Archives for posts with tag: fiction

ff40196c047a4edc87b97ddbbac8f8aa.jpg

Winston claimed that the bar served ‘first rate’ coffee, even though the ambience was ‘infernal’ and the customers were insufferable millennial capitalists.
‘I don’t come here just for the coffee and the free newspapers,’ he said. ‘I’m studying Alina for my private project.
‘Alina?’
‘The girl who took our order,’ he said, his moist eyes indicating a generic pony tail swinging towards a waiting table of cheek-sucking, beard-faced clones.
‘Does she know that you’re studying her?’ I asked.
‘That would defeat the purpose,’ he said earnestly. ‘We must observe and study people carefully if we’re to understand them. We must study them three hundred and sixty degrees. We have to be there to catch any accidental leaks. We must study them without prejudice, without hesitation and without being noticed.’
While Winston’s intentions were intense and secretive, they were also characteristic of the idiosyncrasies he had picked up in recent years.
‘We are entertained and revolted by people because they pose and dance for the public’s gaze,’ said Winston. ‘We see it everywhere at any public event we attempt to stomach. We see it in the streets and at local gatherings. We cringe at the televised sporting events whenever a camera is all but bashed into someone’s face. Everyone becomes distorted, the observers and the observed. We don’t know how to act so we reflect our gurning idiocy back at the lens or we sink into embarrassment. In private, when we aren’t aware, we become interesting,’ said Winston. ‘Mostly people horrify us. For all I know Alina could be a fascist.’
‘Don’t most people project a different version of themselves in public and online?’ I said, immediately disgusted with my banal observation. It was pedestrian, almost as humiliating as saying ‘Well that’s your opinion.’ I scolded myself for days afterwards, for uttering such stupidity.
‘People are unnatural and predictable,’ said Winston, in a tone of utter weariness. ‘It’s important we try not to judge people during our observations. When we judge them, not only are we distorting them but we’re distorting ourselves. The problem is we can never study them in their natural habitat because there is no natural habitat. Of course I’m studying Alina in Italian. If I were to study her in an English context I’d have to apply completely different principles.’
‘It’s a social experiment then?’
‘We’re all somebody’s social experiment,’ said Winston, as if he were offended, until I realised that he was flinching at a pop video which sounded as if it had been imported from Brazil, auto-tuned and injured by the Americans before being pimped and piped all over European teens. It was impossible to go anywhere without exposure to this sonic virus, I reflected. All over the world teenagers are the main carriers of this virus, ambling through cities and estates with this hazardous substance, farting out of their backpacks, leaving a noxious trail of sickness behind.

We’ve become archaic, Winston and I. Our words are archaic and our bitterness is expressed archaically. We used to be modern and vibrant but we’re embittered and archaic. For a while neither Winston nor I said anything. He stared listlessly at the table while I attempted to study Alina, as she brought our drinks over. The moment my gaze fell on her I had already debased her in the shortest time. I debased both of us. We debase people when we have any dealings with them, I thought. We debase ourselves when we crave attention and we debase others when we give them our attention. We are debased when they think of us and we debase others the moment we think of them. We live in a debased world. I averted my gaze and studied Winston, who was still studying the table.

He went to pot in this European city, did Winston, I reflected, like I went to pot in my city, because I never escaped it at the right moment. I strongly believe we should act on our instinct to escape a place at the precise moment or we’re ruined for the rest of our lives, I thought. If we have the possibility we should leave a place every four years, no later. This is evidenced by Winston and I. We became demented and poisoned because we never acted on our instincts to leave at the precise moment. Winston believed he had escaped when he came to this city but he stayed too long and went to pot, as evidence by his character, which no longer bears any resemblance to the endearing, effervescent personality I used to know. We used to be modern and vibrant but we’ve become archaic and fatigued. Others swan from one paradise to the next. Wherever they glide it’s calm, safe and quite pleasurable. Every condition is the right condition for those people, I thought. They have no sense of danger or foreboding. They swan into a new circle of friends, where they’re accepted by other swans. They swan into a rewarding job and they swan into mutually fulfilling relationships. They swan in and out, I thought, repeating ‘swan in and out’ several times under my breath. People like us, I thought, glancing at Winston, are instinctive failures. Our instincts have failed us because we never acted on them at the precise moment, in every situation. This failure has distorted our ability to swan out of danger and swan into paradise, I thought.

