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…

2016: Rock On into the New Year…

Hey Sweet 2016! Happy New Year! #2016 #HappyNewYear

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2016! Hey! Happy New Year! It’s the future, now, and we’re here in a brave new age and it’s the Year of Beans and the second coming of Shakespeare! (He’s been quiet for 400 years. It’s the right time for a comeback.) 2016 is fresh and exciting and so far it looks like this…

I came here to rock 'n' roll...

Yeah, I came here to rock ‘n’ roll…

I intend to keep that spirit up throughout the year and rock out and rock on in 2016. ‘Less Talk, More Rock‘ is a pretty good mantra and its essential meaning is “Go! Do stuff! Action! Enjoy!“.  Too right, and right now I’m gung-ho for action and doing stuff. There was a lot of action in 2015, and I’d like to keep momentum moving and make 2016 even more exciting. I like life better when I’m busy and either creating or having adventures so here’s to a lot of creation, hard work and adventuring over the next twelve months. I start as I mean to go on, and here’s a little thing I doodled yesterday…

A little New Year comic for you if you're fishing for resolutions…

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That’s for anybody who’s fretting about New Year’s Resolutions. I figure it’s probably better to just try and be the best human being that you can be instead of making a long laundry list of self-loathing and self-mortification. (*aside, looks the reader directly in the eye with a hypnotic enlightened gaze* Cast aside your anxiety and know that you’re good and that I believe in you. High-fives to you, Champ.) As such, I don’t have hard-and-fast resolutions but I do have (good) intentions steered by wide-open mantras and principles that transcend specific units of time: do stuff; work hard; have fun; be positive; keep on pushing for progress; live life. Things like that, used as guiding lights and squeezed into adjustable, tangible real-world targets when they’re required as circumstances demand. (I’m an idealist, but I know that you need to have goals to actually achieve things. What I’m saying is that setting up a mountain of promises at the start of the year is overwhelming and potentially self-defeating.)

So, yes, that’s the spirit to start my 2016 and power it on. You can see the arty things that manifest out of that spirit on my Instagram feed or on my Facebook page. Otherwise, writing and occasional blog updates will surface on this site as I throw myself heart-and-soul into various things. That’s enough talk for now: I’m going to go and rock some stuff.

Here’s to 2016 and Happy New Year to anyone reading. Go forth, have a good ‘un and be brilliant…

2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

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2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

Heart…

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‘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?

(more…)

All About the Red Planet: Getting My Ass to Mars…

Mars! Yeah, MARS. The Red Planet rocks and is having a bit of a moment right now so let’s all be slightly awestruck and look to its immense ochre majesty

They’ve discovered that there’s water on Mars! They’ve released a movie about Matt Damon getting stuck on Mars! They’re getting nostalgic and remembering classic Martian literature! Me? I’m wearing my ‘Get Your Ass to Mars’ t-shirt , singing the Martian Song in twilight car parks and trying to get my ass to Mars. In reality, this mission isn’t making much progress but in my mind I’m bare-naked and bouncing about the canyons of Barsoom like John Carter. I just leaped over a minor Martian mountain and beat up sixteen Tharks bare-handed so, yeah, take that reality…

Anyway, I’m all about Mars right now. With the release of The Martian on my mind I wrote a fresh article on space movies and loneliness for the Den of Geek website. It talks about isolation and how sci-fi films are really good vessels for exploring the theme and feelings of solitude and if that sounds interesting to you, the link is there.

Otherwise, still contemplating space and Mars, I ended up creating the following epic miniature doodle. When I get into these things I kind of get carried away and start meditatively inking and then next thing I’m scribbling out the entire cosmos…

Mars…

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I’m now going to go back to my fantasies of being a naked superhuman warrior on Mars. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon with more stories and stuff (and probably some bruises on my ass).

 

Fresh Facebook Page, Fresh Flash Fiction, Fresh Thoughts…

Hey! Here’s some miniature news. (Miniature news is delivered by ‘ickle pixies with high-pitched voices. It’s better than ‘Big News‘ which is often just ridiculous…)

I set up a Facebook page and you can go there, ‘Like’ it, follow it or leave comments if you so desire. It’s called ‘Jamazing Things’ and I will do my best to festoon it with Jamazing things. I figured it might be a way to spread my jam further across cyberspace and establish a public front. I also figured it would allow me to devote my private profile entirely to bad summer selfies and in-jokes with Italian friends without any irritating distractions.

