Posted in essay

Why Do We Write?

When I was a child, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I don’t remember when or why, exactly, but given that I was a prodigious reader, it is not hard to guess that it was when reading one of my many books. I graduated from kids’ books to adults’ ones early on and the first efforts at writing that I can recall were action-packed detective stories filled with adventure and car-crashes.

Two weeks ago, I was invited to an international school here in Phuket to talk about being a writer. I was reluctant to do it because I have little to say on the matter. In fact, I have never liked talking about writing. As a child, I hid my writing and hid the very fact that I wanted to be a writer. It seemed, somehow, shameful. As a teenager and then as a university student I did the same, telling no one that I secretly wrote novels, short stories, poems, essays, and screenplays.

I agreed to the classroom visit only because my friend convinced me that her students would be really interested, and I knew that my childhood self would also have been delighted to meet with a real live writer. I prepared a few things to say, but from the moment I walked into the room I was bombarded with questions from eager twelve-year-olds. They really were curious, as my friend had said. They wanted to know everything, and for an hour and a half I answered their questions as best I could.

One girl said she was about halfway through writing a book on orcas and another boy had written a novel of some kind. I was impressed, but what interested me most was that they really wanted to know was how a writer could get enough words on paper to make a book publishable. “My book is only 73 pages,” the young novelist told me.

That made me smile and took me quickly back to my own early efforts. I remember trying to write a novel about a secret agent who lived in a refurbished plane in the Scottish highlands. I wrote and wrote and wrote… but when the story was about halfway done, it was only 10 pages long. The same issue plagued every other serious literary venture I embarked upon for most of my youth. It seemed a mystery to me how anyone could pad a story out to fill a 300-page paperback book.

My latest book, World Citizen.

Nowadays I find it harder to cut my writing down… and anyway, I don’t write much fiction. My last book was about Allen Ginsberg’s travels and before that I wrote about William S. Burroughs’ interest in Scientology. I’ve written a few other books, too, but when it comes to making up stories, I just don’t have the same imagination I did when I was young. If I do come up with a story, I can’t picture it in my head like I used to, and so I can’t put it down on paper in a way that a reader would be able to interpret. I wish I hadn’t lost all that, but maybe it will come back one day when I least expect it. For the time being, I’m happy writing literary histories and the occasional guide to English grammar.

One small girl at the front of the classroom, whom I think was younger than the others by at least a year or two, asked me an interesting question. She said, “Do you love what you do?”

From what I said at the beginning of this essay, I suppose it would seem that writing is a lifelong passion of mine. However, it is not a passion, really. It was, once upon a time, something that triggered a certain romantic feeling inside me. It was my calling in life, and maybe it would be my way of leaving my mark upon the world… Through university, I read all the great writers and learned about their often tragic lives, and it seemed that was what I was going to do. After graduation, I set out into the world pretty much in that fashion, determined to succeed as a writer.

In my early twenties, I read voluminously and wrote almost every day. I read everything I could get my hands on and tried writing in every style. My own personal writing style morphed with the influence of the writers whose work gripped me — the sparse Hemingway prose jarring me out of my long Kerouacian sentences before the vitriolic Gonzo diatribes got to me. I wrote novels and articles and did my best to get everything published. I kept nothing to myself.

Years later, when my wife left me very suddenly and my whole life fell apart, I tried to write myself out of the depression that ensued. I wrote day and night, and when I wasn’t writing, I was editing the work of other writers. Over the previous few years, I had gained some success with my first major book and a host of well-received articles and essays, and now I fired off article after article after article. From eight in the morning until five in the afternoon, I sat at a desk and just wrote. The words were not a joyous outpouring nor were they particularly healing. They were just a distraction.

At some point in the middle of this, I began writing crap articles that companies would pay me for. It was easy work but the going rate was abysmal. Fortunately, my cost of living was very low, so I was able to cover all my expenses through my various written works. For the first time in my life, I could call myself a professional writer… and for the first time in my life, I hated writing. I was competing for jobs that meant nothing alongside people who didn’t know where to place a comma, and the job more or less went to whoever would accept the lowest compensation for the most work. My writing skills, honed over two decades of practice, meant nothing because the people employing writers didn’t know what good writing was, nor did the readers or the Google algorithm which we were essentially trying to impress.