‘You know, I’d quite like to see Logan Paul beheaded,’ Winston said suddenly. ‘I’d like to see him in one of those orange boiler suits in an arid landscape, whimpering and pissing himself as he begs for his life, while a masked figure holding a machete stands over him, and for it not to be a prank. I’d like to see the blade glint and the sand stain with shit and blood.’
I chewed a piece of brioche and listened intently, as I was often compelled to whenever Winston spoke.
‘I don’t recognise these narcissistic characters whose weight and creativity we’re constantly forced to acknowledge. I just see a dead person,’ he shrugged. ‘We only have to study the things around us to have this clarified. We only have to analyse the objects around us, these dead objects we give life and meaning; that are simultaneously absent and present. Wherever we go, wherever we look, we are forced to bear witness to this rotting, mangled production line. We’re all part of this bizarre, manufactured, manipulated and mangled carnival. We can’t fail to be disturbed by this mangled, squirming jumble sale we call evolution; nothing more than used clothes and discarded masks we’re always feverishly rummaging through.’

He swallowed some coffee and was about to expand on this burgeoning theory when something interesting and inexplicable happened. The music channel streamed or I should say, spilt, the video to ‘Better the Devil You Know’ by Kylie Minogue. I’d never cared much for her. Winston shifted his doleful gaze from the table to the screen. All of a sudden his expression was one of unmistakable rapture. It felt inappropriate to interrupt his viewing pleasure so I studied him, studying the posturing Kylie, as keenly as he must have been studying Alina for his private project. Finally when the song finished Winston sighed and declared; ‘Kylie is beyond anything that you, I or anyone can ever understand.’
I wanted to laugh but I couldn’t see a trace of irony on his face.
‘It’s her fans, critics and pop culture as a whole that have corrupted her. She’s completely beyond everyone,’ he added, as if there could be no further discussion. ‘She’s beyond what we think we understand about anything. She’s so much more than what we reduced her to. So much more than this kitsch pop icon.’
Winston’s lip curled as he tried to pin down when he realised Kylie had advanced. ‘Was it Better the Devil You Know, the Impossible Princess album, Spinning Around, that kitsch duet she did with Nick Cave or Confide in Me? I think it was Confide in Me. Everyone noticed it.’
It was difficult to swallow my brioche. Maybe my saliva glands were acting up again. I took another sip of coffee while he spoke about Kylie as if she were Schopenhauer or Glenn Gould.
‘By rights,’ said Winston, ‘…she should have died,’ he violently asserted. ‘If she had died the whole world would have collectively woken up to this enigma.’
‘Preposterous,’ I said, pompously. It was a habit I had picked up from Winston. ‘She’s vacuous. Her life is vacuous. Her lovers are ridiculous. Her songs are vacuous. Her concerts are ridiculous. And for the most part, the vacuous and the ridiculous have taken over the world,’ I said. ‘Her concerts aren’t attended by fans but gate-crashed by hen parties. She’s a season in Vegas for the mobility scooter riders.’
‘She’s beyond words,’ said Winston, regretfully trying to pacify me. ‘We all speak and hear the same words but only Kylie interprets these words in a way that gives them more gravitas than we ever imagined.’
‘She communicates with her hot pants,’ I laughed, reducing myself to low-level smut. ‘She’s just a brand.’
‘We’re all brands,’ said Winston. ‘I’ve tried to put her out of my mind but she keeps sneaking back. She’s trying to tell us something, I’m certain. We must revaluate how we listen to her.’
‘Why are we talking about Kylie? I detest this fashion for placing commercial brands on some kind of plinth of importance and relevance, so we can say ‘A-ha! Fooled you. Aren’t I cool?’ People worship moving bags of guts! It’s so contrarian. It smacks of submission of the lowest form,’ I said. ‘Kylie sways her fishnet thighs and we’re all okay? It’s like Kafka never happened. Like Kafka never happened!’

