askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
As started by [personal profile] nanila, below are my answers to the [bolded] topic headings. If you'd like to meet some more dw people please reply to this post with your answers and let's get meeting new folks!

People in this journal

Mostly it's all about ME....not really out of any sense of rampant egotism, more just that I'm currently single and live alone. Occasionally my family and some close friends turn up but whenever that happens I try and stick a sentence or link in to explain who they are in my life to the casual reader.

About my job
I recently (2016) finished a PhD. Right now, I'm swimming/drowning in the variable world of precarious academic employment. I am actively pursuing job applications to become a permanent university lecturer in sexuality and social sciences related fields. I am something of an anomaly in that I enjoy teaching as much as researching, although I don't tend to talk about any specifics relating to teaching for professional privacy reasons but have been known to talk in the abstract about how I feel about the experience of teaching and some more philosophical reflections.

Some random facts
I really like tagging my posts in a nice neat order?! All the links in this post are to search pages of pertinent tags.

I've recently realised I would like to become a parent in the next 5 years and this has come as a bit of a shock, and been accompanied by a new interest in other people's children. It's all rather unsettling.

I'm queer, and I'm a feminist. That pretty much describes my political, moral, and social outlook.

Things I like to do

Sewing
I love making shit. Unfortunately, I don't need anywhere near the amount of stuff I want to make. Fortunately, I have indulgent friends who gladly accept things I make for them. I also run a little Etsy shop for a very niche market (see 'fandom' below)

Travelling
Half a lifetime ago I did a big ol' round the world ramble. Whenever I have a bit of cash and a lot of time I like to leave the country and see somewhere new. I love coming home, but I get itchy feet.

Taking in the City

I live in one of my favourite cities in the world, and there's rarely a day that goes by that I don't thank my good fortune (and life-wrangling) I get to live here. I like photographing the little bits of the city that I feel make it mine. I like strolling through the crowds, down the promenade, through the back alleys and streets taking in the rhythm of the city. I like sitting on the beach, in all seasons, looking out to sea and letting the niggles of life wash away. I love watching the city spill on to the streets when the sun shines and crowd into bars when the rain lashes.

Fandom
I'm a fully paid up Manics fan and have been for 12 years now. I don't really read fanfic and have never attempted to write it so in that respect my fandom interests have no impact on the content of this here journal. On the other hand, I occasionally get overcome by the urge to blog about the many glories of Manic Street Preachers

Social media usage
I've been doing meaningful social interaction online since around 2000-2001 time. I spent most of my time in those days on two message boards, one called Stay Beautiful which was a Manics fan forum and is sadly now defunct. The other forum was a rather peculiar one which I, and a number of blog friends, escaped and now refer to, in irony laden tones, as OFMB but only for in jokes and ribbing, so don't worry about that.

I have a second blog where I write single-issue posts about my life with a long term mental health condition - cyclothymia, a bipolar spectrum disorder.

I tweet under this name, I tumblr under this name although all those accounts have distinct, slightly less coherent. personalities.

>Subscriptions, access and commenting
I subscribe to anyone and everyone who takes my fancy. I like to reply when I am moved to do so but consistently read everything on my subscription list.

I'm quite happy to grant access to any journal I can see is used/active/filled with posts that demonstrate it's run by a real human but I only grant access if people actually ask for it - many of my access-locked posts discuss emotional/personal/philosophical issues that I think could be described as 'full-on' and I don't want to thrust excessive intimacy on people who are subscribing to read my lighter/ephemeral posts.

tl;dr; if you want access, shout up. Otherwise, feel free to subscribe!


What I’d like to get from my participation here
To discover some more dw users who blog about a range of issues, serious and light, work and home. Always glad to increase my reading list.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
CAN YOU FILL THIS OUT WITHOUT FIBBING? 
Yes
  1. What was the last thing you put in your mouth?
    Tea/Frosties.
  2. Where was your profile picture taken? 
    From the living room window of my old flat in Hove, facing the sea.
  3. Worst pain you've ever experienced?
    I think it's a tie between the pain I had in my shoulder a few times before surgery and once after surgery, and my first smear test
  4. Who was the last person to make you laugh? 
    Nicky Wire when I read this interview. "Floppy alcoholic neck syndrome" indeed.
  5. How late did you stay up last night?
    3am I think. Too anxious to sleep again.
  6. If you could move somewhere else, where would it be?
    Probably New Zealand - Auckland specifically. Can't see it happening any time soon though.
  7. Ever been kissed under fireworks? 
    I don't think so. Tend to actually watch fireworks rather than snog. Because I am relentlessly practical and do hierarchies of urgency for everything.
  8. Which of your Facebook friends lives closest to you? 
    A bunch of people - probably an ex-colleague and current-friend.
  9. How do you feel about turkey burgers? 
    The same as I feel about all non-vegetarian burgers.
  10. When was the last time you cried?
    Last night because I was over emotional and relieved to hear a friend's good news. Only teared up though. Genuinely cannot remember the last time I actually wept.
  11. Who took your profile photo? 
    Me. On my old Canon Ixus
  12. Who was the last person you took a picture with?
    Probably Sim when we were at the festival last month. Nobody I know really takes pictures. Oh! It might have been a selfie I took with B's daughter a couple of weeks ago - I cropped myself out before I shared it though.
  13. What's your favourite season? 
    Spring and Autumn tie for me. Both have such unique textures, smells, colours and both make me excited and aware of all the changes in nature and the unending cycle of life which I get to make a blip on.
  14. If you could have any career. 
    This one. But with more job security and less anxiety - although the last one is totally unachievable/incompatible with this career.
  15. Do you think relationships are ever worth it? 
    Ever worth it? Yes. Always worth it? No.
  16. If you could talk to ANYONE right now who would it be?
    Living it would be B because I miss her again. Dead, it would be Lux. Because I miss her always.
  17. Are you a good influence?
    I want to be. I suspect I'm more of a warning.
  18. Does pineapple belong on pizza? 
    Nope.
  19. You have the remote, what channel are you watching? 
    I always have the remote. Brainless/I want noise in background = E4. Actually concentrating = usually BBC2 or BBC4
  20. Who do you think will fill this out? 
    Other humans.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 It seems to have been an impossibly long time since I last posted.  Life is currently hectic and stressful (no change there) and has recently resulted in one of my most significant mood swings/extreme cycles in recent years.  Culminating in self harm, taking up smoking again, and a red-telephone-style phone call to BFF to ask to stay with her for a while as I just couldn't reliably stop myself coming to harm for a while there.

Some of this is hinted at and foreshadowed in two recent blog posts over on my other blog:
Just 'doing it for attention' - some thoughts on reasons behind self harm
High Stakes Gambling - on turning into skid when hitting hypomania

I'm currently crawling out from under a few hangovers - actual one brought on by a near uninterrupted 1 month drinking binge (something which is increasingly doing me a concern and I may post later on how I feel about drinking and working through some stuff there) and financial one from hypomanic spending and associated costs of going on a bit of a bender. 

Friendships are groaning at the seams and I need to put energy in there too.

I'm hopeful things are looking up, professionally, for me in September but there is still uncertainty and multiple factors at play there.  I'm also giving dating another spin of the wheel after wedding of friend who met now-husband on OK Cupid, which I attended with another friend who has recently embarked on a positive-looking relationship with someone from Match.com. Realisation that my perfect "our eyes locked over the organic avocados" meet-cute moment ain't gonna happen and I need to put some energy in there.