Soon after that, I stopped writing.

When that little girl asked me if I love what I do, I had to pause for a moment. I had promised myself before going into the classroom that I would not be negative about writing. I would not stand up in front of this group of eager young faces and say, “Do anything except write! Save yourself and find something that has a future! This world doesn’t respect writers!” It was not the right thing to say, even if it was reasonable advice in this climate.

Nowadays, writers are just not valued by our society unless they are writing shallow, derivative novels or sensationalist, sarcastic tripe that feeds into our outrage culture. There are so many books on sale nowadays that no one will read that novel you wrote unless you somehow get it reviewed in a major publication, and even if you get an article published somewhere, it will be forgotten in forty-eight hours, a victim of our goldfish-like, net-addled memories. Most websites don’t make enough to pay their writers now, and those that do don’t want writing; they want content. Content means a set number of words in an order that will please Google enough to bring visitors who will stay for enough seconds to ensure a higher ranking on the results page, which in turn leads to the clickbait adverts that provide the $2 per 100 words that you got paid to write that piece of shit…

So when she asked me if I love what I do, I said, “Yes… actually, I do.” The words caught me by surprised. I continued: “I don’t like writing for other people, but when I write what I want, whether it’s a page in a journal or for a book I’m working on, I really enjoy it.”

And it’s true. I do. It took me five years to write my last book, and yet I look back fondly upon the days spent in my office, my back aching as I hunched over my books and notes, researching every detail of a dead poet’s life for a book that will never be reviewed in a major publication, and which will earn royalties that, averaged out over five years of work, will never add up to more than a fraction of a percent of minimum wage. Yet I can honestly say that, for whatever perverse reason, I really and truly do get an immense kick out of writing. It is something I am driven to do, despite everything, and I am delighted to know that there are children out there who care enough to pursue it as well.

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Posted in Photography

Hong Kong Protests

In 2014, I visited Hong Kong during the Umbrella Movement, in which the city’s residents protested against the degradation of their country’s democracy by neighbouring China.

I was incredibly moved by what I saw there. It inspired me greatly, and helped changed my perception of P.R. China, whose wicked actions against Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and most of Asia are going unpunished.

What I saw were desperate people doing what they could to fight against an incredibly powerful foe. The Chinese will gladly use violence and intimidation to break their enemies, but the people of Hong Kong fought back with peaceful, passive protest. I loved it, and I love Hong Kong.

I took some photos, and this was actually one of the first times I really decided that photography was a hobby of mine – something I would do seriously rather than just a quick snap to remind me of somewhere I’d visited.

Now that Hong Kong is in the news again, fighting a vicious law that would give China even more control over the country, I thought I would share these pictures. They are from an old camera and unedited, and taken well before I started learning about photography, so they’re a bit lower quality than the ones I usually post.

Posted in essay

Don’t Forget – or Ignore – What Happened in Tiananmen Square

Thirty years ago, protesters in China nearly brought about a change in their country’s communist government. They sought democracy, while the government looked to maintain the brutal dictatorship that had ruled the country since Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

As most of the world knows, the student uprising was brutally crushed by government forces. In Tiananmen Square, where the protesters had made a last stand against government aggression, the army massacred thousands of students. The world watched in horror, and was captivated by one of the most powerful images ever taken:

tiananmen square full photo tank man

Sadly, unlike many celebrated protests and revolutions, this one was unsuccessful. The brutality of the communist government was such that the protesters were swept away, or crushed under the rolling tracks of the Red Army tanks. Those who died were never accounted for or acknowledged, and to this day their families are not allowed to mourn for them. Those who speak out are silenced.

The government mostly denies that the event took place, although it occasionally acknowledges it, justifying the action that was taken, and downplaying the death toll. However, discussion is absolutely forbidden in the world’s most brutal police state. Any mention of the event is immediately wiped from social media, and people are afraid to speak of it even in private.

