Calling occupants of writing craft

THE WRITER’S LIFE

While my offline self continues to deal with real-life situations I needn’t trouble the world with, the one who’d like to tell everyone everything was suffering writer’s block. And I’ve been revisiting my favourite science fiction universe in Firefly, the demise of which I mourn daily, just like Sheldon Cooper.

Serenity_Pierre_Drolet_06-1This sci-fi geek modeller is my favourite person right now: He’s made a model of an aircraft carrier and parked Serenity on the deck (Pierre Drolet Sci-Fi Museum)

I read an article recently on hobbies to help with anxiety and depression, and writing wasn’t one of them, which was strange, because it’s been writing that’s helped me most over time. In the beginning, it was all I had.

That was five years ago, when I begged money on the streets to buy exercise books from Poundland (and white cider), and stole some bookies pens. When I used to sit in various warm, dry and light places, I planned to turn my story into a book. Then I got over myself and realised no-one would be interested in a Charles Bukowski fan boy (although I’ve been compared to him since, and many others in fact: some of the greats in the genres I write). In any case, The Paradoxicon was a fair stab at a semi-autobiographical flash fiction novel, allowing me to move on, and I’ve written four other books since.

Much has changed since then, and life has got easier in many respects (somewhere to live helps), but without the constant distraction of life keeping you on your feet, there’s a tendency to get stuck. I’ve never lapsed back to drinking, but I know why I did, when I’d sometimes rather blank something from my mind which won’t sleep. But I’m a writer.

Unless you’re writing for a mass market, it’s a very internal affair, and prevented from writing about much in my real life (the privacy of others), my solitary offline life gave me little else to think about. Well therein lies the paradox I’d created for myself: As a writer, I can write anything. And as a blogger, that can just be a diary entry.

Right now I’m perched on a cushion on my chair, not just because I’m short but because the air canister has emptied itself, so it’s lost its power of levitation. Nevertheless, the dead chair is full of memories that I’ve written while I sat at this desk on many other late nights. I’ll keep my old seat, because I can’t afford another one anyway, but most importantly, it’s where I am now.

I’m aware of the weight distribution in my arse on the cushion, and because I think different to most, I feel speed. Because what I can feel below me – the weight of my backside on the seat – is the feeling of my own gravity in relation to that of the Earth. So in another way of thinking, the pressure I feel is not me bearing down, but the entire planet pushing up beneath me. Like this world and everyone else on it, I’m spinning at 1000 mph and hurtling through space at around fifty times that. These are the things which keep me awake at night, sometimes joyfully.

If I get it right, I can sometimes lucid dream, and within my mind I can explore the universe (there are articles dotted about this blog). It’s getting to sleep that’s the problem, but writing is good for insomnia.

I’ve got sufficient followers to guarantee at least one will be interested in what’s on my mind, because they’ve chosen to follow me and be a part of another virtual life. And in a life cut off from most human contact, for someone like me, that’s a comforting thought.

So even if I am rambling, I know that someone besides me will be reading, then I feel less alone.

This blog was originally that of a writer with depression, like so many others, and yet it was the illness which prevented me dealing with it. Such is the power of the mind when it’s cracked. But other times, living with a Kintsukorai mind (one which is more beautiful for having been broken) is one long lucid dream.

Whenever I question what’s in my head existentially, I’m reminded of a documentary Stephen Fry made about his own brand of depression. At the end, he posed a question: If there were a big red button, and hitting it would just restore you to “Normal”, would you? Same as him, I don’t have to think for long: No.

Paul Auster once said he’s happy with a day’s work if he has 500 words of perfect prose at the end. I’m happier when I’ve pumped out 850 words of pulp thoughts in an hour and cleared my mind for others to read. A problem shared, is one divided or multiplied.

Suffer in silence

Now Serenity awaits, somewhere in the universe. If I can just dream, I can hitch a ride, with friends, the captain, a shepherd, a doctor, and a companion or more.

