Alas I have parted ways with this website (RIP)... but a much better new version replaces it at itscomingforusall.com I know, what an imaginative name, that sounds like a cool website... this is where you click the link.
That's a lot of Ls. I don't ever consciously write alliteration - more than writing can ever be conscious, that is - but when it does emerge, I get a little excited, I must confess. I wrote this spontaneously in a couple of hours, in a state of deep reflection on the craft of writing. It's probably not too exciting for people who aren't creative themselves, but I hope you like it anyway.
Legacy: A Love Letter to Literature
He wondered, far from the first time, how his eulogy will read. Laura will probably write it; everyone considered her the next big writer in the family, due to the financial success of her latest novel, and her years at The New York Times - which was where it will probably be published - even though Anna’s novels are far better, despite their relatively poor success. Laura had so rarely flown home before he told her about the cancer; she didn't know him half as well as Anna did. The signed copy of Sharpe’s Gold was evidence of that, though he felt guilty for not appreciating it more. She had, after all, taken time out of her busy schedule to travel 150 miles upstate to the signing of an author she didn’t care for, for a present she thought would bring him joy. It was a warm gesture, even if he’d lost interest in Bernard Cornwell over a decade ago.
It wasn’t that he would object to Laura writing his eulogy, only that he knew her writing style well. Her vocabulary wasn’t too strong, as she drew more influence from watching action and thriller movies than reading good literature, so her writing came out a little plainer, like the neatly groomed grounds of a middle class townhouse compared to the overgrown rainforest of Anna’s style, dripping with colourful description and emotional resonance. He thought Laura’s prose might paint him as a boring man; just your average fifty-year-old man who (used to) read Bernard Cornwell, never let go of classic Rock, and had a string of New York Times best-sellers in his late thirties. He imagined to his distant relatives and old acquaintances, the persona they would mourn would be that of the writer, rather than the individual. They would stand under their black umbrellas (it better fucking rain on his funeral; if there was any time for pathetic fallacy, it was a writer’s death) and reflect on his novels as an impression of his life. But they wouldn’t understand.
For one, the writer in him died at the end of every novel he finished - typing the last word of the final draft was the dying breath of the man that had conceived it - and the person that lived on was one shedding the skin of his past self. And secondly, the literature was not his life, but the lives of the dozens of characters who had shared his consciousness for a short while. It was the emotion and sentiment he was compelled to purge himself from, so that he could walk a step of his life without dragging behind the weight of the world. And if his family and friends came only to reflect upon the people he’d held dear to him between those lonely and monotonous years he spent locked in his study with only his current Word document for company, the Eulogy may as well not mention him at all. Hell, they could just type one for Liam Fletcher. His fans knew Liam better than they would ever know him.
Perhaps Laura and Anna would co-write it. And who knows, Laura might have a good working relationship with him again by the time he popped his clogs. It could be a few years yet. More likely not.
He supposed he didn’t really care how his life would be remembered. To his fans, he was only the writer. They did not care about what he personally experienced. Only that he continued to write engaging novels. But that was okay. He cared more about how his family and friends remembered him, but even then not so much.
He would be dead after all.
What would it matter to him? And why did he keep wondering about the Eulogy? What he really cared about, he supposed, was how he perceived himself. He’d considered both his latest novel and novella his final words, yet here he was half-way through the final draft of a new novel.
What if he knew the exact moment he would die ten minutes before, and a pen and paper were thrust at him. What if he could write his own Eulogy? What words would he scribble frantically onto the legal notepad?
He would probably first set the pen and paper in his lap and close his eyes. He would tell himself, as he had with his last two projects, that it didn’t matter if anyone read his words, or if his last breath fell between the lines of prose. It was not the finished novels in which he found pleasure. In fact, they pained him to think about. He imagined them as the rotting carcasses of his stillborn children slumped on a bookshelf rather than glimmering trophies of dedication and love. He was a writer, and a writer writes, so unless his eyes pulled shut for the final time the second he typed the last word of a novel, he was going to leave an unfinished project behind him. It was the journey he enjoyed, after all, because once you arrived somewhere, there was only so much to see.
So perhaps he would take up the pen and stare down at the legal pad with curiosity in lieu of desperation, and as the writer in him indulged the scenario, he imagined he would find it too tempting not to write. And like travelling, there were more places to go than he could ever visit in his lifetime. He could write some great joke that would suggest some transcendental realisation but whose punchline never emerged due to his final breath freezing the pen in his hand. Something along the lines of: I’m slipping into the other world, and for a brief moment my consciousness exists in both realms. We’ve been wrong all this time. The meaning of life is…
And there he would pretend to die, placing the pen down on top of the paper with a grin, and sliding further down the bed to feel the soft coolness of his covers against his face one last time. He thought Melissa might discern his mirth - she knew his sense of humour too well - perhaps Anna, too, but he would spook everyone else.
