Fiction

The Best New Year’s Ever

We had arrived about two hours before midnight, and the party was in full swing. Our friends had procured among each of themselves a ration of fairly decent coke. The two of us had missed the boat on that front and were generally “eh” about coke, besides. Of course when the classified substances are on the table one hates to feel left out and, not being much for drinking, the two of us had raided the pantry for some kind of thrill to take with us.

What we remembered we had, nestled cryogenically in the icebox, were two fruit pastels, each individually wrapped in foil and secured in a small baggie, with both of them contained in a takeaway box. Each pastel had been injected with LSD.

We had had these for some time, and for all we knew they might have degraded somewhat and might only deliver a substandard trip. I was nevertheless apprehensive; I was a methodical psychonaut, and took my communion after days of prep, in a safe and controlled environment, with a free schedule and no potential for invasion. The reason acid goes wrong for some people, I would often say with an obnoxious arrogance, was because they were treating a therapeutic tool like a party drug.

So here I was, at a party, about to go against all my own sagely shamanic wisdom. I didn’t hesitate much, and once we’d both placed one in each of our mouths, the Fear seemed to hit her.
“Was this a good idea?” She asked me around her pastel with a nervous smile.
“Well we’ve done it now, so let’s ride it out.” I replied. It sounded warmer and more encouraging when I said it. It dawned on me at this point that the pastels were ‘double-doses.’ I didn’t relay this information.

We sat on the kitchen floor as the first waves began to settle in about 45 minutes later. A slight shift in equilibrium, like suddenly developing sealegs that are attuned to the psychic waves shifting forcefully in a crowded party. Keeping with the slightly nautical theme, the blue lino floor pattern began to swirl and breathe beneath us. We giggled down at it, occasionally noticing that people were looking down at us and talking among themselves, but already at that point of not caring.

The LSD experience is always poorly conveyed, visually. I can’t and won’t be so vulgar as to speak for anyone else’s experiences, but I don’t see anything resembling a Beatles movie when I trip (Alhamdulillah). The visuals, in the beginning, are all about fluctuations in light-sensitivity. “Flutter-vision”, I’ve always called it. Like a border of golden feathers batting around the edges of objects and people. Around the time you begin to notice visual effects, like “breathing” surfaces, shifting patterns, even geometric projections, you’ll also undergo a change in personality. I find that I become calmer, more full of wonder and giddiness. I’m confident speaking with people who are sober or otherwise not-tripping, sometimes moreso than I would be sober.

But a notable mental effect I’ve undergone, when tripping, is a ‘stepping-back’ of sorts. A tendency to observe your physical, mental and emotional movements and get some sense of how they’re all working in conjunction with each other. So when I’m staring at the beautiful floor, which now conveys all the movement and thrust of Hokusai’s Great Wave, any scoffing I hear directed at my behaviour is now analysed, determined to be based in the scoffer’s own insecurity, and gracefully discarded. In a sober mindset my natural tendency would have been to internalise the mockery and alter my behaviours to as to avoid further negative judgement. So you can appreciate how liberating such an experience is.

Meanwhile, our friends were into the coke now, and the two of us were dimly starting to become aware of the fact that no one else was on drugs at this party. How presumptuous of us, to bring a shitload of Class A’s to your doorstep. Oh Christ there’s a fucking BUFFET! Guys we really called it wrong.

But no one seemed to mind our hijinks, and by now the two of us were fascinatedly staring at our friends, who over the course of the evening would undergo a transformation, but more on that later.

Midnight was difficult. We were all situated on the first landing when the chant began.

“TEN”

A violent swell of energy from downstairs; I know my companion saw the red and purple flare of dark smoke rising from below before vanishing as well.

“New Years! The countdown! Come ON!” They yelled as they pulled at us while we desperately clung to the bannisters, not knowing what doom they were pulling us down to. We relented, and stalked down into red light and a booming chorus of time.

“SIX”

“FIVE”

It was very doomsday. Into the room we stepped, to be confronted with some kind of cruel visual trick. They had all crossed arms and were singing, their swaying, interlocked and inscrutable forms belching forth torn, unsynchronised and misremembered renditions of a song their grandfathers knew. We departed back the stairs and waited for our friends to return. In time they did, and they were not overly annoyed at us.

