Beyond the valley of the valley of ....

Isn't it nearly time I made my annual promise to post to LiveJournal more often next year? Indeed it is. And just to up the ante, I think in 2014 I'll post every day. Unless it becomes obvious that no one else is still on LJ besides you, him, her and what's his face, in which case I may miss a day or two.

So, 2013 catch up? A rotten year, mostly. Three tech writing contracts, each of which paid nicely and started with the prospect of becoming permanent, but each ended abruptly because they "didn't have the budget." Which usually translates into "we've added 12 directors of wispy stuff and 8 Vice Presidents this year so we're having to cut the actual workforce to one developer and 5 interns. It's all Obama's fault...." So now I've been out of work since November, my COBRA has expired and my mood towards the entrepreneurial IT wonderland of Austin has somewhat soured.

But on a brighter note....



Midweek lull

Last week started well. Registered for UI benefits on Monday, did a pile of ironing, then got an email from a recruiter who'd found me on LinkedIn. She called the next day, which turned into an interview the day after and....

Since then, nothing.

Feeling a bit bummed as the last eight months have been a bit too easy. Highest hourly rate, shortest commute, hardly anything resembling work.... Now I have to make an effort to find something that will no doubt be harder to get to, pay less and might even involve real work.

Also, taxes. No refund. Somehow we always end up owing about fifteen hundred dollars.

Sausage and beer

Best lunch deal in Austin is definitely at Bangers. Eight bucks gets you an eight dollar hot dog, a five dollar side and any Texan pint, what normally would total around $20. Impressive beer selection and a barman who was very free with the samples. "You'll like this, Adelbert's Naked Nun Bourbon-aged Wit...." Definitely the place to go to wind down on a rainy afternoon after an exhausting interview.

Back to LiveJournal then, at least while I have time to write.


Friday Night Thing

So, here we have a Kindle, and here we have the LiveJournal app. And here, by crikey, we have eight people on my once mighty friend list still possible as ting. Or posting, as I aimed at typing. What a fierce and unforgiving autocracy this bigger has. AUTOCORRECT. BUGGER.

Maybe I should try and get Kickstarter funding to starting writing regular entries again. $10 and I'll say nice things about your cat. $20 and I'll claim to have read your latest novel. $500 and I won't say anything rude about Amanda Palmer. $1000 and you'll get a tote bag with half a potato stuck to the bottom. $5000 and I'll end this entry right here.

And we got a cat....

This is the post that would contain the obligatory "why I haven't updated for months and how things are going to be different now just you wait and see" ramblings if it wasn't all too wearisome. This has been a particularly wretched summer, but things have steered themselves back to... well, comfortable.

Truncated version: Put house on market, quickly got a buyer, who withdrew at the last minute. House didn't sell, I lost job for reasons I'm still unsure of, moved stuff from storage back into house, and wife broke tailbone roller skating (she's a Texas Roller Girl now, in their Rec League). I got a contract paying 20% more than last job doing something I'm eminently unqualified to do, and was rushed to hospital with an exploding gallbladder the second week (thankfully I'd signed up with COBRA, which saved me $32,000 for a midnight cholecystectomy and a plate of ziti). Contract continues, I slowly learn about computer stuff I'd hoped to avoid, like GitHub and Agile and Maven and REST. Life goes on. Any questions?

Now that's out of the way, I can start updating regularly again....


Update without details

The other thing that happened, the day after the first thing. Not the end of the world, but a terrible disappointment that even on its own would have seemed like a giant thumb squashing me insect-flat as a snarky voice said "Whatever made you think you could have nice things?" Coming the day after the first thing it was too much, each bad thing amplifying the other, putting me in my place - a dark and smelly place....

Nietzsche was wrong, the silly sod. What doesn't kill me doesn't make me stronger, just more cynical, and resigned to that cynicism. 

But enough of that. 

There are books to read. Maybe I'll finally get around to reading Oakley Hall's Warlock.



Talking of Martin Amis, he did come up with a good line about Mittens Romney late last year, which I missed at the time as the article ran in the unlikable Daily Beast:

There is something strangely semi-human about Mitt. To enlarge on a metaphor first articulated by the great Clive James, Romney looks as though he went to the dentist one afternoon, and came out with his head capped. 

