Reflections on the Trump Era: Part I

[Just a heads-up: this trio of posts are approximately book-length when taken as a whole. It occurred to me that some people might therefore prefer to save it to something like the Pocket app and read it gradually over time — that’s how I prefer to read very long articles myself — so here’s all three posts stitched together in case it’s more convenient to have it in that form.]

The difficulty of writing this piece

To tell you the truth, over these last four years I probably could have sat down several times a month and written a post about President Trump/his administration or the events happening in his orbit. And, in a sense, I very much wanted to. There was such an enticing deluge of scandal to dissect and weight in on. I was keeping up with it all so closely that I was continually accruing a build-up of undisgorged strong opinions, which is about as comfortable a condition for a writer as, say, kidney stones. But two considerations ultimately stayed my hand nevertheless.

The first was that I worried it would become tiresome and monotonous to keep writing about essentially the same topic all the time. (For both me and the reader.) This type of thing is subject to diminishing returns: at some point, you become keenly aware that there’s only so many ways you can harrumph and say “my god, what a disgrace this is!” To be fair, if you’re going to write about politics to any extent, you need to make sure you have at least a few trusty equivalent phrases tucked into your back pocket, because much like pen, paper, cynicism, and hypertension pills, they are part of the essentials of the trade. But I suppose I did rather wonder whether I had it in me to draw upon the nearly endless supply of them I would need over the span of four very looooong and ignominy-ridden years.

That’s not to say that it’s never worth droning on about the same thing and risking being boring. If the subject matter is important enough, that’s a very small price to pay for shining needful light upon it. And I certainly respect the reporters who have no doubt profoundly wearied themselves — like, deep in the core of their being — by making the meticulous cataloguing of Trump and co’s misdeeds their particular beat. It really can’t have been a very pleasant way to make a living. You probably clock out just feeling so dirty from having had to fixate on this grimy sphere full of scoundrels all day long. It’s a bit like being a warden at an asylum for the criminally insane and, sitting in front of a big wall-mounted bank of CCTV monitors, having to maintain a log of exactly who is smearing their faeces on the wall at any given moment and exactly how they’ve opted to do so. Only, I suspect that such a position is far better paid than those in the struggling and contracting journalism business. But, anyhow, they perform a crucial public service and we should be glad that there are those willing to do it. (What’s more, one ought to remember the unbelievably hostile environment which they have had to conduct their work in. Watch those videos of wild-eyed MAGA-hat freaks screaming ‘FAKE NEWS!’ at camera crews at the top of their lungs and until they’re red in the face, and I don’t think I’ll even have to prompt you to recall my asylum analogy. These are people who could pass as escaped inmates any day of the week.)

My point being that it’s one thing if that’s your job, but quite another to take on that depressing chore voluntarily. And I can also tell you that, personally, I’d worry about descending into obsessiveness. I could see myself chasing a sort of vaguely completionist documenting of all my problems with Trump’s reign, no matter how minute or of-the-moment. The danger being that you’ll get so caught up in trying not to miss anything day to day that you’ll lose sight of the bigger picture. On top of which, I guess I just had this feeling that it would probably be better for my sanity if I simply got it all out in one go. A cathartic thought-dump to purge this stuff from my system.

The second consideration was that I knew the best vantage-point to analyse the Trump years from would be in hindsight. In order to view them — their effects and their lessons — as a whole, rather than merely indulging in a piecemeal examination of this moment or that moment, and whilst you’re still trapped in their particular sinkhole of myopic, ephemeral outrage to boot. I think there are some things which, even if they do indeed piss you off and shock you at the time, you just can’t appreciate the true craziness of because you’re still living through them.

Trump having been evicted from the White House for some months now should provide enough distance for my purposes. Of course, I’m not only going to be reflecting on the past, I’ll also be talking about what’s been happening recently and even venturing some speculation about the future. As aforementioned, I won’t be able to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. And I will no doubt read this one day and be like “shit, I can’t believe I forgot to talk about [BLANK]! I’m such an idiot! [BLANK] made my blood boil when it happened! How could it slip my mind later on?!” That’s kind of just par for the course. But I’ll try to hit as much of the major stuff as I can.

