The Sundays

Douglas Adams called it the long, dark teatime of the soul. I do a lot of work on myself to enjoy Sundays, mostly in the form of actual work. Today it's some legalese and another spelling check. I went for a run in the very early a.m., weaving between kids on their way home and drunks doing the chicken walk, one clutching the side of his face as blood trickled down his elbow. (Stepping between pools of vomit in London is a fitness exercise all in itself.) And shortly I'll get into the tiny, teeny revisions: spell check, some crabbed sentences and tracking down a scene that continues to appear twice, like a ghost in a photograph.

The NYT has a great article on Laurie Anderson's Homeland album. Her working method now features some guy named Lou Reed:
When Ms. Anderson finally began assembling the album, she faced an overwhelming amount of data. "I was staring at like a million sound files, trying to fit together pieces from different songs, different years," she said. "I thought I was going to lose my mind. I was going to give up, and I was kind of crying about it every day. Lou got a little sick of hearing this. So he finally said, "Listen, I'm going to sit with you until you finish it.' " And Mr. Reed did, sitting on the studio couch and helping her make ruthless, don't-look-back decisions.
Commentators are annoyed by NYT commentator David Brooks' comments on the Rolling Stone article on General McChrystal. Brooks has interpreted the magazine's reporting of the Afghanistan commander's statements as a symptom of a 'culture of exposure':
By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority... the exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important.
I listen to Brooks and fellow columnist Mark Shields' PBS broadcast every Saturday and always enjoy it. I doubt I'd agree with any of Brooks' politics (he leans towards the neocon) but I'm always interested in what he says. Ditto Rolling Stone, the ultimate wannabee magazine: even its writers who were there write as if they weren't and desperately wish they had been.

The new kid

On Friday I folded and joined the 21st century. My latest compact camera is a Canon Ixus 100 15, which is a model or two shy of the latest available, and it's a honey - very small, not too many features and a simple interface.

Behind the Canon are the two 35mm compacts I've been travelling with - my beloved Olympus XA and my Rollei 35T, which is a more complex relationship. The Rollei is really a small (imitation) Leica, with a louder, less satisfying shutter but it's too bulky to carry around conveniently, especially with the current fashion for narrow jeans and slim jackets. The XA's a honey: fully auto, smoother around the edges, lovely lens, quiet, thumb wheel film advance. Back home in storage are my Minox 35GT and my Olympus Pen half-frame (along with my Nikon FE). The Pen has the best lens of the four compacts and its rudimentary functions (all manual, no meter, no rangefinder) have forced me to take some great photos: set the exposure according to the grid that used to feature on the inside of a 35mm film packet; set the distance - 6' on the click wheel, easily estimated on the basis of your height; and get in close, paying attention to the light and so on. The shutter is very quiet and its dinky appearance threatens no-one. So, a great portrait camera.

The Minox compact is less fun to use, more fiddly, ugly feel to the shutter, and a tricky lens than can catch the light and distort images. But because it's lighter and smaller I found myself using it more often. This demonstrates another rule: the best camera is the one that you have on you. Which is why I now take so many photos on my phone - and even that's set at low res. (I used it to take the blurry pic above.) Now sharing images has become more of a priority, so I've gone digital. Hello connector cords, battery charging, etc.

Old habits die hard. I'm shooting using the Canon's optical viewfinder with the viewer turned off because I like the accidents of parallax and I don't want to review images while I'm taking them - although nowadays, obviously, the camera is the viewer for most people. The Canon has a 3x optical zoom but I never use it. I am a firm believer in Werner Herzog's adage that if you want to get close, then get close. I switched off the flash - good for parties, but after years of shooting film it seems wrong to use flash for fill during anything approaching daylight. And I racked down the image default from 8mb to 2mb, which gives me a staggering 7,000-odd image capacity on the 4 gig SD card, a faster response. I don't plan to ever print images from this camera - but I'm sure that will change. At full resolution the depth of detail is amazing, and I'm enjoying the different feel of digital. I like it in movies, so it's time to enjoy it in stills.

