Other Stuff, Personal

#justanxietythings

I had an actual blog post about the links between music and writing planned and half-written…and then this happened.

(I’m assuming that everyone’s familiar with the ‘justgirlythings’ meme?)

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I’m trying to be much more open about my mental health, hence…whatever this is. I think it’s so important to talk about the problems we have to abolish the stigma around mental illnesses and make sure that people aren’t afraid or embarrassed to get the help that they need.

I remember reading something once that argued that you don’t blame someone who has broken their leg. You don’t tell them they’re making up how much it hurts. And if they need to take painkillers to alleviate the pain a little then that’s not shameful at all. Why is it any different with mental health?

While in theory I subscribe to this entirely, I still find it incredibly difficult to talk about my mental health face to face with people, even those closest to me – often especially those people. But I’m working to change that, and I hope anyone else who also suffers feels that they can do the same.

So yes, I have anxiety, I have depression, and I’m currently getting help for other problems I haven’t got a name for yet. I have mood swings, hallucinations and psychotic episodes, and those are things I have to learn to deal with. But with the right support and a maybe a little help from medication I can live a normal, productive and healthy life. I’m still learning how, but aren’t we all learning really?

My Writing, Poetry, Writing Stuff

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I originally wrote this a few years ago in response to a relationship with a friend that turned sour, although it wasn’t all that sweet to begin with. It’s a little strange, but it was what I needed to say at the time and definitely helped me process what happened; the therapeutic power of writing.

You take up all the space.

You stretch elegantly, feline, filling every corner with yourself. And, like a cat, you have claws for those who cross you.

I feel them as you laugh lightly and place your hand on my thigh, exactly the way you know I hate so much. Your smile says you mean nothing by it, but in your eyes I see the challenge. Say something.

I never do.

I am a chosen one, privy to the barbed wire of your tongue as you spit venom about someone who has no idea they have invoked your wrath. I pity them, whoever they are, but I pity myself more as I hover too close to your sharp edges.

You tell me secrets that you create from thin air to bring us closer and I thank you for trusting me as though they were a sacred gift. All I really want is someone to tell my own secrets to, for they weigh heavy on my shoulders, but my life holds no interest for you and you tell me so. I bite my tongue and wait for the day when maybe you will like me enough to let me speak.

I am lucky you like me, you claim, as though you have an armoury stored away specifically to pierce my heart were I ever to fall from your good graces. I cannot think if anything I have done that you could use, but I strive to be better so you have at least a few less bullets with my name carved into them.

Were you anyone else, I would say I was weak for letting you drag your nails across my skin. But I convince myself it is for your own good, for rather you scratch me than yourself. I will bleed so you don’t have to, and never mind that I’m draining myself dry. If I can stand your poison for just a little longer then maybe your bottle will be empty, and then all it will take is to pour you full of perfume and we shall all smell sweeter.

Then one day you deploy your arsenal with military precision. Which do you want first, my head to mount above your mantelpiece, or my heart to roast on a spit? There was a time when I would have given you either.

You take up all of the space even now you’re gone. The places in me you used to occupy echo with the emptiness, the crumbling ruins of a temple I built for you.

For now I blame myself. Maybe just one more day would have changed things, one more day and you would have smiled at me just once without bared teeth.

But at least now your hand is not on my thigh, and for that I am glad.

What I'm Listening To, What I'm...

What I’m Listening To: Hello From The Magic Tavern

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I’ve been away with this weekend for my granddad’s 90th birthday, so I haven’t had much of an opportunity for reading or writing anything (hence this post being a day late…whoops). I thought instead I’d talk in a little more detail about something I mentioned in my Some Good Things post. I stumbled across Hello from the Magic Tavern while searching for a new podcast once I’d caught up on Welcome to Night Vale. It has some of the same bizzare humour of Night Vale but with its own very individual charm.

The premise is simple: Arnie falls through a portal behind a Burger King and finds himself in Foon, a stereotypical High Fantasy world. He sets out to document the world he’s found by setting up his podcasting equipment in the local tavern and, with the help of two local co-hosts, he interviews a different fantasy trope character each week. There are a few podcasts of this type out there, but what sets Magic Tavern apart is the fact that the show is entirely improvised.

