Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Cop-Out

Sadly, the real world sometimes gets in the way of what we want to do. I really enjoy writing for and updating this blog, and hopefully some people enjoy reading it too, but I’m going to have to (dun dun dunnnn) cut back a little. From now on, the blog will only update on Saturdays.

This probably doesn’t seem all that bad. I mean, this blog doesn’t exactly have much in the way of ground-breaking insights or essential information that will actually hurt people if it’s delayed a little — but for me? It feels like something of a failure. Well, it is something of a failure.

The thing is, I simply did not expect to get a full-time job so soon, after such a relatively small amount of searching. I was very lucky indeed, and as a consequence of landing the job I’ll be able to do important things like eat and sit down in inside places, and incur hefty fines for public misconduct. Unfortunately, another consequence is that my time for stuff like this is much more limited, what with NaNoWriMo eating into my time, as well, and having to maintain certain basic standards of hygiene.

I feel like my blog posts have been becoming more rushed and lower in quality lately, anyway. So it’ll be good to ease off a little, take a bit more time over each post and make sure that they’re all just better.

My girlfriend, who has her own blog over at trichquestions is currently writing a post for this blog, which should be in much the same style as the posts I’ve written so far. She is an excellent writer, so no need to worry on that front.

And I think that’s everything I can get done this week. I have some ten thousand plus words to write if I am to complete NaNoWriMo on time, and I also have to find out how my latest academic stuff went.

Whyyyyyyyy?

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Alternative Plots I Considered (Briefly) For NaNoWriMo

Despite my earlier pride, this time at having succeeded in keeping up with the word count for NaNoWriMo for the first two weeks, it seems I have once again celebrated too soon. Thirty thousand words for NaNoWriMo sounds like a lot, but I’m supposed to have thirty five thousand finished by the end of the day, and after my first full day at work in about a year (very enjoyable, and I don’t think I could ask to work alongside nicer people), I do not believe I have the stamina or mental energy to complete them. This will probably place me somewhere between two and three days behind in word count, or else possessed of a word count which has temporarily been inflated by means of a special type of suction pump, but in which all the vessels have been irreversibly damaged so that over time it will go all knobbly and permanently limp and floppy.

Image of a courgette.

You are more than welcome for this mental image.

So with my progress, or rather lack of it, constantly on my mind, I had no alternative but to find a venting place for all the unproductive thinking about writing I was doing. Luckily, I came across my notebook from day one, which was full of all of the alternative plots I considered for NaNoWriMo, that I presumably kept as evidence of what a pretentious arse I can be, and also as evidence of how irredeemably stupid I can be at times. Since they were quickly conceived of and quickly dismissed, they’re a bit more honestly about the kinds of things which I find interesting. Which can be a trifle odd, sometimes, or about things I know nothing about, at other times.

  • A policeman believes his cups to be magic, despite no evidence for this being available. Eventually he goes mad. (underneath this, underscored several times, is written “or doesn’t go mad…hmm?” — god, I irritate myself sometimes)
  • Two Italian American brothers, in the nineteen-sixties, find themselves on divergent paths. One joins the army, while the other gets sucked into a violent life of crime. Potential problem: I know nothing about Italian American culture, the army, or violent lives of crime. Note: is The Godfather based on real events? (I also realised I knew nothing about the sixties, looking back over this)
  • In a future world where certain individuals have acquired the ability, through intense deprivation and training, to manipulate the quantum world with their mind…(this trails off, presumably as I realised that talking about quantum physics in this way would enrage every scientist with half a clue within a fifty mile radius).
  • Goldilocks goes on an adventure with one of the three bears. Note: Which one? Baby bear would be crap, while “Daddy bear” carries uncomfortable sexual overtones. Mummy bear is a bit cutesy-sounding, but will have to do. Goldilocks has a shotgun and is chased by pterodactyls trilobites underwater robots other bears for some reason raisins. Bears love porridge embellishments, y’see?
  • A middle class family in the suburbs is torn apart by the mother’s Note: father’s? refusal to stop smearing his/herself in faeces and wandering about near the shops in the middle of the night. Eventually, in a quest for meaningless symbolism, she is crucified upside down. Meanwhile, unnoticed by the family, wizards do battle in the background throughout the novel.
  • A sentient jet-ski develops the ability to love, but does not develop the ability to recognise when it is tearing through human flesh. Hilarity/tragedy Note: perspective-dependent ensues. Hiladgedy! (I later realised that Hiladgedy would probably not be as good a word for this as several other words that already existed) The jet-ski is eventually hunted down and exploded with extreme prejudice. Its last words are “I oooonly waaaanted to looooove.”
  • A sexy pirate hermaphrodite finds themselves transported through time and space to the twenty-first century, where they learn the ways of modern warfare and become a proficient marksman and soldier of fortune. There are thirty four pages detailing the intimate workings of every gun and explosive in the book, in honour of Andy McNab’s inimitable style. Note: Is it inimitable if I’m imitating it? (The answer is no, but I was being a snidy bastard on paper, which is one of my favourite things to do)
  • A smart, successful career woman finds herself lost without a man in her life. Any men. Because they were all wiped out by a bizarrely specific apocalypse. As were all the other women, who might otherwise have helped her. Also children. Also the career woman was dead all along — classic Shyamalan! Not a ghost, either, just dead.
  • A writer who cannot come up with any good ideas for a novel bludgeons himself to death with a frozen chicken kiev.

