Out of the Apocalypse: Science and the Climate Emergency

Last November, a warning was sent to the world in the form of a publication in the Oxford Journal on the 40th anniversary of the first World Climate Summit. The paper opens as follows:

“Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to “tell it like it is.” On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.”

The study by Ripple et al is a ghost train of terrifying statistics reflecting the danger that our ecosystem faces. Line graphs distorted by exponentially destructive data. Death rates not measured in human bodies but implied through vanishing ice, deforestation and noxious air.

The names of 11,000 climate specialists were on the cover for two reasons. Firstly, to demonstrate the overwhelming consensus within the scientific community regarding the existence of climate change. Secondly, to show equally strong consensus regarding the steps humanity must take if we are to fix this mess.

The conclusions drawn may have been bleak but they were not yet hopeless. Ripple was advocating for a radically altered approach in just six key areas:

On Energy:

 “The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment.”

On Air Quality:

“We need to promptly reduce the emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon (soot), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).”

On Nature:

“We must protect and restore Earth’s ecosystems. [They] contribute greatly to sequestration of atmospheric CO2

On Food:

“Eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products especially ruminant livestock, can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions.”

On Economics:

“Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.”

On Population Growth:

The world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity.”

Should any of this sound familiar, opinion on how to combat climate change has remained consistent since the early 1980s. The scientific guidance will not change until we adjust the x in this equation and vary our input levels. For candor: humanity will be unable to grow past this moment until we change our behavior.

Carbon footprints are the metric by which we can measure our individual, national and international impact on the natural environment, and it is through this concept that each of Ripple’s proposals are interconnected. Under the Paris Agreement, nations are required to reduce the average carbon footprint per human from the present level of 4.35tonnes/year to 1.87t by 2050. Both these numbers are unheard of in the developed world: the average American has a carbon footprint of 16.5t.

However, if the chances that western countries might reach aspirationally-Kyrgyzstani levels seem slim – note that any actions that are effective in reducing climate change will produce success at cumulative rates. Normalising plant-based diets, for example, would not just improve air quality with the reduction of cattle-produced methane, but also subtract the fossil-fueled energy and ecologically-procured natural resources required to rear those animals. Supply chains would alter to meet the new market demands, and thus infrastructure appears in forms like the soy milk latte, to make plant-based choices mainstream options that reduce carbon footprints on a macro scale.

This is the basis of which Environment Veganism is founded upon, and it is justified. Vegans have a carbon footprint 41.7% smaller than compatriots eating an omnivorous diet. If the average carbon footprint reduced by such a figure, impossible climate targets would become far more achievable. Indeed, cultivating these small climate-friendly habits at the individual level will be crucial in driving change at organizational and governmental levels.

For 40 years, our representatives have acknowledged the cost of acting on the recommendations of climate science would be revolutionary, and so the dawn of a new Green Age has had to remain just under the horizon. However, the Covid-19 crisis may have provided a tipping point, the moment where evolution becomes more convenient than the price of rebuilding our industrial-era lifestyles. As recently as December, the US Secretary of State referred to the CO2 emissions targets specified in the Paris Agreement as being an “unfair economic burden”. By April, the United States had already spent more money tackling COVID-19 than the estimated costs of converting its entire electrical grid to run on renewable energy sources. Precedents have been stretched to that extent regarding how far governments and citizens will go to prevent catastrophe.

Scientists have played an elevated role in informing government-level decision making during this crisis. This is a seismic shift, and one from which there may be no return for the climate apathetic. In following scientific guidance now, one wonders when – if ever – would be an appropriate time to stop. In emerging from this disaster, it is not acceptable to return to the scene of the previous one. Our lifestyles and societies must now rebuild wiser, safer, and greener if we are to avoid a recurrence of similar tragedies – the Ripple study can provide the guidance we need to achieve that. In our day to day lives, let us continue to be led by the science.

Annie

It was like the air around her suddenly became too thin to sustain life. She would find herself unable to breathe. It would often happen mid-conversation, the excitement of a comeback stalled there on the tip of her tongue. Death’s new presence would reveal itself first in her face. It would make her feel self-conscious, and so bend double, folding inside her slight frame to fight the battle privately. My grandmother believed in private battles. Respirators gathered dust on the sideboard. Eventually, death would retire again inside the space of minutes. Time would resume with the danger reduced to the size of a speedbump, and we would continue to natter on the time that we had borrowed.

