Monday, July 8, 2013

Wasnick Blog # 33 Twenty One Books

I’m considering embarking on a journey—a re-reading of the twenty one stories that best influenced, transported, soothed, seduced and inspired my imagination. For me a good story is a meaty carcass to gnaw on, a meal not to be hurried. I don’t read fast, never have. I like fiction that makes me think. Maybe some of these tales won’t have stood the test of time, but I doubt it, in my memory each still contains a bright hermetic integrity.
When it came to books I was a slow starter. I didn't realize reading was potentially a pleasure rather than a parentally inflicted chore until I stumbled upon Jerome K Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ (which, as an eleven year old gave me my first laughter-stitch). 
The list bellow represents something of a Sophie’s Choice, no two books by the same author, which alone meant a drastic and painful cutting. The order is chronological, not in terms of when they were written, but from the selfish notion that only once I’d read them did they come into existence:
“Nine Billion Names of God”— Arthur C Clarke. A short story that opened my mind to infinite possibility.
“Siddhartha”—Hesse. Could also have been Steppenwolf but I chose this because it introduced an 18 year old to the concept of spiritual journey.
“The Count of Monte Cristo” —Dumas. Revenge served sweet and cold.
“The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”—Hugo. Profound pathos wrapped in a ripping yarn.
“The Foundation Trilogy” —Asimov. The ultimate in Science Fiction.
“Titus Groan”—Mervyn Peake. Although the Gormaghast trilogy fades in the last of the series (as Peak’s health collapsed), books one and two are truly remarkable feats of possibly the most underrated imagination in English literature. The guy was a good artist too!
“Cider With Rosie” —Laurie Lee. First of three effortless gems bridging pastoral England and sun-hardened Spain.
“Cat’s Cradle”— Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the world.
“Cannery Row—Steinbeck. If this story don’t get to you, you aint human!
“Love for Lydia”— H.E. Bates. If I could write half as well as Bates I would die happy.
“First Love, Last Rights”—Ian McEwen. Along with his other early book of short stories, “Between the Sheets”, these wee tales are provocative, funny, and clever.
“The Wasp Factory” —Iain Banks. More extreme than McEwen, Banks is downright black.
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”—Le Carre. George Smiley, is one of the great character vehicles of modern fiction, brilliantly-flawed, a giant little man. 
“The Chymical Wedding”—Lindsay Clarke. It was this or John Fowels’ “The Magus”, and as Clarkes' book is about alchemy, that tipped the scales.
“Riddley Walker”—Russell Hoban. Written in a post-holocaustic language, it’s a one-off slice of genius. 
“Four Letters of Love” —Niall Williams. An affirmation of heart wrenching passion and tenacity. 
“Shadow of the Wind”— Zafon. From first to last paragraph, a story that overrules the humdrum. 
“Perfume”—Suskind. Dark as it comes. For sheer originality and cunning, Perfume is a sensory juggernaut. 
“The Fingersmith”—Sarah Waters. So well written. A tricky, conjurer of time and place. 
“The Fencing Master”—Perez-Reverte. It was a tough call between this and his Captain Alatriste series, but The Fencing Master ultimately won the day, because I identified with what he was fighting for. And...his female villain is a bloody marvelous creation. 
“Game of Thrones”—Martin. Having read all five books, mostly in the bath (and I hate cold bath water!) I confess total addiction to Martin’s brutally real parallel world

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wasnick Blog #32 Quotes

I have to admit that am a sucker for good quotes. Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” Menken
“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” Shakespeare
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Einstein
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” Mark Twain
“Suburbia is where the developers bulldoze the trees, then name the streets after them.” Bill Vaughn
“Computers are like Old Testament gods, lots of rules and no mercy.” Joseph Campbell
“Promiscuous people are those getting more sex than you.”Victor Lownes
“I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.” Charles Schultz
“Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them more.” Oscar Wilde
“If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.”
George Bernard Shaw
“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” Dorothy Parker                                                                                   
“I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't believed it.” Marshall McLuhan
"God tolerates the intolerable; he is irresponsible and inconsistent. He is not a gentleman." Anon
“I knew her before she was a virgin.” Oscar Levant
“Those who welcome death have only tried it from the ears up.” Wison Mizner
“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distance continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, May 31, 2013

