Rants, reviews and general 'ritings

Dear Dylan,

I know you’d agree with me that our family is an interesting one. We’re quite the collection of neuroses, to say the least, who manage to be so close because of that. Despite any distance age-wise or geographically, our bunch of ‘cousins’ (as we’ve long since given up working out first, second, removed or not) are thick as thieves in a way we know as the Holmes way.

Our fathers have always been close, and I’ve always seen a parallel between your family and mine; you’re the same age as Sophie, my little sister, and I’m the same age as Bethany, your older sister. Maybe because of this – or maybe for reasons I can’t currently place – I’ve always felt an affinity with you.

We met plenty of times as children, but I’ll never forget the time we really met as ‘adults’; when Beth had invited me over for drinks, along with Alex and Andy. You, a 14 year old who was too tall and too developed in the facial hair department to make that claim with a straight face, witnessed me, six years senior, drinking far too much gin and crying for my parents.
I won’t say it’s my proudest moment, but from that night I met two of my best friends and became closer to two of my cousins. From that night, my impression of you was set; a boy who looked older than he was but was more annoyed he couldn’t get his half price bus fare than proud he could get served in a pub; a boy with an easy smile and cheerful manner who made any room he was in a brighter place; a boy who would stay with you when you needed it, even if it meant holding your hair back and listening to whatever nonsense you would come out with at the time.

I was so proud and happy when you messaged me a few years later to let me know you’d been accepted into Northumbria uni. I couldn’t wait to show you my adopted city, which had accepted me in a way our home town never did. And I knew the boy who I never saw without a smile on his face and who no one could find a bad word to say about would fit right in. I was surprised when you left, but knew you’d do the right thing for yourself.

Months later, you found out you had cancer. You, a young strong boy who played rugby and hardly drank, didn’t smoke and wouldn’t go near drugs. You, who everyone loved and had the brightest future ahead of you. You.

And you stayed yourself. You stayed positive in a way no 19 year old should ever have to be. You never once thought of yourself; you kept going for your parents, because you weren’t going to let them lose another son. You kept smiling through the hellish treatment you had to go through. You touched the hearts of everyone you knew – and plenty of people who didn’t know you, until this happened – by being honest and lively about your condition on Facebook and in the local press. And the love and support you had was both unbelievable and nothing more than you deserved.

This morning, I found out this was a battle that even you couldn’t win.

I can’t use the same platitudes many people do in these circumstances, for several reasons. But I’ll do my best to give you what you deserve.

I’m angry and I’m utterly torn at the unfairness of it all. You were 20 years old and in a just world this wouldn’t have happened to you.

But I’m happy you’re no longer in pain. I’m happy you got the chance to go away and make memories with your family. I’m happy you saw Beth and Kris get married – I’ll take care of them. I’m happy your last moments had your friends and family around you. You knew you were loved until the end. Facebook today has shown that – your family, friends, colleagues and schoolmates have come together to make the point to the world just what a special person you were.

I want to thank you for helping me, although you didn’t know it. When I was having to hide sharp objects in my house for my own sake, when I couldn’t see further than a dark tunnel I thought I could only escape by blade, noose or jumping, I thought of you. Of how brave you were, how you were forced to be brave because you didn’t ask for this, how your parents would give anything at all for a guarantee you’d be around for another day. And I found strength in that. You saved me, and I didn’t get the chance to tell you.

Unfortunately now we’ll have to celebrate your birthdays, other family events and holidays without buying you a drink. But when your dad’s throwing shapes to Town Called Malice, we know you’d be smiling.

Goodnight, cuz. We love you.

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Although both of them are a significant part of my life, and thus to ignore them is to ignore the golden rule of ‘write what you know’, I don’t like writing about depression and anxiety. Partly this is because I struggle to write anything about them that can’t be hit by the dual stick of ‘self indulgence’ and ‘first world white girl problems’.

However, it’s mostly because while I’d love to eventually write some equivalent of The Bell Jar or Prozac Nation, I’m neither Sylvia Plath nor Elizabeth Wurtzel.  I don’t just mean that in a dismissive, ‘I’m not that good’ sort of way – Plath’s depression informed her confessional poetry, which continues to speak to those straining their ears to hear something they can relate to, and was set against the glamourous backdrop of her narrator’s experience as a trainee journalist in ’60s New York. Wurtzel’s memoir addressed a different view of Prozac, the depressive’s ‘wonder-drug’, so added another voice to that particular debate.

Even more modern successful accounts of depression aren’t successful through being accounts of depression, but because they’re accounts of depression written by the successful. We want to read about Stephen Fry running away for days on end and contemplating suicide – but later not choosing to do so – because he’s Stephen Fry, because that’s a fairly dramatic story, and because he didn’t kill himself.