If you post any images of Tiananmen Square from 1989, it will disappear without a trace. This is terrifying. In China, few people know the famous photo of Tank Man, and few know the true story about one of the most important events in their country’s history. It is hard for people to understand just what it is like in China… the absolute censorship and brainwashing that has contributed to a state of 1.4 billion people who simply don’t know.

Some people remember, of course. They have had their memories altered through government propaganda campaigns. Last year, I spoke about Tiananmen Square with my ex-girlfriend’s father. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that the protesters deserved to be killed “because they shut down the buses.”

In Hong Kong, there are annual events to commemorate the massacre, but one wonders how long these will continue. As Hong Kong is swallowed up by its Orwellian neighbour, how long will their right to free speech (or free thought) remain? China is stamping its insidious influence on much of Asia, attempting to push its ideas of historical revisionism into the mainstream.

Today, almost a billion and a half Chinese will go about their lives with absolutely no knowledge of what happened thirty years ago in their own capital city. Thousands of students died trying to bring them democracy and free speech… yet few know and even fewer care. The slaughter was for nought. Their government has won through violence, intimidation, lies, and censorship. It has created the most successful police state in the world, where everyone is under constant surveillance and no one has the right to speak out on issues that the government decides are forbidden. From their earliest days at school, children are subjected to a terrifying indoctrination: “It’s us against the world, and anything you hear spoken against your government is foreign propaganda.”

China has a leader with unrestricted lifelong powers, a government with the ability to control the minds of its people, a total disregard for human rights, concentration camps for its ethnic minorities, a history of genocide, aggressive territorial expansion, and a terrifying neo-colonial policy that has seen it swallow up great chunks of the world through financial manipulation. It is spreading its own nightmarish vision of the future, and no one seems to have the will or the power to stop it.

Don’t forget the people who died trying to stop this, and don’t stop calling China out on its evil ways. Don’t forget Tank Man, Tiananmen Square, or Tibet, and don’t abandoned Taiwan to its vicious oppressor.

Posted in essay

Six Months Free

It is the beginning of June, and for me this marks an important anniversary. It is now more than six months since I escaped from China. The time has flown by so quickly that I can hardly believe it… It seems only weeks ago that I was trudging to and from work, dodging piles of human excrement and being stared at by every one of the thousands of people whom I passed by on that miserable twenty minute walk.

Despite the difficulties of living in China, I was worried before leaving that I would come to regret it. In fact, going back to 2015 I had actually given serious thought to quitting and moving elsewhere. The problem was that I had a good job and a nice house and my life, though I was undoubtedly in an awful place, was overall pretty comfortable. I complained… but I was also aware that it could have been worse.

Six months ago, however, I snapped. I had been signing a new contract each year, extending my stay in that hellish place, over and over and over… I had lost respect for myself for not having the balls to leave. I was constantly stressed, and getting sick from the pollution and the filth of urban China. All the things that once seemed so curiously bizarre were now just aggravating. The government restrictions were becoming tighter, the country becoming suspiciously like Nazi Germany just before World War II.

I couldn’t bear to be there another week, never mind another year.

I bought a ticket home, handed in my resignation, tossed away all my things, and got the fuck out.

jesse escape

For the first two weeks, I honestly didn’t think about China. I got home and just forgot about it. I put every single ghastly detail of that place out of my mind. When a China-related thought came floating my way, I pushed it calmly away. I deleted every Chinese app and ignored every bit of Sinocentric news that appeared. When people asked me about my time there, I politely declined to comment.

Over time, I let myself slip back into those thoughts to deal with it better. I reconnected with a few friends from China, allowed myself to read the occasional news story, and generally stopped trying to block out that whole area of my life. As time has gone by, it’s come back more and more, particularly as I now live in Thailand, which is destination #1 for many Chinese people.lisa

I don’t look back and regret leaving, though. Sometimes I look back and wish I hadn’t stayed as long as I did, but that doesn’t really matter. I got out with my life and sanity – although the latter was a close call. I learned a lot in China, particularly about teaching, and so it was not a total loss. I sure as hell wouldn’t dream of going back, but I don’t regret leaving at all.