Because of this the characters are all wonderful, if a little weird. They’re all based on fantasy tropes but become something much more in the hands of the improv actors. Arnie’s co-hosts each week are Chunt, a shape-shifter currently in the form of a badger who changes form whenever he has sex with a different creature, and Usidore the Blue Wizard, who has hundreds of names and questionable magical ability. Some of my favourite guests have been Flower, a sentient flower with a serious attitude problem, Baron Ragoon, the very polite but clearly evil Steward of the Shrike Valley, and the Great Eagles who constantly have to rescue Usidore the Wizard (*cough*Tolkein*cough*). Arnie plays an affable everyman to these crazy characters, asking the important questions, usually involving the sex lives of the guests.

Despite the playful and slightly slapdash nature of the show Magic Tavern has actually managed to create an extensive and detailed fantasy world. I’m always hugely impressed by how much the actors remember from previous episodes, and I do wonder if they make notes on every throwaway comment and have crib notes in front of them. It’s great fun when two world-rules contradict each other and the actors fight to enforce them both in the most convoluted ways possible. The world of Foon draws from both fantasy tropes and the real world, and I really love is the actors’ habits of taking very familiar Earth things (often because they slipped up) and making something quite literally magical out of them. Probably my favourite one of these is Offices & Bosses, Foon’s version of Dungeons & Dragons where you navigate office politics and fight the terrifying Photocopier. They take these things and run with them – there’s even a separate Offices & Bosses podcast episode – and it actually creates a world that, while it can’t quite be called realistic, is definitely rich in detail.

However, the real triumph of the show is the camaraderie between the actors. The three main characters (Arnie Niekamp as himself, Adal Rifai as Chunt and Matt Young as Usidore) have great chemistry and riff off each other well with quick wit and a healthy dose of deprecating humour. This attitude extends to the guests too; it probably helps that most guests are part of Chicago’s extensive improv scene and likely know and have worked with each other before. The result is a beautiful mess of pop culture references, stupid catchphrases, attempts to make the others corpse and forcing each other to make up songs and limericks on the spot. It’s a delight to listen to and is really what makes Hello from the Magic Tavern worth checking out.

So if you like fantasy or improv comedy or even just podcasts then I would highly recommend Hello from the Magic Tavern.  You can find all the episodes on their website or on any podcast-streaming site. It’ll definitely brighten up your day to hear the jingle or another one of Chunt’s catchphrases. Go check it out!

What I'm Reading, What I'm...

What I’m Reading This Month (February 2017)

I’m far too fickle to do a TBR for each month. I change my mind far too often, or suddenly find a new book that I just can’t wait to start even though I’m halfway through something else. So instead I’ve decided to do something a bit less structured part-way through the month and talk about what I’ve read, what I’m reading and what I’m excited to pick up with absolutely zero commitment to actually reading it because I’m flaky and will never change.

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I actually picked up The Foxhole Court, the first book in the All For the Game series, as an ebook for free a while ago. I finally got around to reading it a few days ago, finished it quickly and moved instantly on to the second. I’m enjoying the series so far and am really excited to see what happens next, although I do wish that the pace of the first book had been a bit faster and I’m slightly unsure of Sakavic’s interpretation of mental illness. I’m still looking forward to the rest of the series though, and will probably review them as a trilogy once I’ve finished them all.

This month I’m also very into using Project Gutenburg, where you can read books that are out of copyright for free either as a downloadable ebook or on the site itself. I’ve read a couple of shorter things on here, including The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde which is one of my absolute favourite plays. If you haven’t come across Gutenburg yet then I would highly recommend it.

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I’m also currently reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and although I’m not very far through I’m getting a sort of Dead Poets Society meets Gossip Girl feel from it. I’m enjoying it largely because Miss Brodie reminds me of some teachers that I had at school. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that Spark tells you what ultimately happens to each of the girls early on, but the characters are likeable even as slight caricatures – I identify especially with Sandy – and I still want to know how they reach their futures.

