Echoes of Bethaira and general life update

The last 12 hours have been spectacularly crap for various reasons. I can’t (won’t) go in to all of them here, but suffice to say there have been two events in the last day which have just skewed everything and overwhelmed me.

Altogether, life had been going well; I’ve written 3 short stories, I’d entered a couple of writing competitions/calls for submissions, and I’d finally got a handle on the beast they call “tidying the flat”.

But life is what happens while you’re busy making plans and the last 12 hours have been eventful for some very unhappy reasons. I don’t like being cryptic, but these events relate not just to me but my family and it doesn’t feel right to go into detail here.

A few days ago, I finished the last part in my Echoes of Bethaira arc. I was so pleased that I was finally going to make a Monday deadline! The final part in arc one is now up here but it’s now taken a backseat to other things outside of my control.

So, if you get a chance, please read through Part 19, and let me know what you think. I’m aiming to pull all of this together now to redraft, edit, and turn into a novella.

If you do have any comments or feedback (always appreciated!), I will understandably be a bit preoccupied for the next few days. However, I will try to respond as soon as possible.

Happy reading!

Say Something

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(Image from https://worththetroubleyougotinto.wordpress.com/tag/bisexual/)

It occurred to me just now, seeing #queerselflove wind itself happily through my Twitter timeline, that I hadn’t really said anything about the Orlando shootings. Maybe I thought this was presumptuous, as I consider myself to be straight. How could I talk in place of, or over, the many voices belonging to people who were personally affected by this attack?

Maybe it’s because I felt I shouldn’t have to say what a terrifying and abhorrent act it is to kill or injure someone just because of who they kiss or what identity they have because surely, surely, everyone got that, right?

However, looking at some of the reactions in social and old media, with the striking homophobia at the heart of this issue being ignored in favour of labeling this “just” a terrorist attack, I can sadly see this isn’t the case.

I realised, as I dodged the ignorance flowing freely online, that in this day and age I shouldn’t have to argue for consideration of who the victims were as an important factor in why they were targeted, but I need to, and we all need to.

Because this is how you address something that we as a society fail to deal with time and time again: you confront the issues because that’s how you change things.

First of all, yes it was a terror attack. The intention, after all, was to create terror. However, what I find odd are the instances in the media where the significance of this being a gay club is passed over (in one case, to the point where Owen Jones stormed off a Sky News discussion), instead focusing on the shooter’s religion and ethnicity.

The terrorist shot people in a gay club.

Not just because he maybe hated America, and not because he hated nightclubs.

His targets were LGBTQ people.

He hated LGBTQ people.

How is this is a fucking difficult concept to grasp?

Instead, we have Donald Trump proclaiming the gunman shouldn’t have even been in the country, that this is the result of an Islamic threat.

He’s shifting the conversation away from the most important part: that they were targeted for their sexuality. I find this reinterpretation of the events galling, particularly as Trump and his Third Reich rallies promote the kind of hate speech that fuel this violence.

By the way, if you’re thinking twice about clicking that link because you don’t want to read another article about how Trump is going to lead us to armageddon, still read it. Unless you have a mental health reason for steering clear of these dark times (and I truly do understand that need), then tough shit. Read it. Be horrified. Confront it.

And let’s not pretend that homophobia is a feature of Islamic radicals alone (if that is what he was). When you have the Vatican and other Christian organisations saying “not on my watch!” about gay marriage or priests, it’s hard to say this happened just because the shooter happened to be Muslim.

America has become increasingly associated with homophobia and transphobia especially in recent months. “Bathroom bills” designed to prevent people using a certain toilet had led to scaremongering and several instances of attacks on trans people. One woman was verbally abused because she was suspected of being trans (she was not). One straight white YouTuber guy even dressed up (badly) as a “social experiment” to see how women reacted to him walking into female toilets. Didn’t ask a transgender person, didn’t research it – just stuck on a silly wig and fake boobs.

Tell me again how it’s trans folk who are the danger.

I have friends who are gay or bi and I can see how this shooting is affecting some of them. That club was supposed to be a safe space, for some the only place they could go to be themselves.

There seem to be fewer safe spaces generally these days, so the idea that a man can walk into that club armed with a rifle (designed to shoot 45 rounds a minute) and aim it at people just because of who they love is as horrifying to me as it is perplexing.

There are stories the gunman had attended the club himself for years, that he was in the closet and self-hating. We’ll see how many of those stories turn out to be true, but it still points to the homophobia problem this society has. After all, self-hate comes from being told there’s something wrong with who you are, that there is a reason to be ashamed.