Fortunately (both for me, and my housemate’s supply of chicken kievs), mere seconds after writing this I decided on the plot of my novel. It would be a plot I had already wanted to write years in advance, based around Michael Moorcock-style ideas of chaos and law in an urban/post-apocalyptic setting, incorporating the imagery of tarot cards and the Epic of Gilgamesh. If that sounds worse or more boring or especially more pretentious to read than any of the options I tried out briefly first, then, well, you may have a point.

It’s a much more enjoyable novel to actually sit down and write, though. And writing this post helped me remember that. Got to go now…this novel won’t write itself. Or, in the style the word count for NaNoWriMo keeps pushing me to write in, “I must beg permission to leave quite soon, but not literally immediately if I am being honest. I paused for a while, considering my options. They were many, and sparkly, like a tear drop on a sad clown’s wiffle stick. The novel was difficult, to be sure, but it would not complete itself without my aid, on its own, it could not grow arms and use a pen to write a novel, which is to say itself. No, surely not. I would have to roll up my sleeves and write it myself.”

That last bit actually sounds a bit like a stupid and modernised version of Charles Dickens. Which, given that he was churning out sentimental pap for magazines to deadlines and attempting to make inconsequential events last an eternity in order to get the most buck for his severely limited bang, is probably not all that surprising.

You can run to the sea…

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Three Terrible Parody Songs That Will Get Stuck In Your Head Forever

If you are still reading, even after having read the title, then either (a) you believe that you are immune to ridiculously catchy, ridiculously dumb songs, (b) you actually enjoy the constant nagging ache of the same three lines of a song being stuck in your head all day, or (c) you have been deadened to all forms of emotion, following a terrible incident involving two members of The Vapors and a jar of peanut butter, and no longer care what horrors you expose your hardened heart to. In all of these cases, I am relieved of my moral and legal (in AR, U.S.A.) responsibility to give you one final chance to turn back lest your mind become possessed by irritating cacophonies born of hell itself. Because that’s the thing about these songs. They will get stuck in your head, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Also, most of these songs fail on every conceivable level.

HEY AF-RICA

If there’s one thing that Look Around You  taught us, it is that comedy and junior school teaching materials go together very well. This sketch by usually-chuckle-inducing sketch mob picnicface, however, only succeeded in one thing.

That thing was inscribing the words HEY AF-RICA so deeply into my brain that my skull actually became slightly misshapen. So much of my brain power is now devoted to remembering those two words that I lost the ability to finagle. I can’t even remember what finagle means, and I used to go finagling all the time with my dear, uh. Well, shit. The most annoying thing about it is that the finagling centre of the brain is linked directly into the section that governs your lymphatic system, with the result that watching this video will, quite literally, make lymph and chyle burst from your body in all directions from sheer irritation, killing you instantly. The good news is that the explosive de-lymphatisation process, as it is known, can take as long as four weeks to initiate.

COMBINATION PIZZA HUT AND TACO BELL

I’m not sure if it makes it more irritating or less irritating that this song is supposed to be a parody making fun of more popular types of rap. Oh wait, this is by godawful pretentious “alt-rap” group Das Racist? Definitely more irritating. Definitely.

For those who, quite wisely, are reluctant to expose their ears to novelty rap hits, the song’s plot goes roughly as follows:

A man, presumably on the phone, tells his friend that he is at the Pizza Hut. Pursuant to this information having been received, his friend makes his incredulity known. Clarifying somewhat, the first party declares that he is also at the Taco Bell. The second party finds that this declaration does not remove his confusion, and again expresses his disbelief. Finally, and in a move that in truth he should have performed at the start of this ordeal, man the first admits to being not at separate institutions, but at a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

Next, the friend explains that this is impossible, since it is in fact he who is at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Our original narrator, fearing there has been a frightful mix-up of the first rank, attempts to rescue the situation by narrowing his location down: the Jamaica Street Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Unfortunately, all this does is make matters much worse. The song ends with a delightfully suspenseful cliffhanger of sorts, with both parties, their intentions towards each other entirely unknown, at the same fast food restaurant, each without the faintest idea as to the other’s whereabouts.

