Là – A Ballade Supreme

Ce dont j’ai besoin, tu l’as pris de moi
En riant, dansant, la nuit dans tes yeux.
On courait ensemble jusqu’à ce qu’on soit
Soulevé à l’aube, tenu par le feu.
Je souhaite d’y rester encore un peu.
En ayant ton cœur, j’ai cru avoir tout,
Mais en t’adorant, tu m’as rendu fou.
Tu penses, ma chérie, que j’arriverai
Afin de construire un pont entre nous?
Tu peux me voir là – là je disparais.

Ce dont j’ai besoin, tu montais une fois,
Et tu donnais ton temps quand que j’aie peur.
Je peux pas faire face à encore de toi,
Et j’attends minuit, j’attends la bonne heure,
J’attends le moment auquel l’amour meurt.
Je cherchai le répit, il m’a trouva;
Je peux y rester, je peux rester là,
Où l’aube monte sans cesse et apporte l’été.
Je peux échapper; triste je serai pas.
Tu peux me voir là – là je disparais.

Tu ne me manques pas – c’est pas ça en soi;
Ils me manquent les rêves, et le pire de ceux,
C’est le rêve d’être sûr pour mois après mois,
D’éviter les risques, d’éviter les jeux.
J’ai honte d’avouer que tu étais mon dieu.
Mais pas plus! Pas plus! C’est pas plus le cas!
J’échappais au soleil, vis dans ses bras!
Et je tombe des toits comme oiseau cassé
Pour me reposer sur les dalles au bas—
Tu peux me voir là – là je disparais.

Snapshots: Poetry and Photography

the red wheelbarrow william carlos williams

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

We always hear that cinema or music is dying. They’ve apparently been in their death throes for decades, dead to Bieber fever, Katy Perry-carditis, and the looming shadow of piracy. After all, why pay for music or films when you could get them for free? And if the creators can’t make a living then the art form will, allegedly inevitably, die out. And on that path, the artists scramble to engage audiences with superficial appearances and behaviour, and the music and the film gradually fizzle out to nothing. An ignominious end.

But this hasn’t happened. We can complain all we like about ‘the state of music these days’ and how much better it was ‘back in the day’, though we only ever remember the good songs, but it’s pretty clear that money isn’t the prime motivating factor for artists in Hollywood or Abbey Road (or wherever). If a lack of money stopped people, then other art forms would have died out long ago. Poetry and photography would be ashes scattered into the sea by now, and no one would be able to read them a decent eulogy because the poetry would already be dead.

If you do a quick Google search, as I just did, you can find a helpful site for poetry here, which says this for living off the art form:

Very few poets rely entirely on the proceeds from their work. Journal publication is frequently unpaid, compensated only by additional contributor’s copies, and poetry book advances are modest sums. Most poets, even the most widely published, hold other jobs, such as teaching and journalism.

You can find a lot of poems on the internet, just as you would with music, but there hasn’t exactly been an outcry on copyright as there has been with the more affluent industries — nor am I saying that there necessarily should be one; I’m just saying that poetry looks pretty dead these days. I have to confess that I got a little frustrated recently when I couldn’t find Heaney’s The Summer of Lost Rachel online, nor Larkin’s Unfinished Poem. But why should I? I don’t expect to find my Orwell or my Steinbeck to free, so why should I expect my poetry to be presented to me for nothing?

The truth is, poetry has been significantly devalued as an art form, and I used to be just as guilty of this. I’ve always been the bookish type, but I can’t say I ever really had a significant interest in poetry. There were a few I liked, and I recognised the skill needed to put them together, but I certainly didn’t connect with them in the same way as I did with novels or music or film. It just didn’t seem like poetry had enough detail to be worthwhile. I know a lot of people who share this sentiment, who find poetry far too pretentious (which I feel is in part due to the posh lilt of the word itself) and far too ambiguous to bother with. I commonly hear people objecting with “Well, if they wanted to say something then why didn’t they just say it?”.

It’s only recently that I’ve had a bit of a turnaround on poetry, and I think it’s happened with a greater understanding of what its purpose is. In particular, here’s a quote from T.S. Eliot:

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.

Part of the distaste held for poetry, I think, is born of memories of stuffy English classrooms, analysing seemingly inconsequential words for an effect that the author probably didn’t intend. But to reduce poetry to a kind of elaborate join-the-dots or word search is to entirely miss the point. I love to analyse poems deeply to understand what makes them (consciously or otherwise) great, but it’s hardly a requirement. That’s what T.S. Eliot is saying, or that’s how it seems to me at least: that the best poetry will move people without having to be broken down into its constitutent parts and dissected into infinitesimal shards.