Or what else would he write? He could describe his feelings on his deathbed. It would probably be interesting for his fans, most of which were morbidly inclined already, but why should he spend his last ten minutes writing something for somebody else? Writing for other people was the price you had to pay to grow a bigger audience and become big enough that you can write what you want to full time. He wanted to write for himself in those last ten minutes. He wanted the last word stolen from his fingertips to be a word that filled him with euphoria and connectedness as it swam out from the recesses of his unconscious in the shape of the final missing piece of a jigsaw.
But what was it that he liked to write most? It had always been therapeutic for him: an endless exorcism of the darkest parts of his mind. But in death, he knew that the darkness would fade anyway. And it was only in retrospection that we felt pain and regret, so who was the therapy for, if that were the purpose of his writing?
Didn’t it also bring him pleasure? The childish imaginings of a lucid dreamer? For through his characters, he could change the world, grow old with the woman he loves and a family who adore him, or even indulge the darkest pleasures of his mind? The ones his rational mind told him were evil, sinful pleasures. Would he write an explicit account of violent sex and murder, akin to Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom? That didn’t seem sentimental enough, though, and humans are a sentimental bunch. We think we’re so fucking important in everything we do, that it wouldn’t surprise him if he searched for some great truth he could express to the world in his last words. But what did he know? He knew the importance of love in a world one vice away from annihilation. He knew that creating a good world was within their grasp, if they could just get people to see the similarities in each other rather than the differences. He knew that kids needed to spend less time staring at their phone screens and more time losing themselves in the magic of good books. But greater men than him had shared any truth he could conceive of, and they would continue to do so as he rotted in the ground.
So what would he write? Well, he supposed it really didn’t matter. As long as he wrote. Because with every scratch of biro, with every keystroke, he tore a slit in this bleak reality, and glimpsed the blinding light behind it.
The recurring question, he realised, was just one of the many manifestations of his dread, yet with a smile spreading his lips, it dawned on him that, he couldn’t possibly be afraid of leaving this world, when he’d never lived in it to begin with.
I saw IT at the first available opportunity - its midnight launch - but I’ve held out on writing my thoughts for a few days because I’ve been anticipating this movie for so long and with such tenacity that I really needed time to process my reaction to its many layers of artistic mastery.
My relationship with this movie didn’t start when the WB and New Line Cinema logos faded in; it started when this project was first announced years ago. And with every reveal of footage, casting choice, or on-set photography, my anticipation had skyrocketed. And my first reaction is that this anticipation has been met. I loved the design of pennywise, and his acting seemed spot on, the director choice was good, but even I couldn’t have conceived of how good this movie is.
Let’s take it back to those opening logos. I’m a sucker for customised opening logos, I’ve got to say; when you see the Harry Potter logos deteriorate over the eight movies, they really usher in the mood of the new movie in such a simple but effective way; even in The Dark Knight with their cold-blue tinge and tense music, it makes a huge difference to the tone. And when IT’s opening logos rolled, surrounded by rain so thick you could see little else in the dark of night, and a little red balloon floats across the screen, I knew I was in for the treat of my life, because you rarely see that level of attention to detail in movies that aren’t incredible pieces of art, which is what IT is, if that wasn’t already abundantly clear.
I’ll discuss Pennywise first because a lot of the movie’s success rested on its (I’m not sure Pennywise has a gender) character design and thespian execution. And neither, in my opinion, could have been better. Pennywise is uncanny, terrifying, and eerily charming. He has a sort of Milton’s devil-esque demeanour once it’s been dragged through the dirt, as Pennywise supposedly came to earth. If Pennywise doesn’t terrify you throughout this movie, you’re lying to yourself and you should probably see a shrink. Bill Skarsgard’s acting was exceptional and his voice was perfect. Complete with some exceptional composition and lighting, and an incredible score, the darkest recesses of my unconscious could conjure little more terrifying than Pennywise’s presence.
After Pennywise’s execution, director Andy Muscietti went on to tick more boxes with the remaining casting, an exceptional script and score, but what really shines behind the success of this movie, is its expert story. And of course a lot of credit is due to Stephen King for his equally great novel, but I’ve seen so many bad King adaptations that you can never bank on this. But it does serve as a reminder that horror movies need good stories to truly succeed, and not just artistically, too, as IT’s topping box offices across the globe.
