Notes

The revolution that takes place in your head, nobody will ever see that.

Tag Archives: New York City

Keep it in the ground

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London

I think most people write because they don’t want to sleepwalk through life. Writing is a means of keeping memories alive. If you don’t record, paint or obsessively photograph or film every living moment then why are you even here?

I write to stay alive as you forget what matters otherwise. That’s the one thing that scares me the most. Not being able to remember my stories for better or worse. I also want to keep a record of my changing. I am always changing.

School years are easy to remember if your parents keep hold of your jotters, paintings and teacher reports. Thereafter you have landmark birthdays with complementing photographs, graduation days and long hot summers doing nothing at all. Memories feel more tangible when your everyday life is administered year by year.

Only now I find months and years morph anonymously into a cloudy void. This year doesn’t feel any different than the previous four. I’m sure plenty of things have happened, but for some reason I barely notice the difference. Perhaps amnesia has set in prematurely because I’ve lived in the same flatshare for five years. Working as a freelance copywriter chasing unpaid invoices and ignoring voicemails is a repetitive trade at times.

East London Bedroom

An inconspicuous lifestyle in East London doesn’t provide much visual stimulation either. I’m sure the past few years would have been more memorable if I had gone backpacking in Chile or got married to a blonde jazz singer in Melbourne.

Alas, when I wake up in the morning there is no orchestral soundtrack accompanying my footsteps to the bathroom. My laptop screensaver is the same as the year before. Pulling open my black Primark curtains I see the same tattered plastic bag swinging from the communal birch tree every day.

Grand Central Station

If it wasn’t for my blog then I wouldn’t be able to trace anything at all. Blogging provides a highly subjective recorded history, but a necessary one if you want to join up the dots. For example I can’t honestly remember when I flew over to New York for an OK Cupid date (yes that’s right).

If I scroll back I can remember arriving in Grand Central Station. It was unseasonally hot and I was jet lagged for the first time. Walking around I remember the towering sense of civilisation, meeting Nicole, queuing outside MOMA together and buying Mexican beers in a Harlem grocery store. But the timing of this otherwise memorable trip escapes me. It could have happened anytime in the last three years. Now that’s what you call experiencing life on a big scale.

Notebook

From red ochre cave paintings in southern France to tweeting rubbish about football, there is something incredibly human about keeping a record. Skipped behind my bookcase lies a collection of diaries and notebooks I have curated over the years. With literary quotes squashed in the margins justifying their existence, I keep filling them out and dumping them alongside their older colleagues. A scrapheap of memories no one will ever read.

If I am lucky enough to have a family of my own they’ll eventually be boxed and kept upstairs in an oak wooden loft. Maybe they’ll be sparingly reopened for an old quote or a nostalgic rummage through the past. Only to be put back in their place again, a written bond with a young man that no longer exists.

In addition to my dusty notebook skip, I keep shoeboxes full of old letters, gifts and Valentine’s Day cards underneath my bed. Occasionally I take a look at them, but I haven’t checked them or my ex-girlfriends emails for over a decade. I know I will never look at them again. But I can’t bear the thought of getting rid of them either. A skip or recycle bin makes no difference to me. Deep down I want someone to read my stories when I’m not here.

Aberdeenshire Pictish Symbol

Before I longed for a written legacy I remember being assigned a primary school project to recreate the standing stones of the Picts (an ancient warrior tribe in northern Scotland). The Romans called them the ‘Painted People’ because of their elaborate monstrous tattoos embroidered on their chests. On building Hadrian’s Wall in 128AD, the Romans essentially formed an ideological frontier that stated civilisation lay down south – roads, aqueducts, fortresses.

Northward bound was a land of mist, barbarians and Pictish standing stones. The same stone circles I tried to recreate with my Dad’s chisel. Looking back it was one of my all-time favourite school projects, bashing away at a lump of rock in a bitterly cold garage. I’ve resoundingly failed to experience the same sense of joy in working ever since.

Artifical Intelligence

A large number of Pictish stone circles have survived in Scotland. Whatever messages the Picts were to trying convey I cannot fathom even now, but their recorded history remains accessible even today. Like the Picts we too express our own stories in equally vivid and complex ways, but assuming there will still be an inhabitable planet 2000 years from now, I don’t think any of my A.I descendants will be recreating my stories on an interstellar spaceship.