What's Clive James up to these days, anyway, UK-readers? I'm getting all nostalgic for the early 80s, and this time it's not the music....

The Pregnant Widow - Martin Amis (2010)

Me and Martin Amis go back a long way, but he sort of faded from my awareness after the awful Yellow Dog (2003) and oddly pointless Korba the Dread (2000). Which was a shame, as his earlier books resonated with me more than any other writer. From Success (1978) to The Information (1995), he was the chronicler of England (my England), and the rotten, fizzing madness of modern life surrounding me. Living in London while reading London Fields (1989) was like some intense immersive experience, although with more Keith Talents on the prowl than Nichola Sixes. And then, half way through The Information, it started to go wrong, the omnipresent "offness" that was always in his work, defamiliarizing the mundane into vivid Martian surrealism, seemed to disolve into leery, class contempt. And then he started to turn into a bad dream version of his old man, his politics seeming to zoom rightwards after 9/11.

So I avoided The Pregnant Widow for the longest time. Gone were the days when I'd buy his books in hardback when they were published. (Yellow Dog I got cheap on Amazon after the initial stink died down, Korba, I borrowed from the Library.) I didn't know this novel existed until recently, after the paperback had appeared, and I was wary of reading it even then. The reviews were so-so, and the subject matter didn't seem too promising. And another Keith? Couldn't he leave that name alone?

But then I saw that he had another novel coming out this week, the unpromisingly titled Lionel Asbo: State of England so I thought I'd catch up. And I was at the library with the kids, and it was either that or follow up on my vow to start reading science fiction again, and I wasn't sure where to begin there....

The Pregnant Widow isn't quite a return to form. It's too long, although in a way it needs to be to contrast the endless, youthful, languid, sex-soaked summer of 1970 that occupies the first five-sixths of the book with the 60 subsequent pages that bring it up to date. No much happens, at least not in the first 300 pages, where people talk, and come and go, and read, and talk some more. Big themes lurk: literature and life, love and sex, freedom and liberation, pleasure and morality, but most of it's just talk.

And yet there are passages as good as anything he's written. Like:

As he opened his eyes that morning, Keith thought, When I was young, old people looked like old people, slowly growing into their masks of bark and walnut. People aged differently now. They looked like young people who had been around far too long. Time moved past them but they dreamt they stayed the same.

There's stuff about Islam that doesn't seem to go anywhere. And the delayed payoffs all seemed so minor and petty when they do come along that I kept suspecting I'd missed something. Is the moral of the book simply that the sexual revolution was fun at the time (for men, mostly) but terrible in its consequences (for women, and Amis's late sister in particular)? Not that a novel stands or falls by the moral or themes one reads into it, or fails to find.Amis himself has said that the theme of the novel is the novel, that there's no convenient maxim to take away. I have the feeling I may need to reread the book to make up my mind, but I don't especially want to. But I do want to go get London Fields and Other People out of storage soon, or maybe even have another crack at Yellow Dog. It couldn't really have been that bad, could it?


Not like you used to get...

Just back from Lick, where I had the Mexican Marigold ice cream. And the Texas Peach with Rosemary. Ridiculously good, although I assume liking such things makes me worse than Hitler. But growing up all I knew were those blocks of Wall's Neapolitan that tasted only of wet cardboard and I was probably 30 before people realized you could make ice cream using fresh dairy products. I think my generation is the first that can't really gripe about food being better when we were kids. Ice cream, cheese, chocolate, bread, beer, these were all so much worse back in the 60s and 70s. Which shows that not everything deteriorates over time, and there's hope than anything can be reversed if people make an effort and refuse to accept crap. Of course it helps to be in the right place and have a higher than average income, but I'm pretty sure that 30 years ago even Mitt Romney couldn't have found a place that sold Salted Caramel or Goats Cheese, Honey and Thyme ice cream.


Dusty answers

Anyone still reading this? I just, accidentally, opened my LJ friend list or whatever it's called, and lord, look at all those folks I used to look forward to reading and swapping comments with! Like... Well, it would be rude to name names, since that would imply those unnamed aren't of the same caliber. But what happened to all those folk, the ones who didn't end up on Facebook sharing cat photos? Did they just get bored? Did they kick the whole need to share their thoughts and spill their guts online and move on to more rewarding activities?