Write Time, Wrong Energies or: Why I’m Running Away from Depressing Politics and Going to Play in Alternate Realities with a Zebra-Technoshaman and Other Possibly Fictional Friends…

Hey! Hey hey! It’s been quiet around here. Too quiet. Then again, sometimes quiet is good. In the quiet you can hear things that you rarely ever perceive: the flap of moth wings; the secret song of the solar winds; the prolonged death howls of Hope as the Heartless Heptagon Clan slowly destroy her in their tantric torture chambers far away beneath the cold, further canyons of Forever. Y’know: all the cult sounds you’d stick in the ‘Ultimate Me-Time Moop-A-Doop Mixtape Vol. 3’ playlist if they were on Spotify.

Me? In the quiet I can hear my mind working (or, indeed, not working) and lately it’s been running hot. It’s been raging and raring to write stuff, but not much stuff has been written and shared on the interwebs in recent months (in stark contrast to past times where I’d be pumping stuff out every single day and then some). I can tell you why, though, and I have good – well, reasonable enough – reasons.

First, in practical terms, travel and intensive work spells aren’t necessarily conducive to writing productivity. You can always make time to write but I poured my energies into enjoying my travels and summer school teaching as priorities when those things were going on. (Some writing still happened though. For instance, while at summer school I wrote a fantastical role-play experience/social experiment/intellectual ordeal for twenty students. It had them journeying around London (without physically leaving the classroom), solving a series of puzzles and – at the climax – looking for secret instructions in Iron Maiden lyrics then defeating the Devil himself in the Tower of London to reclaim a stolen diary that could potentially start World War III/upset several lovestruck teenage boys. It was a lot of fun.)

Energy is a key word, and it brings me to the second and main reason why there’s been a lack of writing action. That reason: the energies were all wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The Zebra-Technoshaman just stuck its head out of the monitor and confirmed that, yes and truly, the energies were all wrong so take that as a verified fact.

(Note: I had a moment of doubt there because when the Zebra-Technoshaman surfaced it said “Right!” to which I replied “Right? No, wrong! The energies were wrong!” Zebra-Technoshaman then whistled and said “Oh, no friend, I meant “You’re right to say the energies were all wrong! I was agreeing with you! Definitely yes, the energies were wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” I smiled and winked at it, “Got you, friend! Thanks for confirming my belief!” and then it whistled, grinned with all its eyes, pixellated and dissolved. The path to true understanding is plain if you persevere through the sometimes confusing speech of the Zebro-Technoshaman. I mean, it doesn’t help that the thing has fifty-five tongues.)

The energies were wrong because my thoughts were bent towards – and itching to write about – politics and current affairs. Oh, did you hear that? That was the sound of Hope screaming “AWWW NO! JUST DON’T GO THERE!” and punctuating it with the most obscene oaths that the Universe has ever known. The Heartless Heptagons were so surprised they stopped torturing her for precisely six seconds before returning to their tantric torturecraft (Phase 48,231: Christmas Tinsel-Clad Caterpillars in All-Remaining Orifices).

*agrees and refuses to accept this 'reality'...*

*agrees and refuses to accept this ‘reality’…*

Politics is a bad place to go. Politics has been even more unbearably potent (pungent?) of late and it’s causing me much dismay and despair. “The political is personal” and I take things very personally. Sometimes I take things very, very personally on behalf of myself and other people when grotesque political abominations occur. In the midst of a constant churn of bad stuff (wars, human rights abuses, corporate evils, institutionalised and ingrained -isms of various flavours, Donald Trump), Brexit is like a cluster-bomb of grotesque political abominations all rolled into one. It’s proving to be a giant, possibly bottomless can of radon-worms and the toxic fallout is terrifying. It’s everywhere and I’ve been trying to grapple with it (on top of most of the other stuff happening in the wider world) for the past few months.

I recommend writing as a cathartic exercise but in the case of political crises I find that other methods are more soothing and possibly more effective. For example, I feel better after shouting at TV screens for a few minutes or after rudely gesturing at a garage in my neighbourhood that’s been stencil-stamped with the word ‘BREXIT’. (Appropriately labelled because, like Brexit, we don’t know what the thing actually contains if anything at all. I’m guessing some second-rate powertools, a broken hoover and a fridge freezer full of white bread, crinkly chips and swan corpses). I would not feel better (and I wouldn’t have felt better) if I’d spent ages hammering a keyboard and pushing political posts out onto my small corner of the internet. And those who occasionally pass by my small corner of the internet wouldn’t feel better either.

I’m aware that when I write about what’s conventionally figured as ‘reality’, I tend to melt into a mess of emotions and earnest incredulity. I lose any sense of Zen flow and, in a state of apoplexy, end up soapboxing (and soapboxing shadows or, indeed, myself). I get angry and upset and any words I summon up – for what they’re worth – are irrelevant because I have no control or influence on political affairs. (I’m not an eminent journalist, public persona, expert, community leader or saviour of the human race. I’m just another human being armed with a laptop and opinions.) They’re even more irrelevant because things have been moving so fast in UK politics. They’re also even more irrelevant because I know that, if anyone does read my angsty essays/exorcisms they’re probably Facebook friends or Twitter followers and of a like mind. I don’t want to preach, and if I am preaching there’s little point in preaching to the converted. (No, I’m not going kickstart the ‘Utopian Space Missionary Plan’ yet. That project is pencilled in for 2265 and depends on certain technological advancements. I’ll let you know.)

