park music

“You’ve got a job to do, you fucking do it.
Don’t give me this shit: too fat, too old, too sick. You get it done, do you hear me? Do you understand? No one’s going to do it for you.
You have a problem, you fix it. Find a way, I don’t care how. If it’s too hard why don’t you go fuck yourself?”

The internet is a great dead thing which grows like grey spores on now-pungent flesh. It eats you, it rips and tears, and if you’re not careful it’ll swallow you whole.
But it’s the 21st century, right? You comprimise. You make it work.

And if you’re afraid to burn things, if you’re too chickenshit to start over again — I don’t know what you’re going to do with you.

The Apocalypse News

TORONTO – Nicholas Dimitrakos is proud of the home that he’s made for his family, and he should be. With a few modifications, he’s managed to salvage an entire floor of what was once a posh downtown Toronto condo. The catch? It’s on the 38th floor, and while the building does have a generator, most of the residents consider fuel too valuable a commodity to keep it on more than a few hours a day – and even then only for the water. No elevators.

It’s necessary,” Dimitrakos says, as we climb our way to the top. “And we knew what we were getting into when we moved here.” Somewhere around the 20th floor I began to wonder if this was something that I spent enough time considering before this story.

“But how could we turn it down? We have a view of the city in every direction. And say what you will about the state of things around here, but it’s still beautiful. And besides, no one else wants to live here. They’d be crazy to take it from us.” Bent over at the top of the stairs and panting, I decided that he’s right. A forty minute — for me, anyway — climb uphill is not something that I want to have to consider at the end of each day. But Dimitrakos is in great shape, and his calf muscles, which seems as if they might explode at any moment from underneath his skin, are gargantuan. He jokes with me as I pant, holding my knees in my hands and highlighting my difficulties occasionally with a cough.

“You want a glass of water? A pillow, maybe, so you can take a quick nap?” I smirk half-heartedly, my brain too overheated to think of a clever retort. He’s right, anyway. He’s in great shape and I am not. How often does he make the climb, I ask.

“No more than twice per day — if that. Well, sometimes more, but only if the water isn’t working and we have to go down to get some. Emergencies, of course we would have to go down. You can imagine what a challenge that is. But my wife and I are both trained in first aid, and we keep more than the usual stock of supplies in the closet. When our kids are old enough, we’re going to train them too.”

Dimitrakos has three children, all between the ages of four and ten. He says that most of the time both he and his wife are with them, but the kids are never alone. If both parents have to leave, whatever the reason, the kids come with them.

“I don’t trust them with the neighbours,” he says. “Before, maybe. But the world is a different place, and without elevators, it is too dangerous.”

What did his wife do when she was pregnant?

“The only one that was born here was the youngest, Cristina. We couldn’t stay here, are you kidding? Too risky. So we locked up and lived with her sister for a while. Luckily it was winter and we didn’t have many crops to tend.”

Wait, I ask — crops?

Dimitrakos smiles. “Sure,” he says. “We grow all kinds of things here. We try to be self-sufficient. Here, let me show you.”

He leads me into one of the five suites that he has reserved for cultivation. That’s about half the floor. Each room has an additional entrance in its main hallway, cutting the hallway off from the outside-facing rooms. The extra entrance is padded with alternating scraps of pink insulation.

“I built this,” he says. The pride resonates sharply in his voice.

But what is it for?

“You’ll see,” he says.

We open the tightly sealed door set in the middle of the insulation and immediately feel a cool blast of wind. What I see next makes my stomach turn flips, and I find myself pressing back against the door when I’m on the other side. There are no walls. They’ve all been knocked out. A wooden railing about three feet high and a metal screen above that is that all that stands between us and oblivion, though maybe that’s not the exact term I should use. I’m sure there would be something left when you hit the ground.

Dimitrakos smiles, something that I remember finding very annoying. “It takes some getting used to. You should have been there when I was building it. Tough job. And I had to be careful not to spill anything, because at this height…” He whistles, pulling his hand high out of the air into his palm. I nod.

“Of course, I installed nets, and that caught most of the extra. But if I had knocked a whole wall into them, the strain would’ve been too great and the whole thing would’ve fallen down. Still, what a view, eh?”