It was after this point that the transformation began. For whereas at the beginning of the night the bags had been full-to-brim with illicit powders, now things were running low. At the beginning of the evening the talk had been fast, complimentary, glamorous, confident and egotistical. People had flicked their hair, tittered, and bumped another key. This was youth. This was life.

But now eyes flicked about. Jaws worked invisible meals and sweat began to bead as knuckles flexed and teeth were ground. Inevitable talk of procuring more was soon quashed; not now, not ON New Years. They weren’t nearly in good enough stead with any of their People as to entertain illusions of priority on what must be the coke dealer’s best night of the year.

As we sat and stared on the stairs, nestled comfortably to the bosom of our own drug’s 12-hour duration period, we watched as our friends became beasts before us. Clicking their jaws, tearing at the grubby bags and tonguing out the very last few fragments. The impatience, the frustration, the angry grasp at the jouissance that had previously seemed so enduring.

Things fell apart gently after that. After a relocation to what turned out to be a much messier party, the two of us made our excuses and departed come about 5 or 6am, and cheerfully strolled home in the chill of a New Year’s dawn, our own intoxicant still at play and soon set to begin gradually diminishing, right around in time for a nap.

It was the best New Years ever.

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Good While It Lasted

In the space of less than a month I’ve gone from having a job I really enjoyed that paid amazingly, putting me on a sure path to slowly but surely climbing out of my debt hole, to working part-time for minimum wage at a fast-food outlet that sells baked potatoes. I feel fucking atrocious. For just a really, REALLY brief period I got this feeling that there was a bit more to life than compromise, suffering and obligation. Now I’m back to minimum wage.

I’m almost 30.

This phrase has been going through my head a lot lately. It haunts me. Every time I have to nervously check my balance before I pay rent (“You’re almost 30”). Every time I look through job listings and see “experience required” for anything besides washing dishes or telesales (“You’re almost 30”).

I have friends who have worked for Disney. I have friends who are making it as creatives. I have friends who have solid career plans, ambitions and savings. I have friends who own homes.

They deserve these things. They worked really hard for them. It feels like I’ve worked hard too, but that I didn’t work with any goal in mind so I’ve ended up with nothing.

I’m just circling the pan now. I’ll do some more job hunting, send out applications to jobs I don’t really want but hey that’s what I can get, and then tomorrow I’ll go back to work selling fussy-assed old bitches potatoes, simmering resentment of myself and my current situation in life hidden behind a wall of bright-eyed pleasantries. There are two physical spots in this job where you can walk out into the view of the customer, and next to both of them, where the customers can’t see, is an print out declaring:

SMILE. HELP THE CUSTOMER. LOVE THE CUSTOMER.

There is a stock image of a smiley-face above this horrific sentiment. I’d like to note that no satisfying or well paying job I’ve ever held actually demanded I suck the customer off.

I think if I haven’t achieved anything significant by 30 I’ll say “fuck it,” burn everything I own and go live on a fucking commune somewhere. We’ll shoot trespassers, cook meth and eventually die good, noble deaths under a hail of honourable gunfire loosed upon us by a score of US Marshals.

I just… I guess I really want one of those ‘good phases’ to start again soon, and I want it to actually last a while this time. That great job was like a really cruel taste of a much more enjoyable way of life. But hey-ho, back to scrabbling madly away from the cold, unflinching glare of strife and brutality.

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Media

Swindle of the Century

So what IS the Trump / Putin connection? So many theories. Sadly, I don’t put a tremendous amount of faith in the really tawdry stuff; the hookers, the pisstapes. Much as I’d like to savour the urinesque fragrance of these salacious rumours, this is my for-the-most-part-baseless gut-feeling about the whole thing:

Following the collapse of the USSR a small cabal of Russian and formerly Soviet industry figures and statesmen were about to become wealthy beyond imagining, almost overnight, through the privatisation of services and industries previously owned and operated by the state. This was all very back-room, skull-duggery, shady-shit, and doubtless an UNTOLD number of Russian journalists committed suicide on their way home from the supermarket during this time. Putin’s crackdown on oligarchs can in many ways been seen as taking out potential political rivals and successors, a consolidation of power.

Of course being crime-lords rather than true statesmen or captains of industry, these rascals buried their money in investments and banks all over the world.

