Hello from out here in the depths of that thing England does when you think it's finally spring and then the temperature crashes down and you have to put the heating back on. And, for extra fun, the heating now costs £900 a minute.
I'm writing this on Thursday. I have a Zoom conference in a few hours, and some poor bastard is going to be subjected to the fact that I haven't cut my beard since last autumn. I decided that since I have nowhere to go and no-one to see (even the beloved Railway Hotel closed for good), I would just go full forest hermit for the winter and hack it back when things got warmer. See above for how well that plan went.
I have a list of things to do in the house, including the intention to infuse some gins and bourbons with things. But I'm also involved in new project development and discussion, and I run out of time, every single day.
Research has included going back to studying Brutalism, especially the Russian and Asian variants, which tend to be grand and a bit mad:
These aren't the grandest or the maddest, but the most relevant to what I'm doing. The lower one is reminiscent to me of a building Sir Peter Cook showed in a talk at the AA once, which he described as having "landed."
"Architecture," he once said, "is what you do with the potential of life.”
Despite having once been interviewed by an architecture magazine, I know nothing about architecture except that I'm interested in it. I suspect that, if you want to be a better writer, you can either learn everything there is to know about just a few things, or be generally interested in as many things as possible. I am, for better or worse, a generalist.
That famous generalist Buckminster Fuller once said, "Specialization tends to shut off the wide-band tuning searches and thus to preclude further discovery." "Wide-band tuning searches" describes my process to a fairly scary degree.
(Also, there was a time when radio waves had architecture for tuning searches:)
(Radio has been on my mind a lot this week.)
I think my adult interest in the field began with the discovery of ARCHIGRAM, a speculative architecture collective that Cook was part of.
Per David Greene of Archigram:
"If we consider for a moment Christo's seminal work – the 'wrapped cliff' – we might see it in one of two ways: as a wrapped cliff or; preferably, as the point at which all other cliffs are unwrapped. An Archigram project attempts to achieve this same altered reading of the familiar (in the tradition of Buckminster Fuller's question, 'How much does your building weigh?'). It provides a new agenda where nomadism is the dominant social force; where time, exchange and metamorphosis replace stasis; where consumption, lifestyle and transience become the programme; and where the public realm is an electronic surface enclosing the globe."
"Speculative proposal for ‘city’ suspended on tension system: expanding to cover the earth"
I once wrote a story, ELEKTROGRAD: RUSTED BLOOD, that was informed by my interest in Archigram. (UK) (US) In my head, it was going to be the start of a whole series, with each story containing an Archigram or other experimental-architecture element...
(Image taken from this primer on a peculiar aspect of British culture, the terrifying public information films shown to children)
On Tuesday, in my RSS reader, I saw about a hundred variants on this article: how to delete or deactivate your Twitter account. If you have actual friends on social media, set up a group chat on Signal or something. (I had to google how to do that - I've never used group chat on Signal and I don't have any friends, I just assumed it could be done, and it can be!)
Look. If you spend a lot of time on social media, it's only going to get weirder and more uncomfortable from here. If you're unable to come off the streams entirely, then at least think about setting up more protections for yourself, okay?
"...where the public realm is an electronic surface enclosing the globe." Yeah. Been hearing a lot about that lately.
In the meantime? The bluebells are out.
This is the weekly newsletter from writer Warren Ellis, which is sent to you every Sunday. You did subscribe to it on purpose, I'm afraid. If you like it or find it useful, perhaps you'd send your friends to orbitaloperations.com to get their own.
I read two books this week. One was bad, so I'm not going to talk about it. The other was the Kindle-only novella ARCHIBALD LAWLESS, ANARCHIST AT LARGE by Walter Mosley.
“What do you do?” I asked.
“I walk the line.”
“Not,” he said raising an instructive finger, “what line but the line between what forces?”
“Okay,” I said. “The line between what forces?”
“I walk the line between chaos and the man.”
On one level, this is a Black American Holmes & Watson set-up. But it's subverted from the top. It does, in Mike Moorcock's phrase, obey and enjoy the genre it works within, but it also twists it up and shines weird new lights on it.
Archibald Lawless has a phone-in part in the Walter Mosley novel I talked about last week, where he's described as a "radical detective." He is an anarchist. He is interested in justice.
“An anarchist named Lawless? That’s just too perfect.”
“What if my parents were revolutionists? What if I looked up my name and decided that that’s what I’d become?”
“Your parents were revolutionaries that changed their names?” I asked.
“I am Archibald Lawless,” he said. “I’m sitting here before you. You are looking into my eyes and questioning what you see and what you hear. On the streets you meet Asian men named Brian, Africans named Joe Cramm. But you don’t question their obviously being named for foreign devils. You accept their humiliation. You accept their loss of history. You accept them being severed from long lines of heritage by their names. Why wouldn’t you accept just as simply my liberating appellation?”
Lawless is brilliant. He is impassioned, he thinks deeply about ethics and justice, he is dedicated and tireless. He is also, of course, quite mad, and leaves scorched earth in his meandering wake. You can't get close to him without being burned. And the poor journalism student who replies to the newspaper ad asking for a "scribe" becomes tied to Lawless' flaming mast for good.
It's a woozy little book, lurching from authentic warm human moments to blasts of complete batshittery, which both makes it entertaining and makes the reader share the feeling of complete destabilisation that the narrator experiences upon entering the employ of the world's greatest radical detective.
If you're looking for a short read that's just big angry fun this week, this is the one to pick up.
I was informed this week that it's been pretty much two years and two months since I went outside, did anything or saw anyone outside of my family. I suspect I've just adjusted to the new normal so much that I didn't see the time go by. See above re: beard growth, which has gotten to the point where I have to check under it in the mornings to ensure none of the cats went to sleep there overnight. Besides, I've got nowhere to go and nobody to see, and all these books and films and records to experience, and the bluebells are out.
If nothing else, I think lockdown gave back a certain sharpness to the experience of ordinary things. Watching the shapes of the sky. (There are birds up there today that look like wide inky brushstrokes pinwheeling around.) Taking time with a simple plate of pears, walnuts and cheese. Spending all afternoon thinking about one idea. Just being where you are. I may just be reluctant to give up The Great Pause.
Besides, if I stay indoors long enough, I might finally discover where all my fucking plastic food storage boxes go. How do you end up with a cupboard full of just lids? Is there some kind of invisible underground railroad for boxes who want to escape the oppression of having lids and want to live in freedom? Do they fling just one sock inside themselves and run away? Because it's always just one sock.
You need to understand; I'm not unwell. I'm not going to set motion sensors and security lights and spring traps up in my kitchen to find absconding Tupperware.
I'm just, you know, thinking about it.
Perhaps related, this arrived in the mail on Friday as a surprise package:
Turns out Marc Weidenbaum of Disquiet does have a screen on his phone like mine.
I've been very bad at doing LTD this week, as my head has been in a lot of deep thinking about a big and complex project.
I recently dropped a new 10,000 word short story last week that I somehow felt the need to describe as "Indiana Holmes And The Case Of Elon Musk’s Rendezvous With Rama." You can find it here.
A section of my podcast list for your amusement:
If you're on an iPhone, do not for god's sake use the Apple Podcast app. I use Downcast, lots of people recommend Overcast or Pocket Casts.
Well, I don't know if that was a lot, but it felt like a lot. So I'm going to leave this here, and wish you the best possible week, and remind you to take care of yourself.