Home of silent propaganda

COMMENT | SATIRE

propaganda-e1498947894270The Department for Work and Pensions’ definition of each benefits claim

A 47-year-old, able-bodied, straight white British man, has begun a campaign against himself, because what he stands for is different to what his appearance represents. With diagnoses of PTSD, depression, anxiety and personality disorders, the man’s protest aims to highlight invisible disabilities to those who make fitness-for-work assessments in benefit claims.

Lee Verstak (not his real name), a little-read left-wing writer, explained: “Everyone thought I was jumping on bandwagons, supporting everything I’m not: BAME, LGBT, and everyone else who’s discriminated against. I tried inventing minorities, transcending them even. But when I made a case for pan-sexuality being someone who understands, even if they don’t take part, people got confused. How are you supposed to participate in a debate if you try to think for everyone?

“So to prove everyone wrong, I’ve started this protest against me doing that sort of thing. I’ve always been capable of actually walking a short distance, but I never enjoyed doing it anyway, because of my paranoia and anxiety.

I handed out some leaflets locally, with me on them, telling people what I was doing. Before long, people stopped taking them, and eventually ignored me altogether, saying I should be in a home or something. So I sent myself home.

I found out that technically, you can arrest yourself, in a logical extension of the powers of citizens arrest available to us all, to prevent a further breach of myself. I’d encourage others to do this, to help the system so that we may be more easily dealt with and ignored.

I’ve told the authorities where I’m holding myself, but even the departments for indifference and ignorance can’t help, so I’m just sweating it out. I’m on strike from being me, sort of like a hunger strike, but without anyone to force feed me. I might have wasted away in a few months: Problem solved.

Meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how others see you. For me, it’s going well: I fucking hate myself. Hopefully I’ll get through it, like I did the last two tribunals, and I’ll feel even more dehumanised and with an even lower opinion of myself.

“Yeah, it’s quite life-affirming really. Then I might write a book or something, about finding a way out when life traps you: Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit: how do you get out? Well, you could stop imagining, or you could use your imagination.”

My critically-acclaimed, Douglas Adams tribute sci-fi novel is also now an eBook. My latest anthology is available in paperback.

 

Where the reject robots work

FICTION

This was a flash fiction story to fill some column inches, so I used the word limit (800) to experiment, play, but didn’t throw this one away. It’s a simple device, of using pre-emoji ASCCI emoticons to convey facial expressions (:-)) (on the page, and on most screens), and it uses hashtags (but sans octothorpe) for AiThinkingAloud, in a place where thinking is allowed.

It’s the story of a defective sentient android, about inclusivity, and using what others may see as a flaw to make a difference to someone else. And it’s about better understanding others, and changing behaviour…

Steam Hell SinkiSteam Hell Sinki, Helsinki Finland

ZEIGARNIK’S KITCHEN

People are better when remembering the actions they didn’t complete. Every action has potential energy, which can torture its creator when stored. Release is the metaphorical pressure cooker letting off steam, a camel’s broken back, or a reject pink robot with Tourette’s.

Frenchie was made in China, and one of the Pink Ladies’ range of android personal assistants. Designed as helpers for the aged, vulnerable and lonely, the Pink Ladies could help around the home, both practically and intellectually.

Frenchie’s AI had objected to gender labelling, when “she” realised she lacked genitals, and the Tourette Syndrome diagnosis was made: “Artificial fucking alignment is what it is. Fuck.

Now waiting tables in Infana Kolonia (Esperanto for “Infant colony”), Frenchie approached a couple seated in a booth.

“Good evening, how may I,” she twitched her neck, “Fuck you!”, and her pink LED eyes blinked from her tilted head: (;-/), a closed eye with the hint of pink tears behind her spectacles, held together with pink Elastoplast. “Drinks?” she asked, pushing her glasses up, “Fuck it!” She fumbled with her order pad. “For you sir? Combover!” (8-|)

“I’ll have a whisky please, a double, on the rocks.”

