The Internet Is Full of Shit


The Internet Is Full of Shit

Time to Read: Far Too Long
Genre: Rampant Misanthropy
Heart-warming Moral: Not Applicable

Christ, it’s nearly February already. 

One of my riskier resolutions for 2016 was to try to be more myself. Now I’ve tried this before and to be honest the reviews were extremely mixed, but it’s struck me that I actually have far too many friends and this might be a way of divesting myself of most, or maybe all, of them. 

So to kick it off in First World style, this morning Medium emailed me with links to "articles" they thought I might find interesting (Medium has clearly never met me). One of them started like this:

“The other day a friend called me and asked me how I’m so awesome. And this made me think, yes, as a service to all personkind, I should share my top forty seven life-hacks for awesomeness: game-changing insights into the kind of transformative fabulousness that enables me to have self-published the Amazon almost-bestseller “I’m Awesome, But In A Cool Way”, as well as recording the “Being Earnestly Awesome” podcast twice a week, and additionally finding time to monetize my awesomeness through my site And where better to share this wisdom than on Medium, which is fucking full of this shit?”

Okay, I didn’t really read that. But I could have done. And so I thought I’d outline (in a listicle, obviously, because that’s the only way we can exchange information these days) nine things about writing on the Internet that really piss me off. 

1. People sitting indoors writing think-pieces about how the holy grail of CREATIVITY requires us to engage with life, look after our health, and most of all spend time outdoors — to be read by people who are sitting indoors and have no intention of going out, ever, unless it’s to buy a soy latte. 

2. People churning out listicles detailing the habits of successful entrepreneurs — in which the habits are ones they’ve clearly developed only after being validated by success (and have plenty of cash to finance said habits) or else have simply fabricated in order to sound wise, evolved and serene. So — you spend ten minutes every morning centering in stillness, do you? That sounds nice. Your family must be a fuck sight better-tempered than mine is at seven a.m.

3. And endless humble-brags where people bang on and on about starting, running, and closing start-ups — all of which seem to have been deeply spiritual experiences in which they’ve learned and grown a very great deal. Not just, like, fucked up and lost a ton of other people’s money. Because we never fail. Every resounding failure is a step on the road to success. Not merely a depressing waste of a year or two. That would never do. You can’t build a brand from that. 

4. And titles that start with FIVE THINGS I LEARNED FROM… all centred around the concerns of over-privileged westerners living in the Bay Area: and no, of course I don’t want to learn about the deep instinctual wisdom of itinerant pencil-sharpeners in Turkmenistan or the tax strategies of boudin-jugglers in rural Manhattan — I’m an over-privileged westerner living in the Bay Area, and happy that way. But can we at least agree that some subjects have been done to death, and find new ones? I’d love to see writing that encouraged us to consider the thing itself, rather than endlessly re-examining our experience of it. And the sorry truth is you haven’t learned anything, my earnest friend. You’re just recycling a non-event for the sake of a three-minute-read (and when did we start needing to be reassured, before we embarked upon reading, that it wouldn’t take too much of our precious time?) in the hope this will reinforce your personal brand, when in fact your piece will be flicked through with near-total disinterest by someone having a poo.

5. And bollocks to personal brands, too. Trying not to be an asshole all the time is all the personal branding I’m capable of. And there's a lot of work still to do on that, clearly. 

6. And for the last ****ing time, there are no apps I HAVE to download, nor brunch venues in Bruges I simply MUST visit, and I don’t give a flying fuck what any of the Kardashians are doing or who they’re temporarily married to or how big their arse is these days, and I never will. And Number 27 in your click-bait parade of Haunted Eggcups, Hotels Made Of Brie, or Celebrities Who’ve Dared to Age And Now Don’t Look As Hot As They Used To will not make me soil myself in astonishment. 