Such capitulation represented something I’ve always hated about modern society: The ‘everything’s okay’ mentality. Instead of aspiring to be more we’ve settled for less. We tolerate the shoddy and dishonest, I thought. We’re ashamed of having brains. There was a time when Channel Four would think nothing of screening a season of Tarkovsky films. Nowadays people scramble to binge watch two dimensional dull wits telling us how to clean our homes, raise our kids and bake fucking cakes. We’ve become sleep walking pyjama people, fortified inside our own stinking duvets. Everyone we meet has swallowed this ‘everything is okay’ attitude. Everything is fine. Everything is fun. Everything is acceptable. Keep calm. Don’t rock the boat, baby. Don’t make Daddy cross. Every banality we’re forced to consume is an admission that the status quo is acceptable and that there is no alternative. I want my imagination to be challenged, not anesthetised, I thought. This, this…flat experience is in everything we feel and taste, and its aftertaste is bitter. We’re all complicit in subscribing to this culturally insolvent no man’s land. It’s no wonder most of us with a shred of honesty and self-awareness feel revulsion at this cultural molestation and disgust at our fellow enablers, I thought, uncertain of what it was I was really angry about. I shouldn’t discourage harmless enthusiasm just because I’m bereft of gratification, I conceded.
‘If you can’t or won’t let anyone or anything into your heart again, at least let it be Kylie,’ said Winston blankly. ‘Promise me. You still have a chance.’
‘You’re infatuated,’ I said. ‘It was always a failing of yours. Every infatuation destroyed you. That’s the truth. You came to this city infatuated, you swanned around infatuated by the sights and when the novelty wore off, you sank. These infatuations depleted your imagination and immune system. You had so much potential. Now look at you. Washed ashore.’

Winston made no reply. We paid the bill and parted outside the coffee shop. I watched his black overcoat fade into the European dusk.
A couple of weeks later, I must have wondered into the shopping centre by mistake where I happened to catch Kylie Minogue’s ‘On a Night Like This’ flowing into the sedate atmosphere. For a few minutes, at least until I caught my leaking frown in the window of Swarovski, I felt that I had potential. I remembered those butterflies-in-the-stomach days, where I’d look ahead to the near future, convinced that the stars were aligning and all would be well. Kylie’s voice had triggered an existence into another universe; an existence where everything was as it should have been. Of all people! Kylie actually triggered me!

For days I couldn’t shake off these notions. If anything, they intensified. I searched and scrolled through her videos, and buried myself under her earth. I vanished into Kylie. I understood what Winston had been trying to tell me. The words did mean something. ‘I’m the one, love me, love me,’ went one track. In another she besieged the listener to ‘Come into My World.’ As much as I tried to dismiss her with reason and cold logic, I couldn’t. The words meant something more because of Kylie’s interpretation. For years she’s been telling us to ‘Confide in Me’, I thought. She knows we know, I thought, as I listened to ‘On a Night Like This’ about a hundred times one afternoon, feeling the shiver from the line, ‘feels like I’ve always known you.’ Under the playful gaze of her poster ‘Turn it into Love’ pleaded ‘if you have faith in me/I’ll believe in you.’ She distinctly explained that if I could look inside my heart and understand what’s tearing me apart, I had to trust someone and not let ‘hate get in the way.’ I never used to care for renaissance art until I studied the palatial, baroque pop of the album track, ‘Closer’ while ‘Your Disco Needs You’ had ceased to be this kitsch anthem but to me, in my growing, nail-biting, teeth-scrubbing agitation, a recruitment anthem to Kylie’s mysterious religion. I felt coveted and converted. But lost. So lost. Listening to ‘Get Outta My Way’, I wept for all those lost warm evenings in June that belonged to my youth. ‘It will never be better. It will never be the same,’ I howled one afternoon. Listening to memories. It doesn’t matter what triggers us, I thought as I wallowed and cowered inside the creeping shadows.

‘Kylie’s words are our words,’ I rationalised in my apartment, trusting that I wasn’t being observed and studied. I had to trust somebody. People tell us what we can and can’t say but we can obviously say anything, even if it’s the most obscene admission we daren’t whisper to ourselves in the dark, I thought, studying every imperfection on my body in the mirror. For days, maybe weeks, because I lost track of time, I couldn’t tell if my thoughts were coherent or incoherent, if I said them last week or was about to say something soon, maybe five minutes from now. Kylie is beyond my understanding, more than the universe is beyond the understanding of eminent physicists, I probably mentioned to the scowling teenager next door. I felt weightless. I considered the possibility that Kylie was …I had to speak to Winston. Share this epiphany with him. Kylie believes in us, I laughed. Even flies and plankton. ‘I believe in you,’ she said. Am I laughing or is my laughter a memory? I thought, as I paced, paused and paced again. I have to, I thought, but I could have been saying it aloud, ‘…call Winston.’ Kylie wouldn’t stop asking: ‘what do I have to do to get the message through?’ This was beyond coincidence, I told the ghostly disciples in an Ikea living room. I couldn’t get her out of my head. Kylie had been fucking telling us for eons that she ‘can’t ask for more’, through all the vessels of the prophets and philosophers. If Wittgenstein claimed that ‘language’ was our limit had Kylie not merely reclaimed that our limit was more than sufficient? Hadn’t language become distorted and debased by fruitless philosophising? What more could we be asking for?

