Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cracking Up

A couple of weeks ago, my employers took a bunch of us lowly wage slaves over to Tate Modern for lunch. The reasons for the lunch and the lunch itself are irrelevant, so let’s just skate on past that.

As we left, passing the Turbine Hall and the current installation, Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (better known to almost everyone as “the crack in the floor”), we all paused to have a good long look. Very impressive, but its impact was diminished by the fact that sections of the crack were covered up with duct tape and plastic sheeting.

Everyone else came out with the bog-standard pedestrian responses of “But it’s just a crack!” and “Why have they done that?” or “I don’t get it.” But then they didn’t try. They just saw a crack in the floor and nothing else.

I tried to argue that the reason that I liked it is that is was, simultaneously, an actual crack and the illusion of a crack.

This just got me a lot of blank stares. So I tried to explain it to them like this:

In an old Road Runner cartoon, Wile E. Coyote got a tub of black paint and with it painted a fake road and then a fake tunnel smack dab in the middle of a large boulder, with the intention that the Road Runner would slam straight into the side of that boulder.

Seconds later, the Road Runner comes beep beeping along, roaring past the coyote and goes straight through the “tunnel” effortlessly, as if it were actually there. Puzzled, the coyote tries it himself and, sure enough, he slams straight into the boulder because, of course, the tunnel isn’t really there.

I was quite pleased with this explanation, but now there was a smattering of confused laughter accompanying the vacant faces. Oh well – I try to open their eyes and yet they are still blind.

And I know that the artist’s intentions may be vastly different from what I get out of it, but that’s the thing about art. Once you hurl it out into the world, it belongs to everybody who experiences it in any way that they see fit.

There have been various attempts to discover just how they put this crack in the floor of the Turbine Hall. Builders and architects have a number of theories, whilst many of them admit that they don’t quite know. Any one of those theories may be correct. Or none of them. But I think to explain it would take something away from it, like debunking a brilliant magic trick, or pulling back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard of Oz is just a befuddled old huckster from Kansas. Not knowing is part of the whole thing.

But only a part of it. The other part is this: some days you’re the coyote and some days you’re the road runner. You can be both. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Beep beep!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Life Online

So, despite the fact that Sucker Punch occasionally goes a bit quiet now and then, that doesn't mean I'm not a chatty bastard elsewhere on the web. I can prove it too. AND I can tell you about my new blog. Oh yes. Keep reading...

Here is where I can be found online in 2008:

Sucker Punch - Where it all began, and what you are looking at right now. The hub of all my online activities, my first Internet baby, and it's going to be four years old in about a week. And in Internet years, that is freaking ancient. This is the place for thinking out loud, chatting shit, random snapshots of my life, my preoccupations, and the inside of my messy head. Reassuringly inconsistent, just like me. - The sounds that fill my earholes are catalogued right here. Music is integral to my life, and especially important when I need to block-out any bullshit that may invade my headspace at any given time. This happens more often than you would think.

Flickr - I'm including this purely for completist's sake. My Flickr page is pretty pathetic. I keep promising myself that I'll upload more interesting photos, but it's largely just shots snapped from my camera phone. I need to buy a new camera, and then I need to remember to carry it around with me, and then I need to remember to upload the photos. I'll get there in the end.

Twitter - I'm hooked on Twitter. It is utterly addictive, and a running commentary on what I'm doing most of the time. Also, there is a direct correlation between the amount of alcohol in my bloodstream and the frequency of tweets. I talk crap when I'm sober, so you can imagine the sort of ridiculous bollocks I spout under the influence. Read my tweets and laugh both with me and at me.

Tumblr - At last, we get to the real reason for this post. I get to unveil my latest web presence. Behold SHRAPNEL! "Jagged shards of popular culture eviscerating the flabby guts of the Internet". I've been concerned for a while that Sucker Punch is getting a bit too choked up with YouTube videos and stuff that amuses me, just chucked on here with little commentary. I always prefer it here when it's largely text-based pieces. If I want a tumblelog, I should go and make one. So I did. And here it is. Took me a while to get a good handle on this, but I think I'm there now. There's a link to it in the sidebar, and it also has an RSS feed. Want to know what amuses me? This is the place. - My social bookmarking page. Indispensable to capture urls on the fly, or to search for bookmarks in a more targetted way than a traditional search engine. Especially handy to keep a grip on urls that I need for research purposes for anything I'm writing. I suppose it's an insight into the things that interest me too. My last 10 bookmarked urls pop up in the right-hand sidebar here too.

Facebook - The only place online that bears my real name, so I'm not providing a url for it here. And anyway, I think Facebook has maybe 12 months of usefulness left to it. Even that prediction may be a bit ambitious. It's getting weighed down by too many third-party applications that don't add to the experience - it just detracts from it. I find Twitter more useful as a social network than Facebook anyway. Facebook is soooooo 2007. I still check up on it every day, and I use it now largely just to stay in touch with friends. And I do have a soft spot for Facebook, because without it I wouldn't have landed a lucrative writing gig just before Christmas. Never throw anything away, because you never know when you might need it.

