Sex is Dead, or, Why My Wife Smells Like a Fighter Jet

sex is dead

'Sex is Dead, or, Why My Wife Smells like a Fighter Jet', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on sexuality.

Sex is Dead, or, Why My Wife Smells like a Fighter Jet

She dips her hand in the bucket and draws it out, slaps the axle grease onto her calves and massages it in. Soon, I’ll feel her legs slip over my back as I dive toward the trench of her navel where a rainbow-glisten sits atop the miasma of sweat and motor oil that has pooled in her belly button; I’ll dip my tongue in and lap, tasting the machine-reek of her body.

‘More,’ I say.

Her hand goes back in the grease-bucket and she throws it on thick; I lick my lips.

Her tits are painted camouflage, two nipples poke out like gun barrels. In the low-light of the bedroom, her torso is barely distinguishable from the biscuit-tan of our headboard. Does she know something I don’t? Is the PLA about to burst from our wardrobe and ambush our greasy congress? She’ll mow them down with her twin turrets. I crawl toward her. I smell fuselage, I smell cockpit.

She pulls her hand from under the duvet; she is wielding a torque wrench.

‘What’s that for?’ I say.

‘You have to ask?’ she says. She winks.

Peak Hypersexuality

Welcome to sex in the post-sex world. Sex is dead, or if it lives, it is couched in the language and accoutrement of brutalism and the industrial. Just last week a Russian perfumer launched a fragrance ‘in honour of’ a new Russian jet, a state-of-the-art fifth-generation fighter called the Checkmate. The eponymous fragrance released alongside the jet was said to “underline the aircraft’s reliability and modernity, as well as its willingness to work in all conditions: under the scorching desert sun, in subtropical and mountainous areas, as well as in the Far North and the tropics”. Great, if your wife is an all-terrain vehicle. What is it about this product that stands out so, and how can we view in in the context of the post-postmodernist world, the world post-sexuality? For we have reached that stage, surely – sexuality has become so mercurial as to be redundant. Every stripe of kink has been discovered, every form, object, ideal and idea has been fetishised, every manner of pleasure has been sucked, licked, poked, tasted, fingered, sat on, eaten, pissed upon, fiddled with, frotted, diddled, tortured, cuddled and raped until… well, what else is there to say? We have done it all, and it was good. For a while. But what is left for us to discover?

A glaring example of this new post-sexual phenomena might be Yuri Tolochko, the Kazakh bodybuilder who divorced his first sex-doll wife, Margo, after cheating on her with a ‘strange silver object’ while she was in hospital. Yuri has since met a new woman (doll), the ‘queer’ Lola. Speaking of Lola, Tolochko says, “Lola has a woman’s head, a chicken’s body, the navel has depth and can be used as a vagina and a penis inserted into it. I’ll show you this one day. I identify her as a massive chicken.” Are you following? Lola’s a big queer chicken sex-doll with a fuck-navel. Go on, Yuri, ya wild thing. Taking shenanigans to a whole new level not so long ago, Tolochko announced he was also in a sexual relationship with an ashtray: “I wanted to touch it again, smell it. I love its brutal scent, the touch of metal on my skin. It’s really brutal. I also like that it has a story, that it’s not new, that it has served many people and continues to serve them.”

sex is dead

Ashtray’s been around, ya hear? It was askin for it…

Is he a mad fella? Is it that simple? Or is Tolochko symptomatic of a wider, deeper, more pervasive unravelling of sex and sexuality? You do a quick Google search on people in relationships with objects and you’ll come across (no pun intended) a whole array of folk beholden to statues, pillows, walls, cars… you name it. There’s a woman in love with the Eiffel Tower. Another with a fairground ride. And not only in love, but in ‘sexual’ relationships with too.

What is all this, if not peak hypersexuality? Manic, relentless, crazed, hyper, schizoid sexuality – that’s where we are today. Hypersexuality, sexual addiction, erotomania, nymphomania, satyriasis… call it what you will, it’s here, has been here for a while, and we have reached the end. What else is there to love, to fuck? The alpinists of the flesh have climbed their peaks, the pioneers of desire have come and gone and there is nothing new to discover.

Eros and Thanatos   

According to psychotherapists, there are four major existential bogeymen that plague us: freedom, isolation, meaninglessness, and death. Tell me that in the modern world we don’t, each of us, stare these in the face as part of our daily lives, and how much more intently over the past two years? Locked in our homes, cut off, bombarded with media depictions of our impending end – what have we come to, if not the edge of the abyss? We have all stared into the maw.

“When the repression of the terror of death breaks down, people will often behave in ways that might seem frenetic or even psychotic. Frequently, those reactions will manifest sexually… For many, sex is experienced as a life force, the antithesis of death that can neutralize the terror of the end of one’s existence.”

There are many documented examples of those with life-threatening illnesses being plagued with out-of-control, rampant, sexual urges. Some Nazi death camp survivors tell of the train rides to the camps, relating stories of people abandoning all inhibitions and engaging in sex right there, standing in the carriages, with no thought to those around them. Sex is one of the impulses and the instincts which are triggered when people are forced to face horror, the horror not only of death, but of meaninglessness and loneliness too.