The listener is left with a sense of existential dread and despair by this trenchant critique of modern values. In the age of the Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, the artificial social connections brought by technology are no match for the gaping wounds in the human soul, wrought by the absence of the ‘authentic signifier’ and the life-in-death of the hyper-real existence.

Either that, or it’s the most boring, vacant, obvious piece of parody ever committed by the most ironically artless hipsters to ever walk the earth. And it won’t get out of my head.

SQUID SHARK OCEAN VOISUS STOIP SOIGN SUN

Oh God, is this ever stupid. And Oh God, is it ever catchy. If you’re familiar with Cody’s work on Cracked.com (especially “Game Helpin’ Squad”), you’ll be aware that this is definitely on purpose, as a parody of certain internet phenomena. However, stupid on purpose, when given a catchy series of words in an amusingly silly accent, ends up with just the same result as stupid by (sort-of) mistake. All the “weebl’s stuff” content that this song mocks is utterly eclipsed in irritating brain-worminess by this masterpiece of crawling terror.

Whoever said that fear was the mind-killer had evidently never heard thishean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun.

Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark? Ocean voisus stoip soign sun! Squid shark ocean voisus, stoip soign. Sun squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun. Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun.

Squid shark ocean voisus stoip soign sun.

Still want to listen to a load of utterly, ridiculously, dumb songs? Clicky.

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Five Ways People Try To Get Through Crowds That All Suck

Crowds are annoying. We know this. We want to get out of them, or get through them, or at least get to a more comfortable area of the crowd we’re already in. These are the methods we use, and why they don’t work — at least, not in the way we want them to.

1. The Ghost

The Ideal:

This is me, actually. The most common method I use, anyway. The ghost attempts to weave unnoticed through the crowd, leaving nothing but footprints and confused stoners wondering if we are from The Matrix. Daintily side-stepping everyone, we gently accelerate through the crowd, disturbing no-one but getting to our destination kempt, shevelled and on time.

Crowd at Metal Concert.

Get to the bar? Yup, looks do-able.

The Reality:

We are the most annoying members of any crowd. In reality, a crowd in the street, or especially in a licensed establishment, is a sort of terribly dis-organised, massive, queue. We are effectively queue-jumpers, and chances are that you’re not nearly as subtle about it as you like to think. I know I’m not. You are stepping on toes, whacking people as you pass them with your bag, your elbows stick out about half a metre from your body, and worst of all, you’re obviously not even acknowledging that you’re causing a problem. You genuinely believe that you’re slipping harmlessly through the packed crowd of sweaty people like a fading dream. As you move off into the distance, however, all they can do about it is mutter passive-aggressively to themselves and give you lame nicknames they just thought of on the spur of the moment. This method actually sort of works. It’s just that you fail in your goal of “not angering the entire rest of the crowd”.

Other People Call You:

Elbows McGee, Mumble Mutter Mumble Arsehole Mumble Mutter, Bigfoot.

2. The Juggernaut

The Ideal:

This’ll show coach for knocking you off the ‘A’ Team all those years ago! Show some hustle, knock these nerds out the damn way. Anyone hassles you, give them your best, toothy, “I don’t need to give a shit, I’m an athlete,” smile. You might be pushing forty now, and all the alcohol and cocaine is taking its toll, but damn, you still play weekends, and you’re going to get through this crowd your way or no way. What’s the point in waiting around, when you can just take what’s yours?

The Reality:

This is probably the least effective way of pushing through crowds, but a surprising number of people try it. Sometimes they employ cunning distraction techniques, in an attempt to (a) disguise the fact that they’re trying to shoulder-barge you into a wall/off a bridge/off the train station platform by diverting your attention elsewhere, (b) make themselves appear too important to be bothered with this ‘crowd’ nonsense, and (c) pre-emptively deflect confrontation by making it seem difficult to grab their attention. These distraction techniques include talking on mobile phones, checking watches, adjusting clothing, lighting cigarettes, all while continuing to ford through the human cattle in their way.

I actually have a certain level of respect for the unashamed bastardry involved in this method of crowd-travel. It doesn’t muck about. With the Juggernaut, women are more rare than men, for obvious reasons, but almost anyone can surprise you with a quick break for freedom. Racial and class barriers are no obstacle to making a spirited attempt at it. Unfortunately, there is always someone stronger in the crowd, or at least strong enough so that when they body check you you will spin off into somebody else, who will also instinctively body check you. There’s also the very real risk of getting into a fight, which is extremely difficult to escape when you’re being crammed into a tight space with your opponent by about a thousand people on all sides, all of whom now hate you.

Other People Call You:

Goddamn Jock Failure, That Guy Who Just Tried To Push Twenty People Out The Way At Once And Fell Down.

