Just poking my head out of my little bunker of work and of fighting despair to think out loud a little. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how events since about late 2016 have impacted what I create and what I consume for pleasure. And I’ve been alive and watching the world and dealing with depression long enough to know that this isn’t normal for me.
I’m not going to list the events that are influencing me; you and I live in the same world and can see the same news items and current events. I’m not trying to say that the world is worse than it’s ever been…Though I’m not trying to not say that.
But what I am trying to say is that it’s all changed what I want to read and watch and write. I can no longer bear the grim post-apocalyptic or dystopian stories that I used to love. I am hungry for happy endings and journeys to them that aren’t too rough. I comfort watch and read and listen even more than I used to, leaning into characters who feel enough like me that I have a sense of being even less alone in what hurts. I unexpectedly weep when there are loads of marginalised characters in something…and I get even crankier (by which I mean, yikes, do I do a lot of snarling into the air) at bad representations of marginalised people or at stories heavily dominated by non-queer, non-disabled, white men.
On the other hand, with how much I cannot get enough of grim poems, unhappy songs, and dancing like I think I can exorcise the despair in me? I’ve always been this way, but haven’t been so very much this way since I was a teen.
Anyway, the world is a very hard place and I have no shame about the changes I’m making to all this in the name of self-compassion. After all—and this is for you too—the parts of my time and mind that I don’t have to give over to barely surviving in this capitalist dumpster fire? Those are mine and I am not going to feel bad about using them to build joy, hope, recovery.
(I should have made this a post about the importance of art for how we cope with and survive life, but I just don’t have it in me to do that topic justice today. And plenty of others are constantly writing about that, so you probably already know.)
Weâ€™re closing in on a year since the governor the state where I live told people to stay home in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Like many of you, Iâ€™m grateful for the science and technology that made it easier to stay home and still (kind of) do most things I was doing before. But, surprising no one, I donâ€™t want this to be one more place where we forget to also be grateful for art.
Even in the before times, I thought a lot about the art we took for granted. And a lot of what I read about how people were coping with the pandemic times made it clear how much more crucial art was for better lives. So, hereâ€™s to all the art, the creative endeavours, that make life better. Like…
All the books and poetry and stories and music and TV and movies that are filling your hours, hopefully making things at least easier to tolerate.
All the opera, ballet, plays, concerts of assorted kinds, livestreaming club DJs, and other â€œliveâ€ performance, even when itâ€™s just streamed online.
All the architecture and interior design that make the places weâ€™re in (or that we see on our walks and drives) nicer to look at and better fits for us.
All the clothing design (yes, a designer was behind even that cheap t-shirt you love) that means Iâ€™m not doing all this whilst wearing, I donâ€™t know, a burlap sack or something.
All the photos and paintings and sculpture and other such art, whether itâ€™s on my walls or online.
All the makeupâ€”and some of you are wildly creative and talentedâ€”that proves a face can be a great canvas.
The TikTok videos and comedy shows and Tumblr â€œcooperative storytellingâ€ posts that keep the laughs coming.
And also the creativity poured into well-decorated desserts. Or the simple art that is encouraging quotes put on top of a drawing and posted online.
And the fan stuff…the fanfic and fanvids and fan art. I am definitely not one of those snobs who say it has no value.
And the crayon-on-paper masterpieces lovingly made by inexpert hands. Things donâ€™t have to be marketable to have value and to make life better, even for a moment.
And, yes, the creative endeavours we take part inâ€”even if we totally suck at them and would never share with others or they seem super minorâ€”to pass the time, to try a new thing, to get some enjoyment.
Etc etc etc.
Seriously, if something is aesthetically pleasing or evoking emotions or distracting you, it might count as art. (Not everything that meets one or more of those criteria is art, but a lot of things are the product of creative work, are art, that people donâ€™t realise.)
So, yes, be grateful you can do video calls and stream things and get vaccinated and so forth (that stuff is awesome!), but donâ€™t forget that science and technology arenâ€™t the only things making life better. Art is also how we survive…and definitely how we thrive.
Brace yourselves, because this is about to be real talk. Real cheesy hokey uncool not-rockâ€™nâ€™roll blah blah blah. Really.
One set of hashtags I use regularly corresponds to one of my guiding aphorisms when I write: #WriteDark #LiveLight. â€œWrite darkâ€ is probably obvious if youâ€™ve read my books, poetry, or lyrics.