“The awareness that death is inescapable, coupled with the instinctive desire to live, can constitute an unbearable paradox. To escape this potentially paralyzing terror and to maintain psychological equanimity, some people may employ certain defense mechanisms, which are designed to remove the awareness of death from conscious thoughts by imbuing the world with meaning, order, and permanence. Often people will reach for symbols of immortality. And sex can be a big one.”

Yes, we found coping mechanisms and we milked them royally. But we have sucked on the teet and now the teet is dry. It is empty, barren. But there are those who have embraced the barren and the brutal. What of Yuri with his queer fuck-chicken, or a spiritual predecessor, the woman who fell in love with and married the Berlin Wall? Who knows, maybe they are the brave ones. Beyond the love and the fetishisation of the industrial, the cold, the brutal and the inanimate, there is no more to discover, no more earth to plough. Nothing. Love of the inanimate is symbolic embrace of the dead. They have seen the way forward. We have new pioneers now.

What about the rest of us? Go find your coping mechanism. Open an OnlyFans account and video yourself inserting summer vegetables of increasing size into one or all of your orifices until you feel satisfied, satiated, filled, ALIVE. Close your eyes as you stuff the cantaloupe in your hole and repeat it like a mantra: 

There is no death, there is no death, there is no death…’

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

‘Sex is Dead, or, Why My Wife Smells like a Fighter Jet’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Utopia in the Age of the Pandemic

utopia in the age of the pandemic

'Utopia in the Age of the Pandemic', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on politics.

Utopia in the Age of the Pandemic

Utopia. Now there’s a piece of television. I’m not talking about the Hollywood rehash, I haven’t gone there (why would I?) and have no plan to; I read Gone Girl and it’s a first-class thriller, but with Utopia, Flynn took on something that could not be improved. And maybe improvement was not the goal of the reworking, but I’m nevertheless reassured (and even pleased) to hear of the inferior cut of Flynn’s rewrite. The original stands as some of the best television to ever come out of Britain (I’d rank it up there with This is England and Black Mirror) and to chance a remake was perhaps an act of questionable hubris.

Of course, it’s not true that the remake never bests the original. The American take on The Office is widely regarded as having outstripped its British predecessor, and I’d say the US Shameless did a similar job (the first three series notwithstanding). But there are some things that should not be fucked with. Utopia is one.

I rewatched it recently, and was no less enthralled by it than I was when I first saw it six or seven years ago. The writing, the cinematography, the score – come now, when have you ever heard a score that so perfectly accompanied and encapsulated a series? Flawless work, and I’ve been enamoured of Cristobal Tapia de Veer ever since (The White Lotus? Superb). Characters, beautifully depicted in all their flawed, vulnerable and comic glory. Plot. Dialogue. Dennis Kelly really nailed that script. I watched The Third Day last year, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t quite have the raw ferocity that Utopia has.

But enough gushing. I’m a fan, and I’m still waiting, hoping expectantly (like thousands of others) that one day we may get to revisit Mr. Rabbit.

It’s an interesting watch, in the world of today. I’m not here to peddle any out-there theories about government conspiracies to poison us all and render us sterile, and commit mass genocide and worldwide depopulation, but watching the series in the current climate cannot fail to raise a few questions.

I do believe that, worldwide, we have just been subjected to one of the most potent, widespread and disproportionate media campaigns of all time, one that far outstrips the efforts to sell us the Iraq War. I remember that campaign, too – endless stories in the press about the unforgivable opulence that Saddam Hussein lived in while all around him his people suffered (as if those selling us the war were not pontificating from their own mansions), and the pure evil cruelty of his sons. Stories peddled in generally ‘respectable’ news outlets, stories that we can look back on now and say, Yeah, this is an out-and-out hit piece. Not that he wasn’t a bastard, but you shouldn’t get to pick and choose your bastards, cosying up to them when they do your bidding and turning on them when they don’t. We had endless such pieces on evil Saddam and his regime, all with the purpose of selling us a bogus war.

Not everyone bought it. One of the biggest protests of all time came out onto the streets of London to protest Blair’s eagerness to make a war criminal of himself, two million people, which is massive. But did the kleptocrats listen? Did they fuck. War went ahead, and two million dead Iraqis later, we know it was all a sham.

What has any of this to do with Utopia? Well, much like in the show, I believe we have all seen a similar media campaign, fear-mongering, a stoking of our most basic insecurities and terrors, all with the effect of making us compliant to the wishes of the powers-that-be. What are those wishes? On that, I’m not going to speculate, suffice to say that, to a large extent, the fear campaign has worked. The world over (the ‘developed’ world, at least), people are having some of their most basic rights trampled on, ripped up, discarded, and all in the name of this invisible (and let’s face it, as we now know, not-so-scary) bogeyman. Weren’t we all persuaded that our lives were in grave and unequivocal danger? Subjected daily to pictures of people on ventilators, medical professionals in Hazmat suits, cities being sprayed down for the infection, the plague, the pestilence. Truly, there was some apocalyptic shit afoot. Or so it seemed. What now appears to have happened is that we were subjected instead to a horror that existed largely in the media – not a real horror, just the threat of a horror, the façade of horror; you know like that scene in A Clockwork Orange where Malcolm McDowell has his eyes pinned open and subjected to images of war… that was us. For a whole year. Locked in our homes, the television broadcasting images of death and destruction. Apocalypse. We were the experiment. We were the subjects of the Aversion Therapy.

