• Category Archives pondering
  • Live Light

    Brace yourselves, because this is about to be real talk. Real cheesy hokey uncool not-rock’n’roll blah blah blah. Really.

    One set of hashtags I use regularly corresponds to one of my guiding aphorisms when I write: #WriteDark #LiveLight. “Write dark” is probably obvious if you’ve read my books, poetry, or lyrics.

    “Live light,” well, that’s what got us to this post. Because even when I was wearing only black and was so deep in undiagnosed depression that it’s a wonder I didn’t drown, I couldn’t help but believe in love and light. In the value of kindness and compassion. In the importance of spreading goodness and hope. My gallows humour has always lived side-by-side with my idealism and soft heart.

    You can’t see it, but she is bristling with magic

    One of the changes to that as I got the therapy I needed was that I understood that I deserved plenty of the good stuff in my own life. And I have spent years finding ways to make sure I never let myself get totally lost in the dark again.

    I’ve noticed the last few years, though, that life stopped feeling as magical as I’d like it to quite a while ago. Unfortunately, I think that’s a natural consequence of becoming an adult in this toxic pit of capitalism and patriarchy. And I don’t have kids, so I don’t have anyone forcing me to make space for holiday-orientated magic.

    But. For the last few months, I’ve been feeling this growing sense that I need to add monthly celebrations to my already over-full life. (Really, thanks to my writers group, I’ve been at least pondering whether I am really letting myself down as regards celebrating things for almost a year now.) So, why didn’t I go for it right away?

    Because celebrations, even the most basic kind that appeal to me, take time and/or money and/or effort, none of which I can really manage.

    Because celebrations like this feel frivolous and cheesy. (And did I ever confess that I’m not fun-motivated? Sorry to ruin your image of me.)

    Because I wasn’t sure (until I sat down to have a good think) what celebrations would actually accomplish. Not in the toxic, capitalist sense, but more in the sense that I feel divinely driven to not waste time in my life.

    Because I am not really clear about what really merits celebrations, by which I really mean merits the time, money, and/or effort.

    Like I said, I sat with these reasons not to celebrate and I came up with a list of what I thought celebrations would accomplish.

    I think they will encourage, and give me one more chance to show, gratitude. Those of you who follow me on social media know I think quite a lot of gratitude. I honestly think it’s magical.

    I think they will help me refill my resilience bank account, or at least keep it from going into the red, by giving me a little recovery and relaxation time.

    I think they will help me regain a little sense of some of the magic I feel has disappeared from my life. Maybe not the giddy, squealing joy of a wee kid at Christmas with a couple new books and a buffet of treats to which I’m allowed to help myself. But there are other kinds of magic, with sparkle enough to help me feel like I’m at least a bit farther from living dark instead of light.

    And that’s why, every month, I’m going to celebrate something. (I’ve jotted down an initial list of things for each month.) I’m going to start simple and see how it evolves…have a meal, enjoy a dessert, do some kind of activity (e.g., consume a short book, movie, TV; make art; dance a little; relax). Just a couple of warm, soul-feeding hours.

    For September, I’m celebrating Autumn and education. I think that’s going to call for a sweater, a book, and warm food (still brainstorming the menu…though dessert will involve apples and/or cinnamon probably). Simple. Cosy. And…then I’ll just have to make sure I’m mindful enough that it’s a celebration instead of being tasks ticked off my list.

    This cool cat gets it…

    If I can remember, just in case you’re into it as well, I’ll mention what I’m celebrating in my newsletter every month and maybe even write a quick blog post. We’ll see.

    (I know a couple of folks I’ve talked to about this are going to come up with exciting themes for each month and make a whole thing of it, break up the monotony of daily life, include their kids in the fun. If I had time, I’d do a whole blog—not just a post—of ideas, because I got excited brainstorming with them. So, you know, if this is speaking to you, go as wild—or quiet—as you want!)

    Feel free to use the comments to tell me:

    • That you still think I’m cool…Heh!
    • How and/or what you already love to celebrate.
    • What celebratory things you might be inspired to do having read this completely hokey but sincere mass of words.

  • Random Pondering Observations

    (I no longer enjoy, nor have time for, arguing with people online. Especially given what a nasty place the internet has become for any conversation where you don’t agree. So, yeah, I’m talking around a thing.)


    Before there was an internet, if you wanted a list of all giant robot films, you wrote it yourself. You didn’t have any guarantee that anyone else would have done that, but you knew you wanted to know and, if you were lucky, your friends wanted to know. So, you became the Wikipedia article. (And, even now, the information on the internet doesn’t just appear; someone writes it.)

    So, there’s one reason someone might memorise a lot of facts and trivia about a thing. One reason whole generations of people might see that as a desirable thing to do and to share.


    It’s not just us Autistic people who often have brains that enjoy cataloguing thing. Kids will memorise all the characters in the latest toy-selling TV programme. Sports fans will memorise sports stats. Etc.

    We like to carry that knowledge around in us. We like to have it to share and to think about. We like not having to look stuff up. It seems to be a normal enough human trait that, with some brain wiring or enough passion, can get turned up to 11.


    If you’re a fan of a thing, knowing stuff about it can let you talk to other fans (or extol the virtues to non-fans) more easily.

    Which isn’t to say gatekeeping isn’t real or is okay. It is real and it is crappy and nobody should have to memorise, much less prove they’ve memorised, a bunch of facts about a thing they love to prove they love it. I’ve had people play gatekeeper at me, and I hated it. And it took the shine off my love of talking about the things I love. I totally believe that you’re a fan because you love a thing, and your inability to memorise All The Trivia, for whatever reason, doesn’t make your love not real.

    But interest in knowing and talking about the facts and trivia isn’t necessarily gatekeeping.


    Sometimes, when someone finds out you’re a fan of a thing they also love, and they ask “do you know this thing about it?”, what they really mean is “let’s share in the glee” or “I’m excited for a chance to share information I think you’ll value, and we can share in that glee.”

    Not always. I know too well that it can be the start of gatekeeping misery. But it is an invitation to share joy regularly enough that I feel safe saying it’s a thing that happens.


    When I met Ernest Cline, we talked about a thing we were both huge fans of. He didn’t do any gatekeeping. Instead…You know how we’re always saying, “Instead of being a gatekeeper, just be thrilled to find someone who loves a thing you love”? Yeah, he did that. And, when I didn’t know about some trivia, he didn’t sneer. He was excited to fill me in, to make the glee and the knowledge mutual.


    Requiring people to know facts to win a contest isn’t the same as being against, for instance, fan fiction.

    People wanting to know what’s canon isn’t the same as being against fan fiction.


    For as long as I’ve thought about virtual reality, I’ve imagined doing there what I do in my imagination: filling it with things/people I love from fiction and hanging out with all that. I know others who’ve thought the same way. So, yeah, of course the OASIS is filled with all the cool media and culture people love. And to not mention that would be to leave out one of the cool aspects of being there.


    All those people running around the OASIS with their media interests? Driving the robots and the cars and hanging with their fictional friends? Lived fan fic, baby. And I think most of us, including authors, just sort of assume you’ll all be doing that…We’ll probably do a little of it with you.


    As a creator of things, I do understand why you’d want people not to disregard your canon or to treat your characters as if they know those characters better than you do. I feel torn; I want people to respect that I know my characters best and I want them to love them so much (so much that it leads to fanfic).

    But, also, I have friends who write fic and there’s this one idea that I sometimes play with in my head. So, I guess I’m saying that I feel like living proof that you can strongly value canon and the facts about a fiction whilst thinking it’s great your friends write fic. I think I lost the plot on this particular random pondering observation…Sorry.


    If you were/are a geek, someone has probably told you that you’re wasting your time with all that geek stuff that makes your heart happy. Learning facts, playing video games, maybe even reading/writing fic as a supplemental source of joy, etc. And you know what would be the dream come-uppance? If it was the opposite of a waste of time. If, in fact, it was what let you win a life-changing prize. Yes, please!


    But, listen, if a book or film just isn’t to your tastes, that’s okay too. We can like different things without either of us being bad. What makes you bad is if you’re a jerk to other people for having different tastes.