The funny thing about China is that it really is the very worst place imaginable. You sometimes forget when you are there that people can be decent or that things can be beautiful. It is a land of pure ugliness, sneakiness, cruelty, and idiocy. When you get out – regardless of where you go – you land some place with decent people and interesting surroundings. Soon enough, you come to take for granted the little things like people not blowing up fireworks outside your window at 4am or not honking their horn 200 times a minute for no fucking reason. Everything in China is dumb and terrible and evil.

Well, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit.

Nevertheless, it’s been six months and I feel better for it. I live in Thailand now, where the people are good and the land is beautiful. Going to the supermarket is not an agonizing process, I can surf the internet freely, and nobody stares dumbly at me or screams LAOWAI every two fucking seconds. (Although there are plenty of Chinese tourists at particular spots around the island, and I could go be stared at and revel in their stupidity if I ever felt the need.)

I am glad to be gone from China, and I have no plans to return. This six month anniversary is a reminder of an important lesson in life – that you need to do what’s right instead of sticking with what’s easiest. Sometimes you need to make that big change in order to move on to something better.

Posted in Photography

More Night Photos

Since coming to Thailand almost two months ago (oh god, time has passed by quickly), I have been experimenting a bit with night photography. It has really fascinated me for a few years, but it’s quite difficult to get into. First of all, you need a decent camera, then you need a lot of knowledge, then you need a good place to do it, and then you need lots and lots and lots of luck. It also helps to have an app like PhotoPills on your phone, but even then you virtually need a doctorate in astronomy just to figure out how to use it.

Anyway, I began experimenting on the roof of my apartment building a few weeks ago, shooting the stars with pretty mixed success. This was probably my best photo:

Night Photo with light painting

A little later, I attempted to shoot photos of a lightning storm, which is more difficult and infinitely more dangerous. I got lots of photos but none really turned out well. This was probably the best:

Lightning Over Phuket

Beautiful… but a bit blurry.

A few nights ago, I was about to go to bed when I noticed that it was quite clear outside. Now that the rainy season has arrived, it is typically rather cloudy in the evenings, but all of a sudden we had an unexpected clear night. I then noticed just how starry it was… I pulled out my phone and checked PhotoPills, my weather app, and a guide to the nightsky.

They all told me the same thing:

This was the perfect night for shooting the stars.

No clouds, no moon, and the Milky Way rising above the horizon at about 11pm. Great!

I realized that my boring old roof wouldn’t provide a great foreground, and so I decided to hop on my bike and drive along the dark roads to Promthep Cape, where I previously shot some cool sunset photos.

The roads were dark and quiet, and thus pleasant to drive. The air was also surprisingly cool, too, which made a real difference from the sweltering heat of the day. Towards the cape, I began to worry that I wouldn’t find anywhere sufficiently dark because the street lights even in the middle of nowhere were quite bright.

At the cape, I found a dark path and wandered to where I felt I would be able to get a decent shot. The fishing boats on the horizon were brightly illuminated, which wasn’t ideal because it would blow out the horizon portion of the photo. Moreover, mosquitoes were swarming around my ankles and I had no desire to get dengue fever… I realized that my roof was great for taking the time to set up a series of shots, but here I’d have to be faster.

I shot a handful of photos that were more or less satisfactory. Here are my two favourites:

They are not the greatest photos in terms of composition. If I had spent longer, I could’ve gotten something much better. However, in terms of actually shooting the stars, I think these worked really well. I have my fingers crossed for another perfect night like this… but I’m not holding my breath.

Posted in travel

Driving to Phang Nga National Park

I have been staying in Phuket, Thailand, for about a month and a half, and in that time I have not actually done much exploring. Mostly I stay at home, working, or go to the gym. I’ve been to the beach a few times and I’ve gotten to know the southern part of the island pretty well, but until today I had never really gotten out and explored.

Last night, I looked on Google Maps for places within a day’s drive of Phuket, and decided that Samet Nangshe Viewpoint seemed like a good place to visit. It’s a good few hours’ drive from southern Phuket, especially with weekend traffic. So this morning, about 9am, I set off on my Honda Click, aiming for Sarasin Bridge, which connects the island with the mainland.