Electromagnetic Pulse

In some respects my skipped diaries are physical reminders of my narcissistic desire to be exhibited just like the Picts. While stone circles remain visible, our digital archives could easily be wiped out by a nuclear inspired electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Electrical magnetic storms have the ability to destroy our civilisation just like fire pulped the ancient scrolls of Alexandria Library. A world without Wi-Fi would be nasty, brutish and short if a magnetic dystopia were ever to take place. Don’t try and order a pizza on your iPhone when it happens.

Internet Dsytopia

Bit rot – the slow deterioration of data software such as floppy discs also renders our digital civilisation useless to future historians. Cloud based services are not worth anything if technology moves so fast that you can’t even open them. Unlike calfskin vellums and hardback books accessible in public libraries today, our collective knowledge requires constant software upgrades just to stay alive.

Augmented Reality

My stories are unlikely to be remembered by anyone and that’s assuming I’m fortunate enough to have children or grandchildren interested in genealogy. My WordPress subscription has to surely expire at some point. What happens if the software company goes bust or evolves into an augmented reality server projecting to a visually attuned audience?

Email

While it probably isn’t a tragedy if my ex-girlfriends emails are unable to be read by future generations. I still want to keep them alive somehow. By taking one glance at them you hear the voice of another person, someone still alive but lost forever. Writing to me is one of the greatest human inventions, holding us all together, providing an emotional bond with the dead, living and unborn.

Biblioteca

Change is the one constant on a writer’s journey to the recycle bin. It doesn’t matter how eloquent and grand your thoughts are in the twenty-first century, all it takes is an epic server upgrade and your life stories will become robot.txt. You see that’s the progressive irony of our digital revolution. No amount of technology can save your words, especially anything stored on an electro-powered server.

A memory palace is more likely to be derived from handwritten notebooks than your Facebook archives. If I want to preserve this particular record it would be wiser to print it off and laminate it for safe keeping. But even my words will fail to outlast the stone circles of an ancient Caledonian tribe. That’s real power if you ask me. All this superlative technology spinning in the sky, and ancient rock symbols carved with a chisel in the ground will out last us all.

Time is the longest distance

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Dalston

I love the internet as much as I love geography, it’s an infinite world of endless possibilities and one that allows me to expand my universe. From following violent revolutions in Kiev to going on a date in New York, the internet is a far cry from the banal conversations you have to endure IRL.

Cyberspace is a riotously intelligent place and massively exciting too. Only virtual networks are full of illusions and despite being able to instantaneously chat with someone 4745 miles away, we still have to live and breathe in the physical world. You need money and time to experience life on a big scale and rarely (in my experience) do you get access to both.

Hope is a temporary form of insanity and I usually immerse myself in long deep thoughts when walking through East London housing estates. My rented world of tower blocks, grocery stores and loitering teen gangs.

When I buy groceries at my local co-operative shop, I often find myself dreaming of a new life elsewhere. There is something about half-price pizzas and 30% off non-bio liquitabs that makes me feel inordinately depressed. And that’s before I make eye contact with the service assistants standing behind the till.

Planet Earth

Last spring I was made redundant from an exhausted media company and finally escaped from my desk. After the initial shock of seeing my employer go bust, I received a handsome pay out and experienced what I had always craved – free time and lots of money.

With the virgin bloom of fresh green leaves and daffodils swaying in the mud of Anglican churchyards, I sat in nearby Hoxton cafes searching for a plan. And by sheer chance I found myself embarking upon a transatlantic journey that was foolish, romantic and utterly exhilarating. Life’s not meant to be lived in one place.

And on finding myself in an almost identical situation (minus the severance package) I am pining for a new hopeful song. As there is probably someone out there who is perfect for you but because of serendipity you’ll probably never meet or spend enough time together to make it right.

As you can stay within your postcode, or maybe travel a few miles by tube to the West End, or even take a wee trip to Brighton. But you always end up in the same place as before. Back where you first started and where is the fun in that?

Sentimentality can play tricks on you and you must look forward. But on walking through East London on a weekday afternoon, I realise we’re not as close or better connected as I once hoped. We’re the same as we always were, living our everyday lives, thousands of miles apart.

Blue Flashing Lights

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New York has a gorgeous ambiance with spidery gothic stairs decorating every block. Even traditionally deprived boroughs such as Harlem retain a nineteenth century elegance. Where grown men spend all day on stairwells lined with melting candles and receive customary visits from NYPD. Rent must be lower here. Plump mamas in flowery dresses sit on sandblasted pavements and ugly billboards see profits in small wallets.