I’m not sure – it’s an experiment but you can go find me on the Matrix Fakebook now and it may be worth watching out while I roll out some rad new designs (writing, doodling, even more miniature doodling, war plans, revolutions, new religions, I-just-don’t-know-what-yet-but-it-could-be-thrilling). Otherwise, doodles are happening (see the unicornscape below) and yesterday I returned to ‘James vs. Story Cubes‘ and dashed out a couple of short riffs of flash-fiction. (One of them is about a warrior king who got crabs, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Oh, and I’ve also been thinking about Twitter as well lately. I’ve been very much out of the loop and alienated from that thing, and I got worn out long ago with its ‘rolling news reaction’ grind. Altogether, too many inane opinions, too much snark, too much negativity and the whole unfiltered stream-of-consciousness aspect got dull. Stream-of-consciousness broadcasting is perilous business, especially when my own stream-of-conscious oscillates between overexcited geeksplosions in all-caps and hideous melancholy. From there, trying to understand my Twitter feed looks like that moment in Star Trek where Spock mindmelded with a traumatised pizza. But, hey, maybe it’s time to try a tiny-comeback and engage with it again. Yeah, in conclusion I think I’m going to tweet more – more than just dumping my links – and I think I’m going to mostly tweet unfathomable absurdities because trying to make sense and be clearly understood in this nonsensical Universe is futile.

There is my miniature news, narrated in a high-pitched voice by a shrunken-down version of myself. (I thought it might help me with these miniature doodles and make me cool like Ant-Man, but now I can’t reach the cutlery drawer. Hurm.) More soon, but for now, take care out there and, please, spare a thought for all the unicorns, pizza aliens and pigs that have suffered…

Unicorn Farm…

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Homecoming, Hailing the Best Summer and Creative Action Ahead, Ma Dai…

Allora, “kingdom of trash, came home at last“. Yeah, I’m home! Home from the latest fresh exile in Italy. It’s been four (quattro!) in total this year and I kept on going away and coming back and going away again but now I think I’m going to stay put for a bit. Though, of course, nothing is certain (everything is uncertainty) I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be based in the UK over the coming months.

So s, I’m home but home is strange after a lot of time away. It’s also hard in the winter, especially right after the highs and sunny haze of the summer. This year was the very best summer so the comedown is brutal. It’s cold! It’s wet! The Italian culture, la dolce vita, all the friends and the amped exhilaration, activity and adoration of summer camps (aww, I miss my pre-teen fans) all feel so far away…

*weeping…*

So , I’m in that strung-out post-summer state of confusion and I can’t stop saying “ma dai!“, “ma perché?!” and “non lo so!” because I have acute Italianitis. Regardless, now that I’m here and not set on flying away for a longish time again, I’m going to get on with doing stuff – namely doodling, writing and wrestling with and through other assorted forms of creative action. (Note: there will be wrestling and my ring names are alternately ‘Jamezilla’ and ‘Miss Apocalypse Sweetheart’).

I’ve been doing a lot of doodling lately, and in coming days I’ll put together a compilation blogpost collecting more lunchtime doodles from another English-language summer camp (this one from the countryside near Padova). Otherwise, watch this space – I have the wish and will to blast out a whole lot of stuff and I’ll let keep you in the loop. Please, feel free to be loopy with me…

I’ll leave it there, because the rest is just me bleating about the weather, bemoaning the absence of decent pizza and altogether turning into a quasi-Italian version of Jon Snow. (“Winter is coming… ma dai!“). For now, here’s to the home where your heart is, kicking out creative jams and, for the final time, memories of the magical summer.

Andiamo, autumn action…

James vs. Story Cubes: Furious Fingers Flying for Fresh Flash Fiction…

*Clears throat* Alright! Are you sitting comfortably, my Preciouses? Good – then I’ll begin…

Once upon a time (last week) I had the thought “Hey, I haven’t started a new blog in a while” while simultaneously having the thought “Hey, I want to get back to writing some flash fiction“. These thoughts started dancing together and then they grabbed me and dragged me down a path of fresh creative action.

Here’s fresh action: ‘James vs. Story Cubes‘. It’s like Alien vs. Predator, except better/worse. Here’s how it’s going to work: I’m going to roll my set of Voyages edition Rory’s Story Cubes (recommended for fun with friends or personal creative impetus) and come up with short stories inspired by the images in oooh, say, around 10 minutes and no longer. The results – whether they be good, bad or abominable – will be written up on the new Tumblr blog on a relatively frequent basis. (Probably a few times a week.)

