Didn’t your mother teach you not to talk shit about food?

In the past year I’ve been immersing myself more and more in writer culture. In addition to my usual venues and social circles I’m on Twitter now, following and interacting with other writers and people who work with writers and writing, and…it’s been an interesting experience.

I’ve never really thought much about writer culture until this year. Writers write and that’s that, right?

Nah.

Somebody once told me that I shouldn’t use negative language about myself. I shouldn’t focus on how ugly so and so bodypart is, I should focus on the parts I liked. I shouldn’t say “I can’t”, I should say “I can”, and I should say “I will”. Positive reinforcement.

I try to live by it, even when it’s hard. I try not to think “but there’s so much left to write” and instead think “I’ve written so much already”. It worked for me years back when I decided to go by bicycle around Iceland. Lots of mountains to climb, lots of kilometres to put behind me. I made a point to stop every once in awhile to look back just to see how far I’d come. Maybe it wasn’t much farther than the last time I looked. It didn’t matter. I’d still progressed.

(And I made it halfway around the country before my knees got busted.)

This is part of the reason why what I’m seeing of writer culture is so utterly baffling.

It goes something like this: how to write a book: dig a hole. crawl into the hole. stay in the hole.

Or perhaps like this: how to write a book: flail at the keyboard while screaming uncontrollably.

Or maybe it goes like this: open document. type one word. spend several hours going off tangents on the Internet. return to document and discover no words have been added. cry.

Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t be writing if I didn’t enjoy it.

Wild, right? Enjoy writing? What kind of writer am I? Why am I not guzzling down buckets of coffee while alternating between hammering on my keyboard and posting increasingly quirkier hyperbolic statements about how hard and painful writing is?

Yeah, writing is hard sometimes. The words don’t always come easy. Sometimes other factors in life impede my writing in shitty ways. Sometimes writing is just a drag and a chore and I wonder a little bit why I’m making myself churn out words when I could be doing other, easier things, such as binge watching Netflix or reading other people’s books.

But I enjoy writing. Even when it’s difficult, I enjoy it. Not as much as when it’s easy, and I love it a little less than on the days when it feels like words are all the sustenance I need to live. Who cares about dinner when I’m on a roll? But here’s the other thing: I enjoy it because it’s hard, too.

And then there’s this: Regardless of whether I’m having a good writing day or a bad writing day, I write.

I sit down, and I write. I get distracted by the internet just like everybody else. I chat with friends in a different tab while writing in another. I have been known to get up and do the dishes in the middle of a scene. I have put off writing for hours while I run errands or work out or clean the flat.

But at the end of the day, what it comes down to for me, is to just get the job done. To improve my craft. To finish a story I love. To be excited. To write. I like being able to look back and say yesterday I was there, today I am here.

I’ve been watching the Danish version of the Great British Bake Off for a few years. This season there’s a young lad on the show who has a peculiar way of talking about his bakes. It’s ongoing, still in the first half of the season, as it airs later in the year than GBBO, so I’ve not seen much of him, but…

This lad will say things like “this is disgusting, actually”. He will say “it’s gross.”

I’m sure he’s a fine fellow, but this language is driving me up the wall. Has his mother never taught him that it’s impolite to talk about food like that? Even if it’s his own food? Has nobody taught this kid it didn’t quite turn out the way I expected or it’s not my cup of tea? as a valid way to discuss the outcome of his work?

Has nobody told this kid that assigning negative value to your own work is a damaging thing to do to yourself?

Why is writer culture centred around this idea that writing is a terrible, painful task that only masochists willingly take upon themselves? Why is it that writer culture is obsessed with events like nanowrimo, which is ostensibly about improving the creative output in quantifiable ways, but which is widely regarded by writers as a form of self-inflicted torture? Why is writer culture steeped in negatively loaded hyperbole that is neither motivating nor helpful? Why is it that writer culture seems more interested in having a giant pity party than promoting healthy work ethics?

Why is it that it’s “cooler” to say things like having kittens for fingers would be easier than writing a novel and not today I finished writing an important scene?