I know that there are applications like Profilactic for aggregating all these disparate webstrands into one central place, but I haven't found one that I like. Or maybe I just don't like them at all. As far as I'm concerned, Sucker Punch is my social media aggregator - don't think I need another one.

How to contact me online: I used to have an email address in the sidebar so that I could be contacted directly by readers of the blog. Mostly, all I got was spam. Until the day that I received some hate-mail from an author whose novel I ripped to pieces. I must get around to posting that email here at some point. The best way to get hold of me is to Direct Message me via Twitter. And, yes, this is a shameless ploy to get you all signed up to Twitter.



Been thinking about stories and writing and stuff a lot recently. Some of that thinking goes a little bit like this...

I'm fascinated by the way that children, even very young children, have an instinctive understanding of stories and storytelling. They understand what they mean, not just on the surface, narrative level, but they manage to take away more than just that from the experience. And they also understand concepts that us adults often mistakenly construe as confusing. I'll show you what I mean:

I was sitting down to watch the season opener of Doctor Who last week, Partners In Crime, and I wanted Buttercup to sit and watch it with me. Terrified of the Daleks and the robotic Host that appeared in Voyage Of The Damned, she was reluctant to be scared senseless in the name of entertainment. I assured her that there would be nothing too scary, and that there was nothing to worry about. (I don't know why I said that - I had no evidence to back up this promise. It may have been a pants-soiling 50 minutes of shadowy corridors and rampaging monsters for all I knew. But Doctor Who has a long and storied history of children watching from behind the sofa or between their fingers, so why not pass on the Joy of Fear to the younger generation, eh?).

So my little 3-year old girl huddled in my lap, tense on the off-chance that some dripping alien monstrosity would appear so that she could bolt from the room. Once the Adipose finally appeared, she relaxed. Blobby CGI moppets are reassuringly benign.

Anyway, I'm digressing. There is a point to all this. Here's the thing. There are aspects to the storytelling that she instinctively understands without needing explanations or following 45 years of continuity. She understands that Tom Baker with his boggling eyes and dragging scarf is exactly the same man as David Tennant in a crumpled suit and flyaway hair. She doesn't know what "regeneration" or "Time Lords" or any of that stuff is. She just understands. And she realises that he is "The Doctor" and that "Doctor Who" is just the name of the show, not the character. She accepts without question the fact that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside than on the outside. She understands that it's a spaceship and a time machine and, for all intents and purposes, the Doctor's home. I don't know how she understands all this, she just does.

So the supposedly complex baggage of the show and the character turns out to be the easy bit. It's when assumptions about stories and storytelling creep in that the puzzlement sets in. Buttercup understands the idea of heroes and villains, goodies and baddies. But trying to apply her preconceptions about those roles brought on a flurry of questions. After watching the Doctor and Donna run around corridors for ten minutes, the questions began:

Buttercup: Is the Doctor going to beat the baddies?
AKA: Yes. Good always wins over bad.
Buttercup: Is he going to punch them?
AKA: No.
Buttercup: (on seeing the sonic screwdriver for the first time) Is he going to zap them?
AKA: No.
Buttercup: Is it like a gun?
AKA: No! The Doctor hates guns!
Buttercup: Like Batman?
AKA: Yes! Exactly like Batman! They both hate guns.
(pause to watch more frantic running)
Buttercup: But how is he going to beat them? He just runs away all the time!

This stumped me for a couple of seconds. She was absolutely right. The story didn't mesh with her ideas about how heroes vanquish the villains, because there was no tangible conflict or confrontation. The Doctor at this point was actively avoiding confrontation in the name of self-preservation, and Buttercup understands heroism as sacrifice and struggle and facing villainy head-on. Not running away from it. But I had an answer:

AKA: He is going to beat them with his brain!

I think it took her a while to process that answer, but it was the truth. The Doctor is a scientist. An adventurer. He doesn't see things as binary as goodies and baddies. And the Doctor "winning" doesn't necessarily correlate to someone else "losing". He can Save The Day without physical confrontation. Once Buttercup had wrapped her mind around that, she could settle back and see where the story was going to take her. And she laughed at the little Adipose skidding and grinning and waving on the screen. She didn't see them as "baddies" - they were just different and alien.

So, yeah. Stories. Themes. Narrative. Lot of that in my head at the moment. As you can see from the infrequency of posts 'round these parts recently, I've been otherwise engaged. The vast majority of my writing this year has been offline, and I've been more prolific than I have been for a long time. One of the things I've been doing is keeping a journal, which interests me for a lot of reasons. Mostly because it's all about weaving my own experiences and thoughts into some kind of narrative. There it is again, you see. Stories. Inadvertently putting the random events of my life into some sort of narrative framework to make it easily digestible and understandable, rather than a succession of isolated unrelated fragments (which is probably closer to the reality of most people's lives).

OK. Rambling a bit now. Let's hope the narrative thread of this post is strong enough that my points make sense. After all, I'm just telling you a story in the form of an anecdote - and it's not just about a father and his daughter watching TV together.