For several years before this pandemic, my Gran had struggled for breath due to chronic bronchitis: this is how you write ‘smoked too many fags’ in latin. In her sheltered bedsit apartment, the two of us experienced a dozen or so of these gentle ‘death rehearsals’. Often these episodes would conclude with another cigarette lit minutes later, all cares tossed to the air. “Ah’ve got tae die ae something, son,” she would explain to me without humour. However, on occasion, she would be left just shaken enough not to tempt fate with a gallus attitude.

“Better no’ be takin’ ma photie.” Johnstone, 2007

I had braced myself for the bad news watching COVID-19 spread from the TV screens here in Germany to my hometown of Johnstone, on Glasgow’s south-western edge. It’s quite incredible how quickly this exotic catastrophe in faraway lands became the here and now. Knowing my Gran’s lungs wouldn’t survive something like this if she were to catch it, I was prepared for my brother’s bubble-voiced phone call last Thursday. It was he that had found her first. He told me that’s Gran away.

Unfortunately, there’s more to tell on this story. It was ultimately neither COVID-19 nor nicotine that came for the late and loved Annie Stewart. It was a man called Michael.

Although I have little faith that enough justice could be served in just one lifetime to Michael, I should not be sufficiently blasé as to publish his full name until his trial is concluded. Nevertheless, his name will be forever married to my grandmother’s last breaths.

Michael arrived at the sheltered housing complex where my 90 year old grandmother resided on 10th April 2020. The oldest and most vulnerable people live there. Coronavirus deaths in the UK were peaking at this time. The country was locked down and visitors were strictly forbidden. Michael was a cold-caller, without personal connection to any resident inside, and he showed up without wearing a mask or indeed any protective quipment. The warden was not on duty.

He made his way into the downstairs lounge and introduced himself to the residents as a grocery-shopping volunteer. My Gran, a zimmerframe-dependant lady, kept her purse in her upstairs room. Michael offered the kindness of fetching it for her. She returned to her room later that day to find her purse £200 lighter. Her cigarettes were also taken and no groceries appeared. Theives are not the most efficient grocery volunteers.

The police had captured Michael on CCTV. The officers likely took a long look at my Gran before asking her to give testimony. She was small and thin, and looked tired with time. Despite her ancient physical condition, she never did lose a step of mental clarity, remained sharp and lucid, relishing opportunities to surprise visitors with a cognitive ability that lay buried within her geriatric body, simply loathing to be deemed among the senile and doolally.

She might’ve said in her defence to the enquiring officers, “Ma hied might button up the back, but I’m no’ as daft as a look.”

The wind, however, had been stolen from her sails.

Gran and Mum, Gran’s bedsit, Xmas 2015

Annie Lamont Mitchell was born in 1929 on Swanston Street in Dalmarnock, in the east end of Glasgow. The family of five lived in a two-room tenement apartment, aross the road was a large and highly explosive gasometer. When war broke out in 1939, the children of Swanston Street were evacuated to the safety of the nearby Lanarkshire countryside.

Growing up during the war moulded the personalities of both my grandparents in ways that I found admirable. They were fortunate to have been relatively young at the time. Glasgow escaped the worst of Göring’s bombing raids. Therefore, my Gran and Papa’s stories of war time were not those of frontline courage and loss but of quiet discipline and collective purpose during a period of high crisis. Their hardships were eventually rewarded by victory parades through the streets. The personal memories of a generation forever to be immortalised in the monochrome photographs of history books.

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Gran and Papa, late 1940s.

As my Gran harvested crops in the fields around Kilsyth, my Papa – John Stewart – was conscripted to the Royal Air Force and was trained as an office clerk. The couple met in while working as typists at the same Sauchiehall Street office. White collar work spared the Stewarts the worst of an industrial blitzkrieg that would devastate Glasgow in the post-war decades. A city of 1.2 million people was to be broken up and condemned to demolition. The hearts of communities were removed as slums. The docks of a thousand ships were filled in with the bricks of the broken homes. Friends and families scattered from Cumbernauld to Canada. Glasgow would never again be what it was.