Why am I expected to groan and complain about the writing process to be accepted into the club? Why am I expected to sign up for nanowrimo and churn out fifty thousand words in a month while also making sure everyone in the vicinity has heard what tremendous personal sacrifice it is to do it?

Why am I expected to identify with the particular brand of WriterTM that seems to be chronically underslept and harried, by their own writing habits no less, to the point that they resemble an undead human being incapable of functioning in society?

I don’t identify with that brand.

I don’t identify with this way of thinking.

I just can’t see myself in it. I don’t want to be associated with it. I don’t want to let this, frankly, toxic mindset influence me to such a point that I won’t be able to recognise myself anymore.

I want to keep enjoying what I’m doing. I want to love writing. I want to surround myself with writers who gleefully roll up their sleeves and say let’s do this.

So. I’m sorry, guys.

But I don’t want to be in your club.

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four moods

1. You share a cigarette with a girl you like. You’re curious. You take the cigarette from her, let the smoke fill your mouth. She’s looking at your lips. The smoke doesn’t really taste like anything. You exhale, look at the cigarette. She’s still looking at your mouth. You give the cigarette back and now you can taste it, ash tray, stale smoke, and something that reminds you of the bitterness of coffee.
It’s months before you realise she was attracted to you.
It’s years before you realise you were attracted to her.

2. You wake up one morning exhausted and in the approximately two and a half minute it takes for you to get out of bed and into the shower, you forget that your body is not your body. For those two and a half minute your knowledge of your body rings true. You have two and a half minute of exhausted, innocent bliss.
You wake up in the shower.
You can’t breathe.
You don’t understand.
You think about that story with the dream and the butterfly.
People around you ask if you’re ill. Stressed. Tired.
You don’t know how to tell them that you want to crawl out of your own skin (not your skin!) and into your body (your real body!). You don’t know how to tell them that you’re scared. You don’t know how to tell them that you’re not what they think you are.

3. Boys are stupid, they say, and you clamp shut. I’m a boy, you want to scream. You laugh nervously, agreeing that boys are stupid, and you feel like you’re betraying yourself.
Later, you hear yourself say I’m not a girl, and you wonder if you’re betraying girls everywhere as you say it. You think about your five year old self and wonder if you’re betraying her.
There’s a thin line between boy and girl and it cuts your feet when you try to walk it.

4. Your friends are playing that game, the one with the lists. Who would you fuck, on a scale from one to ten. They love the game. They’re all laughing.
It’s your turn and your tongue is dry.
Nobody, you say.
Surely there’s someone you think is hot, they say. Come on. Give us a name. Just one.
There are so many beautiful people in the world. Sometimes a beautiful person smiles and you want to look at them for days. Sometimes you might even want to kiss them.
You don’t want to kiss strangers.
You don’t want to make a list of fuckable strangers.
I don’t want to play this game, you say, and your friends call you boring.

what if mankind manages to extinguish itself in the next five hundred years

what if in 5 million years a new intelligent species has evolved and they like, build cities and shit and have universities and archaeology programs dedicated to the study of this ‘ancient sapient species which went extinct 5 million years ago due to self-inflicted climate change’ and like there are museums dedicated to this shit

museums of museums because they dig up stuff like ‘this was clearly a building that collected things, we presume these items were important to this people but as we have not yet cracked any one of their languages we cannot be certain and we have absolutely no idea what this is but it may have been a torture instrument though others believe it is a cheese grater. but look, this over here was definitely a museum containing fossils of large prehistoric animals’ and they’re still digging up dinosaurs 5 million years into the future, but they’re also digging up 5 million year old human skeletons and 10 million year old human skeletons which they surmise are the ancestors of the younger humans and they’d have to work it out all over again because none of our knowledge survived and we probably messed it all up for them by moving it around and putting it in museums

they don’t call them humans though, there’s a different word for that because they’re a different species

maybe they call them apes

maybe this new intelligent species is itself an ape so technically related to us? how amazing wouldn’t that be ‘WE MUST NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES OUR DISTANT RELATIVES DID. IT IS ALREADY HAPPENING. FOSSIL FUEL IS WHAT BROUGHT ABOUT THE DOWNFALL OF THIS ANCIENT CIVILISATION. DO WE REALLY WANT TO GO THE SAME WAY?’