In conclusion – because writing about politics is making me feel nauseous – I haven’t been writing about the stuff on my mind because the stuff on my mind shouldn’t be written about by me. Every blogpost would be a spluttering gloopshoot that could be summarised like so: “What the hell is wrong with people?! I don’t understand?! Why can’t people just be compassionate and level-headed! Look at what this Guardian article says! Here are some more Guardian articles written by people who can articulate and encapsulate everything far better than I can. I recommend you read them and, in the meantime, gah! What the hell?!” And all the while I’ll be looking like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes, except I’m eyeballing what’s left of Big Ben and all the apes have been shot and turned into internet memes in order to promote that rare sensation, ‘Empathy’. Awww, damn you. Damn you all to hell.

Wretched hive of scum and villainy...

The author, in a wretched hive of scum and villainy…

Over the past few months I’ve also thought about getting back on the blog-trail to write about an array of other things but, yeah, that wouldn’t be a good idea either. (I can hear Hope screeching in horror again at the mere mention of it.) Mood whiplash and dissonance are likelihoods. (“This week I watched a fun blockbuster flick, read a vintage Japanese novel about morality, found a crumpet that’d turned into a mould-demon in the bread bin and here’s a link to a very upsetting photo-essay from the streets of Aleppo.“) Furthermore, what would be the point? Personal blogging is dead (possibly in the freezer next to the swan corpses) and Twitter now covers those ‘I’ll give the internet a piece of my mind!’ urges in real-time with emojis and easily-searchable hashtags. (Note: specialised blogging – like travel blogging, food and cookery blogging and Utopian Space Missionary Plan blogging – isn’t dead.)

I’m alienated from Twitter and I’d alienate myself and everyone else if I went on further self-indulgent, narcissistic rambles through my imminent reality for very little purpose. I like creating annotated photo albums on Facebook to keep track of what I’ve done and where I’ve been and to share with people who I actually know, in case they’re interested. That’s more than enough for me (and for everyone else), thanks, and I’d rather devote my energies to sharing in private conversations (ideally face-to-face, though videocalling and messaging will do) or actually living life rather than chronicling life (the sublime and the asinine) in excessive detail on a blog for the benefit of very few people. That’s one of the reasons I backed away from Twitter and that’s why I haven’t followed up those impulses to express myself in personal blogging.

So, where does that leave me with regards to writing? Well, I’ve re-realised that what I really, really like doing is writing about things that are not ‘reality’. Having had my head stuck in ‘real world affairs’ too much this year, I’ve remembered that fiction is where the fun and, indeed, the truth is. (Even more so in this era of ‘Post-Truth Politics’.) This is where my energies should be, and I’m channelling those creative energies towards fantasy, alternate realities and other worlds formed in my imagination. And also, possibly, the Utopian Space Missionary Plan because that’s just speculative fiction at the present moment.

Whether any of it ends up on the internet (on this site or another) remains a mystery. Tomorrow I’m moving away to Italy on a longer-term basis and the practicalities of pumping my creative action into cyberspace are heavily dependent on how I settle in to a new work schedule and, indeed, settle in to a new home. Regardless, though, I will be writing at least a little stuff and I can guarantee that it will be powered by the right energies and of a fictional nature. It may be that no one else sees any of it but, hey, it’s writing all the same and I’m having fun if I’m writing. I will also, of course, be doodling in my free time and you can continue to see my sketches on Instagram, on the Jamazing Things Facebook page or on this Tumblr blog if you want to see my miniature doodles in close-up.

And now my energies are directing me towards packing some bags. And the Zebra-Technoshaman coalesced into neon-stripey coherency and whistled me towards the righteous and sensible path. Aww, Zebra-Technoshaman my friend: we’re so on the same wavelength. Until next time or whatever, keep your head up above that which would drag you down and drown you and take care. Thanks for reading, and be excellent.

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The Right Write Stuff: Blog Action Happening In a Cyberspace that is Not Here…

Alrighty! Write on! I’ve decided that I’d like to do something that’s a bit like blogging. I’ve also decided that this website isn’t the best place to do it and I though that the flowing, more fluid nature of Tumblr would be a better fit for my meanderings. Thusly, I’m going to put my blog updates and general musings on my freshly-spruced up Tumblr site alongside my doodles. Please feel free to head over in that direction where I’ll be sharing my experiences, ideas, opinions and avant-garde oddities of various shades and flavours (gluten-free options available)…

The first blogpost has cuttlefish disco lights and A Touch of Zen. I hope you enjoy it and thanks for reading…

The 5 Greatest (and Most Underappreciated) Christmas Movies of All-Time…

Merry Christmas movie house!

It’s almost Christmas and Christmas means cramming in as many Christmassy films as possible before Boxing Day. (As if you had time… but you can make time and you have to make time because it’s Christmas, y’know?) Ho ho, yes! ‘Tis the season to screen festive flicks and laugh (and cry) all over them for the 542nd time.

Christmas looks a bit like this. It's being consumed by film...

Christmas looks a bit like this. It’s being consumed by film…

Swept up in the spirit of the season and the timely moment, people and media outlets have been sharing their own personal ‘Best Christmas Films Ever’ lists. As you’d expect, the usual suspects – The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf, Home Alone, Die Hard, that one where Jimmy Stewart is suicidal – are all there decking the Halls of Fame and ringing jingle bells. I really like those films, but I’ve found that I have a couple of problems as I browse through these lists.

Firstly, can we count Edward Scissorhands as a Christmas movie? (Yes, we can and yes I will and I’m going to cry either way.) Secondly, why do people always bring the same movies to the conversation and, indeed, to the DVD player every single year? It’s true that the aforementioned seasonal staples are classics but I feel that there are other ‘Tinselflick’ works out there worthy of mention. Thinking beyond the mainstream, there are a few long-forgotten festive treasures that are widely unseen, underappreciated and unloved.

This then is my alternative ‘Top 5 Christmas Movies’ list. It’s good for hipster-types, for arthouse afficionados, for serious film buffs or for anybody who wants to try something a bit different with their family this Christmas.  Without any further ado, here are the cult crackers I’m putting forward for your consideration…

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Four Things I Learned on a Four Week Course to Become a Better English Teacher…

Remember when Antarctic explorer Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates said “I am just going outside and may be some time” and didn’t come back? Well, I said similar things around a month-and-a-half ago but, hey! I came back!

(Note: I’ve got doubts about Titus Oates’ death. They never found his body. Personally, I like to believe that Oates encountered Shoggoths outside and that they took him to the resting vaults of the Elder Things. There he discovered incredible extraterrestrial technology which he used to increase his longevity and radically alter his physical form. Neo-Oates is now 135-years-young and reigns over a subterranean krill kingdom beneath the South Pole. He will eventually come back – supported by his devout crustacean subjects – and you will know him by the whistling of his gills. Yes. Absolutely.)

Way back just a shade over a month-and-a-half ago I shut everything down and stepped outside because I had a mission. That mission: go through an intensive course to gain a CELTA qualification. Progress through and successfully pass a CELTA course and you acquire special skills and fresh status as an especially qualified, quite-excellent Teacher of English as a Foreign Language. I can break that down into an appealing, easy-to-understand 16-bit format: CELTA is like the power-up Super Leaf that transforms you from regular Mario to Tanooki-Suit Super Mario. Then you have a funky weaponised tail and the power to fly and with that ability you can reach the secret bonus areas hidden in the clouds and the roofs of the haunted castles of the Mushroom Kingdom.

In total, it was an intense month of giddily bouncing about on a quest to become a better teacher and sometimes it felt like Super Mario Bros. 3. (It was nothing like Super Mario Bros. 3. but I wanted to drag out the crap analogy for cohesion. Yeah, that wasn’t great. One thing I’m better at thanks to the course is necessary self-evaluation and I acknowledge that crap analogies are a weakness and I will strive to improve in this area.) I learned a lot about teaching English and mastered double-sided photocopying but I’m not going to regurgitate it all here. Instead, I’m putting down four particularly significant things I (re)learned over the four weeks for posterity. 1-2-3-4! Let’s go…

I really like full classes and I love teaching in a classroom possessed by the spirit of Professor Brian Cox... *awestruck smile...*

I really like full classes and I love teaching in a classroom possessed by the spirit of Professor Brian Cox… *awestruck smile…*

#1. Teaching is brilliant

I love teaching. Getting back to teaching action and returning to the classroom re-affirmed this and reminded me that I’m pretty good at it and have a lot of fun doing it. Give me a chance to craft lesson plans, create extra materials and assault a whiteboard and I will go all out and be a happy guy. What’s more, the other people in the room will have an engaging, stimulating experience and may even learn something. (I’ve failed if they don’t.)

To be involved in learning, to share knowledge and to actively play a role in other human beings’ developments is a beautiful thing and a privilege. Teaching is hard work, but it’s enjoyable and rewarding. Teaching a language is even more rewarding because you’re helping people to communicate, enhance a whole set of practical skills and potentially bridging cultural gaps (among many other things). I had a good time with the international ensemble of students during my teaching practice sessions and I’m psyched to get back teaching real students again as soon as possible. (Self-promo-moment: “I can help you with your English, whatever your needs are! For personalised assistance and tuition from a qualified and experienced mother tongue speaker, call now!” *thumbs up, cheesy smile*.)

I'm all about pizza and grammar lessons...

I’m all about pizza and grammar lessons…

#2. The English language is brilliant

The English language is rich, beautiful and endlessly fascinating. It is vast, dynamic and it can be played with and creatively handled to infinite ends. I knew that, but over the past few months I’ve been getting down to the nitty gritty and focusing on the fundamental mechanics of the language – not the fancy stuff I can do with all these words, words, words. I’m talking grammar, guys, and grammar is groovy. (*struts and clicks fingers at the beat of the drop of that full stop*)

I’ve been expanding my language awareness and will continue to study this stuff because it’s important and actually really interesting. It may be that I’m a bit affected after a lot of hardcore study. I mean, it’s been an intense period and there were moments where – deep in the cut-and-thrust of lesson planning – I started getting very (too) excited about pure modals, collocations and the Second Conditional. I realised that things were getting serious during a ‘conversation’ with a relative in which my contribution to the dialogue was nothing more than “Y’know, it’s interesting that you’re using the First and Second Conditional a lot.” And then there was another time – once upon a daydream – where I was musing on word classes and became aware that the word ‘adjective’ is in fact a noun. That must be a terrible identity crisis, poor thing. Imagine if your entire existence was built around the purpose of defining something that you are not and could never be. Only verbal nouns can be happy and free in this Universe, ordered as it is.

Yeah. Absolutely. But seriously, English is brilliant. I get high off studying it and have high times fighting with online dictionaries when they don’t agree with my Northern pronunciation.

It's the Zippy from Rainbow dressed as Electro-Santa Christmas market lightshow...

It’s the Zippy from Rainbow dressed as Electro-Santa Christmas market lightshow…

#3. Manchester is brilliant

By ‘eck, I love Manchester, I do. This one I didn’t really, truly know, and it sort of blindsided me. Being in Manchester city centre every day and being in a open and reflective state of mind I had a ‘seeing what was under my nose all along’ epiphany. Manchester is the best city in Britain (yes it is) and I’m happy that it’s my hood.

It’s also easier to appreciate how excellent your hometown is when you’re meeting outsiders from all corners of the globe telling you just how happy they are to be here. (Especially true of asylum seekers freshly arrived from Sudan after a month in transit.) All the foreign students I engaged with liked Manchester and it was only the weather that was a downer. In truth, it’s only bad weather and an increasingly unacceptable homeless crisis that bring Manchester down. Otherwise, Manchester is wonderful and it’s even more wonderful in the build-up to Christmas. Yay for Manchester’s Christmas markets!

I’m now resolved that, whenever the opportunity arises, I will harp on about how great Manchester is where once I was a bit indifferent and ambivalent. In brief, this place has got pretty much everything – Manchester’s an idiosyncratic mix of tradition and modernism, gothic industrialism married to shiny 21st century style. It’s gloriously cosmopolitan, is full of distinctive character and has a youthful spirit. It’s always moving forward but it knows its roots. Plus, the population are friendly, good-humoured people and the sound of the city is Northern accents. In total, eeyy-aaaah, Manchester’s aaaalriiiiight.

#4. Disconnecting from social media is brilliant

Titus Oates was never on Twitter, but when it came to starting the course I realised that it would be best to channel his spirit with regard to social media. I needed to concentrate. I needed to cut out distractions. I needed to focus on what was really important, get on with the work and devote all my energies and attention to the mission. Thus, I uninstalled all the social media apps on my phone and abstained from Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr for over a month. (I also didn’t go to the cinema and watch TV. I basically just did the course and in downtime spoke to my family and watched the news. I told you: give me something to do and I will go all-out and method actor-ish on the task.)

What did I miss? Aside from keeping in touch with distant friends and being in the loop with some news, nothing really. I also – in spite of the heavy workload and all-consuming rush of the course – felt more relaxed when I wasn’t hooked up to social media. My mind wasn’t as cluttered with trivial stuff, irritations and constant noise. I also found that I was, actually, more aware of the wider world because I was reading the news rather than reading reactions to the news (or just reading unfiltered, self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness ramblings or memes).

I had such a pleasant time being offline that I turned it into a lesson for my teaching pratice on the CELTA course (inspired by this article on a Danish study of people taking a break from Facebook). Now, having finished the course, I’m back connected and it’s good to be in touch with lovely people again but I feel a change. I intend to be less attached to these cyberspaces so I can reap the rediscovered benefits.

Those then, are things I learned and relearned on an excellent course that levelled me up as an educator, galvanished me and made me a happy Mancunian. On to the next quest… (possibly trying to find the Lost Kingdom of Neo-Oates, Lord of the Krill.)

‘Netflix for Dreams’ and Swapping Sci-Fi Stories in Cyberspace…

I like sci-fi. Sci-fi is my jam. I put it in porridge and then said porridge is inedible ’cause it’s got robot bits and cosmic debris and maybe even a techsistential crisis in there as well. Whatever. I eat that mess up because it’s good for me. Sci-fi is brain food.

Because I like science fiction I (literally) jumped at the chance to get involved in a mass sci-fi-writing party when it heard about it a couple of weeks ago. What happened was this: a person named Regular Frog decided they’d set-up ‘SF Swap‘ (hashtag: #SFSwap) and put the proposal out to Twitter. Writers rallied round, rigged themselves up to monitors and got in on the action. That action is the exchange of science fiction concepts and the subsequent writing of stories based on those concepts.

It works like this: everyone throws out a short hook for a story and someone else gets that prompt and has to fashion a thousand-word yarn out of it. It’s then uploaded onto the SF Swap website for everyone to enjoy, and there’s a lot to enjoy. It’s really interesting to see how people adapt to the challenge and how genre tropes and stylings have been played with.

There’s a beautiful mix of stories both in terms of theme and tone. We have pulpy space opera, alien encounters, nature fighting back, technology-based horrors, black comedy cyberpunk, cosmic dread, doomed missions, post-apocalyptic bewilderment and stellar romances. I’ve had a blast coming back to the site over and over to read the latest uploads and I recommend having a read through if you want some stimulating flash-fiction.

My own effort has been uploaded and it’s based on a prompt from Tanya Osborne. The prompt was ‘Netflix for Dreams’ and it’s one of the best pitches I could have hoped for. (I got an email that said nothing but ‘Netflix for Dreams’. It was one of the best emails I’ve had in a while. I got a bit excited about that email.)

Netflix for Dreams is what it says it is, and if you read it you’ll find a dizzying array of eclectic titles on offer (I had a lot of fun inventing fantasies, though some of them are partly based on my own real dreams). Feel free to head over to the SW Swap site and enjoy not only my fresh blast of fiction, but the many marvellous works of others getting immersed in this exciting experimental writing jam…

 

Thoughts about Time: a Hot Mess and a Fluid Thing That May Not Be an Actual Thing…

I’m going to write about ‘Time’. (I am writing about ‘Time’. I have written about ‘Time’.) Time is a hot mess. It is, it always has been and it always will be.

Time perturbs me. It’s always all over the place, running around with knives and scissors screaming “I happened! I am happening! I am going to happen!” Really though? I’m not convinced. Time doesn’t know what is in itself and – for all the havoc it’s causing and attention that it’s trying grab – it may not even actually be a real thing.