In all: life.


askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I haven't really had much time or intellectual energy to blog more general/coherent posts recently.  I have, however managed some posts over on my other blog.  Here's a quick summary of the last three posts;

Travelling Whilst Cyclothymic; In response to a comment on the blog, I offer some thoughts on how achievable backpacking is as a person with cyclothymia.  There are, I think, more things to consider - but it's all about planning strategies rather than writing it off entirely as an option.  I ended up recording an experience I don't think I've ever told anyone about which involves suicidal thoughts, 10 years ago, in a hotel room in Uruguay.

Well-being and Wank: All about trying to work through my reluctance to talk about 'well-being' or 'self care' and tracing some of that back to growing up working class and the work-ethic that comes with that.  There's a chip on my shoulder so big it trips me up.

Coming Out: Continuing an earlier idea I'd explored on the blog, about the limits of mental health 'awareness' campaigns and the difference between stigma and lack-of-knowledge (the latter being something that can be corrected, the former being about way more complex issues than just lack of knowledge). In all: I have The Scepticism.

Replies always welcome - here or there - to discuss and develop these ideas.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
me in sunglasses with Gaudi's birdnest sculptures towering over me

I went to Barcelona for 3 days. It was good. Didn't get enough art galleries in but I was with a friend, K, who doesn't really do them. We had a great time looking round Park Guell but missed out on getting up close and personal with the mosaic benches as the tickets had already sold out for day when we arrived at 10am. The 'birds nests' shown in picture, and the viaducts were especially pleasing. Lots of great architecture all around Barcelona, I really want to go back and spend all my time in galleries, and drinking wine.

Also had a brilliant time at the Picasso Museum which was really well curated - and gave me the opportunity to say "this work reminds me of Toulouse-Lautrec" to K, and then the next text note said "during this period, Picasso was heavily influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec" which got me an impressed "you said!" from K. It's almost like I go to galleries as often as I can!

I'd love to share more photos with you but Flickr apparently takes about 10 years to upload a photo? Given up after 5 tries on both wired and wireless connections.

Itchy feet will have to chill as no job prospects on horizon so that might be last trip for some time.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I'm not quite sure what I want to write about.  There's a lot of background stress in my life right now and it's hard to know what thread to pull on. 

I wrote in my other journal about recognising the need for rest and relaxation and how I am trying to do that.

I've walked for between 20 minutes and 3 hours every single day for the last 10 days. It's been nice.  I've felt really...satisfied by that kind of activity. Just pushing on and on. There's an 18 mile walk in 2 weeks around the city boundary which, for a £5 registration fee (goes to charity of your choice amongst 20 or so) is stewarded and guided. I think I may go for it.

Below the cut are some of my camera-phone (unedited, because I don't know how to edit) snaps from this week's 2.5 hour walk through the city and along the seafront.  I do love this city. (click to embiggen)



5 below the cut )
I struggle to stay 'in the moment'. I look at these photos and lament that I may have to leave, move away from Brighton to find work. I see in them the fact that I couldn't make my face turn into a convincing smile when I tried to do selfies because my MH is still really poor and my mood is in the toilet.  I see simultaneously the beauty of the beach, the light that is specific to this time of year. I remember my sense of achievement in my walking yet again. I remember the fresh smell, the sun warming my skin, the exercise warming my body, the noise of the gulls.

But I also remember the [imagined?] stares and sideways looks of strangers. What did they think? Did they see a woman, alone, looking odd in her face, not right somehow, taking photos - what is she some sort of vain fool? A tourist? A madwoman? And then my own sense of isolation, walking alone - partly chosen, partly the only option. Other people with friends and children and partners and lovers. Laughing, and arguing, and exploring. And me, a lone figure. Not wanting to communicate, but being terrified of being alone.

It's a constant mess of feelings when I am low. Impossible to hang on to a good feeling, or return unequivocally to one emotion at a time. I keep looking at the photos, trying to see them again. Sometimes that is actually quite successful - photos can help.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Made it to an inauspicious 18 books in 2016 - struggled to commit to a huge variety of books and also had a run of dreadful choices interspersed with some real quality.  Got some great books for Christmas and hoping this will buoy me into the new year and to at least 30 books for 2017.

January
....nope. Could not concentrate on a thing in January.

February
1. The Antidote: Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking - Oliver Burkeman.  I've read a lot of Burkeman's columns in the Guardian over the years and frequently recommend this article to people with imposter syndrome.  I have been interested in thinking about how I can take cognitive steps towards a different way of approaching the idea of happiness and wellbeing for some time but am turned off absolutely by what Burkeman calls "the cult of positive thinking". This book was refreshing, and reads easily in the small chapter chunks. I was struck by how much of this collected wisdom I've come to via other routes.  Investigating Buddhism, after dating a Buddhist woman some years ago, introduced me to a lot of the ideas discussed in relation to that and Stoicism. In my academic work I've encountered a lot of the ideas about the chimeric notion of the self and how it comes down to nothing more than arbitrary divisions between 'self' and 'other' which can cause more pain than reassurance.  And I had come by the idea of 'mori memento' via friends who've revived, and are interested in, Victorian-style celebration of the macabre, and by my own interest in the meaning and significance of Day of the Dead festivals. Finally, I encountered ideas about revaluing 'failure' via queer theory, and in particular a book called "the Queer Art of Failure" which at the time inspired me and this prompted me to reflect again on those ideas.  Despite not necessarily encountering anything 'new' here, I did feel reassured that my continually emerging, eclectic view of the world is actually a fairly solid way to approach life and 'happiness'. That my reflection on the negative and facing down worst-case scenarios rather than tying myself in mental knots trying to avoid them, is actually a fair strategy.  What it did highlight for me is that I need to work more on celebrating the things I have in the present, and valuing the things that give me pleasure, however fleetingly.  I tried to indoctrinate this into myself some years ago when I had "seek beauty" tattooed on my wrist (something which, whenever I glance at, I do immediately look around and try to find something to be awed by).  But I need to keep working at this.

March
2. Count Zero - William Gibson So one thing I like about Gibson is that his descriptions are both rich, and other wordly.  You usually have to work hard to imagine what he is describing, but he gives you so much texture alongside entirely new words or terminology, you can do it - and it's enormously rewarding. However, being one of the early books, it just doesn't seem to quite be there.  Much like Neuromancer I never felt like I fell into step with the narrative, descriptions felt impressionistic and abstract - I can see the components of what I like in the Bridge trilogy, for example, but it's just not come together yet.  I spent easily two thirds of the book not quite being able to grasp what was going on and, somehow despite there not being definitely a lot more characters than usual, I couldn't keep track of who was who. In particular, I never really got a sense of personality or point of connection for Bobby, and Marly seemed to be really inconsistently characterised. Hard work, in the end.
3. Three Blind Mice and Other Stories - Agatha Christie I've wanted to read this for ages and got it for Christmas. Three Blind Mice is absolutely heart-in-mouth stuff. So evocative, so claustrophobic, and a lovely gay lad. The other stories were all nice enough but more like sketches than actual mysteries you could get emotionally or intellectually involved in. I liked the Miss Marple one with two sisters the best.