â€œLive light,â€ well, thatâ€™s what got us to this post. Because even when I was wearing only black and was so deep in undiagnosed depression that itâ€™s a wonder I didnâ€™t drown, I couldnâ€™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.
Iâ€™ve noticed the last few years, though, that life stopped feeling as magical as Iâ€™d like it to quite a while ago. Unfortunately, I think thatâ€™s a natural consequence of becoming an adult in this toxic pit of capitalism and patriarchy. And I donâ€™t have kids, so I donâ€™t have anyone forcing me to make space for holiday-orientated magic.
But. For the last few months, Iâ€™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, Iâ€™ve been at least pondering whether I am really letting myself down as regards celebrating things for almost a year now.) So, why didnâ€™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 Iâ€™m not fun-motivated? Sorry to ruin your image of me.)
Because I wasnâ€™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 itâ€™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 Iâ€™m allowed to help myself. But there are other kinds of magic, with sparkle enough to help me feel like Iâ€™m at least a bit farther from living dark instead of light.
And thatâ€™s why, every month, Iâ€™m going to celebrate something. (Iâ€™ve jotted down an initial list of things for each month.) Iâ€™m going to start simple and see how it evolvesâ€¦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, Iâ€™m celebrating Autumn and education. I think thatâ€™s going to call for a sweater, a book, and warm food (still brainstorming the menuâ€¦though dessert will involve apples and/or cinnamon probably). Simple. Cosy. Andâ€¦then Iâ€™ll just have to make sure Iâ€™m mindful enough that itâ€™s a celebration instead of being tasks ticked off my list.
This cool cat gets it…
If I can remember, just in case youâ€™re into it as well, Iâ€™ll mention what Iâ€™m celebrating in my newsletter every month and maybe even write a quick blog post. Weâ€™ll see.
(I know a couple of folks Iâ€™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, Iâ€™d do a whole blogâ€”not just a postâ€”of ideas, because I got excited brainstorming with them. So, you know, if this is speaking to you, go as wildâ€”or quietâ€”as you want!)
Feel free to use the comments to tell me:
That you still think Iâ€™m coolâ€¦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.
(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 donâ€™t agree. So, yeah, Iâ€™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 didnâ€™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 doesnâ€™t just appear; someone writes it.)
So, thereâ€™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.
Itâ€™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 youâ€™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 isnâ€™t to say gatekeeping isnâ€™t real or is okay. It is real and it is crappy and nobody should have to memorise, much less prove theyâ€™ve memorised, a bunch of facts about a thing they love to prove they love it. Iâ€™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 youâ€™re a fan because you love a thing, and your inability to memorise All The Trivia, for whatever reason, doesnâ€™t make your love not real.
But interest in knowing and talking about the facts and trivia isnâ€™t necessarily gatekeeping.
Sometimes, when someone finds out youâ€™re a fan of a thing they also love, and they ask â€œdo you know this thing about it?â€, what they really mean is â€œletâ€™s share in the gleeâ€ or â€œIâ€™m excited for a chance to share information I think youâ€™ll value, and we can share in that glee.â€
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 itâ€™s a thing that happens.
When I met Ernest Cline, we talked about a thing we were both huge fans of. He didnâ€™t do any gatekeeping. Instead…You know how weâ€™re always saying, â€œInstead of being a gatekeeper, just be thrilled to find someone who loves a thing you loveâ€? Yeah, he did that. And, when I didnâ€™t know about some trivia, he didnâ€™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 isnâ€™t the same as being against, for instance, fan fiction.
People wanting to know whatâ€™s canon isnâ€™t the same as being against fan fiction.
For as long as Iâ€™ve thought about virtual reality, Iâ€™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 whoâ€™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 youâ€™ll all be doing that…Weâ€™ll probably do a little of it with you.
As a creator of things, I do understand why youâ€™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 thereâ€™s this one idea that I sometimes play with in my head. So, I guess Iâ€™m saying that I feel like living proof that you can strongly value canon and the facts about a fiction whilst thinking itâ€™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 youâ€™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 isnâ€™t to your tastes, thatâ€™s okay too. We can like different things without either of us being bad. What makes you bad is if youâ€™re a jerk to other people for having different tastes.
