Wednesday August 28, 2019, 23:37
It's 11 o'clock in the evening and I have been working from nine-ish in the morning. I was writing a film review that turned into a long-form essay. I felt I had lost control of it and I probably had. I have been certain, these last few days, that I am incapable of two things: one, being coherent, and two, finishing things. And so I pushed on. I finished it, after a fashion. And perhaps technically it was a big step forward. I was writing a "zdrojopis" (it's a soft 'j', "zdroyopis"), which is a play on words in Czech. Strojopis is a word I first came across from Bohumil Hrabal. It meant typewritten manuscript. Rokopis, from the word 'ruka', hand, and 'psát', write. Stroj is a machine. Zdroj, meanwhile, is a source. A zdrojopis is a digital manuscript and, because I wanted to be able to pass around Creative Commons documents and permit them to be edited and version controlled using git, as well as to permit them to be passed around by different applications, and different versions of those applications (which might themselves, meanwhile, be edited and customised using git and other such tools), I have wanted to build a back end around such a format for some time.
These digital manuscripts, which are built, for the moment at least, around a format known as yaml, will be used to import a number of posts, videos, and perhaps audio from the test website, and perhaps, to write and test a handful of types of post.
I have a lot of work to do to build this web application and I have a lot of work to do to put together any of the pieces of writing, the videos, the zines, that I have plannned over the last few years. None of which is to mention the series of novels that began all of this. Is this all just some procrastinatory exercise? An obsession? A compulsion? I do myself no favours in pathologising it over and over. But then I would do myself no favours to not confront any of that. Some weeks ago, thrown out of my routines by a trip to Cyprus, I began to process all of this, writing on a typewriter, a solid hunk of iron cast in the 1930s for days at a stretch. I was self-mining. I was trying to to figure out how I got here. I was writing about what this was all about. And it all felt so incoherent. I was skipping from one memory, one thought to another.
I was determined not to quit. To get it out. The title I had written on that piece was "Unfinished Business". I had come back home to prove something to myself. I needed to show myself that I am building all of this in order to write a novel. I had committed. Over a number of years, I had committed to a lot. I had committed to writing, as I had committed to coding, and I had committed most of all, to make no moral compromises. And now I had to make that work at least enough that I could tell myself it was at the very least an honourable failure.
I progress, every time I make any kind of progress, anything that I might count as an achievement if I were in the habit of counting achievements (I never knew how), through moral crises. I had one such from that second week taking time out from the application, from Linux and Python and Emacs and computers in general. What had Winston Churchill meant to me? I had come across Winston Churchill via manic depression and had dug out what may have been the first book that set me off so many years ago on that one enduring obsession: Churchill's Black Dog by Anthony Storr. This turned out to be a big question, but it only led me on to another. Or perhaps, it was the other way around. I don't know, because the depression, or whatever it was came up every time I struck that emotional motherlode, meant that I could not even read the manuscript that had came out of all that. That next question was a book, Solitude by Anthony Storr, which had first struck me as a moral crisis and a dilemma in 2002-3 just before I left for the Czech Republic for the first time.
I walked home some days talking to Woodstock about what I had been doing. I told her I do not talk about what I am writing when I am working on it. And that is true.
I had proposed to her in Ostrava. I had surprised myself. And now I was self-mining, and I was digging up all of the times in my life I had failed to function with others. I had discovered all the reasons I would never be able to talk to anybody at the co-working space about what I was doing and why. I had discovered how weird I was, and how little believed in myself, and how little, still, I believed in my being able to find a space for myself, or a role for myself in this world.
Still I believed what I was trying to do was the moral thing to do. I believed completely in that. I believed completely (when I could see it), in Marginálie. I knew why it was necessary. And yet I knew too - could see it now so well - that I could never do so much as talk to anybody about any of it.
And everything had to be explained. Everything about me and about how I had arrived at Call Them Soldiers, at Marginálie, came from an unfamiliar place, travelled through unfamiliar territory in an unfamiliar manner. It was all there. All of it meant something. All of it could become something. For twenty years I had been following the call of something. I was a complete mess now until you looked at where I had been. But the world in this time had only been becoming more and more unfriendly to anything other and je est un autre.
I quit. I saw the arc of the story and I saw how far I would have to take it. To tell that story - and it was not the story I had planned to write or explore - I would have to sit at that desk in an unfurnished bungalow in the suburbs of the West Midlands, for another three, four months. I had a web application to write. And then it was as if I was one, two, hundred nested parentheses away from where I was even two months before, waiting for each process to complete.
Quitting might here have been the right thing. I might have finished some stage of prewriting, figured out the themes, the parameters. I might have done the right thing. This might have been some errant child process, a tangent spun out of what I ought really to have been doing, somethin that had spooked me. I struggled with that for days.
I stopped going to the co-working space. There too, I was facing talking about what I was trying to do. I knew what I was trying to do. After a week or two of confronting myself in an empty house with a stack of paper and an old typewriter, I knew how I had arrived at all of this. I believed in it. But the world I was living in? And the people in it? The stage we were at in our civilisation. In a few years we might know all of this. But by now I felt I knew precisely just how everything had been going in the wrong direction for so many years. The gentrification of the arts. The perfection of PR as a science. Data mining. Surveillance capitalism. Google as an exocortex, as our executive function. I was inconvenient to all of this. I saw it even at the co-working space. As why would I not?
I got up every day and worked. I pushed on. Sometimes it was the writing. Sometimes it was the videos. Sometimes it was the code. There was no alternative now. There could be no future without any of this.
I got ill. For a day or two I sweated it out and thought it over. My mind was racing worse than ever. Moral crisis. Brief calm. I took my medicine. I didn't sleep. I had been at home in Britain for two months now - one and a half? - and, as had been the case for all of my adult life, every week had been a microlife, discrete, separate, distinct. I pushed on. I messed around with the css, the styling. It was something I had always been scared of. I took on what I had been scared of now. I pushed on. I could be scared of nothing more than I was scared of failure, of any of this coming to nothing, of all of the discipline and the work of the last twenty years coming to nothing. I had started to look and act like a normal human being. I had done so too well, and not well enough, but there was no option but to keep on.
And so here I am still.
The kitchen is a mess. Sometimes I drink too much coffee. The world is a mess. You don't yet know you need this in your life. I need to convince you. I'm doing everything I can. Even I would not bet against me.