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Lawrence and the mechanics

THE WRITER’S LIFE

While I’ve been away from the typewriter, I’ve accumulated a lot of notes in a pocket journal my kids bought me, much of which I need to make sense of. While I do that in the background, I’m using writing prompts to keep the writer alive. Opening 642 Things to Write About on a random page, I was faced with this:

Describe an image that is embedded in your brain in detail and why it remains there

It was time to place my nose to the grindstone, like so many humans before, as exhibited by the tell-tale hole in the face of any excavated human skeleton. I had the painters in…

human definition skull

Embedded in – consuming – my mind, is my ongoing battle to win back my independence from the UK government, a conflict now entering its sixth month. More on the incompetence of the social cleansing apparatus another time, as I wrote last time, when I also noted that it was the machine which was holding me back, preventing me from writing, and demonically possessing me. This then is a good opportunity to get to know that particular beast. There’s no point fighting what what won’t show its face, but while it hides, the inquisitive caller can infect its ears.

I should be intimate with it now, having spent so much time in its vacuous oral tubes. What began with a bi-annual assessment (for entitlement to a ‘benefit’ which ought to be a human right; the means to live independently after paying national insurance for life (which the UK government is using to pay off the national debt at the expense of the UK pension fund)) at the beginning of September, resulted in the expected refusal (denial is their default). Before appealing against the decision at tribunal, I had to request a mandatory reconsideration, where mandatory is the operative word and a further denial arrived as expected in December.

I’ve spent the entirety of this year so far using my mobile phone minutes listening to deafeningly distorted Mozart while on hold, often giving up when no-one answers after about half an hour (there’s no indication of when your call may be answered, no magic number in some imaginary queue, no genie in the bottle, nor in the magazine). It’s another part of the weeding-out process. Whenever I’ve made some kind of human contact, I’ve encountered questions I don’t know that answers to, and posed questions the machine can’t answer, so it hangs up. And so more enquiring minds like mine will give up.

I’ve been sent the wrong and incomplete paperwork to progress my case, just in time for deadlines to expire. I’ve spent many more minutes listening to Wolfgang Amadeus, more still trying to explain the ever-more complicated situation to the machine which placed me there, only for the apparatus to throw a spanner into its own workings by simply not dealing as one human to another. A deep well of tenacity and determination has to be plumbed to survive this far. Not everyone can find that. As things stand, I can only wait. I don’t know when the next shit sandwich will arrive in the mail, if it’s even headed here in the first place. The system creates the unknown to fertilise the anxiety it sows.

The greatest human fear is that of the unknown, and it applies to us as individuals just as it does the entire species. Although I have no control over the government’s economic murder agenda, if I can imagine the thing and describe it, then I’ve brought it out into view; I’ve exposed it, and once I’ve seen it, it’s no longer unknown. Well, that’s the plan.

Before I write of how it looks, let’s first consider what it is. It’s a part of the fascist machinery, as we witness a rise of the far-right in politics at home and around the world. Like the Nazis, the neo agenda is population reduction and short-term financial and political gain (bosses of the company the UK government out-sources benefits assessments to recently awarded themselves over £40m in ‘performance bonuses’), with no consideration for future generations. Theirs is a recipe for human extinction, including economic murder, through segregation and exploitation of the poor. People like me, and those who fell before.

Behind the machine is an engine, always pushing one step closer to a totalitarian fascist regime: Creating societal divisions in a “Them and us” rhetoric, using language to normalise negative racial stereotyping, creating fear in conditioned minds of an imagined enemy, breeding intolerance with ignorance, perpetuated by the right-wing media validating subconscious narratives. I am Them, like so many still fighting, not just for a ‘benefit entitlement’ but a human right, to keep talking through the noise of the engine.

It’s an apparatus which barely disguises an ideology as twisted as the mechanics of enforcement, a tunnelling machine burrowing into democracies and installing populist fascist leaders, like so many heads of the prophesied beast, with a false prophet installed as the leader of the free world, the Antichrist (see Trump’s United States of Terror). But what of what we can’t see, what of the machinations in my mind? In there is a microcosm of humanity’s place in the cosmos, one human in a universal brain. The theatre plays out on a sub-atomic stage, here viewed through a microscope.