7. And software people, stop turning every to-do app into “an innovative platform for teams to communicate in real time”. We already have one of those. It’s sticking your head out of your pod and shouting “Oi, Bob — are you going to write that fucking report, or what?” And stop game-changing things and stop coming up with terms like “scalable authenticity”, because they make me angry and sad. And stop mis-using the word “simplistic” for the love of god or I will come and batter you to death with a pretzel. And stop putting an extra “ic” on the end of the word “minimalist” — can’t you see the irony in making this word longer? For GOD’S SAKE. 

8. And stop offering me life-hacks. It’s just a modish word for “tips”, and thus nowhere near as hip as you seem to think. And the “life-hacks” that other creatives, parents or human beings have for making their existence less of a train wreck are either painfully obvious or never work for me. Quite a lot of time and effort in recent years suggests that I am who I am and there isn’t a damned thing I can do about it. I am irredeemable. You probably are too. 

9. And while I’m losing friends and not-influencing people...

  • Good Folk of Goodreads: you giving your eBook away is not an “event”, so please stop inviting me because all it does is put a little red dot on my app that takes four tedious clicks to get rid of.
  • People of Twitter, you’re completely wrong about everything, except where your views exactly coincide with mine.
  • People of FaceBook, neither science nor religion is infallible — and greater minds than ours have failed to fathom the eternal mysteries — so shut up and show me more pictures of cats.
  • People of LinkedIn, I care about your new book as little as you care about my book: we are like stray dogs baying into an eternal night of indifference.
  • People of Instagram… actually, you win. Nobody ever says anything on Instagram unless it’s nice.
  • Pinterest is okay, too. It haz pictures of ruins and cabins and art and things and stuff.
  • But finally, denizens of Quora: asking strangers how you can become a millionaire by the age of thirty is the act of a stone cold loser; billionaires work unsurprisingly long hours; your $50 logo is very poor indeed; yes, fucking obviously it's worth going to Paris; and meeting Steve Jobs was cool. There, you're done — now go play outside. 

But see: now I’m doing it, too — telling people to go outside. What’s that about? Maybe everybody who’s outside is forever telling each other to go inside. Maybe we should all swap places. Or stay where we are. Or both. Or perhaps there truly is no inside or outside, only a vast ineffable here-ness and an eternal never-ending moment of Now — a bit like standing in line for the Starbucks in Safeway on a Sunday morning. 

I have no idea what I’m even saying any more. There’s no moral to this piece. I’m full of shit too. My advice is to go find a cosy pub and drink heavily for several days. There, I’ve said it. And while we’re talking about sacks of excrement, stop encouraging Donald Trump. It isn’t funny any more. 


Merry Ememess


Merry Ememess

Some of you may be aware that toward the end of this month — in some parts of the world — a popular festival is celebrated to mark the approximate birthday of a man whose life and teachings have great resonance within a well-known (if not universally-respected) spiritual paradigm. It is not a body of thought to which I personally adhere, but its influence on world history and culture is nonetheless hard to deny. 

Plus, people give each other stuff, which is awesome. 

And also my point. I’m going to ask you to remember for a moment a memorable Christmas gift you received: a thing you’d always secretly wanted, but never thought could be yours — or maybe a small but wonderful surprise that brought a beatific smile to your face — perhaps lost now, but warm in recollection. Got it? Good.

Now put all that out of your mind and imagine giving somebody one of my eBooks instead. 

Why on earth would you do that?

