Monday, November 16, 2020

Do You Wanna (Jump Jump Jump?)

There was no post here yesterday because I spent most of the day playing with my new toy. A USB floppy disk drive. 

I know! Boring, right? I mean, a floppy disk drive? When was the last time anyone got excited about one of those? The 1980s? It's not like I'd gotten my hands on something super high-tech and modern like, oh, I don't know, a 3D printer...

It all started back in the summer, when I was doing a whole load of stuff around the house. I was making some of our less-cared-for rooms useable again, going through stacks and piles and boxes of assorted kipple I hadn't looked at for decades. As I was moving things from one place to another I came across a box of disks. 

I didn't have a clue what they were. Of course they weren't labelled, not in any meaningful way. That's not really something I do. A few of them said things like "Docs" or "Docs 2". Not really all that informative, although marginally more so than the labels where I'd helpfully written my name and nothing else.

I also came across some of my zines from the same period. I keep most of those in one place but I produced a lot of zines over a couple of decades. New ones tend to surface now and again. 

I thought about it for a while and it occurred to me that although I'd done a lot of those zines either on my Amiga or at work, there'd been a few years when I'd written some of it on my first PC, which I got sometime in the mid-90s. That could be what was what was on the disks.

One thing I've wanted to do for a long, long time is to get some, maybe all, of what I've ever written digitized and stored online. Why? I have no idea. There's really no point. It's not like anyone's ever going to see it, let alone read it. Let alone care. 

It's just that I have this kind of science fiction fantasy; some cyber-archeologist stumbles across the files, hundreds of years from now, the way academics discover bundles of old papers in attics or storerooms. The relics don't have any value in and of themselves but they offer a fragment, an echo, of how the ancients might have lived. That sort of thing. I've maybe read too much science fiction. 

I wrote some once, too. Two longish pieces around about that time. The nineties. I've never been much of a fiction writer. I fancy I can do the style and the surface pretty well and I'm not too shabby at the substance, or I think so anyway, but plots defeat me and as for ideas...

Y'know that thing writers always bitch about? The one question they get asked all the time, the one they really hate: "Where do you get your ideas?". Well, there's a reason people ask and it's a good one. We have no freakin' clue how anyone could come up with even one good idea for a story, let alone keep coming up with them, time after time.

I certainly never could. Let someone give me an idea, the way they do in school or on writing courses, and I'm away. I could give you five thousand words on pretty much any topic you cared to name (don't try me!), fiction or non-fiction. Come up with something of my own. though? Never gonna happen.

If I could do that thing where you go back and tell your younger self something they ought to know (yeah, you can't but you hear it so many times you'd think you could) I'd tell me... well, okay, a lot of things I'm not going to tell you, but also that maybe younger me ought to consider a career in journalism, like that geography teacher, who'd done a weekend course on careers advice and made me fill out that multiple choice test that one time, said I should. 

And also I'd have made a great ghost-writer. That's got to be easy money.

Still, everyone who writes thinks they can write fiction and even those who know they can't think they ought to try. So I tried. I ended up with maybe fifty thousand words of one and thirty-five thousand of another. I ran them all through the collective I was part of at the time and I can't say the reaction was all that but everyone was doing it and the competition was hot. Some of those people were pretty good or I thought so, then. Not that any of them made anything of it, at least as far as I know. 

Anyway, I got it out of my system, which was most of the point of doing it, and then before I'd even finished either of the projects (let's call them "projects"; it takes some of the sting out of it) I'd discovered EverQuest and that was pretty much that for writing about anything but games for a decade or so.

I have all that prose on paper, safely tucked away. I was considering scanning it and posting it because part of the whole thing was how it looked. That zone culture was very visual. I might still do that.

Then as I was thinking about those floppy disks I'd found it came back to me that I'd most likely written some of the longform stuff on that first PC and I thought I even remembered transcribing the rest so I'd have it all in one place. Maybe that was what was on the disks.

It would certainly save me a whole lot of work. I could just pull the files and pump them into the cloud. Job done. Posterity assured. Kind of like having my ashes sent into space. About that meaningful and permanent.

