Time is the longest distance

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.

Chat Histories

Red head

I believe we are living in a time of great wonder. On trying to capture this sentiment, I have been trying and failing to write a story, one I may never finish, but I felt the inspiration behind this journey is worth sharing. Even if nobody is reading – this is my blog after all.

Chat Histories is a digital love story set in two continents and features a precocious red lipped actress, careerist millennial and a fruity Baptist daughter from the American South. I met two, slept with one, kissed the other, and became surreally fictionalised by another.

What started off as a throwaway message on my smartphone at Luton Airport blossomed into a series of remarkable stories – a collection of romantic illusions only made possible by new technology. The virtual world of chat is a logged history of friendship you never intended to write. From defying time and space in Grand Central Station to serendipitously becoming a theatre character in Cambridge, I can only marvel at the untold possibilities of underwater cables.

Green Light

On trying to capture the essence of virtual consciousness, I have been wrestling with potential storylines for some time now. Alas my fear, or inability, to write compelling dialogue has prevented me from moving beyond this blog. In truth I don’t even know where to start. Without a proper storyline you can get lost in a picturesque maze and I find the creative process very humbling.

As like all bloggers I consider myself to be far more intelligent than I actually am. Chat Histories is almost certainly rooted in accidental hubris. When writing in the cloud, I feel wittier, sharper and more gregarious than I might appear otherwise. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a better person online than IRL.

Some would argue we’re all more virtuous and smarter on social media anyway. Greater peer recognition gives us a dopamine rush we don’t usually receive in our everyday lives. The dichotomy of real and online lives has always fascinated me, especially as the great unborn (with their foetus scans on Facebook) won’t be able to tell the difference.

And what we are experiencing now is going to be romanticised for centuries to come; a first-time generational experience like when Kerouac travelled incredible distances in the early fifties. Overcoming time and space like never before, the Route 66 experience can only be imitated by future generations now.

What Kerouac et al went through can never be repeated in the purest sense. No hitchhiking selfies were uploaded on Instagram in 1949. All counter-culture movements, often through no fault of their own, become a pastiche of themselves in future years.

Cables

Like the Beats accelerating across a vast continent at great speeds, our newly wired world has been transformed beyond recognition. Chat Histories is my failed attempt to capture the magic of the virtual world. An unwritten tale about an ordinary life transformed by our fresh ability to write and share instantaneously.

Our constant flicker might seem surreal and highly narcissistic in years to come but it’s happening and you only get one chance. Meanwhile Chat Histories may never be published but I compose tweets and messages everyday in hope of finding something better. There are pitfalls of course, but would we ever want to go back?

Other Voices

Right now, I’m trying to imagine your voice and if it matches the delightful literary one you’ve developed. I wonder, do you talk the same way you write? I don’t, exactly. I still make use of my vocabulary…but I use my hands and expressions a lot, especially as I am worked up in any capacity. I also swear. I don’t often have the chance for this and I have to say, I really like it. 

Jennifer is a dirty mouthed wine peddler from Seattle with a sexual confidence that could only be described as American. With her flowing renaissance hair and verbose turn of phrase, I found myself utterly besotted by her presence one bitterly cold November (2011). Beholding this ravenously sexy woman adrift in time and space, I felt nothing but a sense of wonder. And yet she could be dead now. I don’t know. As we never actually met or even spoke for that matter because her proposed transfer to London fell through and our exchange became an empty pot of words on the internet.

If reality begins with the human mind and nothing more, then my sexy flirtation with Jennifer belongs to a false enchanting prison. A half-shine romance that flickers on screen as long as I can find the right words; the trouble is, I can always find the right words, and my fertile imagination is no longer constrained by physical dimensions.

About fifty-years ago, Marshall McLuhan in “Understanding Media,” (1964) predicted the “technological stimulation of consciousness” and through the wonders of instant connectivity, there is an uneasy feeling that something special may lie beyond our laptops. Collectively we can now go beyond what is natural on a daily basis. From speaking to people that don’t exist (Siri) to teleporting to faraway destinations (Skype) the old rules of gravity and time are slowly disappearing.

A dear friend teases me mercilessly- saying I’ll never be happy until I find someone with the stature of Paul Bunyan, the mind of Lord Byron, and the moral compass of Henry Miller…and I’m embarrassed to admit that he’s not too terribly far off, save a few exceptions…

Entertaining some of my wildest Fitzgerald fantasies, the Jennifer experience was a myopic exchange that existed in a dangerous half world. Something forged through worldly endeavour and show-off exhibitionism; certainly both of us enjoyed demonstrating how well one could write, and I’ve been rewarded with a series of highly quotable emails.

If she ever becomes famous, I have a few correspondences worthy of Letters of Note and her sparkling erudition certainly offered a reminder of how we used to write. Alas my friends in the real world, even those in foreign outposts, have easier and more convenient ways to communicate.

Last night I wrote you the most succulent of messages…or so I thought. I was drunk with wine from a dinner party and sheer exhaustion. As I was wrapping up this little note of mine, my computer froze and everything was lost. How terrible, eh? There were plenty of ‘fucks’ thrown around with some moderate hand waving. 

