- Feb 7, 2018 The End. Feb 7, 2018
- Jan 15, 2018 The best laid of schemes: Jan 15, 2018
- Dec 7, 2017 This broken body. Dec 7, 2017
- June 2017
- May 2017
- April 2017
- March 2017
- February 2017
- January 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- October 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- July 2016
- June 2016
I don't want MOR
Theirs is a pervading vision. A search for stability. For robustness and reliability. For the sameness of days.
Theirs is a search for more. For more of the same. And with greater regularity, ease and convenience.
The long plod of the middle of the road.
More Coldplay. More imitation Italian sausage. More health spas and house decorators and window shopping. More wine from countries they've never visited. More art without a message.
More safe choices. More safe choices.
MOR... is less.
Stability isn't always a virtue. It is homeostasis.
We sit, 72 monkeys in a speeding metal tube. A few droop-shouldered apes linger between the seats. There is the hustle of workday shoes at every stop.
72 monkeys, castrated. We castrate ourselves. We pretend that we're not sexual beings. That we don't have passions, and dreams, and a screaming fire to create. And to destruct. We wash it down with a white bread and cheese sandwich. We stare at the news and forget what we've read.
And... I've forgotten how to smell.
Some of us have adventurous genes. Maybe this leads us to unhappiness. A long aching for something that can never be fulfilled. But it's better to search the brambles at the side of the road for one chance berry. At least it keeps us from sleepwalking into oncoming traffic.
"No" is a four letter word.
As children we're taught that there are some words that we shouldn't say. Nice children say "yes", "please" and "thank you". Only in very rare circumstances is a polite refusal allowed.
In improv theatre, the utmost holy mantra is the concept of "yes, and...". Every improv game move is an offer to be embraced and built upon. Refusing someone's idea is a metaphoric slap in the face that will get you chased out of improv-town.
The art of refusal, is a lost art.
Every year I try to go one month without drinking alcohol. To many this might be a minor accomplishment, but: I'm from Glasgow. My Scottish liver does backflips that need at least weekly sedation. At the time of writing, I will have just ended a period of two months of alcohol abstention. As a special bonus, this year has been coupled with a stint of volitional celibacy.
Now, I can't take full credit this year for the alcohol part. A pesky thyroid and some Doomsday advice from of a couple of doctors were at least semi-responsible for that. But still I feel at least mildly proud.
My normal abstention month runs in the September-November timeframe. I've done it every year since 2010. I repeat it at this time of year to a) dry out my liver before Christmas and b) avoid the communal ease of attributing it to Lent.
This abstention isn't because of religious custom or because I believe that either alcohol or sex are bad, evil, or even best avoided for a happy and tranquil life. I enjoy alcohol. And I enjoy sex.
I do it because it's practice in saying no. The first two weeks of every abstinence period are always more challenging than I remember, and remind me of how often I do these actions without thinking. They are automatic responses; often due to stress or peer pressure. Or due to a lack of intimacy.
Alcohol becomes a Friday evening "reward" for a long week at work. Then it becomes a Wednesday evening reward for a tough day. Or a Tuesday evening reward for a difficult meeting. It becomes a polite acceptance to have "just one more" from a friend's fridge, when really I'd prefer a cup of fennel tea. It becomes the only way to feel comfortable in a bar.
Similarly, I crave sex the most when there's a lack of intimacy in my life. When I feel out of touch with myself or isolated from friends.
Again, I'm not hating on either alcohol or sex. When I'm in a good frame of mind, both can be an amazing compliment to life. But as trite as it sounds, relearning to say "no" helps me to reset the switch. And to put myself back in charge.
"No" is often portrayed as a challenge to authority. Or as a direct means to hurt someone else's feelings. But "no" is not a zero-sum game. The fact that one person doesn't participate or partake is not a threat to anyone else. Accepting all offers is a good way to live your life cleaning up after people. And to be unhappy. "No" is the sign of a healthy boundary. And maybe something we all need to say and hear a little more. We don't need to hear "yes" all the time from all the people.
So here's hoping you don't like this.