Likewise I find myself looking for a bohemian household in ‘Upper Upper’ West Side and settle down for seven days in northward bound 151. Unlike in Europe, the American way is mathematical and entirely logical and by virtue of N, E, S, W the numbers will determine your final destination.

A warm hearted girl just graduating from college offers me directions from the subway. She has warmth and human grace. Generous to a fault. With sparrows roosting on barbed wire fences and a Penguin guidebook in my hand, I discover America at first hand. One hot weekday morning, I was sold a donut for a dollar and my unfamiliar accent provoked a polite reminder that ‘service’ is not included.

From the wide expansive roads, bumper sized vehicles and gluttonous drinks bottles, even the smallest of purchases are rewarded with a super sized bag; a branding exercise that is thrust into your hand and displayed to millions. Nothing is done here by accident, it’s all about show.

Rattling downtown towards the mindless consumption of Times Square, I unearth a more commercial vision of America. It pays good value to get confirmation of what you already know. Despite having reservations that New York would be a twentieth century museum in the 02’s, the city still dwarfs my progressive European continent. Slamming on my headphones and walking through the electronic grid at night, New York’s scale of ambition is absolutely astonishing.

With millions of cameras flashing and uploading every second, the city is being embalmed for future generations. These metallic tablet coffins reveal a desire to share and activate human existence. For this is not a city, it’s a modernist civilisation and like the great old empires of Constantinople, New York captures the zenith and essence of our carte de viste obsession.

Breaking free of interior rules, the Great Gatsby screens at every movie theater and captures the spirit of the age, where the technological and social plates of a new century are colliding just like today. New discoveries such as electricity, gasoline and urbanisation sparkle together like a false beacon of hope and that is why Fitzgerald is so compelling to modern audiences.

With underwater cables creating a new global universe there is an unspoken kindred spirit with the 1920’s. Flickering on and off, on and off, there is a revolution taking place underneath our fingertips and we are only moments away from emotional chaos.

New York’s constant flicker has a transformative quality but what once felt shining and beautiful is now seemingly false. Hot and pulsating throughout the summer, the Upper West Side became submerged by a cold rainforest on a lonely Sunday evening. Fittingly the genteel brownstone mansions are a good deal romantic – a secluded writer’s enclave far removed from everyday life.

The poetic ambiance in the East Village is like Shoreditch with trees and literary aspiration. Further west in the former meatpacking district, the urban renewal of Chelsea’s High Line is a fabulous place. And nothing quite captures the zeitgeist of the new century as a design obsessed urban walkway borrowing motifs from the industrial past.

The future does not exist; the only thing that matters is now. How on earth can I contribute to this city? It feels like my time is up and the world is spinning so fast that surely it can only collapse – a doomed sparkle of chrome and broken glass. For I’ve now walked the streets of Manhattan Island, where millions arrive on mass and forge together an extraordinary human experience. New York, 2013 still matters, the lights remain brighter, buildings taller and intensity greater than ever before. This is civilisation on a grander scale.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Kohl-Eyed Entrepreneur

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Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple has never struggled to get the internet’s attention. Born in New York, the visual artist has a saucy flair for the cruel and gorgeous, embracing a decadent world of burlesque, nudity and subversive politics. From decorating some of the world’s most glamorous nightclubs to founding a burlesque cabaret workshop, Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, Crabapple’s art empire strikes against the bohemian maxim ‘I am an artist, therefore I despise wealth’.

On the contrary Crabapple is a roaring American success story. By mastering the internet she controls her own financial destiny and this alone will upset some purists, as artists have traditionally rejected materialism. Making money from art goes against the ruinous fantasies of bohemians who live for the moment.

Poverty has traditionally defined an artist’s career, a garret lifestyle cliché of half-grooved eccentrics and drunken poets who believe art can only flourish where material comforts are absent. With the advent of crowdsourcing in the 21st century starving artists can now queue in Waitrose for lunch, if they are successful of course.

Her latest project the Shell Game received $64, 799 from 701 backers on Kickstarter, which will fund nine massive paintings about the collapse of the banking system. It may even pay the rent, grocery bill and six bottles of absinthe too. Why should an artist have to starve for their craft?

Everyone should welcome that an artist can now make a real living out of their creative gifts without starving or working for an insurance company. Uncompromising men and women are easy to admire but artists who subvert from within live to tell the tale.