As the bulldozers marched through the Springburn tenements in 1965, the family were moved out to the periphery by the city fathers, to the new Johnstone housing schemes where I would eventually be born, and where they would both eventually die. My grandparents came from the old world and I from the new.

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Great Granny Mitchell > my Mum > my Gran > My Uncle John > My Papa ; Glasgow mid-1960s.

One week later, on 17th April 2020, Michael visited my grandmother again. She was sleeping in the afternoon and woke to find the thief in her living room. He was looking once again for her purse. While locked down, she hadn’t realised her keys had also gone missing.

Annie was calm. She told him “Ye better leave. We cannae have yir likes in here.” – and pulled the cord by her bed to raise the alarm. Michael ran, but not before a dozen witnesses caught sight of him and gave chase. He escaped over a fence and landed in a private garden, where he explained to a baffled family that he was being chased by thugs.

“A shame yir grandfaither died first.”

My Papa’s death led my Gran into a state that would have been referred to by anyone as depression, if it were not cloaked from dinner table discussion by the expected tides of old age. She slept on our couch for almost a year, in the living room where my Papa had passed, six weeks after the discovery of the tumour on his brain. They had been married for 52 years.

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Gran went through periods of rarely eating food. She sometimes bathed. Socially, sheltered housing was the best option for her. There were bingo nights there and other auld yins with which to blether with, passing the time until time came for them. Gran would refer to her friends as being ‘away‘ when it was their time.

My grandmother was not a particularly warm-hearted nor affectionate woman, and such personalities were prone to her scorn. She was moulded in a different way, loyal in her allegiance to both whom she loved and whom she despised. A refugee from the old world. A candid speaker without time for lies or gentle truths. An unjudging ear I depended on through challenging times, not for pity, but for the comfort of what is and always will be familiar.

The court summons from the procurator fiscal was delivered at my Gran’s door on Thursday 16th April. Michael’s crimes had caught up with him. There were too many witnesses and too many felonies. Allegedly, he had targeted several care homes in the area.

Alone in the late morning, lying on the couch she had slept on for 14 years in the sheltered bedsit apartment, Annie rose to fetch the mail from her letterbox. She would not make the return journey.

We know the envelope was interesting enough to open immediately because the letter was found beside her on the red carpet floor. It would be the last thing she held. The last name she read was the name of a thief. Michael was his name.

John and Annie Stewart, Glasgow, 1953. (Aunty Nettie, the bridesmaid)

I started to notice the bulldozers shortly after my Papa died. I seen them everywhere, raising their teeth into the bricks and mortar up Maple Drive, and down the Howwood Road, round at my Dad’s old place at Craigdonald. Regeneration was the modern word, our homes the new slums. The concrete world of housing estate maisonettes and car park football was the only one I knew.

I tried everything a 15 year old could do to save pieces of it. I bought a cheap camera from Woolworths with my lunch money, and started hanging around the archive section of the Mitchell Library for a project that would eventually balloon to become the UK Housing Wiki. At the time, I didn’t want any building or street to be demolished until there was a photographic and database record that it had existed. This preoccupation lasted 18 months or so. We all grieve in curious ways.

Gran and I, Johnstone, 1990

My Gran and I connected during this time. She slept on the couch next to the desktop computer and we would pour over old maps and records together. We would contrast the photographs I had taken with the memory of how they once were. She brought data to life with her stories, dismiss the hearsay, and populated the streets with old names and faces from the past. Modernity was aggressive and loud. She was always delighted to talk about the Glasgow she had known.

In her final years, she made it clear she wished to return to that world, and watched retro channels on freeview television playing yesterday’s Britain on loop. I understood this longing as she did mine, and remained an unjudging ear. Together we would candidly share truths when we met. The familiarity of her company, an old friend that I will never visit again.

Rest in Peace, Gran.