On why there are no women in In Search Of Basho.
Quite simply, because I fucked up.
I know the Bechdel Test, and ISOB fails it. Not even by a little bit. All the way.
This upsets me. And I apologise for it. We forgot. There are no excuses, it was just male blindness.
If you're a guy, and don't understand or see the relevance of any of the above, please take two minutes to read Alison Bechdel's original comic:
Sorry again for the fuck-up.
The songs that saved your life.
The Smiths wrote a book entitled The Songs That Saved Your Life. Well, the Smiths didn't. Simon Goddard did. But it was about the Smiths.
The book covered each of their songs with fanboy levels of intimate detail. It's a valuable piece of fan-porn, full with recording notes, backstage gossip and lyrics interpretations. At the height of my Smiths-philia around the age of twenty, it was a great read.
I stopped listening to the Smiths when I discovered a Bob Dylan CD in my friend's sister's car. Almost overnight I got tired of Morrissey's whining and fell into step with Dylan's red-earth folk chastisements. I had no more interest in listening to Morrissey's sad stories and kitchen sink dramas. His romanticisation of doom. The whimsical nihilism.
Around the same age, I started to get into self development. The dating stuff came first. Luckily, I didn't fall too far into the seedy world of pickup lines and seduction techniques before I realised that there might be a bigger issue at heart. That I - little, holy me - might be the cause of my singledom. That I was flawed, and that I would need to fix myself. At least if I ever wanted to attract anyone else. And so what started as a quest to meet girls, ended up in a pursuit to find myself.
Enter: the books that saved my life.
And of them, there have been so many. Some of them so rich and crackling with different ideas that I've pored over them for months. Others with large cigarette packet-sized manifestos standing grand testament to one key principle. Radical Honesty, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), Sex at Dawn, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.... it's a long, long list. To name every book here would be both exhaustive and exhausting. But I love each of them equally.
The whimsical Morrissey-esque nihilism has long since passed. When I play the songs that I wrote in my early twenties, I love the lyrcisism but hate the ideals. That childish, self-sabotaging part that wanted to have the Smith's "unloveable" tattooed across my wrist. That same childish post-teen who thought of suicide as a beautiful poetic gesture.
One of my current reads is The Truth by Neil Strauss. So far I'm only about 30% in, and I haven't agreed with everything that has been portrayed. But sometimes the impact of a book is much more subtle. And clandestine.
I woke at 4:23 am on Saturday with one clear sentence in my head: "you are a love addict". I hadn't been drinking, and so this bout of pre-sunrise clarity was unusual. I tried to sleep it off. It didn't work. So I wrote the sentence down on a piece of paper and agreed to think about it more in the post-sunrise world.
And I did. The idea, as portrayed in the book, defines someone who - as the name might suggest - is addicted to the concept of love. Someone who ignores problems in a relationship, living instead in a chaotic world of over-romanticised attachment and avoidance. The behaviour is said to be driven by a fear of abandonment. Or a feeling of inadequacy. And the love addict often finds themselves entangled with hard-to-get "love-avoidant" types.
Now, I'm not saying that the description is passing enough for me to build an entire sandcastle of truth. But there are enough grains to merit further investigation. Close friends from my nightclub-speckled teens would testify to my unparalleled ability to "fall in love" with any woman crossing a dancefloor. Or sitting across from me on the metro. Just as long as she was sufficiently pretty and had a somewhat troubled air. Friends from my early twenties will recognise my attraction to broken relationships, to situations where I can play the heroic guardian, and to women who refuse to commit. When you can declare the majority of your post-teen relationships as "it's complicated", it's maybe not the best of signs.
For a long time I blamed luck, or the lack of it. But now, as before, it's clear that this is just another chapter in the unfinished book of situation:me. Maybe Strauss' book will help. Maybe not. But at least it's provided yet another lens for that great telescope that points ever inward. The telescope that just might find a few signs of life. And maybe even a way to save them.
There's more to life than books you know
but not much more.
(Morrissey, Handsome Devil)
Plenty more fish in the North Sea.