A poem is an experience — as with all other art forms, but the intensity is heightened by the medium often being so concise and controlled. Reading or hearing a poem is opting into that experience, and contrary to the people who say “write you mean,” I don’t think these experiences could be expressed otherwise. They’re a wisp of an emotion that someone has desperately tried to bottle, with varying levels of success. But if it were easier and more effective to write something along the lines of “Today I felt sad.” then people would; the fact that poetry exists is enough to justify its existence.

As such, the poems that best convey their individual experiences are the best — or that’s how I feel, anyway. I love The Stolen Child by Yeats ["We foot it all the night, / Weaving olden dances / Mingling hands and mingling glances / Till the moon has taken flight"] and Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas ["Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means / Time held me green and dying / Though I sang in my chains like the sea."] and Church Going by Philip Larkin ["Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few / Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce / 'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant. / The echoes snigger briefly."]. I love them because they reveal an experience to me.

That’s the beauty of The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams. Sure, it’s a simple poem, but it’s not simplistic. There are still elements of form in there (check the meter: 4,2 / 3,2 / 3,2 / 4,2) and through only a few words it gives us all of the image that we need. Why is it that “so much depends” upon this image? That’s for the audience to speculate. We have the picture of this farm-like scene, but Williams also gives us an analysis of how people respond to poetry. There will be, and I know there have been, people who respond negatively to The Red Wheelbarrow, claiming it’s meaningless and purposeless. I pity those people. It’s like taking a snowflake and saying it doesn’t do anything — if you look at it closely enough, you’ll see that it’s beautiful. And when combined with the blizzard history of other literature, the snowflakes blanket everything. And you can make snowballs out of it and throw them at people you don’t like. I’m not sure how that last bit fits in. Oh well.

This is what poetry is about, at the core of it: a snapshot of someone else’s life; a moment conveyed intensely. I’m glad to have developed enough artistically to recognise this, and now I’m fairly evangelical about poetry. I’ve even done some myself! But we’ll save that for another time (or, more likely, never).

So I had this artistic ‘eureka’ moment sometime last year, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it since. But it’s only been in the past few weeks (or past couple of months, really) that I’ve had a similar epiphany about photography, and only recent days that I’ve linked the two art forms.

You could say that the criticisms people apply to poetry are also applied to photography, though the latter is even less on the public mind due to it not being a required topic for GCSE English. Embarrassingly, I used to think photography wasn’t really much of an ‘art form’ — I thought it was pretty much point-and-click, not capturing enough detail to be a true art piece. That was silly of me!

Much in the same way as poetry, photography is the essentialising of an experience, condensing it into a single form. I suppose a camera is a portable eye, really; it’s a portal through which the world can see what the artist sees. That’s the beauty of it. Nothing is quite so immediate, and nothing is quite so quiet as a photograph. It is a painting that is absolutely natural, divorced from any preconceived notion of brush-between-fingers skill level, independent from many of the things that hinder the message of the artist getting to the audience. Not to mention, surrealism becomes even more potent in photography, the contrast between the natural world and what we expect of it being even starker.

These art forms are both snapshots — a more permanent reminder of a fleeting experience, and that’s why they’re worth so much. Read poetry! Listen to poetry! Observe photographs! Support these artists by going to their recitals and buying their work. These forms are so underappreciated, but they are so powerful.

They are so powerful.

Pelican Harbour

I used to sit by Pelican Harbour,
and hanging my feet over the sea wall
I would watch the most beautiful boats sail.

I loved the world of Pelican Harbour;
I ran my fingers through cracks in the stone
as the fishermen tied brisk knots of rope.

They hauled the nets at Pelican Harbour;
I watched the fishermen clump in wet boots
along the bleak concrete pier to go home.

And I knew they loved Pelican Harbour,
but though I could not haul the nets of fish
I knew I loved the harbour even more

but could not be of Pelican Harbour;
I could not sail or knot or haul or clump
and there is no harbour without a boat.

I sat on the sea wall and watched her breathe
in a cold fret from beyond the dark sea;
I fell from the wall in a blinding gale
to linger among the shards and the shale.

What the Book? – January

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on this blog (though, let’s be serious here, there are very few who follow me here who don’t follow me somewhere else), but I’m attempting to read 35 books this year. Yes, perhaps that sounds unimpressive what with the lofty heights of Goodreads’ ‘Fifty Book Challenge’, but 35 works out at a book every 10 days or so which is more than enough given the hecticness (oh I wish that was ‘hecticity’) of this year. I’ll be off to university in the autumn, and I want to either get another book written or have Dustshine make some progress in the publishing world.