While I’m glad nothing ever came to fruition with Jennifer, she probably would have despised me in real life, I feel the false dichotomy of real/online lives is worthy of greater exploration. If virtuality has indeed become the next phase of evolution then we should remember projection is nothing new and underwater cables merely globalise a universal longing for connection.

As while the www is borderless, the very same hopelessness occurs in divey bars, parties and the bagging area in Sainsbury’s. Anyone can appear wonderful at the beginning of a relationship, you simply don’t know that I’m a self-orientated dreamer that doesn’t reply to text messages, watches too much football and harbours grudges against narcissistic lying frauds. Do you? Fortunately the girl from Seattle never found out in real time, which is probably just as well, as this being the internet, Jennifer is not even her real name.

Experiments in Living

Arguably the most beautiful tribute night in the world, Future Cinema’s Casablanca pays homage to the 1940s. With queues of fur coats and dashing bibs shivering outside, there is a gorgeous moment on arrival, when the Troxy simply bursts into life. Where everyone wants to fall in love and get married in the rain.

Downstairs where the émigrés gather, guests are serenaded by a Dixieland Jazz Band playing soft, melting and ravishingly iconic tunes. Strolling down the stairs for the first time is a magical experience, one you could record a million times and never recapture.

Sparkling underneath a pink ornamental panel, Casablanca feels like a tribute to people who don’t go out during the day – those who live off the grid and make a living by their wits. A subversive experience infiltrated by actors. Remember not everyone has paid a booking fee to enter.

Future Cinema brilliantly tap into the golden age theory in what is a profound cultural shift dictated by nostalgia. Furthermore there is now a plethora of sing-a-long nights, retrospective screenings and 1950s dance hall nights taking place – we are all collectively obsessed with the past.

Whatever happened to here and now?

Sartorial fashions have not ceased to exist in the twenty-first century. There are motifs of present day society everywhere you look – baby faced beards, iPhones, electro DJ sets and memes to name just a few. There is a distinctive visual culture taking place. Eclecticism, irony and peer-to-peer fragmentation will probably form a neo-future cinema event in 2090.

And your life inside the black mirror will be mythologized as romantic as the cinematic émigrés of 1940s Morocco. What you are going through now is a truly fascinating experience. One that is completely unprecedented in human history – we are the glamour virgins of a new found century.

 “I always hear people saying ‘Oh, I’d love to live in the 60’s where everyone is dressed so glamorously’, what’s stopping them from putting on something wonderful tonight?”

– Tom Ford

Social media audiences are no longer content to passively watch an old film in silence – they now want to take part in a ‘live experience’. Everything is interactive now, even the past. By seamlessly merging real time actors with technology, unattainable worlds can now be entered like never before. And remember this is just the beginning. A new matrix is being created where the past can be endlessly revisited.

Separated from our own universe, the Troxy captures the romantic essence of Casablanca. Indeed the art deco cinemas of the 1920s and 1930s are some of the most optimistic statements ever made in stone.

By transforming London’s most beautiful inter-war venue into Rick’s Cafe Americain, dressing up for a golden era taps into a strange cinematic homesickness. It’s a gorgeous experience overall, where men are gentlemen and girls are extraordinarily pretty. Just remember what happened off camera probably didn’t seem that glamourous at the time.

Blink

Kindred spirits are often romanticised in modern culture, but Blink is a little more surrealist in tone. A character play set in a world just like our own, Jonah and Sophie talk about a voyeuristic love story and one fitting of a society obsessed with making connections.

Written by English playwright Phil Porter, Blink addresses how virtuality has become the next phase of evolution; a world in which you can fall madly in love with complete strangers before even making a call. An online commune of language, love and dreams created entirely with words and grainy pixels – a fantasy world where you write all the rules.

Running at the Ed Fringe throughout August, Blink relies on two protagonists – an impish northern nerd Jonah (Harry McEntire), who somewhat unconvincingly emerges from a Presbyterian boot camp with a flair for voyeurism. Meanwhile the wonderfully gifted Sophie (Rosie Wyatt) has been looking after her dying father and loses her job in a software company for a perceived ‘lack of visibility’.

It this lack of visibility that crystallises the essence of Phil Porter’s play, where Jonah follows Sophie (with her loving consent) on a webcam and they both take solace from their weird and childlike sense of isolation. It is something they cannot necessarily touch but can only feel. They inhabit a world in where virtual souls find love in the anonymity of strangers.

For you see loneliness doesn’t necessarily stem from being on your own. Solitude can or will inevitably contribute but even those with regular human company can feel lonely. It is the inability to share private thoughts, desires and acute observations with like minded souls that accentuates many people’s sense of isolation.

Like sitting on a bus two rows behind a stranger you’re to painfully shy too approach, the same aches and desires apply and in many ways it can be even more painful. Blink is a story about love. A story about how it’s easier to confess all to a bleeping box on Facebook than it is to call a childhood friend. To lapse into an inexplicable world where you believe the other to be perfect. When you haven’t even heard their voice and as quicksands of love shift, which they always do, you blink and the feeling has gone.