I figure this will be fun creative exercise – on-the-fly story fabrication with built-in limits and without excessive thought. I’ll see what happens (probably multiple atrocities). You can see what happens by heading to the James vs. Story Cubes site and I hope you enjoy what I come up with in the clutch when I’m challenged by the Nine Perilous Pictorial Polyhedrons of Power.

Alrighty? Write on… *attacks the story cubes, and they return fire with extreme prejudice…*

New flash fiction blog-project-thing: 'James vs. Story Cubes' (jamesvsstorycubes.tumblr.com) is go…

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Back-and-Forth, To-and-Fro: an Update Between Italia and Britannia…

H’oookaaay’aayyy! (That’s how many Italians say ‘okay’, y’know) I’m back! Yeah, just to update those interested, last week I came back again from bella Italia. Again? Yes, again. I keep on doing this thing of going to Italy and coming back to Britain only to then swiftly go back to Italy again and then it’s back and forth and to and fro and there and here for a little bit and so on, so on, per sempre. And now I’m going to tell you that I’ll be taking off back to Italy again in under three weeks time. I see a pattern here. Do you see a pattern here? I hope you’re not bored of all these ‘Sorry guys, gone to Italy’ notes. (If you are, well, sorry guys, I can’t do owt about that ’cause I’m going to Italy again.)

Whatever, for a relatively brief moment I’m here in England and it’s nice to be home in many ways but at the same time it’s not so nice in others. Do you see my sad face and pouting? Just know that there is a sad face and pouting and sometimes anguished, forlorn and teary-eyed outbursts of “ma perché?!” Leaving Italy is always a wrenching ordeal (punctuated by lots of expressive hand gesturing). I have all these feelings, guys, and the comedown can be (nay, is) sometimes brutal. Here, share in my grief pizza…

Grief Pizza: quick doodle 'cause I'm home from bella Italia after the best time ever and, aww guys, it hurts… #GriefPizza

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Ah, I miss pizza – and pizza is not about the pizza but about the people you’re eating pizza with, and I miss the people I’ve eaten pizza with. Anyway, putting my grief pizza to one side, I realise that all this to-ing and fro-ing has sorta-kinda positioned me in a constant state of flux. Right now I’m a bit of a drifter caught between two lands not knowing exactly where he’s up to or even who he really is anymore. Being back here in the summer, things don’t make sense. How can I can reconcile my Italian side and the rock-star status I have over there with my humdrum homeland state? (Rock star status from being an all-action almighty hero English teacher) I keep on thinking “Where are the children?! Where’s my fan club?!” and automatically using Italian words all over the place (and even though I’m nowhere near fluent, a lot of basic words trip off my tongue faster than English ones if I’m not thinking about things).

These are strange days I’m floating through, often in a dislocated haze. But that’s okay, because life is perpetual confusion and constantly trying to work out who you are, where you are and what this world and existence are all about (possible answers: “I am a pizza“, “I’m going through chaaaaaanges” and “don’t ask me“). In total – to try and make some kind of point before I pass on the maybe-important information – I’ll say this: there is a lot of movement and some confusion, but there is living in the moment and in the moments there is bliss and the realisation that life is living in the moment and that life is perpetual change. There’s my deep, philosophical, spiritual point.

Allora, the point I originally aimed to get in this blogblast at was this: I’m sort-of in-and-out-and-off-and-away at the moment but I am creatively juiced and regardless of where I am I’m going to be knocking stuff out (all kinds of stuff) and uploading it onto the interwebs. New projects are being spawned and they will see daylight fairly soon on all the usual channels. I’m also thinking about makeovers and upheavals and ripping-up-and-starting-agains and fresh conjurings. We will see and you will see in time…

For now, there’s a lot of doodle action happening up on Instagram and, simultaneously, on my doodle blog. In addition to that tonight – Friday 24th July, from 10pm to 1am – I’ll be making a cameo appearance comeback rocking out and sharing anecdotes on BBC Radio Lancashire’s FNAT show. The rest is all secrets and esoteric mysteries, conceived in a hot ambivalent mess of bittersweet emotions and beautiful memories. Oh, and it’s also partly fuelled by grief pizza, so I’ve got to go back and get some real pizza and share it with great, real people. That’s what I will do and the adventure carries on, so here’s to adventure, creative action and being alive…