April
4. A Street Cat Named Bob - James Bowen I don't know what I was expecting really. I'm not sure I've ever read something which is ghostwritten/co-written with non-professional writer and this was really jarring and clearly heavily edited into shape. I think that as an author, you have one responsibility - and that's to be totally honest with your reader, good or bad, you have to offer it up. For what is probably a whole host of understandable reasons, it seems that James Bowen does not want to reveal his soul in this book, but frequently things felt carefully revised/edited versions of the truth, or there were gaps where there should have been disclosure. For that reason, I found it very dissatisfying. It's a nice enough story, but I knew everything I needed to from a Guardian article about 5 years ago. Plus side though - very quick to read.
5. Saga: Volume 7 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona K. Staples Glorious. I cried. The series really does go from strength to strength, and I think volume 7 is especially strong after some meandering in volume 6. I care so much about all the characters, and believe in them absolutely, fantastic storytelling, jaw dropping illustrations. Perfect.
6. Queer: A Graphic History - Meg John Barker and Julia Scheele I bought this back in September, before my viva, and then lost my nerve reading it in case it had something in it I'd missed/didn't know. In my viva, I discovered someone heavily involved in writing this book felt that I had a better grasp on some elements of queer theory than them, so I then felt like I might be disappointed with it...! In the end, it's a fair book. I found the level quite variable, I'd hesitate to recommend it to someone who isn't already familiar with literary theory/critical sexuality or feminist studies as I think there are a lot of dense ideas still not fully decompressed for a less prepped reader. I'll definitely recommend to queer-inclined cultural studies undergrads and activists with a fair academic foundation. Some of it was strong, some of the selections were obviously heavily informed by MJ's psychology background. I'd have liked more on Judith Butler - I know PhDs who still don't understand her work and this would have been a great opportunity to address that.  Similarly, I think my way of explaining the heterosexual matrix and its relationship to heteronormativity is better (!) than offered here. There was, overall, a real pleasure in reading this for me and saying to myself, as I did, "I am an expert in this. I have a PhD in this. AND I'm still getting a guttural kick of joy at the scope and importance of these ideas".  That's pretty cool.

May-June
Nada

July
7. Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie - Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau, Alexandre Franc This was really disappointing. The challenge of any biography is to impose narrative and tell your reader something new. That 'new' is ideally an insight into the person, but at a minimum should be a coherent reporting of the facts. This managed neither. It's an impressionistic, snapshot of a series of apparently randomly chosen points in Christie's life.  Half-heartedly structured around her disappearance in 1926 - although this drops in and out. I lacked an encyclopaedic knowledge of her works and films, which at times meant I had no idea what the snapshots were illustrating. Similarly, the decision to sometimes have her talking to her characters felt pointless, and having Tommy and Tuppence, the only characters who aged in real time, appear and claim to have been "waiting unchanged" was flat out inaccurate. Will be selling on.
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling I was at my parents house/cat-sitting and I was just getting nowhere with everything I tried to read so I went for something familiar, like a comfort blanket. I still love this one, think it may be my favourite of the series. It's got such a coherent narrative, the lovely Lupin, the wonderfully pained Sirius, and that lovely rhythm of a mystery novel. Very enjoyable.
9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling Every time I read this I convince myself that this time I'm not going to cry and it's not going to break me a bit. As usually, I got to the final third of the book and then couldn't put it down and found myself sobbing at 3am as Dumbledore delivers that speech about Cedric's integrity and kindness and how that is just wiped off the face of the planet because of evil. Heart. Broken.

August
10. The Truth - Terry Prachett I'd seen some quotes from this on Tumblr recently - all very on the nose in these 'post-truth' times and with the changing role of media and I resolved it would be my next re-read. I couldn't find it anywhere in my parents house (where all but a handful of my books live) so ended up rebuying. I'm sure I have read it before but it's so long ago it felt fresh. Sparkling dialogue and the wry observations of someone who has worked in journalism make it a joy. Although sometimes, perhaps, a little too close to the bone.
11. Fingers in the Sparkle Jar - Chris Packham When I heard, from Chris Packham on twitter, this was coming out last year I was really excited to read it.  Then I lost my nerve. I love Chris Packham and have done since he was on the Really Wild Show - what if it was dreadful and dull and painfully trying to pull meaning out of an ordinary life (my most despised trope in memoirs and autobiographies)? In the end, it was an impulse buy in Waterstones and oh! I am so glad it was. I read the whole thing in three nights which I haven't done for ages. The open, fluid prose was initially jarring but worked perfectly to submerge you in the obsessive mind of the author and really hammers you with its insistence on the beauty of nature.  I cried several times. I also really respected what a light touch there ultimately was with a story which is ultimately about [clinical] obsession and severe depression. Never self indulgent, never trying to be poignant, just relentlessly honest and open. I'm still thinking about it 3 days later.
12. The Descent of Man - Grayson Perry I absolutely loved the series he did on Channel 4 a couple of years ago about masculinity; I thought it was pitched just right and made so beautifully. I thought - think - it was important. Being loosely based on the outcomes of that show, this was generally good. As a scholar of gender studies, there's a lot I could pick at in this (especially interchangeable use of "female" for "woman" and "male" for "man", a long time pet peeve). Similarly, there's a lot of stuff which isn't quite thought through to it's conclusion that could have used a bit more thrashing out before the final draft. But the message is generally clear. And the manifesto for what men need in the future is excellent - and quite moving. It also prompted me to think about the way I perform masculinity as a shield, as armour, and how averse I have been to the (feminist) idea of "radical softness". I've passed it on to one man I know, and plan to send it to another after he's read it. I'm also still thinking about fear, vulnerability, and the way it cracks through for me.
13.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
Completed and submitted my thesis, and passed my PhD viva. Pretty fucking massive. Managed to squeak this into 2016 with my degree confirmation from Senate dated on 14th December. Next month - graduation!

I was also on Match of the Day this year. That was new. And not something I'd have laid money on! I'm very visible in the video for Manic Street Preachers' Euro 2016 song for the Welsh football team, which was shown a few times on BBC1 before Wales' matches (I'm very prominently screaming at about 1:38 on that video).

Read more... )
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Some time ago, I wrote this after hearing the person who made the documentary Crazy About One Direction speak (in an academic context). I've had it set to private for ages but in the context of my continuing participation in Manics fandom, and all that it has given me, I wanted to post it now. 

I watched Crazy About One Direction when it aired last year.  I also watched the enormous twitter fall out where the girls who were interviewed were attacked by other fans and expressed their regret.  I watched the film maker apparently bait fans on twitter to greater response and outcry.  I talked to two of the girls who appeared in the documentary on twitter about their responses to seeing the finished film and the twitter response they endured.

My conclusion was that the documentary was about exotisizing and laughing at the 'obsessive' fan performances of devotion. I felt the girls who contributed were hung out to dry.

I asked her today about a comment she made in her presentation that all the girls were happy with the film and pleased to be in it given my interaction with one contributor which was to the contrary - I suggested that perhaps we could understand it within a framework where outrage was a performative act of belonging to the fandom.  She suggested the girls who said they were angry about their portrayal were not being entirely honest because of the pressure they felt to hate the film.  I think that's a neat and plausible explanation but I don't feel it completely deals with the ethical issues raised by the film's airing and the backlash online.

She spoke about how she felt she had made an affectionate portrait of the fans and admired and enjoyed the culture they created and their experience of being in a fandom. She felt she could never win at making a film about the fans that they would enjoy.

Here's the issue, as it stands for me: if you haven't lived a fandom from the inside you can't talk about it.  If you 'admire' the cultural practices and creation of a fandom then you already miss the point.  If you think being inside a fandom would be wonderful and wish you could be - but aren't - then you are never going to represent that experience correctly because you cannot understand it.  There were a lot of shitty documentaries made about Manics fans, a lot of shit articles written about how we were obsessive and insane and impenetrable.  None of them understood why we were those things, none of them acknowledged how and why we came together and why we protected our borders so vigorously.

Manics fans got to understand the media, we got to understand you have to check credentials if someone wants to interview you.  We got to understand we needed to laugh at ourselves and doing so would help us, as well as take the venom out of the bite of the media when they tried to make those same jokes.  Most music press articles on Manics fans these days have a begrudging respect -  we stayed the course, we learnt to be media savvy, we made the jokes first, but we never sacrificed our passion for the band and our protection of one another. 

