Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Portraits and Self Portraits

Posing in a tent at GlastersIn the coming year I may have to make a decision. To allow a portrait to be painted of me, or to create a self-portrait. Or neither, of course! Always good to have more than two choices.

To create a self-portrait has its problems, in terms of how well you knows yourself, and how honest you want to appear - including revealing the less pleasant side of yourself. And you need to convince yourself of the need for such a thing at all.

To tackle the first problem (of ego and vanity) - in show biz the self-conscious manipulation of image has its place as part of the job. It seems everyone's in show biz these days.

As an example, most of the photos I use as avatars, etc. I took myself with the ten-second timer on the camera. And that's not only selecting a location, and posing, but choosing, cropping and tweaking the picture - to attempt to create a look. I still do it to amuse, and as a form of self-expression, but they also remain masks to hide behind.

Word Pictures

The issue has arisen not in the world of visual images, however, but in the written word. I have made web-sites, written blogs, done online interviews, etc over the last decade, and they form a loose autobiographical project in themselves. Indeed, a journalist/Star Wars fan spent some time digging through that online material to compile a portrait to post on Wookipedia. That material has since migrated to Wikipedia, and although it amuses me I don't feel the right to edit the stuff (that really does smack of vanity). So it contains some errors, or misleading details, which I would attempt correct in my own version.


I have made drafts of a 'proper' autobiography intended to appear in book form (using Lulu, the print-on-demand system which avoids waste). I have set myself up on Lulu, and made various experiments, so I know how to make hard copies very cheaply. My Lulu storefront.

I still have trouble finding the right tone, although I enjoy unraveling memories, and meditating on my experiences. I don't know if I want to compile my anecdotes for film fans, or add to the history of New Circus, or offer my take on the changes made by my generation in The Sixties, the social history of the period, etc. I have tried thinking of it as something for my family, which would have to focus more on relationships, and reasons for making choices of various kinds. And that touches on the thorny issue of how to portray still-living people who have moved on in their lives. Do I track them down and ask them? Do I try to capture the world as I saw it then, or looking back ruefully? And so on.

An Outside Eye

Rich people used to commission portraits, and however carefully they selected and coached their artist, the final image and impression would always remain in the hands of the artist.

The issue of an objective portrait has arisen because someone has suggested writing a biography of me, involving plenty of research - interviewing old friends, co-workers, ex-lovers and all that, as well as extended interviews with me. Do I want to see myself as others see me? Relinquish control of the final image? I never think of myself as sufficiently interesting to appeal to a professional publisher - but if someone else sees a market, and can exploit it, then perhaps that adventure would prove amusing in itself.

I can see some advantages to passing all that work over to someone else. After all, I am unlikely to submit my own writing to much scrutiny from the other people in my adventures, even in the internet world that would take a lot of time tracking everyone down. It might prove very interesting to see the whole story from the outside, and with the perspectives of other people - although perhaps I won't like myself by the end.

The loss of control, and submitting to someone else's time-scale does have difficulties, though. Apart from anything else, I don't know how long the project would take, whereas self-publishing my own version allows me to get it out fast - if pushed - with the ability to carry on working on it, offering updates and later editions as I go along.

So, a portrait, or a self-portrait? I don't quite know how to decide.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Your Own Worst Enemy

I did decide that entering NaNoWriMo without enthusiasm would not work, so I quit before I started, not needing the stress. Don't get me wrong - the right kind of pressure helped me complete the task for the last four years, but each of those times I felt excited, nervous, wired, and had those pre-show nerves that can help a great performance.

This year I just felt flat, daunted, bullied by unrealistic expectations of self, and decided not to beat myself up, or tell myself it would get easier after the initial push - even though that remains the ethos of NaNoWriMo.

I wish everyone well, as they enter the last week of November. I remember how it can feel!

Just taking a break.