The words have always been there, they were there long before we formed them. They mean what we want them to mean. We put faith in words to confide, confess, persuade, educate and elucidate. We can’t trust words if the vessel that transmits them are impaired. We have faith in their capacity to damage and renew us. There may not be gods and devils but the words ‘god’ and ‘devil’ are just as sufficient to have the significant or indifferent effect we need them to have but there are also actual murderers, as well as the word ‘murderer’ ha ha. We form the words with the movements of our jaw and they begin to feel real, I thought, writhing on the undusted kitchen floor, but even our most discreet and tentative movements can distort the environment. The movements we make to pour tea for two can be replicated to dispense dangerous substances to millions. Everything we believe is an act of faith. We believe in absence and presence. We believe in weight and weightlessness, I thought.

These ideas, prompted by Kylie, pave over the absence Winston created ever since they told me he hanged himself.

 

Extracted from EXHAUSTION (work in progress)

Advertisements

JASON WINSTANLEY (8)

Writing fills the void between working, sleeping and doing the daily/weekly things that must be done. Writing takes my mind off my mind. Everything else is an interruption. It’s that blunt. If it were possible I wouldn’t sleep, eat and go to work. When I’m alone, creating fake worlds and fake characters, I don’t have to keep up appearances. I’m not complaining. Goes with the territory.

As is the tendency in those with creative impulses you’re constantly thinking, planning and working on several future projects. Everything creative you did in the past starts to feel, not inferior necessarily, but inaccurate. You’re convinced that your current work is an accurate representation of everything you ever were and will be. That still holds true to some extent, even if in practice it’s a little disingenuous.

It won’t make a difference to 99.9% of people/followers that in 2007 I put my slim novel Replika online. Without time, sufficient marketing and publicity it was left to gather digital dust and indifference. During some respite last summer I took Replika offline, with the intention of updating the cover, writing a new blurb and making a few tweaks.
A few tweaks turned into a new edit, rewrites and some extensions, but nothing that changes the central themes, characters and plot. I corrected typos, polished some clunky sentences and explored a few niches. The finished product is more of (and I hate this term) a reboot. This version feels fresh and facetious. Better than the original in my view. It still remains a frisky, frivolous, batshit novel about memory, time, perception and identity. It still pokes and pricks the perversity of pop culture, as it must. You’ll also notice that the book is now called Replikat. This occurred not because there were copyright/contractual issues to fulfill (there weren’t in case you were wondering) but because… (Well it’s in the book)

Fun is one of those adjectives I’ve rarely used in recent years to describe any activity I’ve been involved in but I managed to apply it when writing the new scenes and chapters for the book. I didn’t allow my imagination to be stifled. The novel also contains the term roisterers and features the Canadian actress from 90s kid show, Spatz.

You may encounter feelings of loneliness and disorientation. (11)

Bit of trivia. In 2005 I submitted a very early draft of Replika to a publisher. A few weeks later I was surprised to find that the publisher left me a message asking me to call him back. When I eventually reached him I listened to a glowing review about how it made him laugh, etc. ‘I can’t publish it though,’ he said. ‘Here we go,’ I thought. It’ll be the standard ‘Due to the high volume of manuscripts…’ rejection motherfuckery and I’ll vow to give it all up again. Not this time. Turned out that they published erotica. The publisher suggested that I should write a blog. Funnily enough the book featured the first appearance of a young Smirnov Kool before the ego took on a life of its own in the ‘blogsphere’. This information, I’m certain, won’t mean anything to more than a dozen or so friends/followers.

You may encounter feelings of loneliness and disorientation. (12)
I hope you enjoy Replikat. If you want to try before you buy I’ll be posting some selected extracts/quotes on here or some other inane network in the coming days/weeks. Give it a go. It was fun. I think you’ll like it. If you prefer something darker and metaphysical, my collection of short stories Annihilation is available. In the meantime I’m working on several more projects.
JW

REPLIKAT is now available
ANNIHILATION is available

%d bloggers like this: