Mixed Bag

Orbital Operations for 26 May 2024

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Duke Ellington said: “We’re going to do this thing until your pulse and my pulse are the same!”

Anais Nin

Hello from out here on the Thames Delta. I was half-expecting to announce something this week, but it got bumped back to the end of summer at the last minute. So this week is just a mixed bag of things I’ve been talking about and looking at. I’ve actually had a great week of talking with writers and filmmakers and getting into story stuff.






Letters about the creative life by Warren Ellis, a writer from England. Was this forwarded to you? Subscribe.


📖 “Who had decided that this terrible horn was a good idea? Where did such an obscene machine come from? Where could I hear it again?” THE FOGHORN’S LAMENT, Jennifer Lucy Allan (whose monthly column for The Quietus has been a joy for years) on music, strange sound and, yes, the foghorn. I’ve spent most of my life hearing foghorns out on the river.

🎞️ THE GREEN FOG: wild collage Guy Maddin film. I’m hoping his new film RUMOURS is something of a hit because it might put some more of his back catalogue back on physical media.

🎙️ LIGHTS BEYOND THE MIST, Astrolabe: going through my archive, I rediscovered this haloed glade of a record.



I’ve been doing some story consulting this week, and the following came up, so I thought I’d share it.

A few years ago, I did a couple of months as a creative consultant on a tv show, in the writers room. First time I’d been in a writers room. Turns out there are rules for working in a writers room, and I had some learning to do. The big one is this: don’t shoot down an idea unless you have an idea to replace it with.

Now, I personally don’t consider that a perfect method: it could turn a room full of writers into a snakepit, and I suspect it’s also why it takes the writers-room method bloody ages to produce scripts. But it does have utility when you’re working on your own.

Imagine: you’re writing away, and suddenly a piece of the story feels wrong. You take it out, start again, and you’re stuck. Sometimes, I just mark that bit of story with an asterisk or something and keep going until I have the idea to replace it with. It’s just time and paper/pixels, after all. I don’t stall, I don’t lose energy, I just keep inventing around and from that break point, generating material until I have the idea to replace the broken bit with. Sometimes I end up with some material I can’t use, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless - save everything, you never know when that stuff can be applied to something else or be the seed of something new.



The Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge once wrote a poem where he compared writing poetry with being a child playing in the forest, building little shelters of leaves and twigs, and then crawling inside these shelters, lighting a candle, and sitting there feeling safe in the dark autumn evenings.


BRICK, Nik Ramage, 1996

When Edgar Varèse was given a dinner to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday, he was introduced as an avant-garde composer. He said: “There is no avant-garde. The artist is always of his time but some people are a little late.”


Odilon Redon, “Eye-Balloon,” 1878. Used as a 1976 cover to The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, via 70s Sci-Fi Art

The imagination is an animal that can take flight like a horse. But just as the horse can be used for attacking by making it take flight, running so quickly that no individual rider can bring the animal’s mass to rest (without control, the rider squats atop the horse and has to make sure he’s not bucked off), the imagination storms every mountain and wall of reality with its ladders and bundles of fire. That is how nineteenth-century German novelist Theodor Fontane described it. It is not suitable for a system like Wikipedia. It does not care much for coherence, context and facts. It is a POLITICAL ANIMAL and conducts itself in swarms.

KONG’S FINEST HOUR, Alexander Kluge



Friend of the newsletter, painter Mia Wolff, has a new book coming out from Fantagraphics this year.

The Empty Lot is a monograph of Mia Wolff’s astonishingly beautiful and accomplished paintings and a narrative of strange ecstasies amidst war.

The Empty Lot is a visually stunning roller coaster ride through the brain of Mia Wolff. It is a surreal and fascinating journey that begins with a dream that spills into the author’s local Brooklyn neighborhood and her favorite empty lot, which naturally serves as the portal to the demon on Canal St who we find just happening to be cavorting in a flood of blood. This monograph features Wolff's astonishingly beautiful and accomplished paintings and a fantastic narrative of strange ecstasies amidst war. With a conversation between the author and famed SF author, essayist, and memoirist Samuel R. Delany.

On sale August 27.



Follow-up to last week: Humane AI Pin is now reportedly seeking a buyer.

Friend of the newsletter Amber Case and her team have announced the launch of the Calm Tech Institute.

We want everyone asking of every high tech product: Does it demand more of our attention than is needed? Does it become “pass-through” when we use it, so that we can focus only on the task, not the tool? And when it breaks, does it fail gracefully — or force us to install an app update or do another time-consuming chore when we’re in the middle of a project?



WARRENELLIS.LTD is my personal notebook, updated daily. If you use a RSS reader, it generates a feed at https://warrenellis.ltd/feed/ .

Just bits and pieces up there this week - too much else going on to get into a rhythm.

This letter has been zapped to you via Beehiiv and, apparently, they want to do this again, which I guess means you all love drugs. I hope you’re ashamed of yourselves. Text below is an ad:

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One last quote from Anais Nin: “We are born with the power to alter what we are given at birth.” Worth thinking about, right? I’m off to sit in the light for a bit. Take care of yourself, so we can both sit down next week and do this all over again.


I’m represented by Angela Cheng Caplan at the Cheng Caplan Company, Joel VanderKloot at VanderKloot Law and David Hale Smith at Inkwell Management. Please add [email protected] to your email system’s address book or contacts and move this to your primary folder when you get a minute, thanks.