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Annie Mitchell, 1930s

 

The Schwarz 10

I moved out of the Georg-Schwarz-Straße 10 in May 2018. The GSSX is a Projekthaus. It’s a hub of alternative and radical activity, one of many of its kind in Leipzig. I had the pleasure of calling it home for 9 months, living here helped me settle in a new country. I found my people here, a family of kindred spirits, and the freedom and stability I needed to balance the joys of late nights.

The success of the GSSX is a story worth sharing, so I will share it. It’s a living example to those who dismiss community models for living out-of-hand as an unrealistic fantasy

Maybe in your world, but this is ours.

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Georg-Schwarz-Straße 10

 

Georg-Schwarz-Straße is a high street that runs from the market district of Lindenau, in Leipzig, to the western outskirts of the city. Tram cars from an Iron Curtain-era still trundle down its narrow length. Four and five storey Gründerzeit tenements lie on either side in mixed states of occupancy and disrepair. In the years after the dissolution of East Germany, Leipzig lost around 250,000 of its population to the west – and these were the  homes they left behind. Even to this day, there are still remnants everywhere of the ghost town that Leipzig became: dead arms of industry; crumbling facades; an absence of middle-aged faces in the streets.

In 2008, an American neuroscientist from Boston purchased one of the abandoned four-storey tenement blocks on the Georg-Schwarz-Straße for €60,000 in cash. The building had been abandoned since 1995 and was without so much as wiring or electricity. A dead building in a dead neighbourhood – but there was a novel intention behind this move. Space in the building was offered to projects that would 1) help support to the local community 2) take responsibility for renovating the parts of the building that they wished to use. The only rent that he would ask from these projects would be the costs of keeping the building operational. Imagine a non-profit landlord, if you can.

One woman turned the first floor into a children’s day care. Another woman transformed the shop on the ground floor into a vegan pizza bar. The more projects that filled the GSSX, the more parts of the house became habitable once again, and the more reasons local people had for coming down this way.

And down this way today, there are eight or so similar house projects on this stretch of the Georg-Schwarz-Straße that have also come to life in this way. The ADI at number 14 runs free German language courses. The Hinz und Kunz at number 8 host up-cycling workshops. The Schwarz-Markt at number 4 sells local pilsner for 70 cents per bottle. These projects support and co-ordinate with one another, stronger together than alone.

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The annual street festival on Georg-Schwarz-Straße.

I moved into the Schwarz 10 at the end of September 2017. I had been living in another housing project – the Kanthaus – which is in a small town called Wurzen, about 30km east of Leipzig.

The Kanthaus is an incredible project in itself, but at that time we only had electricity during daylight hours, and relying on the local dumpsters for all of our food was less fruitful – literally – than it had been through the summer. So I often found myself making the two hour cycle commute to Leipzig, and volunteering at Pizza Lab (the GSSX’s downstairs bar).

I was volunteering there for a number of reasons. For example, I needed somewhere to charge my laptop and my phone, and I needed to find something to eat. Pizza lab volunteers can eat and drink there, the tips broad enough to cover that cost. After a while, I started bringing over my laundry and having hot showers, and staying the night in vacant rooms upstairs. Moving in to the GSSX was a process rather than a jump. By the time it became a formality, I knew everyone and everyone knew me. They wanted me to live with them, and so I did.

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Pizza Lab, at the Schwarz 10 cr: Rapha

By everyone, I’m referring to the revolving door of ten to fifteen people who live at the GSSX: an eclectic group of artists, gap-year students, activists, entrepreneurs, travellers from all over the world. Around half of the people that live at the GSSX volunteer at the Pizza Lab bar – as I did – or in the child’s day care, Rockzipfel. We live in the house, technically, as personal guests of the project we volunteer for.

The non-volunteers in residence consist of: the owner who looks after the house. The project leaders who concern themselves with the more mundane bookkeeping aspects of running a pizza bar and daycare; and the occasional wide-eyed Air BnB guest or Erasmus student passing through.

It’s a self-moderating group of people. Anyone can request to live at the GSSX, but will be accepted only if there is a consensual desire within the house to invite this person inside. Every member of the house has a right to veto their potential peers. For a period of time during the winter, a Syrian filmmaker and his wife were staying at the Schwarz 10. They were refugees and had been placed in a camp outside the city, in Dölzig. They could not commit to assisting with any of the house’s projects but stayed because we, the residents, elected to support them. In contrast, a self-proclaimed shaman from Bulgaria left the GSSX soon after arriving. He was simply disliked, and the members of the community within the house collectively organised to make his position redundant.