    Also, you can dislike a thing without that thing itself being bad. Maybe it’s just not to your taste. That’s okay. Few things are for everyone.


    Ready Player One was for me.


    Maybe it was for you too, and you’re looking at the impending film and you’re worried. Neil Gaiman has said that a film doesn’t ruin a book; the book is still on your shelf. (Though author’s are allowed to feel some worry, because people will tie their book to the film, especially since people seem more wont to watch than to read. It’s definitely possible the quality/qualities of the film will impact how people see their work. For example, I was given the Magicians trilogy when I mentioned to a friend that I love the programme but hadn’t had a chance yet to read the books. And I had to work hard to get rid of the TV image of the characters and explore Grossman’s world as he’d written it. If the TV version had sucked, the books might not even have gotten a chance.)

    Plus, there are some great reviews and a friend who saw it already LOVED it. So, optimism!


    Maybe RPO was for you too, and you’re already criticising differences in the impending film. I have definitely done that. And then I realised that the novelisation of something from TV or film and the dramatisation of something that was first written is like a remix.

    Remixes are never exactly like the original. But that doesn’t mean they suck. (I mean, sure, sometimes they do…) They’re just different. They explore a different aspect of the original, or they allow the song to serve a different purpose (e.g., make it better for dancing). And that film that’s coming out? It’s a remix of the book, meant to fit the cinema. Meant to explore the themes that most appealed to the filmmaker.

    You’re smart. You get what I’m saying.

    And maybe, like me, thinking of the film as a remix will make it easy to just let go of the original and enjoy what’s good in the film.


    I expect, when I see the film tomorrow, that I’m going to enjoy it. I do so love a good remix.

  • Bad People Under-React to Bad Things


    I’m going to assume you’ve seen the latest Duncan Jones film, Mute. I am very likely going to say who did what and to whom, so there will definitely be spoilers.

    I ought also to mention the following:

    • I went into this film expecting to like it because, to this point, I’ve liked everything that Jones has done. Enough so that, in a dream world where my books are made into films, he’s the top director on my list at the moment.
    • I can’t speak to Jones’s authorial intent. As an artist, I both think authorial (or, more generally, artist) intent matters, but also…Once you put your thing out into the world, you must assume people will see it without reading introductions or listening to director’s commentary or anything else. And so, as I opine, I’m basing this purely on what my experience was as a watcher.
    • I love this film.
    • I’m doing this in a blog instead of a tweet storm because Twitter is an ugly place and I didn’t get my degree in Philosophy just to have trolls call it a “discussion” when they fling their excrement at me.

    Got it? Right, then let’s talk about my response to one critic who implied that, perhaps, Jones has dealt with paedophilia in a way that doesn’t adequately display that it’s A Bad Thing. And, to do that, I’m going to talk about the bad guys.

    Cactus Bill is a bad guy. We might go in a bit unsure about that. After all, at least from the image we get of Paul Rudd in social media, the actor is a good guy. We kind of expect that he’ll either be full on good guy or that he’ll be a screw up who turns it around because he’s actually got a good heart. Plus, look at how much he loves his kid. For most the film, it looks like he’s just a dad trying to get him and his kid a good life. Sweet, right? And it’s even kind of understandable that, as his country of origin goes into yet another war, he’s fleeing that for said good life. We know, from other films, that he could well be someone who turns out to just be a brash loudmouth, someone who’s part of the solution.

    So, maybe we spend most the film thinking that Cactus Bill is a rough but possibly okay character. He may well work out. Save Leo and Naadi and also get him and his kid a nice life. Yay!

    And it’s even easier to think this might be what’s going to happen, because Jones carefully and subtly lays a trail that suggests maybe Duck is our real bad guy. Though, again, it’s a slow build. He’s an adoring “uncle” to Cactus Bill’s kid. He’s played by a handsome actor, and we all know that people have a hard time accepting that characters played by handsome men can be really and truly bad. He seems to be a supportive and good friend to our “maybe going to show his smooshy core” other bad guy, Cactus Bill. His focus is building cyber limbs and implants for kids. Really, until we get quite a bit into the film, we’re probably only looking at other characters as we try to work out who’s behind Naadi disappearing.

    But the veneer cracks a little in the bowling alley scene. What got me most about this scene was how played out and normal it was for some macho guy to have no shame voicing his schoolgirl fetish. (Same thing when he mentions it again later in the massage parlour.) Ugh. So, maybe Duck’s a jerk, but he’s a “normal” kind of jerk and, really, it seems like Cactus Bill is probably the one of the two friends most likely to help our protagonist anyway.

    I can’t, as I said, speak to authorial intent, but my reaction to that is to note that maybe, once we get the full story on Duck, we should start being less tolerant of the schoolgirl fetish the normal jerks in our lives have. You’ve heard similar things about all facets of rape culture: stop treating this behaviour as a joke, as okay, because you don’t know when your mate who’s saying sexual things about under-age girls is going to take your lack of reply as condoning his despicable actions. To me, this scene, especially in retrospect, is giving that warning.

    Cactus Bill, again adding to his “good guy waiting to happen” tally, doesn’t just let Duck get away with it. Right? Well, kind of. In actuality, like so many men in the sexual assault/consent arguments, he just lets it go…Until his own female family member is brought into it. To me, this was when I started to definitely not like both men. Duck has a tiresome thing for under-age girls (and, at this point, we don’t know that it’s worse than tiresome) and Cactus Bill isn’t worried about the dignity/consent of all women, just his daughter. Ugh.

    Still, to the viewer who spends less time being mad about topics this connected to for me, this probably just subtly reads as “hey, guys, Duck might not be entirely awesome.” Jones is keeping this a mystery still.

    Now, fast forward to the night Cactus Bill learns that his friend is a paedophile. Where, if you didn’t before, you start to feel gross about Duck cuddling the daughter or filming the gate of the under-dressed little girl on his treadmill. You maybe wonder why he was putting his shirt on at the start of that scene whilst an unexplained little boy hovers in the background. And, yes, Cactus Bill storms in to confront him. Go, Bill! Start showing us you’re on the good guys’ side!

    Except, and this is where you should start to question Bill, he doesn’t say, “You need to stop and you need to pay.” No, he’s satisfied if Duck just promises to stop. You know, just lets him get away with it (like all those people in power in the world who let fellow people in power get away with sexual assault). But they’re interrupted, and Jones pulls us off the trail for a moment. Even gives us a scene where Duck makes a comment that lets us know that he knows Naadirah and that he’s pretty sure she’s gone for good.

    Could it be that Duck is the bad guy and we get to keep being fond of lovable Paul Rudd and Moustache? Indisputably, one hopes, he is a bad guy, given he’s a paedophile (and paedophilia is absolutely despicable). But he might also be the bad guy in Leo’s story.

    Even when we eventually learn that it’s really Cactus Bill who’s taken and murdered Naadirah, Duck’s paedophilia continues to be part of what is bad and menacing in the film. Part of why Duck is bad. Pretty clear statement, Msr. Le Critic.

    So I can only guess that the reviewer’s objection to the handling of paedophilia is based on how Cactus Bill reacted (or under-reacted) to it. But, here’s the thing, Cactus Bill is a bad guy. He is, in terms of the story at the focus of the film, the bad guy. He’s a murderer, possibly a kidnapper (you better believe Naadirah didn’t just let him have their daughter and that she’s trying to get money in order to get and keep her daughter), and he’s just letting paedophilia happen. His lack of action isn’t Jones condoning paedophilia or saying it’s not that big a deal. His lack of action is part of how we know he’s bad. Bad People Under-React to Bad Things seems unambiguous to me.

    Sure, I’d like to have seen Duck be destroyed because of his paedophilia, not just because he had the poor sense to go after Leo. But the fact that his death didn’t come due to the paedophilia isn’t the same as Jones failing to treat paedophilia like a Very Bad Thing.

    And that’s my 1400+ words just to tell a critic that, in this way and others, they were wrong about Mute. I thought it was a nuanced, engaging, well-acted film. I loved the world building (and not just because I need a Free the 156 shirt!) and the soundtrack. I enjoyed not just what, to my biased eyes, it had to say about things I covered here, but also what it had to say about communication and those without voices. I seem to recall a tweet about how Jones had to trim hours from his ideal version, and I very much want those hours added back in. Mute might not have been for everyone, as Jones warned us for months, but it was for me.