Wasnick Blog #30 Stuff

If you haven’t watched the great George Carlin’s “Stuff” I strongly encourage you to visit youtube and partake in this masterpiece of philosophical comedy.
Last month we sold our medium sized house on Salt Spring Island and moved to one, half the size, here in Victoria. The move inspired/forced us into selling a lot of our ‘stuff’, first through an e-blast to friends, then via the local Exchange, and finally the dreaded Garage Sale. Which wasn’t dreaded at all, because the people of Salt Spring are so damn nice No scything of pointed elbows or arguments about who got there first. Just civilized bargaining and good conversation.
            To say that we felt a lightening of our load would be a massive understatement. It was bloody great! As each item went out the door I felt more fleet of foot, clear in spirit and strangely more able to function in the here and now. We were about to move into 1,300 square feet and there was going to be no room for anything that wasn’t essential or deeply loved. I said goodbye to not only things from the house but much from my studio, I even stripped my art out of its glazed housing—selling 400 frames in two days.
            Arriving in Victoria, the ‘stuff’ we brought with us had a common bond, it’s innate attachment to us and ours to it. Not because it had been handed on in years long gone or because we’d bought it before being suffused with some vague notion of buyers remorse, but because it had meaning—aesthetic or personal.
            In those first two days, as we started fitting things into position, we couldn’t believe how perfectly the jigsaw puzzle came together. Everything seemed to have a place and purpose. Our ‘scorched earth’ policy of stuff reduction had been fully validated.
            Because we have so much less now, the things in this new home seem to make more sense than they ever did before. The house has become functional, in the best sense of the word. We want for nothing, and we have horrid little smug grins on our faces. And to keep the status quo, we have instigated a new hard and fast rule—if something comes in, something has to go out.
            Thank you George, you are a bloody genius.
            PS The cats did even better than we did—they managed to make the move totally sans stuff.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Wasnick Blog #29 The Tea Leaf

Friday, late afternoon, in the middle of winter—I’m standing looking through the counter grill at a room littered with slips of paper, cigarette packets, and sweet wrappers. Pinned to the wall are newspaper pages covered with lists of ‘orses and dogs, the times they ran and the weights and odds at which they were expected to carry. The air is still smudged with smoke and probably smells fowl, but I’m so used to it I don’t notice. I’m leaning on the counter checking the day’s takings. This is my second year as settler-manager of the Roman Road betting shop, or Turf Accountants, to give it it’s proper name. I guess I’m getting a little bored with the end-of–week routine, ‘cause I’ve had to count the stacks three times.
Jacky the payout girl has done her bit and is just cleaning down the results board, spreading bleedin’ chalk dust everywhere. The last race at Chepstow came and went an hour ago, and as far as I’m concerned any straggler who wants to get paid-out is going to have to wait till tomorrow. I’ve gathered me side money. Ten pounds I snagged when Hunter’s Dawn went from 6/1 to 7/1, thirty seconds after some silly sod had taken an early price, but failed to watch while I put his bet through the timer. Another four pounds came from the screwed up winning ticket that got tossed before the stewards’ enquiry had turned over the result of the 12.30 at Brighton. I even had a winning drunk stuff a quid in my hand because he’d picked Black Bear based on the colour of my jumper. All in all, not a bad day really.
Once I’ve got the cash counted, I can bundle it and get it to the head office over at Aldgate East . I’ve never been too keen walking through the backstreets of the East End with me pocket stuffed, but what can you do? I can’t send Jacky and management are way too tight to send anyone over to pick it up.
I’m finally slipping a blue rubber band over the wad of fivers when the bell rings and in ‘e comes. To be ‘onest I didn’t even look up— ‘e must have been wearing brothel creepers cause he crossed the floor without making a sound.
I was considering telling him we were closed when I ‘eard the metallic tap on the counter. I ‘ate it when the punters do that, bang their money to get my attention.
It was then that I noticed that the thing making the annoying noise was not coin of the realm but the tip of a double-barreled shogun.
“Ello Sunshine, I’m here to screw wiv your day. That is, unless you feel inclined to make a contribution to The Poor Widows fund.” His voice was ‘ard, ‘ard as concrete and ‘is smile was worth absolutely nuffin’.
I ‘eard a thunk to my left and turned to see Jacky slumped in an ‘eap on the floor. Funny what goes through your mind, I remember thinking, ‘she’ll be pissed off getter her trousers and new top all dirtied up.’
I looked back at our visitor. Even if the bloke ‘adn’t been 6’2” and built like a brick shit-house, there was absolutely no way I was going to be ‘eroic over someone else’s money. It seemed like a god idea not to speak, just incase ‘e didn’t like the tone of my voice. I just slid the wad of fivers over to him as smoovly as I could.
“Sensible boy,” ‘e said. “Now the rest.”
I reached into the till and pulled out all the remaining notes. I nudged them forward so that they sat next to the fives.
Without taking his eyes off me, and holding the shotgun with one hand, reached out with the other and pocketed the money. “Gambling,” he said as if addressing the empty room behind him, “is a mugs game.” And with that he walked quietly to the door. Looking over ‘is shoulder he cocked ‘is ‘ead and gave me a look as if to say, “Don’t be a pratt and make me come back.”

