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The Internet Is Full of Shit

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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 www.Imtotallyawesomeandyoucoudlbetoomaybe.com. 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. 

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Merry Ememess

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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

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Spangle

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Spangle

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. 

Spangle
March 1994 - November 2015

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I Can Make Your Life Better

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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. 

@ememess

goldwoods_screen.jpg

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.

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I Urge You To Consider One Of Our Cocktails

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I Urge You To Consider One Of Our Cocktails

I’m just back from a conference in Rhode Island. You’re obviously not busy or you wouldn’t be messing around on the Internet, so here are rather too many disorganised observations….


Judging by the billboards on the way from the airport, everyone in Providence is involved in personal injury litigation all the time. I was surprised we didn’t crash on the way to the hotel. 

Cab rides would be a lot more fun if the drivers dressed, behaved and spoke like airline pilots. With that regal bearing, and those natty hats. And “Good evening gentleman, my name is Crazy Al and I’ll be your driver for this journey to about fifteen blocks away. We’ll be cruising at an altitude of zero feet, with an estimated journey time of rather longer than you expected because you’re clearly from out of town and so I’m going to take you some bizarre route. So now, sit back and relax as WHY DONTCHA LOOK WHERE THE FUCK YOU’RE GOING, ASSHOLE.”

I love airports. The sense of possibility, new places, far horizons. Even if I’m merely at the beginning of a long schlep back to the other coast that will leave me wan and dehydrated, they always stir my soul. 

Those perky bastards who sit in hotels having breakfast at 6:45. I can be up and dressed by then, but the prospect of a big plate of hot food… Oof. They always seem to be dressed in beige and pastels and look like they post on TripAdvisor about the cost of parking. And they always stare at me through the windows — as I lurch up and down outside the hotel mainlining caffeine and nicotine — as if I’m some low-level wild beast in a nature documentary. 

I cannot resist walking down alleyways. That sketchy-looking guy may be me, so don’t call the cops. But small change is always welcome. Or a Sierra Nevada. 

The concourse where your first flight lands will always have the best coffee and food. You will only discover this when you’ve dutifully trekked all the way to the one from which your connecting flight departs, which will resemble Stalin-era Siberia and sell nothing but sunglasses. 

Hoteliers… We don’t want a huge 1980s-style clock-radio on the night stand. I can’t work it. Especially when I’ve just come back from the bar. Instead, because amongst the non-Amish all such functions are now handled by an iPhone, we want somewhere to charge ours overnight — that doesn’t involve unplugging the bedside light from behind a surprisingly heavy piece of furniture. Also, make your coffee machines easier to understand when we’re drunk. And is this, actually, the right hotel?

And while I’m not on the subject, bear in mind that those with over-40s eyesight probably won’t take reading glasses into the shower, so how about making the labels on the toiletries large enough that we stand only a small chance of washing our hair in hand lotion? 

Also, what are those seventeen extra pillows on the bed for? WHAT ARE THEY FOR?

If someone comes up to you on the street and asks if you know Jesus, do not answer “Yes — personally.” They won’t get it and the resulting conversation will be tedious. 

I’d like to thank Starbucks for always being there for me. May you be in every airport, everywhere. BEFORE security. And after it. And during it. 

And to those who say “Starbucks isn’t coffee”… I’d like to reassure you that it is. Of course it’s not the best, and admittedly you need two or three or seven shots to even taste it, and naturally we all disapprove of multi-nationals for some reason we’d find hard to convincingly articulate, but it’s still coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I loves Peets and the more indie coffeehouses (and support them both intellectually and with regular cash) but just because my vast Americanolattechino hasn’t been under-roasted by some go-getting startup-owning Hipster and then had a mandala laboriously created in the foam by some slacker Hipster who thinks they’re an artist or activist or actor or some other annoying thing beginning with A, doesn’t meant it’s not coffee. And Starbucks has the massive advantage of being right here, while you, Zack’s Coffee Collective and Nonjudgemental Mime Space, are not. 

Dear Cab Driver, the Beastie Boys are a bit shouty for 6:30 am. 

There should be some sort of party when the number of iPhone cases for sale exceeds the number of human beings on the planet. It can’t be long now. 

Also, airplanes  of Earth, you do not “have wifi” if you’re charging $10 a second for it. You “sell wifi”. Bookstores don’t say they “have books”, do they. Safeway does not “have gherkins”. That guy standing on the corner in shadow does not “have drugs”. Well then. 

Anita Ward, if I decide that I wish to ring your bell, I shall go ahead and do so. Stop hassling me about it. 

People who say “I can’t eat airline food’”… What are you — seven years old? Yes there’s some ghastly stuff out there (like the stomach-flaying sausage roll Virgin Atlantic foists upon the unwary, which smells okay coming down the cabin but an hour later will make you feel like the devil is fisting your soul). But generally airplane food is edible. Not great, but we’re not expecting great — you’re on a fucking plane, where facilities are limited, and you’re neither Ferran Adria nor Jeffrey Steingarden — but probably on a par with whatever you’d microwave any given evening at home. Even if it’s not, then act like a grown-up and shovel it down and politely demand a lot more wine. Or buy an enormous pretzel in the airport and nibble that. 

All airports have a roof. Put a smoking area up there with a ten dollar cover charge, and use the money to buy militant non-smokers free vitamin pills and wheat grass shots. Or cake — which was what the very comfortably-built woman who glared at me for smoking in a designated area outside the terminal was stuffing in her face at 8:00am this morning, for crying out loud. I want to live in a world where we can all slowly kill ourselves without making moral judgments about each other’s choice of weapon. 

Last time I encountered a plane this small, I’d made it myself out of paper. I hope this one doesn’t also end up behind the bookcase. 

“The nearest exit may be behind you” could be seen as ominously metaphorical. 

“Can I start you off with some appetisers?”
No. Or maybe yes — but either way I’m on top of the decision. You don’t have to trigger a ‘What — there’s food you can have… before the food? Seriously???’ moment of revelation. 

My waitress on the last night was a mistress of the up-sell, taking me through the drinks list line by line before saying “I urge you to consider one of our cocktails.” I was tempted — almost no-one urges me to drink more heavily these days — but told her firmly that a local beer was what I wanted. Undeterred, she chirped “Wonderful!” and then tried to steer me toward the night’s entree special, hand-crafted from several endangered species and a snip at $741. It was a struggle not to seek out the cheapest thing on the menu or ask for an empty plate, just to mess with her head. Then she kept trying to bring me bread until I had to hide under the table. It was like there was a city-wide ordinance that Everyone Must Have Bread. In the end I told her that baked goods make me cry, and she backed off and went away to try and sell some other people a yacht. 

And, hotel restaurants — slow the fuck down when serving solo diners. We’re there because we’re too zonked on this occasion to wander out and find somewhere groovier and more authentic, and instead just want some downtime in a non-taxing environment. So don’t process us and plonk down the check in forty minutes flat — “I’ll take that whenever you’re ready, no rush” — because all we’ve got to do afterward is slink back to our room and sprawl on the bed burping and staring into space dolefully questioning our life choices and wondering if we shouldn’t be yoga instructors in Hawaii instead. 

Wolfgang Puck looks like he’s made of leather. I want a laptop case made of his face. 

That is all. 

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