Happy Ending

I have been reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life over the last week or so, and it’s depressing just how many millions of people, both individually and as groups, were killed, tortured, duped, enslaved or otherwise humiliated throughout history in the pursuit of rendering to us the things that make our homes.

So it was lovely when, a couple of days ago, I ran into an incredibly rare incident of someone actually getting a happy ending, and it was Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant Thomas Watson. Here’s the final paragraph of Bryson’s passage on Watson:

Bell treated his friend and colleague Watson generously. Though he had no legal obligation to do so, he awarded Watson 10 per cent of the company, allowing Watson to retire rich at the age of just twenty-seven. Able to do anything he wanted, he devoted the rest of his life to doing just that. He travelled the world, read widely and took a degree in geology at MIT. He then started a shipyard, which quickly grew to employ four thousand men, producing a scale of stress and obligation that he hadn’t wished for at all. So he sold the business, converted to Islam and became a follower of Edward Bellamy, a radical philosopher and quasi-Communist who for a short period in the 1880s enjoyed phenomenal esteem and popularity. Tiring of Bellamy, Watson moved to England in early middle age and took up acting, for which he showed an unexpected talent. He proved particularly adept at Shakespearean roles and performed many times at Stratford-upon-Avon before returning to America and a life of quiet retirement. He died, contented and rich, at his winter home on Pass-Grille Key, Florida, just shy of his eighty-first birthday in 1934.

Refreshing.

Having Something to Say

Here’s something that might be a surprise to people who read this blog (all four of you), and to people who follow me on social media. Contrary to all appearances, I write every single day.

Most of what I write is not meant to be seen by anybody, which is why you don’t find out about it. And it’s mostly unstructured: little snippets or ideas I feel like playing with, observations I want to record and remember, interesting perspectives from people with different worldview from mine.

Some of this goes into the journal I’ve erratically maintained for the last three years or so, but most of it lies strewn around in text documents in whatever note-taking app I’m using at the moment.*

* This has been nvALT for the last year, but Terpstra’s now stopping development and making something else called BitWriter.

For the last five years, since I quit trying to make a living off writing, I’ve been trying to figure out what writing is for. So I write whatever comes to mind and sounds interesting, mostly so I can look at it later and shake my head.

Drawing randomly from one of my documents:

Because sometimes you don’t want to kiss people just for mouth-water.

A man who has garbled tunnel syndrome. Passed through a tunnel once and lost his powers of coherent speech.

I have no idea what was going through my mind when I wrote either of those.

Sometimes people say funny things and I ask them if I can use them, such as:

“I’m not staying in a five-star hotel room and not having sex in it.”

“That you get along with us should not be a source of comfort.”

Vague story ideas:

Guy who doesn’t want to cheat on his partner, so creates a substitute activity that he does with other women instead of sex.

I might still do something with that one.

There are even a few lines which sound like story beginnings:

When I first heard that people were randomly falling up into the sky, my first thought was – would I get to see anything. Then, when I realised that all I’d see at best were panties for a few seconds before they disappeared, and that’s not a good enough reason to be happy about people dying.

I seem to remember that someone else wrote a story about people falling into the sky, so I probably won’t be doing anything with that.

I doesn’t trouble me that most of my writing goes nowhere. Not only am I not writing for publication, I’m not even writing to be read.

Every time I narrate an idea to a friend, I preface it with, “I don’t know if it’ll go anywhere.” Mostly they don’t, and that’s fine by me.

The most fun part of writing, to me, has always been coming up with an idea and playing with it, and I still do that to my heart’s content.

I don’t mean to make it sound like I can’t or don’t finish things. I’ve had a few short stories published over the last few years, I’ve written a few comic scripts, and there are some finished short stories in my writing folder which I might throw on the blog.

I’ve also taken a running start at a couple of graphic novels, and I’m currently a quarter of the way through a prose novel that has been steadily accumulating for the last many months. I’ve no idea what I’ll do with it if I finish it, but I’ll continue writing it while it entertains me.

The question is bigger. There’s no urgency to writing anymore, no hunger. So I can now look around and examine what I have to say through my writing, and so far, I’ve come up short.