I can’t deny that. As vertigo-inducing as it is, it is quite inspiring. In fact it is so impressive that it is only now that I realise the reason that he brought me here — the crops. In planters about a foot high, crafted with some of the debris from the walls, little green sprouts push their way to the sun. It’s quite striking, actually, a marked contrast from the heavy concrete that predominates in this side’s view of the city.

“We grow all kinds of things here. This is potatoes and cabbage. But we have beans, carrots, onions, tomatoes, and other things too. The railing is to protect the plants from the wind. They don’t do too well without it.”

So why expose them to it in the first place? Doesn’t sunlight travel through windows?

“They weren’t big enough, not for the amount that we wanted to grow. We need to make a few more. We still have a few more suites to convert. And this way has the added benefit that if it rains, we can catch some of it. Water is a scarce commodity.”

That explains the tarp on the floor, another detail I was slow in noticing.

“This is really amazing,” I say, meaning it.

“Sure. Do you want to see the other rooms?”

I expect to see more plants, but he doesn’t take me there. It’s all the same, he says. Instead he leads me into the family’s rooms, two adjoining suites which he has turned into one.

“We took the biggest,” he says, “we have a big family. It’s going to get crowded when the kids grow up.” Speaking of the kids, they’re nowhere to be seen. “Out with their mother,” he explains.

The rooms are pretty much what you’d expect — even before the collapse. The kids sleep in single beds arranged in the same room, Dimitrakos and his wife have a king bed in the next room. There’s a living room also, with bookshelves, couches, and a hand-crank radio, but he explains that this is probably only temporary.

“We might move this to where the elevators are when the kids get older, give them an extra room to sleep. Now they’re young so it’s good for them to be together.”

They have a dining room and a composting toilet, of course, though they don’t share the same space. Most of the furniture is so diverse and in such good shape that you expect that it was there when they moved in. One major change they made was the removal of the extra kitchen from combining two suites. Refrigerators are a liability, so they’ve converted them into shelves for storing vegetables and preserves. The dishwashers are gone, but there is a stove in the kitchen, though it’s not the original one. Theirs is made out of brick and has a chimney leading up to where the fan vent would’ve been.

“It works quite well. It’s very rarely smoky. I wish that it could have been cast iron, it loses heat less quickly, but the bricks were hard enough to bring in as it is. In the winter we board up all the windows and keep the fire in the oven going all the time. Sometimes we sleep here, right in front of it. It gets cold, this high up. We wear a lot of sweaters and wrap ourselves in blankets. But it’s worth it. Before the collapse we lived in a basement apartment, sharing the rooms with my wife’s sister. There was no space for a garden, and we always had to go out for food. Here, we have almost everything.”

The Future through the Past

Halaf period pottery of Northern Mesopotamia is among the most complex and developed of the prehistoric world. The geometric and colourful designs cover almost every inch of the pots and dishes – which is especially striking when you consider they were crafted before the potter’s wheel and most other advances in pottery except for kiln-firing. The vessel’s walls are very thin, which is difficult, and they were produced in a wide variety of forms, showing off the potter’s amazing talents and creativity.

The pottery of the Southern Mesopotamian Ubaid period which followed is markedly different. Rather than being individual, aesthetically beautiful pieces reflecting incredible craftsmanship, Ubaid period pottery tends to be characterised by being rough, slip-shod, and spotty. The clay itself is usually uneven in places, the designs painted on with such speed that they often appear crude and run into each other.

But it is not believed that Ubaid period pottery reflects a step backward in the discipline. Rather, it is simply a step in a different direction. Most scholars believe that the change in style is a direct result of the shift towards the creation of pottery becoming a sort of cottage industry. While none of the technology has changed, the techniques have been generalised in order to make the most amount of pottery in the least amount of time.

I believe we are undergoing a similar sort of change in the areas of communication and personal expression. With the advent of the internet (and social networking sites particularly) we are seeing a marked change from the old forms of communication in the past. No longer is the focus on trying to take your time and express your feelings, in order to share and discuss your experiences, ideas, and state of mind. What the online social networker seems to be doing these days is casting a wide net to try and elicit feeling. The quality of these “conversations” does not seem to matter to these people, and what is most important is the quantity of their responses– how many comments or friends they recieve as a result of them. This is a significant change.

