Click Click Click

I was at a thing recently where four very good writers were reading and talking about their process a bit. They touched briefly on what things are like when they are not actively writing. They mentioned stuff like walks in the woods and Douglas-Adams-style long baths and some of them even subtly alluded to some vague sense of guilt and unease that accompanies the non writing times.

I tried to make a point in the Q & A at the end. The point was about how the periods of not writing are important to a writer. I just don’t think I did it terribly well. I wanted to give it another quick bash, if that’s all right. So that’s what this is. 

What I was trying to say is that I often find the times when I’m not physically writing to be very valuable and important to the writing process. Of course, I can only speak for myself and I may not be the best advert for any process I may have adopted over the years but there you are. You take these things as helpful or you leave them. You throw them at the wall and keep whatever sticks, for interior decoration. 

Let me rattle on for a moment and see where I get to. I think that’s best.

The things I am planning to write about are like planes arriving at an airport. They are stacked up back over the cloudy horizon. Some are clearly planes, with sunlight glinting off the wings and all that shit. Others, further back, are a mere dot in the sky with perhaps just an occasional flashing light. The closest one is right there, it’s about to touch down and it’s huge and you can see little faces looking out of the windows and it’s slightly off course and one wheel may touch the grass as it lands and Oh Shit!

Sorry, that nearest one is a terror.

The point is more about those dots back there in the sky. The arrivals board may have a clear indication of when they will all land and when their baggage will be delivered onto the carousel (unless it’s hand luggage) (enough, already, get on with it). It’s just that they may get diverted, they may get sent around the skies again. Perhaps the undercarriage didn’t come down quite as expected. Perhaps it has to burn off a bit more excess fuel before it’s ready to land. 

Those planes up in the sky may just be dots but we have a good idea of what they are. They are full sized planes and someday (maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow etc.) they will be there on the apron all glittery and huge. 

But here’s the point. At least I think it is. They can’t come down until they're ready. If you bring them down before they’re ready, the passengers will be all shaken up and uncooperative. The pilot will be a mess. You have to send them around again. One more time, maybe two. 

Let me ‘for instance’. About this time last year, I promised someone a play. It was a reasonably large dot on the horizon. I could see it had a red tail wing but then most planes do. I thought it was coming in clear and that the pilot would be on the shuttle to the Holiday Inn before tea time. Nuh huh. It went around. Then it went around again. One time, the damn wheels nearly touched the tarmac but, no, it wasn’t correctly aligned. Off it went again. 

All the while, other planes were coming in and landing. Some of them were only little single engine things, some of them with people only learning how to fly. Others were a bit bigger. Some older planes came back from abroad too and they had to be serviced and fuelled and sent off again on their way.

But that one, the one on the timetable… it still wasn’t ready to come in. 

This is where the airport analogy goes out the window. I’ll try another one if I may. Suddenly the thing is ready to land. Something remarkable happens. It’s like… it’s like one of those puzzles, you know the ones. A frame of little plastic squares and one square is missing and you push all the little squares to try and make a coherent picture (minus one square). Yes, I knew you knew them. The plane still in the sky is now like one of those puzzles. You slide the pieces around in your head and it doesn’t  fit and it doesn’t even make sense and then… And then, all of a sudden, a sense seems to arise out of the pieces and an end seems in sight. There is a rapid (very rapid) series of ‘click click click’s and, finally, there it is. The picture is complete. No real system got me here, no real logic. The pieces were just slid and shuffled and the effects of each shuffle briefly (sometimes subconsciously) considered until, wow, there it bloody is. 

This plane will come down now. There will be a mad flurry of baggage handlers and men driving trucks with stairs on the back and ladies with over-large ping pong bats waving me to my stand. It will be bat shit crazy for a while but it will land.

To try to explain it without silly metaphors for one sentence. A story that I previously struggled to summarise in two tightly typed pages can suddenly be summarised in one word. One little word. No, I won’t tell you what that word is. When the thing is finished and if something comes of it, I’ll happily tell you then. But, for now, it’s my mantra, my secret. 

All that time of not writing about the plane that went around and around in the sky. All that time, the squares in the puzzle were being slid around in the back of my head. Sometimes almost subconciously, sometimes with complete absorption and obsession. I could have written something at any time along the way but the plane that would have landed would have been badly dented, with birds stuck in the engines, and perhaps even a wing broken off. 

This time, with this one, I’m going to bring it down all in one piece. The passengers might even give a ripple of applause as the seat belt lights finally click off. 

We'll see.

Facebook Algorithm Blues

I got a good selfie this morning
My chin was shoved high in the air
Put it up on FB 
But sadly for me
The world didn’t see it or care

One day my black cat just went missing
Went to my computer to say
But no one logged on, 
The damn cat is still gone
And the mice are still firmly at play.

Flash me all of your photos
Feed me all of your news
You can do it all day, 
I won’t see them anyway
I got the Facebook Algorithm Blues.

An earthquake hit hard down on my street
I put up a warning online
But folk didn’t look
As the houses all shook
It turns out everybody was fine.

I told my baby I loved her
Put it right there in a post
The very next day, 
I just took it away
It had been seen by two people at most.