There are, I suppose, many things I could have done, should ‘ave done, once I’d counted to ten. I should have picked Jacky up, dusted her down, and made sure she was OK. I should have phoned the law, and I should ‘ave let the office know that they weren’t going to be getting their takings. And because I’m a good employee and model citizen, I did all of those things—but not before I’d completed one small task. I reached for the top shelf where we keep the teapot. No, I wasn’t going to make myself a nice cup of soothing tea! Instead, I removed the lid and ‘eld it just below the countertop, then I scooped from the till all of the 50p pieces and dropped them into the teapot’s belly They made a satisfying clanking as about 2o quids worth of coins joined the rest of my side-money. Then I replaced the lid and carefully secured the pot back on its shelf.
Now, you might be wondering ‘ow I could do such a thing at a time like that. ‘owever, it seems to me, that I’d been the one who’d put up with all the aggravation, and was about to be further inconvenienced by ‘aving to stay  and do overtime, that  I had no chance of being compensated for. My bosses ‘ave never shown any consideration for my ‘ealth and well being, so I consider myself fully justified in making sure that I receive some small remuneration for the danger I’d ‘ad to face. Let us say then, shall we, that I ‘ave claimed a little something towards my own Poor Widows fund?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wasnick Blog #28 Late Valentine

Half way through a book signing lineup, a young man approached me and asked if I would write a marriage proposal to his girlfriend on the title page of his newly purchased copy of Griffin and Sabine. I politely refused, on the grounds that if she said ‘yes’, she might later blame ME and if she said ‘no’, he was sure to hold ME responsible.

      Aimlessly pondering the guys strange request on the way back to my hotel I started to think about the old scribes and the power their jobs afforded them. Because sleep is often hard to come by on the road, I decided to take the young man’s request a little further, could I write a multi-purpose proposal, or better still something that the good folk at Hallmark might die for, an all purpose love letter? I picked up my pen...
         I’d forgotten about this dubious missive until yesterday, when I was considering all those poor sods who had forgotten to present Valentines Day flowers to their heartthrob. Maybe, I thought to myself I could help. So I dug out the letter.
         If you are in need of instant salvation, here is the ‘out’ you are looking for. Just cut and paste the following, add the appropriate names front and back, then speedily email. I can’t guarantee the outcome, but if you are truly lucky, you might just escape the wroth of your loved one.

... my love,
         The first time I saw your face I knew immediately I was not alone. I've never expressed this to you, but, before we met I felt as though I were drifting through a mist. I would see people, even meet them, but never know them or have them know me. I felt as if the things I cared about were of importance to no one but me. Then I stumbled on you and it was as if all of my thoughts and feelings suddenly mattered. You looked at me and I felt like I'd been made real. Through you, the world and everything in it took on a solidity, a permanence and a sense of purpose. Your eyes made me mortal. Why have I never said these things before? Shyness? Embarrassment? I'm not certain. All I know for sure is that it is time for me to tell you how deeply I love you.
It's easy to say the words "I love you", people do it carelessly all the time, but to truly mean it—that's something quite different. Please hear me when I tell you that you are my love.
Love is a strange creature, throughout the day it swells and recedes, yet it is constant. If I get distracted or speak sharply, if I become jealous or stubborn, it's not because I love you any the less. There are times when I am exasperated by something you say or do, yet I would change not a single thing about you, because I know that my frustrations are born within myself and are not of your making.
I want to do more than acknowledge my love for you, I want to make sure you realize the esteem I hold you in. To me you are magnificent.
Thank you for being all that you are and thank you for caring for me.
I adore you.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wasnick Blog #27 An Education