For accuracy's sake (and also that of understanding), this post was written on 3rd July. The Brexit vote was on 23rd June. The post took a little longer to finalise than expected.
Around 1.41 a.m. on Sunday morning I had an epiphany. I was at a Belgian wedding, shaking moves to Euro-trance music on the dancefloor beside an assortment of European mongrels. An assortment of characters with birthplaces spanning Spain, the UK, Belgium, France and Germany.
And my thought was: this is the Europe we'd wanted. This, right here. This is what we'd hoped for.
The trance beats were pulsing. It was the weekend after the night before. The night when the UK affirmed it's intention to leave the EU after 33 years of unhappy marriage.
Now, it's clear that this Sunday morning dancefloor version of Europe is one that not everyone is lucky enough to know. To many, it might just look like a Vengaboys video. But for me, someone whose daily life looks something like a Vengaboys video, this was it. I then spent the entire following week travelling back and forth between Germany, Belgium and France. A couple of days even at the epicentre of Eurosceptic hatred, the European Commission itself. And during that wedding and the week that followed, I must have answered the same question 14,242 times.
How do I feel about the UK leaving the EU?
I had woken up, stared at the phone lying beside my bed and blinked. So it goes. There's no next-day pill that was gonna solve that.
I've never hidden my standpoint on Britain's membership of the EU. I'm an unabashed Europhile and believe that the EU is one of the (few) major successes of modern politics. But this post is not about my views on that. This post is about the next. The "still to come". And how we need to try and manage it.
Because the Brexit referendum didn't kill the UK in the EU. That vote was just the final breakup text message. The relationship was long dead.
Compared to many of our European neighbours, the UK's stance on participation in Europe has never been healthy. The UK has always considered itself a separate, more scrubbed-up and sophisticated version of "the continent". I once returned to Glasgow after living away for a year with some - admittedly questionable - facial hair stylings, and was told in a negative tone that it made me "look European". A silly thing to say to someone born on the European continent? Not in the UK.
And so the UK has always maintained an arm's length, noncommittal relationship to the rest of the continent. It has long harboured hopes that it's real love, the one that got away - the USA - would realise it's errant ways and come back to bed. That they would fall back into the uneven arms of the "special relationship". And spend evenings recounting the times when both countries felt that they could - together - take on the world.
The fact that this special relationship has reverted to an occasional booty call, used for the odd partisan favour, has never affected the UK's longing. The vast Atlantic remains for the UK so much easier to cross than the English channel.
The UK has never felt comfortable in the EU's polyamorous love-in. The EU's higher ambitions, to spread peace and welfare across the continent, are often painted as hippy idealism. A bristling move away from old patriarchal power structures. These feelings have long been there. And they are there still. In over eight years of living abroad, I don't recall a single instance of bigotry aimed at me for my nationality. By contrast, it took only one bout of snow in Glasgow during a time we had some German exchange students at my high-school for the old 1940's bile to come out.
And so it goes. It got easier to blame Brussels, than to deal with the failings of the country itself. And when one or both parties fails to commit to the relationship, resentment starts to set in. Resentment grew. And then the UK left.
It's a scene that normally starts a Hollywood movie, rather than ends it. But despite my European-leanings/lovings, now that the proverbial dust has settled, maybe it wasn't the wrong decision.
Like in any relationship, there comes a point when one or both parties need(s) to admit that things aren't working. And if things aren't working, sometimes the only option is to break-up.
Sometimes we place too much emphasis on staying together. Or we are driven by fear. But if so few people in the UK can truly get their hearts behind the EU project, maybe leaving is the right thing to do.
I don't mean this to be flippant. I know that there will be very real, very tangible consequences for many people. At least in the short term.
But Brexit doesn't need to be a deathknoll for either the EU or for the UK. There will be some temporary upheaval. But if handled correctly, the longer-term negative consequences can be avoided.
What is important now is dealing with the breakup.
Both sides need to move on, to re-erect healthy boundaries and to cooperate on taking control of their side of the situation. The temptation is there for easy halfway measures. Or for post-breakup bitterness and spite. But neither will help much.
