The Garden of Data Bugs

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The afternoon heat was dry and gentle, whispers of clouds slipping across the blue sky. The mugginess of the previous week had cleared, the thicker clouds lifting their watery weight from our sweaty backs. A bird moved from one high bush to another with a brief whistle of air through its feathers. The garden buzzed distantly with insects: some good, some bad, some annoying. A series of ornate vines curated the space around us, above the foliage, its fingers snaked skyward like organic antennae. Further back from where we sat, a series of shrubs were strategically planted, timed so that something was in flower all year round in the garden. The smell of greenery was mesmerising. It smelt of gentle life, of free air, of lazy afternoons spent dozing in the shade. I craved lazy afternoons. Away from the screens which watched over my every waking moment. Organising me. Picturing me. Disturbing me. The mechanic hum of a computer no matter it’s size, even the tiny ones, even this one – thinking for me, plotting for me. Sending unknown data to some far off mothership that sought to ‘know me’. Not as a complex human but as a collection of lifestyle choices. A consumer of words, pictures, music, clothes, holidays. We are a spied upon people, not because they seek to control our every move. They don’t have to. Our consuming nature does that for them. We will brainwash ourselves with the pursuit of new gadgets, apps and better life experiences. With the echo chamber of social media that affirms our fears, hopes, opinions while gathering data on what ideas and objects can be sold to us. We will destroy our own will power with alcohol and drugs and caffeine and chocolate. We are all unique beings but inside all of us, buried deeper in some than others, there is a self-destruct button just waiting to be pressed. We find false hope in turning the clock back, going back to nature and eating raw food. The system is ready for this. It responds by selling us health and food fads, by selling us wild adventures that are nonetheless protected by Gortex and insect repellant. When every patch of land is owned by someone, nature can be sold to us in whatever form we crave it. Gardens like the one we sit in can be constructed, beautiful plants purchased, the soil stripped of wildflowers and will power. Weeds and slugs will be banished they are not part of the plan. And with them the creatures that rely on them to be. The birds. The bees. And us. Press the red button to self-destruct.

© Kirsty Fox 2016

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Love & the Sea

It’s a funny thing. Nature, the sea, makes other things seem small. Diminutive. The waves smashing on a windy day, stealth creeping up the beach and catching you out. Water over the rims of wellies. And then rushing back out leaving behind just the dusk light. The beach shines and gleams, vivid pink & orange & blue & indigo in mackerel patterns on the dowdy sand.

If you look down and walk forward through the shallows as they rush in and then back out you feel drunk and disorientated. Like the world is travelling in a different direction to you. It is.

There’s a certain enjoyment in this anxiety. In this chaos of being. In this turbulent crisscrossing of moving things. Because you can stop any time. You can look up at a stable horizon which moves only imperceptibly. The handrail in a Fun House which steadies you when the fun gets too much.

You are the steady thing I crave in my life. An even constant that will tell the same self-deprecating jokes. And hold things up. And make things function – a wood-burner, a roasting chicken, or the part of me that can change from grumpy to cheerful at the drop of a hat.

The sand sinks beneath my feet as the waters rush in. The gulls spill across the air above the shallows, twirling and intertwining their flights with one another. Calling out stories of good fish and hidden roosts. The north-east wind is cold on my legs, defeating damp jeans or woollen tights. Large raindrops splish unexpectedly in my face despite sparse clouds. Moments later they are gone.

The sea has its own rain. Its own pace of life that is peaceful and enraged all at once. It has the raw passion of brush on canvas, of teeth on bones, of a lover calling late at night in desperation to just hear that voice before they resign themselves to sleep. I want love to make me feel how nature does.

The sound of flames licking the roof of a wood burner merge with the coastal wind outside and the occasional rumble of passing traffic on a narrow street. Everything inside is driftwood and leather and old suitcases with rusted clasps. Nautical stripes draw cotton fabrics and wool. Minimal sketches of warm clothes and layers of bedding that surround us. Swallowing us as we sink and disappear into afternoon sleeps induced by the sea air. Soggy socks and gloves dry near the fire, despondent. Every source of heat is special and loved in a climate of icy winds and persistent wet.