But it’s all fine now. They have the answer for us. They gave us our shots and we’re okay now. The shots don’t seem to do much but they keep pumping it into us, and in that we’re comforted. And hey, the apocalyptic reels have slowed a bit and we all feel somewhat reassured. Isn’t life better now?

Apocalypse makes for great television. And not only in fiction. We had our own ‘real-life’ apocalypse, and we watched it avidly for over a year. We’re still loaded with it; perhaps it’s part of our DNA now. Just as long as there’s the mirage of a cure…

I’m not really one to go looking for messages in fiction, but if Utopia has one it may well be this: We can always be counted on to be complicit in our own subversion. In a world of apocalyptic certainties, we are all Mr. Rabbit. 

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Utopia in the World of the Pandemic’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Forced Vaccination and the Breakdown of the Social Contract

forced vaccination

'Forced Vaccination and the Breakdown of the Social Contract', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on politics.

Forced Vaccination and the Breakdown of the Social Contract

You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose

Forced Vaccination

“Jab ’em in their sleep!”

That was the message of Rogrigo Duterte when faced with of the reluctance of his fellow Filipinos to taking their shots. Now, I’ve always liked the guy and still do, but, joking or not, it’s difficult not to see a sinister omen in his words. Having seen the dialogues that are taking place around the world, I do see it as a looming possibility in the not-so-distant future.

There have been several instances in previous weeks of people getting in hot water for comparing the plight of modern-day anti-vaxxers to that of the Jews during World War II (for instance here and here), and while we may not quite be there yet, what else do you bring to mind when you conjure up a picture of someone being held down and subjected to medical procedures against their will? It’s an obvious jump to make; either that or aboriginal women in Australia being subjected to forcible sterilisation from the late nineteenth all the way to the 1970s because of their ‘inferior’ genetics. (A quick and horrifying aside: Forced sterilisation is a practice which I was shocked to learn is still legal in Australia and inflicted upon girls with disabilities and those who show intersex characteristics.) Beyond these two examples, I’m hard-pressed to think of other instances of large-scale, forcible, medical interventions.

A swift internet search on the legality of forced vaccinations led me to the case of a man from Ukraine in 2012 who was forcibly vaccinated against diphtheria. The court ruling decided that there had been no violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the legislation than deals with the ‘right to respect for private and family life’. The ruling came to the conclusion that “the interference with the applicant’s physical integrity could be said to be justified by the public health considerations and necessity to control the spreading of infectious diseases”. This is all very well, but it’s likely to be of little comfort to those who insist on the right to make choices on their own health and wellbeing. Many readers will be of the same opinion as Rodrigo Duterte (Jab the fuckers!), but there are those (myself among them) who will not be satisfied by an obscure ruling on the case of a single guy from the Donetsk if it comes to deciding on the right to the bodily integrity of millions – billions, perhaps – worldwide.

The Breakdown of the Social Contract

Do we need to have this conversation? I believe we do. The campaign that has been unleashed against those who have so far refused the jab is, quite frankly, astounding. Some elements of government and the media (and the public too, for that matter) are salivating at the thought of the expulsion of the filthy unvaxxed masses from society, and in some cases, stating openly that this is their intention. The premier of Australia’s Victoria said the following:

“There is going to be a vaccinated economy, and you get to participate in that if you are vaccinated. We’re going to move to a situation where, to protect the health system, we are going to lock out people who are not vaccinated and can be.”

Harsh measures, which only just stop short of forced vaccination. These measures raise the question, however, of what happens to the people who are excluded from said economy. Make no mistake, this is essentially the creation of an underclass (a generous epithet, since it implies they are still within society), or Untermenschen. What of said people once they are pushed aside, and can no longer work, shop, participate socially or even receive healthcare? Are they still required to pay taxes, for example? Why, if they receive none of the benefits of participation in society? Are they expected to abide by society’s laws? Why should they, if they have been cast outside society’s embrace?

It seems to me that the social contract is being called into question. Is it the case that, by their exclusion, the social contract has been ripped up for this new ‘class’ of people, or are we to view this as merely the legitimate application of violence by that body with (under the terms of the social contract) the monopoly and the authority to do so? (And make no mistake, violence is already being applied, by means of exclusion, threats and economic pressure.) Have the great unwashed masses legitimately abdicated their rights to a central authority with their best interests at heart, or is government attempting to usurp people’s natural right to health and bodily integrity? Furthermore, to add another layer to the mix, is it governmental or corporate violence (can we even distinguish between those two anymore?) that we are actually facing, and if it is the latter, do we not have a human and civic duty to resist?

These are the questions.

Regardless of what happened to one guy in Donetsk with diphtheria, I support the right of all people to choose whether to subject themselves to a medical procedure if it may have ramifications for their own health, be that procedure for the common good or not. There are many who will disagree. But what is happening around the world right now sets a dangerous precedent that calls into question the foundations that our societies are built upon. Exclusion is now an active policy of many governments and institutions around the globe, and if you think things are unstable now, what do you think happens when you create and entire sub-strata of people left with nothing, and nothing at all to lose?

Beware, friends, that Rodrigo Duterte does not creep through your bedroom window one night with a big jabby needle. Perhaps it’s time to sleep with one eye open.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Forced Vaccination and the Breakdown of the Social Contract’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

The Death of Song

The Death of Song

'The Death of Song', by Ultan Banan. Upcoming fiction.

