I'm trying a new thing today. Instead of one longer post followed by bullet-updates, here are ten quick things I wanted to share with you this week.
1. A beginner's guide to online gaming
In my post about the Metaverse, I mentioned that one of my favourite ways to hang out with friends and family in different countries is by playing video games together, specifically, adorable-creepy survival game Don't Starve Together. A reader got in touch to ask how to actually get started playing video games online, so I wrote an absolute beginner's guide here, with game suggestions to suit family members of all ages.
Fuck Putin. Some things I've found useful to try to understand some of the context of what's going on in Ukraine: "It's not about Ukraine. It's about Putin." a podcast interview on The Weeds, unpacked a lot of the history about how we got here. Mark Galeotti also had a great piece in the Telegraph (sadly paywalled) unpicking what might be going on in Putin's mind: "Is Vladimir Putin mad, brilliant, or somewhere in between?", saying, "He is a remnant of the last true Soviet generation, unable to come to terms with the end of his old world, unwilling to understand the new." And I wanted to share this heartbreaking poem by Ilya Kaminsky, who fled the former Soviet Union city of Odessa (now Ukraine) in 1993: "We Lived Happily During the War."
3. Murder mysteries
I've been on a bit of a murder-mystery bender recently. The new Apple TV show The Afterparty is an absolute hoot (premise: someone is murdered at the afterparty of a high school reunion, Tiffany Haddish has to work out whodunnit). If you're also watching, email me your theories! I think it's Yasper but hoping it's one of the Jennifers. Then I finally read Agatha Christie's classic And Then There Were None (premise: ten people find themselves on a private island, they're killed off one by one, the survivors have to figure out whodunnit before they're killed next). It's enormous fun, and spawned a lot of contemporary murder-mystery tropes. Just a warning that some passages are racist even by 1939 standards.
4. British Library
My favourite London thing I've been doing is hanging out at the British Library, which contains over 14-million books and is basically Nerd Mecca. I've been finding some delicious things in the archives of the South African Sunday Times. Like, did you know that there was a proposed bill in 1969 to ban miniskirts? Look at these SCANDALOUS BARE LEGS! Think of the children!
5. London plays
Yeah so if I run out of money living in London it will be definitely because I've spent it all on theatre shows. The Joel Horwood adaptation of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane has some of the best stage design and lighting I've seen and it's still running until May. Tickets are sold out, though, to Martin Crimp's thoroughly modern adaption of the 200-year-old French play Cyrano de Bergerac. It's a masterful riff on the power of poetry, the acting is brilliant and the staging is minimal and inspired. But also, honestly, James McAvoy seducing a woman through poetry is just the goddam hottest thing I've ever seen on stage. There was not a dry seat in the house. Yes, I said seat.
6. Screenwriting wisdom from Aaron Sorkin
I got to see Aaron Sorkin discuss his new film, Being the Ricardos, a biopic about the making of I Love Lucy. Amongst many interesting things he said (he talks with the same dizzying high-speed brilliance as his characters), was that when writing a fictional story inspired by real history, truth is more important than accuracy. He gives an example from the script of The Social Network: there's a scene after Mark Zuckerberg's been dumped by his girlfriend, where he goes back to his dorm room, gets drunk, and builds Facemash, a programme that lets users rank the hotness of different students (vom). This really happened, and Zuck live-blogged the whole thing, so there's an accurate minute-by-minute historical record. In the script, Aaron wanted to convey, "he was drinking to get drunk", and had him pour four fingers of vodka into a glass. But the director dug up the live-blog which showed that he was actually drinking beer. Sorkin defended his version because it conveyed something true, if not strictly accurate. In this case, David Fincher got his way (as you can see from the final scene). Sorkin says, "I don't finish scripts, they get confiscated."
7. Adulting 101
I'm chatting to Jen Thorpe on Monday at 6pm South African time on Zoom about her brilliant new book Adulting 101: How to Survive in the Real World. It's the book I wish I'd received as a gift for my 21st birthday, including everything from "here's what to say to a friend who's parent has just died" to "here's how often to get screened for STIs" to "this is what taxes are". Register here.
8. All the freebies in one place
I've created a new page on the website that gathers up all the various freebies, downloads and guides that are available to email subscribers. There's also a new short story up there about the horrors of cooking, called "Blinding Birds". Enjoy!
The app that has become most essential to my work is note-taking tool Obsidian. If you're any kind of knowledge-worker, I can't recommend it enough. It allows you to build up a graph of all of your research and connect ideas to each other. Use it for long enough, and it essentially builds a map of your brain. Mine is a mess, obviously.
10. Caitlin Moran
I appreciated the epigraphs in Caitlin Moran's More Than a Woman.
Wishing you scandalous miniskirts,