What does this change mean? Well for one thing it means that people in general seem to be less concerned with real issues, as everything but the shallow act of “connecting” needs to be strip-mined from their conversations. It also means that, because of the addictive nature of these social-networking programs, we are seeing a vast increase in the amount of time people spend using them, resulting in the eating up of time people might otherwise use for reflection or face-to-face socialising.

So is slow thinking going to be replaced by social-network thinking? Only time will tell. It is worth noting, however, that the world currently supports many different legitimate ways to create pottery, from the craftsman model to full-scale mass-production. But at the same time, our industrially crafted pottery is also getting increasingly sophisticated, and has been for many years. Could this mean a similar change might occur in the way we eventually think and socialise — faster and better? I don’t think that this is something that is unlikely as it might seem.

On What Might’ve Come

“Unfortunately, the novel sputtered, coughed, and died. It happened in Matheran, not far from Bombay, a small hill station with some monkeys but no tea estates. It’s a misery peculair to would-be writers. Your theme is good, as are your sentences. Your characters are so ruddy with life they practically need birth certificates. The plot you’ve mapped out for them is grand, simple, and gripping. You’ve done your research, gathering the facts — historical, social, climatic, culinary — that will give your story its feel of authenticity. The dialogue zips along, crackling with tension. The descriptions burst with colour, contrast, and telling detail. Really, your story can only be great. But it all adds up to nothing. In spite of the obvious, shining promise of it, there comes a moment when you realise the whisper that has been pestering you all along from the back of your mind is speaking the flat, awful truth: it won’t work.”

-Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

The main of it was I wasn’t interested anymore, the subject matter didn’t excite me. The more I wrote the more I hated it, and myself for working on it. It just wasn’t very original! It was an amalgamation of “J.” and “The Kid” maybe, but without the superheroes. You probably wouldn’t have liked it. It had a certain sort of edge, I suppose, but most terrible fiction these days does. So it died on the vine. It’s not a huge loss.

You might misinterpret this. This doesn’t mean that I’m running out of ideas. Quite the contrary! I’ve got more now than at any other point in time. I think I can say that with confidence, though putting that sort of thing into words is always a dangerous enterprise.

I was just tired of it, you know? Though I’m also sort of wondering if this blog is as useful for writing as I thought it was, especially long things. If I didn’t admit to a certain amount of hesitation I’d be lying to you. I could quote now from something I read of Tennessee Williams worrying about what to write next after achieving his fame, but I don’t want to pretend that this situation is equivalent to that, right now.

I will tell you that I have another idea. I don’t know if I’m going to post it here when it’s done. It’ll be about a group of people removed from society. These people will be dealing with regular events that they believe are exceptional purely by virtue of the fact that they are constantly told that they are so. It’s vague right now, but obviously that won’t be all of it. You might think it’s a joke, but I find the idea interesting.

All I need now is a stamp

I thought I was at peace but I don’t know what this is. I certainly couldn’t sleep now if I tried, but that might be other things, art things, acid things (red things, fried things). One thing that I certainly didn’t do today is RELAX, though this wasn’t maliciously not done, it wasn’t a purposeful sort of choice. I just sort of forgot. I guess that is telling? It might be, it might not. Understand the sort of day it was, but understand also that I certainly did have time.

It’s hard to put into words how neutral I feel. It’s strange. It’s peaceful, almost. Though I think that may be from missing sleep, it could also be from the tracks I’ve been playing, the mantras I’ve been repeating endlessly in my head. “Don’t”, “Forget about it”, and “If not that’s cool”. There’s also “That would be nice, but”, and it’s a sort of favourite, a way to justify all my wistful thinking, my wild imaginations.

It’s helpful, sure, but it’s too god-damn realistic. It doesn’t synch up right, somehow, there is no correspondence to chemistry.

Is this how regular people think? Is this how they keep in control? It’s terrifying.

A whole world of people told not to dream big, to be practical, to focus on the short term and only set reasonable, attainable, goals.

I just don’t see how life is possible in the sort of prison that that is, when you tell yourself to be “be cool” and calm that beating heart. It skipped twice today, in a way that was hardly recognisable. Work up some feeling, why don’t you! I like the crazy flips and wild, whirly trips home, reciting homemade poetry and walking on wobbly things, hands outstretched and perpendicular to the walls.

It could help with production. But all the genuises I know were sad, sometimes buoyed, sometimes not, always in some way eating themselves, turning their guts inside out; and anyway the best work is always inspired.