I enjoy writing. I’ve liked writing the stories I’ve completed, and I’m reasonably proud of some of them. But mostly they’ve been attempts at learning how to write, or at looking at ideas from different angles, or at shaking ideas up to see what falls out.

None of these are bad reasons to be writing. I’m just not sure they’re good enough reasons for me to write. And now that I don’t plan to write to make money, I have the luxury to abandon ideas when they stop interesting me.

At the moment, that feels like a perfectly fine thing. But I wonder if, when I grow old, I’ll look back and regret not doing anything with these ideas while I had the energy.

What I like, though, is that I can think about writing itself, without everything else it came with. The struggle to get published, wondering if people liked what I wrote, trying to figure out how to make my writing less esoteric without compromising what attracted to it in the first place – I like that these are not factors anymore.

So at the very least, I know that I still love writing, that I’m not tired of it, and that I’ll continue doing it even when I don’t stand to gain anything from it. What to write, though, is still a big question.

Yearning for Space

A few days ago, I finally watched Mars et Avril, the low-budget Canadian sf film that I’d heard a lot about and whose trailer I’d fallen quite hard for back when it had come out:

I loved it, beginning to end – from the rather eccentric philosophy about life and the soul, to the wonky conception of science at its heart, to its soft, mythic approach to the idea of science fiction (a future constantly looking at the past), to the clunky exposition of its themes, echoing the beautiful-yet-gloriously-unsubtle bandes dessinées that inspired it.

One of the things I found most interesting is how, rather than being a love story, it’s a story about the erotic (I’d call it erotica, but I don’t know if that’s how it would feel to most people – it feels more interested in looking at eroticism than in being erotic – quite apart from the fact that it contains barely any nudity).

The biggest component of the eroticism being an old white man’s idea of women is a bit disappointing, but more interesting is how the erotic is connected to infinity, to the void of space and to the loneliness of planets (and to music, but that’s comparatively unimaginative).

I like the idea of taking this kind of melancholy, slightly sinister sf flecked with nostalgia and using it as a background for something erotic and physical – maybe something even ponderous, but still sincere in its treatment of its own ideas. Navel-gazing slice-of-life in a setting that neither looks forwards nor entirely backwards, but somewhere more chaotically internal.

But on eroticism associated with space and planets, this video for ‘Nijikan Dake no Vacance’ (A Two-Hour Vacation) by Utada Hikaru and Shiina Ringo, that I watched yesterday, felt like a good companion piece:

Like Mars et Avril, it features a future that’s constantly looking at the past (I especially love the flying car with a 1960s design). Its eroticism is less cerebral, but simultaneously more sensual and more innocent. The melancholy is sprinkled with joy.

There is a tone that both of these are reaching towards that I’m finding myself extremely interested in. Perhaps more on this later.

Finally, Mars et Avril itself feels rather Gilliamesque to me, and it seems that applied to its making as well, as writer/director Martin Villeneuve explains here:

Go Fund: Linda Medley and Castle Waiting

Linda Medley has been making Castle Waiting since 1994. Written and drawn (and occasionally coloured) by her, and lettered mostly by Todd Klein, Castle Waiting is one of my absolute favourite comics.

It is stunningly drawn, and the writing has wit, emotion, and a sense of infectious joy. Most stories I read tend to affect me on an aesthetic or formal level, but Castle Waiting is an exception in that it gets me in the heart, and seemingly effortlessly.

But of course, making such a comic takes a lot of work, and recently this has been difficult for Medley, which is why she’s set up a GoFundMe page to get some financial support – not only to work on her book, but to help her with some important real-life stuff. From her campaign page:

Several years ago I was diagnosed with severe cervical spondylosis as well as carpal tunnel syndrome, and took some time off from creating artwork to rest, and adapt to new modes of working. Now I’m currently hard at work on Castle Waiting Volume 3 and hope to have the first 150-page installment ready for publication next year … but I’ll need your financial help to be able to continue working on it.

I am raising funds to help cover my living and ongoing physical therapy expenses for the next year. I will be losing my present living situation in the next month, and currently don’t have enough to get into a new place. I really want to continue working on Castle Waiting and desperately need a secure home – and the peace of mind that comes with it! – to do so.