  • There Are Stars at the End

    Unsurprisingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about December and January. About why they often feel like a dark night to me. And not like real, non-metaphorical dark nights that I actually love.

    It’s not just the holidays, though I have a complicated enough relationship with the holiday season that I could (I won’t) write a post just on that. In short, I wrestle with unfulfilled expectations (not always the ones you’d think; mostly others’ expectations, but a few of my own) and the aching awareness that I can’t recall the last time I felt like the holidays were actually magical (I used to, and I miss it).

    But, on top of that…

    There are the sort of extra expectations that come when you grew up poor and the only time you might get non-essential things is Christmas and your birthday…and then you have the bad luck (though one sibling has it worse with a Christmas Eve birthday) of having the two events occur within a couple weeks of each other. It’s hard to explain how, but the ghost of that swims up every year.

    unhappy cat in a birthday hat. text on pic says HAPPY
    The ghost is less angry, but also less cute…

    There’s the cold…I don’t mind the sun hiding away, but temperature is one of my particular sensory sensitivities. The extra cold of winter, much like the increased heat of summer, is an enemy. And where summer’s assault is reinforced by the sun (hello, light sensitivity), winter’s is reinforced by having Reynaud’s and some other circulation issues.

    There’s the inclination, both at the start of a new calendar year and at the start of a new year of my own life, to assess what I’ve achieved in the previous year of my life. The longer my wild daydreams about particular successes remain just daydreams, the harder it is for me to let go of the disappointment. I’m not wallowing in it non-stop, mind you. It’s more a prick of disappointment that randomly sticks me throughout the year, but that really likes to do some deep stabbing and twisting around this time.

    There are the anniversaries…And this is increasingly the thing that most blots out my metaphorical sun in December and January. (Obviously, if it were just hiding the real sun, I’d be feeling much happier about it all.) Which anniversaries? Births and deaths. With the sad additional hurt that there are three particular deaths that gnaw at my heart in the December/January time frame, and those three people also have their birthdays in there. Which means that, for three of the deaths that have hit me hardest, I’m doing double memorialising and hurting in these two months.

    And, like a cherry on top, my birthday (9 January) is sandwiched in-between the birthday (8 January) and the anniversary of death (10 January) of one of those three people. (Note that, here, I’m sparing you my essay about what a massive part of my life David Bowie was for as long as I can remember and how his death impacted me. How his life and loss continue to impact me.) And, factoring in that I grew up with my birthday as a rare and special sort of thing…Well.

    But I also promised you there were stars.

    Album cover of David Bowie's Black Star: White background, a large black star, and a row of pieces of the black star below
    I’m a black star…

    Like how blessed I feel to have had people in my life, or as part of my life in the way a celebrity can be, who were worth this level of missing.

    Like how good it is that this takes place when there’s less sun, because sun always makes my hurts feel bigger.

    Like how amazing my family and friends are as they try to give me room to do the holidays the way that feels least-rough for me.

    Like how glad I am that, in spite of struggling with depression (which can steal away all one’s ambitions), I usually manage to feel deeply the passions and desires that drive me to do creative things. I wouldn’t be disappointed at wild daydreams unfulfilled if I didn’t also somehow still feel the desires.

    And, really, even setting the stars aside…

    There are the constant candles of friends and family who try to balance letting me know how wanted I am with not making me feel pressured or guilty.

    There are the things others have created that are always there for me to listen to or read or watch. And I suspect you’ve read, more than once, how important I think those are for our sanity and happiness.

    There’s a big cat who’s radiator-like heat is even lovelier when he’s sleeping on me in the winter.

    There are those little white lights that go up on the normal trees around this city through December and into January.

    And so on and so on.

    (How glad am I that, at some point, I learnt that one can be in the dark, can acknowledge and honour and work through the hard things, whilst still noticing the stars and other lights? That, at some point, I realised the people who thought that me seeing the stars invalidated the needs that came with my darkness were wrong and probably not worth my time? Very. That’s how glad.)

    So, if you’re in the dark too, I want you to know you aren’t alone. Even if the darkness makes you feel otherwise.

    But I also want you to know, as gently as I can, that the stars are there when you feel ready to lift your head even a little. Or even, if you’re lying on the ground in your dark, because standing is more than you can manage, if you can open your eyes and peer through the mists.

    black and white animated gif of sparkling lights

    And even if you just can’t see them yet, they’re out there. And I’m right here. And I hope you can hold on until you get a sunrise.

  • Vampires, Evil, and Sunlight

    I’m foregoing a clever title for this. I think names of people, places, things, or ideas are important. And, when it comes to the act of naming, I either immediately know the name or I spend loads of time working one out. It is literally taking me less time to tell you why I’m not giving this a clever title than it would probably take to come up with that clever title. This matters to me because, at the moment, I’m fitting in loads and loads of creative endeavours. Music, poems, books, and blogs, to name a few.

    One of those other blogs is Most Worlds, a blog I’m doing with my talented arts writer friend, Cat. This month, we’re writing on one of our favourite themes: vampires. Which is how I finally had a chance to really understand that different people “need” different things to find a vampire story satisfying. And that is how I ended up writing Cat an email about a realisation I had dealing with vampires and evil and why I don’t particularly favour vampires who must be evil. Which, in turn, is how I ended up standing in the shower contemplating vampires, evil, and sunlight until the water got cold. Obviously, that meant a blog. (I’ve already got my posts for Most Worlds written for the month, so this is supplemental reading that I might just link to…)

    First, I’m going to tell you two things about me that will be relevant here.

    Thing One: When I was about 13, my class to a trip to a park where I knew I was going to end up riding a rollercoaster. Now, for those who enjoy any sort of thrill ride, what seems to be happening at a subconscious level is that your brain sees danger, the brain chemicals that deal with danger are released (a heady mix), and then you evade danger over and over (cue more brain chemicals), and you walk away feeling victorious. Yay! Your brain is quick to let you know that, hey, this makes thrills enjoyable. HAVE MORE! For those who don’t enjoy thrill rides, the brain doesn’t seem to get past the chemicals that deal with danger, it doesn’t seem to give you the achievement for evading death.

    When I rode the rollercoaster (as when I’ve been faced with other things meant to provide entertainment via the titillation of fear and thrills), my brain shrieked over the danger, but then it told itself that was rubbish as there was plenty of evidence that there was little to no actual danger. Which, my brain noted, was good because danger leads to fear, and fear is actually not a pleasant feeling. My brain then confirmed that we had paid to give our control to a random stranger so that we could be slammed around in cars with shrieking other strangers. Yeah, yeah we had. Well, my brain was bored, not titillated, and not impressed with my choices.

    So, no, I don’t enjoy thrill rides or anything else that works on the fear = titillation equation. If, on the other hand, your horror film has a riveting plot or can engage emotions other than fear, there’s hope. That is why I read and watch horror anyway, because I’m intrigued by stories of how humans might behave in unusual circumstances or I’m really curious about the traits of monsters. This is why, in spite of my fear of heights, I have been known to enjoy the borderline-thrill-sport of rappelling, because I’ve always done it somewhere where my physical location (hanging on a rope, high above nature) allows me to seem some breathtaking beauty that wasn’t part of my usual experience.

    Thing One in summary: I get no pleasure from fear. I am probably an android.

    Thing Two: Part of the beliefs that make up my spiritual path is that no human will be forced to be good or to be evil. Every human has a choice, even in the face of whatever feelings or urges or circumstances might be pushing them one way or the other. And, should one make choices that could be considered evil, there is always a chance at redemption. Moral agency and the chance at redemption are big catalysts and supports behind my core life values and motivators of love and light.

    Yes, we can talk about vampires now. But first I want to assure you that I am quite capable of both distinguishing fiction from reality and of suspending my disbelief for the sake of enjoyment.