So I thought I’d write a series of blog posts detailing/reviewing the books that I read, about three each month, as a manner of showing off inspiring you all to pick up a book and improve your lives.

Obviously it isn’t the end of January yet and I’ve read my ‘quota’ of books, but they vary so much in length that I want to get as good a start as possible — so, even though I might read in a completely irregular way, I’m still going to label these posts in a monthly fashion. I think I can get to the books now, if we’re all clear. Are we all clear? Um. Right.

 

For Who The Bell Tolls – David Marsh

Just as many people decided to start the year in style with a fireworks display or a night on the town, I decided to kick off 2014 by reading a book about grammar. In my defence, I’d gotten it as a Christmas present. Not in my defence, I’d specifically asked for it. I was pretty worried that my parents would assume I’d made a typo and actually get me Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, but fortunately they didn’t — what larks!

Marsh, having subedited for The Guardian among many other newspapers, is a refreshing voice when it comes to writing about English as a language. He recognises the deadening effect of trying to sell a ‘grammar book’, and for this reason For Who The Bell Tolls is littered with humorous jabs at the establishment as represented by prescriptive, elitist grammarians such as Kingsley Amis. In fact, seemingly as a means of ingratiating himself with a reader, the first section revolves around the grammatical nuances contained in song titles, admittedly with most of the references being to Marsh’s era of the late 70s and early 80s.

While it would clearly be a brilliant read for anyone who isn’t at all familiar with the technical aspects of English, the content effectively takes the audience through the syllabus of AS-Level English Language; having studied it for a year, I didn’t learn very much, and the things that I did learn I resisted because I’m a stubborn ass. However, Marsh’s wit, and the inclusion of humorous grammar-related tweets  at the bottom of every page, still made it an engaging read. Highly recommended for anyone looking to move into AS English or simply those who have a vague interest in grammar but don’t want to be swamped with stuffiness.

3/5

 

Carrie – Stephen King

I’m not at all into horror (or certainly its more modern incarnations), namely because I hate jump-y things. But, since this year is just as much about expanding my reading as consolidating it, I thought I’d have to give at least one Stephen King book a go, and Carrie immediately caught my eye. Being his first novel, I thought it’d be interesting to see the very beginnings of King’s writing before he became the super-mega-book-giant that he is today. I’d been told that Carrie wasn’t particularly scary, and it generally seemed a good place to start.

I absolutely do not regret picking up this book. It’s phenomenal.

Another Christmas present, the edition I have [the one released with the new film] contains an introduction by King that elucidates a little on the writing of the book, and it set the tone brilliantly for the novel itself. King talks about girls in his school life who were bullied, and it’s clear to see where the inspiration for the tormented Carrie White was drawn from. I quickly came to realise that Carrie isn’t at all a horror story, despite how gruesome it becomes towards the book’s finale. It’s a story about the scapegoats of society, those the ‘cool’ kids designate as almost sub-human, as the butt of every joke and the victim of every prank. Carrie isn’t about monsters, not in the fantastical sense — the true monsters are unequivocally human, but monstrous in that they push Carrie to dehumanise herself after years of torture.

King is hardly writing poetry with his linguistic choices, but long flowery language isn’t necessary. The story is brilliantly paced and remains a cutting analysis of school life even forty years after its initial publication, a revealing window into the mind of women that proves all the more impressive in being from a male author. I almost cried at certain moments, the only thing stopping me being the constant grinding and churning on of the plot that leads to a sickening and tragic climax. If you’re set in a particular genre, or enjoy books that mostly focus on human nature, then I can’t recommend Carrie enough.

4/5

 

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Punch my mistress and call me Daisy! — this is a masterclass in writing.

If asked about my reading tastes, I usually reply with “20th century American literature”, given that The Catcher in the Rye is my favourite book and that Steinbeck remains my favourite author. So it’s always been a source of embarrassment when talking to other bookish people that I haven’t read The Great Gatsby, one of the forerunners for the title of ‘The Great American Novel’ and certainly a contender for the greatest novel of all time. Except now I have read it.

It’s very much been hyped up for me by several of the aforementioned bookish people, and in most respects The Great Gatsby lived up to expectations. From the very beginning, it’s obvious that you’re now in the hands of one of the greatest writers. Maybe only I could pick out ‘comma usage’ as a book’s primary selling point, but the punctuation is sparse and fitting for a narrative that deals mostly in a conversational tone, almost indicative of Gatsby himself — lavish in description and imagery, fast-moving and with just a hint at something deeper. At any page, you can find beauty.

