Featuring @jnicholasgeist's Zombie apocalypse slash night-on-the-tiles (a transatlantic special!), @simonsanders' pen-pal to PM saga, @mananatomorrow's cyberphilic daughter, and my experiences of chatroom courtship. Of a sort. Thanks again go to the @kinura guys for putting this up.
Oh! And a message. It went wonderfully well, and many people asked if there would be another one - so fuck it, there will be. TaleTorrentTwo is pencilled in for March - so if anyone would like a ten-minute slot to tell their tale, send me a message. We’d love to have you.
Met up with Max for coffee today. The streets of Ladbroke Grove are still smoking after what happened last night, but society has resumed its pulse almost immediately. It’s funny how adaptable this world has made the people of today. Though, perhaps adaptable isn’t the word for a people that absorb every crisis and then carry on with their lives as they always were. Stubborn might be more appropriate.
I was just about to congratulate him on a particularly fine Handlebar - full, well-combed and delicately-shaped - when he thumped the newspaper on the cafe’s table with a huff. “Look at that,” he said, jabbing at the headline.
DEATH RATES REMAIN AT 15%, it said.
"It’s all a lack of funding," he told me, stroking his chin. "The simplest of medical problems, but with all the money going to the Superbanks, or The War, what can they do?"
I shrugged. I did not know what they could, in fact, do. “Surely it’s about more than scraping a few pennies together though, right?” Max and I had always had this kind of relationship: since we’d met at a conference, both in the birthing of our careers, he’d always been a man of passion. Passion that I’d tried to match, but passion that amounted to the ability to re-describe and reframe problems. Often in ways that made them more complicated. People still tell me that this is useful… but we have more problems than ever before. Do we need to be turning them over so much?
"You’re right," he said, "money wouldn’t be a problem if people cared. If Prostate Cancer were on the agenda the way the radiation burns victims are, funding would stay strong. But all these sexy new diseases, you know…"
Max’s biro worked its way across the front page, interlacing in geometric infinities. At length, he brightened. “I have a plan though, dude. We could start a movement.”
"Like the riots?"
"Those guys? Generations have born and died on the steps on St. Paul’s they’re not getting anything done. No, what we need to do is something that speaks to the masses by not being so bloody heavy. Something which is light and quirky at first glance, but with real substance. It’ll just be you and I to start with, but if we do it right, people will want to join in. It’s dynamite!”
"For god’s sake Max, join in with what?”
"Next month, we’re going to shave all the hair off of our upper lips. For money."
My fingers reflexively, defensively, leapt to the fur on my philtrum. “Dude, what? That’s stupid.”
"It’s not. What we all have up there; it’s the very core of our identity as men. The most important thing we have. Who would dare lose it? Only someone who was very serious about a cause, and very brave." In my heart, I knew what he was saying. I had tried to dismiss the concept, but only because I was a little afraid of it.
"And you know what? You might think it looks stupid, and you might feel the chill under the nose for a bit - but something tells me the ladies’ll respect it on some level. People won’t understand at first, but they’ll admire you and me. And whatever happens… it’s only a month.
"A month, eh? I’ll think about it. I can’t deny it, you’re an ideas man."
I got up to leave, stopped just before I reached the door.
"And just what are you going to call this month?"
"Well… just don’t laugh, okay? I was thinking it could be kind of a joke, just to make it more fun. We’d have no hair up there, right?"
"So I was thinking we could call it… November."
"Dude, you’re an idiot. But I love you all the same."
And as I walked down the street, I couldn’t quite it out of my head. No-vember. Nice.
There’s something missing. The sun conspires with the Sunday to create a kind of easy peace, like a nurse: attentive, but not smothering. But that’s not it. The people don’t shift eyes and bodies for territory like bus people do, instead they blog and chatter in gentle sussurus… but this is not the cause either. The details count for nothing when there has been some fundamental change in the atmosphere.
And then I realise: the silence. The engine has been switched off.
Have you been working late? Yes, I have.
Do you know the way home? I confess, I do not.
Have you lived in London long? Not long. Well, long in a way, but I know so little.
Why do you not ask me anything? Because I have forgotten to be curious.