H’oookkkaaay’aaay? Good. Bear with me, watch this space and I’ll keep you in the loop. In the meantime, take care of yourselves and each other – live in the moment as much as possible and live good… 😀

Mental Wellbeing: Being Aware and Taking Care…

Hey hey, my my! It’s Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought I thought I’d write a blogpost about mental health in hope of spreading awareness or piquing awareness. Mental health is of optimum importance and we need to be very aware of it. Too often, though, we’re unaware and don’t talk about it or even acknowledge it. There are various nebulous reasons – stigma, fear, discomfort – but the truth is we need to get beyond those reasons and consciously engage with this issue of ‘mental health’ (and its dark flipside) because minds are everything.

Truly, minds are amazing things. Everything around and everything that ever was, is and will be is an expression of and the result of mind-power so, with gratitude and appropriate awe, let’s all politely applaud mind-power. (*polite applause, somebody whistles and hollers “H’yeah! Yeee-aaah!“*) Consider the human mind and realise that it’s the unique attribute that marks us out from the rest of the animals and that has enabled us to dominate this Earth. Our brains helped us excel in the field and we turned that field into irrigated farmland and we invented wheels and language and plumbing and electricity and spaceships and all this other sophisticated, impressive stuff (and some unsophisticated, less impressive stuff though those things couldn’t have been crafted by, say, a moose so humans are still ahead thanks to the immense instrument inside their heads).

I’m thinking about the creation of whole cities, complex systems, incredible innovations and inventions, masterpieces of art. I’m also thinking of the more crucial things that our minds achieve every day – like responding to external stimuli, emotional intelligence, reasoning everything from the mundane to the marvellous, managing the human body’s communicative procedures and its actual functioning, and all the rest. Your mind may not be writing a contemporary gender-swapped Moby Dick with a non-linear narrative in Swedish at a speed of 427 words-per-minute right now, but it is telling you that putting that thing in your mouth is a terrible (potentially fatal) idea. Minds don’t have to be exceptional to be exceptional – they are cognitive, creative, rational and emotional instruments par excellence vital to our survival and our thriving as living organisms in this Universe. Hooray for our minds! (*cheering*)

Ah but here comes the ‘ah but’. (*gasps, atmospheric mood deflated, tension*) For reasons we know not why, the things that raised human beings up are also the things that bring them down, down, right down. Is it nature restoring some kind of balance? Is it the will of the Gods, keeping those hubristic humans in check? Is it some kind of cruel cosmic irony, self-sabotage encoded into the would-be Masters of the Universe? Whatever, these miracle minds that make people what they are can (and do) viciously turn on said people and mess things up for them. Minds afflicted by foggy, disturbing ideas and feelings; minds mixed up thanks to misfiring neurons and faulty connections; minds becoming dysfunctional and destabilised.

Altogether, minds are vulnerable and liable to start acting up and working against their owners as opposed to working for them and with them. This, sadly, is not a rare phenomenon. Lots of people (I’d argue every single person, in fact) are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, psychological disorders, mental illness or just general ‘mental wellbeing deficit’. Labels are a tricksy and problematic thing, but altogether we can put them under the same umbrella of ‘poor mental health’. (An umbrella may not be a good image to use, actually. This umbrella isn’t protecting you from the rain. In fact, the rain is coming from the inside of the umbrella and sometimes that rain is actually smoking black tar.)

Poor mental health is distressing and, potentially, devastating on both an individual and collective level. Poor mental health makes me sad. Poor mental health makes me angry. I have history with poor mental health (both my own and others’) and that’s part of the reason why it makes me so sad and angry. Thus, I’m writing this to exorcise some of that sadness and anger and have a “People! Be aware!” moment. If it helps someone, then bonus.

I know and have known too many good people who’ve suffered with mental health problems. So many wonderful human beings with so much going for them and with so much life within them and ahead of them brought down low by depression and/or by mental disorders. It’s horrible and heartbreaking to witness, especially when you end up feeling completely powerless to prevent it, fight it or improve the situation. I appreciate that I’m speaking generally and non-specifically here and that the spectrum can run from “oh dear, this low mood isn’t good” to “this disease is soul-destroying and has completely destroyed a life here“. Whatever the condition is or however intense or acute it is, the truth is the same – mental health is essential and something we need to consciously engage with and be aware of.

