Personal Update & Various Reviews #4

Book stuff

A significant portion of the first half of this year has been spent on both my novel and my girlfriend Samantha’s novel.

All the stuff to do with my own novel I’m going to save for a separate piece, which I intend to set about writing in the near future, because I’ll need to get… reasonably long and in-depth. (Which is also what I’m wont to say in the boudoir. I find it’s always good to preface coital promises with ‘reasonably’, to manage expectations. I’m twenty-seven now, for christ’s sake; these bones are old and brittle, these muscles are tired and atrophied: my days of Olympic-level fucking are most definitely in the rear-view. But I’ll always look at that bronze medal framed on the wall with great fondness. Though in all honesty I technically had to share it with that year’s Lithuanian competitor, whose virility let’s just say even the editors of Fornicator Monthly strongly suspected to be synthetically enhanced, due to a tie for third place…)

I edited Samantha’s really very excellent and remarkable novel, an experience I’ll just say a little bit about. Obviously I would have been more than happy to do it in any case, but there was a certain pleasing element of reciprocity here, in that she was kind enough to suggest edits to mine a while back. Indeed, we laugh about the fact that we each restrained the… shall we say… less sound writerly instincts of the other, in very specific ways. I had to endure what will forever be known as the ‘Infamous Italics Massacre’, which she — no doubt in all sagacity — inflicted upon my novel. I tried to accept this corrective with grace. By which I mean just a bare minimum of petulant, melodramatic protests. For example, standing on a cliff-edge in the pouring rain, clutching the pried-loose ‘CTRL’ and ‘I’ keys and screaming that she’ll have to rip the italics from my cold dead hands. Like I said, I did no more of that kind of thing than ABSOLUTELY necessary. (I’m still a little bitter though. I really like italicising words and phrases for effect, okay?! I mean, give me a break, let’s not get absurd: I’m hardly a monster!)

And then I repaid the favour. I benevolently subjected her novel to what literary historians have, I believe, already begun to term the ‘Merciless Culling of the Commas’. Seriously, it was a bloodbath. You’d have thought that some wayward comma, perhaps a decidedly unrehabilitated scoundrel just released from maximum-security grammar-prison, kicked my dog when I was a kid or something.

Having never done anything like this before, I foolishly underestimated (by orders of magnitude, really) the amount of time that the editing was going to require. This is my fault and my fault alone. I suppose I had too high an opinion of my own powers of speediness. But, yes, I was very surprised by how long it ended up taking. I should specify that in terms of the level of thoroughness being applied, I was really exhaustively line-editing the prose. Samantha freely admits that she struggles with some of the more elusive minutiae of grammar and whatnot, and I was glad to help her out with that boring nuts-and-bolts stuff. And it goes without saying that when you’re going through a book with a fine-tooth comb and a magnifying glass, you’re in for a pretty time-consuming project, to put it mildly. Still, not at all without its compensations, obviously: although it’s not quite the ideal way to do so, it’s always a damn fine pleasure to read her writing. I trust you’ll believe me when I say that I would aver the exact same thing even if she wasn’t the woman I love. She is dizzyingly fearless in her honesty and she crafts gorgeous, sumptuous prose. Truly, she does things with language that I can only gape at.

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So, about that ‘Karen’ and Birdwatcher kerfuffle…

Let me preface this post with a word or two about timing and ‘lateness’. I guess I just feel like I should lay this out explicitly, as a potentially useful standing point going forward. I’m well aware that “The Central Park Birdwatching Incident” — which is how it’s grandiosely referred to on Wikipedia, like it was some diplomatic snafu that soured relations between two countries — happened like three months ago. Do I think it’s weird that I’m just getting around to writing about it now? Negative. Not at all. Listen, I don’t consider myself shackled to recency in that way. I’m fine writing at any time about anything that happened at any time. (What a see-saw of a sentence.) If I had strong feelings about Edward the Black Prince conducting the massacre, sacking, and razing of Caen, Normandy in 1346, I’d pen that impassioned op-ed like it had just happened yesterday and the motherfucker was liable to turn on his wooden laptop tomorrow and read what I had to say aghast.