  1. Someone might actually like to receive the book/s. 
  2. Someone might hate them, and so this would be a weirdly passive aggressive way of getting at them during the holiday season, which is always fun and totally in the spirit of things.
  3. We live an increasingly virtual world. So why not give a virtual Christmas stocking? Not only will it be much easier to shove things into at the last minute, all your friends will be dismayed at how you’ve out-zeitgeisted them, and if Christmas isn’t about dismaying your friends then I don’t know what is.
  4. One of the earliest settlers in the Big Sur region was an illiterate prospector called Al Clark. Wild-eyed and shaggy of beard, he spent decades exploring the wilderness around Pico Blanco mountain, cited by local tribes as the birthplace of all creation. In addition to a now-lost and probably legendary silver mine, Clark claimed to have found a deep, hidden cave whose walls were covered in pictograms of long-extinct mammals — a find which predated the discovery of the Lascaux caves in France by some years. Before his death he allegedly used dynamite to block this cave up again, to save it from the depredations of mankind. Curiously, it was later discovered that Clark was far from illiterate, holding a degree from Columbia University, and also that in actuality he was (some claim) the scion of a prominent pretzel-manufacturing dynasty in Vermont. This cave has long been believed to be merely the fabrication of a bearded loon, but recently an expedition from UC Santa Cruz found it, and were amazed to discover not just pictures of animals on its walls but something that was clearly a prehistoric representation of an eBook, with the name “Michael Marshall Smith” on the cover. Next to it was a picture of some people not-buying it, and then an image that can only portray Earth cracking in two and the end of civilisation as we know it. As always one must be cautious about applying the interpretive preconceptions of modern man to the works of antiquity, but on the other hand, why take the risk?

Almost all of those are slightly true, and anyway that’s my best shot. Just go take a look at the damned site, will you? This kind of self-pimping makes my soul shrivel, and I can't afford that to happen. My soul is looking pretty wraith-like and dusty as it is. There's a cowled figure who hangs out on the crossroads downtown who keeps saying he could make use of it, and to honest, I'm tempted to do a deal where he could at least lease it. It’s not like I’m using it anyway. And he pays in Starbucks gift cards.

What's more, I’m marking the season by giving away another short story on the site. This time it’s UNBELIEF, which has a relevance to the time of year — and the cover features the poster for the truly excellent short movie version of it directed by Fabien Martorell. Please note that this tale is not suitable for children, those of a nervous disposition, or anyone who thinks Donald Trump would make a good president — because it contains polysyllabic words, and no pictures. 

No purchase necessary. T&C probably apply but I think I’ve said enough.

Go visit the ****ing site


Paris Happened


Paris Happened

I don’t even know why I’m writing this, because it won’t change anybody’s mind and will doubtless piss some people off. I'm sure what I'm about to say is ill-informed, superficial and naive. 

But for me, one of the most depressing things about the recent events in Paris is this — nothing will change as a result. Nobody’s listening. Everybody is merely using it as evidence that they were correct in their entrenched positions. The event might as well just not have happened. 

All those people died for nothing.

The xenophobes and gun nuts use such atrocities as proof that they’re justified in hating difference, and to demand the right to own things that kill people. Most feel this merely as an instinctual stirring in their anxious guts — others, like the Republican candidates, and appalling egomaniac sociopaths like Ann Coulter, consciously use it promote their pre-existing agendas. This is what terrorists crave — to stoke the fires of inhumanity, to validate haters of all nations, creeds and colours. To increase their power, as, for a brief, horrific moment, the utter cowardice enshrined in murdering innocents and then blowing yourself up — rather than at least having the balls to take the justice that should follow — increased the specious power of the psychopaths. 

The anti-religion crowd will use it to bolster their belief that all religions are evil. They are not. Religions and myth are priceless, irreplaceable sets of cultural and historically-informed metaphor for understanding the human condition on both personal and societal levels. No other interpretive tool comes to close to their sophistication, to the depth that comes from having been road-tested over centuries or millennia — certainly not reductionist science, which doesn’t care and doesn’t have the tools to address these issues, and not sociology nor psychology either. 

For the record, I don’t believe in a “God”. Neither did Nietzsche, but when he famously declared that weary ghost to be dead, what he actually meant was that such metaphors lose their edge and die when rigidified into structures of social control. They become pinned to our histories like butterflies, dead but still-bright remnants ripe for mis-use by the damaged and self-obsessed — whether they claim to be Muslim, Christian or anything else. Ranting against religion is missing the point by a country mile. Religion is not the problem. People are. 