Now, one of the nicest ways to launder dirty money and a lot of it is through high-end real-estate, and that’s where the Trump dynasty comes in.

Oh, and all the ‘adoption’ talks Trump Jr.’s been having with Russian diplomats? In 2009 a Russian journalist named Sergei Magnitsky was arrested while investigating corruption and financial fraud among Russian tax officials. I’m sure you can guess what happened; Magnitsky was beaten to death in prison.

The U.S. put the Magnitsky Act into effect afterwards, thereby preventing certain Russian oligarchs from entering the U.S. or using its banking system. The Russians, in the most petty retaliation ever, immediate put a freeze on any American family hoping to adopt a Russian child. There’s a fucking BUTTLOAD of orphans in Russia, so this was a pretty horrific humanitarian poker-chip to waggle around.

So when Trump Jr. mentions adoption talks with the Russians, that’s code for “we’re negotiating the repeal of sanctions put in place following human rights violations.”

We are living in the second series of True Detective, and I strongly suspect the villains are going to win again.

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Fiction

Rich Foreign Soil

The soil in Kerchetti Province is prized beyond imagining. Unparalleled in it’s fertility, it also gives off a marvellous fragrance when mixed with incense, and can also serve as a powerful disinfectant for poison, gangrene, burns and other flesh wounds. But there are rules to it’s importation and use: one must never ingest the soil, and under no circumstances must a notable amount of the soil be stored collectively outside the borders of Kerchetti.

Kerchetti Province has had many tenants who thought themselves masters. The land is harsh and unforgiving; trees bear little fruit and the spring winds often bring pestilence. Kerchetti has always been seen as a no-man’s land amidst nations that coveted the wealth and territory of their neighbours. The existence of Kerchetti forced an uneasy peace in the region; in order to invade a nation with anything worth taking, your armies had to cross the sands of Kerchetti. The very country itself seemed to resist the otherwise unstoppable momentum of the war machine. Your men would starve and wither. The locusts and gnats would keep them awake all night and bring the madness of sleep deprivation. The constant dust storms would rust the weapons and blind the cavalry. If your army was successful in passing into the nation they wished to seize, they would be in no state to conquer anything.

These historical examples couldn’t prevent various distant empires from attempting occupation, many of whom wished for a central foothold in the region. These imperial legions fared much worse; at least the locals knew of Kerchetti and it’s malevolence. They knew the old sayings which warned them from bringing war to Kerchetti: ‘Those who spill blood upon this earth shall remain to defend it even in death.

It had been some time since the last attempt at occupation. The memory of what awaits any army which marches on Kerchetti would fade in time for another tyrant to futilely attempt to lay siege to that immovable stretch of sand, soil, mountain and blood. The relative peace of the era permitted tentative trade with Kerchetti, and the rich earth of the land was valued tremendously highly.

But many chose to ignore the warnings of swarthy, inscrutable vendors. They purchased vast amounts of the soil, moving it from the small, ornate glass bottle it was sold in and decanting it in large containers and silos. In but a few days they would learn too late the cost of their arrogance.

It is said that Kerchetti province has seen blood run through it’s valleys to an apple’s depth. Locals, foreign invaders; they all bleed the same, and the thirst of Kerchetti’s wrathful soil is never slaked.

The homes and manors of many noblemen and ladies across the moneyed nations were subject to bizarre and total destruction. Explorers and collectors of rare curios, those who operated salons, spas and parlours frequented by women of high society were found torn to shreds, bled totally dry amid their smouldering, shattered homes and places of business.

Witnesses of these reavings eventually began to relay similar testimony: that the victim’s supply of Kerchetti soil had stirred and become animated. The soil had seemed to disobey natural laws, ascending into the air and whirling about at increasing speed, the arid grit sanding and scratching at surfaces, knocking things to the ground. Those who attempted to somehow accost the elemental force before them were enveloped in it, and were seen thrashing painfully amidst the storm before falling dead, covered in lacerations and with blood coming from their torn, dried lungs.

The soil storms would then seem to consolidate into humanoid forms, solid golems of soil, welding equally solid blades which seemed forged in the Kerchetti style. These homunculi of sand, soil and scorn would tear apart the homes, possessions and families of those who had, like vultures, picked and fed at the tatters of their homeland.