You may not agree with my view that we’re currently going through a global wellbeing crisis, but I think we can all agree that the line between ‘sanity and sound, stable mind’ and ‘disturbed mind’ is a very fine and fragile one. The way our modern society and culture has developed, I’d say it’s even harder to stay on the bright, right side of that line. Everywhere, I see people feeling pressured and stressed in an Age of Anxiety in which more of us (read: pretty much all of us) are feeling on edge or out-of-sorts more often. Hardwired for worry and conditioned by our culture to constantly strive to achieve impossible ideals of perfection, we’re even more vulnerable.

The good news is that we can be aware of this. The other good news is that we’re not alone when it comes to grappling with this. Every single human being on the planet (except a special few existing on an especial plane of pure enlightened cosmic consciousness) has something ‘up’ with their mind – a neurosis or irrational hang-up; a personality ‘flaw’; trouble with stress and anxiety; a psychological dysfunction; or what might be called a mental disorder, whether it be diagnosed or not.

We’ve all got to take care, of both ourselves and each other. Mental illness and the panoply of problems related to poor mental wellbeing shouldn’t be allowed to have their merry way with good people and no one should suffer alone if they can’t cope. You’re not alone, and if you by any chance do find yourself struggling I’d urge you to reach out for assistance (and it doesn’t matter what your state of mind is, whether it be ‘mildly bothered by this bleak bugger’ or extremes of ‘all of Creation is a living Hell and I am the blackest abominable spot in this roiling inferno of abject despair’.)

Charities like Mind are a good place to start, and a few clicks and entries into a search engine can get you to support and advice related to specific conditions. Otherwise, talking to friends and family (or anyone, really) is a great way to get outside your own mind if your own mind is letting you down or actively declaring war on you. If that doesn’t help or you need more support, go and see your doctor or try and secure a referral to specialist services. If they prove to be ineffective or, indeed, useless (or if the services just aren’t there) try to find seek out other support groups.

Whatever you have to do to fight the demons, to keep the black dogs at bay or to try and get better from the invisible ailments afflicting you, do it. Cling on to the good stuff and the good people that make you feel better and that help bring the light in. And of course, as a guy with a surging geekstreak, I have to encourage folk to find therapy in the things they love, and throwing yourself into creative activity (writing, art, music, crafts) and/or immersing yourself in your favourite entertainment products and hobbies can be hugely beneficial and provide emotional uplift when you’re feeling down.

Go to your happy place – or, at least, stable place – and do what works for you. Life is beautiful and it’s too precious to be wasted and drained by depression and the dark anti-energies and dim effects of mental disorders. As best as possible, with compassion in your heart and your consciousness carefully and sensitively engaged, don’t let moop, mental illness and low mental wellbeing bring you down and remember that you’re not alone (and that’s an essential thing to hold on to, because loneliness and alienation makes everything so much worse.) I repeat again, be aware and take care of yourself and others.

Here’s to better mental wellbeing and human beings with brilliant minds living happy lives… (*cheering, hugging, smiling*) 😀

 

Hooked on a Feeling: Marvel Movies and My Emotions…

Feelings. Feelings, friends. Aaawww. I have so many feelings and they all fight each other in a forest of confusion fogged by the mists of memory, grappling with artificial intruders and elusive subtle intelligences and secret agendas that I may not consciously be aware of. Sometimes I’m not sure what’s going on or who’s winning. Still, the soundtrack is stirring, the images are moving and it feels quite dramatic in here. Hey! I’m having fun!

It’s just like the opening sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron, really. Speaking of which, I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron the other day and had an absolute blast. It was a great experience both because of the film itself and because I was actually going to the cinema. I’ve been enjoying this strange old-familiar phenomenon of being able to trip off to the flicks whenever I please after not having that luxury while living in Milan.

In further film-related news, it’s also been good to get back to Den of Geek writing and, with Age of Ultron coming around and my mind occupied by Marvel heroes, I wrote a piece on the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I recommend you read it if you’re interested in these movies or want to see me crying about how much I love fictional characters.