Here we are beyond the clouds. We have left all things behind and run entirely on adrenaline. Our bones aching from ageless woes. The cold. The storm. The storm is internal.

Love & loneliness wreak havoc on the people we forgot we were trying to be. We lose ourselves in books and movies because they say things we’re unable to articulate. If we stare at enough of them we will learn to string a sentence together. To really speak to one another. To communicate emotions and feelings that lie dormant or latent in our beings.

The truth is a dribble of cold tea on the side of a mug as it’s placed back on the coffee table. It’s a small reality that nonetheless matters for a little while to someone. But the moment passes. The pot must be stirred and the potatoes tossed in hot fat. The practical busies our hands so that they don’t idle in existential doubts indefinitely.

© Kirsty Fox 2016

Eyes Open to the Elements

Snatches of conversation as we fade in and out of conciousness, echoes of San Soleil. The cinematic touches the everyday. Fiction and fact are just library tags, they don’t separate the fake from the real. The sleepy heat draws slumber compared to the wide awake cold outside. Eyes open to the elements – the sleet, the fog, the sheet rain quivering like flying arrows in the light of a solitary street lamp. We are and we aren’t there now. A whisper in the shadows, slipping effortlessly away from outstretched fingers tips. The footfall of a fox at dawn. The intangible belongs to the dreamer snoozing against a black window pane. The pages of a book are audibly turned and we know from the pause a new chapter has begun. A new era is about to write itself. If we pause too long to dwell on what we leave behind, we’ll lose confidence to make the leap into the unknown. Every story starts with transition, an equilibrium unbalanced, scrambling off the cliff into chaos. The train pauses at the station. Someone steps off and checks the sky. We wait. The engine rumbles back into action and we set off again. Onward.

© Kirsty Fox 2015

All we never wanted

In the spiral of chaos there is nothing but tears and love and absolutes. Tenderness and doom enraptured in a dance. You know when you’re really crying because your throat hurts. It aches with cries you’ve never sobbed and screams you’ve never howled. It aches with every word you were never brave enough to say. There is nothing beyond the great spiral and nothing before it. It tunnels in on itself while growing ever greater. An all-consuming force that is at turns reassuring and terrifying. The spiral of chaos has no fate, no ultimate destination. It doesn’t promise that the right thing will happen at the right time. It promises that something will happen. You will happen to someone and they will happen to you. That bones will crack and splinter and spray. That lessons will be learned and unlearned at the bottom of a wet mountainside. We will be cowed by the spiral for she is all. All we ever wanted and all we never wanted. A phonecall. A conversation. A thoroughly well-time hug.

© Kirsty Fox 2015

Ghost Ship

The ship creaks beneath my feet, a loud aching creak like the bones of an old whale turning in his watery sleep. We drift on the dark ocean, yet it is the sea which seems to move only while we stay still. A solid steady weight afloat on fluid dreams and an imagination drawn to whirlpools. Spiralling down to an ocean bed of starfish and sea horses and beautiful ugly incredible things that man has never seen.

The ship drifts towards the whirlpool or rather the whirlpool drifts towards a still ship. A lonely creaking entity weighed down with history. War, fishing, rum, piracy – all in a day’s work. Claustrophobia and agoraphobia all at once. How do you survive in this tiny place amid so much space? How do you tell the stars from the sea? The clouds from the white wash? Are we moving or is the world moving us? Will it suck us down spinning with bubbles and deceptive light. Down into a purgatory not unlike the one we’ve left…

© Kirsty Fox 2015

Nocturnal Ponderings

Photo by Phil Formby

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer and publisher over the last few years it’s that selling books is hard. Really hard.

Both from the side of pitching to agents and publishers and the other side – getting people to part with money in exchange for a bunch of pages into which you poured hours of grueling-exciting-wondrous work. And once they’ve bought that book it may well sit on their shelf for months, nay years, before they tuck into it. I say that as a person who owns more books they haven’t read, than books they have read.