Because I'm in the UK, I will probably be reduced to nerdily carrying around a copy of my rights. The authorities here are hysterical about public photography which has become the new excuse for stopping people and collecting data that will never be analysed or useful. When I was living in East London around the City I would see the same scene four or five times a day: a skinny art student armed with an antique 35mm SLR or a non-English speaking tourist with a video cam standing patiently as a policeman, a trainee policeman or a community policeman took a note of their "details." People do have the right to snap things that are in plain view: buildings, monuments, clouds in the sky. From official UK police statement:
Stop and Search

Section 44 gives officers no specific powers in relation to photography and there is no provision in law for the confiscation of equipment or the destruction of images, either digital or on film.

On the rare occasion where an officer suspects that an individual is taking photographs as part of target reconnaissance for terrorist purposes, then they should be treated as a terrorist suspect and dealt with under Section 43 of the Act. This would ensure that the legal power exists to seize equipment and recover images taken. Section 58A Counter Terrorism Act 2008 provides powers to cover instances where photographs are being taken of police officers who are, or who have been, employed at the front line of counter terrorism operations.

These scenarios will be exceptionally rare events and do not cover instances of photography by rail enthusiasts, tourists or the media.
However the reality at street level is different. Take photos and you will be stopped and asked patronising questions, usually by someone new to the uniform. (Update: just like this...)


Ms Fing

A notebook page from Electric. I was sitting up in bed late one night writing the novel ("lemonade" was later changed to "soda") and paused to sketch the cat ignoring me from the corner of the bed. She liked to perch there so she could be as far away from me as possible while I was writing. This only made me like her more.

Alex Kasman from the Department of Mathematics at the College of Charleston in South Carolina has reviewed Electric as part of MathFiction, a blog in which he collects information about significant references to mathematics in fiction. Even if he hadn't reviewed my novel I would still consider this approach to literature to be a very cool idea: a different way of slicing the data.



Nothing in something particular

So try not to see something in particular; try not to achieve anything special. You already have everything in your own pure quality. If you understand this fact, there is no fear. There may be some difficulty, of course, but there is no fear.
-- Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Weatherhill, 1970)

The Manuscript I Never Finish

'You look different,' she said.
'But I still look like me, right?'
'Kind of.' She tilted her head. 'It’s remarkable, actually, how much difference it makes. You look like you, but you’re not you. You know?'
'I don’t like that idea.'
'It’s only temporary,' she said. 'You’ll be back to your old self soon enough.'
Since finishing my last ms I've gone back to the Manuscript I Never Finish. In the old days this would have been a hairy box of notes and papers but now it's a hairy box of notes and papers and many, many computer files, all carefully dated. The more experimental a work becomes, the more you fall back on traditional methods to keep track of the parts.

I think a lot of novelists have a work they keep coming back to. This one is hard to catch because it's quite light, but as I work on it, it becomes darker and I have to pull back to recapture that original "feel." Normally I don't worry about tone because tone seems naturally born of structure and story, like tin cans tied to the car's bumper. But this one goes back and forth, and it doesn't help that there's a major surreal element that I lose track of.

Pray that I never finish it. Possibly I already have and I just like going back to the narrative between novels and shoving bits of it around to see what happens. I like the madness of this. Al Pacino starred in a film called The Local Stigmatic that famously never seemed to be finished - a quick click on imbd.com tells me that it's now out on DVD. Stanley Kubrick was always working on Napoleon. I envy people who have the confidence that the world will wait for them no matter how long they take. I've never had believed that. I'm outcome oriented so something that never comes to an end is a meditation.


James James

Obligatory mention of Bloomsday. The LA Times is all over it, Los Angeles being the home of Shakespeare. I find it all a bit... easy. But it gets a writer talked about and turns people onto Joyce, so that's a good thing.

Fuck ebooks: I want to write fiction for the Allosphere:
...a house-sized ball of data viz at that allows researchers to literally get inside their information. Choice AlloSphere projects so far have included examinations of how hydrogen atoms bond together and a giant model of the brain derived from fMRI scans. Up to 30 people can fit on the catwalk, and they get silly-looking glasses and wireless joysticks to mess around with the streaming imagery. Dozens of speakers play sound into the echo-free chamber. The result is psychedelia with research applications.
Doug Liman's new film might be based on the Hiroshi Sakurazaka novel All You Need Is Kill. I don't know if that's Sakurazaka's or the translator's title but shame on the publishing bodysnatchers who have revived the Bond novels for not thinking of it first. The previous post-Fleming Bond novel was called Devil May Care, which sounds like the crawl for a Sex and The City movie.