To maintain the house, the Schwarz 10 residents hold a weekly task auction to distribute chores. This operates much like an eBay bidding auction in reverse:

I decide that cleaning the fridge is worth 100 points of my time and energy.
But someone that really likes cleaning fridges bids 50 points.
Maybe I decide that cleaning fridges isn’t so bad after all, so I bid 40 points.
Whoever has the lowest bid on the task at 10pm on Tuesday takes responsibility for it.

Points that are earned in the task auction can be spent influencing house decisions if there is solution gridlock and no consensus. Therefore, the people with the most influence on house decisions are those who do the most chores. However, if one tries to influence against the majority, he or she will lose their wagered points. Therefore finding consensus is actually the goal of this system, and it has a 100% success rate. Since this system has been in place, no points have ever been used. Consensus has always been achieved.

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The tenement building was, once upon a time, 6 apartments, a corner shop, and a meat distribution centre. Today, the building is functionally one large house. I live on the 2nd floor, but I go to the next apartment to shower. We have a living room on the 3rd floor. We eat together in the dining room on the 1st floor. The attic is full of wet laundry. The cellar is full of brown coal that we use to fire our furnaces through the winter. There is a play area for young children. Office space for adults. The corner shop is an event space/club venue. And Pizza Lab is, of course, 100% vegan, and definitely no longer a meat distribution centre.

The building is a canvas for the community. And by community, this house and its projects are the centre of social and political activity for more than just the people who currently live upstairs. It’s a venue for the people of Lindenau, and Leipzig, and beyond. People like myself have come from all over the world and used this space, forged a connection with it, used it to make things happen. Several radical groups hold their plenums here: animal rights activists and climate change protestors. Musicians and artists use this space for performances and shows. All money raised by the non-profit Pizza Lab is donated to local projects in Leipzig.

Thanks to the New York Times cool list, Buzzfeed list articles and Red Bull-funded football clubs, it’s not a secret anymore that Leipzig is one of the most exciting cities – but not for any reason that you might have heard. All cities have nightclubs and tourist attractions. The unique ingredient in this city are places like the GSSX that exist outside of public services and private capital. The people of Leipzig are not happier because they can buy more things. They are happier because spaces like the GSSX gives them the opportunity to be more vital in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.

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Myself and Hugo Molina, Schwarz 10’s resident handyman, on the roof. cr: Caro

 

Goth Noises

Since this is the first post, let’s round-up.

Wave-Gotik-Treffen (Goth Meeting)
Article number five for Leipzig Glocal is now online. It’s a preview piece about the impending Wave-Gothik-Treffen, probably the biggest goth festival in the world – that starts on the 18th.

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My editor, Maeshelle, pulled some heavy strings to get me that press pass. We’re planning to film a documentary across that weekend on video, so I’ll also be working with videographer, Eden Levin, and photographer, Erik Braga. We’ll be meeting on Sunday evening to work out logistics. There’s a bit more red tape around filming at a festival like that than there is simply writing about it. I’ve got to learn the rules before I start playing.

We’ve already got interviews lined up with Silent Runners (that is a beast of song: synth, bass, beautiful), and Drifter (THAT DUDE on guitar). I also want Boy Harsher, Mr Kitty, and Seigmen, and if I can’t get them on video – I’ll sure as hell try to get them for the written article. There’s no red tape on that.

Gordon Raphael
This afternoon, I have a phone interview lined up with Gordon Raphael. He produced the Strokes first two records – the guy has internationally-platinum records on his CV.

raphaHe’s touring his first solo record, and its strong. Somewhere along the lines of early David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Stones, but sonically post-punk and adventurous in a way that only a skilled producer with free time can be. I gave it a 7.84/10 in my album review section.

After working in Seattle and New York, and London, he’s chosen to been based in Berlin for over a decade. I’m really looking forward to talking with him about that.