The Death of Song

A song for a blind man? Haven’t ye a note or two for this tired old soul? The busker falls silent as I pass, my infirmities deadening to his mellifluous conjurations. The decrepitude of my cells penetrates the air like the choke of burning plastic. I never wanted to be the bearer of an all-conquering silence. It was neither my way nor want, but such is the turn of the world. They put the screws on me, wore me down. All you see now is this ramshackle shell. I am a carrier of the broken, the discarded. Neither am I the sum of my parts. What’s more, for me, there is no end, only the perpetual air of lost moments.
Doesn’t it permeate your skin already, the reek of my wretchedness? No matter how much I scrub my wrinkly arse the stink just won’t come off me. The smell of shit can be dealt with but the hum of decay is resolute. Flee, ye who would approach! Come not near my corrosive husk. Decay’s gravity is immense.
I sit at a distance. Life stops and starts in my wake, and when I have moved on, the busker is reinvigorated, the stink of my atrophy now gone from his nose. He strikes up a song, a dirge from a gone auld time. I can tell by the singing of him he’s been infected with my hum. It’s in him still, the aura of my rot accelerating his euphonic deterioration. And his death shanties will in turn hasten the degeneration of all those who hear.
Perhaps you will think me a fatalist. Melancholic. A malignant old sot? Ha! There is much that amuses me. Take this hoary, shrivelled organ between my legs, for instance. Heehee… I only need take it out and I’m filled with rampant mirth. I can swing it about in delight, shake it at horrified innocents – that’s what makes me shriek with glee. But when I do that, they lock me up and feed me manure for days. There is no mirth in a cell – who can you shake your willy at, sir? There is no shocking a stone wall. So I go to the park in the afternoon when it’s too hot for the children and I shake it at the pigeons, and chase them around with my waggling worm. I am the deviant, the old pervert. What joy is there left for an old man but the delight in his perversions? Sometimes, I prod the old ladies in the bum with this walking stick of mine. Up ye! I shout. Up yer wrinkled auld chuff!
The old women have no perversions, that is why they hoard; the more they hoard, the more miserable they become. Me, I hoard nothing. I lie on a mattress in a single room, my only possessions a kettle and a piss-bucket, and, need I say, my perpetual hum of decrepitude. This, too, is a possession, as I have cultivated it over many years, clung to it, so that it has come to define me. Possessions end up owning one, don’t you know?
The dirge finishes, a cloud appears overhead. Truly Shakespearean. My bodily confluences now determine the weather. One man can change the world. You won’t be surprised to learn that I was an actor. Yes, thespian me, and isn’t it a fitting ending perhaps, that now I roam the streets in my dirty brown overcoat, amusing or upsetting people?
Heeding the call of nature, I get up and go to the wall, next to a drinks dispensing unit. I unbutton my beaten pants and pull out my hoary worm to squeeze out a pish. Old men can pish anywhere. An old crone scuttles by. I turn to see her scowl and I grin. I spin around to flash her my piddler and she squeals. Heehee. Away, you auld bint.
Squeezing one out, I put him away before the law shows. I take my stick and away to the park.
The clouds clear, the busker starts up again. Behind me, life resumes.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘The Death of Song’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

New novellas from Black Tarn in 2021

not getting the vaccine

New novellas from Black Tarn. Indie publishing for dark and curious individuals.

New novellas in 2021

We’ve been hard at work this years folks. Ultan Bana has just finished work on a new novel, but before that sees the light of day, have you checked out our latest novellas? The Serpent Rose and A Whore’s Song are two of our latest titles in 2021. There won’t be any more releases this side of New Year, so if you haven’t yet checked them out, maybe pick a copy up for the coming holidays. Sláinte.

 New novellas from Black Tarn Publishing. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

On Being Finished and Unfinished Both

finished and unfinished

'On Being Finished and Unfinished Both', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on writing.

On Being Finished and Unfinished Both

I wrote the final chapters of my fourth novel this weekend, an enterprise that’s been in the works for four or five months. This isn’t a long time by any means, but as those of you who write will be aware it’s a process that often seems like a Herculean struggle. There are the early days, in which you watch your word count go from 4 to 8 to 11,000, then you hit the heart-breaking stretch between 20 and 30, past the point of no return but far, far from your goal. Once you get beyond 50 you start to see the end in sight, and one morning you’ll have a look and see 66,000, and you think, Damnit, I’ve gotta be close!

This is what it comes down to, unfortunately, and I would hazard that there isn’t a writer out there who does not zealously check their word count. Unless your name is Bohumil Hrabal and you’re banging out a novel in fifteen days on a typewriter from the roof of your garden shed, I’m calling you a liar if you say you don’t check. If you’re out to lose weight, for example, you probably weigh yourself on the scales morning, noon and night; you don’t simply go from 120 to 80 kilos, stepping onto the scales one morning to say, Right then, I’m done. We fanaticise over progress, but this is a very human thing. I don’t think there’s anything unhealthy or unnatural about it, but I do wish I could look away. It does lend the exercise of writing a novel an extra smidge of anxiety that might otherwise be avoided.

