Good morning, my son, or my daughter, or both (definitely my son).
The world is a shouty, noisy place but it wasn’t always like that. For thousands of years, it had very little to say about itself. Then some clever chaps called Bi Sheng and Johannes Gutenberg changed everything by making something called a printing press, where books and leaflets could be pumped out like magical alphabet soup or vomit. It was soup or vomit depending on who the author was, or the what the text being printed was.
Fast forward to now, and words are everywhere. Mostly, they are trying to sell you things, or tell you to do things, or tell you to not do things. Words in my time (2015, at time of writing) tell us to be good, be bad, buy viagra (I’m not explaining this one to you), to stand up and move every so many hours, to find singles in our area, to buy now, to pay later, to upgrade, to register, to do everything and nothing all at once. It can be hard to find words you’d like to read somedays.
And the good news?
The good news is that the words here are not like those other words at all.
These words are from me, your Dad, to you, my child, my love. You may have not been born yet, or conceived. One of you is already here and nearly 6 (hello Tommy). These words are words of advice and of love, of fun and more. Words of wisdom (puke) or inspiration (I hope).
My goal is to write you an open letter here every so often. It might be a letter about the benefit of breakfast. It might be a letter about how not to stress out. It might be a letter about the delights of travel or the beauty of animals. Why Autumn is brilliant, or what songs are worth finding and hearing. It is highly likely to sometimes be about things that are pretty rubbish too (but helpful).
You might read these letters in years to come. It might be a rainy day or a sunny one. We might read them together. I might be there with you, or I might not be. I might be there, but be so smashed on future painkillers in my twilight years, that I can do little more than drool and laugh and throw my food at you (apologies in advance if this is the case). If I am throwing food at you, it is likely that the food is terrible; please see to it that it is improved.
If I am around, I might well remind you that these words are here, especially if a moment arises where I know a letter exists that may help you with something specific. If you’re anything like me, you won’t thank me for it until you’re older. If I’m not there, you’ve only got a website to tell to be quiet or shut up. A machine. A robot. Hence the name ‘Shut up, Robot’. Tenuous, I know, but all the good web addresses were bought by monied fools in the early 2000s. Duomo arrigato, Mr. Robot-o.
My inspiration for beginning ‘Shut up, Robot’ for you is documented below. Skip it if it bores you, but come back to it one day. In short; Superman, my Mum, Captain Scott, Isaac Asimov.
To talk about the first source of inspiration, we must begin your pop culture education and introduce you to a film about Superman. In 1978, the world first saw a man fly on film in a believable way. This was the time before computer-generated effects. Wires are what they had to work with, but they did a great job. Christopher Reeve played Superman, a flying, super strong superhero from another planet (created by Siegel and Shuster), and Marlon Brando played his Dad, Jor-El. Superman is sent to Earth by his Mum and Dad in a little spaceship (they stay behind). Jor-El packs lots of crystals for Superman, who is still an infant, to take with him on his journey. The crystals are files of a sort, containing recorded memories, talks and knowledge, about everything from the Sun to human nature.
I was about 5 when I first saw this film (so around 1983, 1984). The music blew my tiny mind, and I fell in love with Lois Lane and wished that I could fly. All at once. When I watched the film again, I was about 13; my own Dad had died around then, and I was feeling pretty hopeless. I wanted my Dad back, but in lieu of that, I wanted what Superman had; crystals full of stuff my Dad hadn’t had time to tell me. Knowledge and opinion and advice and reassurance. So, this blog is our version of that. Sure, these words I write won’t be lectures briefed to you with cosmic gravitas, me in a white cape, relayed to you in a ice fortress (watch the movie, it’ll make sense). Instead, they’re just words. But here’s the first bit of knowledge you’ll ever read here; ‘just words’ is the biggest oxymoron you’ll ever encounter. Words are accounts of history, briefings on the present and a steer towards the future. Nothing is ever ‘just words’. The second bit of knowledge I’d like to impart to you is the word ‘oxymoron’. Enjoy that one, as some oxymorons can be quite funny.
My second inspiration for these letters is my Mum. She was called Sue and she was lovely and super-clever. You’re unlikely to remember her, and if you are a child I have yet to create, you definitely didn’t meet her. She died a year ago today (today is the 12th October 2015).
I didn’t need Superman-style crystals of wisdom from my Mum, mostly because I had wisdom and advice from my Mum, daily, from 12th June 1978, when she squeezed me out in a maternity ward in Cardiff (go NHS!) to the 12th October 2014 when I said goodbye to her in the company of lovely supportive people (go NHS!). I had advice about everything, from how I should stop eating so much to how I wasn’t eating enough. Her opinions on my latest girlfriend through to what I was wearing. If my jokes were funny or needed work. How to cook. How not to be a bastard. How to be kind to people. When to stand up for myself. How to see the best in myself whilst trying to make better the bad. Usually good advice, too, even though I didn’t always realise it at the time.
My Mum, despite having been physically ill for some time, was mentally agile. She was quick witted, gregarious and equal parts stubborn and kind, right up until the day she died. I never needed her to distill any of her feelings or thoughts about the world or people or life, as I had a lot of great years with her around, and we talked a lot, and we really understood each other.