Driving through Phuket was not much fun, to be honest. The roads are busy and dangerous, and in places they have large potholes or – even worse – have become completely warped in the stifling heat. You often find yourself sandwiched between a speeding lorry and a row of haphazardly parked cars, hoping no one opens a door and kills you. Other times, you’re going around a bend, being tailgated by a speeding minivan, hoping that the warped road does cause the bike to slip out from underneath you.

After the airport, which is about an hour’s drive from Saiyuan (where I live), the roads get better. For one thing, from the airport to the bridge there is at least a bike lane to drive in. That doesn’t mean that minivans and lorries don’t occasionally veer into it, but generally it’s a much safer passage. By the time I hit the bridge, I was pretty tired and it had only been an hour and a half.

The View from Sarasin Bridge

I stopped and walked part of the way across the bridge. Men were fishing, and I saw a few of them catch some medium sized fish. In fact, I could see that the water was rich with fish, as many of them darted about near the surface.

Then it was time to jump on the bike and find Samet Nangshe. Getting there wasn’t entirely straightforward, but at this point I didn’t care. On the mainland, driving was much more pleasant. Phuket had been busy and the roads were dangerous, but here they were open and well-kept. I pulled off the highway and headed into the countryside on narrower roads that wound through green forests. Sadly, it was not real jungle as all that had evidently been cut down and replaced by – I think – gum trees. Certainly, they were planted in neat rows and had been tapped for some sort of sap. It was sad, but at least I was amidst greenery rather than buildings.

The route to the viewpoint was pretty well signposted, even when seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The only thing was that the distances listed on the signs were completely arbitrary. I had noticed that on the road up through Phuket. I would see a sign that said:

Sarasin Bridge – 24km

Then, ten minutes later:

Sarasin Bridge – 26km

How does that make sense? On the way back it would get even worse, and I had to start completely ignoring the signs or I would go mad.

Near the viewpoint, I saw a small road wind off towards the mangroves and couldn’t resist following it. It took me to a small fishing village, where people hired out long-tail boats to see “James Bond Island”. This island, actually called Koh Tapu, is famous as the location of Scaramanga’s hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun. As with most things in Thailand, a little attention turned into a relentless procession of tourist hordes, and it has been thoroughly commercialised. I was tempted to take a boat there by myself (as they only cost 1,500baht), but decided against it. I didn’t feel like being surrounded by tourists. Maybe another day I would return.

Long-tail Boat at Phang Nga Bay

I returned to the main road and then headed on to what I thought was Samet Nangshe Viewpoint. I found a car park and bought a ticket for 30 baht, then hopped on a little truck, which whisked me up the hillside. On the way, I talked with a Thai family. They enlightened me to the fact that this was not Samet Nangshe Viewpoint. In fact, Sam Nangshe was another 200 meters along the road. I had stopped at Samet Nangshe Boutique Hotel. Oops. Oh well, unperturbed, I alighted and decided to look around. It was, after all, high on a hill and just a few hundred meters from the famous viewpoint. Moreover, there was almost no one here…

Panoramic View of Phang Nga Bay

Well, the view certainly lived up to my expectations. I grabbed a grossly overpriced cup of iced tea and sat looked out at the view. What can you say about a scene like that?

After an hour of watching the view (and admiring the Thais’ tie-dye shirts), I set off again. On the long route back to Phuket, I saw a number of little villages and enjoyed cruising the quiet country roads.

Crossing back into Phuket was a descent into chaos, but at the airport I stopped and went to Nai Yang Beach. This beach is quite famous as the place where you can see planes coming in to land, passing low over the sand. I had read that it was now out-of-bounds and that visitors were met with signs proclaiming the death penalty would be sought for trespassers! However, I could see no such signs and so I went to see if I could shoot a photo of the planes.

When I first got to the beach, I was met by a woman who told me, “This is a National Park, you should pay 200 baht.” I told her I’d think about it and drove away. About 200 meters away, I just parked and walked onto the beach. Evidently, there is only one checkpoint and you can just go around it.

