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.

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

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 1950’s.

What Kerouac et al went through can never be repeated in the purest sense. 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 my story 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.

Blue Flashing Lights

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

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.

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.

Forlorn rags of growing old

Sitting in a transparent glass case, about 120-foot-long, lies Jack Kerouac’s antidote to the forlorn rags of growing old at the British Library. Magnificent with all its creases, sellotaped edges and typos, Kerouac’s soul aspiring work of art commands a gasped silence. A stunning cathartic monument trapped inside an air-conditioned case that I once read On the Road (albeit the edited one – nobody told me at the time) in solemn isolation over a decade ago.

On reading the beat novel as a seventeen-year-old, I recall the fantasy, hedonistic sex and panoramic visions of America. Not something I could truly comprehend as a skeleton youth in northern Scotland, but I fondly recall writing down passages about purple grapes, whore houses, the fire cracking candles  and “looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad”.

This beautiful elegiac sigh once greeted me in a teenage love letter and formed the basis of a melodramatic Facebook status update many years later. Then as you get older and meet greater minds with even greater books, the Beat Generation feels rather clichéd and predictable. It isn’t either of those things but who doesn’t now yawn when they read about Route 66?

On pouring over the holy beat scroll at the British Library, I reminded myself that writing should be the rhythmic articulation of feeling. A sacred totem against mediocrity, sub-editing and the SEO inspired destruction of the English language, Kerouac’s words remain a soaring inspiration. Written in three weeks, single-spaced without paragraphs and corrected in pencil, his words are soaring, brave and utterly mesmerising. 

In a way you have to start writing before you turn thirty because in your late teens and early twenties you have absolutely no self-awareness. The sediments of your personality are tantalisingly incomplete and unbridled magic can still be spun. Age is a social construct – a conception of behaviour, attitudes and deeds but you do get tired eventually and experience is not always a good thing. It can act in barrier in a way and I suppose it’s an oxymoron to suggest you can rediscover your own naivety?

On this note, I will leave this post to some random American teenager, who unwittingly captured the spirit of On the Road on Facebook and funnily enough no one over the age of 30 could possibly get away this. More’s the pity because on walking around that transparent glass cage, I too want to turn this into something different, get out more often and be in more photographs.

On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Manuscript Scroll will be on display at the British Library until Thursday 27th December 2012.

Door to the River

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.