    From what I can tell and what I’ve read, around the time the vampire really entered the public mind via the novel Dracula, the vampire was an awesome and symbolic way to address Victorian sexual standards (among other things). That Dracula was a being who just was evil and had no motivation other than being evil was frightening. Even more frightening was that he could make poor Lucy into a vampire against her will and, therefore, make her evil against her will. The sexual titillation (though admittedly rape-y if we stop to think about it and definitely based in norms and standards that have changed), the exploration of the then-new modern woman via Mina, and the intriguing look at gender norms especially in the face of huge emotion work for me. The fear-based titillation, as you can guess, did not. Does not.

    Worse, whilst I can set aside that these are different times and the things that do work for me aren’t nearly as relevant to my emotional or mental experience of the story as they probably ought to be, and whilst I can suspend disbelief enough to go along with fantastic things like vampires, I hit a massive wall when it comes to setting aside my belief in moral agency or in the only redemption being death. If vampires are real, I’d expect that there’d be a different moral code applied to them from On High, and that they’d be evil not for being vampires or for drinking blood but for the way in which they obtained and drank that blood.

    This applies to all vampire things. Even as I stopped to point out to myself vampire stories I enjoy that don’t involve an angelic vampire, I realised that those stories still had room for the struggle to be good. For the ability to cling to what was left of their humanity. For example, I love Lost Boys, but those are vampires who are clearly evil and, it’s implied, were made evil by become vampires. But then I realised that, via the half-vampires, my precious moral agency and chance for redemption before death still existed. Michael and Star and Laddie could still fight what they were. They might have been tricked into drinking Max’s blood, but they were resisting the last step that would seal their fate.

    Perhaps you’ve realised that one of the allures of the vampire who is evil and can’t help it is the chance for the reader or viewer to imagine a life where they can do all the immoral and unethical things that tempt them as humans without having to take any responsibility. I mean, if you’re an evil vampire, can you really help yourself? And if you know me, you might expect me to totally buy into that particular allure. But I have accepted the responsibility of my actions (the good or bad, the times I didn’t get a thing I wanted because I stuck to my morals and ethics) and I am a staunch believer in the value of personal responsibility. Even when it sucks. (From a darker angle, I’ve had plenty of chances to remind myself and others that, for instance, someone being drunk did not excuse them being a crap friend, a jerk, an abuser, a rapist, etc.)

    Now, sunlight…

    Often, in media where things are symbolic (which certainly includes at least the original vampire stories), the sun is symbolic of Christ and its light is symbolic of the light of Christ. When the sunlight weakens or kills a vampire, we are supposed to see it as symbolic of Christ destroying evil. Even setting aside Christianity, there are plenty of spiritual paths that will get behind the power of light to purge and purify, to cast out what is bad or evil. And, sure, I can get behind that, but…

    If you read my Most Worlds posts this month, you’ll see I’m a fan of the vampire being able to go out in sunlight. (That’s actually one of the things I treasure in the original Dracula novel.) In my original draft, at the first instance of mentioning such vampires and my pleasure at that trait, I’d quickly and thoughtlessly written that was because removing the safety of sunlight made for more tasty fear. I’ve since revised that sentence, because, as we’ve established, I don’t actually find fear titillating or in any way enjoyable.

    Before I get to the “real” thing I want to say here, I want to admit two lesser reasons I like it when vampires can go in sunlight:

    • I’m a pale person. Very pale. Careful efforts to get my skin to have a little colour (so that I’d be pale and not actually translucent and, therefore, less prone to quick damage) all ended painfully. And I like my paleness just fine, but I watch my cat nap in a sunbeam or see what appears to be lazy and languorous joy in sunbathers and I get a little jealous. Just a little. I am not a vampire and the sun sensitivity can be a drag. I can easily extrapolate to imagining how, for instance, you’ll never again see the beauty of a landscape in sunlight. Sadness!
    • We now live in a world with electricity, 24 hour markets and restaurants, and an apparently declining belief in Christianity. So limiting a vampire to darkness doesn’t really do much anymore in terms of adding an interesting logistic to work around. And the initial intended symbol of the sunlight as the light of Christ burning out evil is now more of an empty trope, an easy answer at the end of a story.

    But here’s the thing that really matters…Because I can’t believe in the vampire who is, simply by virtue of being a vampire, evil…and because the harm done by sunlight is supposed to be symbolic of Christ burning that evil away (or at least weakening it)…that symbol isn’t powerful to me. Whereas, because I know that symbol exists, a vampire who can walk in the sunlight suggests to my brain, even if the writer thoroughly doesn’t think so, that this is a creature who has moral agency and, even she does choose evil, a chance at redemption.

    Which isn’t to say I’m against sunlight harming or killing vampires. Looking at my top films, 3/5 of them show vampires who are negatively impacted by the sun. If it just weakens them, it offers an interesting plot complication. If it kills them…well, as long as it doesn’t look like a lazy writer just leaned on that, sure. I’m offended by lazy writing, not by sunlight killing vampires. I just have a special soft spot for the times it doesn’t. I am a sucker for hope.

  • In-Equidistance

    Today is not the day I write an essay about the distance that often comes from being an artist. From being a musician. Or the way that the intense emotions that seem so prevalent in artists can make it hard to get enough distance. And how it’s all a blessing and a curse. But it is the day I make you a playlist about distance.

    This last year, I’ve been thinking about distance quite a bit (the positive, the negative, or just the neutral facts). Being close, being far, wanting things to be other than they are or thinking they are just right, the physical/mental/emotional, distance from/closeness to self and others. I made myself multiple playlists about that during the year (because I do so love to make playlists). So I thought I’d make a short, moody distance playlist for you as well (with a made-up-ish word* for its title). After all, distance is something we have in common…

    (Yes, I left out some good songs to keep this shorter. The first draft was enormous. I was trying to fit in all my distance thoughts… And some of the distance is in the way the song feels when I listen. So just close your eyes and feel it with me.)

    in-equidistance from amberrockstar on 8tracks Radio.

    1. SQÜRL- Spooky Action at a Distance
    2. I Am Kloot – Even the Stars
    3. He Is A Pegasus – Fin
    4. Radiohead – A Reminder
    5. His Name Is Alive – Are You Coming Down This Weekend?
    6. Placebo – Drink You Pretty
    7. The National – I Need My Girl
    8. Ash – Lost In You
    9. Emmy the Great – Paper Forest (Birds)
    10. James Dean Bradfield – Don’t Look Back
    11. Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism
    12. Baxter – I Can’t See Why
    13. Björk – Unravel
    14. Shriekback – (Open Up Your) Filthy Heart (To Me)
    15. Editors – Let Your Good Heart Lead You Home
    16. David Bowie – Where Are We Now?
    17. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Ship Song
    18. Manic Street Preachers – Solitude Sometimes Is
    19. The Joy Formidable – Silent Treatment
    20. Placebo – H.K. Farewell

    EDIT 2014-12-29: After yesterday’s all audio playlist, I got an itch to make a video playlist. I love video, and I love what it can add to the experience of the music. For this playlist, the only real theme is that I thought of a video and could find that video online. Honestly, I was baffled at how hard it was to find certain videos…Anyway, I gave myself a very short while to brainstorm and add videos to a list, and then I went through and kept the ones that felt somehow coherent, narrowing it down from about a billion… (Not sure why most are older…) This time, don’t close your eyes.

    Stars in Your Eyes
    1. Daphne Guinness: Evening in Space
    2. David Bowie: Life on Mars?
    3. Placebo: This Picture
    4. Ash: Shining Light
    5. Siouxsie and the Banshees: The Passenger
    6. Placebo: Slave to the Wage
    7.Manic Street Preachers: Love’s Sweet Exile
    8. Duran Duran: Electric Barbarella
    9. David Bowie: Ashes to Ashes
    10. Placebo: Taste In Men
    11. IAMX: Missile
    12. Garbage: Androgyny
    13. Ash: Girl From Mars (UK vid)
    14. Siouxsie and the Banshees: Face to Face
    15. Björk: All Is Full of Love
    16. Manic Street Preachers: Stay Beautiful
    17. Placebo: Bruise Pristine
    18. David Bowie: The Stars (Are Out Tonight)

    *Things that are equidistant are the same distance from a common point. Equidistance is that equal distance. “Equi” means equal. And you know what distance is, what it is to be distance. “In” is either a preposition concerning location or is a negating prefix. All of this comes together in my head, suggesting many possible meanings to the title…Art is one of the few places I can enjoy ambiguity…

  • It’s Full of Stars!