Also, you can dislike a thing without that thing itself being bad. Maybe itâ€™s just not to your taste. Thatâ€™s okay. Few things are for everyone.
Ready Player One was for me.
Maybe it was for you too, and youâ€™re looking at the impending film and youâ€™re worried. Neil Gaiman has said that a film doesnâ€™t ruin a book; the book is still on your shelf. (Though authorâ€™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. Itâ€™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 hadnâ€™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 Grossmanâ€™s world as heâ€™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 youâ€™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 doesnâ€™t mean they suck. (I mean, sure, sometimes they do…) Theyâ€™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 thatâ€™s coming out? Itâ€™s a remix of the book, meant to fit the cinema. Meant to explore the themes that most appealed to the filmmaker.
Youâ€™re smart. You get what Iâ€™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 whatâ€™s good in the film.
I expect, when I see the film tomorrow, that Iâ€™m going to enjoy it. I do so love a good remix.
Iâ€™m going to assume youâ€™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, Iâ€™ve liked everything that Jones has done. Enough so that, in a dream world where my books are made into films, heâ€™s the top director on my list at the moment.
I canâ€™t speak to Jonesâ€™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 directorâ€™s commentary or anything else. And so, as I opine, Iâ€™m basing this purely on what my experience was as a watcher.
I love this film.
Iâ€™m doing this in a blog instead of a tweet storm because Twitter is an ugly place and I didnâ€™t get my degree in Philosophy just to have trolls call it a â€œdiscussionâ€ when they fling their excrement at me.
Got it? Right, then letâ€™s talk about my response to one critic who implied that, perhaps, Jones has dealt with paedophilia in a way that doesnâ€™t adequately display that itâ€™s A Bad Thing. And, to do that, Iâ€™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 heâ€™ll either be full on good guy or that heâ€™ll be a screw up who turns it around because heâ€™s actually got a good heart. Plus, look at how much he loves his kid. For most the film, it looks like heâ€™s just a dad trying to get him and his kid a good life. Sweet, right? And itâ€™s even kind of understandable that, as his country of origin goes into yet another war, heâ€™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 whoâ€™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 itâ€™s even easier to think this might be whatâ€™s going to happen, because Jones carefully and subtly lays a trail that suggests maybe Duck is our real bad guy. Though, again, itâ€™s a slow build. Heâ€™s an adoring â€œuncleâ€ to Cactus Billâ€™s kid. Heâ€™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 â€œmaybe going to show his smooshy coreâ€ 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, weâ€™re probably only looking at other characters as we try to work out whoâ€™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 Duckâ€™s a jerk, but heâ€™s a â€œnormalâ€ 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 canâ€™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. Youâ€™ve heard similar things about all facets of rape culture: stop treating this behaviour as a joke, as okay, because you donâ€™t know when your mate whoâ€™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 â€œgood guy waiting to happenâ€ tally, doesnâ€™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 donâ€™t know that itâ€™s worse than tiresome) and Cactus Bill isnâ€™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 â€œhey, guys, Duck might not be entirely awesome.â€ 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 didnâ€™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 youâ€™re on the good guysâ€™ side!
Except, and this is where you should start to question Bill, he doesnâ€™t say, â€œYou need to stop and you need to pay.â€ No, heâ€™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 theyâ€™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 heâ€™s pretty sure sheâ€™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 heâ€™s a paedophile (and paedophilia is absolutely despicable). But he might also be the bad guy in Leoâ€™s story.
Even when we eventually learn that itâ€™s really Cactus Bill who’s taken and murdered Naadirah, Duckâ€™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 reviewerâ€™s objection to the handling of paedophilia is based on how Cactus Bill reacted (or under-reacted) to it. But, hereâ€™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. Heâ€™s a murderer, possibly a kidnapper (you better believe Naadirah didnâ€™t just let him have their daughter and that sheâ€™s trying to get money in order to get and keep her daughter), and heâ€™s just letting paedophilia happen. His lack of action isnâ€™t Jones condoning paedophilia or saying itâ€™s not that big a deal. His lack of action is part of how we know heâ€™s bad. Bad People Under-React to Bad Things seems unambiguous to me.
Sure, Iâ€™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 didnâ€™t come due to the paedophilia isnâ€™t the same as Jones failing to treat paedophilia like a Very Bad Thing.
And thatâ€™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.