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Reflections on the Trump Era: Part II

How relieved I was that he lost, and what might have happened if he had won

During the run-up to the 2020 election, I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was a foregone conclusion. I was sure that Trump would win again. And nothing could sway that, nothing could assuage my fatalist melancholy. Even when polling swung in Biden’s favour, it just gave me — and anyone else with a memory surpassing a goldfish’s — flashbacks to 2016 and the widespread smug certainty that Hillary would win. I mean, she had a 98% probability of victory, remember? I certainly do. I also remember that we even had our pick of more sober, cautious, even downright skeptical projections, such as her having a 85% probability or a 71% probability. I learned a lot from the fact that those people whose polling data and forecasting models were so inconceivably, unbelievably wrong were able to so easily live it down and go on plying their trade. They just slapped themselves on the wrists, maybe threw a self-effacing tweet or two out there, and then carried on carrying on. Marvellous, isn’t it? A brief pretence of collective soul-searching was thought to suffice. As though that level of error is just bound to happen from time to time in any predictive field. As though meteorologists sometimes tell you there’s going to be a baking hot day and then it rolls around and a snowstorm occurs. Only in this case it was even worse, because it was a four-year blizzard we were treated to. Just think about how many Democrat voters saw all those headlines practically already celebrating Clinton’s inauguration and complacently sat home that November as a result. People expected — and I know this is shocking but bear with me — that the pronouncements of the pollster/analyst class would have some reasonably strong correlation to reality and I don’t blame them for their misplaced faith. They were sold a fraudulent bill of goods, and I don’t find it difficult to decide who should be paying the price for that.

Anyway, in 2020 it actually ran a bit deeper for me than merely being dead set upon not getting fooled by errant polling again. (Though that was indeed a part of it.) Trump getting re-elected just seemed like this horrible transcendental certainty. It had such an aura of inevitability to it that it was almost hard to even dread it; it became more a case of just pre-emptively steeling oneself to accept it coming to pass. I don’t know, it just seemed like all the prerequisites had snapped into place for it. I mean, conservative voters hadn’t exactly become less Trumpy during his first term, had they? Quite the opposite in fact. And Trump was going to have the GOP establishment wholly, full-throatedly on his side as he campaigned, rather than the somewhat ambivalent and/or halfhearted support he received from them back in ‘16 when they were tangibly still struggling to acclimatise to the embarrassment of having this dope as their standard-bearer. Plus, his campaign strategy seemed a bit more polished and his campaign staff seemed a bit more professional this time around. These various advantages added up to an obvious conclusion in my mind. So I just found myself thinking: here we are at this crucial turning point, this American penumbra, with one foot already firmly planted in midnight and the other foot not far behind. It really struck me as a done deal, I must admit. Trump seemed to have things all sewn up on his end.

I was also really flummoxed at the Democrats’ rather unpromising choice of champion. And more than a little mad too, given the paramount importance of the battle itself. Listen, I don’t necessarily have anything against Joe Biden. In a sense, I don’t really have any strong feelings towards him whatsoever. I know his policy platform and definitely have my issues with some of it — as I would with any Democrat candidate in the current climate, to be fair — but in all honesty I don’t know very much about him as a person. (I also haven’t yet boned up on all the particulars of his long history in politics, which is probably why I’m able to take refuge in relative apathy. Tell me if I’m wrong: it is sadly so often the case that the only way to preserve the non-loathsomeness of a given politician is to neglect to read their Wikipedia page in depth.) Just considering surface level stuff, he’s fairly likeable and, excluding a few unbecoming moments of ill-temper on the campaign trail, he at least projects the public persona of a decent man. It’s also hard to object to any of his very nice boilerplate about the need for a return to unity, civility, compassion, high-mindedness, reason, science, etc. For all the platitudes though, he really does talk like someone who authentically understands what’s wrong with the dire historical moment the country finds itself in, and feels deeply about how urgently it must be redressed. These are all box-ticking qualities which used to just be so par-for-the-course that they barely even registered, but the sad truth about having a wanton fucking hobgoblin in the White House for four years is that such things regain their importance and utility. It may make us uncomfortable to admit it, because it’s easier/cooler to insist that we only concern ourselves with substance not style, but there’s a real value to a president presenting themselves in a certain way, to a president not unashamedly being a dirtbag. Even if it really is just a pose of propriety or virtue, that still pays a sort of compliment to the electorate, because it acknowledges (and, in an odd meta way, reinforces — therein lies the value) that voters want someone with some moral fibre to represent them because it’s what they aspire to themselves.