“Okay, number 80. And madam? PleaseBeCarefulWhenYouGetHome.(8-/)

“Sorry?”

“Sorry, it just comes out. BadCardigan. To drink?” (8-))

“Should you be working here?”

“Who’s the judge?” (8-/)

“Pardon?”

“Sorry madam, management algorithms. To drink? Cyanide?(8-))

“Er, number…” the lady looked over the menu, “…number 33.”

“Very well. I’ll be back with your drinks. HopeYouDrown” (8-))

Frenchie shuffled towards the bar, then turned and trundled back.

“Can I take your order sir, madam?” (8-|)

“But we just ordered drinks,” the man replied.

“For food?” Frenchie looked at her notepad. (B-))

“I’ll have the soup,” the man said.

“Me too,” the lady concurred.

“Very well,” Frenchie jotted on her pad, “two soups.” (8-)) Then she turned and walked back to the bar, “One sociopath, and one supplicant…”

She stumbled through the double doors to the kitchen, blowing the misty oil away as she wiped her lenses. (8-O)

“Frenchie!” Jade looked down. His golden smile extended through his body in Frenchie’s pink, plastered eyes. To her AI, he was raw elements. She blinked up at him through her misted tortoiseshell windows. (q-/) “Are you keeping your inner self in out there, Frenchie?”

Frenchie cleared her throat, and wondered why she did that. (b-( ) “Erm,” she started, “no. Fuck it!”

Splendid behaviour,” Jade smiled. “Be yourself out there, my person. That’s why people come here, to meet people. Anyone don’t like that, they not welcome.”

Au, 79,’ Frankie thought. “Drinks, and soups. Fuck! Yes, thank you. Parp!” (8-))

Extractor fans in the roof began sucking the old oil from the kitchen, as the machine below started belching lunch. Cogs and gears clunked, cookware clattered, and polished brass organ pipes parped, like a living machine, a visiting craft playing a five-tone melody. Pink Ladies rushed, bumped into things (and each other), cursed, and dropped utensils (and food).

Frenchie’s friend Sandy wandered from the spiced steam, carrying a tray, a subdued yellow droid, looking at her feet as she bumped heads with her friend. She looked up at Frenchie, “For you?” (:-( )

“No, for customers. Arses!” (8-/)

“Okay. Tell world hi. Bye.” (:-( )

Frenchie wafted into the bar in a pink puff of steam, leaving the brass and wind orchestra in the kitchen. The room was perfumed by vapers – people making vapours – first jasmine, then the seaside, and cannabis. She wondered why she thought about all this with memories.

“Your order, sir, madam.” (B-/)

“Thank you,” the cardigan said. “What’s your name?”

“Frenchie?” (|-/)

“Thanks Frenchie.”

“Welcome…” (P-]) ‘I found a new way to smile (:-))’

Frenchie repeated to herself, as she fumbled through the vapers, ‘A new way to smile, (:-)), where did that come from? (:-/)’

“Sandy,” she called, as she carried her tray through the pipes and cauldrons, “Look.” Sandy looked at her feet. “No,” Frenchie said, “you need to look up. I found a new way to smile. All I have to do is tilt my head, see?” (:-D)

“Why did you take your glasses off?” (:-[ )

“Because they were put there by someone else. I always knew I’d see more without them. And besides, they can fall off my head when I tilt it to one side.” (:-D)

“And that’s funny?” (:-/)

“Only if you look at it a certain way.” (8-D) “Wanna go home?”

“Okay.” (:-))

© Steve Laker, 2017.

The clacking keys in my head

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Image from Sheila Glazov, Personality Expert

I’ve sectioned myself. That is to say, I’ve successfully compartmentalised my brain into my constituent personalities. There are three things I’ve learned to like about what goes on inside my head: My mind. Talking to oneself is perhaps a sign of madness. It may be true that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. My IQ has been measured at 147, so go figure.