I was particularly impressed by other manifestations of IT, not to spoil too much, but their connection to characterisation was excellently done, and further emphasised the horror of reality. A couple of them for me were as frightening as Pennywise itself. I was a little torn on the CGI at first, but on re-watching the scenes, I found it to be fine; its disconnection from the rest of the movie serves Pennywise’s comic, otherworldly terror.
Once the movies got going, its real success lay with its ending as I knew the plot well from the novel, and I was very impressed with the climax. It necessarily strayed from King’s somewhat, but it fit well with the tone of the rest of the film.
So, there you have it. IT was incredible, and has really raised the bar for horror movies going forward. I can’t wait to see what they do with its sequel, and future Stephen King movies, too.
I'm working hard on the final draft of Judgement Day, and I couldn't be prouder of the results. I'd like to share a short tease from it, which I've titled Primordial. No context is needed, but it is best enjoyed after dark. This is one of the scariest passages from the novel, and serves as a sign of the quality to come. Apologies for the poor layout; this website creator doesn't like indentation apparently. Enjoy:
Katy’s bare feet were sticky with blood. At first she’d winced at every rock or root in her path, flinched at every branch that clawed at her skin, but her pain had since subsided. It was no use to her anymore.
She stumbled through the dark forest with no idea where she was. Come to think of it, she couldn’t recall entering the forest, or anything before it.
She was a child again, lost in the mirror room of an amusement park. But something was chasing her.
Her heart pounded in her ears and the searing stitch in her gut begged her to give in, but she couldn’t.
It was closing in on her.
She stole a glance over her shoulder, and caught her foot on a protruding root. She was weightless for a time, before the forest floor raced up to meet her, and she went sprawling in the dirt. Her teeth smacked together with a sickening crunch that resonated through her entire skull, and her head was thrown back so violently, she imagined her spine would crack.
She scrambled to her feet, scanning her surroundings. She swallowed out of fear, and realised there had been blood in her mouth.
She stood in a clearing, surrounded by a circle of towering oaks. The trees had glowing red eyes that dripped blood like hot wax. Katy knew they were weeping for her.
A sound emanated from them: a frequency so low it could not be heard by human ears, but she did not hear it. She felt it. It was so powerful that it rooted her to the spot, made her bones buzz with malevolent energy.
A sustained cracking noise came from behind her: the sound of a knife cutting through cardboard. As she turned to its source, it sounded again, to her right this time, and then again. She looked around the circle of trees, but they were each splitting.
Even in the dim light, she saw the oaks open like iron maidens, and out of the wooden wombs of each, stepped a figure. A shadow. She knew without doubt that they were the source of this primordial force.
She willed her feet to move, but the very force of their being held her in place. She couldn’t even turn her head as the figures started to close in on her. Her nose burned with the smell of them, and as one stepped into a lunar spotlight, she saw that it was covered with blood: its clothes sodden and its skin shining crimson. They were the incarnation of evil, born before her very eyes.
They were all one - all Him - dressed in black and wearing wicked smiles. From behind their backs, each produced a syringe.
The echo of a scream sifted through the trees; Katy only later realised it was her own.
She searched deep within herself and found a dormant incandescent glow. She fuelled it with every iota of her being, and for a moment, the light inside her transcended the force that held her.
She ran forward, shoving one of the figures aside, but as soon as she touched His pale skin, her light dissipated like smoke into the chill air. She stumbled on for a few steps, her head swimming violently, before she felt the forest floor against her cheek again.
She tried to crawl away, but a hand snatched her ankle and dragged her back. She anchored her fingers into the dirt, clawed at a root for purchase, but she barely managed to impede Him. She kicked out with her free leg and felt it connect. He dropped her ankle, and she scrambled in the dirt for a second, before more hands grabbed her.
They dragged her further, and soon her fingers were clawing at vinyl instead of dirt. The light reflecting in the floor was so bright it blinded her for a moment.
The hands finally released her and she rolled to her back. When her eyes adjusted to the light, she found herself in a hospital room.
Father Michaels leaned over her, flicking the tip of his syringe. His lips stretched into that same wicked smile.
‘This won’t hurt a bit.’
A perfect ending for an epic series.
I read The Twelve recently, and I heralded it as one of the best books I’ve ever read. It trumped my expectations set by The Passage, and I couldn’t wait to see what the final book in the trilogy had to offer. Did The City of Mirrors deliver? Absolutely.
