Things change

My reading of ‘Things change’

Dust settles; perspective shifts.

The more things change, the more things get weird. I was going to say that we know change happens. The seasons do their thing, as do tides and the second hands of clocks and watches. Bank accounts run down; gas tanks empty. Fridges, in our house, get fuller. Dust settles, perspective shifts. We age, while doctors get younger. The sun rises and sets. TV series have finales.

None of it makes any difference because we always think things will be the same until they really are not.

Democracy collapses. Common good evaporates and some kind of hell descends on us.

Meanwhile, a pandemic confuses everyone but leaves no doubt that things will never be the same again, with or without vaccines or herd immunity. What happened to the property markets in the UK and Brazil? They boomed. Of course they did! The denial of evident fact is the new religion. Ignore death. That’s for the faithless. Buy a house at a time when work itself is under threat. Things change but not the simple matter of human nature. Something will come along and we will all live forever.

Until we start losing people. Suicide rates among young people are increasing at incomprehensible speed, and this is in the world’s biggest economy where everyone is a winner. Until they are not. They appear not to be sick of winning in the way it had been sold. Winning is the new losing. Losing is the new death. Death itself is the new lifestyle change.

The more things change, the more stupid I feel for not being able to enjoy the old times. Things change while human stupidity and arrogance stay the same.

The ocean remains blue and peaceful

Then I remember that I tried.
My reading of “The ocean remains blue and peaceful”

My friends are a mixed bunch. I’m lucky in a big way – I don’t choose friends with any idea of what they can do for me professionally. This is one of the benefits of working for myself. It’s also one of the major disadvantages. There’s never anyone to help me. When you’re alone, you’re alone.

I often wish I had gone another way and been as corporate as possible. Then I remember that I tried. I put myself out there and was roundly told to fuck off. So, doing what I do is not brave or different – its survival.

I do okay. I’ll pay for my own funeral. But I worry sometimes that I just failed. I’m not recognised as anything. No one knows what I do. Which is strange when I get data reports telling me that in the last five weeks, I translated the equivalent of War and Peace. That’s almost 600,000 words. And it’s not even exceptional. I do this all the time. I’ve done it for 18 years.

And what bothers me is that I have lost so many people. And it occurs to me they too had lost so many people. And that all of this is a shit-show. It’s a waste of time. I was childless for years and now have a son I love more than anything but still sometimes all this feels stupid and useless.

And then I think again. I think about all the others who confessed to such strange feelings in wild writing and I feel better.

Never mind the stupidity we have to face day after day created by men who stink of hate.

The ocean remains blue and peaceful.

Blinding

My reading of ‘Blinding.’

I’m not the kind of person who goes to a doctor for a check-up. This isn’t a brave boast, it’s a confession of stupidity and I need to change my ways. Thing is, I worry that if I go, something will show up.

I know. I know.

Back in January of this year – before the wildfires in Australia and the pandemic and the latest hell from far-right politicians – I had to go to the optician. I’d driven from the south of Brazil to home in the southeast and it had taken about half a lifetime. I wear- or wore – contact lenses and in the air conditioning for endless hours I suffered some kind of drying of the eye and it was all very uncomfortable.

This week I went back for a check-up and did a battery of tests on comically sophisticated equipment. If there’s anything – even the suggestion of a potential problem – they will find it. Anyway, all clear. But I still have to use drops and cannot yet wear lenses. I have to go back in December. I really liked the doctor, Juliana. Very friendly and attentive. No rushing. But for a minute, I confess, I considered I was revenue stream. I could go back every three months for the rest of my life. OK, no. But medicine in Brazil has more to do with business than health. Maybe it’s like that everywhere.

Juliana and I talked about the reasons I should not use lenses yet. First, because of the pandemic. I hadn’t thought about that. She explained that if I had to fix a lens while I was out, it could represent a risk, what with sticking my virus-bathed fingers in my eyes. I was convinced. But then she added that my left eye is still a little dry and I would also be risking a return to the secretion and scratching I suffered back in January in the half a lifetime I spent in the car. I was doubly convinced. We then talked about the pandemic ending soon. I said I doubted the likelihood. Juliana said we have to pray.

I looked behind her, up on the wall near the ceiling. There was a crucifix with Christ nailed to it. I had to admire Juliana’s faith.

It was blinding.

Living it up in the apocalypse

The world has become like this big old mansion you can walk or run through, opening doors into rooms without knowing what to find when you go in. 

My reading ‘Living it up in the apocalypse’

Having been banned from Twitter for seven days, I find myself looking at the news from a slightly different standpoint. The Twitter ban means I can look, but I can’t touch. I can read tweets, but I can’t like or comment or interact in any way other than to talk to myself. This ban pushed me just a little bit away from all news, and I’m starting to think maybe it’s all been for the best.