Yet, shortly after she died, I thought about her thousands of words and thoughts that nobody had ‘backed up’ anywhere. Strange how we capture how a loved one looks, through photos, but not their voice or their feelings about rain, or how they felt about growing up. My heart ached. I have memories of her, but the keyword search on that is… non-existent. I can’t flick through paper files of things my Mum had told me and find the one on heartbreak the next time I need it, or find the file about what time of day I was born, or if I was a fat baby (I fear we know the answer to this one), or how to make cheese and tomato pie.
I watched Superman again recently. In 2015, it still seems to be on TV every Bank Holiday Monday. In my new world without my Mum, I found myself wishing for some crystals of wisdom from her after all. Reminders or reassurance, or both, although perhaps not reminders of how I should shave my beard off because I look scruffy, or that I should drink more water. Everything else though.
My third inspiration is Captain Scott. Captain Scott was an explorer, famous the world over. I do hope he is still famous by the time you read this, and has not been overtaken by some fool who is famous for not-much-but-nothing. As you know, I was born in Cardiff, in Wales, and grew up here – which obviously makes Cardiff map-worthy. However, in 1910, around 70 years before I was born, Captain Robert Falcon Scott made Cardiff map-worthy for more spectacular reasons. He set sail from Cardiff on an expedition. The expedition was to sail to the South Pole, to be the first to reach the South Pole, in fact. These were the days before digital maps and supersonic travel and GPS. This was a dangerous, long and life-changing journey to undertake. On the afternoon of the 15th June, 1910, Scott and his crew took his ship ‘Terra Nova’ out to sea.
Around 2 years later, on January 17th of 1912, Captain Scott and his team reached the South Pole. Heartbreakingly, on his arrival, he discovered a Norwegian team had reached the South Pole 33 days earlier. Scott and his crew began their sad journey home, morale broken, without much hope. They didn’t make it. Scott and his men were discovered on November 12th of 1912, eight months after their deaths. Scott knew his time was at an end, and he did something braver than venturing so far to the South Pole; he wrote a letter to his wife and child, which he made himself address ‘To my widow’.
You see I am anxious for you and the boy’s future — make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games — they encourage it at some schools — I know you will keep him out in the open air — try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting. Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future.
I appreciate this is quite a melancholy detour, but important to talk about.
Finally, in terms of inspiration for your letters I write for you here, I must introduce you to Isaac Asimov. Isaac Asimov was, amongst many things, a brilliant science fiction author. I read a few of his books, but I found them hard work (and this from a man who loves Dostoevsky is not said without weight). You might enjoy his stories – try ‘Nightfall’ or ‘I, Robot’.
Isaac Asimov once wrote congratulating the staff at a new children’s library. This was back in 1971, when books were still made out of paper and housed in huge buildings. As part of his letter, he included a message for the children who would use the library. He wrote about the library (and books):
It isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you—and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.
This is my hope for your letters from me. As Scott’s letter to his wife and child were a time machine, carrying his words through ice, snow and time itself, and the fictional Jor-El’s crystals of knowledge carried his words, I hope this container carries mine to you.
I wanted to share with you a very short poem I wrote when the first of you were born (Tommy), about how happy I was that he (you!) were there, and how nice it is to love someone more than anything else.
Immeasurable weight and weightlessness both
In my stomach, behind my eyes
When I imagine you walking
On your way to where the trains come in
Happy, listening to music
Years after I have become nothing
Through ‘Shut up, Robot’, I’m going to be here with you indefinitely, you lucky little monkey/s. And on the way, you and others might have some fun reading a blog about something other than reviews of phones long since buried in landfills, or giddy sponsored clone-waffle about cupcakes and bar openings. I’m taking ‘daddy blogging’ deep and meaningful, funny and fresh, because yawn to all that other stuff.
Anyone can write about anything, but only I can write about us.
Re: the poem… I was emotional. Having a child is an emotional time (and wonderful). Don’t make fun of me, I’m your Dad, and I allow myself to be earnest sometimes. But you know what I’m getting at, right? And no, I’m not drunk. Or thanatophobic (another good word for you).
I am, at best, acutely aware, due to my both my parents passing away, that life is short and all of that. J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, wrote ‘We have memories so that we might have roses in December’. Crystals, blog posts, roses (by any other name), whatever we call them – here they are. I’ll try to make them fun.
In 2015, TL,DR meant ‘Too Long, Didn’t Read’
We used to write ‘TL,DR’ after a long lot of text so impatient people could cut to the chase. Are you impatient, my love? I certainly was, but I taught myself not to be (although the wait for a takeaway when I am hungry is still a shitty thing to endure). Here’s the TL,DR, but I have to say, if you’re impatient with reading, that might be the first thing we need to talk about.
Introducing ‘Shut up, Robot’
‘Shut up, Robot’ is a blog of open letters to my child (or children) for future reference. I have one child and I expect I’ll make more sometime soon, because they’re ace. Why open letters? Because it makes it more interesting, and fun, and will motivate me to write more than a sealed box or a dusty journal. Others may find these things useful or fun too. I hope you do.
My rules for writing are that I shall write with love, and (almost) like nobody is reading except for you and I. Obviously, I’m to spare you embarrassment wherever possible. I’ll find a picture to go with each post (usually my own photo, credited if not). At the end of each post, I shall pot whatever I have made reference to, so you can take extended adventures of intertextuality should you wish.
I’m going to be writing about anything and everything; from the virtues of solitude to good habits to have, from music that you might like to discover, to my favourite places I think you’d like to visit. All for you. Because I love you. How much do I love you, you wonder? The answer is easy. I love you googleplex.