I’ve never yet heard of a straight person shooting up a straight club because they hated being straight.

Better people than me are talking about this, but I am shocked that these attacks can still happen.

However, I’m more shocked (or perhaps I’m resigned by this point) that this will change nothing in America. Guns will still be available, hate-filled people will still direct their rage towards others who happen to be different to them, and Trump will grow in strength, feeding off the anger that permeates this kind of act.

If you don’t believe me on that last one, his framing of the attack as a purely Muslim issue helped him gain ground against Hilary Clinton.

All I can really say is that I am so sorry that there are people in this world who will suffer because of the ignorance of others. There is no quick fix, but if nothing else, I hope this attack gives people pause to realise that this is just a culmination of the daily, hostile rhetoric spouted about anyone whose sexuality does not conform to “straight”. This is the inevitable result of segregating people based on their sexuality or what their birth gender once was.

It shouldn’t need saying.

Of writers and friends

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I should be sleeping. I don’t rest much these days and, when I do, I self-sabotage, my mind buzzing with nervous energy until stupid o’clock.

I should have my eyes shut, dreaming listlessly about the fears I cannot articulate, but which kick me awake, my heart pounding and panicked as I try to remember where I am.

But I need to write about last night.

A longtime friend and I went to see Neil Gaiman in conversation with Audrey Niffenegger. The main subject was to be The View from the Cheap Seats, Gaiman’s newest book. It’s a collection of his non-fiction from over the years, including interviews and editorials.

I’m debating how to refer to Neil Gaiman throughout this post. Mr Gaiman seems very formal, but simply Neil feels like I’m presuming a relationship that does not exist, despite his work having a profound influence upon me for nearly 20 years.

Gaiman will have to be the compromise.

The event was held at the Union Chapel in Islington, a beautiful piece of architecture if ever I’ve seen one. I arrived about 2 hours before the doors opened because I know Neil Gaiman fans; we’re dedicated oddballs, and will wait in anticipation for much longer than a couple of hours. I half-expected to see some Sandman cosplay.

Sure enough, when I arrived there was already a queue, though sadly no one dressed as Dream or Death.

My friend arrived and we caught up, trading stories and righting the world with ease: a privilege earned from nearly 18 years of friendship.

We waited in the bitter cold and were overjoyed when the doors opened, allowing us in. We were lucky as we entered before the weather turned: the long queue for the 900+ capacity venue eventually ended up dealing with rain and hail.

We sat about 3 rows from the front, taking photos and grabbing our free, signed copies of the new book. Another friend meant to join us had suddenly become ill, unable to attend an event she had been dying to see. We (more my friend) still managed to secure a pre-signed copy of the book for her, hoping it would cheer her up.

I clutched mine to my chest like a beloved, rectangular child.

Gaiman emerged from the side of the stage, holding his new baby son. He walked with the confidence a man who is content, whilst also seeming charmingly befuddled that nearly 1000 people had turned up see him. The audience cooed and ahhed at Ash, as well they should as he is very cute (see the photo above and below for evidence of this).

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Gaiman said he had come to announce the support act and that no, the act wasn’t his baby. Instead we were treated to a surprise appearance from Amanda Palmer and her father Jack Palmer. They recorded an album together a few months ago and were now performing some gigs based on this.

My friend nearly leapt off her chair in joy. It’s a rare treat to see Amanda Palmer live, and my friend is a big fan. So enraptured was she at the prospect of seeing Amanda and Jack Palmer perform, that my friend began speaking in a tone of voice that only dolphins would be able to interpret.

Friend: (inaudible squeaking)
Me: Are you OK?
F: Meep
Me: I’ll take that as a yes…

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The song began; it was Black Boys on Mopeds by Sinead O’Connor, written in the 80s. The lines “England’s not the mythical land of Madame George and roses/ It’s the home of police who kill blacks boys on mopeds” feel more relevant than ever, both here and across the pond. It was performed amazingly by Amanda and Jack Palmer. Too many songs seem dedicated to love or the despair of romance, so it was refreshing to remember that music has the power to evoke outage, and maybe do something about it.

Shortly after, Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger appeared. Niffenegger revealed that these public conversations had been happening for roughly 10 years, and often meandered.

I won’t go over all the things discussed that evening – far better for you to buy the book and read firsthand the thoughts he has collected over the years.