I’ve been thinking about Time a lot lately, just as I think a lot about things that possibly aren’t real. Last night the clocks went back and we slipped into Greenwich Mean Time (and oh it is so mean, bringing Winter back again and why they Hell would I want Winter? What am I meant to do with Winter?). I was asleep so didn’t consciously experience the timeslip while my senses were engaged. How do I truly know that it happened then? How can I be completely sure that Europe dialled back an hour while I was in bed?

The clocks tell us that it’s a particular point in Time, but clocks can’t tell the Time themselves. Clocks are mechanical devices that lack sentience, except the clocks that are connected to advanced hyperintelligent supercomputers and that clock over there that has been possessed (the exorcism is scheduled for Wednesday). What if I approached a clock and re-adjusted it so that instead of, say, 08:34 it read 19:22? How about 11:11, 12:51 or 21:12?

I can have some fun playing with clocks (generally un-fun) and change the Time so that it’s a reference to a rock song but the changed Time wouldn’t be the accurate, genuine Time. Then again, what makes the Time right now the accurate, genuine Time? It was decided that last night Time would go back one hour and I still, in my ignorance, don’t have a solid grasp of who decided that or why. (To give people an extra in bed? So cow-farmers can see the udders they are pulling when they wake in the morning? So we have more excuses to jump into a spontaneous rendition of the Time Warp?)

Of course, Greenwich Mean Time is a human-made type of time tied into what is only one of a number of possible artificial calendars (others aside from the Western/Gregorian – like the Chinese, North Korean JucheMayan and Babylonian – are available and probably not fit for your imminent needs). All these calendars and notions of timezones and systems were created by people (or ancient gods). They are artificial installations, and that once again leads me to question the whole dubious notion of Time, however we conceive it or record it.

Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. So on, so on with all these human-made units designed to mark out the immense thing (non-thing?) that is (is not?) Time. Are these units just there to provide structure and systematic shape to something that is intangible and possibly unreal? Is this just another expression of our collective neurotic need to categorise and label everything? Are we clinging so hard to this possibly-fake notion because we can’t comprehend and stand the mindblowing prospect of complete chaos and absolute freedom from regulated order? Is this just an elaborate means of trying to enforce meaning onto a Universe that may in fact be meaningless?

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Free Hugs and Lots of Valentine’s Day Love in the Galleria…

Hugging Robot, Human Feeling…

A post shared by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Saturday was the 14th February, so Saturday was Valentine’s Day. You’re probably aware of this and know that the day commemorates the martyrdom of poor San Valentino (a.k.a. St. Valentine, Vizzy Heartdust, Sweet Val the Virile) stabbed to death by rose thorn-brandishing heathen eunuchs employed by a devastated Roman senator whose wife had run off with a Christian leathermaker. And then Al Capone shot some people, Captain Cook was skewered on Patrick Swayze’s surfboard, Richard II died after starving himself because no one invited him out for a candlelit dinner and Benedict Cumberbatch got married.

All of those are reasons to note the 14th February, but really I’d just like to think of it as a timely moment to say, “Awww, yeah! Love is great!” Love is always great, in whatever form or flavour. I could go on quoting all kinds of pop songs, pop aphorisms and suchlike but I’ll spare you because Valentine’s Day has passed us by and you could get all that by watching Moulin Rouge (and I haven’t a hope in hell of making this blogpost as entertaining as Moulin Rouge). Still, I want to reflect on it a little though and write down a short account of my lovin’ Saturday experience because I feel it has some significance.

In brief, I’m a lover but I’m not a lover. As a single man on Valentine’s Day there is nothing to do and no one to do it with, but I don’t see any point in being bitter, sad or antagonistic. Also, if you show me a calendar, I’ll seize any opportunity to do something timely related to a milestone day, even if it’s just a doodle. When February 14th rolled around I figured, “Hey! I’ve got to celebrate Valentine’s Day! I’ve got to do something to celebrate love and spread loving feeling!” I would have declared my affection to someone I love and showered them with bad poetry if I didn’t have the problem that I only fall in love with film characters (some of them robots) and women who sit opposite me on trains and then vanish out of my life after just three stops.

Still, I’m in love with the idea of love like Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. And maybe in a couple of months I’m going to move to Paris and write a hit musical that’ll spark a fresh Bohemian Revolution. For now though, I’m in Milano in Italy and I was also in Milano in Italy on Saturday. “How romantic it is just being here in this romantic place surrounded by all these beautiful people on Valentine’s Day!” I thought. “I’m going to see if any of my friends want to come with me to the Duomo on Valentine’s Day morning and share ‘Free Hugs’ with strangers!

I did that – actually we did that, because some friends joined me – and it was wonderful. Sadly, the weather was lousy and it was too wet to stand outside next to the grand cathedral so instead we stood under the cover of the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the great shopping arcade, home to high fashion outlets and a floor mural of a bull on whose testicles you stand and spin around if you want some extra good luck). I made a sign to advertise that I was offering free hugs and a number of passers-by embraced me and my colleagues.

We shared some really nice cuddles with an array of random people from both Italy and various international destinations. We got into nice conversations and made a lot of people smile. It even followed a couple of us home as we ended up hugging and talking with a mixed group of Anglo-American tourists to the bemusement of everyone else in the train carriage. I repeat again: it was wonderful, and the main reason it was wonderful was because it was a sweet moment of human connection and human sharing.