For the EU, it's time to clean out the closet. To concentrate on moving on with the countries who do still want to be there. The ones who still believe. To keep doing the good things and to improve on those things where improvements can be made.
For the UK, it's time for an honest reassessment. For redefining it's place in the world. For determining who it wants to be, and what it wants to stand for. And for avoiding, at all costs, abandoning the country to a hotbed of fury and intolerance. There will no longer be Brussels to blame. New targets will be chosen. It will take a lot of courage to defend them.
Should we have stayed together for the kids? Of all that the fallout that Brexit will bring, one of the saddest aspects is reduction in opportunities that the younger British generation will have to engage with their peers in the open European arena.
But remember kids: your time is going to come. Us oldies will die soon enough. And when your chance comes, take it.
Finally, to both the UK and the EU: you're still going to see each other at G8 parties and United Nations summits. So let's try not to make this too awkward.
Things your doctor needn't say.
Three things your doctor needn't say:
1. "Your test results came back. They are the worst I have ever seen."
2. "So, you've been feeling a bit down... Y'know, sometimes people who take this medication commit suicide."
3. "Well, glad to see that things are still exciting!"
(Actually, Dr's O and S, I appreciate your over-sharing. And unintentional humour. Even if it sometimes scares the shit out of me.)
The end of the beginning.
There is a post that I had put off writing. That post, is this post. It's the last post written before Basho begins his journey around Japan. And it's also the last post before we get a few guest writers in to kick-off the Big Morbidity Project (BMP).
But this post is more than that.
Basho stands ready. His rucksack is prepped and on his back. The door lies ajar before him.
For the past several months, I'd been playing with the idea of opening the blog to guest spots for other writers. As if the comic wasn’t already morbid enough, I wanted to open a grand kind of communal memento mori. An inclusive obituary. To us and ourselves. To our past experiences and to our prevalent fears.
I had, however, dallied on this idea. I used all the excuses: that I couldn't invite the guest writers before the final scripts were ready; that we first needed more readers to justify the workload of the guest writers; that we didn't have the time yet. But the real reason, was that I was anxious. Fundamentally anxious. I was worried that opening this door to the cemetery of lost thoughts could send me into a massive tailspin. That I would be surrounded by death, and nothing but death, for a year. And that maybe I would never climb back out.
The irony of this fear - both to someone who wrote a comic whose basic premise is that of human mortality, and to someone whose sole aesthetic furnishings tend to be Día de Muertos ornaments - is not lost on me.
But, I've always struggled with death anxieties. And more seriously than I'd admit. I didn't want to touch the precipitous balance of my mind versus my fears. However, my dear friend Caroline - ever the voice of anti-Ross reason - convinced me that it may be cathartic.
So here goes: this is the post that I didn’t want to write.
Existential nightmares have affected me ever since I was about eight years old. Dangerous, creeping fears of death which squeeze their way up through the floorboards and try to pull me inside out. Mostly fears of my own death. But also sometimes the death of others. These nightmares got so bad that my parents sent me to the local vicar. He recommended the reading of a kid's version of the Bible. It didn't help.
The existential panics would pervade through nighttime and daytime. They centred around two general themes. The first was that my mother would die. Or at least this is what she tells me (my own memories of this are somewhat vague). This was probably driven by insecurities of being alone.
The other, more resilient, fear was the idea of eternity. That long, unperturbed nothingness. Where nothing happens, and I.... where am I? Watching? Waiting? The eternal spectator to a mindless purgatory? Forever.......
Scars can heal pretty hard. While I don't think I'm over it, I got better at forgetting it. At least in the day-to-day humdrum of normal routine. But even discussing it with Caroline that night in the context of this blog, I could still feel a few shards of the ill-fitting scab beginning to pull loose. The old vortex underneath winking at me. A few warning shots of spittle landing on my chest.
There it is: my kryptonite. In all it's unglorified glory.