    I’ve come to a healthy decision, I think, in terms of image. And I am pretty sure that a number of people I know might benefit from the journey and the decision it led to. Because all of us have an image, a way that others perceive and think of us based on what they see of us, whether or not we are deliberate about cultivating it. So, I’m going to lay out the stones that make up this path and see if I can walk you down it and show you my destination. First, some stones…

    Stone One… I have always known (growing up on Bowie) that image is an important aspect of an artist. I have often been taught the importance of at least appearing to be a good person, the right person for a job, and that sort of thing. Like everyone, I’ve benefited from the added enjoyment of an artist whose awesome art is only made more interesting by their cool image. I also understand why, even if I hate it, image matters for non-artists. We humans tell each other not to judge books by their covers…And we can work on that, but judging books by covers is a large part of the history of how we survived. I won’t argue it’s always a good thing, because it’s more complex than that. This stone is more about acknowledging that we live in a world where image is part of the equation and that there are times I’ve gotten some enjoyment from others’ images. Whether or not we like it, we all have images.


    Here. Enjoy Bowie’s image mastery.

    Also, when you’re on this side of the microphone or keyboard, there’s always someone pushing an image on you or asking if you’ve taken your image into account. It’s part of the business of art, something you have to deal with if you want your art to see the light of day. I do. I want that very much. But that’s where my love of authenticity strongly asserts itself. I know that image is important, even if I’d rather not have to spare it a thought. I want to have my music and my words in all of your heads, so I have to at least stop and assess this issue.

    Stone Two… The other night, I stayed up way too late talking with a friend as I tried to sort out a small bio. She did the smart thing and looked at what other bios in my peer group for this might look like and suggested changes to help mine mesh better. We sent emails back and forth, replying multiple times to each other before we’d read replies to our replies, explaining why changes were a good idea or felt bad, and finally ended up with the original idea I’d sent her….just the order of a couple sentences switched rather than a massive re-write.

    Stone Three… Longer term than that, some essays on women on the autism spectrum and the way that they use mirroring to seem “normal” have had me thinking about the extent to which we all do mirroring as part of fitting into our societies. Because there are plenty of things that indicate that I might be on the spectrum, and because I am a massive fan of authenticity, this all brought up some concern. I spent a bit quietly freaking out, wondering how much of me was really me. (I take self-knowledge and authenticity Very Seriously.)

    Stone Four… Two days ago, I stumbled across this essay on the issue of identity and the ideal self in the film Velvet Goldmine. I suspect you can pull out some useful tidbits to bring on our journey even if you’ve not seen the film, so I’ll wait here whilst you go have a read. (Really, it’s an important part of how I got to my destination, so it’s worth me waiting here all alone whilst you read…)

    Identity and the Ideal Self in Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine

    Screencap from Velvet Goldmine. Arthur points at TV and shouts, "That's me! That's me, Dad! That's me!"

    Read it? Okay then….

    As most of you know, my passion is making music. I pour everything into my band, and let any leftover drops fall into my efforts at writing poetry and fiction. This means that the dreaded bio is a regular part of my life. If I’m lucky, someone else writes something that is close enough to good and true that I can just sigh and let it be. However, there are still bios that are mine to write. In an age where our art can go well beyond just those who already know us, the bio is part of how we communicate our image.

    This is me, standing on Stone One. Admitting this isn’t just about tricking someone into giving me an office job or letting me hang out with them. This is about my life’s passion. So let’s revisit Stone Two.

    Postcard style image. Text: Don't mistake this fake smile and professional body language. I'd punch you in the throat if I knew I wouldn't lose my job.

    Day jobs require massive work on my image.

    I’d written a short bio that I knew was true to who and how I am, but I also knew there was at least one potential problem. In it, I said something I often say about me, that I’m a scifi girl. I know that at least one of the editors for the project that needed this bio hates when adult females call themselves girls (or that’s been my impression of her feeling). I understand her objection (or I think I do) and totally acknowledge the validity of it.

    Important note: I want to be very clear that the editor in question is someone I both like and respect. And even if I’ve misunderstood her reasons, I’m sure that her reasons are reasonable and intelligent. Nothing I write here ought to be seen as a criticism of or attack on her or those who share her opinion (including other friends of mine).

    What I think I understand as her issue with adult females referring to themselves as girls is that, so often, women who call themselves girls are doing it in a way that diminishes their power and capability. This is a true and troubling thing. On the other hand, I tend to call everyone girls and boys. In my head, when I refer to myself as a girl, it’s because “woman” just sounds so serious and so much more grown up than I tend to be, “lady” either sounds goofy in the wrong way or like the object of the term is better behaved than I tend to be, and most other terms for females are either sterile (like “female”) or the sort of word you are best just using in jest (like “broad”). But a girl…she’s a female who’s not necessarily a grown up, even if she’s an adult. She might be serious, but she’s just as inclined to silliness. There’s a light-heartedness in that that I have had to fight hard to include in myself.

    Me in silly hats

    Me. Fighting hard.

    (Update 2014-09-22: Just had a great chat with the editor in question and wanted to clarify on her behalf and with her permission. Especially since I totally agree. So, in her own words: My thing re: “girl” for adult women is really just about the UNEXAMINED use. Like automatically referring to “the men” and “the girls” when everyone’s an adult. But examined usage and self-identification as a girl, no matter your age, is not a thing I have a problem with! I guess it’s mostly a self-identification vs. cultural infantilization things; those are two very difference usages.)

    So, there was this bio where I’d called myself a scifi girl…but I didn’t want to annoy the awesome editor who’d given my work a chance (and loved it!)….It was a three sentence bio, and every. single. sentence. got analysed to death that night. Why did I feel it was an essential part of describing who I was? Why was expressing it in those words important to me? (Was it important to me?)

    Me as a space girl with laser gun.
    Clearly important to me.

    And, in case you think it’s just that I’m too much a navel-gazer…People who read that bio may very well find it influencing their view of me and of the work it accompanies. This could very well lead to more or fewer readers. It could also very well lead to editors loving me (and giving me more chances) or hating me and not wanting to publish things written by the likes of me. I felt like the weight of my writing career was on that tiny bio. Ugh!

    Okay, on to Stone Three. I think that a lot of us spend at least a portion of our lives trying to figure out who we are. And many of us hope that we have figured out who we actually are. Even if we let our choices be influenced by friends and family, we might quietly keep a mental list of what our actual preferences are (and label it Guilty Pleasures or Secret Dreams). Even if we get adept at mirroring (and, to remind you, this is a normal thing that all humans do; it’s part of how, for instance, small children figure out how to behave and how you figured out what was okay to wear to your last job, to that party, to a funeral, etc), one hopes that we’d still be aware of when we’re doing that so that we know who we really are or want to be. For people who, on some level, sense that they are quite different and that mirroring is a very important part of how they survive in the world, would it start to become so habitual that they stopped really noticing when they weren’t being themselves? And, if they noticed that they’d mirrored themselves into being someone that wasn’t authentically them, would they be able to break the mirrors?

    As I’ve mentioned, self-knowledge and authenticity are Very Important to me. As I wrote that bio, I was writing sentences that are about the part of me that I feel quite sure is really, truly me. Using words that feel true to my perception of that really, truly me. Which is why, in the end, I decided to risk it. To use those words and at least know that any judgement of me was based on authentic me (even if it might be a misunderstood idea of authentic me). Better to be hated for who I am than loved—or hated—for who I’m not. No need to smash mirrors there. Even if left entirely alone…nobody to see me or judge me….the things in that bio weren’t me mirroring. At this point, I thought I had reached my destination….

    Except that my brain was still turning this over for the life lessons, for the ways I could extend this to the other parts of who I am and what I do. Especially because I make rock music, and image definitely figures into that. Let’s not kid ourselves. (Even Hendrix chose his bassist based entirely on liking the look of the guy. Unless I’ve misunderstood, Noel Redding had never played bass before.) So, even sitting there and telling myself I’d reached my destination, I knew I hadn’t. There was a bigger place down the path…

    Fortunately, Stone Four fell in front of me; I didn’t have to go looking for it. Love it when that happens.