I obsessed for a little while over word counts, poring over lists of books, classics and otherwise, to gauge the similarities and differences in their varying lengths. Sci-fi, 120,000 and up, Epic, 250 to 400,000… some of these people must be maniacs.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ll never be a writer of epics. I do believe that a book must be exactly long as it needs to, but I hope – pray – that I never begin to write a story that requires 400,000 words for the telling. God forbid. A novel of 70,000 is tough enough. Think of what comes after!

Given what I do (how I write, the style, the stories I tell), this will likely never be a problem. I write relatively quickly. If I’m not mistaken, none of my previous three novels has taken longer than five months to complete. Editing takes longer. Perhaps six or seven. And I do love editing. I love the process and like to take my time over it, one month between reads, carrying it towards its final form until I’m ready for that first proof copy. What’s more, as a self-published author, I have continued to edit my books long after their publication date. Small tweaks, but edits nonetheless. Doing that with a 400,000-word epic – no thank you. No, I like my books short, my chapters snappy, and that is how I tend to write em.

Now I’ll take a few weeks, maybe a month to breathe. And after that, I’ll jump into the editing. After a month or six weeks I may have the first inklings of a new novel bubbling up, and when that time comes, I’ll be compelled to sit down and begin all over again. Until then, I’ll be up to my neck in the editing process. But that’s just fine. Somehow the editing isn’t as fraught with anxiety as the writing, and I find it easier to take simple pleasure in it.

I’m finished, but unfinished. I’m there but I’m not. This is the essential paradox, one that will recur endlessly and will always have within it the same destabilising dichotomy. But it doesn’t have to be like that. All I need is to be more zen about it. You know like those monks, who create a mandala from coloured sand over the course of weeks or months only to destroy it with a single sweep of the hand? I’m not burning my books, fuck off, but I could really use some of their poise, their equanimity. And once I have that, won’t that new serenity manifest itself in my writing?

I’m finished. I will never be finished. The wheel has simply begun a new cycle. I’m tryin to get okay with it. Tryin.

(Word count: 734. For all the maniacs, with love and sympathy.)

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘On Being Finished and Unfinished Both’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Writing is an activity of the body, not the mind

writing is an activity of the body

'Writing is an activity of the body, not the mind', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on writing.

Writing is an activity of the body, not the mind

I was halfway through writing my first novel when the pandemic hit. March 2020, and suddenly I was told to go home from work and not come back. I was elated; it meant I had all the time I wanted to sit at home and write, and that is exactly what I did. I couldn’t do it all day, though – after a while you burn out. Might be after three hours or three thousand words, it’s different for everyone.

What I also took up again, as much a way of filling those long hours at home as anything else, was meditation. I’d travelled around India in my early thirties and had dabbled in those things which most people do when they go there, namely yoga and meditation. I could never properly get into yoga, but the Vipassana courses I took really got me invested in the practice. And I stuck with it for quite a while after leaving the country. But, like all things, I grew bored.

Until the pandemic hit. Then, faced with restlessness and the threat of deteriorating mental health, I took it up again.

Sitting for a half-hour or an hour, motionless, is not easy. It’s extremely demanding on the body. Your limbs seize up and become stiff, you have insane pins and needles, and when you finally do ‘unfold’, you have a world-class dead leg that takes a good five minutes to get the circulation back into. If you’ve never sat in the lotus position before and have become accustomed to bad posture, then sitting with a straight back might cause you excruciating pain. There was one French guy on our course who suffered such intense agony he spent the first three days rocking and crying like a baby. It’s tough.

But the discomfort you experience physically is nothing to the shock you get when you discover how unruly your mind is, when you realise your mind is a wild, untamed horse, incapable of being still for even ten seconds. Yes, that was frightening. (Go and take a one-day course in meditation, see what I mean.)

When I took up meditation again in March 2020, getting back into the lotus position felt very, very good. It felt reassuring, like returning home after a long sojourn. And I slipped back into it easily. What I didn’t foresee, however, was the way it would affect my work. These were things we’d touched upon during the courses but which I’d never experienced in real life.

After a successful meditation session, writing becomes effortless. And not only that, but productivity goes through the roof. And why is that? Is it because your mind is ordered and calm? No. It’s because your mind is empty. The kind of meditation I’m talking about here is not where you focus on the shape of a crystal for an hour or you repeat a mantra 108 times (though I’m sure there’s a time and place for that kind of thing). The meditation I’m talking of is about emptying your mind in order to bring about focus, pure focus. But isn’t focus an activity of the mind? Not necessarily. Focus is when your entire being is engaged in the task that it is performing at that very moment. It might involve the mind and very often does, but it is not a prerequisite of the state.

Take creativity, for example. Painting, writing, playing music, carving, designing… is the mind engaged when you’re doing these things? Only in the most abstract way. But the one thing you’re not doing, is thinking. If you are, I would suggest you’re doing something wrong.

Thought is the death of creativity. Thought will murder your creative output, whether it be musical, oral, literary or visual. Thought has no part to play in these processes. Those familiar with the state of ‘creative flow’ will know the sensation of being ‘carried along’ on a wave, the words or pictures manifesting on the page before them without any seemingly active input on their part. This is what occurs when one lets go of the interfering influence of the mind and lets the body take over.