The world has become like this big old mansion you can walk or run through, opening doors into rooms without knowing what to find when you go in. Open this door and everyone is nicely dressed, sitting in a large lounge, talking discreetly amongst themselves, some smoking, some drinking, but everyone basically acting like decent human beings.

Then you open another door and the noise and stink hit you like you’ve walked into a warm, steamy cattle shed filled with maniacs tearing chunks out of each other and gobbling human flesh that is still body temperature, all while recording it on their phones, or live streaming it, pushing for that pot of gold at the end of the bullshit rainbow: influencer status.

You get the idea. Of course you do. You’re in the same mansion, you’ve opened the same doors and been welcomed and horrified the same way, sometimes on the same day.

Increasingly I am eschewing the mansion for the cramped but loving confines of our apartment, with its two adults, one little boy, two dogs, and a fish that somehow survives living in a clearly toxic tank. I sit down and look around, and I’m learning just before I turn 53 next month to love what I have.

I’m living it up in the apocalypse.

All of this is being recorded

First and foremost, I was inciting nothing. Then, let’s consider the demonstrable fact that “eat shit and die” is an established phrase in the English language.
My reading of All of this is being recorded

I got banned from Twitter yesterday for seven days. I had broken a rule they have. This was an experience I am familiar with, this thing whereby a clearly idiotic institution gets high-minded and puts me in my place. I am, let’s not forget, a product of the British Public School system – and I was invited to leave the school because I smoked cigarettes at the age of 18 in a in a local town and the Headmaster’s wife saw me.  The Headmaster was a raging alcoholic but he and his wife dressed well we went to church and rules are rules.

 

Twitter took issue with my suggestion to the vile monster Donald Trump that he “eat shit and die.” It was a suggestion but Twitter, if I understand this correctly, said I was inciting hate and harm. It makes you think. Well, it makes me think.

 

First and foremost, I was inciting nothing. Then let’s consider the demonstrable fact that “east shit and die” is an established phrase in the English language. I wasn’t saying I was going to force Trump to swallow feces before I killed him.

 

Anyway, Trump can stay on Twitter and foment hate and division, threaten democracy itself, and stoke racial division. But this is the way the world works. Twitter, which is a platform that has no problem with hosting the profiles of sex workers, racists, nationalists, fascists and so on, judged me and said I had broken its rules.

 

Good. It is my duty to break Twitter’s rules. I would be ashamed not to have at least tried.

 

All of this is being recorded. And I am recording the recorders.

Recipro City

My reading of Repro City

Recipro City

 

Awake at 3:00 AM, I feel a pain that immediately convinces me I’m about to die. It’s a stabbing pain I am familiar with, but familiarity helps not when it comes to stabbing pains, in my experience. I make sounds that I am immediately aware might sound sexual, if in fact I were in an act of sex. This would make me laugh, if not for the stabbing pains that caused it. I know the drill: bathroom, wait, make claim to understanding 24 hours of labor pain.

I’ll fast forward to 4:00 AM. I’m wide awake and pain free. I look at the uncurtained window with the shutters we rarely close. The sky is not dark but it’s not light. I wonder at the human eye. I decide to go for a 10k run. The cycle lane is free at this time. It’s mine.

I get ready in the light-dark-light and again wonder at the capacity of the human eye. The dogs are asleep. It’s pre-dawn. I’m going for a run.

I hit the street at 4:17 AM. There’s a man on the corner and not a soul other than him. I wonder what the fuck he’s doing and then realize he’s looking at me asking the same thing. Or could well be.

I set off, running in the middle of the road, down the dotted line. I note it’s the first time I have run that line.

I reach the traffic lights that cross to the beach and they are off. I’ve never seen that before, but it makes sense. I run across the road and jag sharp left onto the cycle lane. It is flat and empty, and I am relaxed.

It’s a near perfect run, like a track but no bends to run. I feel the power in my backside but then remember 70% of it comes from the heel. I read that somewhere. My backside doesn’t know it’s done a deal with my heels. My heart is unburdened. My lungs think it’s just another day. Every single part of me is working.

I finish the run and walk awhile. The stabbing pain comes back and I am reminded that nothing is ever simple. I find a clean toilet and feel like a King on his throne.

Off script

I had rented a Ford Fiesta. A small car but this one had perhaps the best engine Ford made that year. It was the year my mother died.

Cynthia Quinton – my mother – loved cars. She didn’t understand much about the engineering of cars, but she had a rare understanding of gear changing and clutch control. She drove fast.

I parked the Ford Fiesta in the hospital car park and took the ticket. I was concerned it might be difficult to pay for – what with change and so on.

Mum was dying. I knew that. And I…

I stood next to her and hugged her. I told her about the car. She liked that. I saw her in extremis, and I felt I was invading.

The last time I kissed her, I knew. I left the hospital alone and devastated.