Blink runs at the Traverse Theatre until August 26th and the Soho Theatre from Wed 29 August – Sat 22 September. 

Museum of Broken Relationships

After examining a heroin test, teddy bear and a Jamaican dollar bill at the Museum of Broken Relationships, I reopened my own dusty memorabilia of dead romances. Girlfriends come and go but their pink letters and hair clips remain locked away forever. The modern way of excommunicating a lover scorned is to delete them from Facebook. As feelings run high, many will have experienced the cathartic rush to delete all of their texts, emails and naked photos. Although years later you may regret deleting the latter.

Unable to throw anything away, I continue to hoard fragments of my broken relationships in shoe boxes. These include paper clips, feathers, wooden frogs, heart shaped mirrors and an empty bottle of Prosecco. Every failed relationship has its fair share of emotional debris. Reading some of my love letters is surprisingly painful, and after a few words I begin to feel uneasy, and fold them back up feeling nothing but regret that purple ink is all I have left.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a touring exhibition created by ex-lovers Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in Zagreb. Some of the donations range from surreal plastic toys, postcards, reels of films and surprisingly tender BDSM love poetry. In this macabre confession room of love lost, one of the exhibits includes a bike given to a woman by her cheating husband, who on discovering his infidelity, spent her evenings riding the high winds looking for closure. She continues to ride to this day.

One of the most illuminating exhibits came from a BDSM convert, who experienced her first ever sado-masochistic relationship with an art historian called Simon. Her love is represented in a book of nine poems, and she spoke of a man ‘….emotional, dysfunctional, demonstrative, difficult and controlling. Yet I was drawn to his tortured soul. He is intelligent, deep, dark and poetically literate. I had some truly magical sexual experiences with him and I fell for him or as he would say I was “obsessed” with him”. Alas such a temporary form of insanity now has a graveyard for where love goes to die.

Originally conceived in Zagreb, the Museum of Broken Relationships is now touring internationally, amassing stories and donations from cultures from all over the world. However, not everyone has to visit Covent Garden to appreciate the stories on display. They lie tucked away in your own draws, cupboards and inboxes. As we all have a Museum of Broken Relationships in our homes, words that have been laid to rest and star spinning memories lying soaked in dust.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Tristan Bates Theatre
London
WC2H 9NP

Exhibition runs until September 4th 2011.

Heart Shaped Box

At the beginning it was the maddening fluidity of her walk and the way she made you breathlessly silent just by her presence alone. She never spoke to anyone. And together we felt the imprisonment of being a boy and how our job was to merely create a noise that might fascinate her.

With her soulful blue eyes and ripe, pert and desirable mouth, I felt a strange unison with my anonymous colleagues. Well I did until she turned into the kitchen and the shrill ping of the microwave crushed any lingering feeling of desire. For the anticipation lay in her walk and how with every step she took she was a heartbeat closer to my own.

As you might have already gathered by now, offices can be notoriously dull places to earn a living. If you spend the lion’s share of the Gregorian calendar sitting in front of computer, then inevitably the mind will begin to wander. Sometimes I have tried to fancy virtually anyone just to escape the menial wonders of Microsoft Excel.

Spending up to eight hours per day in the same allocated spot, usually performing the same tasks without thinking, is almost asking for you to fall in love for 16 seconds. Albeit with someone wildly out of your league, grossly inappropriate, engaged or the intern with phosphorescent eyes and probably still in her early twenties.

Spending so much time in the same place with the same people will inevitably rouse the most dangerous of human emotions – curiosity. As a result most people will develop a crush on a work colleague at some point in their lives. Even if it is someone you wouldn’t ordinarily find attractive in real life.

Never advisable and almost certainly best avoided, office liaisons usually end in disaster and whether it’s excruciatingly embarrassing or incredibly painful. The bitter ending will provide a malnourished office with juicy scraps of gossip for years to come.

Curiosity is a curse that has afflicted even some of the most intelligent men and women in the workplace. As anyone engaged in a secret romantic tryst can usually see the tsunami galloping in the distance. But like the stupid footballers who have sexual affairs with reality TV contestants, they continue to believe in the self-inflicted illusion that no one will find out. Although no one will fail to spot the tell-tail signs of you arriving together at the same time, usually late with a sheepish grin and ruffled unwashed hair.

All it takes is one perceptive mind and the keyboards will be rattling out scandal until even the cleaner finds out. Usually such childish behaviour is fueled by jealously at how their previously anonymous colleagues could be having such an exhilaratingly good time without them. The lovers inbox will be a ripe treat and they won’t give a damn about what anyone else thinks. Until it all goes wrong that is.

For silent curiosity is always more exciting than the real thing. As like the regal beauty that left her male colleagues twitching in synchronised admiration, the attraction ultimately lay in enigmatic silence and how difficult she was to attain. Expectation usually kills a party and broadening your horizons away from your desk is probably wiser than aimlessly seeking a distraction from it.