I don’t write about current affairs for some clicks-over-substance news website, so I don’t feel the need to rush out some sloppy, slapdash, ill-considered 800-word spicy-hot-take four hours after something happens. That just isn’t me. I get to things when I get to them. And I like to dwell on the subject matter for at least a little while before I put pen to paper fingers to keys. Then I end up getting even more time to stew on whatever it is as I’m articulating whatever my opinion about it is, because I’m a slow writer and, even worse, a distinctly glacial/OCD-debilitated editor of my own work.

(I tried to check out a little vial of cocaine from The Hunter S. Thompson ‘Write Faster, Dummy’ Creative-Stimulant Lending Library established as a private foundation in his will, whose services are free to sluggish writers the world over. I was hoping that it could give me a kick up the backside and improve my productivity. But the nice bespectacled lady at the front desk with the chest tattoo and the undercut and the vanished septum told me that my membership card had expired and also that she suspected I was a quote-unquote “fuckboy narc.” And when someone treats you to two different reasons why they can’t help you, you tend to get the message loud and clear. Hey, that’s fine with me. But they ain’t never getting that tupperware container full of peyote buttons back. I don’t care if the late-fees accumulate forever. Fuck ’em.)

I’m also often busy with other shit. Other pieces of writing, other creative projects, personal life stuff, et cetera. So yeah, I get to things as soon as I can, but that usually isn’t exactly soon-soon. It’s more like how that weird film ‘The New Mutants’ has repeatedly been scheduled to come out soon, we promise for the last three years straight. (I don’t know if there’s a way to bet against a film being successful, kinda like shorting a stock, but in this case that seems like it’d be a pretty sure bet. If you can find me one person who was genuinely thinking to themselves “gee, I’d love it if they made a self-contained horror-movie spin-off of the now-finished X-men franchise,” I’ll let an empty-stomach build over a few days, then grab a knife and fork and a bib and head to my nearest hat store to chow down on some millinery cuisine. I thought the last few mainline X-men films weren’t even worth watching, so I’m definitely not enticed by the prospect of a posthumous add-on now they’re done…)

I’ve just had to make my peace with my slow pace as best I can. I will say that there are two frustrating things about constantly nursing a lengthy backlog of things I want to comment about though.

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Assorted Thoughts on COVID-19, Part I

Y’know, it’s… tough. On the one hand, and to state the obvious, for the last few months it’s been hard to think or converse about anything but Coronavirus. Yet, now that I sit down at the keyboard, I also can’t help but feel like it’s difficult to know what to actually say about it.

Sure, it would be easy to just vent the swirling anxiety word-vomit we’re all feeling, but trying to figure out some intelligent comment to offer is a very different matter. Don’t let this elbow-patched lab-coat fool you; I’m not an epidemiologist, nor do I possess expertise in any other relevant field; I just found this rather confused garment in a thrift store. Even though I try my best to look at the data and listen to what the experts are saying, there’s a complexity to the whole thing which is just mind-boggling in the truest sense. I mean, I wonder if I’m alone in struggling to overcome the instinct to just mutely point at this insane situation we, as a species, find ourselves in. To jab a finger at it with mouth agape and eyes wide, just mouthing the words “holy fuck, not good, holy fuck, not good” over and over.

And yet, well, I’m not sure just uploading a JPEG of me doing that (or maybe even a GIF — by the way, hard-gee pronunciation, heathens — so that you can lip-read my silent exclamations) is a blog post unto itself. So I’d better come up with something vaguely coherent to say. And fast. Because this cruise-ship internet café I find myself toiling away in has electrified seats which activate once your time is up. I even had to sign a waiver confirming that I don’t have a pacemaker, which an errant jolt might disrupt. Joke’s on them though. I do have a pacemaker. Suckers.

Besides, you maybe already know my dumb shtick by now: I do a little bit of hand-wringing because I surely haven’t got much to say, then I give you 8000 words. I doubt this piece will be that long but you get my point. (Hmm, am I jinxing myself there?…)

[*record scratch* NARRATOR: “He was.”
RYAN FROM THE FUTURE: “The piece ended up being more than double that. And was groaning beneath its own weight so much that it had to be cleaved into two parts. I make no apologies. I really just never know how many things are gonna pop into my head to comment on until I actually sit down and pull open that word-hole incision on my forehead with both hands.”]