My problem with Biden being selected as the Democratic nominee was primarily because I thought he was an unwise choice, practically speaking. I just didn’t think he had what it was going to take to win. First and foremost, there seemed to be little palpable passion for him as a person. There was just a lot of clamouring for anyone who could boot Trump out of the Executive Residence and a lot of talk about how a Biden-type could be a safe pair of hands and we could probably do a lot worse and so on. My point being that it just seemed like hardly anyone was excited for Joe Biden to become the president. Sure, he has a sort of charming good-natured grandpa-ish quality that some people enjoy and even on the other end of the spectrum it’s not exactly easy to find people who downright hate his guts (which, true enough, is a feat there’s definitely something to be said for.) And my impression is that in political circles he’s generally afforded a certain degree of respect as this old-school guy who somehow has good relationships with everyone of note in D.C. and knows how to get a tricky deal hammered out in a backroom if it comes to it. But, on the flipside, it just didn’t seem like all that many people felt a genuine emotional connection to him or his campaign, or that he really had much of a unique ‘message’ to sell the electorate on. It was just so hard to imagine him delivering some stump speech which gave you goosebumps, y’know? He could be saying all the right things but he just doesn’t quite have that rare oratorical gift where they actually penetrate and make you feel something, where for a brief thrilling moment they actually seem like so much more than just trite, focus-grouped rhetoric.

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Reflections on the Trump Era: Part III

Trump voters

It’s impossible to talk about the Trump phenomenon without talking about ‘Trump voters’ themselves. I’m not going to go into too much depth here because it would basically require a lengthy piece unto itself to do it full justice, but there are definitely a few points I want to touch on. And just to preface: although it would be the obvious — and, arguably, most important — thing to dwell on the entire time, I’m actually going to be mostly putting to one side all the abhorrent -isms that Trump played on in order to garner support from the more unsavoury quarters of the electorate. That’s something I’ve already explored earlier on in this piece, and not exactly in a glancing way either.

It’s now just conventional wisdom that one of the main factors which motivated many people to pull the lever for Trump in ’16 was a desire to really stick it to the political establishment. In fact, I once heard this quite memorably described as Trump being employed like a ‘murder weapon’. I suppose the naive hope was that Trump could be fired at the beltway status quo like some precise laser-guided weapon that would only destroy what it was intended to destroy, cleanly and efficiently. Kinda like a human version of that nightmarish variant of the famed Hellfire missile which doesn’t even explode, it just shoots out long blades on all sides upon impact to impale and eviscerate the assassination target. (Haven’t been able to forget about that bad boy since first reading about it. It’s jarring how something designed to reduce unintended casualties can seem so disturbingly barbaric in its own right.) Once Trump actually got into office though, it became clear that the things he was damaging most were the fabric of American society and the proper governance of the country, and I think the motivated reasoning of his supporters had to shift a fair bit to keep up. It seemed to morph into viewing Trump as being more akin to chemotherapy: alright, yes it’s a messy process and it’s unfortunately going to harm the whole body too, but it’s worth it because it’ll eliminate what’s really ailing you. To crib from classic five-stages language, this combines both ‘denial’ and ‘bargaining’ into a neat little package deal. And oh man did a lot of the MAGA faithful snap up that deal and lean on it like a crutch for four long years. They told themselves that the country had already been so abominably ruined by the Democrats and was in such desperate, urgent need of rescue that it was acceptable if, to echo that infamous battlefield quote from the Vietnam war, “Trump has to destroy America in order to save it.”