I had a bunch of FDDs I'd ripped out of old PCs. I thought about installing one of those but I looked into it and it seemed like way too much trouble so I checked out the 2020 options and put a USB floppy drive on my wishlist. And this weekend I got one.

It was supposed to come with an installation CD and it didn't. I plugged it in anyway and it lit up but the PC didn't seem to notice. I tried sliding a disk in and it made a lot of chewing noises but nothing happened. I thought I was in for a long day but five minutes with Google got me a simple workaround that did indeed work so I set to going through the pile.

There weren't that many disks. Maybe a dozen. More than half of them were blank or had nothing but old gamesave files or weren't recognized but four or five of them were filled with treasures. Stories I'd completely forgotten I ever wrote. Reviews of gigs by bands I couldn't recall ever having seen and movies I thought I hadn't cared about at all but apparently I'd really, really loved.

If I was an actual writer with a body of work, one of my defining tropes would be an obsession with how memory works. It fascinates me, as it has for as long as I can remember. Maybe. Who knows? Not me, that's for sure. It's not like I can remember what I remember and what I can't, is it? That's kind of the point.

But I can read. And reading what I thought about something, as recorded by me, not so too very long after I thought it, opens a door to the past in all the ways memory can't, doesn't, never did and never will. 

So I spent half the day not just going through the disks to find out what was on them but also reading most of it. It was engrossing, exhilarating and disheartening. It's one thing to go through your old stuff and realize how embarrassingly naive or dully tedious it was but it's another to find it all so much better than anything you can imagine doing now. 

I was in my late thirties when I wrote this stuff and I'd been writing non-stop for over twenty years, then. If I ever had any powers I was probably at the peak of them. Also, drink and drugs do make you write better, whatever people tell you.

I found an app that could read the files and display them with all formatting, so they looked as I'd originally meant them to look, which turned out to be more important than you'd think, as I discovered when I ported some of the pieces into Blogger and took a look at them there.

Blogger seemed like an ideal storage option. It holds everything in the cloud and you can import and export text files at will, so if and when Google decides to shut Blogger down it'll be convenient to move to another home. Easier than using the fiddly FDD, anyway.

Also, I was considering the possibilities. I have a blog. I could post the stuff. Some of it, anyway. I previewed a couple of pieces to see how that would go and guess what? They read very differently as white text on a blue background in a single, centered column than as black text on a white background, full screen. Also the font I use in Inventory Full doesn't feel right.

In the previews it all seems flatter, emptier, less impactful. It doesn't land. It doesn't connect. It maintains a distance. It's the single most effective reminder I've given myself in a long, long while on something I ought to know: style is substance.

The way this blog looks is just right for what I do now but it would be completely wrong for what I did then. Which means I might be about to do what I've so often thought of doing. I might be about to start a second blog.

It wouldn't be anything I'd expect other people to read. At first I thought I might just set it to "private", which is a peculiar option you get in Blogger, to make a blog no-one can read but you. Then I realized that all of this stuff was written to be shared and has been already. It was all created with an audience in mind, albeit a very specific audience, almost all of whom I knew or at least had met.

I'm still mulling over options. Nothing may come of it. It might be too much work. I might go off the idea. I'm not entirely sure all of this is stuff I want to leave lying around on the web for just anyone to happen upon. 

Conversely, it might excite me too much. I could end up growing into the new space, filling it not just with the past but with the present and the future. It could run away with me. Or from me. Or over me.

We'll see. I'll see. For now, some of the stuff is at least up there, behind the curtain, in draft form. I also got a new printer/scanner last week so maybe I will scan those old zines and make them available, looking something like how they were meant to look.

Whatever I decide, if I decide, I'll be sure to mention it here. Feel free to ignore me. Like anyone needs permission for that.


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    1. The sorts of circles I follow (LGR on Youtube, Foone Turing and Jason Scott of on Twitter, etc) would absolutely get at least a little excited over a floppy drive and some unknown document disks.

      For that matter, the Internet Archive may want your writings/zines. It's worth a glance into, perhaps?
      Even if it's just another blog, I tend to feel documentation of thoughts and processes is Important in nebulous ways I could handwave about for hours, so I kinda encourage doing something with 'em.