The City of Mirrors opens some time after the events of The Twelve, where life has returned to a peaceful state. The world is moving on from the prior atrocities, yet there is still a lurking presence. Zero. As I explained in my review of The Twelve, the book was not quite what I had expected. I did not expect the twelve to be all killed and the virals all but eradicated, leaving only Zero and his army lurking somewhere far away, but the result was positively epic. It blew me away. But how do you follow that? The third instalment of an epic trilogy comes with the precedent of an epic battle or show down: a climax of some kind. And The City of Mirrors kind of has that, but it also kind of falls short of its prequel. If I were to compare the two to The Lord of the Rings movies, The Twelve would be the Return of the King and the epic battle for minis tirith; The City of Mirrors would be perhaps the battle for Helms Deep at the end of the Two Towers, with the black gate battle at the end of the Return of the King following. I suppose, strangely, my complaint is not with The City of Mirrors, but with The Twelve being too good. It's like a fireworks show using its biggest firework 30 seconds before the end. The final fireworks are still encapsulating, and the display as a whole just as intense, but perhaps a minor pacing issue.
Still, it was a perfect final chapter to the series, and I must say my heart was swelling as I read the final few pages, so that’s a huge testament to the lovable characters Justin Cronin has created. So if there’s one complaint I’ll make, and it’s the only one I can think of, it’s that The City of Mirrors is predictable. The main beats of the novel are exactly what you’d expect from a final part of a trilogy, from the main character deaths to the peaceful resolution. Again, that’s not a bad thing at all. The only issue with that is that Cronin raised the bar so high with The Twelve that it was impossible to follow up.
The writing, as it was with the last two books, was superb. The characterisation, dialogue, symbolism, and description was all perfect, and put me to shame as a writer. And although there is less action in this novel than the last, you won’t notice it. The writing is so engaging that, even for a 100-or-so-page section of back story, I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, I read that whole section in a matter of hours. And I think that section, which, if you’ve read the novel, you will know, but I won’t spoil it anyway, really demonstrates the quality of Cronin’s writing. I think in the context of genre, also, it shows that horror can be just as emotive and deep as any other. This isn’t just a scare-a-thon of monsters and gore; it’s a rich, relatable story, at the core of which is love and loss and humanity. And The Passage trilogy is one story. The division between physical books is no greater than that of the different parts within one novel. I would advise anyone who wants to read the series to read it in one go. And in many ways, it’s difficult to write about The City of Mirrors as a book. I should instead review the whole story as one. It’s a very long story, but if you have the patience to sit through it, it will pay off exponentially. And once you start reading, Cronin’s masterful storytelling will carry you through to the final pages. I’ve read so much horror and single books over the past few years, that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be so deeply affected by a series like this. It takes me back to my childhood and reading the final Harry Potter or A Series of Unfortunate Events book. In truth, I’ve had a tendency to avoid lengthy epic for a while, because I’ve read so many lately that I just want a quick read. Not least, because there are so many good books on my reading list, that are around a third of the length of some of the epics I’ve read, and I want to carve my way through a load of them. But The Passage trilogy was one I simply could not pass on, and boy, am I glad I didn’t. It reminds me why longer novels can be far superior to shorter ones. The scope and the depth that are explored are so much greater. The characters become more than just a pair of glasses you don through which you view a story for a short time; they become living, breathing characters that stay with you long after you finish reading the books. That’s not to say good writers can’t achieve this with shorter novels, but it’s not quite the same. And you need a good story for that. Good characters alone aren’t enough to make a reader dedicate dozens of hours to, and Justin Cronin does this again with flying colours. His world is so rich and believable that returning to reality is a chore. The real world is positively more bland. And that melancholic feeling of finishing a story, of parting ways with characters you’ve come to love, is the true mark of a good book.
So The Passage Trilogy is easily one of the best series I’ve read. And I still feel that The Twelve was the strongest act, but that’s okay. It doesn’t detract from the power and beauty of The City of Mirrors. In fact, perhaps it even enhances it, because they are not distinct parts but one whole, and when you close the book at the end, you’re not going to remember the individual books as much as the story as a whole. The story is committed to memory just as your own feelings and experiences are.
Having said this, to close my review of The City of Mirrors itself, it’s a perfect ending to an extraordinary series, and although the pinnacle never rises higher than that of The Twelve, the story and characters themselves are nothing short of excellence. It’s The Lord of the Rings of horror fiction. And that’s no small claim.
You Are We is ‘The Most Important Album Ever’ boasts ‘Some Magazine’ on the album’s promotional posters. The comedic hyperbole is a huge middle finger to music critics, and the superficial weight given to journalism as a measure of an album's worth – although You Are We itself has been met with critical acclaim – but the sentiment isn’t far from the truth. In a time of societal despair and isolation, While She Sleeps confronts the bleak backdrop of the modern world and challenges us individually and as a society to change it.