Eating about books

Over at Big Other Ryan W. Bradley has compiled a list of books to read over lunch. I can't think of how many books I've enjoyed over meals either at my desk or in pizza houses or sushi bars. Currently I'm re-reading Bob Woodward's histories of the Bush administration but before that it was Patricia Highsmith and before that a bunch of random pulp and literary titles purchased from the Oxfam shop for not very much money.

(Secondhand books are still technically illegal, right? You're not allowed to resell them. I wonder if that complaint will ever resurface or go the way of home taping, etc. I'm still careful to not purchase books by authors who are either living or living very well - say, anyone other than a best seller.)

So as a result my book collection is an index of what I was eating or drinking at the time. The stains on the pages are less varied in London than they were in Auckland. They work as a kind of index: there are many dabs Thai curry in the last chapters of Woodward's Plan of Attack. The book is a grim tale of political blandishments and peppered with ironies, such as this one from the hours leading up to the war on Iraq:
When [Bush speechwriter Michael] Gerson was finished with his corrections, he joined the president and the others, who were about 10 minutes into the Mel Gibson film Conspiracy Theory. Bush loudly summarized the plot, and during the rest of the movie made fun of it as fairly predictable.
I am the only person in the world who has not read Kitchen Confidential but I like Anthony Bourdain: if you want to read something good about food, here's his dining out diary for a few days. Suggest you eat before reading it. I've never been comfortable in expensive restaurants, a good thing given my choice of profession. Restaurants are for publishers and producers, or publishers and producers who are making nice.


Just like I always imagined it

Something crabby and middle-aged is happening to Nick Denton's mini-publishing franchise but they're still good for something: Mad Men's Betty Draper on the morning after, as captured by Gawker.



This is a lovely bit of fun. Courtesy of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York blog: a quest to track down the real site and inspiration for Edward Hopper's Nighthawks:
As the truth becomes clearer, I am finding it difficult to bear this idea that, outside of Hopper's imagination, there was no Nighthawks diner at all.
Says the Art Institute of Chicago catalogue:
Edward Hopper said that Nighthawks was inspired by "a restaurant on New York's Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet," but the image, with its carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative, has a timeless quality that transcends its particular locale... Fluorescent lights had just come into use in the early 1940s, and the all-night diner emits an eerie glow, like a beacon... Hopper eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seamless wedge of glass. The four anonymous and uncommunicative night owls seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another.
Writes Greg Cook in Visions of Isolation:
At the height of Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, Hopper seemed an anachronism, but today he’s clearly part of the American Scene realism that includes documentary photography by Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, and Stephen Shore. And he comes into focus as godfather to the staged photos of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, and Gregory Crewdson... In Edward Hopper’s world, everyone is lost in an unending rut of office overtime, rattling El trains, cheap fluorescent diners, and bad dates. Everything has fallen tensely quiet. And this anxious, itchy mood haunts even the urban landscapes — perhaps half his work — in which the only person around is you, the viewer. Here every man is an island...Women are the stars, usually in tight outfits or scantily clad, energizing canvases with their sexuality, their vulnerability, their unattainableness. Like the woman in the 1944 Morning in City, they appear alone, exhausted and sad, hardened by life, staring out the open windows of cheap hotel rooms.
What's not to like? It also interests me that the characters in the painting are night hawks - predators - as opposed to night owls. The title is a contemporary colloquialism but the longer I stare at the painting the more the characters resemble perched birds - bright parrots in an aviary, or even vultures.


Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention

  1. Cloverfield on TV. Works so much better on the small screen. The child actors are difficult to distinguish - Lizzie Caplan is the only one with any real personality.
  2. Yelling at the phone.
  3. Yelling at email.
  4. Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Not working yet (see pts 2-3). The chapter on polishing a tile is especially good.
  5. Nona Hendryx, Nona. Still hard to get past 'Transformation' which still ranks as the best I'll Just Listen To That One More Time track ever.
  6. Yelling at London.
  7. For the first time ever being attracted to the idea of a smart phone, the iPhone 4. Considering buying one and yelling at that as having phone and email in same device would halve yelling time req'd.
  8. Thinking that honestly this is the last time I'm doing anyone a favour ever again.
  9. Nevertheless have done two massive favours. Karma Deficit: 2.
  10. How is it possible to make a tile into a jewel? Or even, a Marlena Diamond?
  11. A: It isn't.
  12. I relate to Marlena because she is bored, knows no-one at the party, saves someone and then dies.
  13. I miss Paul, even for the emails we don't send to each other.
  14. I hate poetry, or rather don't understand it. Hence the numbers.
  15. 116 is a table number.
  16. One one eight seven at Unterwasser.
  17. And it's raining.
  18. As a background I also recommend Alan Watts, The Way of Zen. In print since 1957 = in print now.
  19. I'm working on some short stories.
  20. The short stories are turning into a novel.
  21. I am polishing a tile.