It is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve ever read, and will undoubtedly have a long-lasting impact on me, but there are a few reasons why I perhaps didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, though this is entirely personal and at least 90% rubbish. Fitzgerald’s writing style and plotting preferences are eerily similar to mine (although who am I kidding with ‘eerie’? It’s a brilliant thing to seemingly share simarities with one of the greatest writers ever). He frequently ends chapters with characters staring at each other or the sea or the moon, and the dialogue is short but weighty. Perhaps I didn’t enjoy it so much because it’s the sort of book I aspire to write, so I found few surprises in the twists and crescendos of the plot. Also, there is this quote:

a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust.

Now there’s a juxtaposition of words that feels unsettlingly familiar. But, anyway, this is an absolute must-read.

4.5/5

 

In February, I hope to read these books:

  • Carpe Jugulum — Terry Pratchett
  • Bleak House — Charles Dickens
  • Down And Out In Paris And London — George Orwell

I’m glad I’m significantly ahead; Bleak House will probably drain that lead away.

Mr Borschal

Chalk-faced, the boy folded his arms and grinned. It never surprised the victim – the sharp caw, the snap of the arm and the impact. Wherever the person had been in the room, whichever misdemeanour he’d committed on The List, he’d unfailingly be graced with a chalk-dusted bruise.

It was the old man’s most severe mark of disapproval, so feared and revered in the schoolboy lore that chalk-facing had become a branding of the brave. We loved to carry the offending heroes in a king’s chair across the schoolyard, making trumpet sounds with our mouths and staring at the duster’s shadow in turgid-eyed wonder. To be audacious enough to contravene The List! I remembered eying the chalk-faced ones with a churning jealousy, wishing that one day I could be so brave. None had dodged it yet, but we’d already called it ‘Borsching’, plodding steadily along the young man’s path of language invention. I daresay Mr Borschal himself would have been proud of the coinage, such was its establishment-be-damned adventurousness.

Our contra-teacher stratagems were no more unconventional than those of Uppingham, and no less honed than the artsy Etonians. It was all done by the book for the most part, though there was no need to rile Mr Borschal in preparation – the man existed in a waistcoated whirlwind of indelible rage. But whenever he turned to chalk up an adage of Byron or a Thackeray thought we’d begin to hiss amongst ourselves. I wouldn’t want you to think we delighted in this rebellion, not at all: it was a most honourable challenge to the old man. Could Mr Borschal really chalk-face one of us again?

He would never pause in his writing; he wouldn’t even turn his head – but his fingers would start to dance along the bottom of the board. His ever-thin digits, tripping softly towards the duster, smothered noise with every tap. We knew – one of us would be chalk-faced. It would be the one who last stopped talking. Steve Ashworth? Andrew ‘Jock’ Smith? Reggie Hunt? They’d always been the bravest; they were always ready to be branded.

The sharp caw, the snap of the arm and the impact. Mr Dead-shot Borschal. Some of the boys screamed, stifled into coughs in embarrassment. Others exchanged scores out of ten, most tending towards nines and nine-point-fives awkwardly shown on half-hidden fingers. The chalk-faced Ashworth rubbed his watering eyes and smiled painfully. His was the honour this break time.

There was a shuffle in the classroom as pens appeared in hands and papers shifted across desks. Mr Borschal never shouted at us in a chalk-facing quiet. He knew he had our respect.

***

“‘A luxurious new community, unlike any other redevelopment in the country,” I read aloud to myself, keeping down vomit with sarcasm. “All-new five-bedroom houses available to buy or to rent from Spring 2014! Call us on—’”

I dropped into a whisper as the placard drowned itself in legal must-haves and must-dos, losing myself in the view beyond the gate. The iron gates – which I’d on so many afternoons longed to breach – seemed smaller and more rickety now. The bear-emblazoned crest of Rawdon Manor remained, but most of the creatures had lost their noses, looking more bemused than majestic. So, then, Steve Ashworth had been right. They really were turning it into housing. It was probably for the best. Probably. I’ve never been a public-school-touting-Tory, but it just seems sad. When a schoolboy tries to vanquish his school, he never wants to win. I sighed and shook the gates a little, the old lock clinking its own little eulogy.

“No viewings on Sundays, I’m afraid.”

I spun around, ready to make my excuses and get back in the car I’d foolishly left running. The speaker was a tiny old crank, inward-leaning like an overgrown fingernail and with a straggling kelp-ish beard. He crinkled his nose in an effort to stop his glasses falling down and smiled politely at me.

