Monday, July 28, 2008

August Column

It's already been a week since my last post, and that was just a collection of links. Blog title aside, links are easy and cheap, so I don't think they really count as blogging. So in the spirit of finding other loopholes, here's my column for Totally Dublin this August. I will start writing actual blog posts very soon, oh so merciful Internet.

'There are moments in everyone’s life when you realise that you aren’t a child anymore. Obviously, there are lots of giveaways, like when you’re issued an over-60’s bus pass, or when you’re tried as an adult, but the one I’m thinking of is to do with shopping. When I was a kid, and I saw a sale, it meant that I could buy things for cheap. Now, I see sales everywhere and I’m thinking only one thing: ‘ohgodohgodohgodrecessionrecessionrecessionhelphelphelp’. This is not a position that has a great deal of support in the rest of the house. Apparently toys are much cheaper now, and my diminutive financial advisers think that I should invest heavily in fully poseable action figures and Lego. Or some sort of console. They have visitation privileges to a Wii in their grandparents’ house, and applications have been issued for full custody. However, I think that one full-sized couch potato is more than any family needs, so there won’t be any surprises under the tree this Christmas.

So this, in a nutshell, is the latest excuse for not dressing as a grown-up. Apparently, my personal style has erred towards what might charitably be described as ‘studenty’ for some time now, a designation that many actual students would probably experience a coughing fit over. It has been put to me that it might be time to set aside childish things, or at least all my grubby trainers and faded t-shirts in favour of well-tailored trousers, crisp shirts and shoes that I might even polish more than once in my lifetime. The suggestion (Inference? Implication? Threat?) being that many things in my life and relationships might be improved by my not looking like I’ve just finished a shift in Tower Records. I think this is unfair. I could never get a job in that shop.

By doing a reasonable impression of someone who is actually concerned about money and hiding all the coffee shop receipts, I’m able to delude myself and others (okay, just myself) that the buying of adult clothes is not merely indulgent, but fiscally speaking, dangerous, in these choppy economic waters. I find, incidentally, that nautical metaphors and overwrought language is really the only way to go when you’re talking about money and don’t know your arse from your elbow. Another example: ‘ But sweetheart, there’s a tidal wave of credit available from Ireland’s estimable banking industry. I say we haul anchor and sail the good ship Cunningham to the nearest widescreen TV outlet.’

I should stress that the wearing of armbands, swimsuits and naval hats during these conversations is not recommended. One can be too Method.

So, an impasse. I didn’t want to actually go out and buy anything remotely grown-up, and even my three-year old was in two minds about being seen with me. I’m sure everyone who’s still awake can guess what compromise we came to.

No, I wasn’t kicked out of the house.

One day last week I came home to find a bag filled with new clothes, all bought in these panic sales that are dotting the city as retail companies everywhere pretend that they always have half-price sales in the middle of July. All the clothes were ‘adult’ (in the ironed sense, not the PVC one) and fitted well. My first thought was: ‘But I buy my own clothes. I’m not a child. I feel emasculated.’ Then I thought: ‘I didn’t even have to go shopping. This is what people mean when they talk about living the dream.’ Finally, I’m a man, I thought. I wonder, if I get really bad at doing my job, will someone else do it for me too?'

Monday, July 14, 2008

A quick links post

The dangers of mixing music & politics, or why white male voice choirs and hip-hop is both reckless and amusing:

Advertising - the new driving menace:

Finally, a 40-odd minute seminar by Neal Stephenson on speculative fiction. How it's different from literary fiction, what makes a good SF actor, et cetera:

If that floats your boat, here's a link to his somewhat famous Beowulf & Dante writer analogy, which he did on Slashdot some years ago. It's interesting. Sometimes I find Stephenson more cerebral than I can cope with and he certainly seems like a fearsome interviewee if you are as intellectually undisciplined as I am, but it's a good idea and worth sharing:

Dante & Beowulf

Okay, back to figuring out tax forms. I've got a column to do, but I'll write a blessay (to steal from the great Stephen Fry) soon.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July Column

Okay - I'm aware that this is extremely lazy, but in the absence of having an idea for a post, here's the column I did for the July (i.e. current) issue of Totally Dublin. I might actually post all of the columns up on the blog, if only so I can have them archived in some way, should I ever want to use them as evidence that I can write (in order to get a job).