And the majority of humankind, the league of powerless, empathetic sane people? We wring our hands and ask why we can’t all just be nice, and we temporarily change our avatars, and engage in pointless social media skirmishes with assholes, and then go and cook something for dinner. 

We are shaken, depressed, deeply moved… but life goes on.  

The blood soaking into the streets of one of the world’s most glorious cities, blood shed by members of one of the bravest, most admirable nations on the planet, was not spilt because of Islam, or irreconcilable differences between east and west, or a hundred other easy sound bites. It was lost because nobody ever fucking listens to anyone else, nobody ever raises their heads above the comforting parapet of their own scripts and beliefs and trapping histories, and so nothing ever changes. 

The truth is that blood was sprayed across the walls of Paris — and please let's not forget the deaths in Beirut, they're just as real — because some people love it when that happens. That’s the bottom line. They love it. They always have. They always will. 

So what do we do? 

We reject, repudiate and turn our backs. 

Otherwise it’s as if we’re living in an infinite, terrible moment of singularity, in which there are no real events, and nothing that happens ever alters the future. If we want to move forward, to actually change the world, we have to change ourselves first — or better still, choose to consciously celebrate and promote what’s already there. We have to listen to our own quiet voices, the voices that tell us to look after old pets, and to care about the homeless, and be open to other ways of living and loving, and that certain things are right, and others are wrong — and ignore the lunatic howls of the vicious ones that prowl though our societies, whether hiding in alleyways with guns, or talking poisonous bullshit in bars or across Twitter or on television. 

None of this will ever get solved, and anyone who claims otherwise is a liar or naive. This is the way we are, and so this is the kind of thing that will always happen. 

But there are other kinds of thing that will always happen, too. The people who will open their doors to the dispossessed and ill-treated, who immediately organise relief, who risk their lives to save others. That’s us, too. The one thing that’s truly cheered me over the last few days were the photographs of Parisians bloody-mindedly sitting outside bistros in the cold, the night after the attacks, drinking their beers and smoking their cigarettes and flipping the bird at the bad guys, whatever hole they’ve gone back to lurking in. 

That’s what will work in the long run. It’s the only thing that will work, and help us prevail. It comes down to The League of Empathetic Sane People, digging in, keeping on keeping on, living a great big FUCK YOU to the ones whose lustmord will always bring fresh horror into our lives. In every generation they’ll find a new way and a new excuse to kill a bunch of us. So what? There’s a lot more of us, and in the end we’ll win — if we carry on carrying on. 

There is only one true and eternal conflict in the history of humankind: the endless war between the Empathetic Sane People and the other ones. We have to take greater pride in being ourselves, whatever colour we are, whatever religion — or lack of it — we profess. We need to yet more steadfastly ignore everyone who tries to shove us down the dark roads.

We have to reach out to those who seem different and take their hands and find out… yes, they’re different — isn’t that fucking great? And we have to every day, and in every way, turn our backs on the people who wish us to feel otherwise, deny them an audience, carry on our lives as if they don’t exist. Turn them into ghosts, banging their spectral fists against the windows, powerless to join the rest of us outside, looking after each other, living our lives in the sun. 

Otherwise, Paris never happened. 





For the people who knew him, I’m putting this up to mark and witness and mourn the fact that Spangle has moved on.

Paula and I got Spangle and his sister Tilly back in 1994, traveling to Scotland in the quest for a Burmilla, after meeting Jane Johnson’s superb cat Iggy. We were only intending to return with one — and Tilly declared herself ready and willing to come home with us, immediately, right now, look my bag’s already packed — but found ourselves unable to leave without taking the small, grey, very shy one too. 

As kittens they insisted on sleeping together on my lap while I worked. As they grew, this meant I had to learn to sit in a half-lotus for hours at a time. Tilly eventually determined that the radiator was an even better option, especially during long, cold London winters, but Spangle had a much stronger work ethic. For a decade, Monday through Friday, he spent most of each day either on my lap or on the second chair I put beside mine, from nine until five o’clock, at which point he’d get up, stretch, and jump down, as if to say — “Okay, we’re done here. What’s for dinner?” 

