Monday July 16, 2018, 20:26
I drop into the command line of my development laptop and fire up emacs, the text editor. I am listening to BBC Radio 6. On the table next to me is a second laptop on which I am planning to record a long-postponed audio podcast - (time is moving so quickly!), a microphone I have set up to record through Audacity, and then next to that a typed manuscript copy of a 1974 samizdat edition of what may or may not be an early version of Bohumil Hrabal's Něžný barbar, the Gentle Barbarian; on top of that, a lighter. I have been working hard this past couple of weeks. I have been coding, sometimes writing, sometimes reading, but trying hard to put together what I can scarcely believe may be the rough draft (literally that) of a web application founded on the principles of J S Mill, Hrabalian samizdat, the free and open source software movement, and the Creative Commons. I have just finished figuring out how to embed videos from the Internet Archive, Youtube, and Peertube, and I have added a handful of videos.
I spoke to Woodstock on the phone earlier about what I had been doing. I had been ggoing half crazy with the pressure I had been putting on myself, but what I realise is that I have always had to do that, would scarcely have ever been functional without it. She does not understand everything I am trying to do, and I need her to so much. She has, these last couple of years, got her head around a lot of what I am trying to do conceptually, and she has supported me with it a lot, but these last couple of weeks I have missed her, and haven't been able to switch off without her. It is nice to see how much I need her, how much I miss her - it will have been nice, at least - but I have been way, way, too male without her. Too much yang, too little yin. But she cannot get her head around the tech side of things, and so I suppose I was irritable when I was describing to her what I had been working on. I spoke for maybe thirty minutes or more about databases, explained the difference between websites and web applications, and told her a little about the problems I had been losing my mind over these last few days.
How we ended it, I told her I would show her rather than explain to her when she gets back. And so now I can imagine showing her videos - something she would comprehend straigh away. I will have to put the front end together, so that videos can be added in web forms rather than through the command line. I haven't got there yet, and in fact that is true: I must try to do some forms before I move on too fast with the database import function.
But that is only the one side of it. Every day I walk around the streets of Prague having a smoke; sitting down in the park to read Hrabal; sitting down in the beer garden of a closed restaurant at a disused railway station to draw sketches for a concept for a comic, Plastic Paddy of the Universe; watching the dogs; watching the women; watching the women with the dogs; walking around listening to an Audioteka audiobook of Bohumil Hrabal; going out of my mind with stress. It is during these walks I have figured out problems I am having with the database, with the code. Now, all of these streets are rich with history. Over the last year, I have confronted the problematic of the short twentieth century and everything else since more than at any time in my life. It is there in Hrabal. It is there in the Audible audiobook of Tony Judt's Postwar which I have been listening to while cleaning the corridor up at the road named, now, after a kid who set himself alight. And it is there in all of the street names, and all of the plaques, and all of the statues. Perhaps most of all, it is there in the statue of Benito Juárez and in part of the inscription which is the Czech version of part of the following quotation which is taken from Wikipedia: "Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace".
Because where are we seeing that respect now?
You see, I have not only been working on the database, I have also been reading Democracy in Europe and conceptualising what will be the content of the first issue of the zine. I have been doing a lot of work, and I have not credited myself with it. I will need to slow down if this is tto be sustainable. I am trying too hard to prove myself right now.
Now, when I find myself a moment to read Hrabal or Eudora Welty (the latter is as good but I have to start off closer to the mood I'm trying to get to and there are times I kind even approach it), I slow up a little for a spell and there have been times I have really managed to sit and relax for a spell, taking in the trains as they go by beyond Stromovka Park, taking in the people. That is not where I am with programming and I hope to get past this stage as quickly as I can, but perhaps I could never have done anything else this month with my routines so disturbed.
That said, I am never sure. It may be that on my own I have way too many demons. I have done some yoga, been for a run once or twice, but I have not managed to get to the cinema to switch off - though I have watched a couple of films at home, always in little fifteen minute sessions.
I need this to bring my head back a little from what is going on. I spoke to an old friend back home and I was on another planet. I have been. But the world has been a threatening place these days, especially when viewed from Central Europe. People are playing with the peoples' futures here again and it is at least as dangerous this time as it ever was. I have truly got skin in the game right now, and the British and US elites have not only failed, but have been consistently aiding and abetting the most dangerous forces against what rump liberalism exists still in Europe.
Respect for the rights of others is peace. But people don't want that. The government in the UK could not have leaned over backwards more for Donald Trump and the forces of disorder and the abuse of the rights of others. Trump retweets Britain First, splits up families at the border, locking kids up, and, just before he comes over for tea with the queen and a little golfing R & R before jetting off to have a chat with President Putin at Helsinki, which was of historical importance in the fall of some of the communist regimes (Charta 77 in Czechoslovakia referred to the Helsinki Accords). And I have been thinking about all of this no less for talking to researchers about my decision to get an Irish passport a couple of years ago. Ireland is going in the right direction on social matters, I think, becoming more liberal. And Britain?! It is terrifying to see the relish they go about doing Putin's work to undermine and indeed attempt to destroy the European Union.
But there are no binaries here anywhere is the problem. The EU does have a democratic deficit and has also failed to speak up for what used to be thought of as European values. So too have we all been distracted.
Those almost two years ago when Trump came to formal power, I began to conceptualise what a contemporary Charta 77 could look like. Theresa May, with her talk of Citizens of Nowhere helped, as did the role of Facebook and YouTube in some of the most decisive elections of 2016.
Hrabal cleared it all up a little too. It is not about asking the powers that be to voluntarily give us a few scraps from their table. It is about strengthening our communities and making good decisions closer to home. It is as much about duties as rights, and we too have to try harder, because we did not have our eye on the ball. We haven't done since, well, around the birth of what most people now know as the internet, which is in fact a vanishingly small subset of it.
And so so too did I meet up with people with whom I am planning to launch a series about cryptography "What has cryptography ever done for us?" (the title is a nod to the once-banned Monty Python's Life of Brian).
But with all of this, it is impossible to avoid what is going on in the world, and hard to avoid catastrophic thinking when geopolitics has been catastrophic for a decade. Never in history, surely, have we ever seen things moving so quickly without coming to an ugly finish.
But I am getting this done, and when I remember my Tao te Ching, my Hrabal, and when I try not to force it overmuch, I know that that is what matters.
Put one foot after the otherTake a bearing periodically.
Podcast coming soon.
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