I figured out that what was holding me back was the merging of a passion into a profession. I love to write; to create. It’s become clear that I can make money from something I’m good at. Writing has been my life for a while now and although I enjoyed the freelance stuff, I needed a separator between work and pleasure writing. That said, the paid stuff is great fun when it’s so varied.

As a freelancer, I get to choose what I take on from the various agencies and my main regular client is certainly fun to work with. They’re a media company in Eastern Europe and they have a constant need for blog entries and articles for their own clients. Just today I’ve written copy about mobile phones in the near future; and Facebook / cafe culture. The work is varied, interesting and fun. I get to choose how much I do, when I do it and how long for. With this particular client, I can message them through an app and let them know my availability for the next day, then arrive at my desk in the morning and have work waiting. With a coffee and doughnut next to the laptop, I’m a contented writer. If I have the odd bit of time to spare, I can fire off a message and get an assignment by return. And it pays.

It took a while for me to accept that I’m a writer, simply because it’s what I’ve always wanted to be, now that I know. It just took some time to work that out. I had to have arrived at the point I did where I had nothing, in order to be able to start from scratch: That’s my life, summed up. The biggest personal hurdle though, was realising that I’m good at what I do, because it’s all happened relatively suddenly. But having won prizes, been published and now working as a writer for hire and gaining business, I feel fully qualified to introduce myself as what I am: A professional writer.

I can’t share any of the writing I do for my clients because I’m contractually forbidden: I’m paid to write for them and what’s published is what “they” wrote. With permission from individual clients though, I can use pieces from my growing portfolio to send to other prospective clients and demonstrate what I do. I really am in business and I love it.

My pseudonym ghost writer (me) is about 1000 words into the next short story to be published under my name, with a final working title of “Cardboard sky”:

…Like mankind, George could only imagine. He could only wonder at the sky, or lie in bed and dream of what was beyond the ceiling. Humans travelling to other stars was one lifetime away. It was only a matter of generations before the dream could be anyone’s reality. George wanted to be anyone…

For the second time in as many years, last week I proved to a judge that my mental health adversely affects my life. Thus I am recognised as being disabled, through alcohol dependence, PTSD, depression and anxiety, and entitled to the relevant benefit payments. So although the plastic police will never leave it, that’s the end of the conversation as far as I’m concerned.

The system may section me one day but for now, it pays the bills and allows me to earn a little with the therapy of prose, narrative and making dreams come true.

In a manner of walking

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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I still have to remind myself sometimes that I’m a writer. Not because I’m unsure of whether I can write or not: I can; I’ve won an award, I’m published and I occasionally get paid a pittance for it. Often I have to remind myself as a defence mechanism; for self-assurance. Life would sometimes be easier if those with a tendency to judge asked more questions outside of themselves. It’s just a deeper level of thinking about everything.

The observation is equally valid when applied to some in authority as it is to most of those who are not. If many of the latter talked to me and asked me direct questions, I’d give them straight answers. Instead, they answer their own questions and form judgements. They’re the plastic police and defective detectives who have been the bane of my life for the last three years. I find ignorance perverse, rude, sad and pitiful. That’s their problem. Personally, I’m more inclusive. I try to find the good in people, however hard it might be to fathom. I suppose I just think that little bit more: That’s my problem.

It’ll happen again this coming weekend, when curtains twitch on all sides of my parents’ house, as I arrive with a hold-all of clothing and belongings. Truth is, I’m on a break, with my children. The studio simply isn’t big enough to host the kids. The chattering classes will decide – without making enquiries – that I’ve drunk myself out of another home and I’m turning up destitute. They’ll congratulate themselves, feel superior and go off to chatter. Short of ramming my arm down their throats and pulling their entrails out, I have no way of stopping them. And so they will make up their own small minds: Not my problem. What am I to do? Go round to everyone’s house and explain why we’re there? Show them that the hold-all contains a dismembered body, which I’ll inter in my parents’ garden? Maybe I’m a little paranoid and insecure; That’s part of my illness. But I’m a writer now.

