Woke up yesterday to see someone reminiscing about IRC. It was a little like someone describing how they used to send smoke signals across the great plains. Remember “moblogging”? I was doing that in the 1990s, with a collection of kit that even at the time seemed the product of a dated alternate future. Modular, silvered plastics, plugs and stub antennae. Nokia phones of styles you wouldn’t have been surprised to encounter in SPACE: 1999. We’ve burned through a remarkable amount of futurity in the last 21 years. They fly spaceships with tablet consoles in THE EXPANSE and we’re not impressed because the crew were flying the Enterprise with giant iPads in 1988.
All old thoughts. But dragged to the surface by talk of a communications method created in 1988, the year of flying starships with giant iPads, and now reportedly down to less than half a million users worldwide. Makes me wonder how many people send smoke signals in a year.
Starting the year by looking back is okay. It’s such a strange and lovely position, in post-science fiction times, to take stock of the new plastic fossils that have gathered in the foothills of the future.
Reading: THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, Masha Gessen (UK) (US)
People keep asking me how it feels to be back on the shore of the Thames after more than two weeks batting across America – some fourteen thousand miles on planes, not counting incidental car travel. I still don’t have a good answer. Plane travel is possibly the most peaceful thing I do, for some reason. It’s almost meditative. I have my security protocol down to a simple process. I thank everybody. Airline apps or computer kiosks speed everything along. Self-discipline. Walking and sitting. Observing the breath and calculating calorie expenditure. Thoughts pass away without perturbation. I understand airports as riverbanks, cut into the world to effect motion and transience. Hans Ibelings’ supermodern space.
I hadn’t been on a plane in a year. Hadn’t been in America in two. I’d forgotten what it had been like to be weightless, and how effortless travel becomes when I just relax into it and let it carry me along. It is the most absurd privilege, and the most insanely gorgeous technological gift. I am lucky beyond all measure to be able to do it, and to have it be the most peaceful thing.
This is a picture of me partway through the door and not knowing which timezone or city or hotel or day I’m in. I was starting to suffer fun sleep deprivation symptoms and was probably dying, but it was glorious.
As I’ve written before, New Year doesn’t feel like an arbitrary, notional event to me. I hear the click as we roll over on to the new track.
Listening hard for the click, this year.
2016 was a hard year. It would be comforting to think we jump to a new track today, and pull clear of that shitbox of a year. That 2017 will be better.
It’ll be different. It’ll be interesting in many fine and terrible ways. It’ll be sad, if not in precisely the same way 2016 was. I’d love to tell someone that it’ll be better. But I think we were all fooling ourselves with that notion that years get better, just as we fool ourselves into thinking each year is starkly fenced off and the space ahead is virgin field.
It will be memorable. It will have beauty in it, and new things, and it will sing and light up skies. There will be joy.
Will it be better? No. But I trust that it will be worth sticking around for, and that it will not be boring. That’s enough for me.
One in the morning. I just wrote an entry on my whiteboard reading “think of a book, idiot.” My brain has been a deadzone since I got back from book tour. I am hoping my forebrain isn’t another casualty of 2016. (Carrie Fisher is stable in hospital as I write this.) The whiteboard is half full, with a show season’s script schedule written on a sheet of paper and pasted next to it. (Four hours’ worth of television to write in two months, more or less.) An email that arrived just before LA closed for the holiday suggests that, combined with the rest of the things on the whiteboard, I’m sorted for work until summer. Assuming, of course, that I live that long, haha. Ha. Ha.
I doubt I’ll write here again before December 31. I like each year to have a clean, hard break. I know what the first half of 2017 looks like. It will be busy, but I will have space to think, and to travel again. The rest of this year is for letting my brain recover from all of 2016 – the five month work marathon, the tour, the hails of communications, all of it. And so I lay me down to rest.
I had misty days throughout the tour, even in Los Angeles. And now the mist rises on the Thames Delta. My head is still drifting. The mist makes me feel like I still haven’t quite landed. Opening up the full spectrum of feeds hasn’t helped. Threaded tweets wasn’t a thing I actually needed in my life. I took an amused moment to imagine this journal as an endlessly threaded tweet. Not sure who’d commit suicide first – me, or my final reader.