    Just in case you didn’t actually read the essay (in which case, shame on you!), here’s the important bit from that for me: The rockstar in the film was being what he thought he needed to be to create the image that would sell records. He was unhappy and destined for failure. The reporter in the film moved closer to true fulfilment as he realised and lived closer to his true self (which was something like the image that the rockstar was trying to pretend to be). That same basic persona was heaven for one and hell for the other.

    Maxwell Demon from Velvet Goldmine

    That this is the persona in question doesn’t hurt my interest

    I stood on Stone Four a few hours (to be fair, I went about my day but let it rest in the back of my head…I don’t have the luxury of just standing around and pondering for hours). I didn’t initially realise that this was a stone on the path. And then…one of those epiphanies that feels kind of obvious…so, if this is obvious to you, be kind. I’m sure I’ve out-figured you somewhere…ha!

    Destination/Epiphany/Decision: The best image to work on is one built on your idea of who your idealised self is. (This does not apply if you’re pursuing goals in life that don’t actually reflect your true heart. Also, if that’s the case, even my non-ideal self is sad for you and wishes you happier destinations. Anyway….)

    This is something most of us already kind of do. We set New Year’s Resolutions based on who that best person is we think we can be. We show our best business or people-person face when we go to a job interview. We put on our best selves when we meet new people (and when it’s a false best self, we watch relationships crumble…so be extra careful with this one). Even those who try not to do this probably have certain bad habits or less-awesome behaviours that you’ll never see unless you live with them.

    Animated gif of a cat jumping a piece of paper as soon as it's done being printed.

    Me? I have patience issues….

    Here’s the thing….If you’re working on being your idealised self, you’re working on behaving the way you want to behave. Even if this doesn’t make people crazy about you the way you’d like, you’ll be loved—or hated—for who you truly are. You’ll have built desired behaviours and characteristics, because a lot of who we are is built on the habit of how we behave or think about ourselves. You win. And if it just so happens that your idealised self is the image that also speaks to others in a way that moves your art or cause ahead or that gains you awesome friends, at least the effort you’re putting into upholding your image (to keep that movement or those people) will also be effort put into being the person you most want to be. Again, you win. (Also, if you decide that you were wrong about who you thought your best self is, you got there authentically and you can then change your efforts—authentically—towards that new idea of who your ideal self is.)

    I’m a massive geek. Part of that, since I was 3 years old, has been role playing games. You make a character sheet that describes who your character is and then you sit at a table or run around a room and you pretend to be that person. For me, one of the main tactics in deciding the concept for my character (that kernel of an idea about who she is that I’d then flesh out into someone I could pretend to be as I slew dragons or vampires or whatever the game master threw my way) has been choosing a part of who I am or who I wish I were and turning it up a little bit. Often, I’d choose one trait or one issue and build around that. But the characters that were the most enjoyable to play for a long time, regardless of other players and the game masters, were those that were built to be an amplified form of whatever my idealised version of self was at the time. This was also kind of cool in that I got to learn some lessons about which traits I thought I wanted but really didn’t enjoy having. Some pieces of the picture I had of my ideal self have survived since I was 3 years old; some have disappeared and been replaced.

    Me with many sparkly things on my face

    Lasting part of ideal self: no restraint with sparkly things on my face

    (Note: I’ve always been what has seemed authentically me to me. But, with this new place I’ve reached, I’ve now given myself permission in advance to never pretend I’m something other than the person I am or am trying to be. The issue of image is laid to rest. It’s now an issue of “who do I think the best me is?”)

    So whilst I will never be as perfect at some (many?) things as I’d like, this is how I play the game now. Except that we’re not talking about a game. We’re talking about the thing that finally motivates me to throw myself entirely into trying to be my idealised self. Because I look at the life I want…I see that door I want to kick down, to shine out the best of who I am in song and in word, and I realise that the best way to shine out that best is to try to be my idealised self. She’s not perfect; she won’t please or appeal to everyone. But, when you love me, you’ll love actual me. And, if you hate me, you’ll hate actual me (and never have to second guess yourself…it’s okay…go find another someone to give the time to…it’s truly a shinier path for us all).

    And, when I kick that door down, I won’t wear myself out trying to maintain an image that I hate. It’s a freedom it seems many people, in and out of the public eye, would bask in. Me? I’m going to shine and I’m going to bask. Join me?

    Image from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Quote: It's full of stars!

  • Don’t Hate Me for Not Hating

    I’ve had a potentially controversial epiphany this weekend. And, whilst wisdom might dictate that I keep it to myself, I’m sharing just in case it’s as good for you as it’s been for me. But I do want to be clear that I’m not judging those who don’t feel like this is the right answer for them. I respect those who’ve found paths and forged ahead in ways I’ve not managed and I wish them (you) nothing but goodness.

    As I often do, and as many musicians and other artists often do, I was pondering how to quit my day job entirely and live on my art. (Not because I’m lazy; anyone who knows the work I put into Varnish will tell you that it’s a full-time job on its own. Add in side projects of various types, and I put in more hours than most non-artists I know.) I was feeling extra eager to sort out how to do this because another friend has recently quit her day job, and all her income is now from things related to her creative abilities. And, just to make it seem more necessary, some of my less active projects have suddenly gotten more active, demanding more time and energy.

    Me taking out a Dalek
    Plus, I hear they’re looking for a new Doctor…


    The way that this pondering goes is that I think of everyone I know, whether in person or online, who doesn’t have a ‘normal’ job and who seems to be making it just on their creative merits. Then, I think of all the things they’re doing to make ends meet, and I try to figure out which of those things I might also be able to do. Finally, I recognise that most of those endeavours have an element of luck to them so I might still take years to sort it out.

    Right now, some of you are thinking that, really, I ought to just quit my job, because burning that bridge will force me to work hard and relieve me of the burdens that my job puts on my time and energy. In a world where I’m the only one who depends on my income, where I can just live in my car if need be, that’s an option I would consider. I’m willing to make myself sacrifice for what I believe in and love, but I’m afraid that I can’t make my loved ones suffer any more than they already do for my art. (I’m not actually joking. Being involved to any degree with someone who’s serious about their art has its costs and difficulties.) Plus, it’s not like I’m slacking on my efforts to move ahead, lazily watching things go by on that un-burnt bridge…

    This time, however, the pieces of my pondering came together in a different way. At least for me, here’s what I found:

    1a. One point of quitting the day job is to have a schedule that is more conducive to creativity.

    1b. The current project I’m on, with the exception of a few days a month, is mainly something I can do on my own schedule as long as I finish the things I’m supposed to finish and put in the right number of hours. Stay up late to write or play? Yep, I can generally do that.

    2a. Another point of quitting the day job is to have more time for creativity.

    2b. Most of the people I’m watching are still having to spend as many hours on things that aren’t their actual art as they might on a day job.

    3a. Yet another point seems to be keeping one’s energies focused on creative pursuits.

    3b. Quite a bit of what others seem to be doing isn’t actually working on their main projects (their bands, the paintings that speak to their soul, etc), but it seems to be working on things that use their talents with more of an emphasis on money-making. Which, for a lyricist, means that being paid to write and edit non-creative things (that’s what I do right now) seems like a parallel thing.

    4a. Finally, a point of quitting the day job seems to be that doing all this will also help grow their audiences and/or build the connections that move their main projects ahead.

    4b. To be fair, I might be missing things on social media, but…a lot of the people I’m watching don’t seem to be regularly having shows or producing art. They don’t appear to be getting this part. I hope I’m wrong. But, if I’m right, I’m at least as successful at this as they are, and having the day job seems to give me as many chances to meet people that I can nudge toward checking out the band, coming to shows, all that stuff that makes an artist feel like they’re succeeding.