It’s understandable. A book isn’t a throwaway thing. A book is a commitment. A good book that you take your time over is a relationship all in itself. It’s a personal thing and an act of solitude in a world that bombards you with bright shiny distractions every five minutes.

I’m currently trying to sell a book to people. A book that I feel deeply passionate about, in a very personal way. It’s strange to be in the position of editor and and publisher when you’re used to being the writer. It’s a whole different relationship because you’re a reader, but more than a reader, because you were there. You’re the damn midwife helping that beautiful babe get born. You can’t take credit for the genes, but you can still be super proud.

I’m proud of Darren Simpson. He’s a great writer and it’s fascinating the way he pours his personality into it. As I said in this recent interview about the project

“I like Darren’s writing because he’s not afraid to take risks and have fun. There’s a rawness which traditionally published books tend to lack because they’re edited differently and are too self-conscious of their market. It’s like when you get a really good piece of music that’s overproduced. The Dust on the Moth takes an idea and runs away with it in ways that are both incredibly silly yet also still profound. It makes you laugh while also potentially giving you an existential crisis. I think that might be my favourite kind of art when it’s done well.”

I published my novel Dogtooth Chronicals a few years ago now. Someone came into the shop where I work today and bought a copy, not knowing I was the writer until I awkwardly told him. It feels strange and alien to talk about it now, the questions people ask are still the same – ‘Wow, it’s a big book, how long did that take you?’ It made me feel a little strange.

After he left I kicked myself for not mentioning The Dust on the Moth. After all, he was clearly a man of fine taste. And therein lies my issue. I’ve never been a good salesperson. I am zero-sales-patter-fox. From days of bartending, to these new days of funding applications and crowdfunding experiments. I don’t have the elevator pitch down, I can’t sell you a book or a really great social enterprise in one snappy sentence. I don’t lack passion or bloody-minded self-determination. I just lack swagger and effective punchlines that make you feel like the product I’m pushing will make you’re life better.

I do have some sales patter, sure. It just takes seven or eight paragraphs of your time to emerge. I’m all about the super soft sell. I want to empower people to spend their money on products made or designed locally. On stuff that is meaningful, rather than meaningless. On things they feel like they’ve ‘found’ all by themselves. Like wandering up some weird little alleyway into Cobden Chambers and finding a book in a shop you’d never been in before by a writer you’d never heard of. And then you meet the writer and she’s socially awkward, which is how all writers should be.

It’s a nice story. But it happens so rarely. And when you have a book to sell, time is never on your side. Especially when you’re running a crowdfunding campaign with only four days left. But to hell with it. If I was afraid of failure I would never have quit a wage slave job to become a social entrepreneur. As Vin Diesel once said as he pretended to roll out of the back of a plane “I live for this shit!”

So, I watched this video again tonight, despite it containing both my face and my voice. And I felt that even though we might not quite make it. I’m still pretty flippin proud of what we’ve achieved.

Someday I hope that man who bought Dogtooth Chronicals today will accidentally happen upon The Dust on the Moth, and get that nice feeling you get when you find hidden treasure.

#KickStartMoth

Two Awkward Mannequins

The grass was green where we stepped. Changing underfoot from the straw of midsummer’s empty gasp to the green of hesitant optimism. We laughed and talked of things bigger than us. Bigger than the world. But however small and meaningless we were, it was meaningful to me. Tentative steps towards a joint future. A something. I really wanted that something. I still do.

But the grass stopped turning green underfoot. The silences grew longer. For all our talk of worldly things and existence, we couldn’t talk about you. About why you’d never meet an admiring gaze. About why you didn’t want this in solid form. The initial sketch of us was fine. It was just pints and sex and music and TV. But I couldn’t flesh us out. I couldn’t add shadow or definition. I couldn’t harden those outlines to a couple. Rather than the vague suggestion of a couple.

We stood on the corner in the cold. Awkwardly. Two awkward mannequins not knowing what to say. I was dizzy & light-headed from a lack of sugar or a sense of fatigue. Eventually, I hugged you and you hugged back like the world was about to end. The grass is concrete and the picture begins to fade. First to monochrome, then to mere lines. Finally a blank page.

© Kirsty Fox 2015