May 12th, 2006


E (I've Got To Shorten This Shit)

Extra, Part One - Last year, I was hired to be an extra in a film. I've not got much interest in being in films, but I was walking down the street, and some guy stopped me, and asked me if I wanted to be an extra. A couple of days work, he said. Sure, I said back. I was hired to fill out the lower working class crowd scenes of St. Mary's, and was placed alongside the decaying, worn down, beaten, toothless, and general ugly of the world, as well as a midget.

It was, I have to say, one of the most manipulative, unpleasant experiences of my life. Also, they didn't pay me.

Employment - I don't know one person who loves their job. Most of my friends don't mind their jobs--a place to go to get cash, they say--and some even like them, but each of them would leave them if they weren't required to work to live. But yet, they can't. And so, for five days a week, they wake up, travel to a place, travel home. They spend more of their time at a place they would rather not be, if the choice was given, than somewhere else. Their lives--fuck it, our lives--are drained of time to perform a function none of us want to do. We could be surfing. We could be writing. We could be doing any one of the countless things that we want, but instead, we work. We waste, fucking waste, the majority of our days, the largest portion of our weeks and months and years, doing a meaningless function. And what do we get in return? Some money to buy books to escape our lives, to buy televisions to watch a narrative about people with jobs more interesting that ours, or wealth that allows them to do something we could never do... we work in our disinterest so we can buy the image of a life that does.

Ellison, Harlan - Born in 1934, American author Harlan Ellison is one of those authors who is for a certain age in your life. Late teens, early twenties. That's the prime age for Ellison's angry, energy driven prose, because after that, you will become aware that a lot of Ellison's fiction is, in fact, quite awful. Recently, I found myself reading the collection Deathbird Stories, and my, are there some bad things in there. I couldn't even make it through 'Along the Scenic Route', which is a story about death dueling in your car on a freeway, but I did manage my way through 'On the Downhill Slide', but only because it began with the line, "I knew she was a virgin because she was able to ruffle the silken mane of my unicorn."

Experience - I really enjoy making fun of people who think that you need life experience to write well, or that having life experience lets you write with more knowledge. Write what you know is often what they say. It always makes me wonder which of the fantasy authors out there have committed war crimes/genocide recently.

Entertainment (Without Art) - Here's something that I find interesting: Art is not entertaining. For many people, the mere presence of Art within any kind of text, painting, film, whatever, renders it inaccessible. Clare Dudman left this quote in the A section from an interview with BANKSY:

Is graffiti art or vandalism?

That word has a lot of negative connotations and it alienates people, so no, I don't like to use the word 'art' at all.

It is becoming a more common held belief. Just this week I heard a minister involved in education calling for 'normal language' to be taught, and all that art shit be banished from schools, because it has no relevance.

Entertainment (With Art) - What I don't understand, however, is why art can't be entertaining? And of course, before that, what makes Art? I've a personal definition for Art, but is there a universal one? I think for most people, if a piece is complex, and requires thought, or is put together in a complex way, then it becomes Art. Art suggests difficulty, which is not at all true. After all, there's a lot of complex and thoughtful work out there that is easy to read, watch, or view, or whatever, and there's a lot of work masquerading as thoughtful that, in truth, has all the insight of a dead animal.

Experience - Yet, for all the people will tell you that experience is good, and is something that you should get to write well, people frown on experience with prostitutes. Which is surprising, given how popular prostitutes are in fantasy novels.

Ellison, Harlan - I find myself in a curious position with Ellison now. Generally speaking, I have good memories of Ellison, and I speak well of stories such as 'The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore' and 'A Boy and His Dog' and a few others. Do I still think this, however? After the Deathbird Stories experience, I decided I would check out a newer story, and so I re-read 'Mefisto in Onyx', which I remember liking the first time. There are the Ellison ticks that made me sigh to see, such as the line "Now they was some dumb ass muthuhfugguhs" but the main problem I had with the story was that my politics were in the way. At the end of the story, the main character, a black man, jumps into the mind of a white man, and--well, I'll type it out for you:

...I hugged her with the intention that Henry Lake spanning would love Allison Roche more powerfully, more responsibly, than anyone had ever loved anyone in the history of the world. I was reading to stop failing at everything.

And it would be just a whole lot easier as a white boy with great big blue eyes.

Because--get this now--all my wasted years didn't have as much to do with blackness or racism or being overqualified or being unlucky or being high-verbal or even the curse of my "gift" of jaunting, as they did with t he single truth I learned waiting in there, inside my own landscape, waiting for Spanning to come and gloat:

I have always been one of those miserable guys who couldn't get out of his own way.

Which meant I could, at last, stop feeling sorry for that poor nigger, Rudy Pairis. Except, maybe, in a moment of human weakness.

Here, it is suddenly the portrayal of race that I have a problem with. With Ellison's whiteness as an author, and with the way that, for the character, becoming white equals success, and a change in his life. The story is not as badly written as some of those stories from Deathbird Stories, which, thank fuck, really, but I had the experience as if I was reading a story written in a different time, of which I should take in the final lines as if it were written in a time in which we did not know better. Does that mean, then, that to enjoy Ellison as I was did, I have to do so with the understanding that he is a historical oddity? Something by which I can see how things have changed?

Or is it simply that Ellison is for a certain age and that, once you first encounter him, you cannot go back?

Employment - If anyone knows of a hippie commune that I can go and live on, leave a link in the comments.

Extra, Part Two - Being used--and make no mistake, it was being used--in a film as scene scum did not do me any good. Intimidating, bald, the friend of a midget: Ben Peek, for hire. I've been called intimidating for years. Once, when I walked into a lecture theatre, a friend of mine overheard to girls say, "I hope he isn't my tutor--scary." Years. Years and years I've heard it. It's given me a pleasant neurotic complex, for I am a neurotic kind of guy. But the two days as an extra bought in a new question: Do I think that I'm better than this? Do I resent being cast as scum because it places me at the bottom of the image food chain? Am I arrogant enough to consider that any one person is beneath me, or is it that I simply dislike the idea of people placing themselves above me? The answer was a mix of both. I didn't enjoy the insight.


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