What I’m getting at is that I can at least comprehend both these rationalizations. I’m not saying I agree with them. (I would hope that after having spilled so many thousands of words about how severely I loathe Trump and Trumpism that would be abundantly, even painfully, clear.) I’m also not saying they actually made sense or passed any kind of moral checksum whatsoever. They didn’t. Not even a little bit. They were based on wildly faulty reasoning and fundamental misjudgements about Trump’s motivations, Trump’s goals, and really just the way that the American political system functions. That being said, it is possible to see how people let themselves be gulled by a steady stream of chimerical promises. That’s what I’m trying to get across here. The conclusions they arrived at were illogical, but there’s still a sort of comprehensible logic to both how these people were deceived and why they then also self-deceived to fill in the gaps where necessary. It isn’t because Trump’s so spectacularly gifted in the charlatan arts. As I expounded upon earlier, he is actually drastically and shockingly untalented as a con artist. Which in turn makes it so remarkable that he’s surely also quantifiably one of the most successful con artists of all time. (He makes that guy who managed to ‘sell’ the Brooklyn Bridge multiple times look like a piker with no vision. But then again, in the hierarchy of grifting, nothing really compares to making a play for the presidency of the richest, most powerful nation on earth, does it?)

His meteoric success, I would say, testifies merely to the fact that his millions of marks were in such a prime state to be duped. Conservatives were so incredibly desperate for anything which could revitalize their movement. They knew it was fast becoming enervated and drab from its reliance on conventional, buttoned-up Mitt Romney types who possessed only a sort of limp, hopelessly overstretched charisma at best and who were still stuck playing the political game like it was played thirty or forty years ago. They needed someone who could reinject some colour into the GOP and — gasp — maybe even make it seem interesting or exciting again. Whatever it took to turn the tide back in their favour. Whatever it took to recapture the White House. I mean, there’s no denying that the Obama years had really done a number on them. They were as exasperated by his massive, transformational cultural effect as they were infuriated by his various policy initiatives. And it’s not hard to imagine how that kind of thing can really eat at you over eight long years. Seeing someone whose political program you hate being feted by so much of the world as a beloved figure. Their nerves were frayed. They were worn out and very much dispirited by how the electoral and culture-war losses kept piling up. And once they had gotten to this place, they were willing to buy into any amount of lies and back any old creep if it meant that their side would get back on top and they wouldn’t have to grind their teeth every time they turned on the news. Enter Donald J. Trump, lying mega-creep extraordinaire. It wasn’t just some weird coincidental timing, okay? Whether consciously or unconsciously, he was drawn to that situation by the stupendous gravitational pull of such a glaring opportunity. Or to put it another way, his political career was willed into existence by all the people who prayed for some magic fix for their sickly, no-new-ideas, no-new-blood party, instead of doing the hard work of remedying its real problems. Because there is almost nothing in life which you can get simply by wanting it, but this is one of the notable exceptions: if you wish to be taken advantage of, your wish will be granted.

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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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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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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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Personal Update & Various Reviews #1

I have to say, something does really tickle me about the idea of having a separate category of journal-y posts on a website already dedicated to me and my thoughts. What shameless micro-divisions of narcissism.

But on to the matter at hand.

How have I been feeling?

Depressed…

Or rather, depressed AF, as the kids would say. Wait, do they actually say that? Shit, in all honesty I didn’t even really know ‘what the kids are saying’ when I was a fucking kid. So I definitely shouldn’t count on doing any better now that I’m peering in from the outside.

The cool new slang — even saying that makes me sound like your mom ineptly trying to work the words ‘tight’ or ‘sick’ into a conversation all faux easy-breezy like — is, uh, not really my thing. Not least because by the time it reaches someone like me, it’s probably already at the very end of its coolness life-cycle. I’m talking withered body, audible death-throes here. (At which point, fast-food brands, via the millennial interns who work for their PR departments, will just be starting to use it in their adverts. To superficially seem edgy and relevant. E.g. ‘Burger King™ wants to slide into the DMs of your hungry tummy with these thicc Whoppers™!’)

Allow me to sketch for you that life-cycle. First of all, the jargon takes a while to emerge out of the formative womb of the internet. By which I of course mean the insular, arcane, utmost molten core of Twitter. This is a realm of frenetic hyper-activity and kinetic urgency. I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but I envision it as being like a gargantuan spherical fish-tank filled with liquid fire. Wherein swim and skitter about absurdly agile, absurdly fast metallic spider-bots, which occasionally bump into each other and emit a screechy, distorted facsimile-recording of laughter.