3. The Persuader

The Ideal:

Similar to the Ghost in their nervous disposition and desire to be liked but simultaneously get to their destination before everyone else, the Persuader deals in worried, anxious smiles and squeaked apologies and excuses. The Persuader doesn’t stop if people don’t step out of the way in response to their pleas, though; he or she pulls lightly on peoples’ arms, flutters their hands down strangers’ backs, and generally inveigles their way through the masses by physical distractions and gentle but relentless application of pressure. Attempting to get past the Persuader once they’re in front of you is impossible, as their arms suddenly jut out and become made of iron.

The Reality:

This is the creepiest way you can possibly move through a crowd. There is nothing more disturbing than the gentle touch and soft voice of a stranger. Sooner or later you are going to get mace to the eye and a very loud whistle in the ear. Until then, you’re not actually going to get anywhere, in any case. People simply do not respond to the gentle pressure, partly because it’s disturbing, partly because they, believe it or not, are aware of your plan to become an instant and insufferable obstruction as soon as you get past them.

Other People Call You:

The Creep, The Groper, The Stroker.

4. “The Foreigner”

The Ideal:

Contrary to what you might think, “The Foreigner” isn’t carried out by actual foreigners. It refers to the deeply held belief by certain individuals (usually high-powered investment bankers, CEOs, or members of the upper classes) that this whole “crowd” thing is some sort of awkward misunderstanding, and if you only speak clearly, brusquely and loudly enough, the whole issue will sort itself out, and probably wander off and get you a cocktail of some sort.

Bijou Cocktail.

Although knowing your luck, they'll use yellow chartreuse in your bijou, and then you'll have to shoot a gamekeeper.

This method is named “The Foreigner” because it is the exact same method which the exact same people use to address foreigners, the profoundly deaf and buses (there is nothing in this life I have seen that is more amusing than the sight of a respectable and extraordinarily posh-sounding lady saying, in a startled tone of voice, “I say, you there! The bus! Slow down, I say!”).

The Reality:

If you really are one of the people who expects this to work, then I…I just don’t know. Yet people seem to genuinely believe it does work. The reality is no-one cares about your important stuff that you have to get to, because (I know, bizarre), we all have that stuff too. Raising your voice and shouting “Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me!” only results in the entire crowd looking around to play a game of “spot-the-entitled-arsehole”, and shortly thereafter, “subtly-but-remorselessly-crush-the-entitled-arsehole-to-death”.

Other People Call You:

Entitled Arsehole. Was this not clear?

5. The Prop

The Ideal:

This guy has a ridiculously outsized instrument, medical equipment, hadron collider, whatever. The point isn’t what they have, it’s the way they use it. Haha. Sorry. The Prop is used to gently lever vast quantities of people out of the way. Pushing back, the primary defence against the Juggernaut or the Persuader, is out of the question for most people, because your prop looks like it is fragile and likely costs more than they do. The important thing here is choosing an appropriate prop that strikes a careful balance between five factors; looking expensive, looking fragile, not actually being fragile, not taking the piss, and immense size.

The Stradivarius, for instance, fails on count three, four and five. A Double Bass fails on count four. A Cello is ideal, being equipped with a big fancy spike and all.

A suitcase fails on counts one, two and five. A big box marked “caution, fragile” fails on count four. A glass-topped coffee table might just work.

You get the idea.

The Reality:

There are all kinds of practical problems with this method. It is incongruous to bring an end table or gamba di viola to a football match, for instance. Crossing traffic-filled streets becomes a minor nightmare once equipped with a suitable Prop. Someone might actually break your expensive item. The most significant problem with this idea, however, is quite simple, and reads as follows:

expensive, bulky, awkwardly-shaped items and public transport.

Other People Call You:

They don’t need to call you anything. You understand their contempt, a contempt so deep it will stay with you forever, from the look in their eyes as they sit comfortably in the back of the bus while you argue with the driver. “You may have reached the bus ten minutes sooner,” their expressions say, “but I am given to believe that it is faster to travel fifty miles on public transport than on foot, carrying an antique medicine cabinet.”

In the end, crowds are just terrible, terrible places. Nothing you can do will make them better, and everything you do will make them worse, either for you or for other people. Just give up. Stay where you are. The crowd might move, it might not, there’s nothing much you can do about it. Adopt a foetal position. Start to cry softly to yourself. There. Doesn’t that feel so much safer?

Hey there good friend why not check out this post I wrote for my girlfriend’s blog yes yes why not. And check out my girlfriend’s blog anyway. It suddenly strikes me that this post would be more appropriate around Christmas time. OH WELL. This Christmas shopping season, why not try: staying at home and eating your weight in suet instead?

What the whatting what.