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However, some highlights included Gaiman’s belief that ideas can override all else; that once an idea is released, it is already too late.

There were small, personal revelations about how his daughter reacted to discovering her name’s inspiration, or finding out that Audrey Niffenegger is apparently invisible to children (baby Ash, backstage, had been giving high fives to everyone, but ignored Niffenegger as if she was made of air).

One of my favourite details was that Gaiman had to impersonate Lou Reed and Stephen King whilst recording the audiobook version of The View from the Cheap Seats. It simply hadn’t occurred to him, when including their interviews in his collected works, that this meant he would then have to give voice to these icons.

He grinned as a question was read out about whether he steals from reality, nodding vigorously before the speaker had finished. In addition, he was asked about writing “evil” characters, and how he seems to do so without judging them. He gave an answer which has helped me in the past: no one is the bad guy in their own mind. It echoes the sentiment that a person can justify any of their actions to themselves, and that’s what makes people terrifying.

It’s an idea which has informed my writing. A little while ago, someone commented that my main character’s actions in a particular situation seemed evil.

I agreed, but only if you used the accepted morality of the world. In my character’s mind, she could justify the action she had taken. Whilst she may feel some guilt for it, to her it was a necessity, one that she would be able to live with.

The talk was a fantabulous experience and, towards the end, Gaiman read out a piece about ghost stories, reminding us of their relevance; that even in these future days of technological advancements, we can still be afraid of the dark. After all, you fear the creak from upstairs when you know, when you are certain, that the house is empty apart from you. Or, at least, it is meant to be.

Gaiman also spoke about his friendship with Terry Pratchett, and the profound difficulty in doing so. I thought of my best friend, sat next to me and beaming, and how lucky I was to have her in my life.

The talk ended and we were let loose on the world, an audience inspired and full of dreams. I hugged my friend, knowing that though we spoke or saw each other little, our friendship was just a fact of reality, an established truth. It’s a blessing I do not take for granted. Shared experiences such as that night allow me to add another memory to an already huge collection, one I rely upon when the days seem very dark.

It was a joy to see two people that night who had personally inspired me. My friend has always encouraged me through her own enthusiasm for photography and film work, a passion which is infectious. I have tried in the past to emulate it, but found writing is my niche, one I’ve struggled with over the years.

However, the reason I started writing again and persevere at it was thanks to Gaiman’s advice for would-be creatives: make good art, and keep trying to make it. It seems a simple motto, but it strips away the avoidance tactics very quickly.

My friend, the one who could not attend, is another inspiration; a published writer, she lets little get in the way of her producing fantastical, mind-bending, bizarro fiction. She is the living embodiment of “stop thinking of excuses and just do it!”

Thanks to them all and many others, I do.

I’m going to start reading his book tonight, but before that, I will write.

And tomorrow, I will write some more.

A Low Blow

What is it with me accidentally hurting other commuters? After bashing someone’s shin due a dream about a bastard cat, or catching a woman’s bag on mine and nearly dragging her off the train, I’m starting to sense a pattern.

I know it’s been a bit quiet on the “random stuff from the city” front. I thought this was because I’ve not experienced any real commuting horrors of late.

I put this down to sparse use of the underground and sleeping more on the train. Drama seems to erupt more frequently if you’re crammed into dark, small spaces with rage-filled strangers, but I’m using buses instead, or walking to work in the dazzling sunshine.

It was so non-eventful as to make you vomit.

However, as the Weimar Republic demonstrated, the good times eventually end (too soon?), and I enjoyed/endured two separate incidents in as many days.

I’ll talk about the other incident in a separate post as I’m kind of on a comeback kick today, but the most recent issue was more about how shutting out the world can become a bit of a habit.

Oh, and lead to minor injury.

Travelling to and from London can get overwhelming, particularly when you’re already predisposed to mild social anxiety as I am, so an escape route is needed. In my case, that’s separating myself from my surroundings through music, or books, or (these days) podcasts.

I’ve taken to listening to one podcast in particular called Podquisition. It features game critic/reviewer Jim Fucking Sterling, Son as the founding host, but he is equally matched by Laura K Dale, a games journalist and butts connoisseur, as well as Gavin Dunne, an indie musician known as Miracle of Sound, who makes amazing songs inspired by video games, TV and films.