I tried telling the One Direction film maker I believed that a lot of the anger the One Direction fans felt was experienced by Manics fans in the past and that we had learnt to negotiate the stereotypes about what a Manics fan is - and that One Direction fans were too young a fandom to have got there yet.  She seemed to understand - but then she made comments that suggested she didn't understand at all.  She linked the threats of suicide and murder One Direction fans levelled at themselves and her respectively after the documentary aired to Manics fans cutting themselves as a performance of belonging.  I explained to her that she was confusing cause and effect - that, yes, perhaps belonging was coded in the Manics fandom by performance of self hatred, but perhaps - more likely -  it was that the Manics provided a space to talk, an outlet, and a siren call to those who were already hating themselves.  Perhaps, I told her, One Direction fans were not expressing self hate and feelings of ugliness because One Direction had a song on that topic (as she suggested), but rather because they felt that way and suddenly, finally, had a channel to express that.

She nodded with interest - this seemed to be the first time an alternative reading of that action was offered to her.  'But!' she countered, 'Manics fans are a very different demographic to One Direction fans.' I nodded in agreement.  'One Direction fans are working class' she said.  I hesitated - Manics fans are almost universally from working class families in my experience -  as conversation around us interrupted I lost the opportunity to correct her on the ways in which I felt they were different demographics.  'There's more than shared music for Manics fans though,' I said 'we have a shared political position'.  She nodded; 'yeah, suicide'.  I boggled.  'Suicide is not a political position', I said.  Conversation of people around us overtook us again and I never got a response from her beyond a laugh.  I was talking about socialism and political leftism.  She was talking about performance of emotional trauma.  She doesn't understand my fandom - she sees only the sensational in a fandom which has negotiated a new media relationship away from sensational representations of our fandom.  For that reason it's perhaps inevitable it was only the sensational, the disembodied, the abstract that was represented in what she believed was an 'affectionate' portrait of One Direction fans

I got talking, later on this evening, to a friend about my experience of being in the Manics fandom.  We talked about what it meant to me and what I understood the fandom as.  Family.  Family is what it is.  Manics fans understand me deep down and I understand them, we share a common cultural knowledge, a social and political position, and, perhaps sadly, a shared trauma in relation to family or mental health or society, or all three.  We skip the basics, the introductions, and we go straight to acceptance and understanding and compassion.  And we sustain one another, look after one another, forgive one another.  We offer each other all the things my friend gets from her family or origin.

I wouldn't dream of making a documentary about what it means to be in my friend's family.  But the cultural availability of fandom, the public construction of it, the apparent accessibility of it, means people feel able to talk, with authority, about what it is we are doing and why.  The jokes we make about what being a manics fan means - about self harm and self loathing and suicide and disappearance - they are funny because we live them.  They aren't funny because they are abstract or because they are excessive.  But those are the reasons people outside the fandom, including this filmmaker, laugh.  We laugh together, they laugh at us.  We laugh or we'd cry, they laugh because it seems strange and incomprehensible, because it is Other.

Ethically though? Nightmare.  I maintain her documentary was fundamentally unethical because of how it offered up her representation of those girls to a hostile and paranoid fandom.  And after speaking to her I strongly believe it fell down ethically because she was sure she understood their fannish experience and refused to listen to them telling her what it felt like from the inside.  She fetishised the experience of being inside fandom and that creates an insurmountable distance in story telling. My family is the Manics fandom, I find it hard to articulate what that feels like - but I don't want someone else to tell my story for me, to judge me by their standards, to point and say "isn't this weird, how they communicate and organise and live?! Isn't it novel and different?! Let's all look and stare!"

And that, I think, remains the fundamental misunderstanding of the filmmaker which means she can't quite see how inevitable the response to that documentary was.  And it made me feel misunderstood, as I tried to illustrate my point with my own experience of fandom because she got side tracked with what she thought she knew about Manics fans and stopped listening to me.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I have submitted my PhD thesis.

It seems to have been such a long time coming.  Hard to remind myself that, with all the faults I can already see in my thesis. this is a huge achievement.  There were times I didn't think I would ever finish writing my thesis, times I was ready to quit, there are times I did not believe I could complete.  But I'm here.  Compared to where I was in January 2012 - sitting on my bed in my room at my parents house where I was living to save money for a PhD, writing an application for funding, dreaming of being able to go back to University - the me from then would be over the moon at what I've done.  The goalposts move as you go through and I'm trying to force myself to judge the achievement I have *right now* by the standards of 4 years ago.

Last night I went out with a large number of friends from uni, and with another PhD student who I share an office with and who submitted on the same day as me, for cocktails.  It was a lovely evening and a really wonderful atmosphere.  I had put a picture of my thesis acknowledgements page on Facebook and tagged a number of friends who were mentioned in it.  A lot of people commented on and liked it, which was lovely, but on the way home from the pub at 1am last night, another PhD student told me that reading it (specifically, seeing that I had thanked David Bowie and Manic Street Preachers for contributing to my ambition, self-belief, and for inspiring me) had inspired him and reinvigorated his own sense of connection to various pop-cultural figures as something which matters.  It was about the best compliment I could have.  My little risk (I was anxious it was inappropriate to thank celebs/idols) to include those people in my acknowledgements paid off, in that it inspired someone else to celebrate their own sources of inspiration and talk about the 'low culture' of pop and rock in the high-culture world of academia.  

My terms.  That's what I feel like - I wrote my thesis and my acknowledgements on my terms.

Things are challenging with my family right now.  My 99 year old Nan died 3 weeks ago - she was my Dad's Mum and had dementia which had got progressively worse over the last 3 years.  In the end, she stopped eating and drinking and died within a week.  It was sad but not unexpected.  My Dad has taken it very badly - which is sort of inexplicable.  His brothers and sisters have not been hard hit, she was very old and had had a long independent life (to 94) before she became unwell.  My Dad has withdrawn and is not talking to my Mum or anyone else, really.  The funeral was on Thursday and we expected that would move him on but it seems to have made him worse.  I phoned him yesterday to share with him my delight at having just submitted my thesis.  He said "oh?" and when I said "that's all you can say?" he asked me to repeat what I was saying, which I did.  And then he said "yes?".  I nearly burst into tears at his apathy and said "thanks a lot, bye" and hung up.  He text me several hours later saying he had been waiting for a call from the bank to sort of my Nan's bank account and was not concentrating and...I don't care.  This is the most important thing in my entire life.  This is wonderful, happy, celebratory news.  The world does not stop when you lose someone and the only way to get through it is to grab hold of good things when you can.

I spoke to my Mum today - he had not mentioned to her that I had called so I told her about the above.  She said she is becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with him.  He will not talk about how he is feeling, barely speaks at all, and when he does all he talks about is his Mum and his childhood and his brothers and sister.  My Mum says she feels like he doesn't care about us (her, my brothers, me) anymore, she said "it's like none of us, none of this, matter to him".  

My Mum (due to various reasons) had two Mums.  Both of them died many years ago.  Her Dad died when she was still a teenager.  She has lost all her parents.  She has been through this.  And she was widowed when she was in her 20s.  She knows what grief is like.  And she will listen and help my Dad.  But he seems to not want any of us and not be willing to look outside himself or accept that people die.  And we all have to die eventually and 99 is an amazing age.  My Mum asked him to remember how lucky he had been to have his Mum all this time (he's 71). He didn't respond.

I'm angry.  And I'm sad that he can't even muster two words - "well done!" - for something so huge for me.  

And I'm sad for my Mum, for her having to live with him when he's like this.  She's angry and frustrated and worried there's something seriously wrong with him.