So the internet is all about like connections and communications between people and stuff, she said, which means that on the internet there should be a more diverse collection of human stories than anywhere else because you’ve got all these individuals with their hopes and fears colliding with each other like atoms in a bell jar slamming and spinning and bisecting each other in sweaty embrace, and when that’s happening who knows what molecules of love and hate and twists of fate might form, nobody that’s who but I bet there’s some good ones so wouldn’t it be an amazing idea, she said, if we took over the biggest meeting room for one night during Internet Week and turned it into a special place for people to talk about how the internet changed their lives in big or small ways, it’d be lovely, and I said hey voice in my head, that’s an amazing idea, let’s make it happen.
TaleTorrent takes place at BBH Labs on the 10th of November at 7pm.
…and yet, across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded our planet with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells 1898
A war is coming. A war of intellect and talking and stuff, and everyone’s invited to pick up a premise and start shooting. On the 8th of December, 12 people all aged under 30 will gather at the British Library, where they’ll have a scant 15 minutes each to talk about how to save advertising. I’m gonna speak there, and I’ve already got little butterflies hatching in my stomach.
But that’s not the point. Skip everything else and read this bit.
On the day, there will be an open mic section for people aged 25 and under. In this, you’ll have just three minutes to speak on the theme “I believe”. In front of lots of incredibly smart people. It would be no exaggeration to say that doing exactly this sort of thing was how I got into advertising in 2009. If you’re up to it, this could be your break. If you’re not, do it anyway and learn something.
How to get in: entrants are asked to send a 300 word (max! I think your idea should be powerful enough to get into 150) essay on what you’d talk about, to email@example.com. Here’s the catch: the deadline is end of tomorrow. Just sit down with a cup of tea and bust it out, I know you can.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”—Steven Paul Jobs, 1955-2011
It’s difficult to talk about Auntie Eve…without talking about sandwiches. In the same way you might count the rings on a tree stump, it’s possible to track the progress of any of our lives in the changing sandwiches that we would be made, without fail, on a visit to that house. Jam first, then ham with butter, pressed flat, cut into those little perfect triangles. And then, as though to mark your ascendancy into manhood – bacon.
This would be presented to you with great reverence, and a lot of different sauces, on somewhere around your 12th birthday. And I was grateful for that ritual, every time I passed by. I must have had that same sandwich hundreds of times. Because Number 8, Waynflete Lane was like everyone’s anchor in the choppiest seas. A place where not just the TV was on standby, but the kettle too. A safe refuge, for all of us. A home. Under Auntie Eve’s regime it was sturdy and strong, no matter what was happening in your own life. It was like a tunnel through time, a haven for everyone of my generation, and a connection to the next one. The toys I played with there are the toys that Jack treasured, and that same talking phone, the cars, the farmhouse – they were all residents of the same green toybox though the years of everyone who passed in front of them.
And in the same way, that semi-detached house was the bridge between branches of the family that haven’t connected as often as they should. I am meeting some of you for the first time in a long while, or the first time ever, and for that I’m truly sorry. But I also feel like we’ve already met from the stories I was always told when I came over. That Eve’s final act would be to bring people together, is more than fitting for a woman who focused her life around other people, from her days in the employment office to her time in Anchorstone, where I saw her relentlessly checking on other people, with no thought for herself.
She saw no reason not to be prepared and providing at all times. She always knew someone who had done whatever dangerous thing you were doing, whether it was eating food off of your knife, or walking on the icy path, and had suffered a mischief. When we went into town, she seemed to carry an endless supply of wet wipes for Jack – not in recent times, obviously – and was ready to use them at a moment’s notice. But the practicality never stopped her from the grander schemes, as once a year I was whisked through the countryside and on an impossible, mystical voyage over the waves, to the Isle of Wight. I’ll never forget the way she clearly must have swallowed her conservative impulses – or perhaps allowed her older, adventurous ones to take flight – when she let me ride the perilously, rickety cable car out across Alum Bay that day.
Everything she did suggested a kind of bigness and generosity of spirit, whether it was making friends with all the trolley staff at Safeway, buying every single one of their pink wafers in case one of us was coming over, or tolerating Auntie Bessie’s epic jigsaw marathons in the living room. The way she’d try her best to play our incomprehensible board games. The way she allowed Rowena and I to convert the dining room table into a ping-pong table – so long as we were very careful of the tricky mechanism that let it extend.