You know, on second thought, maybe I should talk to my doctor about lowering the dose of this new medication…

Anyway, I’m sure you know the well-revered young, cool layer of Twitter I’m referring to. I’m more or less as ignorant an outsider as could be, but here are my general impressions of it nonetheless. (Look, this is my site. And I’m not here to not talk to you, you know?) It’s a place where capitalizing the start of sentences or using even semi-adequate punctuation is seen as a heinous faux pas which reveals that at birth you must have somehow ended up with an old-fogey soul trapped inside you, like coming across a fancy new laptop inexplicably running Windows 95. It’s a place where strategically left-in typos are seen as a marker of ultimate carefree authenticity. (The amount of time and effort one can sometimes sense has been put into finessing the off-the-cuffness of a purportedly hastily written off-the-cuff tweet is insane. Doing that must require having a very low opinion of the reader’s basic perceptiveness.) It’s a place largely peopled by those who strangely, unabashedly treat Twitter like a full-time job, and one they’re desperately, desperately trying to seem ‘good’ at. Who they’re hoping to win some kind of attaboy from I do not know; I wonder whether they do either. It’s a place where you can simultaneously bemoan the dumbing down of mainstream entertainment whilst happily bandying around an endless stream of low-effort memes which just recycle the same three or four kinds of tired, excruciatingly unfunny jokes.

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Assorted Reflections on First-Time Novel-Writing

The 31st of January 2019 may mean nothing to you. Fair enough. But it means a hell of a lot to me. Everything, really. It was the day I finished — truly, conclusively ‘finished’ — my first novel. A considerable self-imposed pressure was lifted from me that day. A pressure which I had felt squeezing my bone marrow into thin stringy pulp for quite a long time.


Before I get into why that was, first some background information.

The story of its creation begins as a disjointed one. As was perhaps unavoidable. Because I was asked to start writing a novel, rather than independently choosing to. So it’s not like I just sat down one day and resolved that this was the life goal I was going to tackle next. (Though it was, as with most writers, a vague ambition of mine. Whose start-date was set for some unspecified tomorrow.) It kind of just… came about. An external impetus set things in motion. But then I let that momentum sweep me along until, before long, I had my head down and I was running so much faster than the fading tidal wave behind me…

Okay, don’t wanna get ahead of myself. Let’s back up all the way. At university, I majored in English Literature and minored in Creative Writing. To be frank, I did not enjoy the in-person CW classes themselves. I want to be careful with my language here, so as not to overstate the matter. They weren’t a… horrible experience. They were generally just kind of a chore, and not very useful.

I disliked how some teachers would try to impose rigid rules (sourced from either received wisdom or their personal preference) about how one should write onto their students. Whenever they introduced one of these rules, my imagination reflexively conjured up a bunch of instances where defying it could work out well. And, alright, maybe I just have an overly rebellious cast of mind. It is true I’ve never loved being told what to do. But given that this ready abundance of counter-examples was obvious to even an inexperienced writer like myself, I think it was only fair to be dubious. I’m sure I was far from the only student there who was.

Now, I don’t for a second doubt these teachers were well-meaning. It’s just that their approach was, I believe, a very poor way of helping young people discover or cultivate what kind of writer they want to be. There is an adage which states that one must be deeply familiar with ‘the rules’ before one is entitled to and competent enough to break them. On the face of it, this seems to make sense. And such knowledge, when not inculcated as dogma, is indeed usually a benefit. To be consulted as one option among many; not a sacred yardstick. Yet it has long been my suspicion that it’s very dangerous to ever immure yourself inside that staid, conventionalist mindset. Before you know it, those perfect walls will suddenly seem so… homely. Aye, far too neat and straight and comforting to permit any impulse to start chipping away at them. This complacency isn’t just a novice’s bane either. No no no. It has seduced much, much better writers than you or me. And only towards the end of lengthy literary careers have they clawed through the brittled drywall and screamed their mistake through that gaping, jagged hole. I propose we heed their cautionary tales. These were, it should be said, offered for our benefit. If nothing else, it would be rude to spurn such a gracious gift.

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