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I’ve had Richard Siken’s poetry collection Crush for a while now – I actually studied and wrote about one of his poems, You Are Jeff, for my English Lit A-Level – but I’ve never really sat down and dedicated time to reading his work properly. I’d like to do that at some point this month, because his poems are raw and beautiful and deserve proper thought.

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Because February seems to be Neil Gaiman’s month (I’m so excited to get my hands on Norse Mythology!) I think I might pick up one of his books I’ve had for a little while but haven’t got around to yet. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything Gaiman’s written alone, but I love the work he did with the late great Sir Terry Pratchett and think he’ll definitely be my cup of tea. Good Omens is wonderful and if his style is anything similar I know that I’ll really love Neverwhere.

 

So that’s a small taste of what I’m reading this month in lieu of an actual TBR. I’d be really interested to know people’s thoughts on the books I’m reading, or any recommendations of anything similar!

 

Book Reviews, Reviews

The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls Review

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Chances are you’ve never heard of Emilie Autumn unless you move in very particular musical circles; I very much stumbled across her when someone referenced her in a blog. Her style is self-described as ‘victoriandustrial’ with a bit of musical theatre thrown in, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but something I actually quite like (if you want to check her out I’d start with Opheliac, which is generally considered to be her best album). She’s bipolar and an outspoken feminist, both of which feed into pretty much everything she does. She’s occasionally a bit controversial in her comments and her aesthetic has garnered accusations of romanticising mental illness, but overall I like her and her music has actually helped me through some tough times.

In 2009 Autumn self-published The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls to accompany the tour she was on and is based on the time she spent in a mental institution. Part autobiography, part historical novel, part fantasy, AFWVG is an odd mish-mash of styles mixed in with handwritten notes, recipes and photographs including shots of Autumn herself and as a whole looks stunning.

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I would definitely describe this as a Marmite book: either it works for you or it doesn’t.

The fictional half of the book is told in letters ‘received’ by Autumn during her time in the mental institution. Emily-with-a-Y, a Victorian violin prodigy who is condemned to life in The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, a place where vulnerable girls are mistreated and abused, and ultimately part of sinister dealings by the corrupt Asylum doctors. It’s fairly standard fare, but for the most part it’s executed reasonably well. Emily-with-a-Y is likeable and very human, although she does fall prey to the ‘Chosen One’ trope a little as the Asylum doctors find her a little too interesting for no apparent reason. There are also a few issues with overly-loquacious style and structure – there are places where the action begins to pick up pace only to be followed by a whole chapter describing the food at the Asylum – but I found it relatively enjoyable and, with a good editor (which will be happening now that Autumn has signed with a publishing house) it definitely has potential.

You do need to let historical accuracy go a little which people have complained about, but I don’t think that that was what Autumn was going for. Although her description can be a little clunky at times she does create a vivid, gritty world that holds genuine fear for the female characters and, although the villains are exaggerated, she draws parallels between their attitudes towards women and sentiments that are still held by some today that manage to cut close to the bone.

But it’s the autobiographical parts of the book that are by far the more interesting. Autumn bares her soul in these sections, drawing on things that she wrote around the time she was committed to create not just an account of her time in the mental institution, but a holistic look at what it means to be ‘crazy’. She’s definitely not always likeable in these parts, but she’s brutally honest about it and it’s both harrowing and beautiful. These parts aren’t for the faint hearted – the three diaries she includes sections of are very difficult to read – but I would honestly say it’s worth it. If you’ve ever been through anything similar then Emilie’s thoughts and experiences will probably speak very personally to you.

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that Autumn became more interested in the fictional world that she created than telling her own story because the autobiographical chapters become less and less frequent and don’t receive any proper conclusion. Instead she meshes the two worlds she’s written about together, which is fair enough, but I would have liked some closure or reflective thoughts on her time in the institution. I would definitely call this my main complaint because I enjoyed (although maybe that’s not the right word) the autobiographical parts much more than the fiction, although I realise that how much Autumn tells us is entirely up to her as it is very personal.