Ashley Montagu once said: “the idea is to die young as late as possible.” There was absolutely nothing Spartan, nothing restrained about Eve. Every treat that could be indulged in, every cheeky joke that could be shared when Bessie was in the kitchen – and I’m sorry Bess, there were many – was there for the taking. When Bessie came back in with the pears and ice cream, I would be left trying to think of an acceptable reason why Auntie Eve was doubled over, shaking and weeping from laughter, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for all the stories she told, sometimes three or four times in one visit, each time with a new stylistic flourish. I’m grateful for what she taught me about people – that people are there to be embraced, trusted and helped. I’m grateful that an essential Eveness was never lost – an outrageous flirt with all the handymen of Waynflete Lane, she went on to become an outrageous flirt with the staff of Anchorstone, to my horror and delight.
I can’t really imagine her gone. It still feels like she’s a short walk away, ready with another sandwich, and a packet of rich tea from the cupboard behind the green velour curtain, the smell of old wood and the lace. But that’s because she was such a strong presence. She’s left her mark on us, and we’re the better for it. Thanks, Auntie Eve.
Because unlike everything else, we are the only person responsible, the only person in control of the situation is you. We are the only ones to blame. Because objectively, the idea of a person scrabbling around, apelike, amongst their accumulated material wealth (wealth that has become, except for one item, worthless) is hilarious, and we know it. Because the situation should be funny.
And we know it’s not.
It’s frustrating because the item you’re looking for isn’t taking part, isn’t pulling its own weight in the situation. It won’t meet you halfway. It’s just sitting there. There? You don’t even know where ‘there’ is. But it’s somewhere you put it. Can’t you even remember the things you’ve done after you do them? Any other cognitive problems, you massive psychopath? Where are the bodies buried? Can you even find those?
Hey Planners! Use of the phrase “this is a story” does not make people lean forward and say “oh, boy a story! I love stories! I am now fully engaged.” No, I think it’s safe to say we’ve collectively battered the term beyond recognition :/
Two months ago, I hooked up with David Varela, storytelling master, and Matt Tassell, all-round narrative enigma, and we chatted stories. And we decided that certain stubborn assumptions were eating the practice of good story from the inside. So we decided to try and work out exactly what’s wrong.
How to explain our SXSW proposal about story? As a story, naturally…
The cursor in his WP winked rhythmically. On, off, on. The ultimate binary states. In or out? Which will I be, in? Or out? There were only two answers to the question, and only one acceptable answer.
Again the screen dispassionately begged the question: “What is the topic of your SXSW talk or panel?”
He knew the answer. But he didn’t know how to phrase it. The topic? A jumble of interwoven concepts picked up from eighteen months, piecemeal and tangled and separate and whole, around stories. Stories! The oldest subject in existence. The oldest communicative technology, yet one that mysteriously endured. Didn’t that prove its power? And yet, why were stories being abused, paraded as a perfect solution by every marketeer and then sodomised into a malformed jumble of loosely connected microsites? Or crudely compressed like trash into twenty seconds of television with no regard for drama or character?
Stories had been mashed and crushed into bite-sized pieces. And the audiences didn’t even want to bite. The proliferation of narratives had left the world’s audiences fatigued and lost. With thousands to choose from, they surrendered as a collective, and chose one or two, at most, every year. Even just one; yearly chapters of the same great narratives. Forging America’s next musical talent from an eager youngster. Absolute good defeats absolute evil, but not without a struggle. Rappers show you the insides of their homes. Housewives show you the insides of your hearts. And as the grand narratives survived, the journeymen stories washed up on the shores of indifference.
He sipped at his third Red Bull that evening and listened to his colleagues raise hell in the Blue Posts, far below. What made the difference between the one story and the other? James and Matt and David had taken different paths, but all in search of answers to that same question. James, shaming and mocking himself in the comedy clubs of South London, had learned sharp lessons in boredom and simplicity. Matt, navigating the greasy pole of content creation, had learned from every one of his ninety-nine rejected TV shows how to spin a concept into a story, and how to tell that story. And David, David had perhaps learned the most valuable lessons of all. For he had learnt not just what to say but who to use. Who to deploy and flatter and cajole and above all trust, to make a notion into a story.
