Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Declining and getting worse promptly

I've been reading Free at Last, the final volume of Tony Benn's diaries, and he mentions looking up his biorhythms and finding that they were absolutely accurate. I hadn't checked mine for probably twenty years - I used to have a program for the ZX Spectrum that did them: but that was in another country, etc etc - so I hopped onto and found mine were also astonishingly on the button:

Physical: Today you feel beaten and you'd prefer to lie down all day. If you can arrange it, why not do it? Emotional: There will be light at the end of the tunnel! Still, sitting in your shell is not much fun. Intellectual: The period of creativity is over. Your brain is in stand-by mode. And the outlook -- with a nice shipping forecast ring about it, I must say: Declining and getting worse promptly. (I might at least have hoped for "drifting eastwards and slowly losing its identity".)

I find biorhythms a lot more plausible than, say, astrology, though I suppose only to the extent that I find Gordon Brown more plausible than Tony Blair. Knowing that something is built out of maths rather than breath-mints tends to lend it an authority that of course reveals itself as utterly specious as soon as you expose it (and yourself) to the most trifling examination.

But there's no denying the accuracy of this account of my current state. I do feel completely exhausted and listless, though I was putting it down to the warm weather and, as ever, wayyy too much sugar. (No kidding. I made myself a Mars Bar quesedilla today. That's, like, one rung up from the grotesqueries of Pimp That Snack and, at most, two up from eating cake decorations out of a bin.) And, yes, intellectually, I'm absolutely in stand-by. Which happens often enough that I sort of know not to try and fight it. But it's puzzling. I suppose I work pretty hard but I'm always surprised that the sense of stimulation (and immense good fortune) of working in the contexts I do isn't kind of self-sustaining.

At any rate, I need to try and round myself up tomorrow. Work on Longwave, the new Signal to Noise show, starts in earnest on Friday and then I begin Quirkafleeg again on Sunday for a couple of weeks: but it needs quite a bit of revision which I guess I'm going to have to take care of on Saturday.

As regards future work and my orientation towards it, I seem to feel pretty much like a wasp boinking its head on a windowpane and not quite able to work out why it can't get out. (This image probably occurs to me because, in a moment of uncontrolled frustration a few days ago, I blatted a trapped wasp; that's the first time I've intentionally killed anything in donkey's years, and I really shocked and dismayed myself. I dreamt that night about an enormous wasp climbing out of a matchbox and crawling towards me: and serve me right.)

As I often do when I'm in this stand-by mode, I've been reading biographical stuff about other artists -- thumbing through Tony Peake's biog of Derek Jarman (it's not bad, a bit pedestrian maybe; one really sort of misses the furious relish of Jarman's own writings, uberpurple though they sometimes were), and the excellent Masthead issue on Alaric Sumner. This sense of the documentary, or the journalistic -- in respect of these artists allowing work to rise out of the milieu(s) in which they located and understood themselves to live. Reminds me of my unexpectedly passionate appreciation of Bruce Weber's film, Chop Suey. (Which really ought to be released on DVD, though my brush with Weber's company... ah, well, that's another story for another time.) That your work is to such an extent no more or less than the people you make it with, held up to attention. And also the sense of an inheritance -- in all these cases, a queer lineage, which is keenly felt -- I mean rationally understood and intuited. I suppose the formative importance of Jarman in my own artistic development must to some extent align me with that cultural history, but if Jarman was a maverick, I think I feel more like a double dissident. Or an infinite one. Maybe this is what my biorhythm report means about sitting in my shell. I just don't feel attached to anything other than a grab-bag of crossfighting influences, my affinity with each of which was (I think) determined by the time I was four or five. As someone (Max Wall?) used to say about his sex drive, it's like being shackled to a maniac.

I'd remembered that Jarman was friendly with Dom Sylvester Houedard but forgotten that he studied with Eric Mottram. Odd that he should have turned out such dreadful poetry all through his adult life. I get the sense he loved Ginsberg but understood the rhythms of his life much better than those of his poetry. In fact I'm not sure Jarman ever really 'had' rhythm (in a musical sense); I can't think of any of his films that demonstrate it: which is why the ambient drifts of Simon Fisher Turner made such a good sound foil to his later work.

Come to think of it, Jarman's influence was strongest on me before I'd ever seen any of his films. Imagining them, imagining his relationship with them and with the people who made them, was possibly more impressive than any of the movies themselves when I actually came to see them. Maybe that was always it. That the best work he did was being Derek Jarman, so vividly and unstintingly, for the particular benefit (I suspect) of those of us out in the sticks who needed that kind of a beacon somewhere out there.

What I wouldn't give for a tenth of his energy and courage. Especially today. ...I have been alive, according to this biorhythm chart, 12064 days. I can't work out whether that's nothing or loads. How many jellybeans in a jar, innit?

I was looking for some old Signal to Noise stuff a few days ago, to pass to a student who's working on the company for a dissertation or something, and I pulled out the first two chapters of a novel I started writing when I was first in London in 1997. I don't think I've read it between then and now. Some of it's absurdly overwritten but mostly, I have to say, it's pretty cool. Especially because I barely recognise myself in it. Quite a few of the ideas have turned up in later work, so it's not that I feel estranged from it in that way; just that I don't feel at all confident that I could turn out anything nearly as good now. Good as in, you know, solidly written, sensitively imagined, quite widely appealing I should think. I can't help wondering whether my increasing interest in more "marginal" (definitely scare quotes) writing practices over the last six or seven years has ended up with me being, or feeling, boxed in. I was thinking something like this quite separately today in relation to Philip Larkin, whose work I loved when I was a student. I can barely enjoy any of it now, though I recognise that there is a true and integral skill to it -- he was pretty good at writing like Philip Larkin, there's no doubt. But I don't know if I could ever love him again, even if I wanted to. Once you've read Prynne, or Barry MacSweeney, or Tom Raworth, you're stuck in the situation of thinking things that can't then be unthought. Which makes it that much harder to write a West End musical, say, or finish that novel... (Still. At least, I'm pleased to say, it has no discernible plot. I'd obviously already lost that.)

But I do, though, that's the thing. I do quite want to write a West End musical. IS IT A CRIME? etc. (Answers on the edge of a postcard.)

Right-o, there's some Richard Barrett just now being played on Late Junction, I'm going to go and pay attention to that...

[Time passes. Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold. You attack Thorin. With one mighty blow of his sword he cleaves your skull. You are dead. You have mastered 0.0% of this adventure.]

...Bit later. Just wanted to record three rather more positive things that happened today, in a blessings-counting sort of way.

There's a bit in Quirkafleeg about the blue-footed booby, and Nikki mailed me some photos today from someone who saw the show in her flat and who was -- amazingly -- inspired by Q.fleeg to go to the Galapagos Islands and see the B-FB for herself. They're terrific pics, too. Daft-looking bird, honest to goodness. Looks like its eyes are tippexed on.

And then, having been outbid in the middle of last night on an eBay auction for a pair of Stan Smith Adidas shoes with Kermit the Frog on them, I recovered my composure and managed to track down a pair, way cheaper than my defeated bid. So I shall be laughing both last and longest, at least until this new pair I've snapped up get delivered next week and turn out to be a pair of Dunlop daps with some fake Kermit decal stuck on the side.

And I was watching a DVD interview with the beautiful and extraordinary Julyen Hamilton, who said -- as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and of course it is -- a propos of making theatre etc: "Don't try; love it."

I should have that tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.

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