    Plus, I have (for the duration of the project) stable income and (for a little while, in a couple months) access to health care. Even if you want to be nasty about me wanting to make money with my music so I can pay bills doing what I love, you can’t hate me for generally being glad I can pay bills. So, and here’s where it gets even more controversial, whilst I would far rather just be playing music and paying bills that way, as day jobs go, I don’t hate this one. I think it’s okay. Flexible schedule, the writing I’m doing is actually one of my favourite types of non-creative writing, my boss and coworkers are good people who are easy to work with overall…

    This all came together in my head and I suddenly realised that, for now, my situation isn’t actually worse than most the people I’m watching scramble to pay bills with non-day job kinds of income. When this project ends, I will be back to pondering options. And, if I were offered something else that seemed like a better fit, of course I’d take it. But, for now, I’m done trying to run away from this day job. I can stop wasting the energy and time stressing over that and figuring it out. And that feels really good. (Though, like I said at the start, I’m not judging those who are happy with other options. It’s only been a few hours since I stopped envying them.)

    Don’t hate me for not hating my day job right now, okay? This is just a nice break, a chance for me to take a breath and regroup whilst paying my bills (and, yes, continuing to make music and write). Chances are good, come November, I’ll be back in the same place you are. Hurrah!

    But maybe, rather than just cast aside so-called ‘normal’ jobs as bad options for artists who haven’t yet made it big, we ought to see if there are day jobs we can do that are really okay. Which is my plan. Though I will continue to confuse interviewers by replying that, in 5 years, where I hope to be is on tour with my band, not in the management roles I’m ‘supposed’ to be chasing.

    Good luck with your own chases, lovelies!


  • Privacy settings explained

    It’s 03:30 and I ought to be asleep. I went to bed 90 minutes ago and I don’t struggle with insomnia; however, what I do struggle with is being a night owl (trying to shift my body closer to normal human sleep times…a fruitless attempt I make now and again) whose brain activity and creativity start really turning up around 21:00 (and it’s quite loud even at its quietest) and continue until about 04:00. My new tactic is to turn on my phone and try to pour out words, to-do list items, etc, and then roll back over, hoping an info dump will let me sleep. So far, my body and brain are proving no match for my will or my tactics…But at least I’m waking up to half-written blog posts. Like this one. Wonder what I think about whilst I fall asleep? Here’s one of the things… (And, yes, I finished it once I was out of bed.)

    Recently, I was on a tour bus, being hit on even though I made it clear it was a ‘no.’ To their credit, the person doing the hitting was doing that thing you’re supposed to do when hitting on someone (or when trying to get to know them): they were asking me about myself. The more they asked, the more I resisted. Finally, I said, ‘I’m just a very private person. Anything I care to share about myself is in my songs.’ (Or in blogs, apparently.) They accused me of just trying to promote myself. But that’s not the case. I really do put most my time, energy, and resources into making the music go.

    Soon after, I had a conversation with one of my sisters about this, and realised that I was becoming increasingly private (instead of just staying at my past level of private, which was already a bit more than what appears to be the norm). And, as we talked about it, I had a sort of epiphany about why this was going on. I’m sharing so that, the next time you’re cornering me and trying to learn things about me that you won’t find in lyrics and blogs, you’ll understand when I start dodging. And maybe even take pity on me. Heh.

    There are two reasons that I’ve identified, though there might be more lurking in my noisy brain.

    The first that came to me had to do with those lyrics that are what I’m already using to expose myself. Because all my lyrics are truths, because (even if you can’t read them clearly as journal entries) they expose a lot about me, and because I am an introvert pouring so much of myself outside of me….The more I do that, the further into privacy I tend to withdraw on all other fronts. Even with friends and friendly social acquaintances. Even with topics that you can’t imagine I wouldn’t want to talk about.

    To make me dig my heels in a bit deeper, there’s social networking. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against social networking on either a personal or a professional level. But, as the whole world knows, social networking means people expect to know everything. And we willingly tell the whole world the instant we eat something, see a film, fight with a partner, and on and on. We expect to share and we expect others to share with us. Somewhere in there, people’s usual levels of curiosity got switched into some sense of entitlement and obligation.

    The fact is, there are some situations in which people owe each other information. Specific information. But, for the most part, most people don’t need to know almost anything about us. (Yes, I know, knowing things about each other is part of how we build relationships. I’m not going to pretend that my increasing desires for privacy are within currently normal boundaries or that my knee-jerk response when my boundaries are pressed are entirely logical and reasonable. And, yes, I share and build relationships. Anyway…) I deeply appreciate all those who are graceful when I (try to gracefully) deflect their questions. Because sometimes complete strangers don’t even know my name before they’re asking loads of questions. (No joke. A herd of boys recently did that without introducing themselves or asking my name.) Because sometimes, even after I tell someone that they’ve asked a question I’m not comfortable talking about (and, yes, these include things that ‘normal’ people would consider uncomfortable), they press me. I have conversations (sometimes deep ones), post blogs, update the Facebook status sometimes, and tweet when I want to (sometimes even about topics you might expect people not to be open about), but you might guess that the entitlement attitude doesn’t work well for me. But…

    Like I said, I’m putting all sorts of personal stuff into those lyrics of mine. And when I get up on stage to sing them for you, when it looks like I’m having an emotional experience delivering those songs, it’s deeply, personally, sincerely me. I’m giving you more than I’d give even most friends and family if they wanted to have a straight-forward conversation. But, hey, get my music career big enough to get me in NME or Rolling Stone and maybe I’ll open up some more…At least, until that happens, you’ll know it’s not personal when I decline to answer your curiosity 😉

  • Just a normal post…

    “Normal” is such a loaded word. And, before I type up the conclusion-like thoughts I’ve been having about “normal” recently, I’ll first confess that I’ve had my own moments of both pursuing and rejecting “normal” based solely on the fact that it was normal. So I’m talking to you, but I’m also talking to myself. And, just in case you aren’t interested in reading all these words (none of which are likely funny because, wow, this appears to be a very serious topic to both normal and abnormal people and my thoughts have been formed over the whole of my life…and I’m not sure any of the ways I have a laugh over this topic will fit into this entry), I’ll state my bottom line at the top (as well as the bottom).

    “Normal” is not the problem. The thoughtless glorification or vilification of “normal” is the problem. The broad application of judgments to “normal,” based only on the fact something is or is not normal, is the problem.

    The argument some of you are going to make, because it’s the first I would have made in the past and the first a friend made the most recent time the topic arose, is that there’s no such thing as normal. To you, to past me, and to my friend, I must say that I strongly disagree. Forgive me as I start out really basically. I’m not trying to insult any of our intelligences. Rather, I’m reaching back to my experience in getting my degree in Philosophy, and I’m going to start by defining my terms. Or, rather, by defining my term.

    Here are some definitions (from assorted actual dictionaries, which I hope will make you less inclined to argue about what the word means) of normal:

    • conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
    • approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.
    • the average or mean.
    • the standard or type.
    • usual; regular; common; typical.
    • conforming to the conventions of one’s group.
    • the usual, average, or typical state, degree, form, etc.

    Whilst I will readily agree that it is unlikely anyone is normal in every aspect, and whilst I will acknowledge that the connotations of the word aren’t addressed here, I feel like the definitions make my argument. There is such a thing as normal. I particularly like the one that is “conforming to the convention’s of one’s group.” Because even with the ways in which I, for instance, am not normal in the context of society at large, I can attest that I am likely normal in some ways (many ways, in some cases) in the context of the groups of which I am part. Even if the norm of your group is something so small as “we all like this music,” that’s still a “normal.” So, when you like that music, you are, in that way, normal in the context of your group, however abnormal your group may be.

    For me, the next logical thing to consider is why some of us do (or did) put forth the “no such thing as normal” fallacy. I’ve heard it put forth and talked about with much support both by those who weren’t, for whatever reason, up for more than a “yeah, man!” response and by those who were ridiculously intelligent and could follow their agreement with all sorts of fancy words and concepts. I’ve seen it championed by those who were abnormal in dramatically obvious ways and those who seemed good candidates for being official representatives of normal. So the next obvious thing, to me, is to talk about why we want to believe “there’s no such thing as normal.” The reasons here are either reasons I’ve had, reasons I’ve been told, or things that would make sense to me. If you see yourself in there, as I’ve already said, I’m certainly in there and not judging you. And if you have another, especially if you can say it in a non-mean way, I’d love to read it in the comments.

