It's now unambiguously spring. I finally trimmed my beard back for the first time since last autumn and about a bear's worth of hair ended up on the floor. Winter clothes are being washed and put away, cleaning and clearing out has begun. I always miss the passing of winter, to be honest. Over the next several months, part of me is always going to be looking for signs of autumn. But the warmth will be kind to the muscles and bones, and it will be easier to get my daily walk in.
As detailed below, I'm kind of off in my head this week, and taking some days to just sort of settle down and let my brain get back in gear in its own time. I haven't even changed the page of my damn wall calendar because I've been so deep in figuring out the shape of a big and complex thing that I got tricked into becoming completely obsessed with by an old comrade (and if you're reading this, don't think that I won't just up and murder you when this thing finally snaps what little of my sanity remains).
Worse, I went down an hour-long internet rabbit hole of considering public notebooks, their platforms and utilities, before realising that, even though my process constantly needs reconsidering and tuning, right now it's my brain that's broken, not the tools.
So I'm pausing, letting my mind wander, meditating, listening to music and messing around in the kitchen.
I need to clear some space in the back room, which means doing something with a thousand bottles of part-drunk alcohols. This includes a few bottles of gin. I'm not a fan of gin, but others are. I was looking in the bottom of the organic fruit & veg delivery box and saw the last pear. Which I almost ate.
And then I sliced it up, tossed away the core, threw it all in a jar with a couple of small strips of lemon zest, and poured in enough gin to cover it all. It's important to use a pear you like.
(I have a bunch of recycled and steriilsed jars filling most of a cupboard. You never know when they may come in useful.)
This jar has been placed in a cupboard, and is being shaken once a day. I'll taste it - or get someone else to taste it - on the fourth day. Not sure I'll want it to infuse for more than a week. Once it's right, the contents will be strained through a sieve and a paper coffee filter into a clean jar.
Jars get re-used in my kitchen.
Partly, this is all stuff that needs to be done to make some space. Partly, I am deliberately re-directing my front brain. A friend and I are developing a big and complex thing right now, and on Tuesday my brain just starting spinning like a broken hard drive. So, on Wednesday, I moved to the kitchen and started working and making things. Disengaging the forebrain from the task at hand means the back-brain will start grinding away at it instead. Sometimes, this is where my breakthroughs come from, as things fall out of the big pile of compost at the back of my head.
It's a lesson in patience, sometimes.
Think of it as a short fallow season.
And I forget that a lot of it is about getting diet dialled in right. It's always going to be a bad day if I don't make a berry and oat smoothie with protein powder and cacao for breakfast. (I always throw a handful of oats into smoothies - you can get a 3kg sack of oats for like seven quid and it'll last ages.)
Also, I forget to make lunch a lot.
But I really do need more space in that back room, because I got bought a fancy herb propagator machine thing for Xmas, and I need fresh herbs. Not least because I wanted to make a lemon and thyme vodka with a half-bottle of value-brand vodka my kid abandoned in the house like six years ago, but could I find fresh thyme in the shops? Noooope.
Lemon vodka is easy. Chop two lemons into quarters, stuff in a jar, cover with vodka, start tasting it after a week but probably don't let it infuse for more than three weeks, strain and bottle when ready. I didn't fit all the leftover vodka into the jar, so I poured the remains into a smaller one and put a little gingerbread-flavoured Monin syrup in afterwards as an experiment.
If you've made it this far, here's a link to sonifications of black holes.
I've been waiting for years for this to become affordable. Someone mentioned it to me the other day, so I thought, I'll check to see if the price has dropped. And, lo and behold, it was fourteen quid, down from fifty-something last time I looked.
WORLD ON A WIRE was a German tv miniseries broadcast in 1973, based on a 1964 novel. The concept is that a supercomputer contains a simulated world, populated by some 9000 "people" who are unaware that they live inside a digital simulation - with one exception.
It is right in the ALPHAVILLE zone of using an un-dressed present day as "the future," with no effects - and, of course, using "the Matrix" in the same way, in one of the very earliest attempts to depict a virtual reality. DOCTOR WHO didn't get to that until 1976.