And between them, they had learned that the only way to learn is to do. So they had put themselves through experiments, written things they didn’t believe, performed things they hadn’t yet written, advertised things they hadn’t performed. Broken stories in two, then in ten. Turned experiences into scripts, scripts into ideas and back again. They had made art out of suffering and suffered for art. And they weren’t done.
Not if Story was to be saved at SXSW 2012.
Right now, Matt, Dave and I are halfway through our narrative and real-world experiments. If you’d like us to continue, and if you’d like to see the results, please please pretty please jog over to our proposal page, and vote. We love you.
As usual I went home straight after work, threw my bag on the living room sofa and went about finding something to keep myself busy. My internet had died from signal failure. My next option was then to think of an interesting book to read; but let’s be honest, most of the ones up on the corner were there for a reason: I finished them before they ended. There weren’t many options left for me other than to open the fridge and think of something to eat: a styrofoam tray with two slices of cheese and a bag of sliced bread that had seen better days. ‘Tonight is definitely cheese toastie night’ I thought.
In a flawless routine I reached out for the tray but couldn’t help glancing over the door of my almost empty fridge; it still carried some of my unresolved encounters. Whilst standing there my thoughts took me far away…
Each one of the half empty bottles in the door was more than a reason to keep myself busy. They were stories I wished I had fully lived or at least dictated the end, just like I do with my books.
There were three: my trilogy had begun with some cheap white wine, then red and ended in a bottle of still water. Boring still water… ‘It doesn’t turn bad but doesn’t taste like anything either’ I thought. And all this made me remember the bottle of generic sake that lived in my fridge a while ago, for quite a while actually; until the day I got sick of it and decided to throw n the sink the liquid still left. I wasn’t trying to make room in my fridge; the green of the bottle even gave me hope or at least the sensation of a populated and vibrant fridge. I just thought it was time I stopped filling up emptiness with sensations. ‘I’d rather feel deliberately empty’ I thought with pride. A strange sound interrupted my moment of glory and called me back to reality. I realised it came from my stomach and I was actually starving. But that night was only a cheese toastie night.
Mark: I’m not wiping and folding Jeremy. That’s just acceding to the mob rule. Anyway, it doesn’t work now we’re using the value paper. [Mark looks out of the window] Oh god Jez, those kids are weeing on my car. I can’t drive around smelling of wee. They were setting fire to Gregg’s earlier, they were literally biting the hand that feeds.
Jez: Oh for god’s sake Mark, will you get a grip. They’re socking it to the man, yeah. You know, the man. The one who’s a man, ordering them about, yeah.
Mark: I hardly think Gregg’s is the man, Jez. Yes, he has a man’s name, but he’s actually a bakers.
Jez: He’s a faceless baker. A baker without a face. No wonder they’re going mental. Their baker doesn’t have a face.
Mark: They’re a cheap bakers Jeremy and now they’re on fire. Brilliant. [These people know nothing about history. If they knew about the Great Fire of London they wouldn’t be setting fire to a bakers]
”—My lovely friend and writing buddy Matt Tassell brings the London riots to Peep Show. Great stuff for a friday, especially now that we can giggle and pretend it never happened.
“Beyond this, there is something transformative about being there. At its most gentle – sitting crosslegged and listening to a story, or the breathing hush in a theatre as the lights go down – and then, further along the gradient, the call-and-response of pantomime or group storytelling, by choosing to give your voice, your body, your activity to the story, you get to take part of it with you. The people who yell “she’s behind you” are always, always having more fun than those who sit there in stony silence.”—
Stories get better the closer you are to them, and the more of a feeling of buy-in and just plain involvement you have. And to make that happen, it’s all about the spaces you require the reader to fill in. We used to say that kind of thing with reference to the power of imagination - but now it seems pertinent to talk about blank-space-filling as actioning of active choice. How do our choices make us care about what happens? What if it was you that had consigned Dumbledore to his death?
Wind nestles amongst the branches in the garden. Outside, London is burning.