I lost interest in writing, for the time being. Except for all this trivial posting, which seems more like chatting than attempting to create anything semi-permanent. These words resemble mere sandcastles, before the tide comes in to wash them away again.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Getting Down To It

I can see the 'write-a-novel-in-a-month' challenge looming on the horizon. I have done it, and completed the task, for four years now. This time I have literally no idea of what to write, or whether I even feel up to the task. I need to make a decision soon!

Programme for stage show Meanwhile, I have migrated the data from a wiki that we created for the Illuminatus! study group, which never really took off as a collaborative tool. Instead of the wiki structure I have now started building the material as a website, so it does have much more of my own stamp on it. As before, the intention remains to re-read the book with close attention, and to elucidate some more of the puzzles it contains.

The autobiography drove into the sand again, and sits around looking hopeful, like a dog on a rainy day.

The history of NoFit State (another wiki that does not attract contributors) has proved helpful, at least, in so far as the Timeline has helped when we started sorting pictures for display at the 25th Birthday bash, which is coming up. The task has proved dauntingly complicated, and we have huge gaps in the material (posters, programmes, pictures) from the early days - and then an overwhelming amount of choice since the digital picture era.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Imaginary Readers

I guess one of the problems I have with completing a book arises from not having a clear image of any imaginary readers in the future.

In conversation I might have the ability to amuse most people for an hour or two. Some people will inevitably consider me stupid, boorish, arrogant, etc - but I have quite a lot of experience at 'tuning in' to a wide range of people, as teacher, street performer, hitch-hiker, public servant, etc.

Feedback from a listener might tell me to avoid (say) politics or football, religion or eating habits, fashion or beliefs, etc - but given that adaptability we could probably carry on an interesting exchange.
Tree Hugger

When writing I don't seem to have a clear view of the reader. I could aim it at one person (like a letter - those are the things we did before emails) but once I get past writing for one I seem to get very inhibited.

In real life I talk to people who never swear, and others who always do. My favourite mix probably remains not swearing as punctuation, but saving the occasional swear word to drop in for shock value, emphasis, or for laughs.

Similarly, my cynical approach to the media and public reaction to the Death of Lady Di(for example), or 9/11, might get me a punch on the nose in one situation, and a cheer from another. Nothing to do with feeling sorry for an individual human being, or for 3000 human beings, just saying out loud, or sharing, a sense of the hypocrisy of the media, or politicians, for instance.

In writing a book I don't want to avoid jokes that might only make my friends laugh, but get taken right out of context by some casual reader. As a minor celebrity (about F-List) I have that 'role model' responsibility for young people, so can hardly promote laziness, defend drug-taking, encourage anarchism, mention atheism as an obvious default position, etc without drawing comments from 'concerned parents'.

On the other hand (probably talking about an autobiography now) I can't really talk about how I got here without honesty about my opinions and approach to life - and some of my more exotic experiences. I don't want to offer a Disney version.

Chatting in a bar, or on a bus, I could tailor my anecdotes to suit you...editing on the fly. A book seems a really permanent object which can be held up in court...

I see this (like so many ideas) has bothered others:

My Imaginary Readers at Writing Resources

The Imaginary Reader: the imaginary reader, the real reader, the happy reader

Joyce Scholars, Editors and Imaginary Readers

Treehugger on paper books and e-books

Thursday, 15 September 2011

My own worst enemy

I started off so highly motivated - writing projects in hand, the wonderful Scrivener software to play with, a couple of rough drafts to smooth, and/but somehow the year just got away from me.

I guess I will dive into the NaNoWriMo pool again this November - just because it has so far always proven a great way to stay motivated against all my own stubborn resistance. I have no idea why I can't do this for myself, by just setting a deadline.

But hey, I don't like spending time beating myself up. Maybe I really do have to retire from the day job...I've turned 65, and stagger on taking short-term contracts in this insecure job market.

Time to starve in an attic...perhaps...

Saturday, 20 August 2011

It's not as if I have been doing nothing...

I know blogs need regular updates, and this one went inert a couple of months back, but hey, I have several blogs...and was writing offline, etc.