After an hour, I had only seen one plane come in to land and a dozen taking off. The problem with getting a photo was that you couldn’t really see them taking off until they were in the air… They were so damned fast that they were already up in the sky before you could frame the shot. The one that landed did so just as I arrived and was too far away to make it work.

Plane Taking off at Nai Yang Beach

When I got home, it was 6pm and I’d been driving for most of the 9 hours since I’d left. I was exhausted, and my hands were purple from sunburn, but it felt good to have explored a little. I will be in Thailand for a year, and although it’s a cool place to live, sometimes it’s easy to get trapped into not doing much. You have to get out and see the surrounding areas, just like you would if you were on holiday.

Posted in essay

Is this decade worse than the ’80s?

A few nights ago, I watched The Dirt on Netflix. It’s a silly film about the rock band, Mötley Crüe. All silliness aside, the opening line is brilliant:

The 1980s… the worst fucking decade in human history.

The Dirt Movie PosterI laughed when I heard that because it seemed so true. The 1980s was, in many ways, a cultural dead zone. It was a period when even the best artists temporarily turned shit. Even Dylan and Springsteen were awful during the eighties. Synth took over music, cocaine blinded the formerly creative people, and movies… well, ok, movies were fine, but think how good they would’ve been in another decade. Scarface, for example, is one of the greatest films ever, but how much better would it have been without the wanky guitar licks? The same goes for almost every other movie of the decade.

I laughed and laughed and then stopped laughing. Actually, the 1980s wasn’t all that bad, was it? I mean, it lacked all the best of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘90s, but it could’ve been worse. Yeah, it’s hard to think of a worse decade than the ‘80s, but then… what about this one? What about this decade we’re living in right now? I don’t even know what you’d call this current decade, but I suppose it doesn’t matter much. It’s almost over, and no one is going to look back and say, “Gosh, weren’t the _____ great?” No, it’s unlikely anyone will ever say that.

What is there to remember from the 2010s? If the ‘80s were shit, at least they had amazing movies like The Goonies, Die Hard, and Stand By Me, to name but a few. Nowadays we just remake movies, and if we’re feeling particularly edgy, we make the new cast all-female. And if it’s not a shitty remake, it’s another bloody comic book movie. I’m not entirely opposed to these, as they certainly have their place, but they seem to have become the cinema staple in the last decade, each pretty much the same as the one before it. It shows an utter lack of imagination, a disrespect for the movie-going public.

(That said, the movie-going public apparently likes it just fine. They clamour for more. But then again, these are the same people who’ve made reality TV popular and then placed one of its stars as president of the United States, so maybe we shouldn’t be giving the people exactly what they want.)

80s fashion
What were they thinking?

It seems to me that the ‘80s were such a cultural wasteland primarily because of the rise of cocaine. In previous decades, drugs had lit up the imaginations of creative people, causing an immense output of artistic creation. Cocaine… not so much. It deadened the imagination, or at least gave people confidence in their shitty ideas. It told them that synthesizers made music better and dumb guitar licks played over panoramic nighttime cityscapes could turn any terrible film into a great one. It told them that tracksuits, perms, and shoulder-pads were cool.

This present generation is not blighted by cocaine, but something far more addictive and destructive: technology. The internet has connected the world, and it has brought us little of real worth. People all over the globe are becoming more similar as our cultures are washed away by this unification of people. Facebook and Instagram are making us all emulate each other, while at the same time causing stark rifts between groups of people. The so-called culture wars taking place between left and right wing factions in the west is a prime example of something that has been exacerbated to an unimaginable degree by the advent of mobile devices that can connect us at all times to the internet. We now shop for news like we used to shop for music. “Metal is the best… fuck everything else!” used to sound so pathetic, and yet now look at us. We choose a political position and believe anything churned out by the fake news-generating meme factories. Orwell couldn’t have made this shit up.

Politics aside, it is disgusting the extent which everyone – myself included – is addicted to their phone. We panic without it. We cannot function without GPS, Google, Wikipedia, and Whatsapp. It has castrated us and lobotomized us. Our powers of concentration, of reasoning, of being able to amuse ourselves or sustain a conversation – all these things are fading quickly. This new technology has developed faster than anything in human history, and its impact is spectacularly far-reaching. I hate to sound like an old fart prophesying doom because of a new invention, but it does not look good.