While She Sleeps are well known for their raw aggression, explosive riffs, and lyrics that berate political and societal injustice, and now in a year that has seen a psychopath elected the leader of one of the world’s biggest nations, a referendum that has divided our nation and fuelled hatred towards minorities, perpetual and callous violence in the middle east, and growing exploitation of the poor to line the pockets of bankers and politicians, While She Sleeps channels every iota of rage and despair into an album that stands as a monument to moral decline. ‘I’ll let the state of the world speak for itself’, Loz screams in ‘Revolt’ before the double pedal and distorted guitar section punches you in both ears.
But You Are We is also about hope, about togetherness, and the light at the end of the tunnel. Make no mistake, You Are We is an angry album: lyrically, tonally, and musically. But for every scream and dirty riff laid down, there is a delicate clean passage and crowd vocals that call for unity and peace. The album title is of no small significance; it’s the tonal bedrock for every song. You Are We is all about equilibrium between light and dark, about hope and despair, violence and peace, isolation and unity. I’m almost surprised there isn’t a yin and yang symbol on the cover. Songs like Civil Isolation and Hurricane depict a world beyond redemption: ‘It’ll take a hurricane to clean up all the mess we made’, whereas You Are We and Feel call out for unity and change: ‘Let’s feel this together’.
The band released five songs from the album before it dropped and with every new single, they set the bar higher and higher. When the title song was released, I sat back in my chair and thought, there’s no way they can top this, this has to be the best song they’ve ever written. And then Silence Speaks with Oli Sykes came out and they moved the goalposts again, and again with Feel. I’m not alone in the idea that these singles are by far some of the best songs While She Sleeps has ever written, but does the rest of the album hold up to the same quality? Of course you’d want to release your best songs to sell an album, but I can confidently say yes. The other songs on the album took me a couple more listens to feel the same goose bumps, but I’ve been playing several new songs as much as I did the older ones. Settle Down Society, Revolt and In Another Now are easily as good as the singles, and the rest of the songs aren’t far off. I wasn’t a big fan of the opening of Wide Awake at first, and I’m still not sure I like it that much, but the rest of the song is full of big riffs and sing-along choruses. Considering the quality of While She Sleeps’ previous albums, I don’t say this lightly, but if I had to make a list of their best songs to date, I think at least half of that list would be from You Are We. I’ll say it now: this is the best album they’ve ever written. It’s just incredible. And the fact that they made this album independently is just another reason why they’re one of the most important bands in the metal genre. Their independence isn’t tangential to the lyrical themes of the album; it’s everything they stand for, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.
You Are We reaches new highs with its punching riffs and rhythmic force. It’s great to see even more of Sean’s vocals, too. He and Loz seem to trade off each other almost equally in this album, and their vocals complement each other perfectly in the different sections. I’d say that You Are We is probably the most melodic the band’s ever been, and this was a concern of mine when Hurricane dropped; much as I love that song, I wanted an album more aggressive than its tone. But conversely I think that, although the songs are a little less heavy, the heavy passages are angrier and more explosive than ever. Take the bridge of You Are We for instance. That’s got to be the dirtiest breakdown I’ve ever heard from them, and I just can’t wait to see it live. This is metalcore done right: heavy, angry verses and bridges, with emotional, melodic choruses that crowds will sing to the ether.
You Are We feels like the pinnacle of the band’s trajectory: everything the last two albums and The North Stands for Nothing has built up to. Knowing While She Sleeps, they’ll blow this out of the water in a few years’ time, but for now we can revel in the absolute lyrical and musical masterpiece that is You Are We. Okay, maybe the most important album ever is a stretch, but it’s definitely one of the most important albums right now, especially in the metal scene, and considering the state of politics and society. I’ll say it again: it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.
It seems by far the most frequent question writers, and probably other creative minds, are asked is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ Writers have responded with myriad answers. More religious writers might ascribe their creativity to God or a divine influence. I’ve felt this myself, a feeling of distance from my creative ideas, as though they do not come from me, but rather already existed and I was simply fortunate enough to have discovered them. Many secular writers and creatives have personified this force as their ‘muse’ and I like to use this metaphor at times, but it doesn’t explain where ideas come from. Stephen King has famously described the process of creativity as uncovering a fossil which had already been buried in the ground, positioning the writer as an archaeologist. He only uncovers the idea; he does not create it. I like this metaphor, but, again, I think there’s a better explanation.
When people ask this question, they often associate it with dreams. I’ve been asked more than once if I get my creative ideas from dreams, and indeed several significant novels derive from their author’s dreams, but for me, dreams in themselves are only a tiny influence on my creative work. I’ve had a few good ideas from dreams, but they were very simple or else too absurd to hold a prolonged narrative. It’s interesting that people mention dreams when asking about one’s creative source, because it suggests to me that they kind of already know the answer that I’m about to give. After all, they come from the same place: the unconscious.