Needless to say, if you don't think that they represent evidence that I can write, you can of course, if you don't mind, that is to say, this is just my opinion, take it or leave it: piss off.

July 08 Column:

'This morning I did something to my back. By ‘something’, I mean that it hurts and by ‘did’ I mean that no one in my house has any sympathy. Many years ago, when I still laboured under the delusion that fitness (translation: looking good with my top off) was a goal that I could achieve, I walked into Argos and bought weights (the purchase being step 1 in my relentlessly upward trajectory towards being ripped, cut, pumped and indeed, corrugated if possible). It was quite some time ago, so I can’t be absolutely certain, but I’m fairly certain that I may have used them at least once, maybe even twice, before they were hidden away in my own personal Pit of Shameful Diversions, otherwise known as the back of the wardrobe. Incidentally, I plan someday to write a retelling of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, only this time a group of offensively prissy children will find themselves in a magical world populated with rusty gym equipment, rollerblades and people in Xworx jeans.

But the thing about products promising some form of personal improvement that I have bought is this: they tend to hang around, like that guy at parties who everyone else thinks is someone else’s friend (until, after he’s drunk all the beer and destroyed the living room, you remember that he’s your friend). The weights, a guitar, innumerable books that I’m embarrassed to let people see I have not just bought, but read and reread, clothes that represent not just a different time but a whole other dimension; each of these and many more embarrassments greet me every day as I attempt to dress myself. The weights in particular hang around, as if to say: ‘Look at how unmotivated, shiftless and plain lazy you are, You can’t even lift me up off the ground. Loser’. I don’t know why I do this to myself. I’m already married with children and they are really all anyone needs to feel old and out of touch. I thought I’d made my peace with self-improvement, then I entered the completely arbitrary milestone of my thirties a few months back.

Suddenly I found myself reading the covers of magazines with titles like ‘Men’s Health’. I discovered that no longer could I pretend that I came from the same species as these monochrome adonises, even when squinting from behind frosted glass. I appealed to those who knew me best for sympathy in my hour of need: ‘You’ve got a fat belly, Daddy.’ The weights came out that evening.

The main problem, I have found, with working out, is that I have no idea how to do it. I’m a lot like a panda trying to read the newspaper when it comes to bodybuilding. Much of my understanding of the process has been gleaned from watching movies like Spider-Man. So it should come as no surprise that when I discovered this was a long and tedious process, my enthusiasm dipped down until it rated somewhere below banging my head against a door. If I had accepted my limitations this would be a very different column. Instead, I chose to hide them under a pile of newspapers for a month, then in a rush of energy brought on by yesterday’s hangover I chose to streamline my routine by getting rid of extraneous things, like stretching. ‘Shouldn’t you be warming up first?’ asked my wife. As a sportsman, I instinctively knew I was the best judge of what was good for me, so I ignored her.

Later on, when I was complaining about the pain, she chose not to rub it in, which I think was more thoughtful than the three year old who demanded piggybacks. If I’ve learnt anything this month, then, it is that self-improvement is a reckless folly, which is exactly what I shall tell my children when they come to visit me in the hospital.

Quick post to remind myself that I'm still alive

Right then.

I lied in that last post. Clearly I'm a liability in front of a laptop. Or behind one. I did send off a few of those, ever so delicately labelled, query letters, and received one reply. SO FAR.


Anyway I've sent a collection of pages, linked, if not by a terribly well-organised story, then at least some seriously impressive staples. I figure if they aren't blown away by the prose, there's a chance of an opening in the stationery department.

I shall no doubt maintain an eerie and mysterious silence about what happens next, unless someone starts offering me lots of money, in which case you'd better get some sleep now.

Okay, well, this post hasn't really been about anything, but let's see if I can start some sort of a habit here.

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Welcome to my blog. I'm a freelance writer/journalist/researcher/editor. I write about education and ideas I've had for the Irish Times. I also research, write and edit for writers, publications and websites. Here I put things that tend not to fit anywhere else. Enjoy.

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