Unsurprisingly, Iâ€™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.
Itâ€™s not just the holidays, though I have a complicated enough relationship with the holiday season that I could (I wonâ€™t) write a post just on that. In short, I wrestle with unfulfilled expectations (not always the ones youâ€™d think; mostly othersâ€™ expectations, but a few of my own) and the aching awareness that I canâ€™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. Itâ€™s hard to explain how, but the ghost of that swims up every year.
The ghost is less angry, but also less cute…
Thereâ€™s the cold…I donâ€™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 summerâ€™s assault is reinforced by the sun (hello, light sensitivity), winterâ€™s is reinforced by having Reynaudâ€™s and some other circulation issues.
Thereâ€™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 Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m not wallowing in it non-stop, mind you. Itâ€™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, Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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.
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 thereâ€™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 oneâ€™s ambitions), I usually manage to feel deeply the passions and desires that drive me to do creative things. I wouldnâ€™t be disappointed at wild daydreams unfulfilled if I didnâ€™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 youâ€™ve read, more than once, how important I think those are for our sanity and happiness.
Thereâ€™s a big cat whoâ€™s radiator-like heat is even lovelier when heâ€™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. Thatâ€™s how glad.)
So, if youâ€™re in the dark too, I want you to know you arenâ€™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 youâ€™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.
And even if you just canâ€™t see them yet, theyâ€™re out there. And Iâ€™m right here. And I hope you can hold on until you get a sunrise.
Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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 Iâ€™m doing with my talented arts writer friend, Cat. This month, weâ€™re writing on one of our favourite themes: vampires. Which is how I finally had a chance to really understand that different people â€œneedâ€ 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 donâ€™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. (Iâ€™ve already got my posts for Most Worlds written for the month, so this is supplemental reading that I might just link to…)
First, Iâ€™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 donâ€™t enjoy thrill rides, the brain doesnâ€™t seem to get past the chemicals that deal with danger, it doesnâ€™t seem to give you the achievement for evading death.
When I rode the rollercoaster (as when Iâ€™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 donâ€™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, thereâ€™s hope. That is why I read and watch horror anyway, because Iâ€™m intrigued by stories of how humans might behave in unusual circumstances or Iâ€™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 Iâ€™ve always done it somewhere where my physical location (hanging on a rope, high above nature) allows me to seem some breathtaking beauty that wasnâ€™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 Iâ€™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 arenâ€™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, Iâ€™d expect that thereâ€™d be a different moral code applied to them from On High, and that theyâ€™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 donâ€™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, itâ€™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 Maxâ€™s blood, but they were resisting the last step that would seal their fate.
Perhaps youâ€™ve realised that one of the allures of the vampire who is evil and canâ€™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 youâ€™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 didnâ€™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, Iâ€™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.)
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, youâ€™ll see Iâ€™m a fan of the vampire being able to go out in sunlight. (Thatâ€™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, Iâ€™d quickly and thoughtlessly written that was because removing the safety of sunlight made for more tasty fear. Iâ€™ve since revised that sentence, because, as weâ€™ve established, I donâ€™t actually find fear titillating or in any way enjoyable.
Before I get to the â€œrealâ€ thing I want to say here, I want to admit two lesser reasons I like it when vampires can go in sunlight:
Iâ€™m a pale person. Very pale. Careful efforts to get my skin to have a little colour (so that Iâ€™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, youâ€™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 doesnâ€™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 hereâ€™s the thing that really matters…Because I canâ€™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 isnâ€™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 doesnâ€™t think so, that this is a creature who has moral agency and, even she does choose evil, a chance at redemption.
Which isnâ€™t to say Iâ€™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 doesnâ€™t look like a lazy writer just leaned on that, sure. Iâ€™m offended by lazy writing, not by sunlight killing vampires. I just have a special soft spot for the times it doesnâ€™t. I am a sucker for hope.
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.)
1. SQÃœRL- 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. BjÃ¶rk – 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. BjÃ¶rk: 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. â€œEquiâ€ means equal. And you know what distance is, what it is to be distance. â€œInâ€ 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…
Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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 wonâ€™t argue itâ€™s always a good thing, because itâ€™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 Iâ€™ve gotten some enjoyment from othersâ€™ images. Whether or not we like it, we all have images.
