And as for Schrödinger…

Since I’ve been blogging I’ve realised something: I’m really, really square. See – I don’t even know what the current word for ‘square’ is, except that the very concept of squareness went out in the ‘60s. Or possibly the ‘50s. No doubt somebody will enlighten me.

There are so many things I don’t know. Yesterday I learned from a reader that there is an American author called Bukowski. Everybody on the internet seems to know all about Bukowski. For goodness sake, the poor man’s dead already and I’ve only just discovered he was alive. I ordered one of his books, entitled Women. I gather he liked women – women and alcohol. You know that ‘Look Inside’ arrow on Amazon? I looked inside. Yup, he definitely liked women. Still, I think, if I could get a quarter of the way through Last Exit to Brooklyn in 1971 (that hideous Tralala scene forced my exit from Last Exit) I can cope with Bukowski in 2016.

Nothing much shocks me now, in novels, except a dead dog. I’m afraid I love animals much more than people. People? Pah! I’m a cat lady, as my readers may know. I love cats, but not just cats – creatures in general. My mother used to repeat to all and sundry, a story about me. No, this is not the one she told the Mental Health Team psychiatrist (her psychiatrist, I hasten to add) about my having been an Unsatisfactory Infant. Apparently I just sat on her lap regarding her with a kind of fishy stare instead of – I don’t know, and don’t remember – what are babies supposed to do? Obviously, I failed my Being a Baby exam.

This story concerned a later encounter with a wasp. We had stopped at a roadside van/café and Dad bought us each a polystyrene mug of tea – probably tea rather than coffee, thinking back on it. Coffee was thought of as an overly-sophisticated American import in those days – certainly not suitable for children. Tea was safe enough. A wasp landed in my tea and I instantly emptied the whole mug onto the grass verge so that the wasp could escape. This was an eccentric thing to do, I gather. Afterwards I wondered about that. What would a normal person – a person who had passed their Being a Baby and subsequently their Being a Human Being exam with flying colours – what would they have done in those circumstances? A wasp is a wonder; a tiny, beautiful microcosm of the universe. Would they have taken pleasure in watching one die a slow and painful death in boiling liquid? Would they then have fished out its tiny, stripy corpse and drunk that liquid? That’s why I care more about creatures than people.

Even fictional ones. I read a literary novel a few years back – one of those ‘money’s worth’ ones with the five hundred or so chapters. I can’t remember the title or author now – female, Zadie Smith or someone of her ilk. I was fine with the listlessly failing marriage of couple concerned, their half-hearted adulteries in the afternoon and so forth. But then their little white dog got hit by a car and, enervated by all the adultery and failing-marriagery, they neglected to take their pet to be checked by the vet. They just assumed – in some minimally-alluded-to way – that he would get over his injuries in a day or so. He looked OK, more or less. But doggie died. To be fair, they did then feel quite bad, each of them, in their self-absorbed, bewildered, adulterous fashion. To be doubly fair, I would guess the authoress had deliberately set out to make this scene a shocker, and in that she succeeded. It was admirably crafted… but how could she have borne to write it?

They should have jumped off a fictional cliff hand in hand, or shot each other point blank with some handy, fictional blunderbuss. As far as I was concerned nothing could compensate for what that pair of numbskulls did to that poor, fictional dog. I shut the book with four hundred or so chapters left to go and didn’t open it again. Neither did I buy another of her novels. There’s no getting past a dead dog.

Similarly, if I read a book in which a cat appears to be taking centre stage – if the human characters, and particularly the heroine, seem rather fond of it; if it has a name; if it has an endearingly eccentric personality, and particularly if happens to be in a detective novel – I stop reading at once. The cat always gets it. Second to last chapter – poisoned milk, found floating face down in the water butt, or whatever happens to add a last sadistic twist to the plot. I can’t even approach a doomed cat.

And as for Schrödinger – that man had such a lot to answer for. I know it was a thought experiment but… not only is the hypothetical thought-moggie trapped in its hypothetical though-box in perpetuity with neither hypothetical thought-food nor hypothetical thought-water for succour, but that hypothetical thought-cat stands a 50:50 chance of being hypothetically gassed or poisoned or something by some hypothetical random decaying atom or circulating electron or something.

I hate him.

Ceci n’est pas une post on make-do-and-mend

Some time ago I published an e-book about how to live on virtually nothing.

I got several reviews for this particular book, and in fact they were all good. And in fact I didn’t write them myself. I thought I’d paste in a little section entitled How Not To Be A Superscrimper, only because one of my reviewers referred to it as à la glittery shoe-bows, which phrase pleased me greatly at the time but has stuck in my head ever since. I am hoping hereby to exorcise it:

HOW NOT TO BE A SUPERSCRIMPER

I loathe the TV programme Superscrimpers. What I hate about it is the patronising, insulting, uselessness of their suggestions. If you are really poor it will not help you to make personalised place settings out of newspapers for when your friends come round to dinner. Couldn’t you be doing something better with your time? If you are really poor you do not need to know how to make a facial scrub out of granular sugar and something else. You don’t need a facial scrub; also you could eat the sugar and probably the something-else too. You don’t need makeup, full stop. Don’t waste time and ruin saucepans trying to melt all your old lipsticks down and re-insert them into one tube.