What I’m not saying here is that ‘the words are in your body’, though there may be an argument for that, who knows? (How much of what we produce, for example, might come from the information contained in our genetic make-up as opposed to that within our subconscious?) What I am saying is that the mind (the active mind – that part of which we are aware and that we use daily) has no part to play in your writing.

Does the mind have any part to play in your craft? Yes. In editing, for example, you need to analyse the logic and music of a piece of prose (or poetry). Analysis requires a sharp, logical mind. Or in planning. If you’re a planner, then logic is required to shape out your story. But when it comes to the act of writing, to the extent that is possible, you want to be out of your mind.

I do it by meditation, sitting quietly until I’m acutely aware of the sensations on the surface of my body. When I’ve reached that state, I’m aware that I’m situated in my body and not my mind. Sometimes I’ll spend a little time concentrating on my fingertips ­– that’s where your body meets the keyboard, after all, your fingers the instruments by which abstract concepts from the ‘cloud’ (the great lake of the subconscious) are turned into words on the page. It’s nice to feel your fingertips bristle, ready to get to work. It helps if you know how to type properly (I’m still learning), since you’ll need your fingertips to keep up with the lightning pace of your newly-cultivated creative flow.

But yeah. Before writing, take a bit of time to get into the body and out of your mind. When it comes to creativity, mind is not a friend but an enemy.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Writing is an activity of the body, not the mind’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

European Stupidity

european stupidity

'European Stupidity', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on politics.

European Stupidity

I lived in Russia for a year. Life was good. Rent was reasonable, internet was dirt-cheap and super-fast, eating out was incredible and there was quality food everywhere – Tatar, Tajik, Georgian, Uzbek, you name it, you could find it, and it was low-cost and delicious. In winter, it was minus 35 degrees out but my house was boiling hot. I had to turn the heating down to minimum. Yes, it was a good year. To be fair, I was on a European wage and wanted for nothing, but even with a thousand dollars a month in Russia you could live well. For many Russians, working for half that, I’m aware that life is not so easy. Perhaps they face the same problems that I face now, living in Italy, where month to month making ends meet is a struggle. I pay fifty per cent more on rent than I did in Russia for an even shittier apartment. Internet is three times the price and slower. Monthly phone costs are double. Food costs are also double. Bills, forget about it. Last winter I had gas bills coming for 150 a month, and this on a self-employed wage, where I’m making a third of what I did when I lived in Kazan. Yeah, you might call me stupid for leaving, and you might be right.

Now we’re hearing about Europe’s ‘energy crisis’ and talk is of rocketing gas prices. According to the article linked, gas prices have surged in Europe by 600 per cent this year. What does that mean if I stay in Italy? You do the maths. It’s unsustainable.

I am astonished at European shortsightedness regarding their independence energy-wise. For years the Europeans have allowed themselves to be bullied by the Americans over the Nord Steam project, our US ‘friends’ across the water concerned about the evolution of the European-Russian partnership and the threat to transatlantic relations (read ‘domination’). Also, if Europe gets it gas from Russia, who’s gonna buy that US LNG at four times the price? European MEPs (in American pockets, perhaps) even went so far back in January as to demand that the European Parliament put a stop to work on the Nord Stream 2 project. Why? Ostensibly, because of the supposed Novichok attack on Alexei Navalny. Who gives a fuck about Navalny? It’s just more shit to fling at Russia, like that other fiasco, the whole slippery, suspect Skripal affair. Throw enough shit and some of it will stick. Meanwhile, as Europe cries ‘Energy crisis!’ and simultaneously tries to put a stop to the project that might solve said crisis, the rest of us are left wondering how we’re going to heat ourselves this winter.

No, I’m leaving. Life in Europe is untenable. Where am I gonna go? I’m not going back to Ireland anyway, where the housing crisis is in full swing, the cause of which is the government’s refusal to stop vulture funds from buying up all the property for the rental market, driving up prices and leaving families all over the country unable to climb on the property ladder.

Nope, it’s out of Europe for me. Maybe Georgia. I don’t drink anymore, but if I did, I’d be sitting over there with a half-litre of that lush amber wine, watching Europe implode, collapsing under the yoke of its idiotic policymakers. But hey, with enough khinkali and kharcho in my belly, I won’t even need to heat my apartment.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘European Stupidity’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

A toxic white male, a feminist and a trans woman walk into a bar…

toxic white male transgender

'A toxic white male, a feminist and a trans woman walk into a bar...', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on politics.

A toxic white male, a feminist and a trans woman walk into a bar...

A long time ago and on shores I have long since left, I studied comparative literature at Glasgow University for four years. In my second year there we watched a lovely, poignant little movie called Ma Vie en Rose as part of a semester on ‘Identity’. It’s probably well-known in the transgender community, relating the tale of a young boy who decides he wants to (or is born to) live as a girl. Such a compelling character the kid plays it’s impossible not to root for Ludovic, as he (she – already with the pronouns) goes up against the prejudices of society and even his own family in a quest to discover his true self. If I recall correctly, prescribed reading for the movie was Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, a text which precipitated quite a profound shift in my outlook at the time. I haven’t read Butler since I left university and don’t know if her work is still relevant to the field of gender studies (it was a central text of the discipline fifteen years ago) but I presume it is. I no longer keep up to date with academia, and when I do dip my toes in it’s usually with nostalgia and with no more than a desire to titillate my own intellectual curiosity.