All over London, in bedrooms, in living rooms, in places of warmth that are now pockets of solitude, people huddle in front of their screens and ask: how did this happen? How did we get it so wrong?
Scariest of all is that knowledge that in hindsight it was never very far away. That when any of us thought about actually turning to that kid on the bus to tell him to put his fag out or turn his phone off, our fears that it would escalate to conflict, real conflict without a reason, were totally reasonable all along.
I am alone in my room in Brixton, exactly thirty years after a riot that destroyed a road and blighted the area with an unshakeable reputation. And I am just a little scared of what happens next.
Henry Rollins sang in Black Flag, then he started a label, then he was a spoken word artist. He’s pretty great, and wrote a pretty great essay about - of all things - training.
The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.
The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.
Anyone who saw my Battle Of Big Thinking talk last november will be remember me shamelessly plagiarizing and reshaping Kurt Vonnegut’s story graph to fit ads - but until about five minutes ago, I didn’t realise that a video of the great man presenting his stuff exists.
“The Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why.”
I’m almost through my copy of “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame. Whenever I read “Willows,” the pattern is the same: delving greedily into the text, I eat up Mole’s rebellion and escape from domestic drudgery like it was my own; I chuckle to myself at the dreamy foolishness of Toad, and nod sagely at the wisdom of the Water Rat. I march proudly around BBH London as though an epiphany were around every corner.
The pattern continues: sometime around Chapter 4, The Wild Wood, the book always goes cold on me, and I have to stubbornly beat my way through the pages. But today, as the tube pulls into Oxford Circus, Toad had returned home in (almost) triumph, not quite as a hero but at least a survivor, and as I walk down Regent Street towards the agency, the animals are already plotting how to reclaim their home from the enemy.
While I haven’t been thrown in prison for driving a motorcar into a river, I feel almost as condemned at work today: the first item in the inbox is Re: Your Appraisal. I leave it unopened for at least three hours. In the mean-time, I’m dashing across the agency like a true maverick, 80s-style; dishing out advice with aplomb, speaking louder than is warranted, relentlessly patting people on the back and being a Good Listener, as though I can somehow change the contents of the email retroactively.
But the day starts to change. We make a breakthrough. I’m introduced to a new pitch I’ll be working on. It has familiar faces I love, and a new face who’ll be great to work with. We chuckle at the foibles of the brief. More than once, I catch people’s eyes sparkle as they form half an idea. The familiar energy: people who sense that there’s a new battle to fight.
Back at my desk, I finally open the appraisal email. One line jumps off the screen:
“Lots of things good. Lots of things to work on.”
And I realize that I’m happy to be condemned to both parts of my sentence.
The3six5 is a daily diary, dispersed amongst a different person each day. My turn was yesterday, though sadly I didn’t stop a carjacking or commit a carjacking or eat a really nice sandwich or anything. But then, if a diary is meant to be a reflection of the span of your life, perhaps this is better. You’d be very well advised to check out the whole thing at http://the3six5.posterous.com/.
Mad props to @lenkendall for letting me into the house.
Intel's Museum of Me is the apotheosis of ego culture
Right now, my Facebook wall only has one story on it. One story, repeated over and over like a poster campaign. But this campaign is not set up to advertise toothbrushes or dish soap or life insurance. It is not even set up to advertise something of inherent value, like a video of a dog falling over. This campaign tries to sell me something rather more complex, yet disturbingly simple: myself.
And of course, I bought. But more on that later.
As far back as the earliest Usenet groups, every great leap forward in sharing culture was met with one of two backlashes: the (reasonably concrete) concerns of privacy, and the conceptual nightmare of self-commodification. Wherever a social community is free to use, but ‘supported’ (what a word) by display advertising, the concern is over the relationship between the advertising content and the user content. Where might such relationships exist in a traditional sense? If the banners form the commercial breaks, designed to scrape money from the audience, interstitial to the ‘programming’, then what is the programming? In a social environment, it’s us. Or rather, everything we share. Your tweet about your intense love of chicken korma is equivalent to about five seconds of an episode of Midsomer Murders. Your undying declaration of love to the girl you walk past at work everyday (in the form of a link) - that’s about the equivalent of an episode of Big Brother’s Little Brother. But producers of such shows are both directly paid for their efforts, and fully participant in the arrangement: they are consciously creating fiction to sell, not allowing their lives to be sold for them.