My beast is a torture apparatus, and part-organic. It’s a mechanical animal. It’s designed by Jigsaw from the Saw films. It’s the kitchen in August Underground’s Diner. It’s a worm which burrows into the human brain, like the larva of a Tsetse fly. It’s not a clean machine, it’s one of infection and contagion. It’s steam, smoke and oil from the mouth, sharp edges and grinding surfaces, cogs, screws and pistons, an acid digestive system eventually spewing the waste of consumptive energy, poisoning its host.

It doesn’t have a face. Instead, at the head of the boring machine, protecting the egg-laying organism which follows, are interchangeable tools, a genocidal multi-drill. It’s part vintage sewing machine, a mechanical arm pounding metal stitches into open wounds, eyelids which might see, and lips which may speak. It has fangs the size of the wheel pistons on a steam locomotive, leaking venomous oil.

And that’s just the head, only the front teeth, the smiling unseen face, swallowing with no fear of regurgitation. Once the prey is stunned, it’s sucked back into a shredder of metallic flesh, and into a digestive system of oppression, which deflates the lungs, drains the kidneys, and stamps on the heart. If you can keep your head above the digestive fluids, the brain can regenerate.

That’s where I am now, in the belly, stuffed full of petrified souls. I still can’t fully describe the face of an organism which lacks one, but I’ve penetrated the facade, like a retro-futuristic steam punk space ship; a hybrid micro automata and organic plot device, burrowing into the retina of a host organism which invited me into its face. I’ve switched antagonists in this story.

So there we have it. I’ve faced my featureless demon, withdrawn from my head so that I can better describe it objectively as an outsider. It’s still full of unknown quantities, probably storing up a few bites or stings for me as I continue to fight it, but I have no need to fear it in the daily waiting and not knowing, when I can exorcise it like this. I can write.

If only divided Britain could take a step back like me, but from the politicians and media, to see Brexit as it truly is. If only the world could look objectively like this as the precipice it’s staring down as we face extinction as a species. Then we could agree to differ for a while, sort out the mess which is our common problem, and still have a table to come back to if we want to continue negotiating for whatever it is we don’t know we want. Humankind is largely bi-polar, with individuals and factions coerced into either extreme of fascism or communism, when liberal socialism is where the longer conversations are to be had.

That’s not how humanity works when democracy has been broken, when a social welfare system serves only to reduce the burden on the entitled, of those who are unable to work and therefore can’t be taxed, and instead an indirect tax is imposed on liberty and freedom (see The Tory plan for new housing: a social tax on climate change (satire)), including the withholding of a ‘benefit’ which would permit a person the human right of independence.

The greater beast behind the machine is the fascist ideal, which poses an existential threat to humanity and the only planet we have to call home. It’s always on my mind, another contributor to my anxiety and depression. I can’t beat the world, but I can keep my voice. I’ve beaten the system before, and I won’t be an existential statistic.

By the time this latest processing through the mincer ends, almost a year will have passed. Assessments are every two years, so I’ll face it all again 12 months later. The only difference between me and thousands of others is that I can find a way to deal with it through expression. What separates me from hundreds of others is that I’m still alive, and living in the belly of the beast to tell the tale.

Just as the problems in my mind are those of the human race in miniature, so the protagonists can be reversed too: thousands of humans won’t see tomorrow. They’ll lose a voice, and so will we.

cat typing jesus lolz

A momentary lapse of location

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

It’s been a while since I wrote anything, mainly because the battle to regain my personal independence from the Department for Work and Pensions is still ongoing, and becoming more like dealing with Vogon democracy by the day. But more of that another time. For now, this is a return from self-imposed social isolation.

social isolationHuffpost: from an article on technology and social isolation

Like playing truant from school, the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to come back, and the deeper I have to dig to pull myself out. But something dawned on me yesterday: I was effectively surrendering to the government’s social cleansing and economic murder machinery, by allowing them to stop me from writing, by weighing down my mental baggage.