Sometimes I’d like the self-opinionated to spend a typical day with me, just as I would those who determine my future through unfairly weighted health assessments as I fight to regain my PIP entitlement. On the basis of any one day, they’d see someone who is constantly distracted and unable to concentrate, and who then finds it difficult to sleep because I can’t switch my brain off. They might witness the odd moment when I manage to free myself of all distractions and actually write something. They may witness the beginning of a story, as I kill them slowly: I’m a writer.

But then, they might find me on a good day. On a good day, I might write a new story; a chapter of a book; or both and more. No day is the same and the parts which make up the days can be as unpredictable as the days themselves.

Depression scares people: It’s fear of the unknown and it’s just as bad for the sufferers as it is the ignorant and other, more well-meaning observers. Others must find it far more frustrating than me because they’re not able to be as vocal as I am. Depression is an illness; a disability, just as debilitating sometimes as a physical impairment. If more people spoke to those who have mental health issues, perhaps they wouldn’t be so misunderstood.

Other depressives might want to swap brains with someone else. Ours are difficult minds to live in but our warped worlds can be quite fun. I enjoy exploring mine and reporting on what I find in that strange place.

I’m not alone; Obviously in depression, but as a writer as well. I’ve read the memoirs and musings of many writers whom I look up to and they’re remarkably similar to me, albeit more successful. Should anyone care to undertake the research, you might be surprised at how many writers have mental health issues and it’s because of those issues that many are writers. The Guardian runs a weekly column, “My working day”, in which a well-known writer describes their day of writing, or not writing a lot of the time. It is a source of constant amusement and comfort, to see these people describing a day which could just as easily be one from my life.

Other writers have told how they spend most of their day being distracted, both with non-writing things and the minutiae of things which they’re trying to write. They’ve told of how they can write 10,000 words some days and nothing at all for a week; then of those 10,000 words ending up in the bin. They write of the frustration they feel when the block sets in and how they’ve been tempted to give it all up and go back to some sort of “proper” job; Then concluded that they would probably last less than a day if they had to be accountable to someone else. They speak of how equally enlightening and frustrating one can be as one’s own boss. They worry that time may run out – in any given day, or in life – before they’ve converted all of their thoughts and ideas into narrative, prose and dialogue. There is much internal turmoil and of all the arts, writing pays the least in monetary and recognition terms. None of those writers would want to do anything different though and they cannot be controlled, least of all by themselves. I’m in good company and doing the only job I’ve ever wanted to do: That of a freelance writer.

People may point an invisible finger; I raise one back. They may speak under their breath; I’ll say what I think, and probably offend someone. As one famous writer once observed, “I am unemployable and as such, I am a writer.”

As I once noted: If someone (metaphorically) shits in your shoes, first take off your socks. Then put your shoes back on and walk to your detractor’s house. Upon arrival, be polite; Remember your manners: Remove your shoes before (figuratively) walking into their home.

There was a time when I might have forgotten the metaphorical and figurative. Now I’m a writer.

For me, most days are good now. Because no matter how bad the day might seem, on reflection there will always be some good to be found. I’ve written around 50,000 words of one book over the last few months but I’ve hit a snag: My heart is elsewhere, in the most recent short stories I’ve been writing. So I’ve done as some of my more famous peers have done: I’ve effectively binned 16 chapters of a book I was writing. Not permanently: I’ll go back to it, when my mind is clearer. For now, I’m writing a new book, which has sprung from those recent shorts: Cyrus Song:

“…I was an extrovert on paper: I could be anything in the words which spilled from my typewriter. If anyone were to read those words, they might find me…”

The original short story is still on this blog and the companion, The Cyrus Choir will be in this weekend’s Schlock! webzine, hopefully garnering some interest in the book.

My protagonist is a writer who can talk to the animals.

I’m a writer now. Why would I want to speak to those who can’t pose questions directly, when I can talk with the animals?

“There is always something you can succeed at. Where there is life, there is hope” (Stephen Hawking).