I’m disconnected still, even with the feeds open. The 21st Century continues to pulverise the old narratives. This is acceleration, but mentally I’m hanging in the air and watching from within the mist.
It’s beautiful outside. I sit out there for hours while the phone while it whispers and pings and I just look at the trees and the sky and wonder what’s next. Not so bad.
I’d be okay with this year ending in fog. Would seem somehow apt.
Also I just saw a website designer talking about user experience and “dating the user” so I think we can call 2016 done now.
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As you can see, the crowds really turned out for my Google talk.
Last night, my film/tv agent asked me what I’d learned from my book tour (for NORMAL, pictured above). All I could think of was the person who came up to me at the NYC stop and said that she was an Asian trans woman and thanked me for writing TREES. Which is a reminder that your work has personal consequence. But even mentioning that seems self-serving. Is self-serving. This is why writers get addicted to doing conventions. You start believing you’re something special and show up at every event where someone might say it to you again.
And then you’re spat out on to the street, suddenly completely alone, suddenly just another body in the world.
NORMAL went back for a second printing on Friday, I’m told. I’m guessing that six very special bookstores in America did that for me. Thank you.
Dear America, thank you for not giving me diseases.
You are in a strange way, America, and returning here to the dull grumbling anger of Britain puts it in even sharper relief. All we’re dealing with is the left-over xenophobia and poison of 80s conservatism. You face something that is at once ancient and painfully novel, and it’s no reason you’re slumping into tired confusion or looking behind you to see which allies to blame instead of facing the enemy in front of you. We’re grappling with the shameless river monster that we thought died of old age. You’re dealing with a formless political entity that campaigns and will rule via a social internet service from a throne on a plane.
It was painful to see the wounds on a country I love – and make no mistake, I do love America, weird as it is. To see the fear on the people. The genuine, visceral fear on people who are non-hyperbolically aware that a year from now it may be harder for them to literally stay alive. And, on others, the creeping fear that their belief that they’d elected someone who could see them may have gotten them conned. As I said to a lot of you on tour – we had the preview of all this in Britain.
2016 has only 19 days left to kill me, so I’m assuming I’m going to make it. I am very interested to see how 2017 looks. Good morning, good night and good luck.
Working on the laptop at an outdoor table, killing time until I fly to LA tonight. North Carolina is golden with extended autumn and incredibly beautiful. I am not incredibly beautiful. A week on planes and my skin looks like infected papyrus. My first meeting tomorrow is at 11am, and it goes like that til I fly up to the Bay Area for my last tour stop. I’m holding up, but I’m ready to not be on planes for a couple of days.
Three students in pyjamas just walked past. Nothing here looks more than ten years old. Weird pre-fabricated oasis of a town that looks like it was air-dropped into the forests of the Research Triangle. It’s bright and clean and open and I feel remarkably at home here. So it’s time to go up and onwards and west.
Boston airport is really nice. This is the sort of thing you say to yourself when you travel a lot. This is the sort of thing that starts mattering to you. I will probably be taking critical photos of airport carpets by Saturday.
I have tour brain now. I know I do. I am mostly autonomic lizard functions and when someone asks me to make a decision I just stare at them like they’re an alien demanding that I explain all of human history. And it’s only Thursday. I think. I have to keep checking. Time is meaningless to me now. I go where I’m told and eat when I can.
There’s a guy on the airport bar tv called Booger. Why is he called Booger? Why do these people just make names up? They do it to confuse me.
I can see the river glittering from here. It’s not my river, but nonetheless it calms me. River hermit on the road.
I was so grateful that I had an overflow crowd for my New York appearance, because it was pissing down. From my balcony, the clouds had reached down to wrap the spires of New York in their mist.
As ever, I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to. But I did get to spend time with friends old and new, and was surprised to see others. As ever, New York has been good to me. And now it’s off to new towns. I board for Boston in an hour, where my phone tells me I can expect more rain. No jokes about me being an evil weather god again, please.
Why does this always happen?