Anyhow, with my accustomed throat-clearing out of the way, let’s get into it.

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Assorted Thoughts on COVID-19, Part II

COVID-19 has killed countless thousands. It will undoubtedly go on to kill many more. It is a horrifying scourge, impassively ripping family members and friends away and roughly depositing them in the quiet of the grave.

But it has also granted us a range of crucial insights. It is not insensitive to those who have perished to heed these. In fact, it would be downright disrespectful (not to mention foolish) to ignore them, given the suffering and loss which were viciously inflicted as their cost.

Yes, COVID-19 is not just a vile fiend, it is also a brutal teacher. It has lifted the veil on so many things. It has disabused us of cherished illusions.

Some Revelations

One such illusion is that our governments know what they are doing, that they are competent and well-prepared for anything, that they will put the welfare of their people above all else. I mean, if you still believe this now, I can’t imagine what would disprove it for you. It must be some kind of treasured, unfalsifiable ‘axiom’, placed deep in the foundation of your mind when the concrete was first being poured, which helps you sleep at night. (Personally, I think you should brave being a little insomnious if it means seeing what’s actually happening around you. Just a thought.)

There is a temptation to think of the pandemic as an unmalleable ‘act of god’. To take refuge in the excuse that “well, gee, I don’t know, it was always going to be bad no matter what.” (Which, admittedly, there is perhaps a grain of truth to. But just a grain.) Do not be duped by this line of thinking. It is an evasion of responsibility. It is a shirking of the proper, crucial allocation of blame. Make no mistake, what was coming one way or another was intensified manyfold by the bumbling governmental response to it.

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Jewish Britons planning to “flee the country” if Labour wins are, alas, hysterical fantasists

Recently I have encountered, several times, the claim that a certain number of jewish people believe with utmost sincerity that if Labour wins this next general election, they must take flight from Britain for their own safety. And in many cases they have even devised a concrete plan for how they intend to do so. Now, this claim was put forth by ostensibly credible figures, and I have not seen it disputed. So I am inclined to take it at face value for argument’s sake.

I don’t mind telling you that I do not follow British politics exceptionally closely. I just don’t find it very interesting. But, given that I do happen to live on this unhappy little island, its relevance is rather inescapable. As such, I try to at least keep up with it from a bird’s-eye-view. The broad strokes of what the hell is going on at any given time, and then a heightened focus during the lead-up to an election. That kind of thing. So when I hear that there are members of a marginalized group who are literally planning to run for their lives if one of the two major parties – and the left-leaning one, at that – takes power, my ears do perk up just a little bit, it must be said. I think to myself: ‘boy, I must have missed something pretty fucking big!’ For such an incredible claim to be true, there must be some crucial gap in my knowledge you could drive a busload of frightened émigrés through…

Because as far as I personally have ever seen reported – and one imagines such a news story would not be little-covered – the Labour party itself does not officially have any antisemitic ideological positions or policy proposals, and Jeremy Corbyn also has not espoused antisemitic beliefs.

So why then is the prospect of a mini-exodus of self-preservation hanging over this election?…

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Personal Update & Various Reviews #3

Okay, I’ll tell you this up-front: I expect this one is gonna be fairly light on what’s been happening in my life (mostly I’ll be discussing what I’ve been playing/reading). Not because it’s been an uneventful stretch though. Quite the opposite in fact. There’s been some fucking intense, emotionally trying shit going down: holding my lover’s hand and maintaining umbilical eye-contact and trying to keep up a steady stream of sweet, distracting babble as a very long needle infiltrates her spine, riding in an ambulance for the first time in my life, and so on. But, interesting though they (and all distressing experiences) are, I don’t know that they’re really my stories to tell.

And, anyhow, I’m probably still too caught up in subconsciously processing it all to have any chance of articulating it halfway well. There are some things which one ought to await a certain amount of emotional and temporal distance from, before one dares to put pen to paper with them in mind. Otherwise, you’re probably going to just be unwittingly writing about the side-effects of shock, which tend to cloud everything else for their duration. And – alas! – the longer one is willing to wait, the better. Three-months hindsight is a magnifying glass; three-years hindsight is a microscope. (I am rarely so patient as to avail myself of the latter, however.) Definitively past-tensing it is the price of genuinely figuring out how it affected you, what your thoughts on it are. A price worth paying, I’d say. That is, if one hopes to avoid cramming these moments into a meat-grinder of fractured, incipient understanding and doing them little justice. Which is a prospect I find… unpalatable. To flippantly bungle conveying the gravity of grave things seems, to my mind, somehow disrespectful.