or maybe this isn’t an issue because they figured out early on that fossil fuel wasn’t gonna work because there’s so little of it left in the world (there are calculations. apparently, if the ancient civilisation hadn’t exploited the fossil fuel sources so much, there’d be X amount in the world today.) thankfully, the earth’s ecosystem has had 5 million years to fix itself, so the planet is like. inhabitable.

until they find nuclear waste dumps. man. they are so not happy about that.

imagine the linguists tho, attempting to figure out all these old dead languages!! paper does not survive 5 million years. usb sticks do not survive 5 million years. are the novgorod birch bark letters gone? do only clay tablets remain? do these future intelligent beings guess that the language of our current civilisation was written in cuneiform because it’s all that’s left? what difference do 5 thousand years make in the grand scheme of things when 5 million years have passed?

TOMBSTONES THOUGH. how fascinating they must be? would they recognise the letters for letters and the numbers for numbers? do they construct strange alphabets that go A N B I O 8 4 K L 7 M P 3 Q W 9 ?? would they figure the tombstones are of ritualistic importance for a primitive culture? would they be able to figure out our calendar and why we count our years the way we do? what meaning does “year 334BC” hold to them? are there any skeletons left in the graveyards or do only the tombstones remain? what are these weird stone parks and what purpose do they serve? are there theories that render our graveyards as mysterious, mystical and wondrous as we think the stone circles are today? are there conspiracy theories with maps and lines drawn on these maps to prove a crackpot theory that fits into a future culture? do they make terrible dan brown type movies about them? do the stone circles remain? has stonehenge finally collapsed? does a single copy of indiana jones and the last crusade remain and has anybody ever been able to watch it? if so, is that what their theories of the world’s ancient cultures is based on?

imagine archaeological dig sites – whenever they want to build a new building it’s like ‘whoops there’s something old here what is it ohhh it’s a skyscraper from 2215 and below it there’s a peasant house from 1640 and below that is what looks like the fossilised remnants of a viking longboat whoa’ and sometimes they don’t find anything because any finds are so deep in the ground in that area that they will never be discovered

somebody build me a time machine

of dreams iii

There’s a radioactive horseman who rises every Friday and wipes out people by exposure. It’s called the syncope. He carries no weapons. The survivors are genetically altered forever.

There are underground shelters and chutes and when the horseman comes, they go into the chutes. The chute entrances are in labyrinthine houses, built to confuse the horseman. The horseman cannot enter the houses.

The genetically altered survivors fall into three categories; the insane, the crippled and the unscathed. The unscathed have an inexplicable hunger for sweets. You cannot trust them to not eat every single sweet thing in the vicinity as soon as you turn your back. They’re said to be in jessmode.

Is the horseman a horseman? No one knows. He rises out of the ground and you run.

There are guards outside the labyrinthine houses. They are the only ones who don’t run. The horseman does not harm them. The guards wear all black. They have machine guns that are ineffective against a supernatural being. Why doesn’t the horseman harm them?

Earth has changed in two hundred years. There’s a lot of dust. There’s a lot of undrinkable water. People come to earth in time capsules and are confused. Is this really Earth, they ask. Are you sure? Earth isn’t like this. Are we in space?

We are not in space.

The horseman rises and a girl is too late. The doors to the labyrinthine houses are closing. She pleads with a guard to let her in. It can’t be done. The doors are closed.

The guard asks the horseman to spare the girl. It’s the first time anyone has ever spoken to the horseman.

The horseman opens the door to the labyrinthine house and walks in. The girl and the guard look at each other. Does the horseman have access to the other labyrinthine houses and underground shelters, the girl asks. No, the guard answers. He does not. The shelters are not interconnected.

