Defacing things with writing

“What I really want is someone rolling around in the text” by Sam Anderson


This one is old, but I discovered it today while trying to find an easy way to annotate things digitally – webpages, documents, everything. Anderson’s meditation on the joy of marginalia is bittersweet for me. I love the idea of writing things in books as I read them, but I have never been able to do it; either I find myself reading with nothing to say (surprising, you might say, for a writer) or I find myself completely stunted by a lurking perfectionism. It might seem neurotic in an absurd way to say that I haven’t written things in books in the past for fear of writing something stupid, but there it is. “Errors, mistakes, even slight… discrepancies,” says Perfectionism with disgust, sliding his glasses further up his crinkled nose, “are not to be tolerated.” And so I put the pencil down.

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The Markup – a new media outlet focusing on Big Tech

I discovered The Markup earlier today. They’re a thoughtful, ethical journalism non-profit, reporting on “how powerful institutions are using technology to change our society.”

Not only does The Markup promise not to expose you to third-party trackers, it also tries to collect as little personal information as possible and commits to never monetising the data they do collect. Points from me.

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All the streets of London

A gentleman called Davis Vilums has cycled every street in central London, and mapped the entire process. The result is a very cool time lapse, filling out all the streets and byways of London, as if by electricity. I dig it.

Even better is the ethos – it sounds like a fun way to explore your city and find every little nook and cranny. Not only did he get every single bit of central London in, but as he said, it made it feel like home. I’m convinced that this is one of the ways that you get to feel like you belong in a place – to be in it and get to know it, discover its idiosyncrasies and strange, out of the way places. Plus, I would definitely find it satisfying to tick off (colour in) all the roads and complete the map. I’d like to do something similar in Cardiff. I’d have to take the shoelace express, however, because I neither own une bicyclette nor do I have the aerobic fitness to ride one any distance.

Old man climbs a mountain with the New Weird

Good lord, it’s the twenty-fourth of February, already. I hate it when people do that, ‘WOW! It’s [INSERT TODAY’S DATE] already!’ but I do it myself all the time – the passage of time might be linear but our experience of it is so relative that it sneaks up on me all the time. Days might pass slowly, but weeks seem to flood past. One day you’re starting university and someone sneezes and you’re close to a year away from your thirtieth birthday, wondering if you’re really not that bothered about all the things you ‘should’ have done by now. I always have taken my time with things. My mother’s name for me when I was a child was ‘Hurry up!’ and my middle names were ‘we’ll be late!’ What I’m saying is, thirty or forty or fifty, I’ll get there when I get there. ‘Whether it’s writing,’ he said, stroking an invisible, long, white beard, ‘or relationships, or self-actualization, it can take time, but it’s time worth taking.’

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This reddit post ‘What the coronavirus forcing me in lockdown’s taught me about cooking‘ has been doing the rounds, and it’s well worth a read. The post goes into some recipes that they’ve cooked with their limited ingredients, but it’s also a meditation on the creative benefits of constraints and over coming limitations when problem solving. It’s more than just a post about leftovers recipes, is what I’m getting at.

The poster and his fiance also have a youtube channel, where they post cooking videos. I had a look and their videos are excellent; clear, to the point and precise. I want to make their Char Siu Bao; they look delicious.

VIII

I’m going off writing. Words are cheap and we’re bludgeoned with them constantly, and finding signal amongst the noise is becoming harder and harder. More importantly, it more and more feels futile to attempt to say anything worthy. Why bother? Wont it simply be howling your throat raw in a screaming maelstrom of voices?

How can I possibly say anything that lasts in this environment? I can’t remember the things I read online today, let alone this week. Let alone this month.

In this environment, where everyone has their own loud hailer, isn’t there a greater likelihood of contributing to the noise than cutting through it?

I’m not anyone special and there’s an arrogance to assuming that, of all the people speaking, I might have something to say that’s more signal than noise.

And yet I come back to it, over and over, unable to stop. In love with words, pouring them out, endlessly, it feels, from the tip of my pen, from the tip of my tongue, from finger tip to keyboard.

There’s a Blank on Blank where Kurt Vonnegut talks about writing being becoming, it being reaching into a student’s mouth, pulling out the tape there and seeing what’s written on it. He talks about it being exhausting and that being why some people refuse to do it any more. It’s one thing to refuse and quite another to know that you can’t. One day, I wonder, will I come to the end of my tape? Will there be a clunk as I come to the end of the reel? What will be at the end? I dread to think?

Norma Mailer said of his novels, ‘each had killed me a little more’. That’s how I feel. Each word written or typed feels like another minute off my life, whether they’re used to shitpost on twitter or write a poem or a novel I believe in, and yet, I cannot stop. Stopping is somehow worse. You might as well ask the sea not to come in tonight, or ask my heart not to beat.

The thing is, you can’t give in to despair. Perhaps each word is a minute off — or a minute spent? — but in the same way a minute spent typing garbage into a spreadsheet is a minute you’re never getting back, either. It’s less about the fact that you’re spending your life — there’s nothing you can do about that, you have no choice but to spend it — and more about deciding what you want to spend it on. Writing, sure, so when you write, are you going to spend time shitposting on twitter or on something you believe in?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In the same Blank on Blank, Vonnegut says writers are professional over-reactors, if that helps you out any, gives you more clues.

Personally, I don’t know what he means…

Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen (Review)

TL, DR: Vultures and coyotes, railway men and Durango rangers, shapeshifters, magic, revolvers and carrion; the second in the Shadow series soars through them all, while exploring the character’s experience closely. Recommend.


Conspiracy of Ravens begins where Wake of Vultures left of, and this review contains spoilers for that book. You’ve been warned: HERE BE MONST – Uh, wait… HERE BE SPOILERS.

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Gramma sucks, expression rulez

Gretchen McCulloch wrote a great article about the need for freedom of expression in the language we write. She says that by making sure we don’t come down to hard on creative new formulations of language online in favour of being grammatically correct, we let people convey how they feel more accurately than if they were using proper grammar. I fundamentally agree. Play with language, it’s yours, not the other way around. Try new shit out. Aside from finding more nuanced ways to express yourself, finding new ways to connect with people, you’ll have some goddamned fun, which is all any of us can ask for these days.

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