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A blog about creativity, culture and why it matters...


The Month in Mood Board - great stories, revisiting the past, imagining the future

Helen Davis

New year, new stuff to do, discover and get confused about.

So far, it turns out the T-Rex is a myth. Electricity is almost a character in the long-awaited Twin Peaks: The Return. I kinda joined the #DavidBowieBookClub. And, I found out a bit about Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who reckoned:

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles — all will disappear like the dinosaur.

Oh, my!

Why don’t you cover a big cork bulletin board in bright pink felt, banded with bamboo, and pin with coloured thumb-tacks all your various enthusiasms as your life varies from week to week?
— Diana Vreeland
Jan Blog Pin Board 1.jpg

The Real T-Rex - time to put the monster to bed, or is it?

From 50s B-movies to Jurassic Park T-Rex has stood tall. Stamping his beady-eyed, razor-toothed, killing machine monstrousness on our collective cultural consciousness with one giant step.

But, it is just this vision of the T-Rex which naturalist Chris Packham set out to dispel in his programme.

I fell for a dinosaur in 1965 ... but it was the wrong dinosaur. It was fat, slow, stupid and wandered around in swamps. It was grey, or green, and by the time I was ten I suspected that the lumbering monster from the movies and TV – and even my treasured books – was just not viable as an animal.

Turns out there’s been a bit of myth-making around this monster. The science of today means everything from the skin, to the brain, to the way T-Rex moved are being reassessed.

It seems to be that the erect, Godzilla-esque killing machine was more horizontal, possibly colourful, maybe even feathered. And, far from being a Lone Ranger kinda guy could actually have been rather social...

Perversely the most exciting thing about the programme is that it’s probably already out of date, or will be by next month. ... That’s the real joy of T. rex, that’s why its fascination endures – because we will never know everything we would like to.

Hawksmoor - satanic architects & the #DavidBowieBookclub

Speaking of those fertile myth-making spaces between fact and supposition, let’s talk about Hawksmoor.

His freemasonry, his fondness for “pagan” symbols such as pyramids and obelisks, and the lack of solid biographical detail have made [architect, Nicholas] Hawksmoor the ideal candidate for an 18th-century man of mystery.

Says one Guardian piece.

The Peter Ackroyd book, however, distances itself from historical fact. Hawksmoor is a modern day senior detective. Nicholas Dyer the eighteenth century architect. And, Dyer’s churches the sites of a series of murders.

Place has a tendency to become entwined like entrails with people past and present in Hawksmoor. The fancy name is Psychogeography. But if you live above a Brick Lane chicken shop (like I once did) it’s much more matter of fact.

The Ten Bells - where some of Jack the Ripper’s victims hung out - was a stone’s throw, and Hawksmoor’s Christ Church Spitalfields a hair’s breadth away from that. It meant the streets behind our flat were frequented by be-backpacked tourists congregating en masse, enraptured by gory storytellers.

As Ackroyd said of writing Hawksmoor:  

[It] teaches you how the past animates the present, but it also makes everything slightly hallucinatory.

Back in the Brick Lane flat we used to joke that if you drew lines matching up all the local murder hotspots perhaps our flat would turn out to be the evil epicentre of it all.

I’d like to blame it on Iain Sinclair’s poem Lud Heat - which suggests that Hawksmoor's London churches form an invisible geometry of power lines. Or even Alan Moore’s From Hell. But I expect it was probably more Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Sunnydale Hellmouth.

Marshall McLuhan -  the first seer of cyberspace?

Today [1969] in the electronic age of instantaneous communication, I believe that our survival, and at the very least our comfort and happiness, is predicated on understanding the nature of our new environment…

Back in the 60s when his Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man was being discussed all over the shop, media theorist, McLuhan was often dismissed too. I mean, sometimes even McLuhan didn’t seem to understand what he meant.

Maybe part of the problem was he was trying to bridge a cultural chasm he’d felt between him and people just 5-8 years younger than himself. And his observations and predictions were tad ahead of his time, as this newspaper article suggests:

[In] the introduction to a re-print of Understanding Media, renowned editor Lewis H. Lapham wrote that much of what McLuhan had to say made a lot more sense in 1994 than it did in 1964, what with two terms of Reagan and the creation of MTV. Twenty years after that, the banality of McLuhan’s ideas have solidified their merit. When Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, for example, compared the expansion of big data to the planet developing a central nervous system, that’s McLuhan. When Chief Justice John Roberts opined that an alien from Mars might mistake the smartphone as an integral feature of human anatomy, that’s McLuhan, too.

Confused? Intrigued? Watch this BBC Radio 4 / Open University mini-film and let to Gillian Anderson explain it all.

Or, read a lengthy but insightful Playboy article with McLuhan himself on Next Nature.


Story Grid Podcast - what makes a great story?

So I started the New Year as I meant to go on and joined a writing class. Well I say 'class', but it was more 'writing in the same room as other people' under the relaxed guidance of the Meetup organiser.

And, well, it inspired me to find a podcast on novel writing, cos I was feeling a little too freewheeling where my efforts were concerned, and there is only so much stream of consciousness one woman can excrete (is that what I mean!?).

Enter: Story Grid. Wherein wannabe novelist Tim Grahl and experienced editor Shawn Coyne “...discuss the ins and outs of what makes a story great.”

What I really like about the series is how Tim really puts himself on the line. Shawn trashes his early story ideas - backed up by sound reasoning. And at times he’s just plain confused by Shawn’s Story Grid rules.

So what is Story Grid? Shawn explains it like this:

The Story Grid is a tool I’ve developed as an editor to analyze and provide helpful editorial comments. It’s like a CT Scan that takes a photo of the global story and tells me what is working, what’s not, and what must be done to fix it.

Which is helpful, no? Yep, especially in an age when if you wanna get published you’ve probably gotta be your own editor too ...

Twin Peaks: The Return - is the real star electricity?

Speaking of grids electricity took on a life of its own in Twin Peaks: The Return. So much so, that I did a bit of research.

As the Welcome to Twin Peaks site says:

From [sound effects] to the way Dale Cooper re-enters our world, electricity is all the buzz in Twin Peaks: The Return. In Part 15, it may have even contributed to Dale Cooper’s long-awaited awakening, the fork being the key to restoring the former FBI agent’s brain.

Apparently electricity is a recurring motif in David Lynch’s work:

I don’t know why all people aren’t fascinated with it. It makes beautiful sounds, and it makes a lot of times some incredible light. It runs many things in our world and it’s beautiful. It’s sometimes dangerous, but it’s magical.

I guess Marshall McLuhan would agree.