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What NaNoWriMo Can Teach You

We’re almost halfway through NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) now, and I’ve somehow managed to keep up with the word limit. Approximately one thousand, seven hundred words every day doesn’t seem like a vast amount until you actually have to write it, and there are all kinds of opportunities to kid yourself — “Oh, I’ll just catch up with this tomorrow,” “Including notes is a perfectly valid way to bump up the word count,” “If I just have the main character say the same thing over and over again, for three pages, that counts, right?”. I’ve been tempted by all of these cop-outs and more, but have gotten through them by reminding myself that this novel is for me, not for a word count or for a little sticker saying “winner!” at the end of the process. It’s fascinating watching the novel develop, too, in all sorts of ways I would never have predicted at the start — and, as a habitual outliner, ways that would never have occurred to me if I’d been writing my novel in a more conventional way.

Having completed NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) in April, the difference could not be more stark and obvious. During National Poetry Writing Month, most of my time was consumed with ideas, themes, and working out how to convey certain unusual (read: desperate) topics in my usual style. A few of my poems ended up being, I thought, decent, and with a good deal of development after National Poetry Writing Month some other people started to agree. Albeit grudgingly. After I pestered them for weeks. During National Novel Writing Month, by contrast, most of my time has been devoured simply by writing. It’s not ‘automatic’. I, like most other people doing NaNoWriMo (I suspect), still require valuable gazing-out-the-window time, and visits to Cracked and similar humour sites to trick myself into thinking I’m having fun. It does feel much more like a natural growth than NaPoWriMo did, though, and a lot of the things I’ve found out through NaNoWriMo are, quite simply, fascinating.

For starters, and as the most obvious thing you can find out about yourself through writing, there are all the writing tics and quirks that you’d never have noticed if you were writing more carefully, or even if you were writing just as carelessly over a longer period of time. As an example, all of my characters are constantly looking places, throwing glances about the place with reckless abandon, staring at stuff. This probably sounds quite normal, but if you saw the frequency with which it actually happens, you would be forgiven for expecting all of my characters to be Beholders.

Twenty-Sided Dice

Dungeons and Dragons references are totally where it's at. For a given value of "it".

There’s also a prevailing focus on doors, passageways and rooms which is quite hard to shake, as well as an awful lot of swearing. There are some bad reasons for this; staring places can be a lazy way to work in an excuse for some description of setting, character or props. Doors, passageways and rooms can be clumsy ways to instigate and separate important plot events. Swearing can be used to pad out the word count, although so far I think I’ve steered clear of this. For some reason, I also seem to get fixated on minor characters and events, and really need to rein in the fleshing-outs I keep giving them. Sure, a little bit of background is great for your minor characters, but if you devote a good page and a half to the little foibles that you’ve decided they have, the chances are good that you’ve fundamentally misunderstood what a “minor” character actually is.

More surprising have been the personally revealing traits: look out for these, they usually manifest as personality traits that are shared among all your characters, including (especially?) the narrator. Most of my characters exhibit, or exhibited before I went back and revised the first draft, pronounced nervous twitches and spasms. They didn’t feel comfortable in social situations, and they were all fairly nerdy in their interests and speech patterns. My narrator happens to be quite different from this, so it might have been less noticeable to a casual reader, but it was still there; most of my characters, despite their shallow traits, were very similar on a deeper level. Similar, in fact, to me. Another revealing aspect has been the narrator: as opposed to the common third-person omniscient narrator, he is first-person, writing in the present tense and involved in, even controlling, large parts of the action. Although this initially merely felt like a natural choice, it has become increasingly apparent that the voice is similar to that of early, text-driven video-games. It’s also pretty obvious that I’m interested in metal and the genre of the New Weird through the text, given the fairly violent, bizarre nature of some scenes. There’s a sardonic tone to a lot of it. It goes at a breathless, over-excitable pace. All-in-all, even a casual skim would suggest very strongly that the writer of this text was a specific type of twenty-something nerd.

There’s also more subtle things that come through. When I’m tired, people pass out, are knocked unconscious and wake up a lot more: people fumble things, accidents happen with more frequency. When I’m angry, people start to die, the angrier I am the more horrible the death. When I’m upset, everything becomes saturated with this atmosphere of hopelessness. I even fell for that old writerly trap, people suddenly turning up in bare white rooms, or not knowing what to say or do, when I was struggling with writer’s block. I did edit the most egregious examples of this out, to be fair. NaNoWriMo is almost a direct reflection of the writer’s consciousness at times.

I’d recommend to any NaNoWriMo-ers that you give your text a quick read-over, if you haven’t already. I get that it feels like you’re wasting valuable writing/word-count time whenever you go back to edit and/or read your work. It’s really worth it, though, because with the more raw, more instant and therefore more personal style that NaNoWriMo forces you to adopt, you see much more clearly what your work tends to look like to the reader, and can therefore catch yourself when you find those stylistic malfunctions occurring in your more considered, more carefully-produced work. You can deceive yourself all you want as to who you are, when writing prose, but NaNoWriMo forbids you from doing that with its strict time-and-word limit. To writers, this is impossible to price.