I Make Love Through Gritted Teeth pt2
Ben Yellowitz is back in town. I invited him, and Aliya Thon, and Theresa ‘Mouth’ Elflein to play solo sets in Pizza Lab at the Georg-Schwarz Straßenfest this Saturday.

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I met all three of these artists at Noch Besser Leben within a few days, each of them insanely good songwriters in very different ways. I wrote about Ben and Aliya for the Glocal a while ago. You might not yet know who Mouth is, but I’ll introduce you soon – I’ve been following her around and stockpiling material for that article for months now.

I think the order Caro has them playing in:
4pm – Mouth
8pm – Aliya Thon
9pm – Benjamin Yellowitz

There will be other musicians playing Pizza Lab too, but I have my favourites…

Kreuzberg, Berlin on the Mai Feiertage

Photo from Adam Carrington (2)

That’s everything urgently happening right now, re: professionally.

I just got back to Leipzig after a lovely a few days in Berlin – almost a year to the day when I first arrived at Shönefeld Airport, trying to fix together my broken bike with no pedals on the concourse outside. I had a laptop, and summer clothes, and a negative bank balance, and no German, and the Neukölln address of a girl I’d met one time the previous summer, Laurina Pfeiffer. She had a couch I could crash on in an apartment on Harzer Straße where she was also sleeping on a couch. That night we dumpster dived some bread and some asparagus. The next morning she took me on a bicycle tour around the city. Berlin just blew my brain. It was like London with no parents home. Almost one year since then.

Lovely isn’t really the word to describe what happens to Kreuzberg on 1st May. It’s traditionally the time of year when right and left wing extremists get together for fist-bumps. I’ve never seen so much police, but then again – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people packed into so few square miles and just taking o-v-e-r, and having a jolly good time long, long into the night.

Photo from Adam Carrington

oh, hey you ❤

Photo from Adam Carrington (1)

HELLO FRIEND

A website. I wish I’d done this years ago.

Reason: I’ve done stuff in my life, and continue to do stuff, and I’m beginning to realise how important it is to keep track of it all. To make it easier for other people to understand what I do without having to explain where I’ve come from – and for myself too. There’s been a lot over the years that’s gotten lost or unrecorded when a laptop died or whatever. Or published in some obscure corner of the internet that no longer exists. Or, heaven forbid, was paper only.

That, and it’s just nice to share. If there’s one thing this weird chapter of my life has taught me again and again, sharing is really potent. I don’t see much of a future for the human race unless sharing, and really-giving-a-fuck about other people, is at the heart of what we’re all doing here. I’m not explictly talking about sharing in terms of mass-wealth-resdistribution – but I could be. I’m definitely not even talking about sharing in the context of My Story or My Feelings being  any more vital or important than anyone else’s. However, stories and feelings have to be known if other people are going to know how best to share with you.

I’ve always felt that its important to be understood, although never really understood why being understood matters so much to me – but I think I get it now. If I hide important aspects of my life, then how are the community around me meant to know how best to support me, and share with me things that will enable me to achieve or help me feel good. Likewise, if other people hide from me, I’m much less likely to know how best to support them, and I find that frustrating. So, I guess this is partially an experiment in being as clear and as congruent as I can be. There are still parts of me I don’t want to share, like my finances, and intimate relationships – but maybe in time even them. Its an experiment, after all.

Not entirely sure what kind of function this website will have. It’s likely to be professionally-orientated, with personal stuff in there if I choose to share it. I’ll let it take it’s own form. I don’t like setting hard rules.  I think the format I have in mind:

Latest News: What’s going on with me. What am I working on. If I’m working a lot, maybe I’ll write a lot. If I’m on drugs, maybe I won’t write so much.

Writing: An archive for written work that I’ve done, like a portfolio. Also so I can find these things again. I also want to include a section for what I’m reading on a day by day basis, as that’s usually relevant to what I’m working on, and it’d be useful for me to go back and find those titles at a later date as well.

Music: An archive for musical work that I’ve done: recordings and live performances. I also want to have an album review section. Being a music journalist, I think it would be useful to critically contextualise everything I hear.

Contact: For those of you who want to contact me.

Any other advice on what you’d like to see here will be noted.