What's on the slab

The headlines about Richard O'Brien's difficulties in moving to New Zealand contrast with the sporting community's efforts to bring back Sonny Bill. O'Brien's problems are doubtless more to do with the horror (ho ho) of immigration regulations that the nation's attitude to art and culture but, still: I do wonder.

I've seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show once, on Friday night in Avondale in 1978. Once is the exact number of times anyone needs to see it because after a single viewing you can remember every line. The pastiche of horror movies and American rock and roll is so bang on the entire hippocampus lights up in recognition.

To make the show O'Brien and collaborator Jim Sharman plundered American culture. The result is somehow very NZ/Australia, I think because the (mostly British stage) cast are pretending to be American as only a foreigner who worships that culture can. This is one way in which art moves forward: by a series of bald-faced thefts and imitations driven by an inner longing that lifts itself above mere reversioning. It's what I call 12-bar Art, after 12-bar Blues, because it follows exactly the same rhythm as everything before it while at the same time standing out as distinct in itself. Rocky Horror's personality lies in its texture and gradations. It made a jump to the left.


Italian ham

Martin Booth's A Very Private Gentleman was disappointing because it's filled with Authentic Italian Detail. Readers love that sort of thing but to me it renders the authorial voice fussy and uptight. The novel ostensibly concerns a man who makes rifles for assassins but is mostly chatter about prosciutto and muscato and Dante and... oh, fuck, it goes on. The effect is like Tim Gunn doing The Day of The Jackal. It even features a homage / shot by shot copy of the famous "adjusting the sights" target sequence from the 1973 movie. 270pp but the story starts around p.145, or you can wait for the movie, which sounds very post-Bourne.

I love a good thriller and can name about five: the rest are so much dreck. Why (as my late friend Paul Reynolds was fond of saying) should the devil have all the best tunes? I started Hennel Mankell before abandoning it and it's why I've yet to attempt Stieg Larsson. I don't deny readers their fun but it frustrates me to read a book that would come to life if the authors would only shut up.

On page 244 of A Very Private Gentlemen the protagonist orders a grapefruit juice: 'Una spremuta.' Apparently this is risky in Italy because the word sounds similar to the slang for 'blow job.' I learned this from the adventure of an art historian who while travelling in Florence decided to order a grapefruit juice very loudly in a busy street cafe. The waiter's eyebrow went up and the patrons fell silent just long enough for the realisation of what he'd said to sink in, and then everyone exploded.



The Avengers creator Brian Clemens is speaking at a special BFI screening of 'A Touch of Brimstone' in July. I managed to book over the internet in spite of the internet. The infamous S&M episode was banned in the US but is considered rocking good fun in the UK. The Hellfire Club, Emma Peel waving a snake around, the guy who played Jason King: sometimes London gets it right.

At the contrasting end of the personal liberty spectrum the UK government has passed the Digital Economy Act, which will allow copyright holders to trace and disconnect file-sharers and fuck off everybody else. Commentators are concerned about privacy:
Once the state decides that it has a duty to police the internet to maximise the profits of a few entertainment companies (no matter what the public expense), it sets itself on a path of ever-more-restrictive measures.
Which is true, but ever-more-restrictive is how they like it (e.g. Emma, above). Users concerned about increasing levels of government control may be reassured by the UK's built-in checks and balances system of officials who lose lap tops, a regular occurrence which has nothing whatsoever to do with also being part of the biggest drinking culture on the planet. The government's "electronic eavesdropping center" recently admitted losing 35 computers containing sensitive information:
A GCHQ spokesperson today said there was no evidence that any of the material on the laptops had "got into wrong hands", but admitted: "Given the state of the records, there is no way of confirming that".
Get some sleep, Pam - you're looking tired.