And, at the end of all this, I'm just tired and sad and feeling kind of empty now the thesis is gone and the viva is far off in the future - perhaps very far off depending on whether my external examiner is participating in the UCU industrial action - and I need to muster energy to apply for jobs and write some journal articles.

This isn't how I thought I would feel at the [almost] end of the PhD.  Bit of an anti-climax. 
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
I've had one major meltdown and one minor meltdown in the last 7 days.  

4 weeks to thesis submission.

Taking bets now on how many more meltdowns before then.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983)

Jack Celliers: "What a funny face. Beautiful eyes..."

There are a number of reasons I didn't watch this to write a review last time I rewatched all my Bowie movies.  The biggest being: this film is brutal.  

Before I put it on again I ran through, in my mind, all the other prisoner of war movies I'd watched. I decided A Town Like Alice was worse because of the crucifixtion.  Upon watching Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, I've revised that opinion. A Town Like Alice is a hard watch but it offers you something, right at the end; redemption. Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence offers no such concessions. It is an unflinching, critical, damning representation of war.

Everyone is brutalised. Everyone loses their minds. Everyone is lesser for war.  Everyone loses.

Against such a backdrop it feels almost trite to talk about the acting. But I will plough on regardless.

David Bowie isn't the star of the show. The stars, the backs upon whom the movie is carried, are Hara and the titular Lawrence. But I do think Bowie is perfectly cast for the repressed, guilty, self-destrcutive, honorable, uncompromising, Celliers. He is a madman in a world of manmen so it doesn't show. He is flamboyantly and quietly resistant.  I think it may be the best cast and best acted of all of Bowie's roles. Save, perhaps, for Labyrinth.

I understand Bowie was cast on the strength of his performance in The Elephant Man, which I feel gives him a quiet confidence in his abilties. Even the mime scene (because there has to be a bit of Bowie in there somewhere) is appropriate, proportional.  Bowie's character's death loses none of its horror with time. Again, I think Bowie acts those scenes of his 'crime' and death exceptionaly well. Blunt, almost numb. But direct.  I remember distinctly the first time I watched this movie I was in absolute disbelief that they could kill David Bowie, of all people, off so easily.  Some roundabout irony there, perhaps, to my reaction just 2 weeks ago.

The dud note - and again it seems there must always be one of those - is, for me, the decision to use the 36 year old Bowie to play his past 16 or 17 year old self.  Yes, this is Bowie - no, he does not look 36. But does he look 17? Not on your life. The whole flashback section is badly done but it does provide a visual relief from the desaturated nightmare that is the POW camp.  Finally, there's the lingering inconsistency of Celliers being Australian by birth and upbringing, along with a dodgy but not overdone accent up to the age of 17. And then the adult Celliers we meet at the beginning of the film apparently being cockney and in the British army, despite wearing an Australian army hat. BUT ANYWAY.

I must look up Bowie's comments on this role because it is such a big departure from what came before (although perhaps Celliers resignation to his fate does echo that of Thomas Jerome Newton) and it is, in my opinion, such a close study. I'd be interested too, to know what interaction if any he had with fellow actor and musician Ryúichi Sakamoto, who wrote the film's beautiful score.

All in all? A carefully made, and heart wrenchingly direct representation of life at a POW camp. This film is hard going, but Bowie and more make it worthwhile.

askygoneonfire: 'Love' painted on to four fingers of a hand (love hand)
So I was given 5 questions by [livejournal.com profile] meepettemu. I am supposed to say that if you comment and ask, I'll give you 5. And I will.

1: do you have specific plans for after your PhD, and if so, what are they?
This is the question that keeps me up at night. The simple answer is, I don't. The more involved answer is I want to stay in academia but to do that I need to pull my finger out and publish something and be prepared for a few years of continued precarious employment and be open to moving anywhere in the country to chase down any positions. The thought of starting all over again somewhere else in the country seems exhausting. But so does applying for jobs just in Brighton. I think there is a cruelty to the treadmill of academia where, at your lowest ebb, you need to muster the most energy to secure yourself employment and career. Whatever happens, it will surely be narrated here.

2: Is there a significance behind your raven tattoo? If so, what?
It's a carrion crow, not a raven. And yes, there is a significance. It's more of a narrative, really;

I love crows, I think they are wonderful, engaging animals and I enjoy every interaction I have with them. They are also, to me, quite strongly tied to Brighton, I have only ever lived closely with crows here in Brighton as they dominate the university's campus and I often sit and watch them at lunch, on breaks, and during my office hours (one memorable day, I saw a crow disembowel a dead rabbit, it was hilariously gruesome). They are also, of course, members of the corvid family. An exceptionally clever genus (corvus) they include the new caledonian crow which makes and uses tools, and the raven which can solve puzzles quicker than a 5 year old human. Good old, common, familiar carrion crows have also been shown to mourn their dead.

There is considerable mythology surrounding the crow, some of it I believe is clearly linked to observable behaviour (such as their feasting on carrion, mourning their dead, and intelligence and rational approach to problems) and the rest is the usual imaginative leaps of man. In particular, I like the mythology which says they are messengers for the dead/from the dead/of the dead, and that they are said to be able to see forward in time.

When my friend died, I felt something huge had shifted in the world. It came at a time I was trying to decide the direction of my life. The night I learnt she'd died I vowed to move back to Brighton, take control of my life and direct it in the way which my gut told me to go, and not be guided by financial fears or ideas of what I 'should' be doing. I did all of those things before the year was out.

I knew I needed a tattoo to mark this shift in my life, as a tribute and reminder of Lux, and an emblem of my new outlook and determination. I had also been considering a cover up of a tattoo I had got when I was 19 and trying to remind myself of my own strength and ability to stay alive. So, bearing in mind all of the above, I chose a crow - conveniently being an ideal colour for a cover up tattoo.

My crow is facing forwards - as we must always do - but looking backwards - remembering what has gone, seeing the lessons and people that came before. And he knows death, but he does not fear it, he simply knows it is a part of life and an essential part at that.

3: When you were a teenager, what were your career aspirations?
I never had a strong sense of where I wanted to go or who I wanted to be. The only career I ever really wanted was to be either a vet or a zoologist. Those dreams were quickly quashed by a) going to a shit comprehensive that ignored talent and neglected to aid underachievement and b) spending ages 15-19 being fucking miserable and very nearly getting no A Levels. I was not good enough at Maths or Science by the time I was in Sixth Form - largely because I was depressed, stoned, and in a dreadful school - for that to be a realistic dream so I let it go.

I'm not sure how I feel about it.

4: How old were you when you first realised you might not be straight?
The thing with being bi/queer/pan/whatever is not being straight doesn't come into focus as early as it seems to for your out-and-out gay folk. You can rattle along quite happily fancying men and assuming your feelings for women are comparable to the idol worship of your straight female friends. The clues were always in the men I fancied - they were never handsome or rugged or butch. They were all beautiful, delicate, thoughtful, queer, and vaguely off beat. I was never going to be the 'right' kind of heterosexual.

I think I was about 13 or 14 by the time I actually started having sexual feelings for women - which is around the time I started having sexual feelings for men, now I come to reflect on it. And I was 15 or 16 when I started coming out. As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, David Bowie was part of how I came to be sure. And so was Nicky Wire. 

I think I was about 19 or 20 before I heard the term pansexual and finally found a word to describe my specific desires, and adoration of the Bowies and Wires of this world. Queer entered my lexicon when I did my Masters at 22 and added another dimension to my self expression. 