Now, it’s a perfectly valid position to say that this arrangement does the audiences no harm: I myself (whisper it!) don’t actually click on many banner ads, and I trust that my friends don’t either, except in the case of things that they wanted anyway. Would you take away your level of access to these people, friends and not friends, just to rid yourself of advertising? 99% would not, and so it’s a perfectly reasonable exchange. But what we’ve come to discover is that facebook, social networking in fact, is not about others so much as it is about the self. It is the one and only place where it is truly better to give than to receive. Which is why the new gold rush is not to sell people their friends, but to sell people themselves.
And so, “Visualise Yourself!” cries the link from Intel, over and over. And of course, I do. And within a minute, I am taken on a walking tour of the James Mitchell Exhibition. ‘Exhibition’ being a disturbingly apt term for what lines the walls. The building is white, abstract, anonymous. It is not a museum but a crypt. A stasis booth for the data that is me. There is a curator, but he is on lunchbreak. And so the data lies bare, stark, and the data doesn’t lie. Of the photos, too many of myself. Of the used words, too many ‘lol’s. Of the shared links, too much dross and whimsy. One room plays an 80s cartoon, Ulysses 31, on a loop. Pixelated visitors stand before the screen and watch in silence, and the nervous part of me can’t help but wonder: what are they thinking? Did they get their money’s worth? It’s a nice touch of Intel to place visitors in the scene, to keep up the pretense that a family would spend a bank holiday tottering around the James Mitchell Exhibition as though they’d happened to stumble across its entry in Time Out.
In reality, there is only one visitor to this building: myself. Imagine Picasso walking around his own exhibit, smiling contentedly at his work, and the comical scene that forms in your mind should give you some idea of how ridiculous this whole cult of self-worship is. Many friends, and myself, have jumped on the opportunity to post pictures from our museums on our walls, but who are we kidding? We don’t want people to scrutinise them in detail, or to comment - we just want to create more traces of ourself. A photo still from a video of a museum showcasing photos of me. A record of a record of a record of a record of who I am. A moment that meant something, at some point, distilled down to a frame and then photocopied threefold. We all jump at the chance to have such a precious momento.
What if this white monolith truly was the museum of You? What if it was your last earthly trace, your body lying in state in some central chamber like Lenin? Surrounded not by the valuable conversations you’d had, the thoughts you tried to think, or the hardships big and small that you’d encountered, but rather by your favourite animal videos, or that one time you got ‘totally wasted’ and collected fifty different but ultimately amorphous 80s tracks to yourself. There you will lie, cold and forgotten, buried beneath thousands of thumb-shaped cards, each bearing a single word: “like.”
The Museum of Me is, of course, an exercise in fun. It lives on Facebook, which is fundamentally an entertainment site. But its success makes quite a serious point about the power of ego in this world. Are we so desperate to learn about ourselves that we’ll willingly outsource this insight? Where once we’d go to a fortune teller or palmist (and believe me, we kidded ourselves that it was “just for fun” back then, too), now we go to an algorithm. And I have no objection to that. In the end, what such devices give us might not be self-knowledge, but they certainly poke at the idea of who we thought we were.
We are the creators of the future. Because we are the inheritors of a tradition not just older — but more humanistic, constructive, nuanced, dynamic, and perhaps just a little bit wiser — than we know. A good life today? It’s been vacantly reduced to the frenzied sport of buying “consumer goods” — more, bigger, faster, cheaper, now. But the foundational idea that ignited the art of human organization in the first place just might have been eudaimonia — and today’s opulence is just its clumsy, hurried streetside caricature, empty of depth, shorn of meaning, bereft of the essence of what make us human, void of the hunger to create a better world for humanity. Somewhere along the way, sometime on the journey — perhaps for the best of reasons — we lost it. Let’s get it back.
-“Ready?” -“Ready!” "Really fast this time?" The little boy looked up. “Really fast. So fast that we get sick.” -“Eww! …okay.” They gave one last look toward their disapproving parents, and hurled themselves down the hill, tumbling over and over into the long grass.