These occurrences would not be warning enough to dissuade the generals of future empires from marching on Kerchetti, and the blood of their sons would feed the next generation of bitterness, wrath and vendetta.

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Fiction

Fragments

The plane is spiralling. You try to grasp at the controls, but they’re slick with the pilot’s blood, alternating black and orange in the frenzied cockpit. You can’t see the pilot’s face, none of us can, but we assume they meant well when they brought us all up here. This must have been part of the plan. Was crashing part of the plan as well, or were we supposed to prove our worthiness of flight by taking the reigns of the journey they set us on?

*drift*

The sky is portentous; huge rolling white mountains of cloud, low and fast, moving across an otherwise unblemished amber twilight. ‘Revelations’ weather, everything drenched in eschatological anxiety. Stood facing the ocean, you look out to the fence about eight miles at sea. Sixteen white pylons stand rigid and foreboding. Occasionally a tongue of static discharge licks out across several of the towers.
We don’t know what the pylons are. Some have swum or sailed out to them, but none of them came back. The clouds continue to morph and stream above them, like a second angry shore. What are they protecting us from?

*drift*

The city pulses and you feel the electrified veins creep in through your nose, your mouth, in the spaces next to your eyes and everything below. Hard crystals of sugar-bright coloured sound cascade in fractals, immediately shattering and reforging into new hues and different shapes, an eternal and shrieking phoenix of burnout, reanimation and galvanisation ad nauseam.

Somewhere an engine bristles between your legs. Somewhere your lenses catch the glare of aggressive marketing. Somewhere you pass by heartbreak and providence. Somewhere the gutter flows up over your eyes. Somewhere the gate vibrates off it’s hinges. Somewhere the broken vagrants howl in wounded songs of enlightened defeat. Somewhere you see it all from above. Somewhere you feel it all crash down from above. It is all pervasive and ephemeral. It is the flicker of sunlight reflected in a blinking eyelash. It is the burning titan above.

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Media

Armageddon Obsession

Years back, at DisInfoCon (I’ll try to find the link later and stick it here), Grant Morrison, comic-book writer, ritual magician and Glaswegian, mourned what he considered the western youth’s slide into what he deemed “apocalypse culture.” It’s an interesting cultural development; this is perhaps the first time in history that a vast amount of our consumable entertainment media has been based in worlds which appear to be ruined versions of our own.

Let’s take two huge examples: Post-Nuclear Apocalypse and Zombie fictions. These have been done to death of course, but they provide adequate examples of settings and scenarios which, fittingly, refuse to die. These genres stretch far back in our popular culture; A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of the earliest novels set in the scorched wastes of a world which has in recent centuries undergone severe nuclear devastation, came out back in 1960. Night of the Living Dead, obviously not the first occurrence of zombies in folklore but perhaps the first time the subject matter had beed appropriated by the western culture industry, came out in 1968.

And yet still we obsess over these tropes. The Walking Dead is more popular than ever, and the Fallout games still move millions of units effortlessly. These genres have basically gone unchanged, and I reject the notion that zombies have been ‘deconstructed’ over time; dark notions of what people are willing to become in order to survive have been present in the genre since the beginning, as has the question (repeated ad nauseam) “are WE the real monsters?!” Making the zombies capable of running hardly constitutes a revolutionising of the whole stage. Post-Nuke stuff seems satisfied with ‘yesterday’s tomorrow forever’; the way they perceived the possibilities of the future in the dawn of the Nuclear Age, rising steel statues ravaged by fire, twisted impressions burnt into the earth for those who come after to find and ponder over.

Would it be reductive to simply consider this ghoulish western obsession with the apocalypse either a bizarre manifestation of the Judaeo-Christian ‘End of Days’ eschaton or as an example of mass-unconscious self-loathing imperialist decadence? We’re still caught up in the hall-of-mirrors that is post-modernism, an era chiefly characterised no longer by its incorporation of myriad narratives but instead by a nihilism born of diaspora and self-obsession. Adorno & Horkheimer wrote that “Under monopoly all mass culture is identical” (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1944), and whereas The Frankfurt School were principally concerned with the inherent homogeneity which characterises art produced in a capitalist society, this lends itself perfectly to the longevity of the genres in question: what better product to market to a society which finds itself in the existential crisis which accompanies imperial decline than one which offers a masochistic vision of said society catastrophically humbled by its own hubris? And one which (and here’s the kicker), depicts the viewer-projection protagonist as a survivor of the horror which surely awaits us?