I’m not going to spend much time defining the unconscious, because there’s plenty of material out there, and most people have a basic understanding already. According to Wikipedia, the unconscious ‘consists of the processes in the mind which occur automatically and are not available to introspection, and include thought processes, memories, interests, and motivations.’ Essentially, it’s a part of our brain that is not readily available to our conscious mind and comprises all of our experiences, fears, insecurities, desires, and memories. It’s my belief that once our conscious mind switches off when we sleep, we drift around our unconscious with little to no direction. So dreams can hold relevance to memories or pertinent fears, but they might also be completely random events and possibilities that your mind is free to explore without the confines of a conscious mind. To say that creativity comes from the unconscious is a little redundant, however, because by that logic, so does all of our thoughts. There is something in our minds it seems, which filters the important thoughts and memories, fears and desires into the conscious and unconscious. Freud famously calls this the ego, but for simplicity let’s call it a window. It’s this window, I believe, that forms the basis of creative influence. The window is ultimately shaped by the present conscious mind, i.e. your unconscious mind is viewed through a window of whatever you feel or experience at the present moment. I think the stronger the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind, the more creative a person is: the more potent their thoughts and ideas are. But of course we all have myriad different thoughts, feelings, and stimuli that have shaped our unconsciouses, so our senses of creativity are subjective. Having said this, I think there are certain aspects that are universal, for instance virtually everyone has a fear of death and of isolation, a desire to be appreciated and loved. This is why I love horror so much, because it gives me the ability to explore the universal elements of our unconscious, particularly the things that motivate us.
But our unconscious minds aren’t constant streams of fear and instinct. I think for the most part, they consist of loosely connected thoughts, memories, and ideas that have little emotional resonance. In short, there’s a lot of random shit floating around our minds, and naturally our egos decide this is unimportant, and there’s no reason for us to remember or access these thoughts. But it’s all still there, and dreams and drugs and art allow us to explore it. I certainly think creativity derives from one’s relationship with their unconscious mind, whichever way they decide to access it. And I’m not implying all creativity comes from drug use. Quite contrarily: some of the best creative minds were completely abstinent, yet I think inversely, people with a greater natural access to their unconscious are more attracted to other ways of exploring it. I think most writers, and painters, and musicians for that matter, simply achieve this level of creativity through art itself. I don’t sit and think about exactly what I’m going to write; I just start typing shit, and eventually scrub it away to find small chunks of creative gold beneath.
I think we have a little ability to direct our capacity for creativity, but that control is very limited. Consider the unconscious, if you will, as a lake, and the conscious mind as a sailboat. We can row further out and cast our line in a different place, which might yield slightly different results, but ultimately we can only fish in that lake, and we can only fish. We can’t for instance cast our line and draw in a succulent pig. We can only really draw on our own experience – our own unconscious – hence the quote ‘write about what you know’. I would definitely emphasise it in this context. Not simply ‘Oh, you’re a huge football fan? Write a story about football.’ I would ignore the superficial meaning of the quote, though it’s certainly easier to write about familiar superficialities, but I would urge people to write about the emotions and experiences that really call to them, because that is your muse. People that try and create art outside of their own pool of experiences often end up creating rather uninspired art. I’m not saying don’t educate yourself about alien experiences, or don’t indulge in them, but don’t make that your core influence. You see this all the time in pop music for instance, people singing about the same shit to reflect what’s relevant or saleable, and not what the artist really feels. This results in homogenous, uninspired drivel that questions the definition of Art. I’m not saying don’t write or sing about common ideas – Yes, we’ve all felt love and heartbreak, but there are only so many times I can hear this on the radio before I change station – I’m saying write about whatever calls to you. Follow your fucking (he)art.
So I suppose after that tangential rant, I’ll leave you there. That’s where I think creativity comes from, and that’s why I think we should all trust our ‘muses’ if so inclined. Because life’s way too short not to explore the deep crevices of our minds. You never know what you might find.
I haven’t written anything academic since university, and even then that was only Literature and Creative Writing essays, so this will be my first hand at anything psychological, though I have a great interest in it. In my reading, I have never come across anything quite like this, though I’m there are similar ideas out there, so if anything exists out there, I’d love to hear about it. This is ultimately only an idea to explain an awareness I’ve had on multiple occasions, regarding people’s attention levels towards one another. It’s a pretty simple idea, but the more I think about it, the more complex it grows in conjunction with other factors, so interpret it as you will.
