From the superb STAR SHIPS by Gordon White (UK) (US):
…it appears mankind’s relationship with alcohol is a lot older than we expected. It used to be that historians assumed wine was first created with the domestication of grapes, but following discoveries in Iran or wine residue in stone bowls at the Neolithic burial site of Körtik Tepe – also in Southeast Turkey – we can now see that wine-making predates agriculture.
‘It can now be safely stated that people’s first interest in wild grapes in western Asia was for alcohol production, evidence for domestication only following in the fourth millennium BC.’ Dionysus: born wild on the hills and plains that are home to the ruins of a Palaeolithic star cult.
Wine is human. Wine is from the stars. I drink a glass every day, continuing a unbroken connection with human civilisation going thousands of years deep.
And seriously, STAR SHIPS is fantastic. Get a copy.
A thing that happens to me on my regular wanders around London for business or public appearances: seeing private clubs. By which I don’t mean strip joints or the like, but members’ clubs. I passed one called, I think, The Society Club, on Friday. Lovely-looking little place, agreeably populated with eccentric-looking artistic types, as seen through their windows and the door with the coded lock. I’ve briefly been inside the Groucho Club as the guest of a member a couple of times, but, beyond that, have no real idea of what the experience of being a member of a club is like. And then, suddenly, clubs somehow became a topic of conversation on my travels. British literary society, no capitalisations this time, as a club I’m not a member of. Or, in fact, any artistic community, really. A few acquaintances who seem to go out to book launches all the time. Someone even asking me if there’s a club I meet at. (A thing you need to know about clubs is that if you don’t know at least two other members who can “sponsor” you, you don’t get to join and give them a couple of grand a year.)
People in my general field talk a lot about impostor syndrome. Part of that is down to the fact that some people will never be invited in to the place where they assume all The Others are. So you make your own, and then you realise, down the line, that you’re not part of it, just the idiot who runs it.
Eventually, you’ll adjust to looking through windows every day. You’re on the outside, in the world, after all.
The photo below is of the door of Viktor Wynd’s, which is not a club – I’m just using the photo for my own amusement.
That creepy Heideggerian dasein that fronts as meaning being-in-the-world but actually means being in a familiar landscape surrounded by lovely white people with no connection to the wider culture, preferring localism over multiculturalism and not being disturbed in your eternal idyll in the black forest (or on the dark mountain) by any of those nasty foreign types. This is where landscape writing sheds its leafy cloak and lets you glimpse its colder face – sounding like Steve Bannon, quoting Steve Bannon, black notebooks in hand, gazing from its bench at the little woodland of little England and trying to decide if “benevolent green nationalism” sounds too much like “…well, a nice kind of Hitler.”
We see you for what you are.
LISTENING TO: VODOU DRUMS IN HAITI 2 (UK) (US)
There’s a contrail overhead so tightly wrapped to the curvature of the sky that it looks like it’s dropping straight down and over the edge of the world.
I’m back in the UK, and heading out to London in an hour for events tonight and tomorrow night. Lots more hotels and trains this month. I’ve been back from the US just about two days. The long weekend at MIT Media Lab gave me a lot to think about, and I’m grateful for the next couple of weeks on the road, to process it all. I’m travelling without my laptop today, so that I can think on paper. I have new information on the future to consider. And, courtesy of Ben Grossman and Magnopus, I spent fifteen minutes in space, jetting around a VR simulation of the ISS, and that gave me a lot to think about.
Tonight, I’m being asked questions about the last nine months in the global north, but my head is out on the edge of the sky, looking for the next new sunrise.
Coast-to-coast US book tour? Yes. New York Times-bestselling novel? Yes. Talking about your last book at MIT Media Lab in Boston? Amazingly. Visiting professorship at a university 250 miles away? Yep. Speaking at the North London Literary Festival, fifty miles away? Aye. Invitation to a local authors’ event ten minutes from your door? Which you found out about when someone saw a flyer and texted you to see if you even knew about it?
What do you think? Of course not.
Sorry. I just needed to say that out loud somewhere, small and petty and shitty as it is. Fuck you, The Forum Southend. My books are in your fucking library.
Okay. I’m done now. Thar’s out of my system. Thanks.
Off to Boston tomorrow. Updates will arrive from my phone, doubtless with the formatting all fucked up.
“Maybe it’s just spring,” a friend said.
Something’s really bugging me and I don’t know what it is. Like an itch I can’t scratch. Maybe hitting the road this month and doing six different events will fix me. I have variously considered starting a fake Institute, creating some kind of monthly speaking event in London, turning parts of the ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter into a magazine of sorts… I dunno. Flying to Boston for a couple of days to do a thing at MIT Media Lab, and I wonder if the change of air will shake these sticky cobwebs out of my head. Something feels weirdly missing.
Which makes no sense at all with the amount of work I’m doing, or the amount of travel and talking I’ve somehow booked.
“Let me help you do a podcast,” another friend said.
Maybe this is my delayed response to world events, after all. Do something! Somebody should do something about all of the things! Ideas, information, strange things to build spacesuits of the mind with. (I have no idea where that came from. I really need more sleep.) I hope it passes and I can go back to being a zen druid hermit of the littoral wastes.
I’m writing a talk for a university appearance later this month. Part of the brief: “There will be a really mixed audience from kids who know your work, to those who know very little and are curious. Perhaps spend the first half running through some stuff about you and your career?”