What I learned – or re-learned, or was potently reminded of – was this fundamental fact which I very often forget: human beings are social creatures and they need to retain a link to other people, to be open-hearted and to live with compassion and empathy. ‘Free Hugs’ is a way of consciously forcing oneself to knock down the barriers and make yourself open to others as opposed to distancing yourself. As a loner prone to self-isolation (not always a good thing) and as someone who wants to make people happy (“And, by Aphrodite, I will make you happy, damn you!” *smites them all with a double-rainbow*) ‘Free Hugs’ is a win-win scenario.

I loved the experience, and I’m going to do it again (and again and again, if possible) not for attention, but because I believe that ‘Free Hugs’ is a beautiful thing. It spreads positive energy, encourages human connection and brings human beings together, even if it just for a fleeting moment. It’s a moment of love and love is something worth celebrating, on Valentine’s Day and everyday.

I’m going to go and write a Bohemian musical about love. And I’m going to try and find more people to hug, which is easy in Italy where hugs are conventional everyday greetings. I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day and urge you to hug more often. Embrace it, and embrace each other…

Hey! Let's hug!

Hey! Let’s hug!

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘The Death of Earth Patrol’…

Writing! I love writing and I always want to write more and more and more than I actually do write. Such is life, but I’m not happy settling with “such is life“, oh no thank you very much. Inching up towards the year’s end and getting reflective I already know that one of the top targets on my hypothetical New Year’s Resolution list is write more and write harder, better, faster, stronger. (Most of my draft New Year’s Resolutions are suffixed Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.) Anyway, one thing I’ve been meaning to do writing-wise is catch up on the way overdue Pictonaut challenges. Set by Sir John Steele every month, the idea is to write a short story based on an inspiral image. Right now I’m up to August, and August’s image was this illustration by Kali Ciesemier

Image by Kali Ciesemier

The picture captured my imagination and I came up with a short story called The Death of Earth Patrol. I won’t say anything else about it apart from this: it’s not quite what you think it is. I hope you enjoy it and I hope that I can make up some more ground on the Pictonaut challenge soon. Feel free to read that effort and just know that I’m out there, working hard at being harder, better, faster, stronger. Write on…

‘We Made It’ Issue #2: Fantastical Unicorn-Themed Zine Action…

What is best in life? Some people would answer “fat unicorns“. Those people have a good point. Rembrand Le Compte is one of those people and he decided that fat unicorns should be the theme for the second issue of the We Made It zine that he edits. That zine is now here…

It’s a very nice anthology package packed full of sweet illustrations/stories/poems/photos from a diverse array of ace artists, all inspired by the fat unicorn theme. I’m happy and humbled to be in there alongside them, for this issue features some of my work as well – a comic titled ‘Una the Aurous ——-‘. Cheri Borgstrom illustrated the short story and she brought the whole thing to life and turned my idea into something beautiful. I’m really pleased with the end result and it’s a thrill to see something I wrote made real as a printed comic that I can hold in my hands.

We Made It. Yes we did, and you can see what we made by ordering issues – print or digital – from the We Made It site. You might also be interested in the first issue – themed around Whales – which features my short prose story/alternate history ramble ‘Whale Caesar’. You also might be interested in submitting to future issues, so keep an eye out for news of issue 3.

What is best in life? Well, if it isn’t fat unicorns, it’s probably making things. Yeah, I think that might be it…

‘We Made It’ Zine Available to Download…

Ahoy! We Made It! Yes, I’ve written this blogpost before, but am flagging up the issue again because there’s fresh news. Fresh news is this: the first issue of the We Made It zine edited by Rembrand Le Compte is now available to download. Download it and you get the opportunity to enjoy an excellent anthology package anchored around the theme of ‘whales’. My secret history short story about Whale Caesar (Emperor Publius Cetus Traianus) is in there and if you’d like to read that, you’ll have to click on that link because We Made It is the only place it will be published. Esoteric mysteries do not make themselves conspicuous, y’know, and you have to make certain pledges if you wish to reach enlightenment…

And some more news: We Made It is now accepting submissions for issue 2 and the theme is ‘Fat Unicorns’. I’m determined to have a fat unicorn of my own creation in the zine so have already begun work on my masterplan and started consulting the arcane literature as research. Manifesting mythical creatures is something I’m very much interested in…

Anyhorn, We Made It #1 is there and available online for your reading pleasure. Enjoy…

The End of the ‘Meanwhile, in an alternate reality…’ Parallel Dimension News Service… Again…

The Alternate Reality News has broadcast its final broadcast…

Meanwhile, in this reality…. the alternate reality news service I run hits a total of 222 daily bulletins. Hitting that number means The End. Fin. Skwaa’t, as the ice miners of Scorpius-Gliese 667Cd say at the end of every single hard shift (Unionise, guys. Unionise). Enough and no more. The Universe (as in ‘personification of cosmic consciousness’) of this Universe hath declared that it’s The End so, yes, I’m done.

I am done because there are no more news stories to elaborate on, for this recent Alternate Reality News run was an expanded edition to accompany the original ‘Meanwhile, in an alternate reality…’ site. Recapping briefly, last August the James Clayton of a not-too-dissimilar parallel dimension experienced a timequake and was forced to relive the entire past year all over again. So he might do something useful with himself while living through the repeat, he decided to go through all the daily alternate reality news bulletins and provide additional details. I – James Clayton in this timestream – then duly typed up his reportage for the denizens of this reality. That’s why there’s no more – as I say, the original run of daily updates ended at 222.

So that’s that. Finito. I’ve had so much fun engaging with these alternate realities and I’m stepping away with feelings of ambivalence. I’ve got some more mental space to concentrate on other projects and responsibilities. I’m liberated from my rigid morning routine. At the same time, I’m going to miss my daily dose of far-out, otherworldly thinking ’cause engaging with alternate history and immersing yourself in fantastical possibilities and ‘imagine ifs’ is so much fun and essential for your mental wellbeing.

