In ‘Say Yes’–season 7, episode 12 of The Walking Dead–we see Rick and Michonne discover a fallen emergency military camp whilst on the hunt for guns to use in the forthcoming fight with The Saviours. And for a moment lasting no more than five seconds we see the world, we really see the world, as we did in the first few episodes of the show: Rick’s sadness with the zombie in the grass, the desolation he uncovers, the apocalypse-porn of the horseback trip into Atlanta.
In that we experienced a possible future, our possible future. And our morbid curiosity rewarded us with some beautiful cinematography.
For a long time now, The Walking Dead has had to balance the demands of the fans, the ratings, the producers, and it’s any wonder that it is still with us. Though really, it is simple: the demand has steadily risen, so the show continues.
The Herd of season 6, the horn of the truck, the entrapment of Rick’s group by Negan, those were beautifully envisaged scenarios, but the small stuff could be so much more poetical and philosophical than it has been. Perhaps this was a response to the wanderings in the woods that seemed to form the backbone of seasons 4 and 5, the human stories of the small groups.
The Walking Dead is still a post-apocalypse show, but the one, biggest thing that is missing is the unanswered question. The Saviours arc is strong, but the fixation is on the fight to come and it has been the whole time. The mindfulness of the wider situation is missing. It is natural that the characters have become desensitized to it, but as Michonne’s ‘something big went down here’ reaction suggests, even in this scenario there is some natural inclination to analyse situations and so it is not even particularly unrealistic to give the characters a few moments of wondering, if not just the audience.
…a feeling that someone had called to him from a long way away. He found himself there in that illusive waking moment before reality catches up. He could have been anywhere, at any time in his life.
The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest
Philip K. Dick is one of the biggest names in science fiction: fact. His is a well-greased engine, skirting–as all the greatest writers do– all manner of intellectual disciplines as well as the well-trod line between genius and madness.
Of his writing style, his brevity is perhaps one of his biggest strengths: he has a style that is shotgun in its delivery yet dove-like in its poetry.
And just so, a particular paragraph:
But above and beyond everything else, he had originally been drawn by her screwball expression; for no reason, Juliana greeted strangers with a portentous, nudnik, Mona Lisa smile that hung them up between responses, whether to say hello or not. And she was so attractive that more often than not they did say hello, whereupon Juliana glided by.
Like a pinch of gunpowder in a hungover breakfast fry up: brilliant. A wonderful way of describing the often-occuring effect of woman upon man (other variations are available). Read the book to see how that paragraph ends, just as telling as the initial effect where the aforementioned sexualised social interaction is concerned.
At which point a diversion into one of the most frustrating things about male authors: descriptions of female love interests. Unveiled misogyny, or a fair and honest focus on the want of the crotch? I literally closed ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ when I was fifteen/sixteen and lost interest in Milan Kundera based on this male-centred approach to describing the phenomenon that is best explained as ‘woman makes man think of sex’ and is therefore incapable of any accurate empathy, something this reddit thread explores by questioning his relevance in the current age. And as much as I wish I wasn’t writing this, Haruki Murakami is awful for it, though his ‘sad lonely man’ trope does lend itself to such narration, this thread suggests I’m not alone in this and if you read it through you’ll find some interesting theories as to why. It is just so painful to find your heroes are human, that for all their conduction of ethereal abstracts into addictive writing they come out with some dog shit about how some female character is ‘pretty but in a plain sort of way’. It’s difficult to not betray myself here but I read this description of the collision of the human condition and the biological imperative as ‘yeh I guess I’d probably do her’.
Anyway, back to Philip K. Dick: I came to his writing relatively early in my reading life, probably thanks to the shop Fopp, but being a hesitant reader in my teens it was the films based on his books that had me assimilating his ideas as a permanent canal in my tastes. I’d watched and re-watched Total Recall and Screamers many times on home-recorded VHS. I’d seen Imposter and would soon see Minority Report and I had no idea that they were based on his books. I’d also paid for at least two of the seven different edit-releases of Blade Runner: of which around the time I was sixteen my favourite was the noir, Harrison Ford voice-over release.
In 2006, when A Scanner Darkly came out starring Keano Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr and Winona Ryder I started reading Ubik because it was cool at nineteen-ish to think I was somehow ‘above’ this fairly hyped, gimmicky cartoon of a film and so the gradual tide of his writing washed over me. Thank god!
I’m not suggesting that this one isolated incident created my life, but when I was five, older girls down my street put on a magic show for the younger kids. It was quite a beautiful thing to do, looking back at it, and it brought everyone together.
Halfway through their magic show they tasked us (the younger kids) with a competition: who could draw the best picture of their garage (where the magic show was happening). I drew their typical British 1970’s grey-bricked garage, at the end of their driveway, with the yellow garage door and I remember thinking at the time that it was quite simple so there was probably something I wasn’t doing right and I might not win.
It turns out that not only did I have better hand-eye coordination than the only other kid who actually drew their garage, but that I was probably smarter as well, since most kids just drew something else completely and didn’t hear/understand/care about their fairly simple instructions. But I won a small bag of chalky sweets, like Refreshers, or Love Hearts, or Palma Violets. They were delicious and I was extremely proud.
I remember going into my back garden afterwards and sitting up on the top of the slide with a beaming feeling.
Neither of my parents were particularly artistically inclined, yet I became highly art-focussed. I got an A at GCSE, and went on to study it at A-Level, and even now have four or five sketchbooks on the go. It was a huge part of what I just ended up being known for, growing up.
It has just made me realise how important the positive small things are in life, and there really are defining moments.