[Deep breath: run-on sentence to follow…]

It’s a bit less exciting to read about a 20-something public administrator, who’s only holding down a job because of a very understanding team leader and line manager, coming in from seeing a concert with a good friend, being hit with a freight train of anxiety over everything she’s said and done over the last three days, considering calling the Samaritans but not wanting to say more things she’d later be anxious about, and spending the subsequent 36 hours in bed because the Acme anvil of anxiety is still on her chest and when she’s asleep she’s not thinking about things and thus not punishing herself.

[Source: me, from the early hours of  the 3rd March to the early afternoon of the 4th March.]

Interestingly, the day this particular episode happened was a day that I took issue with an item on my workplace intranet which was intended to get people who might not consider themselves disabled to realise they might be, and declare such. It did this by stating that the definition of a disability should be considered in light of what one’s experience would be like without medication. Surely,  I thought, that means any long term health condition is a disability? I’d be dead without my medication for both depression and eczema, but I have medication so I can function; I’m not disabled.

And no, the medication I’m on didn’t stop me from being bedridden for 36 hours.

But I still won’t consider myself disabled.

The reason for this is that depression brings with it the sort of self denial best depicted here:

And the levels of self blame and loathing shown here:

I chose that latter sketch for a reason (and not just because I desperately need to make this funny). Feeling that you’re overreacting is very, very important.

If any of my friends were going out to sink 5 doubles of whisky on their own at 2am; having to be bandaged by their parents because they’d come in from one of said benders and sliced their arm open because they needed to feel they’re alive; trying to convince their long term lovers to leave them because they honestly thought, to the bottoms of their hearts, that said lovers deserved better than to stay with them – and yes, I have done all of these things in the last few years, and those are some of the tamer ones – I would march them to the hospital myself and convince them they’re as ill as someone with a broken leg, this isn’t their fault, they need to be taken care of.

I can’t do this for myself.

This is another – maybe the major – reason I don’t like writing about depression. It’s like writing about every test you ever failed; every job you didn’t get; every friend you ever lost. People like me because I’m charming, intelligent, funny and nice. Not because of this.

You might be in exactly the same situation as me, and I’ll tell you you’re ill, you might even be disabled, and that’s not your fault. But I’m not, I’m not, and it is.

Ridiculous? Of course it is. But then so is writing just north of 750 words about why you can’t write about depression.

I’m having a go at this, as seen somewhere on Facebook.

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I’ve started late but my reading speed is a bit more than a book a fortnight, so I should catch up.

I’ll list them as completed.

  • A book translated from another language: The Age of Reason – Jean-Paul Sartre (L’âge de raison) (1945)
  • A book with a character with your first name: Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote (1958)
  • A book you can read in a day: Hatchet Job – Mark Kermode (2013)
  • A book written by a female author: She Came to Stay – Simone de Beauvoir (1943)
  • A book written by a male author: In the Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami (1997)
  • A book that became a film: Notes on a Scandal (What Was She Thinking?) – Zoe Heller (2003)
  • A book with a one-word title: Pulp – Charles Bukowski (1994)

Ever since enough people told me I could write a bit that I started to believe it and since I appreciated the wonders of the internet for demonstrating one’s verbosity (for better or worse), I’ve started and restarted enough blogs and writing projects that if venture capital was involved I’d be defending myself in a fraud case.

This new beginning is probably no different, but I will try to make it so.

My New Year’s resolution is the same every year: write more, regardless of what it is and where it’s written, whether shown to everyone or not: just write more. This never happens, and I may have hit upon why:

‘More’ doesn’t mean anything.

I know this perfectly well and I could have advised others on the fact; New Year’s resolutions such as ‘lose weight’ and ‘exercise more’ are far less effective than ‘home cook all meals and only have one takeaway a month’ and ‘go for a run every day’. One is a meaningless abstract and one is a task to be completed. As always, I can never take my own advice because I don’t think my own advice is ever worth taking, and consequently the last thing I wrote on this blog was my tribute to David Bowie, a year ago.

My resolution this year is a bit different: write at least 500 words every week. Don’t hold off on it because you don’t know what to write about; just write something. Find writing prompts and write a short story. Go out and do something so you have something to write about. If necessary, acquire a copy of the Daily Express and get yourself angry enough to become a writing dynamo.

To start, here’s what I wrote to mark the end of 2016.

It’s been a contentious year.
Some of us are upset at the loss of so many of our cultural icons.
Some of us are worried about the vote to leave the EU.
Some of us are angry about a possible sexual predator who refuses intelligence briefings holding the largest seat of political power.

However:

– Bowie, Rickman, Prince, Fisher and others all died knowing they had led successful and comfortable lives. Spare thoughts for those who die every day without that.

– Remember what the world had to go through for there to have been a European Union established to begin with. 70+ years with no major war between European nations is historically unprecedented. We are closer than we’ve ever been.

– Your voice joins a chorus of millions that are committed to making the world a better place.