Flash me all of your photos
Feed me all of your news
You can do it all day, 
I won’t see them anyway
I got the Facebook Algorithm Blues.

The Joy of Not Liking Something

You could comfortably conclude that I am a terribly easy person. I seem to like almost everything I put myself in front of, at least in terms of books and films and TV programmes and such. I appear to be a complete pushover.

That’s no accident. By the ripe old age of 54 one has learned a little about what one likes and can generally see some signals or portents about what one will like even before it arrives. Add to that the fact that I don’t really need to be wasting my time on stuff that I probably won’t enjoy and there you have it; I am a person who seems to like most of what they consume, if only because they mostly tend to consume what they like.

This has a sort of logic to it. But nobody wants to be a complete pushover. In a world where authority and camaraderie often seem to be attained by the shared experience of loudly hating stuff, the person who likes a lot of things can seem tame and willowy by comparison. 

What a joy, then, to happen upon something that I can cheerfully declare was just a load of old bollocks. Doubly so because the thing in question seems to have been quite widely admired and enjoyed. Finally I can try to regain some of the Gravitas I must have lost in the wake of a long run of continuously enjoying things.

This thing I didn’t like very much. No, wait, strike that… I hated it, I bloody hated it. (Yay!). It was a film on Netflix. I didn’t set out to hate it because, as I was saying, I tend to migrate toward the stuff I think I’ll like. It was a big commercial movie and I almost (almost) went to the cinema to see it (for it promised a particularly cinematic experience) and then I almost (almost) rented it on my telly because I was keen to see it. So, yeah, I settled down on my couch in full expectation of another evening of enjoying stuff and this further denting my reputation as a meaningful person.

But, no, joy of joys, it was feckin’ brutal. 

Which enables me to do… this:

'The Walk', directed by Robert Zemeckis tells the story of the extraordinarily brave man who walked a wire between the newly constructed Twin Towers in New York in 1974. A cross between a loose biopic and a caper movie, it dramatised the genesis and execution of the dream mission. 

It was brutal, lads, completely brutal. 

I hear that the documentary ‘Man on Wire’ mines the same material very effectively. I might seek it out but not before I give myself some time to recover from this effort.

Which was pants, lads, utter pants.

Wait, I’m overplaying this ‘didn’t like it’ card. It’s not that bad, I just didn’t like it and I thought I would. I’ll stop fooling around for a moment and try to be fair to it. 

It’s a fascinating story, that’s why I was drawn to the film. The man, in real life, did an extraordinary thing, a thing that has unavoidably altered somewhat in the context of everything that has happened to his chosen arena since. The story, which in a simpler world would eternally remain one of heroism, showmanship, and human endeavour, has been moulded by history and aggression into an sort of an elegy for a time which we can never see again. 

Because the script is the only part of a film I might shyly claim to have any insight into, I do feel it is the script which has failed this film the most. Perhaps its creation was hampered by the presence of a real life protagonist and a series of truths which required a certain form of representation. I don’t really know. What I do know is that the film seems to be erected very tall on a crumbling mess of a screenplay that is at turns turgid, obvious, and unengaging. The moment the central character appears and starts a first person narrative (something that speckles its way through the whole film) I knew we were shot. Ben Kingsley turns up then slips away again, hardly making a dent in the proceedings. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is made up and costumed to give the impression (to me at least) that it is Hurricane Higgins up there on the high wire and, worst of all, the climactic wire action is rendered ordinary in ways that I cannot start to comprehend. For this latter point, I will acknowledge that I was watching on my living room telly and that the 3D 'Megamax' Cinema experience of these scenes may have been entirely different. 

The whole film seemed to be far too in thrall of the truth of the escapade to ever shed its inhibitions and fly fearlessly into the realms of true cinema. It felt like a TV movie of the week when the daring, the balls-out fearlessness, of the central exploit seemed to deserve so much more. 

How doubly wonderful then to go from this nirvana of dislike of a much-liked film to finding another film. This time one that seems to have been widely reviled but which I, wait for it, actually liked quite a bit. It’s so much more fun to like a film when everybody else is hating on it.  

This time is was ‘The Visit'. Patricia and I watched it last night. 

It wasn’t perfect but I thought it was really pretty good… pretty, pretty good, as Larry would say. 

It’s written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and you know how we all love to diss on him since he slipped down a hill from 'Sixth Sense' and 'Unbreakable' and such. 

This one is done in that ‘found footage’ style that can really be groan evoking when you’re not expecting it. It gets by though. Again, here, it’s the script I would draw attention to. I’m reminded, oddly enough, of the original Karate Kid and how that script was held up at the time as a sort of template for what a  good classic three act structure screenplay could be. M Night’s screenplay here is a sort of a three act template too. It ticks all the boxes of exposition, reversal, outer motivation, inner motivation with a little pinch of heart in there too. Oh and it’s just as nasty as it could possibly be without being totally nasty.