And, to get back to the point at hand, my brevity – I mean, relatively speaking; I’m still me, after all – of navel-gazing is also not because I don’t have me-things to ramble about. ‘Cause I always have me-things to ramble about, as befits/necessitates this type of post. (The narcissist’s quiver is never quite empty, rest assured.) I just happen to find myself, in this moment, with only enough… whatever the fuck… energy or willpower or capacity to stomach my own rambling… to touch on one or two of them. Lucky you, huh?

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A Partially-Retracted Apologia for ‘Deus Ex: Invisible War’

I recently played through ‘Deus Ex: Invisible War’ again. (I used the full edition of the excellent Visible Upgrade mod, which I highly recommend. It bundles a borderline essential hi-res texture pack – seriously, in retrospect some of those original faces are just… not right – with a miscellany of little fixes and tweaks which just make your life easier.) I don’t do this very often, to put it mildly.

Some people seem able to regularly re-experience the fiction they love without running the risk of it starting to seem boringly over-familiar. My girlfriend is a prime example of this. She re-watches her favourite movies all the time and takes great comfort in them being a constant companion. Also, she’s just finished reading a book she discovered she loved, and she’s planning on immediately re-reading it.

This is totally alien to me. I’m just not like that. Or at least I fear I’m not like that. I’m not really willing to risk it and find out for sure. I only return to my favourite games/movies/books with extreme infrequency. In part this comes down to the fact that I simply do not derive much enjoyment from diving back into them too soon or too often. I’d struggle to re-engage with them properly and it would feel like a waste. It’s like trying to defy a mental refractory period. Yeah, that’s just not for me. I prefer to let years and years go by; let my fondness for it percolate; let my memory of its particulars start to fade a little bit, become blurry, so that I can rediscover them anew.

But it’s also a matter of worrying that if I overindulge in that repetition, I’ll begin to weaken my connection to the thing itself. I’ll know it too well – inside and out, beat for beat – and I’ll become numb to it. This scares me. I love, and I mean really love, so few pieces of fiction when it comes down to it. So a certain measure of… preservation is called for, I believe.

As a result of this approach, when I do decide to revisit something I adore, it feels like a big deal. It becomes its own sort of mini-event. Which serves to amplify the whole experience, make me really focus on savouring it and its specialness. However, this can have some unexpected side-effects as well. It’s daunting, honestly. It’s half like opening a time-capsule and half like partaking in a sacrament. You get what I’m saying? It almost means too much to me, has too much personal significance. I need everything to be ‘perfect’ when I come to sit down and dive back in. (My OCD certainly doesn’t help with that.) And it can be hard to step outside those obligations which my reverence for that thing seems to imply, and just… you know… relax and have fun with it again.

I know all that might seem silly. In some sense, it may well be. If only recognizing their silliness could diminish or even vanquish one’s irrational compulsions. But, sadly, no. More’s the pity.

It was something I struggled with a fair bit on this playthrough. And this game is quite the magnet for such difficulties, let me tell you. Because depending on what day you ask me the question, it’s possible I might say that ‘Deus Ex: Invisible War’ is my favourite game of all time.

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Personal Update & Various Reviews #2

To be candid, the past couple of months have been… somewhat of an emotionally-trying whirlwind. For various reasons. Some I care to disclose, some I do not. At any rate, I was not at all in a place where I felt like writing, which is why this blog went sadly neglected.

But, yes, I am back now. I know I had you deathly worried. I’ve no doubt you wept and wept until – having reached a perilous state of dehydration – only a sort of moist-ish dust seeped out of your tear ducts. Which is, I suppose, touching. And also upsettingly gross. Still, all that’s behind us now. So call off your search parties. Take my photo off the side of milk cartons. (Weirdly, that practice has long been cemented in my mind as a tiny, morbid facet of Americana. But was that ever actually a thing? Or did movies just make it up? I truly do not know.) Stop forcing bloodhounds to sniff my watch strap to learn my scent. Rescind that eight-figure reward for any information leading to my safe return.