“As any strawberry picker can tell you, hard work and nothing else is a fast road to nowhere.”

– Molly Crabapple

Through sheer force of personality and brilliant marketing, Crabapple has skillfully cultivated a subversive underground image. Arrestingly beautiful she could easily pop out of a traditional Western European fairytale and with her phosphorescent eyes and gothic baby doll aesthetic, the New Yorker looks like a painting. Luminous cheekbones bereft of intellect or character will only capture your attention for so long though.

And while no one should doubt her unseen hours of dedication, Crabapple’s anti-establishment credentials are very suave; the kohl-eyed darling of Occupy Wall Street trended after her arrest by the NYPD in September 2011. You don’t need to be a social media node to realise that #freemollycrabapple will do wonders for your marketing potential.

Eaeyoepotynia

While it may have been romantic for artists to suffer in the inter-war era, the crowd sourcing phenomenon of the twenty-first century provides a new model. Why should the wealthy have the sole reserve over the arts? Anyone who purports not to care about money either has too much or doesn’t need it. Crabapple in this respect is a modern inspiration and should be applauded for her glamour inspired riches. Romantics may starve in dismay but aspiration and the arts no longer have to be mutually exclusive.

Door to the River

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After graduating from Glasgow University in July 2004, I had several ambitions in life and like many arts graduates none of them involved having a career. Well at least I had absolutely no intention of retraining as a history teacher, which at the time appeared to be the only option available to me.

Instead I embraced a hazy world of denial and escapism and this involved travelling around Europe on borrowed money and giving up a £65 a week bedsit on the Great Western Road. Such an undertaking came partly as a lust for knowledge and a desire to explore new cultures and languages. Scotland for all its charms is geographically isolated, monolingual and bordered only by England.

However, I must acknowledge that one of the most compelling reasons behind my desire to travel was the chance to ditch my joke finance job at the Abbey National. So before I abandoned Glasgow for the olive fields of Andalucia, I had one ambition left in life and that involved writing my own fanzine.

Such was my love of Kelvinside and its bohemian leafy character, I came up with a pun title derived from a mediocre John Fante novel and set about producing an irreverent guide to post-graduate life in the West End of Glasgow. An inky offbeat publication capturing small town blues, film reviews, Chinese takeaways and unwise polemics against high street chuggers. Ask The Kelvin seemed like a good idea at the time.

Unknown to me in the mid-Noughties, I had set about producing a dead tree publication long before the wonders of tagging, Tumblr and all the social interactive elements that assist writers today. Unable to share my thoughts on a global scale, there was no danger of Ask The Kelvin ever going viral. Living in a make-believe world I knew at the time I couldn’t make any money out of a fanzine but for some strange reason I felt compelled to make one anyway.

On embracing the self-funded model, I produced fifty copies at the local stationary store and distributed them at Fopp, Offshore and a ragtag collection of Byres Road charity shops. Back then Facebook didn’t even exist and the audience I secretly lusted and craved for during my sleepless nights in Otago Street never quite materialised. Indeed looking back it does seem really twee and provincial, especially when I compare it to some of the sexy projects on Kickstarter.

Based in New York and providing a self-funded platform to raise funds on a global scale, Kickstarter allows random individuals to become patrons of their favourite projects. Almost like a counter-culture version of the BBC Dragons’ Den, Kickstarter involves a video pitch alongside a synopsis explaining the reasons why you should support them. Not with a lazy like you can get away with elsewhere but with hard cash.

Kickstarter is an amazing place to support new talent and my personal favourite is theNewerYork, an experimental lit mag based in Brooklyn that celebrates radical poetry, love letters and seriously weird pieces of art. Like stumbling into your favourite record shop as a 17 year old and discovering heroin tainted rock zines for the first time, if you tire of the NewerYork, you are tired of life.

Surreally decorated with unfamous quotes and the occasionally haunting story, their magazine blows my wee Glasgow fanzine out of the water. Beautifully humbled by their efforts, I must confess that on reading their e-version, some 3500 miles away in an English metropolis, I never stood a chance back in leafy Kelvinside. Alas I am now older than the 23 year old locked inside a Glasgow bedsit but still similarly way inclined.

Unlike the NewerYork I don’t think I would get $8,119 in funding for the second edition of Ask The Kelvin, even allowing for the social media tools available to young writers and artists today. However, I do take some inspiration from one of their many slogans: everything has been done before, so do it better. 

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