I will, thus, continue to look back in the direction of ‘Meanwhile, in an alternate reality…’ in the future because it’s a treasure trove of material and ideas for creative writing. For now, though, I’m going to step back and have a moment of peace, taking satisfaction in what actually amounts to a pretty impressive achievement – that is, observing and fulfilling a self-made commitment to write material on a daily basis for no reward beyond my own absurdist enjoyment and the slight possibility that a few others might enjoy it too. It has been nice to see people responding well to what I’ve offered up and if you’ve read and shared, just know that I’m sending huge thanks and appreciative fist-bumps your way. Special thanks are due to a select bunch of cyberspace champions who’ve been especially supportive of my online activities – namely this Warlock, that Necromancer and the Bearded Charmer.

At some point down the line I’ll pull together a print collection of the Alternate Reality News to accompany – and surpass – the first newsletter edition. For now though, I need to find some solace and meditate on what this all means, what my purpose in life is and what I’m going to do to ease the epic void that has just opened up in my soul.

Oh, okay. The James Clayton of another alternate reality has just appeared in my mind’s eye and he has reassuring sweet words of wisdom. I’m off. So, is Alternate Reality News. Thank you for reading and good life…

*The quintessence swirls and warps, the cosmic weave dances and then sweeps all tangible and intangible matter into a hole that is nothing and everything and then everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Silence. Fade to black. Titles say ‘The End?’*

The ‘We Made It’ Zine and the Secret History of Whale Caesar…

We Made It! Well, Rembrand Le Compte made it and put in the real effort of actually pitching and putting together a fresh collaborative creative project. Kudos, then, to Lord Rembo for his initiative and editorial effort because We Made It #1 is an excellent collection that contains superb material from an array of talented artists and writers.

The theme of the zine (the zine-theme) is whales and, because I really like sea creatures and alternate history, I offered up a piece of writing titled Whale Caesar. I figured that it was time to share the truth about the forgotten Roman Emperor Publius Cetus Traianus – a mighty and fascinating figure whose name was shamefully scrubbed from the chronicles. I’m just happy to have the chance to tell his story and to have my work included in the mix.

We Made It is a limited-run publication but there may be more copies available at some point in the future. There will definitely be more issues with different themes for artists to submit to and for further information please visit the website.

Here’s a photo giving you a hint of my whale-of-a-tale

‘Whale Caesar’ in the We Made It zine…

Valentine’s Day, Lonely Hearts and Timely Tragic-Romantic Links…

The Little Lonely Heart on Valentine’s Day…

Hot damn! (or “damn hot, yes you are!”) It’s Valentine’s DayTo celebrate this I produced a few things related to V-Day, love and romance and put ’em up on the internet. With love, I gave them to thee whoever ye be. They all went live this morning but I’m going to bring ’em all together in a harmonious promo blogpost. I may get a little more love by doing this and really, as a lonely man on Valentine’s Day, I think I need some more love

*Sad face and silent, pathetic weeping…*

But, hey! Valentine’s Day! In an alternate reality, the censorious Cuban government has removed the erotic romance works of bisexual poet Jorge Ignacio Bello from the banned literature list so that’s nice. I also spent a lot of time doodling squigglies for the above sketch of the Little Lonely Heart while cranking the mushy mixtape of the most melancholy, most achey-breaky heart music I could find. I, of course, sang along. It was like beautiful meditative creative karaoke

The final, most vital thing though is this week’s Friday Den of Geek film column. In it I discuss Valentine’s Day, look ahead to seeing the Spike Jonze film Her on Valentine’s Day and then explore romance and love in the dehumanised 21st century. It gets very bleak but the really good news is that I did go and see Her today and found it to be a moving, transcendental experience. It’s beautiful in so many sublime ways and I urge people to see it if they get the opportunity.

That is all. I will now sign off with a bad Valentine’s Day poem and go and find something (nec)romantic to do. The spirits of a lot of passionate, beautiful-but-long-dead people are in the aether just waiting to be channelled, y’know…

I hope it’s not true,

That romance ain’t dead,

Violets are blue,

Roses are red.

I don’t think I understand conventional romance. Ah well. Happy Valentine’s Day… *mwah mwah mwahs…*

Hourly Comic Day, Slice of Life Chronicles from a Relatively Unexciting Saturday…

Yesterday it was the first day of February. Hey February! It’s the month of Pancake Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day and the NBA All-Star weekend. It’s also the month of Hourly Comic Day. That happens on the 1st of February. That was yesterday. Let’s go back to yesterday…

The objective of Hourly Comic Day is simple enough: every hour you’re awake and functioning you produce a comic to document your day. Slice-of-life diary comics on the fly. It’s a nice idea but I’ve never done it because: 1. My comic drawing skills are not up to much and my fingers can’t realise the awesome pictures in my mind, damn those digits; 2. It always seems that February 1st is an ultra-busy day where I couldn’t possibly squeeze in some sketching every single hour; 3. Diary comics are not my preferred brand of jam (as a later taste test described below will confirm).

(Un)fortunately enough, I’d set aside yesterday as a ‘Saturday where you have absolutely nothing to do except rest back at home off the back of some busy days and just get on with some writing having allocated extra space’. I could therefore fill the extra space with a few really crappy little comic panels jotted down on pink post-it notes. Oh, and then I was told I’d be making a curry for a family dinner so that ended up in the mix as well and added some extra spice to a comic chronicle that’s pretty mundane.

