Before he ever called himself an author, Rai Gbrym had always been a writer – whether a writer of songs as a six-string busker or a writer of scripts as a shoestring filmmaker. In the early days he was greatly inspired by the animation filmmakers of Eastern Europe, who were constantly under threat from the state censors for daring to express a different point of view instead of just making dumb entertainment. And now, Rai finds himself in a similar position – except he lives in the “democratic” West.
As I write this, I’m trapped in Poland behind the newly reinstated “iron curtain” while the rest of the European Union is marched in lock-step toward a police state, ostensibly on the grounds of a deadly global pandemic.
When I arrived across the ‘free and open’ border, in July 2019, I wasn’t expecting eight months later to find myself a hostage, but it’s been interesting to see how the EU – this great community of nations – really works when the chips are down. Suddenly all that paper-thin bonhomie melts away and nation states shrink back behind the borders and lock the doors: literally a case of every country for itself.
I came here on the back of a spontaneous decision after ten months in India, when my planned return to Berlin was thwarted by astronomical rent increases, and lived for the first month in a micro-apartment on the 10th floor of an old communist tower block.
While the residue of India lingered, I continued to emanate its effects as I moved around the city. The body, we’re told, transmits all kinds of viruses – and likewise the mind transmits viruses of its own. Of course, that’s not what they’re called, but they are viral in nature, potentially contagious and can produce a whole array of positive or negative symptoms. My symptoms were overwhelmingly positive and I contracted the virus from a huge amount of random social contact.
There is no way to trace this virus of the mind, but the symptoms can be detected in anyone who has been infected. Matthius voluntarily missed his bus to walk with me to the railway station; Olicia came down a ladder just to talk to me; Piotr, who only spoke to me because he was drunk, said he thought I was either an alien or an angel; and then a rainbow appeared above a rooftop, strangely in the absence of any rain, so I pointed at it on my bike and shouted, “Look! A Rainbow,” causing a few bowed heads to detach from their smartphones and look up for once, and one bright eyed soul to step wordlessly towards me across the language barrier.
The symptoms, however, are multifarious and can be influenced by any number of factors, including an individual’s biochemical predisposition to intercellular communication. In other words, the level of infection received is proportionate to intention emitted. It’s impossible therefore to attribute the symptoms to any single cause. There is simply no valid diagnostic test for this beautiful mind virus and the true case numbers of lives positively affected by it are arbitrary and unknowable. Any alleged expert who believes otherwise has been hypnotised by false data.
If a virus like this were to rapidly multiply into a global pandemic, there would be a worldwide breakout from the panic room of fear and oppression thanks to an explosive interchange of invisible light. This eventuality has long been foreseen, however, and countermeasures put in place, ensuring that anyone who stays out of the pressure cooker long enough to contract a virus of infinite possibility and then returns to infect others with it, will not pose a significant health risk. The infection will be short lived and the effect of the virus will be neutralised by an antiviral drug called Western Democracy, containing toxic ingredients such as political correctness and cultural amnesia.
Another core ingredient is secular science, a product of something called, ‘The Enlightenment,’ so named as an in-joke against every spiritual philosophy it aimed to rationalise out of existence. One of the most recent chapters to be glued into the storybook of secular science is the theory that human beings are actually ‘gene machines.’ It’s an ingenious piece of science fiction, seized upon and avidly promoted as science fact. Why? Because it helps tremendously to pad out the narrative of a natural evolutionary curve toward our transhuman destiny.
Before she volunteered to have her brain uploaded, Jak was a scientist and a ‘selfish gene’ evangelist. These days she’s a chimpanzee with gift for urban poetry.
When Jak was human and Jak was whole,
Jak figured out who was really in control.
While humans believed that they were running things,
Their invisible friends were pulling the strings.
These invisible friends were known as genes,
And they lived deep inside the human machine,
Running it like a computer code,
And driving it round like a car on the road.
This fleshy machine was riddled with bugs:
It kept breaking down and needing to be hugged,
But just like a car, this machine could be fixed,
It’s body retuned, and its brain re-writ.
— from Tiny Life & The Monster Head, Rai Gbrym
I wrote Tiny Life with young people in mind because it’s their generation that has been wired from birth to smoothly integrate with the brain-machine interface, but everyone is being trained to disconnect from the now of nature and long before the policy of ‘social distancing’ became official, everyone with a smartphone was already doing it.
The story owes its existence to a long expedition through many contrasting lands, but it was in India where the seeds began to germinate. That was the first time I visited in 2002, long before the place got swamped by Honda mopeds and Western hairstyles. At that time, it was a land of otherness where the words and pictures on the walls invited people to think of themselves as spiritual beings with immortal souls, not mindless consumers with material desires.
It would be another nine years before I started writing the book – and in fact I began a different one in between – but the character of Tiny and his city of dreams kept on growing side by side with the babble, bustle and fuss of the atomised metropolis I had come back to, along with all the little people busying about it in their daily battles to beat the clock and to beat each other.
I wrote most of the novel in England inside a shed. Not a revolving one like Roald Dahl’s – and a lot smaller besides – but still a space that was inside yet outside at the same time, and a place to build a world that was nagging to be built.
Later on, I exported the strange architecture of this world to Berlin where I tinkered with it some more inside a DDR time capsule with a coal oven and a TV Tower view, which undoubtedly added some texture. Our graffiti strewn building was one of the last hold outs of Prenzlauer Berg, two thirds intact with trees and a communal garden where a bomb had demolished the Vorderhaus. It was a little oasis and I counted myself lucky to have been one of the last commoners to have lived there before it was eventually gentrified for the more deserving rich.
I felt a strong connection with that city, its people and its history. It’s an empathy thing – deep in the pores, like ground-in dirt. And let’s face it, there aren’t many places left where you can inadvertently wander into a catacomb of rusty spiral staircases and abandoned surgical apparatus and find William Burroughs, returned from the dead, performing a one man symphony of feedback using only two notes. That’s the stuff Tiny’s dreams were made of.