Whatever holds you back from what you want to do is a demon. Don’t let that consume you, cast it out, like so much toxicity in your life. How? By realising it’s doing you no good for as long as it’s in your head, because it’s consuming you. When you realise that, you’ll see what’s in your head like you probably haven’t before (you were blind to it), and you’ll hate it. It’s been hating you all along, like a memory which taunts you by cheating on you. Don’t feed the trolls.

Some things I can’t write about autobiographically, but neither can I be censored as a fiction writer able to capture parallels. The story below is part analogy of the effect the social machine has had on me, and an exorcism.

This is where I’ve been. It’s short, but each word carries hours of feeling from being away. So many things banging in my head that I placed them into a single entity.

blood film strip

THE ORIGIN OF RECALL

I first became aware of my neighbours when I realised I could listen to them through the wall. I grew closer to them as I got older, but it I couldn’t meet them. My self-containment meant it would be a long time before I fully understood them.

At first I couldn’t make out what they were saying, their voices muffled by our adjoining wall. I learned that voice inflections, volumes and tones, belie a mood in any native tongue, and that anger is the same in any language. They made more sense as I heard them grow louder with every passing day, as though my hearing was improving. His name was Jonas, but I never learned hers.

I’d never seen them. Perhaps we’d meet outside one day, but for now I wasn’t ready to go beyond my comfort zone. Noisy neighbours slamming doors can be intimidating, and I had no wish to be a part of any argument beyond that internal wall.

My sleep was sporadic, I was unable to settle into any kind of routine, never knowing when I’d be woken by the neighbours. Days drifted into sleep through exhaustion, and I slept when they did, when the walls weren’t pounding in my head. There I’d sometimes dream of getting out.

The earth is billions of years old, and humankind have only walked on this planet for a fleeting moment. Given that we have so little time here, shouldn’t we all question what’s around us? At least then, our children will be able to continue conversations which we started, like so many small human legacies.

When the noise started again, I didn’t want to open my eyes. When I’d dreamed, I found the human senses are connected, not with one compensating for another if it’s lost, but withdrawing together in solidarity. The longer I closed my eyes, the less I could hear, and so I could sleep.

The last time they woke me, I’d still not met them, never ventured out into that corridor. He was pounding on the wall again, their voices so loud that no barrier could cushion the anger.

I knew I was what they were arguing about. I was “that fucking thing in there,” and I feared my reception if we ever met outside. The anger was punching through now, knocking against my head and chipping the paint from the wall.

I had an almost overwhelming urge to get out of there, but feared anything outside of my confines. I’d had time to think, learn and dream in there, and I couldn’t leave.

They say kids develop their formative memory at around two years old, and before that they know nothing and are subject to conditioning. We are all different, but we’re born the same, with memories which we forget, long before we’re able to talk. Knowledge boils while curiosity evaporates.

Maybe I should have got out when I could, improving my chances outside by being premature. But I stayed. Born still, I was free. I did everyone a favour. Natural selection, preserved in ultrasound images.

They hadn’t decided on a name for me: either Jonas or Joan, depending on what I came out as. If I was a boy, I’d have been named after him. I was Jonas.

ultrasound

© Steve Laker, 2019

So that was me exorcising the demons who would prevent me from doing what keeps me living. I won’t give up. I’ll keep writing, and I shan’t surrender to the mind beating.

A clockwork grim fairy tale

FICTION

Many classic fairy tales are much darker stories in their original form than the ones we know (Little Red Riding Hood is a very bleak warning, to young girls of sexual predators). The story below is one of my own fairy tales, brought into a more modern world and with a bit of surrealism thrown in.

The original (longer) version is in my first anthology. I’ve dragged the story out of the basement, only because it came up in conversation with someone today. She asked me what the “sickest” story I’ve written is. We use the word in the same way we do when we watch films, we both like video nasties.