I’m still working on the art, but have contentedly just finished the text for my next book, “The Trickster’Hat” (due to be published by Penguin on 14 Jan 2013), it’s an apprenticeship in creativity, that amongst many things has had me cogitating on what constitutes an education. The word ‘education’ tends to make most of us think of school and college or university, but I’ve started to wonder if assuming that learning should principally come pipelined from an institution isn’t both misleading and a bit of a cop out.
            As a kid I learned to add up by playing cribbage, I learned to subtract while playing darts. Snooker taught me geometry, stamp collecting taught me history and geography, poker schooled me in psychology, chess showed me how to strategize and although my vocabulary was marginally expanded by the books my teachers insisted I read, my internal dictionary didn’t really start growing till I began playing Scrabble as a blood sport. I’m not saying games are a substitute for traditional teaching, however, they have been amongst my foremost coaches.
            Play and competition, whether against oneself or others opens the mind to curiosity, observation and listening. Once interest in everything around you becomes fundamental then learning becomes a self-perpetuating habit. Of course the opposite is also true—no, play, no fun, disinterest and finally eternal sleep!
            When I was sixteen I left school to go to art collage, which meant I had little in the way of formal academic training, but I was curious and wanted to know how the world ticked. So I listened to BBC radio, read, thought, learned to draw (see) and continued to play games. I watched people in cafes and on the street, trying to guess their history by observing the minute details of their dress and behavior.
            For me, education has never been about the force-feeding and regurgitation of facts, it’s been about expanding my imagination so that I can take in as much of the  universe as possible. I paint and I write because that’s when I am most open to new ideas. I think for myself and follow my trains of thought because it’s fun. I wouldn’t give it up for the world, yet when I look around I see many people who are only too willing to ignore their capacity for critical thinking, even though it’s arguably humanities greatest asset.
            It seems to me that education is something that goes on for life. An education is the gift we give ourselves, it isn’t something others are obliged to hand us on a plate or even bully us into. It is up to us to make life interesting by turning over the next rock—just to see what’s underneath. We can look to others for direction, we can ask questions of clever and wise people but in the end who else can teach us to be alive if we wont do it for ourselves?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wasnick Blog #26 An Inverted Blog

A confession: In my twenties I had a girlfriend by the name of Catherine. She was a sweet, smart girl and in her words, ‘was just passing through’. She came from a very good family and was quite clear about what she wanted for her future. She was going to marry Simon (also posh) who she’d been going out with for three or four years, but she’d told him she needed a six months break in order to experience life before she settled down. When she met me she decided I was fit to be a part of that life experience. Did I resist, certainly not. Did I resent being a passing phase in her pre-mapped life? Not that much, the benefits considerably outweighed the negatives, and if it hadn’t been for the implied snobbery in her agenda I might not have minded at all.
            At first I was fine with the arrangement but then it started to gaul me slightly that I wasn’t being seen as a rival to her long term boyfriend. Not that I wanted to be part of her ultimate destiny, I just hated the idea that, given how much fun we had and how compatible we were, I wasn’t even remotely denting her assumptions that she would end-up with a social equal.
            I started to feel categorized, or was it patronized, and wanted to do something to shake her up. Nothing cruel or unpleasant, just some little thingy to show her that she couldn’t take me for granted.
            My chance came late one night. We were staying in her mothers apartment, lying in bed talking. It was pitch black and I was busting for a pee, so I groped my way to the door, found the hall light-switch and went off to relieve myself. When I returned I closed the bedroom door and advanced blindly in the direction of the bed. It was then that I had an idea. I slid back under the sheets and lay still. Catherine started speaking again, quietly telling me about her plans to go sailing when summer came. I said nothing, I didn’t want to ruin my black-hearted joke. In the inky darkness I’d climbed back into bed the wrong way around, with my head at the bottom end of the mattress and with my cold white feet resting on the pillow. Unbeknownst to her she was whispering away to my nobly toes. After a minute or so she reached out to touch my face and ... it was then that she started to scream. Leaping of bed, she scurried over to turn the light on. When she saw me grinning from ear to ear she became as mad as hell. “How could you, you pig.” and then she started hitting me with the pillow. Later, after she’d seen the funny side of it, she told me that it was one of the most frightening things she’d ever experienced, “It was like being in a horror movie, when I felt your feet instead of your head I thought you’d turned into some gnarly alien.”
            I’m not sure if the incident shortened the relationship, but not long after that she took off, sailed around the world, came back and married her well-bred young man and for all I know lived happily ever after. I imagine our experiences together became something she pasted into her mental scrapbook, however...I bet she never reaches out in the night without thinking twice about what she might find.