Also, when youâ€™re on this side of the microphone or keyboard, thereâ€™s always someone pushing an image on you or asking if youâ€™ve taken your image into account. Itâ€™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 thatâ€™s where my love of authenticity strongly asserts itself. I know that image is important, even if Iâ€™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 weâ€™d read replies to our replies, explaining why changes were a good idea or felt bad, and finally ended up with the original idea Iâ€™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 â€œnormalâ€ 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 youâ€™ve not seen the film, so Iâ€™ll wait here whilst you go have a read. (Really, itâ€™s an important part of how I got to my destination, so itâ€™s worth me waiting here all alone whilst you read…)
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 Iâ€™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 isnâ€™t just about tricking someone into giving me an office job or letting me hang out with them. This is about my lifeâ€™s passion. So letâ€™s revisit Stone Two.
Day jobs require massive work on my image.
Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 thatâ€™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 Iâ€™ve misunderstood her reasons, Iâ€™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, itâ€™s because â€œwomanâ€ just sounds so serious and so much more grown up than I tend to be, â€œladyâ€ 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 â€œfemaleâ€) or the sort of word you are best just using in jest (like â€œbroadâ€). But a girl…sheâ€™s a female whoâ€™s not necessarily a grown up, even if sheâ€™s an adult. She might be serious, but sheâ€™s just as inclined to silliness. Thereâ€™s a light-heartedness in that that I have had to fight hard to include in myself.
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 Iâ€™d called myself a scifi girl…but I didnâ€™t want to annoy the awesome editor whoâ€™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?)
And, in case you think itâ€™s just that Iâ€™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; itâ€™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 weâ€™d still be aware of when weâ€™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 werenâ€™t being themselves? And, if they noticed that theyâ€™d mirrored themselves into being someone that wasnâ€™t authentically them, would they be able to break the mirrors?
As Iâ€™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 lovedâ€”or hatedâ€”for who Iâ€™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 werenâ€™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. Letâ€™s not kid ourselves. (Even Hendrix chose his bassist based entirely on liking the look of the guy. Unless Iâ€™ve misunderstood, Noel Redding had never played bass before.) So, even sitting there and telling myself Iâ€™d reached my destination, I knew I hadnâ€™t. There was a bigger place down the path…
Fortunately, Stone Four fell in front of me; I didnâ€™t have to go looking for it. Love it when that happens.
Just in case you didnâ€™t actually read the essay (in which case, shame on you!), hereâ€™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.
That this is the persona in question doesnâ€™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 donâ€™t have the luxury of just standing around and pondering for hours). I didnâ€™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. Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™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 youâ€™re pursuing goals in life that donâ€™t actually reflect your true heart. Also, if thatâ€™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 Yearâ€™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 itâ€™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 youâ€™ll never see unless you live with them.
Me? I have patience issues….
Hereâ€™s the thing….If youâ€™re working on being your idealised self, youâ€™re working on behaving the way you want to behave. Even if this doesnâ€™t make people crazy about you the way youâ€™d like, youâ€™ll be lovedâ€”or hatedâ€”for who you truly are. Youâ€™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 youâ€™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 effortsâ€”authenticallyâ€”towards that new idea of who your ideal self is.)
Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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, Iâ€™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 didnâ€™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.
Lasting part of ideal self: no restraint with sparkly things on my face
(Note: Iâ€™ve always been what has seemed authentically me to me. But, with this new place Iâ€™ve reached, Iâ€™ve now given myself permission in advance to never pretend Iâ€™m something other than the person I am or am trying to be. The issue of image is laid to rest. Itâ€™s now an issue of â€œwho do I think the best me is?â€)
So whilst I will never be as perfect at some (many?) things as Iâ€™d like, this is how I play the game now. Except that weâ€™re not talking about a game. Weâ€™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. Sheâ€™s not perfect; she wonâ€™t please or appeal to everyone. But, when you love me, youâ€™ll love actual me. And, if you hate me, youâ€™ll hate actual me (and never have to second guess yourself…itâ€™s okay…go find another someone to give the time to…itâ€™s truly a shinier path for us all).
And, when I kick that door down, I wonâ€™t wear myself out trying to maintain an image that I hate. Itâ€™s a freedom it seems many people, in and out of the public eye, would bask in. Me? Iâ€™m going to shine and Iâ€™m going to bask. Join me?
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.
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.