I am glad that I grew up in the era before the internet, before social media, and before smartphones. Although I am as utterly reliant upon these inventions as most folks, I remember what it was like to live without them, and I think we were better off. Technology is not inherently bad, of course. Smartphones are not innately problematic, and the internet is actually a wonderful invention. But they are like opiates – designed for a noble purpose, but utterly abused.

phone and spine health
Source

In the 1980s, we did not have an epidemic of people taking selfies. We did not have tens of millions of people flying around the world, annihilating cultures and ecosystems just to get photos for their social media accounts, and people did not have an easy platform from which to spread ignorant views to an audience of potentially billions. Nowadays, you are “creative” if you remake a meme you saw on Reddit, “philosophical” if you copy someone else’s Twitter post on your Facebook account without attribution, and we all worship “influencers” who became famous overnight because their clickbait is better than the other ten thousand people who do exactly the same as them.

Bring on the 2020s. I genuinely hope that it brings about an awareness of the damage we have done to ourselves. I hope that Facebook and Twitter fade away, and that people begin to reject the technologies that have come to rule their lives. I hope that it these devices and platforms are used more responsibly while they still exist, but that they pitter away and people find that it’s not normal for us to be living such public lives, connected to so many thousands of people, and bombarded constantly with so much information. Yes, we are living in a decade that makes the ‘80s look pretty damn good, but while ‘80s bullshit was shattered by the likes of Nirvana at the beginning of the ‘90s, let’s hope we transition quickly into a better decade very soon. I cannot imagine people putting down their phones, getting offline, and returning to a state of mental awareness, but I really, really hope that it happens.

Posted in Photography

Another Sunset

I think I take too many photos of sunsets and I don’t know why. In a sense, they always look the same. Then again, it’s always a challenge. Shooting directly into the sun isn’t exactly easy, and most of my photos at sunset look too bright or too dark, or just plain boring.

Yesterday, I went for a walk around Naiharn Lake, and just as the sun was about to set I jumped on my bike and headed for the “windmill” that overlooks Naiharn and Ao Sane. (Those quotes mean that it’s not really a windmill; it’s a wind turbine that everyone romantically calls a windmill.)

It was a little busy but not nearly as crowded as at Promthep Cape, a little further to the south. I stood around and watched as the sun slowly dipped towards the horizon, and shot a few photos.

 

Posted in update

Book Stuff

As regular readers will know, last month my latest book was published: World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. Today, my mum sent me this:

world citizen allen ginsberg review

“Scottish book of the week”? I like the sound of that…

I also edited the latest edition of Beatdom literary journal, which was published a few days ago. Today I checked Amazon and saw that it was listed as No.1 for Literary Criticism Reference. It’s a small category, but still… I was delighted.

A few days ago, I published an interview with Casey Rae about his forthcoming book on William S. Burroughs. You can read that here. I have reviewed the book for another journal, although I have no idea when that will be published. Probably closer to the actual book’s publication date.

Speaking of Burroughs, my own book has gone through a bit of a resurgence of interest (perhaps the result of being excerpted at Tony Ortega’s website) and is selling very well once again. It got a new review a few days ago from a former Scientologist.

Finally, I was interview by Jon Faia for this website. I mostly talk about the Beat Generation and being a writer.

Posted in essay

Thoughts on the Arrest of Julian Assange

In the original incarnation of this blog, there was a post about Julian Assange. I didn’t delete it because of what happened later on, but it was deleted nonetheless when I decided to get rid of everything and start afresh. I can’t remember why I did that, exactly. I think I was looking for a new direction in my writing. Or maybe I wanted to cut ties with parts of the past. In any case, I remember blogging about him and, like many progressive people at that time, I was very much on his side.

I still have the original Word document of that post in an ancient file on my laptop, and I just looked it out. It makes for awkward reading, which was pretty much what my memory had told me it would be.