5: Where in the UK would you choose to live if it could be anywhere?
Brighton. Where I am right now. Where I can't afford to stay and am unlikely to be in a year's time. And that is already breaking my heart.
askygoneonfire: David Bowie as the Thin White Duke (Thin White Duke)
Just a Gigolo (1978)

Cilly: "They used to call me the child prodigy of the revolution, but the revolution was a little slow in coming so I moved on."
Paul: "Yes, that seems to be my problem"


Judging by the section on reception on wikipedia, the score on Rotten Tomatoes, and the summing up on Film 4, I might be the only person in the world who likes this film.

I'm not sure why.  It's funny!  It's a really quiet, dry, funny, but funny all the same.   For crying out loud, David Bowie is carrying a pig around, arguing with people about whether or not he is dead for the first 20 minutes! 

Some reviews suggest the film couldn't decide what it was but I think it knows quite well. It's a black comedy on the interwar period in Berlin; capturing the listlessness and vague sense of fatalism which inflected the actions and spirit of Berliners at the time.  Perhaps it's because it so quickly reminded me of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin that I was so open to it.  It also evoked something of Jason Lute's City of Stones for me.  And, of course, Cabaret; fundamentally different from Cabaret of course, but it felt like you had walked round the corner from Sally Bowles' club and stumbled on a whole new story.  Whatever the cause of my susceptibility, I enjoyed it.  

I liked that it was broadly pessimistic. Such subject matter must be bleak.  And that bleakness comes through in the slightly anarchic, offbeat style.  

I liked that it poked fun at the Nazis as disorganised and stupid.  I liked the quiet, wry comment of the conclusion. I liked that Bowie's character was vaguely tragic and also utterly self-indulgent. I liked it.

As I said in my last post, all David Bowie movies need a bit of sex, lingering shots of his delicate features, and an off beat character.  Based on that criteria alone, it is a roaring success.  There are issues though. Marlene Dietrich's refusal to return to Berlin, filming all her shots in Paris and then having them pasted into the film, actually shows. There are bizarre pauses in the 'conversation' between her and Bowie when she recruits him as a gigolo.  And, frankly, there isn't enough sex. In fact, the idea Bowie really is a gigolo is something of a blink-and-you'll-miss-it plot point. It's all a nod and a wink instead of a fumble and a gasp. 

All in all, I thought it rather fun, rather knowing, rather silly and rather wonderful.
askygoneonfire: David Bowie in profile with a hat (Bowie Man Who)
The Hunger (1983)

It struck me, as I popped yet another David Bowie dvd into the player, that I never concluded the series of blog posts on them.

Tonight I watched The Hunger for the first time.

As David Bowie movies go, it fulfils the key requirements; a number of lingering shots playing over his beautiful features, a bit of sex, a somehow inhuman, or superhuman character. Unfortunately, he's only in it for about 40 minutes and only recognisable for about 20.

The Hunger is a curious film. To all intents and purposes, it's a well made (if you can ignore the monkey murder), engaging gothic-thriller-mystery for the first 20 minutes. Then, as the "make up illusions" (so claimed in the opening credits) begin to emerge it all goes rather downhill. Fast.

There's a brief reprise in the form of a reasonable lesbian sex scene, with Susan Sarandon looking the best she ever has. Then it gets....weird.  It's somehow a low budget vampire flick with hammy acting and inexplicable plotting, and also a big-name-star erotic thriller with a pleasingly open (and also absurd) ending.  

The use of "special" effects is...well. I want to say comendable. Because anyone brave enough to use such low quality fake blood so unconvincingly must be applauded for their efforts.

But what to celebrate? As so often with Bowie films, it's the smaller moments that make this film worth sitting through.  The beautiful scene with Bowie playing cello feels like it was lifted from a high end drama (incidentally, that's the clip they chose to loop at David Bowie Is in the screenign room). The moment as he lays awake in the dawn light and the camera plays across his fragile, wonderfully androgynous features: and he looks tired, and happy, and sad.  The very real lust which plays across his face as he undresses the girl from the club and cracks his tongue up her body.

That bit gives me dirty, filthy, longing shivers.  

Like so many other Bowie films, he gives his all to utterly implausible plots and badly executed screenplays, and shines in moments, just moments, which never get joined up into the tour de force he deserved.  The Man Who Fell to Earth comes closest, and I do love that film more with age, but Candy bloody Clarke is never going to disappear from that film, so sadly, it will never achieve what it should or could have.  Much like The Hunger.

On Bowie.

Jan. 11th, 2016 04:34 pm
askygoneonfire: David Bowie in profile with a hat (Bowie Man Who)
What to say on such a sad day?

How to put into words the depth of a loss which affects no material change in my social circle? How to express all the things that stranger, that alien, that musician, that performer, that extraordinary star meant to me?

I woke up to text messages asking me if I was ok. Their sources were diverse enough that I knew it was not a relation. So I ran through the options in my head; Nicky Wire? David Bowie? David Bowie.  David Bowie.

Open twitter to read what I already knew in the pit of my stomach.  And laugh at the absurdity. David Bowie clearly cannot die.  How ridiculous. I spent all weekend listening to the new album. Nobody who made something so vital could possibly die. How ridiculous. Spent the weekend thinking about how Blackstar was like, and unlike Outside. Mulling over the imagery in Lazarus.

Got in the shower. Lost my breath to wracking sobs. Can't be true, is true, can't be true, is true.

BBC News channel, the only place to go when the world turns upside down. Is true is true.

But, united. The whole of my twitter timeline, text messages, messenger keeps pinging, all of my facebook feed.  All united. Saying "surely not? He means too much to us all.".

At first I couldn't understand why his illness had been kept secret, but it is better this way. We'd have mourned him for a year and a half whilst he was still here. Brutal though today has been, it's clean. 

_ _ _ _ _ _


David Bowie pre-dates the Manics, as my obsessions go.  Like the rest of my generation I met him in Labyrinth. But I'd always known his songs; I remember playing with space station Lego, singing Space Oddity to myself, over and over again when I was 4 or so. But it came together in 2002, I bought Heathen after a rave review in Q and added it to Hunky Dory of my shelf. For 3 months in 2005 I listened to nothing but The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.  I waxed lyrical about his acting skill, and his dick, to a friend, when I got thrown out of a party for being too drunk and made him watch The Man Who Fell to Earth with me.  I went to Berlin with Station to Station and The Next Day in 2013.

I saw him live, his last UK show, in 2004 at the Isle of Wight Festival.  It was beautiful.  Perfect, actually.  He came on after England lost at football in some competition or other. Made a quip about sharing his initials with David Beckham. Launched into his set.  Turned around the mood.  Turned around the festival.  The sun went down as he played and when he went off stage, at the end, the woman near me shouted "we'll scream until the sun comes up".  As we walked back to the campsite there was a buzz.  People babbled in disbelief at what and who they had seen. I overhead two lads talking; "we saw him! The Thin White Duke! I can't believe we saw him!".  

I can't believe I saw him.

I knew I was not straight when I was young, perhaps 14 when it started to come into focus for me.  I remember asking my Mum, when I was 16 or so, if she liked Bowie.  She said "I did, until he said he was bisexual and then I went off him". And I remember that going to my very soul.  Bowie was with me, my Mum was not.  I clung to him. Immersed myself in Bowie's otherness.  I was sure my Mum would go off me, just like she had Bowie, when she knew the truth of me.  When I finally came out to my Mum it was with reference to that conversation; "would you hate me if I was bisexual?".

She didn't hate me.  She doesn't hate Bowie any more either. She told me today the news hit her like a punch to the stomach.  I think my sexuality and feeling accepted, and my Mum's feelings about Bowie will always be all tied up together for me.  