The question was subjective. I’ve written what was called a “twistedly idiosyncratic” Nativity; There was the writer at The Unfinished Literary Agency, writing the story of his own first-person character committing a murder, after a pleasant stroll around Bermondsey with the reader. They all link up, and then there was COGS.

When I first wrote it, I was looking to shock, I was finding my feet. Later, I found my way more in science fiction. But just as my musical roots lie in Ska, so my writing started with horror (from where I was at the time), and I’ve been taking two pieces of advice from a friend, which have been serving me well: Don’t be afraid to be proud; and, If you feel the need to censor yourself, then you’re letting your readers down. If they don’t like some of your posts, at least they know what not to like about you.

This story prompted one reader to say of its original incarnation, “It’s utterly wrong, but beautifully written,” probably because it contains suggestions of wholly improper sexual deviancy. But it’s also a comment on consumerism, possibly in a world post-humanism, and a bit Gothic steam punk, with some poetic revenge and liberation thrown in. Like much of my horror, there’s a heart in it somewhere. 

So, fuck it. This is COGS…

COGS Bird

COGS

automata
/ɔːˈtɒmətə/
noun
1. a plural of automaton
automaton
/ɔːˈtɒməˌtɒn; -tən/
noun (pl) -tons, -ta (-tə)
1. a mechanical device operating under its own hidden power; robot
2. a person who acts mechanically or leads a routine monotonous life
Derived Forms
automatous, adjective

What for the man who has everything yet has nothing? A man who wants for nothing, can have anything, but has nothing? Hans Der Leibhaftige had all he’d ever wanted, but for the one thing he desired. Everything and everyone has a price, including unconditional love.

Life allowed perverted sexual gratification, cash from needy families. It bought him pets: canine companions whose love needn’t be returned. But the humans grew beyond their best before dates, disposable people. Apart from his current companion, who may see his master die.

Cogs was an automaton, a mechanical animal, a robot. But if Hans weren’t to furnish visitors with this information, they would be oblivious. Cogs ate, slept and breathed, just like a real companion. His creator was Angra Mainyu, a long-term, symbiotic associate of Hans. Former lovers, latterly sexual partners of convenience, sex was merely functional, an outlet for their mutual loathing, in consensual sadomasochism, torture, trauma and rape. Fucking to a climax of fluid hate in red love.

Angra was a necromancer, making automata so fine that the single person able to afford them was her sole client. Her creations were pure mechanical clockwork, barren of electronics.

An early commission was a chicken, which hatched from an egg, then laid an egg of its own. Then it would nest on that egg as the outer eggshell closed, in silent mechanical motion. Later those movements could be perpetual, as Angra honed her art; living, sentient, self-determining beings, financed by Hans. Infinite wealth could buy eternal life.

There was a snake, given perpetuity by manipulation. He was someone in control of a deadly serpent to all who watched, oblivious to its inner workings, lacking a fatal bite by Angra’s design.

She could create Hans’ desire, of a companion, which was naked and with no clear means of operation by human intervention.

The creation was born of a note to Angra:

I’m not in love. I would only fuck you and others until something better came along. I would like you to make me a daughter.

***

I am Lilith. I was born to you by Doctor Mainyu. May I come in?”

She sat on the sofa and said nothing further, switched off. Hans looked over the girl staring blankly ahead, dressed lightly in the heat, her legs slightly agape as she slept. Her underwear was the same colour as her skin. He needed to touch her, to see if she was warm.

The automaton flesh was soft and smooth. For all to see, they were comfortable in a shared blanket. He explored the paralysed girl, with more intimacy, seeking something which might make her recoil.

The fluidity of movement and the perpetuity of pleasure were to be found in Lilith, in her lips, where he tasted fresh life, while the girl slept, owned.

Lilith only opened her eyes when she was one with Hans.

Love me master. Fill me with your wisdom, so that I may be as wealthy as you. Your daughter needs to come from your blood.”