No one shared my pain and to this day I am in agony.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember


Every single memory is real, and everything is gone. And kids can no longer buy cigarettes.
Audio of my reading There should be nothing here I don’t remember

I remember as a child trotting out certain phrases I didn’t really understand, but I knew what they meant overall. One was, “20 embassy tipped.” My mother used to smoke Embassy cigarettes and she would send me to the post office with that order. She would tell me exactly what to say and wait for me to recite it back. She had elocution lessons as a girl and I was expected to recite it back, really, not just say it. Only years later, as a smoker myself, did I understand what “tipped” meant. My mother had started smoking when cigarettes were mainly hand-rolled and manufactured cigarettes were filterless. Then technology improved and they sold cigarettes with filter “tips.” All of this makes me wonder now, but back in the early 1970s in England it was just life.

 

Another phrase I trotted out without really understanding what I was saying was, “Betley two one nine.” This was said in the days before long distance dialing codes and I had to call an operator to ask to be connected, to Betley (near Crewe), 219. I just said this and then I would wait and then I’d be talking to Miriam, my grandmother who I never called grandmother or grandma, but Nan Quintin. Mariam had an absurd telephone voice she put on when she answered the phone just in case it was an important person calling. When she heard it was me, she immediately sounded normal, and thrilled. “Oh, hello my little teapot!”

 

I went back to Bentley, near Crewe, a couple of years ago. I stood outside Nan Quinton’s old house and saw how the windows had been replaced and the space above the carriage had been converted. It was the same house but different. Every single memory is real, and everything is gone. And kids can no longer buy cigarettes.

 

And we call this progress,

Who knew?

Growing up was a good thing. Getting older was good. You could wear different clothes, make some decisions of your own. You could, one day, smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, get married and drive a car.
  1. Figure it out
  2. Pointed
  3. We are aliens
  4. Emotional few months
  5. I know exactly what prayer is

I heard about his death from a mutual friend. I had been out for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants – great view of the ocean and beach – and I got a text. My friend was on holiday – Greece, I think – and I knew he was having a tough time with the stuff of life and I presumed he wanted to chat about that. About life.

 

When we eventually spoke, he said, “Our friend has died.” I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation. I can imagine how it went.

 

Our friend had been an alcoholic for years and his death had long been expected. He had been admitted to a hospice, for the elimination of doubt.

 

I had lost touch with him for over 27 years. This happens. The stuff of life. Then with a year left for him to live, we got back in touch. It was wonderful, rolling back time, laughing at all the stupid things we got up to, and all the time we spent smoking cigarettes and drinking beer as if we needed it to survive.

 

In the end, it was wine and morphine he needed to survive. He had a physical dependency on alcohol and it – the thing that was killing him – was also the thing he needed to stop shaking and to function. He seemed happy enough and never sounded terribly drunk – sometimes just a little.

 

We talked about his imminent death, but we did it in a way that allowed us not to dwell on it. We pretended it was someone else.

 

This preparation for the inevitable end was no preparation at all for the bottomless sadness we all experienced and continue to experience. He is missed every day. The fact that we know death is inevitable is no help at all.

 

Who knew?

 

All of us.

Things I am afraid to write about

Growing up was a good thing. Getting older was good. You could wear different clothes, make some decisions of your own. You could, one day, smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, get married and drive a car.
  1. Figure it out
  2. Pointed
  3. We are aliens
  4. Emotional few months
  5. I know exactly what prayer is
  1. My opinion that everyone is fooling themselves about most things, most of the time but not everything, all of the time and that all of us occasionally get it just right but we’re not always able to recognize it and rely on other people to tell us because we can’t see truth in ourselves, the same way we can’t see our own eyes – we only ever see them in reflection or images.

 

  1. Love.

 

  1. Truth. The first thing is that I am honestly not even sure I can recognize truth. I have a sense it doesn’t really matter, anyway. Truth changes over time. Also, my dogs are not worried about truth, and they seem to get by just fine.

 

  1. Love.

 

  1. My childhood. I have very clear memories of childhood. Most of them unremarkable but I cherish them. Bicycles and skateboards, football in the park. That kind of stuff. Those are visual memories. It’s the psychological memories I’m afraid to write about, mainly because I cannot be sure they are real memories. They could be inventions, or scars – or just stuff that stuck for no reason. I don’t know. That’s the point. That’s what I’m afraid of.

 

  1. Love. I’ll tell you why – it’s the same as my problem with Truth. I worry it’s essentially no more than an opinion I have sold myself. I’m talking here about Romantic Love. The love I have for Artur, obviously, is the only thing perhaps I know is real.

 

  1. My mother and the last years of her life. Nothing could be more frightening. Everything went wrong and the train finally ran off the edge of the cliff – just as I had known it would for a good 20 years beforehand. We cannot foretell the future, but this really was a straightforward case of looking at the rail track ahead and seeing where it went. Decades of fear. Yes, I’m afraid to write about that. Who wouldn’t be?