The transgender debate is unavoidable these days. It’s a minefield fraught with danger, so it’s with some trepidation that I venture in, armed with only a smattering of gender theory and feminist ideology, and the unwieldy, bungling attitude of the white male. I can almost guarantee that, if you are possessed of socio-political sensitivity of any sort and to any degree, I will find a way to offend you, and if you are such an individual, I urge to you to turn around now and exit my bastardised academic musings. But please make no mistake, even if I seem to make light of the subject matter (‘toxic’ – I warned you), I am in no way suggesting there isn’t a place for the discussion. I’m only sharing my opinion on the matter, unwelcome as it may be for some. I’m also for inclusion, plain and simple, as long as it remains within the bounds of reason.   

I was turned onto to the debate after reading an article on RT about the academic Kathleen Stock, a lecturer at the University of Sussex, who is facing fierce opposition on and off campus from the transgender community for her varied and long list of ‘thought crimes’. Kathleen Stock is a feminist (but of which stripe, there are so many!?), what some have termed a ‘terf’ (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). Just what is it about Kathleen Stock’s academic beliefs that has the trans community up in arms? Well, from my own brief and limited research, it seems to be her assertion that gender identity does not trump biological sex, in particular around issues of law and policy. In order to examine this, it’s necessary to explore what precisely the trans community object to in this belief. One of the more common arguments around this issue is whether trans women should be allowed to use the same changing rooms as those who were born (biologically) women. It’s a fair question, and I don’t claim to speak for all women. But I’m quite sure that, if many women would be comfortable sharing an intimate space with trans women, many would not. We’re talking about penises in a female-only space here, to be clear. Kathleen Stock has stated that ‘many trans women are still males with male genitalia, many are sexually attracted to females, and they should not be in places where females undress or sleep in a completely unrestricted way’. From a purely logical perspective (and for me, science will always trump theory), I find it hard to disagree with her. I mean, you may think like a woman, act like a woman, and feel like a woman, but with that dangling appendage (cock) between your legs, do you think the lady at the locker next to you feels the same way? (Don’t forget the cock, reader. Keep your eyes on the cock.)

Or there’s the athletics debate, in which transgender people fight for their right to compete among the gender of their choice and not the one they were assigned at birth. Trans women born as men (and gender re-assigned) up against biological women – seems unfair, no? I mean, is the science at all in doubt?

Sigh. I dunno. Gender Trouble was an enlightening book for me and I remain swayed by its assertions to this day, the central tenet of which can be summed up in the following quote:

‘The effect of gender is produced through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self. This formulation moves the conception of gender off the ground of a substantial model of identity to one that requires a conception of gender as a constituted social temporality.’

Put more simply, gender is not fixed but rather a ‘stylized repetition of acts’. You put it on and take it off much like you would a shirt or a blouse. It’s performative, a show. Gender then becomes manifold, a universe in which a hundred, a thousand, different permutations are possible. Much like the ever evolving 2SLGBTQQIA+ acronym. (As British rapper Zuby jibed, ‘Headbutting the keyboard is now a sexuality’.)

Lawmakers will ultimately decide whether trans women get the right to use female bathrooms, and frankly, whatever is decided, one or the other group of people is gonna be left disaffected. Gender may be a performance, but we can’t pretend to ignore the stark, fleshy realities of the body. The emotional cannot erase the physical. And if you barge your way into those female spaces which may not entirely welcome you, aren’t you simply re-adopting aggressive male modes and mannerisms which you have, by the repurposing of your gender, done your best to leave behind?      

P.S. We can still see your cock.

(Yep. It’s still there.)   

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘A toxic white male, a feminist and a trans woman walk into a bar…’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

Lockdown Australia and ‘the production of deviance’

lockdown australia

'Lockdown Australia and 'the production of deviance'', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on politics.

Lockdown Australia and 'the production of deviance'

If you’ve been following global news recently then you can’t fail to have seen the pictures from a lockdown protest in Melbourne that showed police officers knock a 70-year-old woman to the ground and spray her point-blank with pepper spray or some equally toxic variant. Two police officers, to be exact. A week later at a rally for construction workers who were protesting the vaccine mandate, the police seemed remarkably unwilling to meet the protestors face to face, until a confrontation between workers and union representative forced them to move in. They did so using armoured vehicles, counter-terrorism officers, tear gas and rubber bullets. Were police actions on both occasions heavy-handed, or a justified response to civil disorder?

It’s impossible to take a reading on the political and social temperature of a country from a few isolated events, but the incidents certainly seem indicative of things having reached boiling point on the streets of Australia’s major cities. But is it an entirely grassroots response? In an article for Counterpunch a week ago, Ben Debney asked if Australia’s lockdown was being manipulated by right-wing corporate lobbies, representatives of those institutions that would benefit most from the lifting of all lockdown measures and the restoration of the economy to its full (pre-pandemic) capacity. This is something I can neither confirm nor deny, but his suppositions are worthy of consideration. With only a cursory glance, the parallel goals of the two camps (anti-lockdown protestors and the corporations) seem self-evident enough: people want an end to restrictions and to get back to normal life, and the suits want to get the economic wheels rolling again. The lockdowns, as they stand, represent a serious constraint on the capacity of the corporations to maintain the free-market economy; the social costs aren’t of concern to them, merely the bottom line. Essentially, back to normal means back to business. I am not challenging any of this but merely repeating Debney’s assertions.