It reminds me of being taught how to light a fire in a puddle in the Brownies. It also reminds me of the way non-vegetarians assume you require your food to be steak- or sausage-shaped even when it doesn’t contain a gram of actual meat. If you’re really poor you don’t need to make a brooch out of a button or change the look of your old shoes by sticking home-made glittery bows to them. The brooch will always look like a button in disguise and that shoe project is likely to cost you more in glue and glitter than it ever saves you. Furthermore, it will all go wrong and then you’ll have an old pair of shoes you can’t wear because they’ve got stuff smeared all over them, as opposed to an old pair of semi-worn out shoes that might have lasted you a bit longer. If you’re really poor people will know you’re poor. Don’t attempt to glitter and squirm your way back into the system that has just ejected you. Face up to the situation with dignity and humour and don’t go along with TV programmes, magazine articles or whatever that trivialise and exploit your situation for the entertainment of an audience that is almost certainly more fortunate than yourself.

Being poor really takes it out of you. Your time and energy are precious resources and in times to come you are really going to need to be energetic and resourceful. Simplify your life; rest as much as you can when you can, and focus on the basics.

The book was, naturally, based on grim personal experience. E-books were intended to be the remedy for all the grimness and the poverty, but they didn’t turn out that way. I have since given up writing e-books because nobody – or virtually nobody – downloaded mine. Well, a few adventurous souls did but my total royalties over a twelve month period might possibly have been enough to order a take-away pizza.

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I enjoy blogging much more – I don’t need to sell my writing, or me, or anything; I can just be myself and give it away! It’s freedom. It feels like feeding the pigeons in Leicester Square. Except you tend to get mobbed by those pigeons and covered in foul-smelling dollops of poop, but you know what I mean. When you’re writing for money (or in my case, the vain hope of money) you’re not being yourself; you’re scrabbling around all the time, consciously or unconsciously, for something that might sell. You’re also trying to sell to an invisible audience, an imaginary host of… what? Teenagers? Kindle-owners? Intellectuals? Readers of soppy romances? People on the train into the city first thing in the morning? What might they like? Are they anything like me? Am I anything like them? I don’t know.

I have mentioned before, I think, how at one particularly low financial and creative ebb I considered writing e-books on a variety of subjects in which I had no interest whatsoever, on the premise that if I hated the subject everyone else might love it (and buy it) since all the subjects I loved everyone else had so far not loved or bought.

One evening I sat down with a horde of cats and a cup of instant coffee and made a half-serious list. Can I find it? Pause for research… yes. I’m cut-and-pasting now from a previous post called At The First Clank Of A Chain:

  • Pimples No More – a Guide to Teenage Skincare – or possibly Acnephobia????
  • Outsmart Your Supermarket – how to stop them selling you stuff without you realising they’re doing it!!
  • De-cluttering Your Home – boot fairs versus charity shops; befriend your waste disposal operative!?!
  • How to Get Someone Else to do Your Gardening!!!

It was on this evening, with the coffee and the many cats, that I faced a fact I should have faced at the outset – it wasn’t going to work. Suddenly I knew I mustn’t use that breathless, fizzy, zippy, journalistic tone of voice any more; at least, I must try not to. What’s that bit from Jurassic Park? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should? Occasionally in my blog I still catch myself attempting to pep things up, lighting all those silly sparklers at once. But then I ask myself why I’m doing it. Isn’t “me” good enough? Really, I’m a miserable old so-and-so. Yes I am, really I am – a morbid, introspective, self-critical, sad old baggage, except for moments of wild and whimsical humour – usually in the company of my two old friends – or acerbic wit – mostly aimed at the moggies or the television. I have many conversations with cats and even more with my television.

When the sparklers come out and the circus make-up goes on, I ask myself questions like this:

What are you afraid to say now? What’s too difficult to put into words? What can’t you be bothered to try to explain, even to yourself? What’s too risky? What’s too embarrassing? What might possibly hurt? What’s so dull about you and your innermost thoughts that you feel no one could possibly be interested? Why are you needing camouflage? Someone once said you need to bleed onto the page a little. Who said that? Pause for research… in fact, it was Ernest Hemingway:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Or in another version:

Writing is really very easy. Tap a vein and bleed onto the page. Everything else is just technical.

Derrick Jensen. Who might Derrick Jensen be?

But you can over-bleed. I mean, who wants to read a potted Portnoy’s Complaint everytime they open their Reader? There I go again. Sparklers. ‘A potted Portnoy’s Complaint‘. Sounds snazzy but have I ever even read Portnoy’s Complaint? Pause… trying to remember… that’s the trouble when you’re old, brain continually buffereing… yes, I think I did, or at least I think I tried to and gave up. I didn’t like Portnoy. Nassssssty creature. Similarly, I cast aside Last Exit To Brooklyn, which until a couple of minutes ago I thought was another one by Philip Roth, but it’s not. I got as far as Tralala and the rape scene, and the bit with the broomhandle and… some things are just unbearable. Clever, but unbearable.

So, the thing is to alternate light with shade. Jolly one minute, frowny the next. Sometimes when writing this blog I find myself “talking” to one or other of my two friends (I only have the two) who tell me they read my blog, and I have no reason to doubt it. Sometimes I’m chatting away to myself – the more “thinky” ones are done like that: I create a duplicate me and talk to her. Sometimes, when something needs quite a bit of prior research, I do that, then read through all my notes and printed off internet bits, then start typing and see how much of it has sunk in and what order it’s going to come out in.

Fiction is different. It’s much, much harder work – twice as much time required and twice as much energy-input. For that I try not to think about the blog at all, or about time, or about anything else. Fiction is from somewhere else, another place. Instead of being me talking to you, it’s now them talking to me or there coming to here. When you’re engaged in a writing fiction you’re forming a kind of bridge. You don’t know what’s going to walk over you or sweep through you…

You know, this was going to be a post on Ingenuity or Make-Do-And-Mend…

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