I’m not sure I could say that I recommend this book. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and I know that a lot of people didn’t like it, either because of the faults in the composition of the fiction or because the autobiography didn’t connect with them, and I can definitely understand why. I have to say that I’m glad I read it though because it spoke to me personally. I think it’s the kind of book each individual would have a different experience with, so if it sounds like your kind of thing then check it out. Just make sure you have a strong stomach.

My Writing, Writing Stuff

Vacuous

I kissed you and you tasted vacuous

You are a void,

a chasm into which I would have willingly thrown myself

just for the thrill of the fall.

I know that you do not love me.

Why should you? Ghost that you are,

solid things of earth hold no interest for you,

and I have too much substance.

My body is flesh and blood and bone and you are air.

I am altogether too human,

too full of hopes and fears and crushing reality to hold your attention for long.

You who float freely above my head,

the tips of your toes brushing my outstretched fingertips.

Perhaps I could grasp your ankle and rise with you

to dance with you amongst the treetops and bed myself down in the clouds next to you.

But I fear that you will drop me

and laugh at my shattered body from above.

If I am to reach your lofty heights it shall be my blood that is spilt in sacrifice

and the offering I make shall be at my own temple

not to your tempestuous god.

I used to think your heart was made of rubies and your words of gold.

But now I know.

There is a black hole where your heart should be.

Good Things, Other Stuff

Some Good Things

The world’s kind of dark right now. It’s not much, but here are some things that are keeping me going. I hope they help.

  1. Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary. This is the purest place on earth. With the motto “Where love never grows old”, OFSDS gives senior pups the best last years of their lives. Their Facebook and Instagram pages chronicle the dogs daily routines with delightful captions and the most best comment section on the Internet, with people sharing pictures of their own dogs. OFSDS is good for your heart.
  2. Hello from the Magic Tavern: I’ve got really into podcasts over this past year. They’re great for while walking or having on in the background while working. Hello from the Magic Tavern is my current favourite; completely improvised, it follows everyman Arnie Niecamp as he is unexpectedly thrown into the high-fantasy world of Foon. He sets up his podcasting equipment in the local tavern and interviews wizards, monsters, adventurers and even talking flowers. It’s great fun, especially if you’re familiar with fantasy tropes, and the three main hosts (Arnie, Chunt the shapeshifter and Usidore the Blue Wizard) have great chemistry. You can check out all of the episodes so far here.
  3. WebtoonsI’ve loved webcomics since my brother introduced me to Pokémon X waaaay back in the dark history that was the mid-2000s, and they provide a little light relief from the heavy politics that’s everywhere right now. Webtoons is my favourite site right now. It hosts webcomics across all genres and styles, so there’s something for everyone, and all the comics have regular update schedules. Some personal recommendations of mine include Bluechair, Brutally Honest, As Per Usual, Cluster Fudge and Trash Bird.
  4. ‘Calm the Fuck Down Tea’. I’ve always been a big fan of medicating with tea, and since friend got me this particular brand for Christmas I’ve been drinking it regularly whenever things get a bit much. It’s caffeine free and has rooibos and chamomile amongst other things. You can get it from Firebox.com and thank me later, because it is delicious.

I hope everyone is safe and taking care of themselves. Sorry that this is a bit different to what I usually post (maybe it’ll become a thing, maybe not); we will resume your regular posting shortly. For now, stay safe.

Film Reviews, Reviews

La La Land Review

Beware of spoilers!

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I went to see the current darling of Hollywood with my housemates last night. If you haven’t come across La La Land then I don’t know what to say to you, other than to ask you what it’s like under your rock. It’s been everywhere, and has blasted onto the awards scene with 200 nominations including for 14 Oscars – tied for the highest number ever with Titanic and All About Eve – and has rave reviews from both critics and viewers in one of the few cases where the two seem to agree. I went into the cinema quietly hopeful; true, there was no way that it could possibly live up to the hype, but it had several things going for it as far as I was concerned. I love musicals, I’d heard the cinematography was amazing (a passion of mine), and it starred Emma Stone, who holds a special place in my heart ever since Easy A. Should be great, no?