It’s okay to be angry and upset – it’s how people are motivated to change things. But if that energy isn’t channelled into something positive, it’s wasted. Take care of yourselves and each other, and never lose sight of what’s really important – no matter who or what that is to you.

I don’t think I can put this better than Jo Cox did: ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’.

Here’s to 2017. Love you all.

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Your world is a machine in which you are a part; be the operator.

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Our lives are written in languages we don’t understand; but sometimes we will recognise a word, and a glimmer of meaning becomes clear.

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I don’t know what I’ll end up writing, but it’ll be better than nothing by virtue of existing. Also, I have this new notebook, and if it doesn’t encourage me, I’m officially a lost cause.

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If a significant number of people want a small insight into what depression is like, imagine waking up every morning with the feeling that you had after the news that David Bowie is dead had just sunk in. Imagine having that feeling every day even in a world where David Bowie is not dead.

David Bowie helped generations of us, from the 60s through to now and onwards, cut through that feeling and see the world a little brighter, even for a moment.

We were the children who felt spat on, and he seemed quite aware of what we were going through.

He taught us that we are all multifaceted, that these facets can be very different, but it is possible to show different sides of ourselves at different times while still being wholly and entirely ourselves.

He taught us experimentation is not only okay, but necessary.

He taught us that we don’t need to settle on one identity, because we will be confused and we will flounder and we will change, and this is all part of who we are and who we will become.

He took the principle of androgyny – of blurring lines between rigid definitions – and applied that to musical genres, to art, to living.

He showed us that even the revered will occasionally be criticised, but that doing those things which lead to criticism is better than doing nothing with that potential, those ideas.

Some of us are diehard fans who are still in shock because we couldn’t envision a world without him – even the manner of his death to us, being so suddenly there and then gone, is ethereal; more suited to his characters than himself. Some of us simply danced our hearts out when that song called for it. Some of us may never have listened to his music directly, but have heard it all through so many artists he inspired and enabled.

David Bowie brought colour to a grey world which will never be washed away. For as long as music is here, he will remain present.

Knowledge comes with death’s release.

We had the chance to meet you, and you blew our fucking minds.

Thank you.

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Artist: Helen Green

At the second this year announced its arrival, I was in a house in Malakoff, a suburb of Paris, with a variety of individuals of various ages, backgrounds, professions, personalities and opinions. These blended seamlessly together in a tangible atmosphere which led to one of the best nights of my life. I have rarely felt as content, secure and belonging as I did that night.

As this year draws to a close, I have twice been hooked to as many news sources as I can open, combing through endless social media posts and media information for any and all indication that those people, loving and celebrating life so passionately, are still there to enjoy it.

I’m a Brit married to a Parisian, and I’ve become very familiar with the city over the last couple of years. Paris has been responsible for some of the best food I’ve eaten, art I’ve experienced, people I’ve met, beauty I’ve appreciated, and happiness I’ve felt. Yesterday, 120 people experiencing exactly the same were killed for doing so. Many more are injured. Many more than that will never be quite the same people they were when they left their houses that morning.

France is a natural target for this breed of hatred; more than any other country I’ve visited, it is founded and exists on a set of ideas. Three words define the nation and its people more than any strength of borders, military force or political will ever could. Evidence of this is everywhere; in the place names (Place de la République), in the country’s unifying support for Charlie Hebdo, regardless of their personal views of the publication, because of the freedom of speech it stood for; in the steadfast rejection of any assault on civil liberties, because while increased police presence may save lives, the defeat of freedom is no victory. Compare this to the apocalyptic death cult which attacked them, attacked Beirut and attacks thousands every day for choosing life over death.

France is not Marine le Pen; is not the young man who participated in these attacks; is not even their President. France is the taxi drivers who brought people home for free; is the Sikhs who opened their temples to all who needed help regardless of creed; is the millions of Muslims who were in those same cafes and restaurants. Whilst following the news yesterday, my husband made the following statement:

‘I wish I was in Paris right now’

Why, when we are safe where we are? Because we feel helpless being away, yes. But also because when France is attacked, the spirit of the country shines through in the most heartwarming fashion. This is a country whose people will stand up for each other and for their shared ideas as they have historically – even, as in the Revolution, against their own countrymen. They love life, love each other, and love others.

Globally, those who love life and are determined to live it will live on in the hearts and spirits of others. The memories of all those who died yesterday are amplified in the minds of us all.

‘The more we were pursued, the more each one of our gestures took on the nature of an engagement.’ – Jean-Paul Sartre

Cartoon by Joann Sfar

Cartoon by Joann Sfar, a contributor to Charlie Hebdo

I covered the basic principles and wonder of the Punch-Drunk movement in a previous blog, which was also a brief review of events 4 and 5 cribbed mostly from memory. For PD6 I stayed true to my antisocial writer tendencies and took along my notebook.

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