      (Deleted and revised because it's .com, not .org. I always get that confused.)

    2. I have a vague plan to leave the physical copies to some institution when I die. Not that I magine they'll want them but because one of the things that got me into making my own zines in the first place was finding a huge collection of similar underground and semi-pro papers and zones (unsorted, in cardboard boxes) on the dusty, rarely visited top floor of my faculty library. If I do get around to digitizing mine, maybe I will try and find a home for the files online, too.

  2. Okay, first things first.....

    What fanzines did you read back then? I was into Pern fandom for a while --and wrote a couple of pieces of fiction/non-fiction for a couple of fan groups back in the early 90s-- so I'm more than a bit curious.

    Also, by the look of your pics a mimeograph machine was used. Is that the case?

    Finally, maybe you could use a separate Blogger/Wordpress site, configuring it to be more like an old style fanzine, and run with it from there.

    But as an aside, the "how/where do you get your ideas" has always vexed me as well. Sometimes it pops in out of the blue, and sometimes it comes out of "I don't like how this went down, I think I'd like it differently." That being said, being a ghostwriter (or its cousin, the in-house writer) is a bit of a thankless task. You're given a specific set of instructions and are supposed to interpret them in a manner that pleases not only the editor but the person/corporation/whatever that contracted the work. And if you're lucky, you get a "with" line on the Author's attribution. I feel for some people, such as Christie Golden, who don't have a lot of say how a story will go, but still have to make it work to Blizz's satisfaction. It's work, but the creativity is constantly being squeezed out of it.

    1. You really don't want to get me started on this...

      Most of the zines I would have been reading in the late eighties and nineties were comics zines, mainly UK ones so I doubt the names would mean an awful lot, even if I could remember them. I also read quite a lot of C86 and proto-indie music zines. I went to a lot of small gigs then, clubs, pubs, student halls, all kinds of peculiar venues, and it was par for the course to come away with a handful of zines.

      In the eighties it was all comics. I co-published a zine for aboiut two years - I think we did seven issues - and I was, among other things, the one who reviewed other zines so I used to read a ton of them. After that I wrote for a bunch more, mostly here but I did have a couple of pieces in US comics zines - Comics Feature and Dave Antony Kraft's zine, the name of which I forget.

      I started with punk zines in the late 70s, with the famous ones - Sniffin' Glue, Ripped and Torn and all those that routinely get collected in coffee-table books, or used to - but the one that really got me started on doing one of my own was the "big" zine in the city nearest to where I lived then, Bristol's "Loaded".

      The stuff I'm talking about in the post, though, is all from the apa (amateur press association) I was in for about fifteen years. That's where I wrote most and where I was the most creative. I always think of it as being like blogging on paper.

    2. Oh and on the production side, it's all photocopier art. I was really big on that for a long time. All the covers in the post were deliberately distressed and distorted somehow. It's similar to how I mass about with the illustrations at the top of every music post here. In many ways the visuals were the part of the whole thing I enjoyed the most - certainly I put more work into them than the writing, something that I could also say about much of this blog...

    3. I can see you being into comic and music zines. My first exposure into zines was in Lord of the Rings fanzines, but by the time I was interested in them (the 80s) most of the well known ones had closed up shop.

      Interestingly enough, the zine culture seems to have been one of the first things that migrated into the net back in the late 80s/early 90s. I consider that a win for those communities.

  3. It's just that I have this kind of science fiction fantasy; some cyber-archeologist stumbles across the files, hundreds of years from now, the way academics discover bundles of old papers in attics or storerooms.

    I have this vision too, haha! I love the idea of some archeologist finding one of my diaries or blogs a hundred years into the future and being fascinated by things like how I lived my life. Probably because in the present it's not all that interesting. :P

    1. The only problem being that we all record so much of our lives now it's going to take a planetful of archivists just to get it all catalogued. This must be the single most documented period of human existence so far...

  4. Colour me intrigued. I'll read it for sure, should you decide to publish it.


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