To expand a little further. I’ve always seen The Exorcist as a story about fear of old age and infirmity. I think I may be alone in that but, look, the little girl turns into a seriously ailing old person, vomiting, incontinent, spouting abhorrences and totally bed-ridden. The young priest is wracked with guilt over his own perceived neglect of his ageing mother. The most effective narrative horrors we meet are not imaginary monsters behind wardrobe doors, they are storytelling manifestations of the things which give us a pause and a shiver in our real lives. For me, The Exorcist hit home most with that 'aging and infirmity' angle and the demonic trappings always seemed like so much window dressing. This film, while nowhere close to being in the same league as The Exorcist, mines the same vein of fear and with some effect. 

As I sit here and think of 'The Visit' I am reminded of Steve Martin after he finally gets to consummate his marriage to manipulative Kathleen Turner in 'The Man with Two Brains'.  Steve says, “I never knew it could be like that... so professional.” There is something unerringly ‘professional’ about M Night’s script. You know you are being worked and manipulated and that’s perhaps the niggliest problem with the film. It never feels much more than an exercise in jitters and entertainment… except just now and again when that Exorcist vibe lands. 

So there you have it. This week, I liked a movie and I disliked a movie. I bet if you watched them you would probably reverse my view, liking ‘The Walk’ and disliking ‘The Visit'. That's okay.

It just goes to show how damn edgy and interesting I really am.

Now and again.

The Doorbell Lady

So now there’s this lady who rings the doorbell of my office every time she walks past. She doesn’t stop or anything. She just keeps going.

My office is on the second floor, four flights of stairs up. There’s no intercom and you can’t see down to the door from out of any of the windows. When the doorbell goes, it’s a matter of galloping down to see who’s there. Lately, I’ve been doing some galloping to find that there’s nobody there at all. It’s little or no fun.

I hadn’t known what was going on for a long time. The doorbell would go, often quite late in the day, and I would tear down the stairs in my usual state of nervous enthusiasm and, voila, ‘nobody there. There would be nobody in sight up and down the alleyway either, the mysterious ding-donger would have evidently taken off at a considerable pace because I am by no means tardy in descending those stairs. 

One day, I figured it out. The doorbell went and it was late in the day and I was suspicious so I looked out of the main window, the one that looks out over the car park, and there she was. A lumpy middle-aged woman in sweat pants and toting a small rucksack. She was progressing across the middle of the car park at a fair old clip. I could see at once that she was an eccentric (it takes one to know one) and I immediately reckoned that this was my Doorbell Lady. 

It only took a couple of more occurrences for me to be sure. A late-in-the-day doorbell and a quick glance out of the window to see the now-familiar broad back receding across the tarmac. Not running or sneaking away, just moving forward through the world at her bright and pacy pace, ringing the doorbells as she went. 

Even though I am now fully aware of the Doorbell Lady and her habit of giving me a tinkle every time she passes, she still catches me out sometimes. Sometimes she might be walking the other way and I can’t see her out of my window. Then I’d have to assume it was a genuine ringer and clatter down the stairs to see who it was. When I find that there's nobody there, I swear softly but pretty fucking fluently under my breath, slam the door unnecessarily, and storm back up the stairs. 

The most recent time I was caught out was just yesterday evening. A distracted dash down the stairs to an empty laneway. Well, not quite empty. The Romanian Lady who often sits at the top of the steps was there, shaking her head in a silent denial of any possible forthcoming accusation that it was her who had rung the bell. After the head shake she performed a subtle but effective mime of the swaying rear end of the Doorbell Lady, simultaneously conveying both her own innocence as well as her witnessing of the actual guilty party. 

In some obvious respects, she annoys my arse. This Doorbell Lady. Of course she would. She frequently disturbs my work flow and my tenuous concentration. She often sends me on a fool’s errand, up and down the stairs like some decrepit over-keen gobshite. I know she isn’t on any errand of mischief or anything like that. 

I actually think it is just a routine for her, an element of her eccentricity. We all have them, myself included. Only yesterday, during my lunch break, I stopped dead in the middle of the street to pick up and keep a dull penny that lay there. I stowed it carefully in the tiny pocket that sits above the bigger pocket in my jeans. I didn’t think this coin would bring me luck, or money, or fortune, or benefit of any kind. I just thought it was a thing that had known considerable care in its design and manufacture, a thing of purpose. I just thought it deserved one more shot at usefulness. It’s marking the page of my book now and will continue to do so until I lose it (which will be quite soon). Then I’ll find another and use that. 

I’m just an odd fecker, exactly like my Doorbell Lady is. I might breathe a swear word at her receding arse now and again but I’ll forgive her too. 

After all she, and people like her, they sort of bring the colour to our day. 

If you ever spent a day with me in my office, you most likely wouldn’t remember the phone calls or the hours of computer work, or the emails that were sent or the tea that was drunk. You would, however, most likely remember the odd dumpy lady who rang the doorbell with some urgency and then waddled off on her way to God Knows Where, possibly ringing a multitude of other bells along the way. 

So roll on, Dear Doorbell Lady. May fate and fair weather look upon you kindly. You and I and others like us are the very salt of the earth. The flavour in that bland daily sandwich. 

We may annoy your hole now and again but don’t forget that you need us around too.

Because we bring the memorable bits.