Without further ado, the idea is this: everyone has two desired attention levels. One is the attention that they want to receive from others, and the second is the attention they want to pay others. There seems to be a general balance in these two levels, for instance someone might desire a high level of attention from those around them, but not care too much for paying attention to them. This would be a very extroverted person. Conversely, someone might require little attention from others, yet be happy to watch and listen to them. Some people also might be a more-or-less even split down the middle; they might desire a certain amount of attention from people, yet also give them a decent amount of their attention. It seems people are generally inclined one way or another, though I imagine they can fall anywhere on the spectrum.
What do I mean by desiring and paying attention? Well, someone who desires a large amount of attention might take precedence in conversations, filling silences and talking louder than others; they might make a lot of jokes; their body language will generally be very open to everyone; they will make a lot of eye contact with everyone around them; these people are the first to volunteer to be in the public eye, raising their hand in class, or being volunteers at comedy shows or pantomimes. They want to be at the forefront of people’s perception and thus thoughts, although, as I’ve explained, there’s a scale to this.
People who desire little attention will generally seat themselves in the corner or at the back in dinner halls, theatres, or classrooms; be quieter; and do little activity that would draw attention to them.
As for paying attention, everyone has a degree of attention they want to give others. This might characterise itself by looking at other people, and thinking about them; they will generally pay attention to those seeking attention (for instance if in a nightclub, the attention-desiring person might be dancing confidently in clear view of everyone, and the attention-giving person will be watching them); they will generally speak less, and listen intently to those around them.
Those that want to pay little attention to those around them will generally make less eye contact, position their bodies away from people when possible (all subconsciously, of course), and might well grow irritated with overly-confident people. These people are generally introverts.
But the theory is more complex than this, because a person’s desired attention levels don’t seem to be fixed, rather a fluid amalgamation of individual attention levels. So everyone will have different desired attention levels for every other person. For instance, the better someone knows others, generally the higher their desire to give and receive attention from them will be. There seems a general trend to this, though some people will be more content with attention from strangers, whereas others will desire it far less. A husband dragged along to his wife’s work-do, you would hope, would seek and want to give a large degree of attention to his wife, yet would care very little for the attention of relative strangers. Similarly, the higher the ratio of close friends to strangers, the higher the level of attention one might give and desire. This is only a theory of course, but I imagine the balance between these two levels might vary depending on this.
So, ultimately, a person’s general levels are made up of many individual levels: i.e. the giving and receiving of attention from every person in a room. And not only people in a room; now in an age of social media, if a man is in a room of strangers, he might seek and desire to give attention to his closer friends, and might take out his phone and open the Facebook or Snapchat app. (I’ll not get into social media too much, because that could be a whole other can of worms.) But others might be more content with attention from strangers, and want to pay them attention.
Furthermore, I think relationships blossom, initially at least, where an individual’s desired giving and receiving attention levels match another’s very closely. I imagine this is what a lot of people mean when they talk of ‘chemistry’. If someone desires the attention of someone they are attracted to, but that person either doesn’t want or want to give as much attention, then there is little chemistry, and that person is most likely ‘friend-zoned’.
So I’ve explained how everyone might have general levels, and that these shift depending on their company and the individual’s relationships with them, but there are others factors that I imagine affect their levels, such as: attraction, survival, drugs and alcohol, and mental illness, although I’m sure there are myriad contributing factors. Let me explain these. A person might be in a room with two complete strangers, one of which they are rather attracted to. Of course, they are going to pay this person more attention, and most-likely desire their attention more, also. This might manifest itself in more open body language, more frequent hand movements, such as playing with hair, etc: all the factors people look for when they are trying to judge if you’re attracted to them. Although conversely, some people might make a conscious effort to override these instincts and close their body language right off. Carnal desires affect these levels to varying degrees; even if a person has no conscious desire to do anything with someone they’re attracted to, or to even talk to them, you would find that attention levels would shift, and their body language and perhaps speech to reflect it.
Another carnal desire is survival: self-defence. For instance, if someone is speaking aggressively, giving indications of potential violence, we would naturally pay them more attention, to watch them closely in case we might need to protect ourselves in the near future. Conversely, we would probably desire very little attention from them back, although, and I’m going out on a limb here, I would pose the idea that some might have an abnormally high level of desired attention from people who, to all available information, seem potentially dangerous. You might find this in relationships with perpetual domestic abuse. And of course these levels increase and change overtime, making this abnormal desired attention all the more insidious. People might experience defensive levels of attention to threats that are more imagined than biological, too. Of course if we were in a room with a tiger, we wouldn’t take our eyes off the thing, because our instincts tell us that a tiger is a dangerous predator. But what about a black guy in a hoody? Even the most liberal of us, I think, still feel some subconscious caution of black people, or foreigners, or poor-looking people, because although our intellect can mostly override the agendas pushed by the media and society in general, they still seep into our instinctive behaviours, and many of us might linger our gaze on someone who society generally deems to be potentially more dangerous than others. It’s interesting that even irrational or imagined fears still affect our attention levels without us even realising.