I tend to have something of a horror of talking about my career, because to me it looks like a twenty-odd-year random lurch from pillar to post. I have very little sense of what it looks like from outside, aside from this one thing Bruce said in that documentary about me. Which I’ve only seen parts of, because the producers were kind enough to send me a cut that didn’t have me in it, only their edits of the interviews they conducted with other people about me. Watching that cut was a uniquely chilling experience, not unlike being able to hear the eulogies at your own funeral while you’re trapped inside the coffin with nobody able to hear you scratching at the lid.
So I went with that.
Bruce Sterling, one of the original cyberpunk authors, who became a global speaker and commentator, once said that, in this 21st Century, everyone’s career will eventually look like mine. He also said there’s still time for me to “go down with arrows in (my) back”, so, you know, cheers for that, Bruce. A reminder that precarity is still a big part of the freelance life even when you’re 49 and you look like you’re 90.
This isn’t going well, is it?
My newsletter, ORBITAL OPERATIONS, goes out on Sundays. Subscribe here.
I’m on a plane this week, for two nights away. I can do two nights on one shoulder bag, and I’m not taking the laptop. I travel light.
- Maxpedition Jumbo Versipack in black. (UK) (US). Makes it all possible. There’s a zipped pocket for everything.
- Maxpedition M-2 waistpack clips on to the Versipack and contains all my cables, and a MiFi if I’m travelling with one. (UK) (US)
Maxpedition stuff seems to be essentially indestructible. On current evidence, I will own my Maxpedition products for life.
- Anker Astro E4 13000mAh battery. There’s now a better version with the same dimensions. (UK) (US)
- a couple of Anker Powercore Mini batteries for phone charging on the fly. I never have to hunt for outlets at airports. (UK) (US)
Not indestructible. All batteries die. Use AmazonBasics connecting cables – cheap and durable. I live and work on my phone, so keeping it powered and networked is essential. The latter has gotten easier with the loosening of roaming charges in Europe and the US.
- Ziploc bag for toothbrush, toothpaste, small stick deodorant and small hand sanitiser. I’m only away for two nights, I can rely on hotel toiletries for washing.
- Incredibly cheap socks that you’re okay with throwing away after use. This is my best travel hack, because you know as well as I do that no packed bag re-packs the same way. You’re buying a little space in the bag every day.
- ExOfficio boxer briefs. Weightless and sink-washable. (UK) (US)
- Skross World Travel Adapter 2. (UK) (US)
- Kindle Paperwhite. Backlit, decent battery life, especially when on airplane mode. (UK) (US)
- Vapur Element collapsible water bottle – clips to the bag. (UK) (US)
Sony don’t make my 32GB mp3 player or my earbuds any more. Which is a pain, as the earbuds are a little damaged at the connector now, and the only replacement I’ve seen online is a used pair going for three hundred and fifty quid. I travel with a pair of Sony MDREX450AP earbuds as an emergency backup. (UK) (US)
Moleskine (UK) (US), Field Notes (UK) (US), Pilot Frixion pens (UK) (US)
Pebble Time Steel on my wrist, just showing me time, weather and calendar events. Until the thing inevitably stops working soon.
I only wear Merrell boots when travelling. Never wear shoes that aren’t broken in and really comfortable. I went to LA once in a pair of Fly Londons that I thought were well broken-in over the previous few weeks. Noooope.
I can put three shirts and a rolled pair of trousers in the main compartment of the Versipack with the briefs and the socks and a Ziploc bag of travel meds (ibuprofen, Immodium, statin, aspirin, allergy pills, throat lozenges, flu capsules, plasters). Everything else here zips or slips into an outer pocket or clips to a strap.
- A new laptop, probably. This one is still going, but it’s lulling me into a false sense of security. Laptops die on me every 18 months/2 years, without fail, and I do not believe this one (over two years) when it tells me it’s fine. “It’s just a cough. That’s not blood. I’m fine.”
- A pair of Merrells that lasts longer than a couple of years would be nice, these days, too.
- Since my Virgin Mingle personal wifi hotspot device for the US died, I need a new wifi device. But the ones that claim to work in Europe and America all seem to be 3G only. So I need a little 4G wifi magic device that works in the UK, US and continental Europe, because I am beginning the Road Life again.
- Also I want to cancel everything in March and stay in bed forever, which doesn’t explain why I’ve booked a private conference in a remote part of Norway and a talk described as “a sermon” in Amsterdam, both for September, when I will doubtless complain that I just wanna lay in bed again.
Also here is a photo of some books that my NORMAL publisher, FSG, sent me last week.
STILL READING: YOU BELONG TO THE UNIVERSE: BUCKMINSTER FULLER AND THE FUTURE (UK) (US)
Culture and subculture used to move across the world at the speed of plane travel and surface mail. Buying records in Chicago and flying to London with them. Japanese techno happened without Japanese musicians having heard techno – they just read descriptions of it in magazines and tried to invent what they thought it must sound like.
You’d have things like acid house propagate over the world as a single thing, and it wouldn’t fractionate and complicate until later. Movements require(d) time and a low-information world to be that One Thing, that Punk or Psychedelia or Rock’n”Roll or whatever.
Dubstep is just one example of what the 21C did to popular culture: a brief coalescing of six different things that exploded on contact and was already complicating and flying apart and turning into new things the second after the wider world noticed it. A cloud of microcultures.
The above being nothing more than an excerpt from a long mail written as part of a conversation with a bunch of people I’m doing a panel with, this month: a recapitulation of old thinking, but I want to preserve it so I can consider what’s changed and how to update it.
READING: YOU BELONG TO THE UNIVERSE: BUCKMINSTER FULLER AND THE FUTURE (UK