There are two major corollaries to these forgotten panics. The first is my hypochondria. That nasty feeling that every dirty door-handle is a pandora's box of germs that will hasten me to an immediate end. That every cough is a sign of something much bigger. And that the vortex is closer than I might wish.
I used to scrub my hands till they were almost worn away and walk around the house like a surgeon. I'm still not always that much better.
The second corollary is the feeling that I've had since my mid-20's that I would die by my mid-30's. The fact that I've broken the 3-0 barrier has not made this go away. Again, I'm better at forgetting. But the feeling remains. In some senses it's great: I'm pressed to finish the things I wouldn't otherwise do. I've completed more personal projects in the last nine months than in the preceding six years. But there is also a lot of running around. A lot more banging my head. But maybe that's a good thing.
We all know that we are going to die. Few of us admit it.
Basho takes a step forward. He sets his stride, and leaves. I close the door behind him.
Maybe I don't even need to wash my hands this time.
On the importance of words.
When is a terrorist not a terrorist? When they are white? Or just when we share a certain amount of cultural ancestry?
A lot remains unanswered about the murder of the British parliamentarian Jo Cox last Wednesday. And it's far too easy - and dangerous - to jump to any conclusions before the full facts have been aired. Mental illness has been proposed as a cause. Ditto that, for the young British man who tried to murder Donald Trump on Saturday. Nonetheless, in both cases it strikes me as bizarre, that - despite repeated evidence pointing in this direction - in almost no reportage yet has the word terrorism even be mooted. For either case. But terrorism is the pushing of a political / ideological agenda through violence.
Why is this? Why do we avoid the T-word here, but we're so happy to dole it out in other circumstances? Because the attackers, in some ridiculous sense, "look like us"? Or because we're scared to admit that there are dangerous people in all communities? Of every faith, creed and upbringing? And that fascist rhetoric is growing.
If this act had been committed by someone who was in any way connected to the Muslim faith, I'm quite sure that they would have been decried "terrorist until proven innocent". Any psychological health issues would have been mere side-notes. And, yet again, the entire Muslim community would have been blamed for what occurred.
The way we use words - the way we tell stories - has a large bearing on how we interpret events. Subjecting an entire community to blame and prejudice for the acts of one person, but absolving another for the same act, is flower-dressed prejudice. The constant persecution of the Islamic community (not to mention of other communities, including the black community) feeds simply to create a society of "us's" and "them's".
To put this further, why won't the BBC - a media service I generally admire - acknowledge the refugee crisis for what it is?
There is a large difference between a migrant and a refugee.
I am a migrant. I left Scotland in search of a better life and a better job (and, admittedly, more adventure). This makes me, by all accounts, a migrant. An economic migrant, no less. Most of my friends are economic migrants. Not one of us has had to ensure the hardship of crossing a night-time sea in an ill-equipped boat. Or putting our lives into the hands of human smugglers. And we all still have recognisable and safe "homes" to return to.
Words define realities. Words are flammable. The fascists burned books. Words can carry the fire of hatred and fear, or spread the warmth of compassion.
The decisions we make regarding how we portray our innermost thoughts can have bigger impacts than we might realise.
And it is the responsibility of all of us, to choose how we use them.
P.S. also, this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7XhrXUoD6U
Eur-on your own.
The European Championships (football) kicked-off on Friday. I, like always, have so far seen about 37 minutes of the 990 minutes on offer. The familiar rush of excitement in the weeks preluding the first game; the sudden apathy as soon as the tournament actually begins. Maybe apathy is a strong word. I still check the results on the BBC. So... distractibility. Or rather, always finding something "more important" to do.
It's like this every World Cup. Every Champions League season. Every Olympic Games, Wimbledon and Quantum Leap marathon on TV.....
And then, exactly 1.5 games before the tournament is over, my passion will re-spark. Followed by a hard twist of nostalgia for all the games I've missed. And the wish that I'd watched many more.
This beautiful article (http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html) captures the theory behind the feeling so well. As a result of reading it, I also now ponder how many more European Championships I will have the opportunity to be distracted from. Which is a morbid thought and.... well, yeah. Makes for great chat in the Biergarten.
