Glasgow, May 2010
I get frustrated, searching for ways to outwit, outsmart, outfox the ubiquitous ad campaigns for booze, drugs, soulless Pop music, computer games and mobile phones that too often possess the minds of the new ‘ME-2’ generation.
‘The Reason Boys Like Knives’
The reason boys like knives is because you took their guns away.
Boys will be boys, and they were just boys around the corner from my apartment where another one was murdered in front of the cafe five minutes from my house.
The reason boys like knives is because you took their Dads away.
Boys will be boys, just like Davey, from the Postcode Young Team. I met Davey in prison. His best mate, whom I call ‘Lester’, is also in prison. The last time Davey saw his father — first time in a long time — was in the police station after being arrested. “Hi Dad, what you in for?”
The reason boys like knives and getting high and using them is because they are bored, and need something to occupy their emptiness.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet:
“The wrong doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all […] the murdered is not unaccountable for his own murder […] the robbed is not blameless in being robbed.”
Tom Stoppard, Rock ‘n’ Roll:
“Policemen love dissidents, like the Inquisition loved heretics. Heretics give meaning to the defenders of the faith.”
The reason boys like knives is because they’ve been shamed from worshipping their cocks. Sometimes boys need to fuck with each other – mentally, physically, spiritually – it ain’t got nothin’ to do with ‘gay’.
Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (from number 3):
“…Now then for the first time in […] history an educated man’s daughter can give her brother on guinea […] without asking for anything in return […] a free gift, […] given without fear […] flattery […] conditions. That, Sir, is so momentous an occasion that some celebration is called for […] let us invent a new ceremony […] what more fitting than to destroy an old word, a vicious and corrupt word […] ‘Feminist’ […]. Since the only right, the right to earn a living has been won, the word no longer has meaning […] a dead, […] corrupt word. Let us celebrate […] by cremating the corpse. [And when …] the smoke has died down […] what do we see? Men and women working together for the same cause. ‘Our claim was no claim of women’s rights only’ – Josephine Butler.”
The reason boys like knives is so they can produce wounds that might match their own.
Paris, May 2010
With our delegation from the Scottish Arts Club, I walked down the long, creaky wooden corridors of the Archives Nationales (National Archives) in l’hôtel de Soubise in Paris. I followed John Calder, chatting with my new friend Astrid. We gave delicious contemplation to the gigantic volumes of criminal records, especially the most massive volumes stored from the time of French Revolution.
Invigorated, we entered a private room where Monsieur Brunel opened the Auld Alliance Documents of 1295 — a treaty between France and Scotland and others, offering, among other things, reciprocal citizenship to all citizens. One of the seals was made of beeswax, signifying a “natural brotherhood”. Another, the Norwegian, a robust red.
The next day we visited the Collège Ecossais (Scottish College). Now a school for young children, its three-story stone walls hide its history from passers-by. I was greeted by an older Nun who quietly opened a giant steel door and directed me up the stone steps to the chapel, where our group was already studying the Latin stone markers. In the corridor hung an enormous painting, certainly priceless, of Bonnie Prince Charlie. His likeness was nothing like I’d ever seen before – in contrast to a depiction of decorated soldier, a gallant, beautifully dressed young man stood with his right arm extended, and index finger pointing beyond the coast of France and overseas toward Scotland. Above the altar was not Jesus, but another large painting of St Andrew suffering his cross.
After moving a few chairs out of the way, we discovered what is rumoured to be the resting place of the brain of King James II, Charlie’s stepfather. Today with all the digital cameras and phones in our hands and pockets I wonder if anyone will be visiting our brains a few hundred years hence…
Prague, June 2010
ADHD…invention of the need
need my iphone
need my fix
need my youtube
heroin got no kicks
I’ll kill for my iphone
Jobs is my guru
my Apple, the Apple
what did God say — don’t touch?
examine my life? I don’t have time
Prague Writers’ Festival blog
(excerpted from the full text: www.pwf.cz)
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ll say it again, we all know that George W. Bush was not elected the first time, that the war in Iraq was a lie, and the largest part of the instability in the world economy sits in the gutters of Wall Street – among a million other things America and the West have done wrong. My question to all concerned for the world today: What’s YOUR part in it?