I even have some thoughts on what to do with those freed-up funds. I say divvy them up to create a bunch of interpretive dance and flower arranging scholarships in my name. After all, when I do finally leave this mortal plane for good, I want to know that I’ve left an imposing legacy in my wake. Because charitable donations are all well and good, in theory, but we all know beyond a shadow of a doubt that 99.99997% of that money gets wasted on ‘overhead’ or embezzled to buy gold-plated bidets and diamond-encrusted pet tigers and whatnot. That’s just cold, hard fact. Whereas all those artful bouquets and profound shimmies at my funeral will be indisputable proof of both a good deed and money well spent. My gravestone will read: ‘Ryan J. Finch, 1993-2149 (ed note – conservative estimate; I come from hardy Irish peasant stock, i.e. inexplicable Methuselah-genes), BELOVED PATRON OF THE FINE ARTS’. From time to time, well-wishers will visit it and leave one of those tacky electronic dancing-flower toys as a kind of wry two-in-one acknowledgement of the fields which owe their continued vitality to me. And thus all will be as it should be.

Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s all to come in the distant future. In the meantime though, let’s talk about my more recent doings.

What it’s like trying to find a Literary Agent (a.k.a. feeling honest, may delete later)

So, I wrote a novel. (If you’d care to read about that whole process, you can find the transcript of S02E08 of the unfilmed, untelevised one-man TV show I’ve been, uh, living for a long time now, called ‘Making Art to Prove I Exist’, by clicking here.) And then a little while ago it came time to put up or shut up. That is, try to find a way to publish it.

I went into this stage not really knowing what it would specifically entail. (I had sought to insulate myself from that intimidating/preoccupying knowledge whilst I was writing the book.) After some initial research, I learned that the place to start is submitting your work to literary agencies and praying they’ll agree to represent you. Then they try to sell your work to the publishing houses themselves, who are reportedly much more likely to lend serious consideration to agent-backed authors.

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On ‘Milkshaking’, the latest form of funny, trivialized Political Violence

I freely and unequivocally admit that figures like Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson are difficult – or perhaps impossible – to extend any sympathy or compassion to. It would require something approaching a herculean effort to make one’s heart hurt when hearing about their misfortunes. I imagine that would hold true even for a Buddhist who had spent a lifetime practicing the form of mediation meant to cultivate a deep sense of indiscriminate loving-kindness. Everything has limits, after all.

So I wouldn’t dream of appealing to your sense of pity here. Nor am I going to waste your time by issuing the (implicitly mandated) lengthy, perfunctory disclaimer about how vile I find the above-named figures. I’m long-winded at the best of times, so I’d probably just end up writing a few thousand extra words eviscerating them and the seething bigotries they represent. But you already know all the things I would say, don’t you? You’ve heard them a million times before. (A rare repetitiveness I’m actually glad of.) Besides, the reasons why they and their ilk are so morally repulsive also happen to be elementary. We ought to have taken them in with our mother’s milk. So if you’ll just lend me the small assumption of basic decency and sanity, we can skip straight to the point, y’know? I’m sure you have other things you’d like to do today, and I mean to respect your time.

I’m simply going to tell you why even if you (understandably) despise them and their crypto-racist anti-immigration politics you should still be appalled by the ‘milkshaking’ trend. Not to mention, appalled that the attacks are being glibly cheered on by so many dolts. Because these were acts of violence intended to punish people for their political stances and forcibly disrupt their ability to campaign for elected office. That is just about as fundamentally anti-democratic as can be.

I’d like to get one thing straight right off the bat. Physically assaulting someone in any way is not a legitimate form of protest whatsoever. It just isn’t. In a civilised society, protesting should be purely about communicating an idea or message. Via words. Not fists or improvised projectiles. And I don’t care how loudly or crudely or vitriolically you choose to express yourself, go nuts. I would defend, to the hilt, your right to scream and shout and march and wave flags and brandish inflammatory placades concerning any subject you happen to be passionate about. No matter how much I disagreed with you on it. Because that’s the cornerstone of any free, pluralist country. It’s something that was hard-won. And it’s something that we should be proud of and protect.

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