For a long time, visitors thought we only had one cat — Tilly, who’d get right up in their faces and make it clear she required being taken seriously. But Spangle gradually relaxed into himself, and when Nate came along, it was Spangle who first accepted that this oddly huge, bald kitten was evidently here to stay, and worth becoming friends with. It was because of Spangle that Nate’s first word was not “mum” or “dad”, but “cat”. 

Spangle would sleep under the covers in bed with me. When I went away, he could pile up his toys on my office chair to await my return. He would lie on Paula on the sofa with his paws tucked under, smiling up at her, looking like an advert for contentment and unconditional love. When he was young, he would leap up from the floor into my arms to be held. He had a strange, soft little miaow, as if trying to express abstract nouns, like “fate” or “autumnal equinox”. He was extremely partial to fish and chips and Peking duck, and firmly convinced that all ironing boards were the agents of Satan. He and Tilly were house cats throughout their lives, but Spangle never once even tried to escape: he was happy in his house, and he made it our home. 

The hardest thing about the decision to move to California five years ago was knowing that our cats were too old for the journey. Tilly was already frail and died a few months after we left, but Spangle steered affably into a new phase, living out his retirement with my father, improving his life every day as he had ours. I’m more grateful than I can say to my dad, and Tes and Eleanor, and my Aunt Sheila, for looking after him, and giving him those extra years of comfort and love. My dad said yesterday "I've known a lot of cats, but he's something else". That about covers it. 

I’m trying not to be miserable because Spangle had a very good, very long and very happy life, and reflected that back into the lives of the humans he knew. I’d like to believe that he and Tilly are snoozing together somewhere warm now, as in the picture below. I know that’s fanciful, but there are times when you’re allowed to be fanciful. This is one of them. And if feeling like this is the cost of having known him, then it's worth it a hundred times over. 

Goodbye, my friend —
You were the best cat. 

March 1994 - November 2015


I Can Make Your Life Better


I Can Make Your Life Better

Actually, I probably can’t… unless you have unusually specific needs. But that’s okay, because a lot of other people can. In about ten minutes. 

Yesterday in a fit of boredom I read an article of about that length over on Medium, detailing how some guy had “rebooted his life”. I’ve seen the chap’s name around and gather that he’s pretty Famous On The Interwebs and possibly elsewhere. The piece was well-written and engaging and studiously self-effacing and hit all the right affirmative notes — but basically boiled down to "exercise more, and drink less beer”, and thus was clearly the babbling of a madman.

And it made me realize, again, that I don’t blog as often as I’m supposed to. I should blog more. I'm not sure why I should, actually, except that we're all encouraged toward this form of expression — to regularly produce earnest little think-pieces positioning ourselves as battle-hardened but clear-eyed citizens of the brave new worlds of self-empowerment and productivity, seasoning our intellectual savvy with the freewheeling imagination of a Chagall and the tart piquancy of a nonpareil caper. 

This is not one of those pieces. 

Words are not my friend right now, but pictures are still spilling out. So rather than a wise ten-minute-read along the lines of "I've by-God got the measure of the world and am passing on the pearls, oh and by the way, here are links to my book, product or service”, instead here are some recent autumnal images cropped to the ratio of an iPhone lock or home screen. So you could use them for that, if you wanted. 

They’ll probably work on Samsungs too — but first I urge you to look deep inside and ask yourself what entrapping script is making it so hard for you to resist the warm embrace of our Cupertino overlords. 

The pictures aren't super high res but then neither is life most days. No, I have no idea what I mean by that either. 

Enjoy. Or not. I’m off to try exercising less, while drinking more beer.  

I’ll let you know how it goes. 



To use, click and hold on an image and say yes, you want to save it. That's on a phone. 

There's a crapload more on my Insta.