The domino table was set perfectly, everything in place but for the players. But Cornelius knew they would come, the day the rain turned to sun. The day that this country, so often referred to as a place of promise but so often alienating and cold, began to feel just a little bit like a home to him.
He looked across at the other man, stretched out in the sun of the Southbank like a lizard, basking in the rays, and he wondered whether the man realised that his hat would stay empty, coinless, all day while he lay in the sun. One day the other man would learn, as he had learned, and would move to sit in the shade and the icy breeze of the bridge’s underside. For in order to excite pity, one must look pitiable.
It was always the smells that seemed to tell me the magical time had come back. The willow and the leather seemed to call out to me, scents creeping through the cracks in the shed, sliding along the garden path and under the door, til it stirred me and woke something within me, and for the first time that year I dared voice the magical two syllables:
“You just don’t understand,” he said, turning back to the catalogue. “Trilby or fedora; it says everything about you. Hats are just everything in ess ess twenty eleven. Didn’t you read the magazines? Bale’s got one, Law’s got about five. But then he can wear anything…”
The girlfriend rolled her eyes. “Don’t you have some football to watch or something?”
He closed his laptop, licked his pen, and shuffled in his seat. With a practiced gesture his signalled for another latte. It had been a productive four hours in the cafe. With the absorption of much inspiration. His opening line, that perfect ten syllables, sat there before him on the pad like a trophy in words. It had the sonorous allure of Betjeman, the passion of Blake, the evocative power of Williams.
But just what did rhyme with orange?
"Sophie, come on!" They girls cried in chorus. "We’re going to play in the river! We think we saw a frog earlier! Don’t be so boring.”
"The river’s for babies," Sophie said with a sneer. "Why don’t you all grow up like me?"
And with that, she took another dollop of mum’s Very Expensive Tanning Oil, rubbed it over her My Little Pony, and lay back on the grass.
Jane scanned the shelves with delight. Poppy. Rose. Chrysanthemum. She could just imaging intoning every delicious, sophisticated syllable to the ladies at the garden party. My chry-san-the-mums. Oh, yes, grown right from the seeds of course, dears. One has to do these things properly. Lovely how everything’s just so, isn’t it?It certainly could be, thought she, as she gathered up the plants in their pots and strolled to the checkout.
"How about Malaga?"
"Malaga? Where’s that then?"
"Dunno, Greece I think. Or is that Aiya Napa?"
"We ain’t going to Aiya Napa. Full of gypsies and louts. Besides, we won’t be able to get fish and chips there."
"Exactly. You know what? Sometimes I wonder when it got so unacceptable to go to Bognor Regis and have done with it."
He stepped back to admire his handiwork. The ironic bunting, the aspirational chairs, the tasteful condiments, the many copies of works of Proust and Nietsche mixed amongst reclaimed 80s pop culture memorabilia, the POGs and the chinese knockoff Disney merchandise. All was in readiness. Al Cakeada, Camberwell’s edgiest coffee house, was open for business.
With the sureness of a tide, the pidgeons drew themselves back into the parks an open spaces. The Cornettos would be flowing, dripping and being dropped onto paths and benches, and the chips would follow. Somewhere in the pidgeon hivemind there was a recollection of a lifestyle lost, of prey that moved with beating hearts and was difficult and satisfying in the catching. Somewhen, there was a sense that life had been different. But the thrill of the hunt was all they knew now.
Five thousand miles away his mother waited - and worried. He’d lost his suitcase, his money, even his hotel room. But he told her he’d be fine, and she’d promised not to ring.
So she stalked him on Twitter, but not in a weird way. Just enough to know he wasn’t lying a dark alley somewhere covered in vomit with a knife in his chest (which, of course (as she discovered later), he wasn’t).
In fact what she did learn was that he was having an amazing time, meeting interesting people with the energy to change the world. He’d drunk free G&Ts courtesy of The Guardian (so jealous) backed up with free tea and scones. And then finally, on the last night when he really needed a hotel room, he’d found one, and it was very nice.
Then he called her, from the airport, with his suitcase and cash intact, and exhaustion his SXSW souvenir.
"You’d have loved it, Mum. You’d get a bit of bottom lip tremble returning to the States and you might have immigration issues, but they’d let you in once they’d listened to your story."