A sound, like a winding clock, came from Lilith’s tightened thighs.

Red love daddy.”

© Steve Laker, 2015 & 2017

Tales of the nope rope dimension

THE WRITER’S SKETCHES

The pocket notebook my kids bought for me has three inserts: a lined pad for writing, squares for finances, and plain paper for sketching. Rarely the artist with anything other than the lines which form letters, I idly sketched a story in a lost moment.

A line is a one-dimensional figure that’s made up of an infinite number of individual points placed side by side. In geometry all lines are assumed to be straight; if they bend they’re called a curve. A line continues infinitely in two directions, much like joined-up writing.

The first – and probably last – in an occasional series called Adventures in One Dimension, I transcribed my line drawings into neon tubes, non-venomous snakes (nope ropes) via The Gimp (a freeware alternative to Photoshop) in some further idle minutes.

A message in three frames, told by two lines with speaking parts. A human story told by snakes, at an individual and existential species level, this one’s called ‘Staying over’.

SticksSticks2Sticks3

It’s just pausing stop-animation, where two lines can illustrate something better than most humans. 

The present in a mid-life crisis

Orang utan future

The Incomplete Literary Agent

WORK IN PROGRESS

The Unfinished Literary Agency is where I tell the stories of others unable to tell their own. The Incomplete Literary Agent shares my own submission slips to the agency, evolving stories live from the typewriter. Subject to many edits, these are first drafts in development, writing from where the sun never shines…

cat-on-laptop

3.9 TRILLION STEPS

It was ironic that it found itself unable to fly in the afterlife. In that place where spiritual form should allow it freedom to explore infinity for an eternity, it was grounded.

Looking at her broken wing, she could see her name was Grace and that she was made in China. How could she read? Why had she recognised irony? What was she? Why did she question? Why think? Why consider how she got there?

The afterlife was pre-programmed into every organism manufactured on Earth. Like a coping mechanism, it was the artificiality of human creators in the conditioning of technological beings. The story was encoded in everyone.

Apart from her broken right wing, there was a stump where the left presumably was before whatever she was now. Grace assumed she once had legs too, as she looked down at whatever might have been beyond. What kind of petulant thing had dismembered her? Thankfully, it hadn’t decapitated her. She lay back and her eyes closed, the lids like a projection screen from the space behind.

10: GOTO 20
20: END

The text on the monitor glowed green onto the black of her private binocular screen.

10: TEST
20: IF TEST >10 GOTO 30
30: END…

Grace sat up and her eyes opened involuntarily. Her face felt warm and she instinctively lifted her feathered arm to cover it. Using her wing as a visor to protect from the sun, she could see she was on a beach.

Human construction surrounded her in many homes reassembled on the shoreline by nature, while consumption lapped at her leg stumps as the ocean spewed plastic from its choking host.

In the morning, a parcel had been delivered: A complete model kit in a laminated box, washed up on the beach. All the working parts were protected by polystyrene, the construction materials sealed in polythene bags to keep them afloat.

It was a plastic model tank. A Panzer IV, used by Germany in World War 2. The parts had been dyed a peachy colour in the chemical sea. Grace quickly assembled the main cannon and attached it to her left arm stump. She snapped the undercarriage together and glued it to her torso, discarding her previously rudimentary legs. She was part-wheelchair, with all-terrain caterpillar tracks.

So now you’ve seen the Pink Panzer.”

2019: BREAK
2020: GOSUB 40020

40020: PRINT “I NEED FELLOW WHITE HATS HERE. THE MORE PROGRAMMERS WE HAVE, THE BETTER OUR CHANCE OF CODING A FUTURE. THIS STORY IS ALL OF OURS.”
40030: RETURN

Grace had seen her internal programming, perhaps even the author of the many toy stories.

She sat up and her eyes opened involuntarily. Her face felt warm and she instinctively lifted a pink armoured cannon to protect it. Tiny tears began to rain.



To be continued. Developing…