Over the last five years when I have been thinking to myself "do we really want to be going in this particular direction at quite this speed?" and trying to find some way to live a different kind of a life while everybody has been looking over at me thinking "what the fuck is his malfunction?!" or just looking down at me or taking no notice at all, I have often accused myself of every kind of stupidity. "You can't write a web application!" was one take of course, "You've barely written 20 lines of code and SQL scares the crap out of you," which is reasonable and true. "You have ADHD and if ever there is a falsifiable hypothesis in this world it's that you can finish anything! You've done four fifths of everything and then focked it off." Which is true enough since I have just as many unfinished stories as unfinished novels and they are unfinished in the same ratio of work done to work required, but what is precisely falsifiable here is the hypothesis that I cannot finish anything, and that only must be falsified once, and judging by Kafka or Gogol, write enough stories and even the unfinished novels may begin to count. There is more: "And then you're autistic. You work on anything that interests you. Because it interests you. Or because you think it's right. Maybe you're not even interested in getting it out there. You'll never earn a penny for all of it and so it will all be for nought." Etc.
Before that of course, I was thinking I was an idiot for thinking I could write a novel. I pivotted from that novel, which I will write about here sometime (and may write and/or develop here), sometime after one of the morally and creatively eventful journeys I took between Prague and Britain in these years, to creating a web application - this one - after an idea for something, part of the world of the novel, which I called the literary famine walk. This, more or less, was a reaction to a story on a podcast I hope to write about, which discussed the Choctaw Nation who contributed to Irish Famine relief at the time of the Great Hunger, much, indeed, as Welsh miners had once contributed money they could also ill afford, to reconstruct Lidice, a Czechoslovakian village whose inhabitants were slaughtered in retribution for an attack on Reinhard Heydrich, the brutal Nazi Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Long (baroquely-constructed) story shorter, this led to this "Literary Famine Walk", the brainchild of one character, Hanta, who returns to the Choctaw Nation's lands before their Trail of Tears to The Yukon, working on some odd computer thing, the Blunktenserver Transport, which is a reaction to her ancestral home, the state of freedom in the world at large, and the rootless urban community she has been working on in the tech world of the West Coast, and involves people passing on their messages over a human-mediated text-only network. I am retracing my steps here, the journey I have taken since quitting teaching after that fully sociopathic last year working in Montessori 6-9 class the year Trump was elected (teaching the history of Czechoslovakia in [not only] that context was a blast, I can tell you.) And I see that the pivot to a Creative Commons zine web application (and novels published within it) was the second pivot. Call Them Soldiers came alive again after ten years (ADHD, autism, a string of jobs and living spaces, neoliberalism; you know or there's little point beginning to explain), because of Brexit, because of Trump, but though my imagining of what 2009 would look like, looked absolutely correct for Britain, and, as I read only today, Manchester, writing this claustrophobic perspective (this is Manchester imagined into the future as a palimpsest of Prague of the 1970s), began to feel more and more wilful and negligent as time went on. Ok, so, England in the 2050s has gone the way of Cechoslovakia or Romania in the 1950s or what have you but, as alarmist as it sometimes felt to write that politically we might in fact be much worse off than the fascists whose tools and science of manipulation was not as advanced as it is now following a half-century of competitive honing during the Cold War, there were two catastrophes, related but distinct, one ecological collapse, and the other nuclear holocaust, which, though it might seem cheap to second-guess (a microcosm is aesthetically cleaner) it would seem morally repugnant not to take a stance on at a time that the prow of history is far bolder than anybody would think even from reading or watching the most sensationalist of modish dystopias. The story of the Choctaw Nation, of their crossing a post-nuclear holocaust USA, a post-ecological collapse USA (I took a stance on both and it seemed clear), and of the story of that journey and everything they saw getting through to the closed worlds of Manchester via a node of the Blunktenserver transport at a "Malfeasanctuary" outside of Manchester, became a frame story for the overall cybernetic hell that was a much nearer future than I dreaded in 2009. What struck me halfway through a draft of that frame story, the latest book in a series which began as a novel ten years ago, is that the world of Call Them Soldiers, a world nobody would want to live in if they didn't know where they would end up, was the prognosis. The Literary Famine Walk was a reverse engineered solution of sorts. In writing Call Them Soldiers, I had been processing all of the experience I had had from the past ten years, certainly, though the idea at the time had not come from nowhere. What this mapped to was Marginálie, which I am now putting together and what I think I have now decided, is that it would a nonsense for me to work on anything else.
Three weeks ago now, I came back from a 3 month-long trip to the UK, where I was born. There I scanned a lot of sometimes twenty-something years-old manuscripts, written on a 1930s typewriter. Most are terrible. Which isn't the point. What is the point is the thinking I have done in these years when I didn't know how to do anything else. This is what a writer does. The writing, the assembling of it all, comes later.
I re-wrote the title above, "Cargo Container Pub release candidate", thinking of the kind of pubs a city sometimes needs to even out the forces of gentrification or deindustrialisation or late capitalism and to keep a culture alive. That's very much how I think of this thrown together application with none of the bullshit we have got used to on the corporate internet just the same as we have settled for the sterile catalogue interior design of many of our soulless pubs and cafes. I threw in the 'cult' thing because it could be a 'cult' pub but rather because of the kind of plays on words you often find in software projects.
I'm the last person to guess what I'm thinking and what my game is. In fact, I have a hundred ways (you all thought I wasn't listening but it was all going in) to tell myself I am an idiot, that I don't know what I am doing, that I'm "a loser" and all the rest of it. When, years ago, the first static version of what this is was coming together, I had these moments - and for good reason, since I could scarcely put two sentences down in a sitting - I would tell myself it was all just a "cargo cult". There again, from the time I was 17 and began writing in earnest (though in fact I had written from primary school), I always said you ought not to bet against me, and if the last two and a half years or whatever it has been have often seen me pivot from one thing to another, I have smashed through a number of problems I was certain I would never overcome and the barriers now are the sheer quantity of small tasks in front of me rather than any one monolith, and the way I have put this together, it could quickly get to the point where others help with more or less any of them.
I have worked on the front end occasionally, though looking at the templates now, I see how many months it has been since I first spent a few weeks figuring them out, but even after the last pivot from the novel (interrupted for a spell when I reimagined the world from a new perspective, the police, from the end of last year), I have had to repeatedly dig deep into one of a number of areas, each of which could (and one day might) correspond to the work of a single individual or, more comfortably, a team. If Marginálie is to mean something, I would need such a team - I have thought of it as most naturally taking the form of a coop - but if each of the individual pieces of the puzzle still needs some work, and if I will need to pull focus and transition from one notional department to the next, I have a lot of work behind me.
I will likely be moving hosting soon. I have wanted to move from my virtual host and have found something suitable in Prague's not yet fully-spoiled Žižkov. This will mean rebuilding the application again, perhaps tweaking the installation tools once again and moving a little closer to a point where others could work on the application and indeed set up instances themselves. That is part of the point, after all, even if it was even harder than elsewhere to believe I could do it.
Meanwhile, I will be writing issue zero. Mainly off-line, and what appears here will be experimental for a while. It will be like looking over somebody's shoulder as they paint or sketch, reading zines, or getting handed a fresh typewritten manuscript at an underground pub in the kind of place you need an underground. If you get bored waiting, make a zine, scannable or otherwise.
Feel free to ask questions. Keybase may be as much of an anti-pattern as Slack (sorry, but, please!), but Marginálie can be discussed there. email@example.com ought to work by now. Otherwise, you can find me on Mastodon.