No excuses.

I have started savagely rewriting the other two scratch novels (NaNoWriMo) - Handwaving, and Does Not Compute) that I had in the drawer. They may even end up combined. It seems like a long, slow process.

These two I am approaching like zero drafts (that comes before even a first draft).

The first two - Foolproof, and Infinite Monkeys - got printed more or less as they arrived at my fingertips, but not because I thought they were great...just to complete the whole process of manifesting a book...and to figure out how Lulu works. Here's my Lulu 'shopfront'.

Small World - the old blue tent through a lens
I also set up a Wiki, as the first steps in compiling a history of NoFit State Circus, but it doesn't seem to have reached critical mass (to attract other contributors), so it remains (more-or-less) a brief note of the first steps of research (scanned programmes, pictures, etc) than any serious writing (as yet). At least I made a timeline, so it's a start.

And the autobiography simmers away in my head, but no further work got done on it.

All of these projects have proven useful raw material for beta testing Scrivener for Windows.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Lulu, Pedia Press, etc

I decided to go refresh the intro page on Lulu, and perhaps reduce the verbiage.

I hope to add the next two Nano novels, which are currently being edited in the Scrivener for Windows Beta edition - at least to run off proof copies to play with, even if I don't ask Bobby to make me covers yet (as I did for the first two).

I also have the film script "White Crow" which I did for Script Frenzy, so I might put that up as a PDF, at least.

I have enjoyed ending up with portable paper copies, and I have tried most of the formats, from pocket book to A4 spiral-bound.

I don't expect people to actually buy this stuff just yet - as I consider myself a learner - but I need to practice not just writing, but also layout, design, online marketing, etc. I find it easier to learn by actually doing this stuff - and getting a tangible result.

Pedia Press

Apart from Lulu, I also discovered Pedia Press, who allow you to select a bunch of articles from Wikipedia, and then have them made up into a book! I got one copy of all my film work, my own Wikipedia entry (thanks to Colin McEvoy!) and entries for Jim Henson, George Lucas, etc. The paperback makes a convenient reference for when I go to conventions, etc.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

An Interesting Distinction

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
I came across this thesis online (and there's a book at Amazon, too).

Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity

A Portrait of the Artist as a Very Young or Very Old Innovator: Creativity at the Extremes of the Life Cycle

David W. Galenson

Broadway Boogie Woogiein which he attempts to indicate a distinction between what he calls conceptual and experimental innovators.


Orson Welles made Citizen Kane, his greatest movie, when he was 25 years old; Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater, his most famous house, when he was 70. Contrasts as great as this raise the question of whether there is a general explanation of when in their lives great innovators are most creative. For each of seven artistic disciplines, this paper examines a major innovation made by a very young artist, and another made by an old one, with the goal of understanding the role of the artist's age and experience in the accomplishment. The analysis shows why youth was necessary for the innovations of such conceptual artists as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Rimbaud, Maya Lin, and Orson Welles, all of whom produced their masterpieces before the age of 30, and why extensive experience was necessary for the innovations of such experimental artists as Piet Mondrian, Elizabeth Bishop, Henrik Ibsen, and Frank Lloyd Wright, all of whom made major contributions after the age of 60.

This paper demonstrates the generality of the distinction between conceptual and experimental innovators in artistic disciplines, and the value of the analysis in explaining the very different relationships between age and creativity for the two types of artist.

Vietnam War Memorial

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Henry Miller's regime

Thanks to Orna Ross, I stumbled back across Henry's rules (self-imposed) for writing:

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to Black Spring.
3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can't create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it--but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.


MORNINGS: If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus. If in fine fettle, write.

AFTERNOONS: Work on section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

EVENINGS: See friends. Read in cafes. Explore unfamiliar sections--on foot if wet, on bicycle, if dry. Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program. Paint if empty or tired. Make notes. Make charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occassional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafes and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for reference once a week."