When I started reading autobiographies I felt a new sense of connection.  His brother had schizophrenia, before his sad death.  And that shaped who Bowie became and how he moved through life. A few people quote him as saying he feared he would lose his mind.  I know that fear. I am shaped by that fear.  Nobody who has stood so close to madness, to schizophrenia, can feel anything else.  My brother lost his mind when I was 11.  And then again, and again.  And by the time I was 16, perhaps earlier, I had no greater fear than losing my mind.  Still don't.

I took comfort in knowing Bowie shared that.  It changes you. It pushes you on.  

How far can you push yourself before you do? How does the free-wheeling, top of the roller-coaster moment feel? Who else can you be? Why be one person? If you have nothing to lose but yourself then it's time to let go of that tight grip of who you are and explore everyone you could be.

And look what happens when you let go, look what happens when you reinvent yourself, casting off each shell as you outgrow it. 

So he can't be gone, can he? It's just the latest reinvention.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Last year I read 30 books, although really it was 29 as the first one of the year was read between Christmas and finished on New Years Day so all in all, I'm maintaining my awesome pace of the last 5 years. I treated myself to 5 new books immediately after Christmas so I'm all stocked up and ready to read more graphics, sci fi, and the odd bit of crime fiction this year.

January
1. Watership Down - Richard Adams I bought this in the kindle sale, which in itself is becoming something of an annual bookfest for me.  I really, really enjoyed it. Having only seen the film before I didn't have the highest expectations because whilst the film is lovely, it's quite a thin story. I really loved the book - in particular I found the rhythm and texture of the prose to be really delightful, very rich. I also found the near ceaseless, but quite well defined, various conflicts to be really compelling.  My only critique would be that I wish we could have come to know Fiver better.
2. Pattern Recognition - William Gibson It's hard to know what to say about this book, on the one hand the plot was thin and nothing really happened and there were no twists where there should be if it was, as the blurb said, a detective/mystery novel.  On the otherhand, I loved Cayce (what is it with me and Gibson's characters?) and I loved having a protagonist with serious and non-dramatic anxiety issues which were both hindrance and gift. I also really like the portrayal of online relationships which absolutely correspond with my experiences over the last 10 plus years (back to 2003 when this was written/set). I'm sure I'll read the rest of the trilogy eventually, but it's not high on my list.

February
3. The Man in the High Castle - Philip K Dick It's hard to know what to make of this book and I'm trying to resist listing its faults.  I like the focus on minutae of life post WWII/German victory but I didn't really like any of the characters - except all of the Japanese who actually seemed to have integrity. I liked the acknowledgement that, had the Allies lost the war, they would have gone down hard and been accused of war crimes after the German victory - that felt true.  Otherwise it was very weak, quite meandering, lacking a real critical reflection on what fascism means - the idea that Germans were only interested in exterminating black and Jewish people felt really naive. I kept thinking of Swastika Night which gives a detailed account of the logical end of fascism with regard to women which Dick totally ignored/was unable to imagine. Similarly the Japanese are represented as reasonable, broadly compassionate victors which is problematic given the ideology which drove the Japanese war involvement in WWII.  As usual his female characters are all Madonna or Whore.  The suggestion, on the cover and in the foreword, that this was "the best sci-fi novel of all time" and that Juliana was a "fulled formed" character are laughable. It's not sci-fi and it's not even the best Philip K Dick novel I've read.
4. Interesting Times - Terry Pratchett Another of the 'old' ones I missed when I started reading Discworld.  I still adore the idea of a hero who, unlike your typical hero, hates finding himself in life or death situations and views every adventure as a disaster waiting to happen, or happening already. It shouldn't work, but good god it does.  Laughed all the way through. I must read the Last Continent again.

March
5. The Art of Flying - Antonio Altaribba This was a middling graphic. On the one hand, I enjoyed the history (the primary reason I bought it) and learning about the concentration camps Spaniard fleeing fascism were placed in, in France which was news to me. I disliked the representation of women - they were all Madonna's or whores and drawn in quite a juvenile way - all boobs and arse.  But there was a certain integrity to the story - even though it was the half-imagined life of a dead man. It's good.  Just not good enough to own forever more.
6. Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig I hated this. I bought it against my better judgement after Buzzfeed listed it. In short; his solution to depression and anxiety is basically; be lucky enough to have a partner who will support you and not leave you because you are suffering crippling depression and parents and a partner who will financially support you until you can work again.  He is also frustratingly evasive about medical intervention - he says he doesn't take meds which is fine, but did he have counselling or therapy? What interventions did his GP offer or make? There are a few mentions of GP visits which suggest he was known to doctor as a depressive/suffering anxiety - but nothing on what came, or didn't come of them.  Ultimately I found him patronising, privileged, myopic.  And as for the title? The reasons basically are "you won't be depressed for ever" which - great. Yes. True. But something more is needed for this sort of book, some baring of the soul, some revelation of the self. Instead, I found it superficial and evasive. The points where it was specific on what helped were things which are often part of the cause of depression for me and others - i.e having/not having family, friends, children.

April

7. Phonogram Volume 3. The Immaterial Girl - Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie It's a surprisingly long time since I started on my Phongram journey and I am sad and sort of happy that it ends here.  I liked it a lot more than Singles Club (vol. 2) and I was glad to find the reasons I liked Emily were right, somehow.  It feels like a document of our generation.  I'm glad of it.

May
8. The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett I started reading Carol but the PhD is sucking up all my emotional energy so I abandoned it/put it on hold for some laughs.  I don't remember much about the story from the first time I read it in 1999 so rereading was especially nice. I do remember that all the cultural-reference-point jokes largely flew over my head when I first read it so it was especially enjoyable to read again and actually *get* it.  I love Pratchett, and I miss him.  The sparkling wordplay and the confident, exhilarating plotting is just a delight. 
9. The ABC Murders - Agatha Christie After the success of getting through above, I picked up a Christie from the library as I always fly through them.  This was no exception.  Great story, lovely knowing, meta-stuff regarding how detective novels (usually) work and so on.  Great discussion of mental health and pathology (yay for non stigmatising depictions and nuanced descriptions of insanity!). And, as ever, the 'big reveal' was just a small element in a rich story.  Wonderful.

June
10. Witches Abroad - Terry Pratchett In the first flush of thesis submission I started three different books but finally settled on giving this one a proper go.  I love it.  Granny standing firm, busting arses - and younger than she is in more recent Pratchett's I've read which is a beautiful thing about books - time travel.  She'll always be there, young and old, wise and impulsive. Waiting.
11. Divergent - Veronica Roth Good things; a largely pacey read - but becomes very repetitive in final third.  Bad things: the clear Christian-Right themes and morality (guns are power! fat is ugly, ugly is evil! Knowledge takes you away from the one true path - aka god) were really offensive.  As a young adult novel, I genuinely find it disturbing it represents handguns as a route to power and control and a whole heap of 'good' things.  Also: the characterisation was very poor, even when I finished I still didn't have a sense of Tris as a person.  Similarly, the writing was poor and the vocabulary was embarrassingly simplistic.  I hated being talked down to at age this novel is targeted at.  It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. 

July
12. Saga: Volume 6 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona K. Staples I love love love this series. Rationed myself through this again.  I adore that more and more great female characters are emerging in every volume. And there is a trans character in this one which I loved. And yes.  Never end, Saga, never end.
13. Carol - Patricia Highsmith Took me bloody ages to read this. For the first half to first two thirds, I was bored.  It felt like same-old sad-lesbian story with everyone wringing their hands and carrying around lots of shame and sadness and it was so frustrating.  When Carol and Therese finally left on their trip it got radically more enjoyable really fast.  Ultimately, a really joyful book and radical for its conclusion which the author's postscript, written 30 years after publication, says was as well received and powerful as you might expect.  Glad I stuck with it.