The last thing NaNoWriMo can teach you is how dedicated you truly are to writing. If you take up NaNoWriMo, you are setting yourself a challenge to remain passionate and committed to writing even if it gets in the way of ordinary life, even when writing becomes something of a chore to complete rather than a reward you grant yourself, even as you’re desperately casting about for those last precious hundred words to kick yourself over the one thousand seven hundred, fifteen thousand or twenty-five thousand mark. Even if you can’t quite make the word count, or ‘real life’ commitments get in the way, if you still find yourself drawn to writing after such a traumatic experience, I think you’ve learned something pretty important about yourself: that you can’t do without writing something, no matter what.

I’d describe my incipient novel as “Burn After Reading meets the New Weird”, but no-one ever listens. Best of luck to everyone involved in NaNoWriMo, it’s one of the most draining and difficult things I’ve ever attempted: it’s also, so far, one of the most satisfying and enjoyable.

Old Samael…

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A Quick ‘n’ Dirty Introduction To Metal

I’ve just realised that almost everything I’ve talked about so far has been something I’ve really disliked. With that in mind, I’ve decided this week to write about something I really love, metal. If you’ve been clicking the links at the bottom of my posts (don’t worry, nobody clicks the links at the bottom of my posts), then you’ll have seen a few of my favourite bands, or at least the most over-the-top bands I know of. Sadistic Abductive by up-to-eleven tech-death band Brain Drill, for instance, was described by my girlfriend as an enormous tumble-dryer full of cats throwing up screwdrivers.

We run into a problem here with anyone who is not well-acquainted with metal, especially extreme metal: it’s not really possible to talk about it without running into genre names that the average person simply has not heard of. Now, the average man or woman (we’re not talking ‘average internet man”, here, for obvious reasons) has probably heard of death metal before, and possibly even has a rough idea of what it constitutes. But I’m barely two paragraphs into a relatively light-hearted post about metal, and I’ve already thrown ‘tech-death’ into the mix! It’s pretty easy to deduce roughly what’s going on, but that’s still not really conducive to having a decent conversation about metal.

At first, I attempted to shoehorn the information into an Excel graph. Thrilling though this procedure was for me, once finished I realised people might find this a little dull. There’s also already an excellent, beautiful graphical, musical and textual guide to metal for the extremely interested in the interestingly extreme at Map of Metal. So instead, I’ve written a quick , informal guide to the key metal genres.

————————————————————————————————

Heavy Metal:

Sounds Like:

Harleys revving up under an occult moon. Hard rock taken up past that crucial eleventh notch.

Topics Include:

Bikes, satan, leather, satan, women, satan, booze, satan, hell, satan, mental illness and satan.

Notable Sub-Genres:

Speed Metal.

Doom Metal:

Sounds Like:

The dying heartbeat of a leviathan. A stoic warrior picking his way through the remains of a battlefield. Heavy metal slowed down, more melancholic and brooding.

Topics Include:

Apocalypse, hopeless battles, the indifference of the Universe, Lovecraftian abominations, drugs (mostly weed), witchcraft, eternal solitude.

Notable Sub-Genres:

Drone DoomEpic Doom, Funeral Doom, Sludge Metal, Stoner Metal

Thrash Metal:

Sounds Like:

Speed Metal played harder, faster and more aggressively. Metal mixed with a punk attitude.

Topics Include:

Political corruption, war, marginalisation, mental illness, religion, death.

Notable Sub-Genres:

Groove Metal

Death Metal:

Sounds Like:

Demonic, angry, guttural howls and growls over a squalling blast of guitars and drums. The punky aggression of Thrash Metal married to more goddamn aggression.

Topics Include:

Death, mostly. Sometimes only on the desire for death. Sub-genres touch on politics, religion, philosophy.

Notable Sub-Genres:

Brutal Death MetalGrindcore, Melodeath, Technical Death Metal

Black Metal:

Sounds Like:

Demonic, tortured shrieks over chromatic tremolo-picked guitars and rapid blast beats. Concentrated evil in a jar. Discordant and intense atmosphere rather than the frantic and brutal atmosphere of death metal.

Topics Include:

Satan, only even more. Politics, religion, philosophy, suicide, murder.

Notable Sub-Genres:

Depressive Black Metal, Symphonic Black Metal, Viking Metal

Progressive Metal:

Sounds Like:

Uh, pretty much anything. Generally, but not always, vocals are clean and everything sounds more melodic than ‘un-progressive’ (for want of a better word) metal. Often weird scales and time signatures are used. The one thing bands from this genre tend to have in common is that they sound very, very different.

Topics Include:

Usually, but not always, morbid or melancholic topics.