I've seen it before, which is why I wanted a physical copy. It is, in all senses, cool - modernist panache and chilly philosophy.
Peak TV? Rainer Werner fucking Fassbinder made a science fiction tv show in 1973.
(in fact, he made two tv shows, and a couple of tv movies)
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 finished reading THE THIRTY-SIX DRAMATIC SITUATIONS by Mike Figgis, who wrote and directed LEAVING LAS VEGAS among many other films (including a fascinating experimental feature called TIMECODE that's worth seeking out as a curiosity). While it is, essentially, a series of lists with examples and observations, I find that I need to sit with it a while longer before distilling my own thoughts about and reactions to it.
I'm also closing in on finishing THE THEATRE AND ITS DOUBLE by Antonin Artaud, which is going to leave me in a similar position. I wanted to understand his notion of the Theatre of Cruelty, which he began to formulate circa 1932:
I suggest a Theatre of Cruelty. With this mania we all have today for belittling everything, as soon as I said “cruelty” everyone took it to mean “blood”. But a “theatre of cruelty” means theatre that is difficult and cruel for myself first of all.
That, to me, is a pure statement of disciplined artistic ambition. Test yourself. Overreach. Keep pushing what you can do.
It's a difficult book, but I'm finding it valuable:
All true alchemists know alchemical symbols are chimeras just as theatre is a chimera. And this eternal reference to the fundamental principles and objects in theatre, found in almost all alchemist texts, ought to be understood as a feeling (the alchemists being extraordinarily conscious of it) of the similarity there is between the level on which characters, objects, portrayals and in a general way everything which makes up theatre’s virtual reality develops, and the purely assumed, dreamlike level on which alchemist signs are evolved.
Emphasis mine. Again, this is around 1932.
I encountered that paragraph in the same week as starting THE EXPERIMENTAL FIRE, a history of English alchemy 1300-1700 by Jennifer Rampling:
...students of alchemy are frequently warned to be suspicious of literal readings, to instead approach their texts on multiple levels in a manner reminiscent of medieval techniques of scriptural exegesis, delving into metaphorical and analogical interpretations of even outwardly straightforward terms, such as “mercury.”
Anyway. Not much to talk about in this section this week.
My old friend Claudia Crobatia is a writer on the field of death awareness, a subject that's certainly been on my mind over the last couple of years. She runs a site called A Course In Dying that I've mentioned here before, and she's got a major new project she's asked me to share with you. She's launched "Get Ahead of Death - Learn to confront your own mortality in 7 steps". This is an online video course to help you explore your relationship with mortality and reduce your fear of death. All details are at https://acourseindying.com/get-ahead-of-death-online-video-course-on-mortality/
Claudia is an excellent writer and presenter who thinks deeply and does valuable work. Take a look and see if it's useful for you.
THE INHERITORS: this got passed on to me by Hyperdub, as the creators are close collaborators of theirs:
The Inheritors is an intimate science-fiction short film exploring themes of race, family and belonging. Reflecting on the experiences of people with multiple-heritage, it's a story about how societal polarisation creates walls that divide us, deprive us of love, of community, of a sense of identity, and ultimately of our deepest humanity.
They're looking to crowdfund it, and it looks really nice.
The four tracks are from a collection of improvisations made on chilly Monday mornings towards the end of 2021. In an arrangement with the church warden, Laura would unlock the church for the public to visit and was given access to the play the pipe organ, in part, “to keep the organ in good health and stop the bellows from drying out”, this was during a fallow year of church usage and became her Monday morning ritual.... drawing on centuries of memories that are embedded in the walls.
I also caught a tv documentary called MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL, which sent me back to BITCHES BREW, a record I haven't listened to in decades.
https://warrenellis.ltd/ will be back up on Monday.
Okay, I'm going back to the kitchen. Thanks for letting me write to you this week. I hope to be able to do it again next week. Until then, take care of yourself, get a little sunlight when you can, fit your own oxygen mask and filter out all the things that are intended only to make you feel bad. You deserve to be happy. Hold on tight.