I’ve been nomming through these in the way I do when I find a new piece of entertainment. It’s partly why I’m scared to read books: once I start, I don’t stop until the whole thing is done, and then I will devour the series. Even with going to and doing work, I can easily finish a book in a day. This is because I read quickly (and I do worry sometimes that I miss details because of this), but also because I literally will not put the book down unless it’s seen as bad form. At staff meetings, for example, they tend to frown on leafing through books about magical police detectives.

It’s a dangerous addiction to escapism, one that’s gotten worse due to my Kindle app. Now I can easily buy and read a book without moving from my seat on the 6:25 to Liverpool Street.

I’ve substituted hungrily consuming books with hungrily consuming podcasts, mainly because they don’t run out as quickly or cost me as much. Instead of paying a fee, you can often support through small donations to the creator’s Patreon account, or buy merch.

None of this really explains how I ended up accidentally punching a guy in the bollocks, but it’s good to have background to the incident.

I was walking along the platform, listening to the podcast on full volume. If you’ve ever been to Liverpool Street, you’ll know a high volume level is necessary to drown out noise from crowds, or overheard conversations about the unbelievability of a colleague’s behaviour (which all participants apparently can believe), or the tannoy announcements apologising for a delay because of their broken, ancient trains.

On the podcast, I was intently following Sterling’s descriptions about some of the weirder fan requests/comments he’s had, summed up by Dale with “…the fuck is your life, Jim?!”

Now, I wasn’t just walking along the platform, I was striding. I’ve been told I swing my arms a bit, which I can now believe.

So engrossed was I in the podcast, I had forgotten that other commuters existed. This is dangerous, generally, but especially when the platform is crowded.

At the moment Dale commented on the interesting behaviour of Sterling’s fans, I burst into laughter.

That in itself is fine. The problem was that I also seemed to lose control of my limbs as I giggled and threw my arms out with more force than I realised.

Again, in itself, not an issue. However, my enthusiastic arm-swinging coincided with a gentleman trying to push past me on the platform.

As I swung my left arm back, I felt it hit something squishy. Even before I heard the muffled “Oof!”, I knew what has happened.

Appalled, I turned my head to check. Following just to my side was a man with plastic, glazed hair, dressed in a smart suit. He appeared to be slowing down. He stared intently ahead, refusing to make eye contact, and trying not to gasp.

He began to speed up, which only intensified the mild hobbling in his gait. He was determined to get past me now at any cost, as if to prove that receiving an accidental attack to the nut sack was totally worth it for gaining a few steps.

I swear, as he walked past me, he looked like he had tears in his eyes.

“Um, er,” I began, trying to work out the best way to say “Sorry for punching your crotch!” to a total stranger.

However, he ignored me and powered ahead, as if removing me from sight would magically erase events of the past and the pain in his pants.

He was still crab-walking down the platform by the time I climbed on board. I’m honestly not sure he stopped, so focused was he on escaping.

I settled into my seat and decided that perhaps that was enough podcast-listening for the day, just in case I accidentally murdered the entire carriage thanks to a particularly amusing anecdote.

Funnily, I always saw podcasts and books as a means of protecting myself from the world, giving me a temporary place to hide so I could emerge regularly and participate once again in society. However small an incident (well, for me at least; I’m not sure how that poor guy dealt with the rest of what I presume was an uncomfortable journey home), it highlighted just how much I now shut out the world, to the point where I don’t even notice the presence of other people; or perhaps can’t deal with their presence.

I realised that maybe it wasn’t that I hadn’t observed any funny or odd commuting moments recently, but more that I had numbed myself to them, slicing them out of my vision.

I thought more about it and wondered when the last time was that I had actively sought out news about the world, about anything that wasn’t distraction. I couldn’t remember one moment, even in the last few months.

I’m not sure it’s a good thing to shut yourself off from the world, at least not on a regular basis. Sometimes you need a quiet space in the chaos, but a constant desire to escape from your fellow humans is probably a sign of something not being quite right, something which should be addressed rather than ignored.

I’m not saying everyone should be an extrovert. Trust me, I’m the last one to advocate that. But if you’re starting to shrink further and further away from the world, there’s likely something behind it. I’m never going to be a social butterfly, but I know that cutting myself off from the world is a maladaptive coping strategy I’ve used before to shield myself from having to deal with, well, life.

So, from now on, no more automatic plugging myself in to distraction. I’ll still read and listen, because they feed my mind. I also may need to escape into them now and again, but my default setting will be trying to engage with life rather than ignore it; to care about it.

And for the man who took a shot to the balls in order for this message to get through, I salute you.