of the Nineties Vertigo was in the ascendancy and The Invisibles, Transmetropolitan, Sin City, and others entered my thoughtstream … and I’d unpack the philosophical texts buried in them for years afterwards.
The internet had been in its infancy throughout most of this time. In college for Media Studies I was writing a paper on the Information Super Highway whilst trying to get onto plain text group forums via dial-up. My teacher was part of the British Beat Movement which was a lot more interesting because it was real at this point. He also introduced me to Baudrillard.
Internet at University was a lot about porn for sure – surreptitiously downloading it to floppies in the University Library. Also, though, it was about MUDs (multi user dungeons) and I was parts of a couple of Moos – one whose story is told in My Tiny Life. It was weird and cool talking to people overseas.
At home -no Internet. I had to join the rat race and work – I learned my academic skills weren’t good for much, and I initially spent a short stint on the dole – the people who ran that office were inspirational in the sense that having met them I wanted some distance put between me and them, and I got myself a job at a call centre and met some great friends who handed me the keys to a kingdom of socialising with smart people all over again, and they were equally exotic, because they were formed from a local college crowd. There was music there too. I was writing a lot. Somewhere around this point I got internet through the library and found my first writer’s site. I was prolific, and on the merit of this, and my enthusiasm, they gave me my own section on the forum.
I have a notion that Myspace was starting to gear up – and that it was an artists community in ethos at that point, and I started to write blogs, lots of them. Then maybe through one of these sites, maybe through a friend; maybe through a Google Ad I discovered a site for writing that totally clicked with me, and the way it was formatted, I could churn out stuff and people would read it (about 4 books worth of stuff I think), and through them I found a place I could publish an actual physical book, so I did. Coincidentally, I met my first internet person in real life from this site, and we are still friends. It started life as Spoiled Ink and became Edit Red ( a passionate group of talented people).
Then I found the site that really changed my life. What was different about it? Well – that thing of meeting in real life? They made it happen. I wanted to go to the next one, but wasn’t sure, and a really good friend just made it seem so simple to me, that by the next day I was in a different country. Start of my American adventure. Writer’s Cafe.
I earned myself a nickname – the machine: I could write lots, on anything, in any place, and people liked it. I went back to England briefly after making some lifelong friends, and then I came back thanks to my grandmother’s bequest, and travelled around for 3 months doing spoken word in different places. Smart people again – my people. A mistake killed the site, but it never killed the group.
For online groups the next thing I really hooked into was Whitechapel, a community built around Warren Ellis’s Freakangels webcomic project, but which has survived way past that initial impetus, and that has been good to me to. From there I was involved in Loom, a great collaborative project. I met Bram Geiben, and had the pleasure of being a Weaponeer on Weaponizer. And there will be more collabs coming out of that association on into the future.
I think currently the biggest things I am working on, are a Wiki that catalogues every damned thing I ever wrote, and shows the links and branches in the work, and has allowed me to world build like no ones business. This Burning World is what I am referring to as a macro-series that encompasses something like a hundred different stories, and embraces the notion of cradle-fiction (a term I coined to describe short fiction that takes place in a shared world as a way to build something a larger longform work can be built into), and Fiction Designate, which shares a space with it, and is also a macro-series and cradle fiction.
I came up with an idea called data-driven poetry, and data-driven prose. I trained in journalism and am always looking for unbiased sources, or at least differing sources when I am investigating something – so when the lyrics and the prose leak out of me there is generally a lot of data stewing in the compost heap. Lyrics aren’t designed to necessarily be a comprehensive exploration of something, nor is a story, nor an opinion piece, and definitely not a Facebook post … but there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes.
It’s kind of horrible when people write posts where they justify something they did or do, or don’t and didn’t do, because of something someone said, but sometimes there is a need to work out how you feel about your own process, and to actually look at it and see if there are flaws, and of course there always are. Still, I stand by my beliefs and the way I express them, and I know people will agree with them and people will disagree with them. I’m way past the point of accepting bullying criticism though, or accusations of stupidity – they’re a great way to shut someone down, but they don’t demonstrate rightness. I often worry when I write something like this that it could be seen as an indirect way of arguing with someone I can’t face head on, but I am getting better at doing that, and then having to unpack the thoughts further is what these things constitute. Anyway, if anyone made it through this gargantuan thing, well done. It helped me – I hope it helped you somehow.