The article also sets out a way of thinking about the remaining time we have with all the people we care most about. In particular, the family and friends we grew up alongside. But who, for many of us, are now distant. Either geographically or - in equal sense - emotionally. And how, for most of these people - the ones who matter much but who are so very far away - we're in the tail end of these relationships.
It's a sad realisation. And no less sad from the fact of knowing it. Sadder even than the thought that I may never again see Scotland "compete" (?) at a major football Championship.
And one which, if more people heeded in their personal relationships, would lead to much less bickering over the spoilt turkey at Christmas.
Analogous to this, is the characterization of the people who we didn't even have the chance to grow up with. The ones who only arrived only later in life. This doesn't mean that they're any less significant. And just because we're not yet in the "tail end", doesn't mean that this isn't cause for reflection. Indeed, the entire relationship might just have fewer shared moments. Maybe it's the soul mate you rocked out with for three days in Phnom Penh, but whom you now only see in triennial catchups and the occasional Skype. Or your sibling’s kids growing up on a foreign continent.
For me, this person would be my brother. There is a fourteen-year gap between us, and so moving to a different country when I was twenty-two meant that I missed the greatest part of him growing up. Some people who leave their birth countries miss the food. Others, their local tongue. I've never suffered from even the slightest scent of homesickness. But it is difficult to write anything that touches on this subject without a tight feeling forming at the base of my throat. And of thinking of those lost years, those missed birthdays... all those important moments which I only know of from stories and photographs. So maybe no tail end. But definitely a lost middle.
....maybe I'll try and catch a couple of more games this week.
P.S. @Brother, this does not mean you're getting a bigger Christmas present.
The immaculate conception.
No creative work is delivered in a ready-to-eat, fresh-out-the-drawer manner. Revision and the slow chipping away of the creative marble is the less-sexy truth behind all great inspirations. Ok, maybe not if you're Kerouac. But I'm not American. Or a dead beat poet.
On Saturday I hid out from the German monsoon season at my kitchen table. To the tune of thunder rolling across the neighbouring buildings, I was able to clear all the paper notes I'd let lie over the past eleven months. Half-finished songs. Untuned stories. And now, for at least one weekend, is everything back in order and ready for the fresh impulse of new summertime projects.
The clearing efforts involved a lot of throwing away. The throwing away efforts included circa 448 failed Basho haikus. Haikus that will never again be seen by any living person. Or any dead person either, I guess. Unless Kerouac is haunting me.
One of the failed haikus struck a chord. It reminded me of a discussion I'd had the night before. I was trying to translate the word "epicurean" into German, and Google translate proffered "Genusssuchtig". Which, literally translated, would be "pleasure-addiction". This riled me. Epicureanism, together with Stoicism, have both offered my life so much. And so much of In Search Of Basho is based on these old philosophies.
It upsets me, that both of these schools of thought have such negative modern connotations. Stoicism does not mean rendering yourself cold-hearted to the beauty of the world. Nor does Epicureanism mean intricating yourself in a massive ice-cream-and-bacon-fuelled sex orgy.
So, in my small attempt to redress the balance, here's that failed haiku. And here's to you, Epicurus:
I am dead; and the
Only poverty I now
Fear is loneliness.
(If you're still there, Mr Kerouac, here's to you also. On the Road was beautiful.)
The beginning of the beginning.
So, here it is. Our little baby. Dirtied and bloodied. And so much smaller than we’d expected.
What was supposed to be a “back of the envelope” musing to be launched all the way back in 2010 has since twisted and turned, and waltzed into what you see before you. It demanded far more time and reconsolidations than either of us expected (thanks, perfectionist nature!).
This strip and the 51 to follow have been written across Germany, Japan and the US-A. They were scribbled down in noisy café corners, and revised from scratchy hospital beds. The drawings were made across Germany, Australia and Thailand. And they’re still not finished.
The strip is going to run as a once-per-week affair to be published on Wednesdays. It will last for exactly one year. And then our dear character’s job will be done. His life will be over.
And that… will be it.