Notable Sub-Genres:

Avant-garde Metal,  DjentMathcore, Post Black Metal, Post Metal

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Hopefully that wasn’t too confusing. Or, if you happen to know more about metal than me, infuriating. I’ve avoided listing fusion genres here (such as Progressive Death Metal, for example), because that would take forever. The exception is Post Black Metal because that’s one of my favourite genres, and has significant differences from Post Metal. Here are some random genres that are pretty big in their own right, but didn’t make the list because they’re not really sub-genres of any of the major styles of metal:

Folk Metal, Power Metal, Metalcore, Deathcore, Alt Metal, Nu Metal.

I’ll add more to the lists if people suggest them to me. ‘Crunkcore’ and ‘screamo’ are just bloody stupid genres. Is it ironic that Alt Metal is more popular than most metal genres? I’m genuinely unsure. Deftones are a great nu metal band but they don’t like being called nu metal, so I didn’t.

Nothing ever bothers Juular.

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Technophobia And The Family

If you took a quick look at me and my immediate family on a typical meeting, chances are you’d see us sitting around on laptops, computers and phones, appearing to completely ignore each other. A depressing image of the impact of modern technology, writes the reactionary hack in my head, undermining the traditional family unit, replacing simple joys and pleasures with a bovine, complacent contentment. My question this week is: does the hack have a point? Is technology driving us apart?

I’m not going to pretend to seriously contemplate that question. The lie of older pastimes being any more family-oriented is pretty easy to see through. I can remember the television and radio in particular being far more disruptive influences on communication and common interests, but even the threat of more healthy, intellectually-demanding or sociable activities always loomed over us. In a worst-case scenario, this could lead to charades or Monopoly. Let’s all get together and do something, the idea appeared to be, anything to avoid actually talking to each other or enjoying each other’s company. I might sound like a petulant teenager when I say this, but ‘family activities’ are inherently totally fascist. God. Now, I do have some sense of scale. I’m not going to compare the desire for family closeness to the activities of the National Front. Family activities are only a very little bit fascist. On the petulant teenager scale of fascism, the family activity ranks at about three milli-fascisms, making them more fascist than almonds but less fascist than a coracle (but more fascist than multiple coracles, which are of course communist). I should probably add that I tended to enjoy the stuff we did ‘as a family’.

But fascist ideology and family activities have a surprising amount in common. In both cases, the individual identity is subsumed within an assumed collective interest. In both cases, the collective interest is in fact more closely related to a received, warped sense of morality and duty than the genuine feelings of any of the collective’s members. The only real difference between the two is that one of them can lead to atrocities such as half-term visits to the zoo, and should therefore be treated extremely carefully and with great sensitivity.

Hannah Arendt

I'm pretty sure that when Hannah Arendt said the "banality of evil", she was thinking of that one stretch of road between Chelmsford and Colchester that always got jammed solid.

I don’t have a problem with what we did, as such. As I’ve mentioned, I really quite enjoyed most of it, and the few things I didn’t enjoy were quite tolerable. It’s just that if your main concern is to promote real family togetherness, a family with strong relationships, built on mutual respect and genuine understanding, then the traditional model of family activity is flawed. There’s still good things about it. It feels good to do things together. It’s just not really about the other people in the family as much as it is about a nebulous idea of ‘family’. What I’ve noticed about the advent of technology is that, partly due to social media, partly due to staying connected more, and partly just because of the technology itself, we seem to have a much better sense of who the other people in our family are, as a whole. The videos that entertain us, the issues that enrage us, our political stances and our philosophical foibles.

Now, we take things from our own lives and share them with each other, which can bring open-minded families closer together than ever before. The laptops that initially appear to be taking all of our attention are constantly being flicked round to show each other what’s going on, what in particular has grabbed our attention or interest, a job or volunteer position that someone might be interested in, or events like stand-up comedy and music that we might (or might not) all be genuinely interested in going to. That simply can’t happen with television, nor can it happen with the overwhelming majority of books. Are there issues with the new way of living? Absolutely. Eye-sight problems are the main concern, but there’s also been a statistically significant increase in lolling about doing sod-all [citation needed].

However, in terms of family, I think the reactionary (fifth) columnist in my head can shut the hell up. Technology is bringing us closer together than ever before. The appearance, the teenager or older child utterly engrossed in the glow of the blue screen, might look scary and alienating, but I’d be prepared to wager that if you showed a real interest in what they were looking at they’d be thrilled to share it with you.

Actually-kind-of-interested in the blank planet.

We saw the light, we saw the li-ight…

The Ten Best Words I Learned From Freerice.com

I used to be a little sceptical of freerice.com. The people behind the site deliver ten grains of rice to the needy for every language-related question you get right.