The girl weeps to think of the innocent people in the shelters below who believe themselves safe, who have Death marching to meet them.

The guard takes off her helmet and drops her gun. Her face is hard. She seals the doors.

Who is the horseman? Where does he go?

Is it the same horseman? Does a new horseman rise out of the ground every Friday? Is he a product of the toxic ground we walk on? Is he a product of human experiments? Is somebody responsible or is he a monster, born out of collective human failure?

Will he rise again on Friday?

of dreams ii

I dreamt about bees and chemicals and girls and yellow dogs this morning.

There is a girl and a yellow dog and a beehive. In the rest of the world, all the bees have died and the world’s food resources are halved. The rich harvest the labour of the poor, and so people are starving, dying, desperate.

There’s rumours that not all bees have died. There’s rumours that there are small ecological pockets scattered all over the globe, places where chemicals were never used, places that haven’t used chemicals in decades, places where there is no farming, and the bees are unharmed. Rumours, panic, and wild, blind hope.

There are bees in this one little place, in a backyard on the outskirts of a large city, and the bees belong to a girl and her yellow dog. The local beekeeping association and local scientists are working on Why Are These Bees Alive and so far they have found out that the bees die when removed from their home – they never make it to the labs – and there is much Headscratching. Hushed voices and furtive looks. So much secrecy.

And this girl just tends to her bees.

How do you keep bees secret when your neighbourhood is the only neighbourhood in the country whose apple and peach trees still bear fruit? How do you keep bees secret when they swarm, swarm, swarm? How do you keep bees secret when the world is so painfully aware of their absence that their presence equals instant suspicion?

Desperate people, greedy people, they all bear down on the bees, they need the bees, they say, so the world won’t collapse. They need the bees, they say, so they won’t starve. They need the bees, they say, so they can sell them to highest bidder…

The girl defends herself with a broom and a yellow dog, with the army at her back and a scientist by her side.

I don’t know how this story ends. With hope, I hope. With bees and yellow dogs and blueberries in the wild. I dreamt of bees and golden honey and lush gardens, but I also dreamt of a world on the verge of collapse, of hunger and desperation and manual labour.

of dreams

I dreamt about radiation and iodine tablets and safe houses and government corruption last night.

There was a “prankster” who terrorised government owned institutions using weapons named after the very thing she was using them against.

A biological bomb called roses which vaporised bodies into dust – if you didn’t die instantly, you’d become an invisible ghostly being swept away by the wind until you dissolved entirely and became nothing. Used against every corrupt member of the ruling parties, the coalition of roses.

A giant battering ram called a warhammer used against the ministry of defense cracked down the upper walls and floors while slave labourers – atypical human beings and other species – rose up against their superiors on the lower floors.

Giant dogs bred for violence and hunting used to keep the population in check, now they’re raised with love and keep children safe – they’re guard dogs, but are renamed entirely. Gone is the guard, the minder, the executioner – they are named after new values and new hopes; Trusty, Loyal, Fluffy, and at one point, Steve. It’s the biggest, blackest dog of the bunch and the child it belongs to sleeps beside it every night and hugs it every morning and the child’s mother reminds, “the dog’s name is Chocolate, for the colour of her eyes” – but the child doesn’t care.

Poison – glittery white powder that looks like snow, called either fairy dust (“never fairy, don’t ever call it that”) or hot snow, for the way it burns down your throat and sets your body on fire. Flavourless, but for a hint of sweetness and the burst of chill at first taste – they say it’s based on menthol and nobody uses menthol for centuries after this war is over, not for medicine, not for candy, not for anything at all – this poison is used to assassinate the oligarchy because they themselves used it to quietly assassinate “troublesome” folks. Mix it in the sugar, they’ll take their tea eventually… children and nannies are but collateral damage.

I dreamt of violence and cruelty and people who fought back bloody, who fought back strong, who lost and loved and rejoiced and rebuilt the world in their own image.