It was a challenging thing to do, and not because I had to knock something out every hour. What I found a bit difficult was the nature of diary comics: they’re naturally self-obsessed, solipsistic and prone to neurotic navel-gazing. I do not dig these things at all and try to avoid them, which is partly why I’m not really engaging with Twitter much at the moment. After drawing a few panels I started to realise that questions about how I represented myself and how I accounted for my time(wasting) were surfacing. This creative action was too consciously self-involved and introspective for my personal taste. The fact that I refer to myself in the third-person is pretty telling. As I say, my favourite jam would be different kinds of comics, though I can, have and do enjoy the autobiographical graphic works of certain artists. I think it depends on the individual person and the circumstances they’re depicting, but I do know that I’d personally rather produce far-fetched fictional than work up kitchen sink non-drama diary strips. Less narcissism, more fun, for sure.

What I’ve learned is that diary comics are definitely not going to be a regular thing, but it was still nice to have a crack at Hourly Comics Day. In spite of my feelings, you may find them intriguing or entertaining and I’m glad I participated this time around. Here’s the outcome of yesterday’s scrappy sketch activity: a run-through of my pretty unexciting day but, hey, it was a pretty good day…

Hourly Comics Day, Morning...

Hourly Comics Day, Morning…

Hourly Comics Day, Afternoon...

Hourly Comics Day, Afternoon…

Hourly Comics Day, Evening...

Hourly Comics Day, Evening…

Things That Are Gonna Be Big in 2014…

2014! Happy New Year! WE ARE IN THE FRESH FUTURE AGE! THE FUTURE IS NOW!

It feels good to be in the Future-Now at the beginning of a whole reboot/fresh start/new era. Seizing the spirit of change I will now list my New Year Revolutions and New Year High-Def Resolutions… or not, because it’s actually better to keep them to yourself. Sage advice: internalise your self-improvement schemes and stay pretty quiet about them and you have more chance of actually achieving your idealised goals. You also decrease third-party pressure and are less likely to irritate people with your your pity-parties, your self-loathing and your self-flagellation.(And you’re good, by the way. Best wishes and all power to you as you go about your empowered self-improvement missions.)

Instead I’m going to list the things that are going to be big in 2014. I mean huge. I’ve consulted the Oracles, whispered with the ravens and squeezed my scrying teabags and all of them concur and can confirm that the following things are going to be hot, on trend and oh-so-zeitgeisty over the next year. I suggest you jump on the bandwagon right now and embrace the hip crazes. The things that will be big in 2014 are…

  • Godzilla.
  • Labyrinths and mazes.
  • Artichokes.
  • World War I-era facial hair.
  • Men calling each other “Sister” and women calling each other “Brother” and everyone completely smashing the idea of gender-specific terms of endearment for friends. Believe it, brothers and sisters.
  • Top-knots.
  • Prog rock revival.
  • Amateur astronomy.
  • Amateur astrology.
  • Brutal honesty.
  • Forgiveness.
  • Brown paper bags.
  • Dissonant audio.
  • Séances.
  • Steam.
  • Supermarket sabotage.
  • Overlong shoelaces.
  • Putting vanilla syrup on everything.
  • ‘Adopt-a-Bee’ conservation schemes.
  • Da dance craze dat all demz be callin’ ‘Da Soup-Doop’.
  • Grow-your-own garlic.
  • Big eyes.
  • Minotaurs.
  • Kit Harington.
  • Japanese mythology.
  • The critical re-evaluation of phrenology in academic circles.
  • Wardrobe sharing.
  • Iran at the FIFA World Cup.
  • ‘Reclaim the Comments Section’ activism movements and the consequent prolonged troll battles that follow.
  • Warzone tourism.
  • Corporate assassinations.
  • Sci-fi poetry.
  • Stroking people’s faces (no longer seen as ‘a bit weird’).
  • Diaries as a smarter alternative to stream-of-consciousness venting on social media platforms and on the public spaces of the internet.
  • Presenting Shakespeare monologues in surreal fashion and uploding them on YouTube.
  • Owning a pet sheep.
  • Independent political candidates.
  • Rock Paper Scissors tournaments.
  • Origami.
  • The word “Ishrific!” which means “Whoa! It’s terrifically shit-hot!
  • Elaborate faking of deaths for life insurance scams or for sympathetic tributes on Facebook and Twitter.
  • The flaming unicorn-horned crocodile “ARE YOU FOR REAL?” GIF meme.
  • Storytelling chain-letters.
  • Insomnia.
  • Baristas and other service industry workers adopting kooky pseudonyms and work personas as company policy.
  • Polygamous marriages.
  • Affecting an Eastern European accent.
  • Customised coffins.
  • Coloured cardboard boxes.
  • Tibet.
  • The insult: “You genefreak!“.
  • You, genefreak.
  • Research into gene therapy to modify and perfect your impefect genes, genefreak.
  • Spontaneous unprovoked laughter.

And if the rest of the world fails to turn these things into trending topics and doesn’t catch on to the fact that they’re the cool stuff making 2014 so 2014, I’ll just celebrate them myself until the wider Universe adopts them as well. I’m a futurist and a forward-thinking fashion trendsetter. Mark my word and heed the soothsaying sources: 2014 is going to be an excellent year and it’ll be especially immense for everything in the lengthy laundry list above.

Welcome to 2014, brothers and sisters! It’s gonna be ishrific!” I say in an affected Eastern European accent while pouring vanilla syrup all over an artichoke. Oh my Godzilla, I’m psyched about this future-now. Ha ha, ha ha ha!