Awww, feelings. Empathy. Emotional content. Here’s to great art that touches our minds, bodies and souls. Thus, I leave you with a timely bonus sketch of Shakespeare and the Hulk. Onward and upward, true believers, and onward and upward with a whole lot of heart. Excelsior…

It's Shakespeare's Birthday and Avengers Day. It's a great day… 😀 #Avengers #Shakespeare

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Kill, Kill, Natural Born Killer! A new chooseable path adventure…

Slash! Bang! Crack! Other assorted action noises, followed by signs of damage, destruction and grim bloody death! I’m doing some horrible things and will be doing some horrible things and here are fresh details…

I’ve launched a new blog and this here is the blog: ‘So, who do you want Nina Desai to kill next?‘ It’s a choose-your-own-adventure-style story about a natural born killer named Nina Desai and I intend to add something to it on a daily (or quasi-daily) to stimulate my writing and imaginative muscles and have some creative fun.

I like this kind of storytelling and always have a blast when I mess around with it (like when I’ve employed it in teaching English to Italian kids or when I’ve collaborated on The Working Barbarian saga). This particular character and kick is also inspired by my love for movies about lonely assassins and sociopathic avenging angels (both the sublime and the ridiculous and both at the same time, from Lady Snowblood and Branded to Kill to Lèon and The American to Kill Bill, Hanna and The Equalizer and so on, so on as the bodies stack up). I saw John Wick the other night and it reminded me of that fondness and fascination, so I decided “Yeah, I want to playfully pay tribute to the genre and write my own silly sprawl about someone who just kills and kills and kills and kills!” That someone is Nina Desai, and you can get her introduction by reading this first instalment.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s the charm and challenge of a creative project like this. I also figure it’s a good idea to dabble in different, more ‘mature’ material after focusing solely on child-friendly fare for several months. Please, don’t hesitate to pitch in – either by commenting on the posts, hitting me up on Twitter or sending me an email – so I can keep it going and hopefully write some absurd action scenes and glorious fictional deaths. Because I’m a despotic control freak who likes to maintain a veneer of democracy, the most popular choice (or the only response) will be the one I follow. I urge you to abuse your power and I hope you enjoy this fresh chooseable path adventure/distraction/writing exercise. As for me, I’m writing ridiculous ultraviolence, so I’m definitely enjoying it…

Back in Britain and Brewing Up…

*Clicks* And you’re back in the room. Specifically, I’m back in my room. Sì ragazzi, I have returned and I said that with stress and hamtastic disjointed emphasis for dramatic event. See me. Feel me. (And, yeah, touch me and heal me, if you so desire. And then everything gets really weird and turns into a rock opera directed by Ken Russell and I’m not sure why Tina Turner is here) I’m making much ado about this because coming home back to Britain after almost three months in Italy is a bit of a big deal. I mean, I’m a legend in my own lesson schedule over there and I have a fan following so in a way the UK should be honoured that I’m gracing it with my presence… *pouts, with bonus acquired Milanese swagger*

Seriously though – and speaking with my more standard modesty and over-sentimentality – coming home is a big deal because, hey, it’s home. I love Italy and consider it a spiritual home-from-home but Dorothy has a good point. After an extended spell in foreign lands, it’s good to get back to me roots, eeeh by ‘eck, see my blood brethren, drink a proper cup of tea and relax in my own space with my own home comforts. And the home discomforts as well. It’s cold, it’s pretty wet and the moors are scowling but, love, it’s all good. I’ve got a whole stack of films and telly to catch up on, very typically British things to indulge in and some time to savour the English springtime before I bugger off again.

That could be very soon depending on election results and my own whims, ’cause I like warm Mediterranean climates, the Italian way of life and living in a place where I’m a hot commodity (or at least, my mother tongue is) and where some people think I’m a hero. Heck yes I’m a hero (*fist pump*) but I’m going to spend the imminent future trying to be a hero back in the homeland I left behind. I don’t know what that entails yet, but I’ll blog about it here when I find out and am going to retrospectively blog about some Italian adventures. I’m also eager to get on with other writing and assorted creative stuff so, yeah, ‘ave it… (Truth: while living in Italy I’ve continued to lurch into very silly British accents – most often Northern accents – to retain a feel for the Mother Land and the Mother Tongue. Unleashing esoteric dialects and voices on completely confused foreigners and showing them clips of really bad British sitcoms and adverts is a source of great amusement for exiles.)

In total, expect potentially-interesting action on the interwebs from me over coming weeks and until I decide I’m done with home and want to go off adventuring again. For now, though, it’s nice to be back. Eeeeh, d’you fancy a brew?

Home comforts, guys. Home comforts… 😀

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