It’s always been fun, but I wasn’t sure whether I was really doing any good by playing it. Most of its advertisers, from whom it derives its revenue, used to be charities, so I wondered if it was simply shuffling money around the good causes.

Recently, though, some ‘proper’ advertisers have started placing ads with them, so I started playing again in earnest. The words are much more interesting than they used to be, with a couple of relatively tough words showing up at level twenty. There’s also options to play in other languages, and to learn new languages — potentially very useful for students.

I really recommend that you give it a go. You do some good with your free time, and you learn some excellent words in the process. You might even get some inspiration from them for NaNoWriMo.

Hecatomb:

Hecatomb is an ancient word for the ritual slaughter of one hundred animals, but it has since expanded to mean any mass killing in the name of a cause — much like its fellow Ancient Greek word for sacrifice, Holocaust. Hecatomb is not so full of connotations as Holocaust is, however, and is therefore more flexible in its use. I suspect this flexibility will only be used to make awesome band names, sadly(?).

Usage: What do you think we should call our band? Frozen Holocaust or Hecatomb Of The Lost Million?

Numismatist: 

This word, meaning “coin enthusiast”, is related to the more widely-known philately (stamp-collecting) in that it lends the whole hobby an aura of sophistication and even decadence. A numismatist always has a bottle of something that may or may not be merlot on the go, a fine cape and a devastating line in sardonic wit. Also oddly pointy teeth. A coin enthusiast, by contrast, sounds like he or she smells faintly of mould and drinks cold tea out of a stained and broken thermos flask. Such is the power of language.

Usage: Thief is such an ugly word. I much prefer “over-enthusiastic numismatist”.

Quirt:

This word for a type of whip is just beautiful. Contrasting with the elegant onomatopoeia of “whip”, which accelerates down towards the cutting consonant at the end, “quirt” sounds like the ultimate anticlimax. Quite simply, if you get hit by something that goes “whip, whip”, it hurts. If you get hit by something that goes “quirt, quirt”, then you wipe it off and question the decisions you made that led to this point in your life. Actually, that might apply to the whip too.

Usage: My cattle wasn’t moving out of the road so I gave some of them a good hard quirt in the hindquarters. Why are you laughing?

Pharisaical:

Meaning “hypocrite”. Careful with this word, as some consider the word to be anti-Semitic — Pharisaic Judaism still has followers. It certainly is a little anti-Semitic in origin, but it’s such a beautiful word to say out loud.

Usage: Given the whole communion thing, the idea of the blood libel is a little Pharisaical, is it not?

Consanguine:

To have a common ancestor.  It’s often used more loosely, and it’s great to see such a bodily, real metaphor being used widely — it makes the language richer and more full. Blood-with-blood, blood-bound, blood-related. Consanguine. Great word, although I’ve noticed I’ve been going a bit vampiric with a couple of these definitions.

Usage: Difficult to believe that Claudia and Edward Cullen are consanguine, isn’t it?

Cozenage:

Putting this word on the list is cheating a little, appropriately enough, as I knew this word before freerice.com. But not only did it round the number of words up to ten, it is a really evocative, crooked little word meaning ‘fraud’. It also seems somehow petty, and mean, as though it’s more to do with swindling peasants out of grain than the big-bucks white-collar fraud we’re used to today.

Usage: Fraud is wrong, but a little light cozenage every now-and-then keeps ’em alert and on their toes

Immortelle:

Ah, the French. The only people about whom one can vaguely generalise and escape any confrontation or accusation of wrong-doing. This is a word for a type of herb or shrub, which misleadingly doesn’t actually live forever. It probably refers to the long life of the herb once dried out, which seems a little creepy to me.

Usage: These? No, these aren’t dead flowers. They are immortelle… Say, kid, you wanna live forever?

Gigot:

Gigot is a word for a leg of lamb. The word seems somehow both like a jaunty butcher puppeting the meat in his store to hilarious effect, and like a Biblical giant or demon.

Usage: And then Gigot came to the place of the Canaanites; and verily, he did pull a face like a monster and hop about after the little ones shouting his own name until they squealed with laughter.

Exoteric:

Suitable for the public. Ironic, that its cousin esoteric became the more well-known of the two words. It’s a wonderful word, though, very curt and precise-sounding. Because it’s not well-known, you could also use it to talk about dodgy schemes with potentially wide-reaching impacts without anyone noticing.

Usage: This gigot has been here for months, do you think it’s, uh, exoteric? Ah, who cares, just chuck it up on the display.

Archimandrite:

Abbot. But come on, an abbot who is also clearly a part-time dragon or something.

Usage: Oh shit! AN ARCHIMANDRITE! MAN THE BALLISTA!

Chimeric Abbot Figure

The Archimandrite, It Comes

Myths about world hunger. Good luck with NaNoWriMo everyone! Here goes nothing…

Regenerate the cell.

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