Want to make an actual deconstructive zombie film? Okay. Have the film open on a shambling pack of zombies, whatever era you deem most intriguing, and follow them for 90 minutes as they wordlessly scuttle about, picking off shrieking survivors and rooting through buildings. Offer absolutely zero human element to the narrative, the backstories of any survivors glimpsed are of no significance.

That was a clumsy (spellcheck suggested ‘classy’ there) way of trying to highlight how post-apocalyptic fiction often tries to offer the audience the vicarious and deeply self-indulgent fantasy of being present for the world’s eventual devastation yet not succumbing to it. It’s the Bystander Fallacy, the delusion some people have that in a high-intensity and adrenaline-heavy situation of violence or disaster they would surely remain calm, collected and capable throughout the ordeal, logically approaching the situation rather than losing their heads and screaming about the place like the other lesser beings present, who unlike the solipsist fantasist in question are not the Protagonist of the situation.

The impression one gets from observing these highly-successful genres is that our culture is one in the throws of an anxiety; we’ve all noticed the trends and parallels, historically. We feel like we know where this is going. Fallen is Babylon, it’s the Last Days of Rome, etc. Pornhub reveals year after year that our tastes are growing more extreme and abstract, populist movements surge behind authoritarian statesmen who hark incessantly to bygone, civilised (and notably caucasian) golden ages which never truly were. It’s all coming down, maaan, and now every generation which follows gets to experience an even more crystallised terror of being all-too-conscious in the seconds after the wheels lose traction on the ice beneath and the car spins into the night, breath held in the timeless moments before the crash.

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Culture

As Terence McKenna said in this interview, “Culture is not your friend.”

I know, I know. How can I have a go at culture? What’s culture ever done to hurt me? Why aren’t I thankful to culture for providing me with such a rich and varied, erm, culture?

It’s easy to paint culture as some kind of essential framework, without which all the rich bounty of Western civilisation would turn to ash and be taken by the winds. But that’s the thing: our culture has a vested interest in ensuring that your conception of ‘culture’ is a positive one. It would be considered quite the faux pas to instead characterise culture as a form of bondage to which you never consented, which serves only to exclude and to characterise the foreign as ‘Other.’

The very word itself, “culture,” finds its etymological root in the Latin ‘colere’, a term for cultivating crops. While not without a sense of romance, this origin damns culture at its very roots as being a force which staves off true creativity. The reasoning behind this, if we’re going to continue to entertain the rather tortured metaphor I’m setting up here, is that the artefacts produced by a culture will always be template and predictable, as certain fields yield certain crops, and barring some truly seismic shift in the culture’s paradigm we can foresee future artistic endeavours and trends, even if only in the abstract. Even subversion is subservient to culture: works become defined by disparity and dialectic difference. I am a work of B, because I oppose A.

What was Ginsberg’s Moloch if not an unflinching characterisation of his own culture, one which he perceived as brutal, unfeeling, mechanical and fuelled by the lives of children, symbolic of his countrymen and their futures? Given, Ginsberg was a particular person at a particular time in a particular place when he wrote Howl, but the snapshot he took of his culture and it’s inhumanity and viciousness can only stand as a damning, rather than celebratory, characterisation.

Culture means borders. Culture means language barriers. Culture means economic disparity. Culture is always defended by the aged agents of tradition, the traditional enemies of progression.

In The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception (1944), Adorno & Horkheimer accurately predict the path of Western culture. They foresaw that it would become an assembly-line of sensory spectacle, repeated ad nauseam for the sake of profit, bereft of deeper meaning and only ever questioning or critiquing the culture in as much as it can viably profit within the pre-existing space of definitions, hierarchies and power structures.

Of course, all this is to be taken with a shaker of salt. Without my culture, I would have no way to disseminate these ramblings, no language or communicative forms with which to convey them. But that which is inflexible is doomed to shatter, and the defenders of culture and its homogeneity cling to a sinking ship’s mast, a crumbling tower’s parapets, shunning a greater patchwork of identity and community for the sake of preserving the relics of an ahistorical Golden Age.

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