Finally, as the passionate America-bashing from guest and moderator reached a yellow crescendo, suggesting an experiential naivetë on the part of Americans in general, I decided to break blogger neutrality, take the microphone and point out that: yes, America does have its own version of concentration camps called ‘prisons’ and with our own brand of fascism called racism ( black and white), black and illiterate males fill them. I believe what makes writers ‘impotent’ these days is their order of business: first, say little and sell-sell-sell; and second, a desperate desire for a bright PR image.
What gets my goat is when presumably smart people are handed microphones and given chairs on stages around the world, and say, well, a lot of nothing. Separating many in the legions of the talk parade from John Q. Public is their book deal, and I think it’s high time, as with Facebook et. al., that we become more discerning. ‘Having a book out’ has become the mantra, which makes me quiver – especially when the likes of Sarah Palin, the most dangerous person in America in my opinion, use it successfully.
But right this very now, this 2010, this writer firmly believes that if you are going to accept a place on a stage, any stage, in front of people and presume to impart knowledge and experience, that comes with responsibilities. Writers can teach, take on young apprentices, follow the lead of Iain Banks and Bahaa Taher (Banks has chosen not to do business with Israeli publishers; Taher issued a proclamation for a peaceful solution in Palestine), get attention through statements, and make ourselves truly available. This reminds me of a comment I heard the Dalai Lama make in Central Park just after 9/11: “You’ve developed the best method ever for making money, and now that you’ve got it, you don’t know what to do with it.”
This also reminds me of Quentin Crisp, who suggested that to step forward is to be an exhibitionist. If we step on a stage, I think this may apply. But how many are willing to consider Crisps’ other observation, “An exhibitionist has no friends.” Perhaps some might ponder this, and might be better off letting their work speak for itself, and go lie down beside Dorothy. Wasn’t it Degas who said, “Never ruin a painting by meeting the painter?”
At the end of the programme, a Czech woman stood up and exclaimed, “I am the product of Communism, you MUST communicate with young people, and keep the language pure!” How dare she? The heretic…
Berlin, June 2010
The mark of the beast 2010: ‘SUBMIT’.
How many times have you pressed it today?
apply for a job, press ‘submit’
try to get laid, press ‘submit’
pay your bills and press ‘submit’
invade foreign countries ‘submit’
payout criminal bankers ‘submit’
reward criminal stock brokers ‘submit’
accept budget cuts ‘submit’
Where the mind goes, the body will follow. Submit.
Visiting the German Resistance Museum, I found the stories of many people who struggled against the National Socialists (Nazi Party). The narrative correlations between 1920s Germany and a 21st century dominated by corporations is chilling. George Bush and Tony Blair lifted their rhetoric for the illegal war in Iran directly from Hitler’s “Whoever is not with us is against us!”
National Socialist campaign documents sound eerily like a lot of so-called ‘Tea Party’ rhetoric in the US, British Nationalism in the UK and Skinheads in Europe: “Once we have subjugated the state, it will be ours entirely. The moment we bring down the system, we shall become the state ourselves.” Fuhrer, er, sorry, I meant ‘Further’, a mere peek at some Israeli propaganda in juxtaposition to Nazi cries – “The Jews are our undoing!”, and ideas of “Blood and Soil” and “Race and Living Space” makes my bones rattle in light of the current genocides in the Middle East.
A few years after the Nazis burned books on Babelplatz, Berlin (10 May 1933), Ernst Bloch cautioned, in his essay Gauklerfest unter dem Galgen, “Speak softly, someone in the room is dying.” In the following passage, if we substitute ‘Germany’ for wherever you are sitting right now, and perhaps replace ‘castration and prison’ with ‘financial ruin and ostracism’, the result, for me anyway, is profound, in present day: “The dying German culture does not even have catacombs available…
do in this land? His very being endangers him; he must conceal it. Any form of talent, except that of cringing, is life-threatening for the person who possesses it.