Monday, 7 March 2011

Family matters

I have started the difficult task of digging through my parent's lives...hard because they have both left the planet long ago, and although I have a sort of cv/resume of each of them, I know almost nothing of their real lives.

This dearth of information explains (partly) why I feel the need to annotate my life a little, even if an autobiography can still only be a tiny sample of a life. I am a biological dad, at least, to three people, but I haven't done a lot of parenting, really. The women did most of the work. It still puzzles me how my name gets tagged to people - some strange leftover of 'male rights', or getting men to acknowledge their children, or something.

I took my dad's name, in the traditional manner, and stuck with it because it seemed a unique name (sufficient for show biz, at least) although, through internet and Facebook I now know I am not unique, even in this. My sister married a couple of times, so her name shifted, and our mother not only married a couple of times but also had a show-biz alias as Sheila Moriarty (using her own mother's maiden name) - so she had started as Sheila Vose, then Sheila Philpott, then Sheila Guthrie - and all the time, still, a Moriarty.

Women seem to have more flexibility under this system, anyway, as they can always marry out of a surname they don't like. I only once called myself Toby Moriarty for a gig/contract, and it felt really weird.

The Spanish seem to nod to both families with double-barreled surnames (a few people do that over here, but it is less of a tradition). I am not sure what happens when two double-barreled names meet. How do they merge?

Ahem - I actually have a hidden agenda for this post, but briefly I am pleased that the mothers involved insisted on getting my surname on the birth certificates - even though I have never married anyone. I was such an outlaw for years that I hated having my name on any official paperwork. It seemed strange at the time not to just use the mother's name (because I myself grew up with a different name from my mum's and it led to lots of confusion and explanations at times, in hotels, over plane tickets, passports, etc). But it's nice, now, to have Yolande Philpott feeling OK about me and my name, and my son seems to choose whichever suits him, Keili Olsen or Keili Philpott, as it takes his fancy.

But this isn't getting a book written. Ahem.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Easy Going

Anyone who knows me well will understand that I tend to stroll along with projects, rather than beat myself up. Stress just ain't good for you.

I have always lacked ambition and drive and all those other neurotic motivators that the puritan speed-freaks like Mrs Thatcher (sleeps only 4 hours a night, and proud of it) seem to think of as the only way to live.

The Brits have adopted this approach from the Americans, too - so that the richer you get, the longer hours you work. [What's wrong with this equation?]

The poor spend their time watching the rich folks on television, cherry-picking among houses that cost half a million pounds, complaining about the lack of cupboard space, or the distance to the nearest school - and then saying they only have a budget of 50K to make the kitchen the way they want it, and add en suite toilets to all the bedrooms and such. All while driving to work every day in the SUV, and working on the project in their spare time. I feel no envy.

We, the poor also spend a lot of time fantasising about winning the lottery - and most of us imagine Doing Nothing as the first thing we would do...not work 80-hour weeks like the rich workaholics - who probably assume we are poor because we are lazy.

But hey. Each to their own. When motivated by fascination for something I can spend obsessive hours doing it, but I put that in the category of hobbies, personal development, investment of time in self, etc.

I long ago decided the only real freedoms existed at the top of the pyramid (very hard to get to, if you were not born there) or right at the bottom of the heap, with nothing to lose - and that's the direction I chose (if it didn't choose me). Nothing noble like becoming a Buddhist monk, nor as squalid as becoming a total bum. Just living frugally, simplifying my needs, never borrowing money, keeping possessions to a minimum and finding satisfaction in the everyday, rather than using dissatisfaction as a driver.

So I have started compiling the research to finally put a book together, and potter away at it, like a man in a shed.

The Way Things Happened

I have decided I need to zoom in, and zoom out - so that as well as my own little anecdotes you get some idea of context, a drop of social history, a glimpse of bygone eras (if you are younger than me) or nostalgic memories (if in my peer group) and 'what was really going on'.