August
14. Pyramids - Terry Pratchett Tried and failed to get into a Stephen Baxter book that I got cheap on kindle in order to make a decision about whether or not to read the 'The Long...' series he wrote with Pratchett before abandoning that, then tried to start the second in the William Gibson Blue Ant trilogy but couldn't get going with that and ended up doing impulse buying in Waterstones.  This was the last Discworld novel I had to read. So that's it, I've read them all now.  A very bittersweet achievement.  I loved every moment, read the whole thing in 3 days. Just wonderful, sparkling wordplay, and silly jokes and clever jokes, and warm, open storytelling.  Time to start the full re-read, perhaps.
15. A Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein The first half to two thirds of this novel are a delight. Save for some nagging sexism it's pretty much perfect and then it disappears up its own arse and becomes a trudge.  A contemporary review said it was "a disastrous mishmash of science fiction, laborious humor, dreary social satire and cheap eroticism" and i really feel that sums it up.  I don't know how or why it's come to be known as a 'sci fi classic' because it's barely sci fi, most of it reads as [erotic] wish fulfilment, which in principle is fine, but it's not what I signed up for.  It's not half as clever as it thinks it is and veers between loving women for being intelligent and independent, and some truly horrendous sexism.  I couldn't decide if Heinlein hated or loved women - I suspect it was a bit of both. He certainly didn't respect them as equals, more as exotic creatures.  The logic of his 'free love, human sexuality is wonderful' versus the explicit homophobia and expressions of disgust about m/m sex (predictably f/f sex is FINE) also really grated for me.  This review really covers the bases for me, I will try one more Heinlein - best 2 out of 3 - as I did enjoy Starship Troopers.

September
Nothing.

October
16. Spook Country - William Gibson I don't really know why I bothered with another in the Blue Ant trilogy. It was worse than previous one with absolutely no meaningful thrust and a really predictable conclusion. It was pacey enough for the first half but really dropped off and I slogged through the second half.
17. The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham Finally a good book! I loved this.  Really got in my head, really engaged me, really well rounded characters and such striking imagining of total collapse of society.  I started off thinking 'of it wouldn't be like that now with all the voice recognition...' but I think we might be closer than I think to similar hopelessness.  Like all good sci-fi, it also acts as a really great document of it's time - paranoia about total destruction, lingering trauma about mass casualties, a new perspective on women and their abilities and potential.  Good stuff.

November
18. The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula LeGuin It's hard to know what to say about this. Initially I hated it but ploughed on, then I came to love it and finished it in one marathon session. It really came into it's own when Genly and Estraven went over the ice and it turned into classic epic material.  Their love and determination was compelling. But there were a lot of inconsistencies - why if Genly was taught to hone his instincts about people did he never trust Estraven even though his actions all seem consistent and clearly motivated, but he went against his stated distrust of the Orgoreyns? There was also a level of embedded misogyny/sexism which was not only unexpected from a female writer generally, but firmly anachronistic for sci-fi from this era by women.  I don't know why LeGuin made those choices and it felt like an opportunity squandered.  The place names and various bits of Winter's language were distracting and I couldn't ever get to grips with it - this I think is an authorial failing as there are plenty of books with made up languages and words in which are immediately comprehensible (Stranger in a Strange Land, Clockwork Orange, pretty much all William Gibson stuff). I felt sad and worn out when I finished it - so it definitely connected with me emotionally, I'm just not sure I'm happy with how we got there.


....And that's it. Given it was the year I finished my PhD I suppose that's not too bad. I also read about half of Bleak House in November/December, and started about 3 more during year - I have been nothing if not indecisive/flaky.    Onward, to 2017!

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
1. What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?
Nothing 'big' but I was in a cinematic release movie, available on bluray later in the year, appeared on BBC tv. I had an operation - my first ever. And I kept ploughing on with the PhD - a determined continuation is new in a roundabout sort of way.

Read more... )
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I had my shoulder operation on Thursday. It all went technically well.  Muscle and tissue were all in good shape so no additional repairs were needed and I have the small sling and quicker recovery time.  It was an arthroscopic subacromial decompression and ACJ resection, if you are interested in looking up the gory details.  

After the surgery and just after I regained coherent consciousness in recovery the surgeon came by to show me photographs from inside my shoulder which he took during the surgery.  I had been really enthusiastic to see these before going in for the surgery so I was really striving to get it together to understand and remember what he showed me.  It's a bit of a blur so being able to google the procedure and see photos of other people's shoulders has helped me make sense of what I can remember.  The white fluffy coral-looking stuff was the thing that stuck with me most, according to this page, it's called a bone spur.  It fascinates me how utterly alien the inside of our own bodies looks.

Overall, it wasn't a great experience.  The nurses barely spoke to me and left me sitting alone, with no info on how long I would be waiting, for 2 hours after admission. They also left me, alone and not checking back to see if I was ok, to put on compression socks.  These are challenging to get on at the best of times but try heaving them up your legs when you only have one good arm. I ended up crying discreetly and struggling with it for about 30 mins. No nurses ever came to check I'd managed it.  Similarly, when I woke up I was apparently quite fighty and the nurse with me in recovery said I had been "all over the place".  The first thing I remember in recovery is being told to lay back/turn off my side and onto my back and put the oxygen mask back on, all the while I was arguing/saying no/that I just wanted to sleep.  This is, I understand, not an unusual reaction to anaesthetic.  But the nurse made me feel really guilty and I spent the rest of the time with her apologising for having been difficult and she just kept saying "m-hm" and not the considerable more reassuring "don't worry" or "it's ok" or "it's not your fault".

I also heard the nurse help the man in the cubicle next to me get dressed (he had also had shoulder surgery and had a nerve block in his arm so no feeling in it like me) but when it came to me getting dressed the nurse made me feel really awkward about helping me put my bra on (like somehow it was inappropriate I needed her to help me with it?) and helped me put my t shirt on and then left.  Fortunately, my friend B had arrived by then and she was able to help me put my trousers, shoes and socks on but I literally would not have been able to do it without her help.  I don't understand why B had to do that, I was already calling in a huge favour of her in her collecting and looking after me for the 24 hours following the surgery.

Apparently I was my surgeon's last operation of the day (I came round at 2:10pm so a very short day for him!) and I felt like all the nurses wanted to go home/I was a massive inconvenience.  It was pretty anxiety provoking really.  The only person who was absolutely brilliant was the anaesthetist and his assistant who could not have put me more at ease or been more accommodating.  

The nerve block (which was a strange experience in itself, leaving my right arm totally without feeling, sensation of temperature, or any muscle control) wore off at about 3am on Friday morning, I awoke saying "OW!" and took the painkillers I'd been prescribed.  I had a totally restful Friday and Saturday and was pleasantly surprised at how manageable the pain was.  As of yesterday, however, I had a major pain spike and am now taking a double dose of dihydrocodeine which makes me stoned and nauseous but does make the pain seem distant and fuzzy.

I called my GP today to discuss if there was another pain killer option as I can't take anti-inflamatories or regular codeine and although they couldn't offer anything else (except Tramadol, but they sort of said if I could manage on dihydrocodeine it would be better as tramadol disagrees with many people) were so concerned for my overall well being, enquired how I was managing with washing, dressing, cooking and so on and offered immediate consultations if I need it in coming days.  After feeling like a number rather than a person throughout my time at the hospital, it was a welcome and slightly overwhelming change in tone.

Basically, I'm an emotional wreck, convinced the op hasn't worked (5% chance it won't/will make things worse, 15% chance it will improve things but not much and 80% chance it solves everything) and spending my days stoned on the sofa and alternating between happy/chilled and crying/despairing. 

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askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
a sky gone on fire

August 2017

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