But, most importantly, she knew he could look after himself. So in the future she wouldn’t have to worry. Well, until the next time.
Third day here, I wish I was with my friends in Florida. But here I am giving out little angry bird toys to nerds. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are cute but so far only one of then has hit on me; Jim, he’s got his own company selling virtual goods in farmville. He hasn’t called yet though.
Well! I never expected such a response. Thanks! People found different things to like in different stories, and some seemed to crystallize both people’s love of the festival and their contempt for it, at the same time. Which is cool, because it’s a complicated beast to understand.
Anyway, here’s the point: a few people have asked me to write more, but they’re not mine to write. Many people were there, with many viewpoints. And many of us weren’t there and have equally valid takes on the subject.
So here’s what I want you to do: the Twelfth Story is yours. Yes, you. You get the gist of what I’ve been doing below but really, let’s throw it open. Any kind of short piece, a description, dialogue, whatever helps put across a sense of how you saw it, let’s have it. At the top of the page is a link called Your Twelfth Story. Click that, write your story, and let’s see if we can make a time capsule of SXSW - as fiction.
(We’ll leave it open across the weekend, and the winner - if such a thing exists - will get something nice from me)
"It’s just like every great empire, y’know what I’m sayin?". The driver paused to honk his horn again at a cloud of content strategists. "Egypt, Rome, you Brits - they get decadent and then they fall. Same with south-by." He pulled to a stop in front of the SoBe Lizard Lounge. "Y’all have a good time, now."
I was out of his room by eight o’clock, just in time to make the first panels. No point waking him up, so I didn’t.
Still, I left him my business card. I’ve got 300 to get through, and a little networking never hurt anyone.
Craig checked his twitter as he came off the panel and into the bloggers’ lounge. What had been 650 followers was now 550.
Which was strange, because his audience had barely topped twenty.
Their eyes had met over a rhubarb smoothie. He was a game designer on heat, she was a planner who needed something to jazz up her loyalty scheme. They both filed their resignations that day, and by the morning they’d made it as far as Monterey.
The Frog Design party planner surveyed the devastation, and allowed himself the merest of smiles. The patio would probably require jetwashing, and the call girls would need to be paid to keep their silence, but it was money well spent.
-“Okay, come to Stubb’s.”
-“The one in the barn?”
-“No, that’s Emo’s. Stubb’s is behind the hotel”
-“Okay, see you outside the Hyatt in five.”
-“No no, the Hilton.”
-“The Hilton? Which one?”
-“The one on sixth.”
-“Sixth? What streets is that near?”
-“Fifth and- look, just Foursquare me, okay?”
The audience’s standing ovation was ecstatic, rapturous, genuine. Here, in this safe place, a man had dared to stand up and tell them that the internet was really, really important, and it was going to become more so.
He looked across at the array of shining, confident iPad 2s, little slices of the future itself, resplendent in their cases like leatherette cloaks.
Then he looked down at his own iPad, dusty but laden with his own dropbox, his own photos, his own hilarious cat background. Already synced with his calendar, after all.
"I’ll never leave you, old friend," said he.
As we tried to muddle our way through interpolated “how’s it going?”s and settled on a hug, we both felt a familiar vibration from our phones as they registered the human contact of an old friend and added ten points to our totals. I’d vowed to stop caring about the game layer - who needs points, anyway? - but feeling the vibration was comforting, as though our meeting had legitimacy, had somehow been noticed and recorded for posterity.
Between the heat of the tarmac and the heat of the debate, I’d had about as much as I could take. I leaned over to the barman:
"I’ll have a bloody mary with celery, pepper, chillis, blue cheese, olives, and a strip of bacon. Wait, make that two."
"Two Ashtons, coming right up."
The VC narrowed her eyes, said, “Go.”
The nervous man took a deep breath:
"Have you ever wondered-"
"No, I haven’t. Speed up."
"Okay, um, imagine a platform where-"
"I don’t imagine, I invest. Speed up."
"It’s an experiemental user experience case that brings together-"
The VC gave a sigh, started to close her notebook.
"Wait! It’s basically a cross between location, group messaging, and Friday by Rebecca Black."