“Artists who are worthy of the name are openly threatened with castration or prison… One has to learn to take the ridiculous seriously.”
Mantra of the ‘ME-2’ Generation
Me, Me, Me
I, I, I
Glasgow, June 2010
On a Friday morning, in Spring, as usual I took the train to Polmont Young Offenders gaol to lead my writing workshops. This weekly trip is a bit of a relief to me — no phones, no internet, nothing to do for a day but sit occasional epiphany or two. On that particular Friday, I arrived to find the class uncharacteristically quiet, all sitting around the big workshop table, suspiciously shifting their eyes back and forth like cats who just got away with the cream (we are in gaol, after all). In the center of the table lay a big, bright, white envelope with my name on it. As I opened it, their pregnant pause crisp package turned to a faint giggle. I read, “Her Majesty The Queen will give a Garden Party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on the afternoon of Tuesday, 13 July 2010. I am delighted to tell you that the Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, the First Minister of Scotland, would like to recommend to the Lord Chamberlain that you should receive an invitation.”
Tea invite by trial: The letter had arrived at the gaol a week or more before I got it. Since I am not a member of staff, no one knew exactly where to deliver it. A person handling the mail acknowledged that it was almost thrown out, until someone remembered that Keith, the officer who facilitates the writing workshops — finally claimed the letter on my behalf.
After the ceremonious teasing from the boys ebbed, my bewilderment turned to gratitude: this was not about me, it was about our work together, around that table. Sure, I’d met the First Minister at a press conference at Central College, where my hand was the first up to ask a question and put in an unashamedly New York style plug for our prison programme. Change doesn’t grow on trees. Tea does. But this invitation acknowledged the value our writing work. Someone is definitely paying attention. Someone is reading.
Edinburgh, Garden Party, Holyrood Palace
On a warm afternoon, a procession of smartly-dressed people turned the Royal Mile into a dashing spectacle. Two thousand guests arrived and Her Majesty arrived and tea, ginger cakes and ice creams were served in two long rows of white tents with beautiful hanging baskets of flowers. Two bands played at either end of the garden, one classical, one contemporary which played a rousing woodwind and brass perky rendition of the rock classic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen.
As Her Majesty slowly made her way through the crowd, passing nearby us, she greeted people along the way. I was impressed to see among the colourful Summer frocks and formal waistcoats, men and women in uniforms, who’d served as far back as World War II, who’d never before laid eyes upon their Monarch. I was surprised to notice her shaking hands with guests. I’d always heard you never reach to shake hands with The Queen. But this too, has changed, as she genially extended her white-gloved hand.
I’m not too big on faded traditions and what Virginia Woolf might describe as the ‘institutions of important men’, but I can’t help but like this woman, ever since my first encounter with her a few years ago at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament, when she assertively broke away from the Duke of Edinburgh and her guards with a motion of her handbag, walked across the road and directly in front of a group of us and said, “Good Morning.”
At the Garden Party, the emphasis was clear: we were there to enjoy ourselves. There was little display in the ‘Royal’ sense of the word and no stiff protocol. It was designed like we were at our grandmother’s or aunt’s house for the afternoon, and we should eat, drink and enjoy ourselves decorously. I also found some absences a plus: no smoking, no alcohol, no mobile phones, no cameras. Nothing to do but relax and enjoy moment. Being the expat New Yorker I am, I’d imagined some level of networking, introductions, working the garden. But curiously, I met no one. Everyone smiled, but no one expected to meet new people. On the lawn there had been a bit of banter with some fellow Glaswegians as we watched The Queen’s arrival, but that was it.
Along the Royal Mile on the way home, I thought about how I would describe the afternoon to the boys back in the gaol, and be sure to tell them: Her Majesty is now shaking hands, and she serves very good tea.
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