And speaking of anecdotes - some of the stories have become polished pebbles by now, from constant retelling, and they get detached from genuine sensory memories and the rough edges of real life, so I am also enjoying the quick flashbacks to moments and incidents that have not become stale, events that I have never before described.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Memories both good and bad

I have no idea how much to put in or leave out... Digging in the boxes (and the Akashic Records of memory) does turn up some odd stuff.

Back in 1973 a pretty girl I met at The Oval House invited me to help 'a photographer friend' who wanted to try to capture juggling with a strobe, so I accepted, of course.
I was curious, in those days, about the doors that 'being a juggler' kept opening.

It turned out that John Hedgecoe was a lecturer at the Royal College of Art, and he took various strobe photos of juggling with balls and rings and stuff, but eventually suggested drink cans. Now, they are not the easiest things to juggle in the first place, and under strobes most juggling is hard to sustain.

Still I did it. Didn't get paid. Didn't get any nice prints for my own publicity use. And it turned out to be a commercial project (one cover in for a series of books), not an experiment.

My first experience in the school of hard knocks. On the cover of other books in the series I noted the faces of his students and another tutor, so maybe we all got exploited and no-one got paid! Hey ho.
I know the girl quit working for him shortly afterwards, but I won't repeat what she called him!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011



has turned out to work really well for me, so I have started compiling the long-delayed autobiography, partly to test it (I always use real projects, not pretend ones, when testing stuff) and partly to do a recapitulation of my life as I approach 65.

That number doesn't have any real significance, of course, but for many years it has been used in the UK as a benchmark for 'retirement'. The government seems intent on moving the goalposts now that people live longer, as the maths of tax and pensions no longer balances out.

Of course, when I dropped out I assumed the State would have withered away by now, and never expected a pension, so I feel amazed that anyone intends to give me anything for not working, but it appears they might. Not much, but a small income just for staying alive as a British citizen.



Perhaps it could offer the minimal support for the older meaning of retirement, of retreat into the forest, the spiritual retirement, or magickal retirement, or whatever.

You may note that I have not used capital letters for the title 'recapitulation' as I don't want it confused with the technical use of it by (say) followers of Castaneda. Interesting as his books seemed in the 80s, I have since come to some sort of conclusion about that rascal guru and the cult that built up around him, that makes me feel more uneasy than it did at the time.

Of course, believers may assume that my unease (like that of the pseudo-Carlos in the books) comes from living an inauthentic life, and they may have a point. Still, looking back over a life and contemplating both individual events, and the broad sweep of the story, does not belong to any one realm, genre or group.

And as 'My Name Is Earl' shows, even Scientologists like re-living or re-visiting past events and activities to discharge the energy trapped in them, or clear the karma locked down, or whatever the jargon. Psychotherapy in various forms does something similar to relieve people of trauma.

Any and all of these things may have some relevance to writing an autobiography, but it can also have the story-teller aspect of grandpa round the fire, handing on the tale of the tribe, or offering cautionary tales, or even inspirational (and possibly hilarious) teaching tales, or simply self-mocking anecdotes.

I have no idea, as I grope forward. To avoid any grand ideas I tell myself I just want a little book of anecdotes to sell at conventions, or to hand to my grand-daughter, or something.

The final outcome seems less interesting (at the moment) than the process of concentrating on putting my affairs in order, while also drifting into reverie at times.

Focus, drift away, focus, drift away... I enjoy it. The process.

Circus History

To keep myself grounded in tribal history, rather than just my own little adventures, I have also embarked on what may turn out as a longer project, to compile a history of the circus. Not just whatever we mean by the word 'circus' (some people use it to mean all the variety skills of speciality acts, others to mean the modern cliche image which only dates back 2-300 years) but the specific tribe to which I belong. NoFit State.

Of course, the active members continue to create, explore and expand, and the project could prove open-ended, and subject to continuous revision, so I have decided to collect my research together not in private folders but in a public Wiki. Someone else can always take over if I bite the sawdust unexpectedly, and meanwhile anyone can join in and collaborate on the researching and editing process.

Much to look forward to in 2011!