    Those I’ve known who were, in general terms, normal but still making this claim have, when I pressed them, had one reason. It turns out that even many normal people have ways they don’t feel normal. And some of them even have ways they don’t want to be normal (and sometimes it’s as wee as just wanting to do something funky with their hair). Because there’s so much pressure, as is normal in societies, to conform to the norm, those who seem normal (and, I’m guessing, those who don’t) would rather have the pressure removed. That pressure can make one feel guilty when they don’t conform to some norm or other. I’ve even seen it happen to people in non-conformist/alternative groups when they realise they don’t totally conform to the norms of those groups.

    In general, as humans, we want to belong. If we don’t feel like we are normal (in the terms of whichever society we want to belong to, whether that’s the larger society or the small society of just one or two friends we love most), and we know that a lack of normality might get in the way of us feeling like we belong, we might disbelieve the thing that gets in the way of feeling we belong. If I’m sure I don’t fit the larger societal definition of normal enough, it makes me feel better if there’s no such thing as normal. If I’m part of a non-conformist group, disbelieving helps insulate me from the pressures of society at large and also helps me more easily feel the legitimacy of my non-conformist group.

    And those times we try to be normal and it seems we fail…Well, denying that there’s such a thing as normal is an easier way to cope with the disappointment or other negative feelings than to just learn to be okay with the ways we aren’t normal. In the immediacy of ugly emotions, it’s a lovely, quick bandage to apply to our wounds.

    And, when we apply that bandage enough times, whatever the reason, it just becomes one of our mantras or knee-jerk reactions. We don’t have to think about it. It’s just one of those things we treat as one of our truths. I have treated it as one of my truths, and I thought it was going to free me.

    Personal anecdote time. I was in a class once with a woman who pressed me to give her answers to homework just because she asked. (We weren’t friends, we’d only ever had small talk as we waited for class to start, I’d never given her or asked her for answers.) This was one of those cases that felt like cheating, so I refused. It just so happened to be an humanities class, and we just happened to be discussing the Romantics that day. When the instructor asked why the Romantics might have dressed and acted in outlandish or different ways, she glared at me as she rushed to respond that maybe they did it because they were incapable of even pretending to be normal or of fitting in with normal society. My fabulous teacher, who was himself a bit flamboyant, simply said, “Huh.” And then turned and asked what I thought of that. To be honest, I had often felt that I couldn’t fit in, that I couldn’t force myself to be normal. But, in that moment, I realised the ways in which I had managed to make myself fit into the greater societal norms when necessary (I’ve had jobs that required business wear, for instance). I processed the implications of my epiphany later, because I needed to confidently communicate it to all those eyes looking at me (judging me, I assumed). “I think that most people could fit in and appear normal if they exerted enough energy, but perhaps the rewards or results of appearing normal weren’t worth it or just weren’t attractive enough.”

    Having made that comment with every hope of making her feel small (I wasn’t always the most graceful and kind of people when I felt attacked), the fact is that I suddenly saw both that I could force myself to fit in and that “normal” has its daily uses and value. It’s normal, for instance, to follow traffic laws, which is handy in terms of me not getting into accidents. And when you go in for a job interview, the fact that there are normal ways of behaving and looking at whatever place you’re interviewing makes it easier for you to figure out what to wear and how to act with the interviewer. Without norms, there would be social chaos to a degree that would make even those who claim to hate all normality cringe. Not just social chaos, but norms in how people work, whilst not often norms of which I’m fond, allow companies to go on. Given that it takes companies to make electricity and computers and the internet function, I’m unable to buy into a complete lack of norms.

    And, in some situations, things too far outside the norms are dangerous. (For instance, whilst they might fall into the norms of their group, serial killers fall outside of at least some set of psychological norms.) And things falling outside certain norms can sometimes act as warning signs so that we know when it’s time to get away.

    I should also probably acknowledge that, when one is trying to find a way forward in the arts, knowing the norms can help you figure out what path to avoid if you don’t want to get lumped in with everyone else. (And, for me, as long as I’m still being true to my artistic instincts and creating with integrity, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.) So, yes, there is a use to both following and going against norms.

    Once you realise that norms have their uses, it might be a step toward letting go of the knee-jerk hatred of “normal” that some of us have (especially those of us who’ve been harassed for not being normal). As I moved away from my own knee-jerk judgments, I found my life opened up. I found less energy wasted.

    I was always being, or trying to be, genuinely me. But, like (maybe) everyone, I can’t guarantee I’ve always known exactly what it meant to be genuinely me. I think it takes time to figure out who you are. I think that you evolve and change naturally due to your brain changing and your life experiences and such. I think that there are so many filters, that we can’t fully escape all our filters ever, so that who you genuinely are can be obscured even to you by filters. And I think that the deep inner craving to belong, whether to one person or to a group (whether a specific group or in a general sense), can impact you without you consciously realising it. And the “normal” thing figures into to most people’s pursuits of genuine self and belonging.

    I think that a lot of time and energy can be spent evaluating whether or not a thing is normal (or maybe you’re thinking more in terms of hip, trendy, cool), so that you can decide whether or not you’ll do it, feel it, wear it, want it. This goes both for those who are trying to conform to some set of norms and to those trying to avoid a set of norms. If you can figure out where that’s really necessary (for instance, to keep a job you really want or need), and let go of it other places, I think that’s the healthier path.

    Another personal anecdote. After seeing photos of me at a gig, one of my sisters hesitantly said, “I don’t want you to get upset, but you look really hip in those pictures. In a good way. I don’t want to offend you…” She was lucky, because this conversation happened after I’d stopped avoiding all things normal just because they were normal. By that time, I’d decided that my actual criteria for clothing and entertainment and food and most other things were, “Do I like it? Does it suit me?” And this means that there are normal things in my wardrobe and in my music collection. But I’ve not yet been accused of being normal. In fact, whilst there are still some groups of which I’m part in which I’m quite abnormal, I don’t hear much about my normality or lack thereof. Maybe I was just hyper-sensitive to it before, or maybe I acted in a defensive way back when I was both avoiding normality and constantly feeling I was under attack for that, so maybe nothing has changed or maybe it’s because I finally live somewhere less judgmental…But these days, when people talk about me, to my face or where they don’t think I’ll hear, my genuineness seems to be one of my defining characteristics. Given that, when I was opposed to the greater societal concepts of normality, it was because I just wanted to be myself, that seems like mission accomplished.

    (I won’t say much about this, but I definitely see that many of us who didn’t want to be normal were, by trying not to be normal, letting the norm determine our choices. Again, no judgment. I did it as part of trying to be my true self and not let society tell me who to be…In a discussion of “normal” and us not-normal kids, I feel like this needs to be noted.)

    As I’ve changed my approach, I have at least tried or given a chance to more that is normal. And I can tell you that “normal” is everywhere. And some of it is, to my tastes and ethics and such, not good. And some of it is quite good. And some of it is neutral. As with most things (and groups and people) in this world, it’s not so straight-forward, not so black and white, as might be comfortable and easy for most people.

    I’ve also been able to look at those around me who are or appear to be much more normal with, I think, a clearer eye. I’ve been able to see that, in fact, there are people who truly do enjoy and fit mainly normal-seeming lives and ways of living and looking. And to see that everyone has some little quirk or other, at the least, that isn’t normal and that they don’t hate. Even if they just secretly love it. I’ve seen the relief in anti-normal friends’ eyes when I don’t take the piss over some normal thing they confess to liking (or, even better, when I like it as well). Or seen them be clearly relieved when, in the midst of some kind of dramatic reaction to pain (like a breakup), I can assure them that their response is quite normal. Just as I’ve had more than one normal person who seemed to see me as a safe confessional, who confided in me (sometimes cautiously and sometimes giddily) something non-normal about them. And seen plenty of normal people (most, really) who were proud of the things that made them special. (And special, by definition, isn’t normal.) We’re all more mixed than most realise, but our judgments about normality keep most of us hiding facets.

    Now that I’ve written The Longest Blog Ever, and not been at all funny, here’s my thesis again: “Normal” is not the problem. The thoughtless glorification or vilification of “normal” is the problem. The broad application of judgments to “normal,” based only on the fact something is or is not normal, is the problem.

    Also, here’s a picture of me and the cat. Bet now you feel like this read (or the scrolling down past all the reading) was worth it. Ha!

    Me and the cat

    Now, go out and be you, whatever norms that might or might not fit.