I’m glad I’m not famous because it’s the sort of thing that really comes back to haunt you. We’re not allowed to have mistakes in our past anymore. Almost anything from our digital lives could be dredged by hack journalists for salacious gossip in an attempt to discredit us among the increasingly vicious “progressive” media: “Oh, he made a joke five years ago that sounds bad now that we’ve completely changed our morality? Well, we’d better throw him under the bus to make ourselves look righteous.”

Fuck that. I can’t stand that attitude. It makes me think of China’s Cultural Revolution. A few days ago, Barack Obama called it the left’s “circular firing squad,” and he was spot on.

But that’s not what I’m talking about today. Not really.

I’m talking about Julian Assange, a man who was a hero to many of us just a few years ago, and who now makes us squirm. I certainly feel a tinge of embarrassment to look back. But I’m not ashamed, exactly. In fact, to go back a few paragraphs, I said that I found my original writing on the topic, and I’m going to share the very worst lines:

What the organization [WikiLeaks] does is invaluable. It is a true wonder of this era and gives me hope for the future of journalism, the internet and mankind.

Oh, that’s uncomfortable reading. (And not just for the lack of Oxford comma.) It’s a prime example of something that did not age well.

But that’s what life is. We say things, we change our minds for some reason, and we say something else. It’s the ones who don’t admit what they said in the first place that you can’t trust.

I did indeed look at Assange and WikiLeaks as heroic for what they did, and looking back, I can see why. In my original blog post, I called them out for being careless in certain regards, but ultimately I applauded them for bringing transparency and shining a light on the evils of the US government. The US was a tyrant, stomping around the world cloaked in secrecy, hiding evil deeds… Along came Assange and WikiLeaks and suddenly everyone knew, and it wasn’t all conspiracy theories but real hard facts. Like him or not, he helped hold people to account, and probably made it a little harder to get away with war crimes.

I still feel that way, but like most people I’ve come to watch Assange’s hysterics and the organisation’s decline. They have veered towards a darker path, it seems. For many, they are at least partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump and the cancer he has brought upon the United States. Assange’s rage at Hillary Clinton caused him to participate in the skewing of the American political dialogue, pushing opinion in the direction of a man who is easily the worst president in American history. What he did – something that affects the whole world to a great extent – was utterly unforgivable.

I suppose you could argue that he just did what he was always doing – bringing transparency and taking down powerful people. You might say that of course someone on the left of the political spectrum would be angry… that I’m just pissed now that he helped the right wing. However, I think that it changed fundamentally while Assange was trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy, becoming increasingly unstable and bitter. I think that his interference in the election was a matter of spite, whereas his original actions were about transforming the world for the better.

It was uncomfortable for me – and, I presume, for countless others – watching Assange being hauled from the place he’d hidden for so long. I remember him taking refuge in the embassy, and thinking, “Thank god there’s at least one country willing to stand up and do the right thing.” It seemed the whole world was against him and he deserved protection.

Although I now view the man as a twat, and resent his organisation’s role in one of the saddest events in recent years, I hope that he isn’t extradited to the US, and that he doesn’t receive punishment for the WikiLeaks hack. Ultimately, what happened back then was something that needed to happen. As for helping elect Trump, there were a million and one factors at play. No one should be punished for that. We just need to learn from it, and ensure it never happens again.

Democracy has been weaponised. Russia and China and other non-democratic players, whose governments don’t even pretend to value free speech, have figured out how to undermine the things that used to make us – the western world – strong. Organisations like WikiLeaks and people like Assange were, I thought, necessary for an open society. Maybe they still are, but we have seen how they can switch sides and become selective in how they choose to use the information they uncover. Their methods have been subverted, and they have caused chaos, tearing our societies apart.

It’s hard to see any positives coming from this. Not many will sympathise with Assange now, and there are plenty who will castigate him for a wide array of perceived offences. He has helped usher in a dark era in global politics, but perhaps it says more about us than him that that was allowed to happen. I guess he will go off to prison for the rest of his life – a fate probably no worse than spending it in an embassy – and we will all just forget about him. But I can’t help but feel we are living in a world partly of his creation, and one that was very much unforeseen.