So far, between the GoFundMe page and her Patreon page, she has received enough to cover three months’ worth of living expenses, but she could use more.

If you’d like to know more about Castle Waiting, you can watch the video on her campaign page and also read snippets from the comic at the Facebook page, including an excerpt from one of my favourite Castle Waiting stories – Wilgeforte (which she had originally posted in full, free to read, last Women’s Day).

I urge you to help out a marvellous comic-book creator currently in need.

GoFundMe
Patreon
Etsy Store

Kickstarter: DOPE by Trina Robbins

(This is the first in an occasional series of write-ups on crowdfunding campaigns I’d like to see reach their funding goal.)

Drew Ford, who recently ran a Kickstarter campaign to republish Red Range, is back with a campaign to republish Trina Robbins’s comic-book adaptation of Sax Rohmer’s Dope.

Robbins is an absolute luminary of comics. She was part of SF fandom back in the ’50s, and she was one of the earliest female artists to be involved in the underground comix movement. She co-produced It Ain’t Me, Babe, the first comic to be made entirely by women, and was later involved in Wimmen’s Comix. She was also the first woman to draw a Wonder Woman comic.

Her adaptation of Dope was originally serialised in Eclipse Magazine starting in 1981, and has never been collected. From the Kickstarter page:

The story centers around a talented young actress, who becomes fatally ensnared in London’s mysterious and glittery drug culture of the early 20th century. Dope was both the first novel to speak openly about the world’s international drug trade, and the first story to center around the death of a celebrity by drug overdose. Robbin’s comic book adaptation was first published in 1981, serialized within the pages of Eclipse Magazine (and later, Eclipse Monthly). The story started out in a black and white magazine, and finished up in color comic book. Since its initial publication, it has never been collected in any form. With the success of this Kickstarter campaign, we will produce the first ever complete collection of Dope, in glorious black and white, on glossy 105 lb paper, at 8.25″ x 11″, the way it was first intended by the creator.

Ford’s Red Range campaign had a bit of a rough time getting funded, although the last few days thankfully saw a lot of contributions that pushed it almost $5000 over its goal. I was a little surprised to see how shaky its course went, considering it involved people like Joe Lansdale, Sam Glanzman and Steve Bissette, and offered sketch rewards from artists like Rufus Dayglo, Russ Braun, Tim Truman, Stan Sakai and a veritable truckload of other remarkable artists. From the outside, it seemed like a combination of not enough media coverage and perhaps too many reward combinations that might have confused potential backers.

I’d like Dope’s course to be smoother, and it seems like it’s well on its way, having reached 37% funding in its first five days.

Dope still has a few too many rewards offered, in my opinion, but this time they’re cleanly presented, and the page is much less confusing as a whole than last time. I haven’t tracked media coverage for this one, but hopefully Robbins’s involvement will help on that front.

If you’re interested in this project, I encourage you to contribute, and to share it on whichever platform you think will help. Click here to visit the campaign page.

Links

This is an excellent write-up by Connor Kilpatrick on Man of Steel which actually enumerates a lot of reasons why I liked Batman v. Superman (wasn’t a big fan of Man of Steel).

Dan Berry is putting up his out-of-print comics to read for free. Here are Hey You, The End and After We Shot the Grizzly.

I just realised this Design Matters interview with Ben Schott is a couple of years old, but I only heard it this week, and it’s excellent. He’s articulate, erudite, and quite, quite funny.

Song Exploder is a fantastic podcast that I try to listen to without distractions. I loved the recent one with Busdriver talking about ‘Worlds to Run’.

I also recently came across the excellent video for Chet Faker’s ‘Gold’, which reminded me that he was on Song Exploder recently talking about it.

Refresh Button

The last iteration of this blog was supposed to simplify the format to the point where I might end up using it more than a couple of times a month, but it came to light that it was in fact more complex to maintain than a standard-format blog.

Also, I tried to integrate a year and a half’s worth of existing posts into the new format, which made things even more unwieldy.

This is an attempt at a refresh, a good scrub of the dishes so that I can make things simple again. Still no categories or tags (although I’ll have these on the backend) and definitely no comments. I will be adding post titles back, though.

If this doesn’t work, I might finally give in to Tumblr.