Drugs and alcohol, as you’d expect, fundamentally shift our attention levels. People who are generally introverts and seek little attention from others, under the influence of the stimulant effects of alcohol, might be standing on a table, dancing, and making eye contact with strangers and friends alike. The attention they want to give might increase dramatically, too. Conversely, depressant drugs such as cannabis might turn one’s attention more inwardly, and as a consequence their desired attention levels would decrease significantly.
And lastly mental illness will affect these levels, too. People who suffer from depression and anxiety, for instance, might find radically low levels of desired attention when their condition is at its worst, and conditions like Bipolar might see this fluctuate within days or even hours; in the morning they might seek a lot of attention from those around them, talking loudly and animatedly, making big hand gestures, and making lots of eye contact, yet in the afternoon, they might be reserved, making little eye contact, and speaking in a low voice when they have to, with little inflection. They might pay those around them more attention, fuelled by thoughts of mild paranoia and insecurity, and ultimately to protect themselves, though this level might be significantly lower than it was in the morning.
I’m sure there are countless other factors I haven’t even considered, and I may revisit the theory if I have much more insight in the future. As I said, I have no idea if anyone has written about this phenomenon before, but I would love to hear if they have, because I find it quite fascinating. I’m not a scholar, so hopefully my ramblings made some kind of sense, and I hope people find this as interesting as I do.
Wow, where do I start? This book has blown my mind in so many different areas, including: Psychology, philosophy, politics, society, history, economy, religion. It even gave me a deeper awareness of the meat industry. It seemed with every new topic, Yuval Noah Harari offered deep insight that I had never truly questioned before.
The book documents humanity from our evolutionary roots, through the cognitive revolution, which has given us transcendence over any living animals, to an almost God-like state of consciousness. It explores the history of mankind from evolutionary angles, and strips back imagined structures that we all unconsciously adhere to, like capitalism and nationalism. Even the chapters on agriculture and other topics that didn’t seem so glamorous in retrospect, opened my mind like nothing I’ve ever rea before.
And the book is written so concisely that it’s accessible to just about anyone. Although dipping in and out of complex theories and ideologies, Harari’s writing style is forever engaging and simple. The 500 or so pages flew by as if I were reading a thriller, yet the ideas he presented have made me challenge my own beliefs and preconceptions about almost everything we think and know in modern society. It gave me the intellectual stimulation of reading countless academic essays, yet with the ease of a commercial thriller.
I rarely read non-fiction, but this book has given me a scolding for this, and a huge incentive to read more. I can safely say it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and opened my eyes as much as the first time I read 1984.
There is so much to discuss in Sapiens, but I won’t even begin to try and explain some of the ideas Harari presents, because, well, he does it so much better. This book is absolutely incredible. If there’s one non-fiction book you read in your lifetime, let it be this one. And it’s position on the new york times’ bestsellers list is testament to how good, but accessible, it is. Or at the very least, watch the author’s Ted talk, which essentially condenses the biggest ideas of the novel into a short talk.
He does not want you to be happy.
He wants you to be many things, but happy is not one of them.
He wants you to be rich.
He wants you to be handsome.
He wants you to have a smile on your face at all times.
To work most of your life, and come home to your wife and kids.
He wants you to be straight, white, and male.
He wants you to pay your taxes, read your morning paper, and
Laugh at the absurdity of that celebrity’s red carpet outfit,
Rage at the threat to society by the immigrants, and terrorists,
And girls who were born as boys and should fucking stay that way.
He wants you to drink the dregs of your fair-trade coffee,
Feel good about ‘doing your bit’ and leave your mug on the side for someone else to clean.
He wants you to buy a faster car and a bigger house than Mr Jones, because you’re better than him.
He wants you to say you don’t care what other people think, and believe it.
He wants you to drive to the polling station, cross your box, and be content in your huge political influence.
He wants you to keep your eyes on the ground, blind to the strings that pull your every move.
He wants you to feel free.
On a Friday night when you go out with friends and fill your stomach with drinks that numb your mind and slow your hand, because the truth is just out of reach, but always out of reach.
He wants you to be smart. Smart enough to do your work and make money for the men above you, but not smart enough to question why.
He wants you to be many things.
But He does not want you to be happy.
Free horror. More? What could you possibly want?