Well, no.

I realise that I’m in the minority in saying this, and I’m in no way trying to tell people what they should and shouldn’t like. If you loved it, great. You clearly saw something I didn’t, and feel free to keep on loving it. I really wish I could join you; I so wanted to love this film and it had so much potential, but there were just several major stumbling blocks that prevent me from joining the parade all the way to the Oscars.

I feel like if La La Land had committed to its concept then it could have been good, but in reality it was just messy. Stylistic choices were made just for aesthetic purposes and cluttered and confused things. The mood switched between quirky and ‘deep’ so quickly it gave me whiplash. It didn’t even feel like it had committed to being a musical: after opening with a huge musical number the film gets bored and wanders into romantic-drama territory before remembering that it’s supposed to be a musical and shoehorning a song in at the end. Admittedly those songs are quite good, although there are only a couple I’d want to hear again, but I feel like if a film’s going to be a musical then it has to be a musical. La La Land seems to want to be a musical because that’s quirky and different, and because musicals are Oscar Bait.

In fact, La La Land seems to do a lot of stuff for quirkiness’ sake. The opening number is a good example of this; it comes across as more a series of stylised ideas than a cohesive sequence, and this just gives the impression that it’s just showing off. Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with showing off in film – Tarantino’s movies are nothing if not hugely self-involved and I still love those – but I get the impression that Damien Chazelle confused being ‘different’ with being ‘clever’. The cinematography is ‘clever’, the dialogue is ‘clever’, the message is ‘clever’. It’s like that one hipster friend who dresses well and takes nice photos but is generally insufferable and won’t stop criticising your music taste.

General consistency issues and self-important quirkiness aside, La La Land has potential. There are some nice moments in there, even if they’re sparse and disconnected, and it does manage to evoke the atmosphere of some classic musical films, so props to it for that. But there is one error, one major failing that ruins the whole film (for me at least), that La La Land is guilty of: the characters are fundamentally unlikable.

This really is the sticking point for me when people talk about how much they love the film. I came out of the cinema completely unable to comprehend how people liked, let alone identified with, these people. Mia, played by Emma Stone, has no discernible personality beyond A) wanting to be an actress and B) being Emma Stone, which is normally something I love, but unfortunately silly faces and dancing is not enough to make up for a character who is less than two dimensional. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is the embodiment of everything I hate: rude, obnoxious and incredibly pretentious (it’s possible for people to just not like jazz, okay?!), and I can totally understand the ‘white saviour’ criticisms levelled at him for his belief that he can single-handedly save jazz. Their problems are very much middle-class white people problems, and while I’m not saying it’s impossible to feel sorry for struggling actresses and musicians it’s more difficult when they’re living in really nice apartments, going to huge parties and just moaning all the damn time.

The characters are just a series of all of the worst tropes from romantic comedies. They bitch at each other in place of flirting, then have a musical number together and are suddenly madly in love. Instead of actually showing them being a good couple, they have a montage of them doing clichéd romantic things. Worst of all, they’re absolute arseholes to everyone around them because it’s ‘quirky’. Sebastian gets Mia’s attention by blasting his car horn until she comes out of the house (people in the cinema were actually laughing at this, while I was considering what heavy object I would use to bash his head in). Mia’s even worse: she runs out on a dinner with her boyfriend and family because she realises that she’d rather be on a date with another man – a date she made while still dating her boyfriend, no less – abandoning her boyfriend with no explanation and definitely no proper apology.

The more I think about this film the more I dislike it, which is actually quite an achievement. I sat in the cinema waiting, desperately hoping, for it to get better, but it just…didn’t. If you haven’t seen it and you think you might then definitely go, but make up your own mind about the film. Sometimes I do have to wonder if critics have seen something in a film that I haven’t, or, as seems more likely in this case, watched an entirely different film altogether.