The production of deviance

What I found interesting about the piece is how it was framed. Debney asks whether the anti-lockdown movement arose from the construction of a ‘moral panic, or episodes of hysteria characterised by preoccupations with more or less spurious existential threats’. Who Debney suggests might be responsible for said ‘panic’ you may gather from the previous paragraph, but I think it would be misleading to suggest that the panic is solely the result of some external and nefarious jiggery-pokery. As with most (if not all) social movements, they arise from genuine social or societal threats and concerns and are then hijacked by those interests with which they have some form of common goal. Take the outbreak of the war on Syria, for example, which appeared to start as street-level protests in support of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, but was soon expertly hijacked by Western intelligence agencies. Or more recently, the BLM movement, which, after it had gained momentum, was overrun by a whole assortment of anarchists, socialists, and even out-and-out vandals, pillagers and looters.

But what if we reverse Debney’s logic to ask an equally pertinent question: What of the concerns of millions worldwide that government responses to the pandemic also constitute the construction of ‘episodes of hysteria characterised by preoccupations with more or less spurious existential threats’? Because, looking back on it, isn’t that how it felt? Weren’t we all somehow convinced that the world was in grave peril, that we were quite possibly on the brink of a mass extinction? Speaking for myself, I was afraid for a while. Then later, after it had begun to die down, I began to wonder why we got so worked up about the flu.

The construction of such narratives, Debney states, is dependent on ‘the production of deviance’. In the case of the anti-lockdown protests, the deviance is suspicion and revolt against mainstream media and the nanny state. And in the case of government response to the pandemic? The virus, of course. The ultimate bogeyman, a gremlin of unprecedented proportions. In regards to the application of meaning, however, the question is: to whom is the pandemic ‘deviant’? As Debney correctly asserts, the meaning of ‘deviance’ (or any political narrative) is ‘characteristically subjective and depends on who has the power to impose their interpretation of what or who is deviant’. So now we have a whole soup of differently interpreted meanings in which to wade through: the governments say the virus is deviant and must be contained with lockdowns, distancing and vaccinations; the people say the governments and media are deviant because they’re forcing an impossible, unliveable mandate upon them. Now the people protest! Suddenly (for the government) the people are deviant for resisting. Deviance must be suppressed! Deviance must be eradicated! See the impossible cycle into which we are flung?

What follows is a whole rigmarole of shouting and finger-pointing and very little self-reflection. It’s easy to point the finger. And yes, I do believe that people have legitimate grievances that need to be aired. In the Western sphere, however, there is little to no self-examination on the part of governments to see if indeed their actions are not contributing to this vicious cycle, a tendency only reinforced by a complicit mainstream media. A quick search (in the Western media) on government responses to the virus shows a lot of finger-pointing at other ‘regimes’ and how the pandemic may be contributing to authoritarianism (see here and here, for example) in countries like Hungary, Russia, Egypt, Uganda and the Philippines, but very little reflection on the response of Western governments, countries like France, the US and Italy, where vaccine mandates and passports are already impinging in untold ways on everyday life. Yet these measures are real (living in Italy, I speak from experience).

The threat of totalitarianism

Perhaps you believe that our governments are benign. Maybe you are convinced that, essentially, they still have our best interests at heart. And maybe you are right. Yet can we deny the possibility that there are shadowy elements in governments around the world that see only opportunity in the crisis? Who, in search of increasing control, are perhaps looking at what China has done with electronic IDs and the social credit system and rubbing their clammy hands in glee at the thought of it, at the pure and frightening totality of the system? To go back to Australia, in Oz they have now introduced electronic contact-tracing systems, implemented the closure of borders, imposed overseas travel bans and mandatory quarantine, placed restrictions on movement and gatherings. And now that all of this infrastructure is in place, do you believe that it will simply be dismantled when the crisis comes to an end? (If it ever does. An outcome, incidentally, which the pharmaceutical industry is going all out to prevent.)

Make up your own mind. Most of the world is in one of several camps at the moment anyway, each with their own set of grievances, each with their own proscribed definitions of ‘morality’ and ‘power’ and ‘threat’. ‘Anti-this’, ‘anti-that’. The list is endless. Oh, and ‘deviance’. It’s around every corner, hiding in every corporate cheque book and every government mandate, and in every anti-vaxxer group on Facebook and in every worker’s union. Even in the virus itself. Deviance is everywhere, and everywhere one group is pitted against the rest, all fighting the other’s own brand of deviancy.

It is my curse (or perhaps my blessing?) that I’m rather fond of ‘deviance’. It’s a word that has always elicited a conniving grin in me, a feeling of camaraderie, a feeling that deviance is somehow a kin, a friend. I like deviance. I consider it healthy, even necessary. My only regret is that, being a lonely blogger and not having the power to assign my own meaning to the word, my own particular conception of what constitutes ‘deviance’ is meaningless and empty. However, there is power in numbers. So what else remains but to close rank with your particular stripe of deviant and dig your heels in? It’ll come to a head, and sooner or later, one or the other group will prevail. When the tear gas clears, we’ll find out which.     

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘Lockdown Australia and ‘the production of deviance”, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.