“I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you,” he continued. “We’ve had a bunch of posh twaddlers looking round, and most of them have already made reservations. They were driving better cars than that, too, if you don’t mind me saying.”

He gestured to my battered Citroen and cleared his throat awkwardly. He was running out of polite conversation.

“Mr Borschal?”

He crinkled his nose, more hurriedly this time, and cleared his throat again. His gaze shifted experimentally, trying to move the twilight glare out of his eyes. He coughed and harrumphed, drawing himself up to what must then have been his full height.

“I’m afraid I don’t recognise you, boy,” he said, “but it’s a pleasure to meet you again after all these years. I hope you’re doing something worthwhile with your life.”

He glanced up and down my clothes, to the Citroen, and then again to me.

“Deliveryman, eh?”
“What?”
“‘What sir?’ I expect,” he added, smiling.
“I’m not a deliveryman.”
“For shame!”

He grinned and thrust his hands into his pockets, another move that clutched at my stomach. He raised his eyebrows and began to rock slowly on the balls of his feet, mindful of the time and yet absolutely ready to talk to me for hours.

“Mr Borschal?”
“Yes?”
“How did you manage to hit us every single time?”
“What?”
“With the chalk duster.”
“Oh!” he said, shrugging. He tapped his glasses. “I looked in the reflection of these. Simple, really.”
“You cheated?” I said, more aghast than I’d been for a long time.
“Cheated? Who said I couldn’t? Besides, you boys were always cheating in one way or the other, copying quotes from each other, signing words to each other when I demanded a poetry recital. You were scoundrels, the lot of you! But they were good years.”
“But you never expect the people in authority to cheat.” I said, crestfallen – the lore, the coinages! They were all for naught.
“Everybody cheats,” said Mr Borschal. He doffed his hat and shuffled off down the path.

A Sock Of Sand

A sock of sand of love hurt me,
A sling of rock, it broke my heart.
The bloodied nose especially
In its own part hilarity.

A sock of sand of love hurt me;
It left a smiling bruise, a scar,
A joke that lasts in memory
At which I laugh, I see, I see!

A sock of sand of love hurt me,
What larks! What fun! “No harm
Done!” I’d say in sickening glee,
A lust-sick upstart boy– this sea

Of life withers and weakens me,
My broke-hearted fidelity
In cold spiralling entropy
Clutches, seizes, Now let me see
The burned ash of your feeble heart
That cannot stand a world without
Nature’s flower cloud-born wonder
Sacred whispers dreaming kisses
Destroyed in hate by your own hand
That walks the line of blood you dragged
From deep within that hollow sand
In which you’d hid your contraband

Love–

which so few deserve, you of all
Least. You thought for once the love was
Yours. And your skeleton was brought
Light. Fragile hearted fantasy.

I wanted far too much to love.
I’d thought this was my chance.
I’d thought silly words and broken
Lines could mend a shadow walking.

A sock of sand of love hurt me,
A sling of rock, it broke my heart.
And now I stare beyond the sea;
The hollow sand rebeckons me.

Phoenix

This is my round-up of the year. I feel it’s in the nature of this blog that I should begin with an observation — rather than writing this on New Year’s Eve, as I did last year, I’m doing it on Sunday in order to fit the ‘schedule’ I rarely stick to. One might argue, therefore, that I favour order above spontaneity. Whoever that ‘one’ is, (s)he can go sit on the naughty step for the duration of this post. Let’s begin.

So, what’s ahead in 2013? There are probably all sorts of horrible, unexpected things. There’ll also be (or should be!) all sorts of amazing things, too. But as long as we keep looking towards our respective mountains, as Gaiman advises, then we’ll get there. No-one can tell us that our mountains aren’t there.

That’s the concluding paragraph from my New Year’s Eve post of yesteryear. And here comes a tangent!

Quite a while ago, I was just getting into writing. I’ve probably told this story before, in fact, but basically I got into it at first because I could. There were ideas in my head and I felt like I should probably write them down. One of my first projects was this:

That which I attempted next was called ‘Hindsight’. I don’t know how I arrived at the original idea, but it’s interesting to see how many of the themes I expressed three-to-four years ago are still very much on my mind as I write today. The basic premise of this story was almost ‘A Christmas Carol’-esque in its structure. An old man, Mr Hindsight, dies — if I remember correctly, mistaking a window for a door and falling to his death — and his estranged son is asked to write the eulogy. The issue is that he didn’t really know his father. So a rather shady character ends up guiding him through his father’s experiences so that Hindsight Jr. can write that eulogy: the shady character in question being Death. The Death in question being a hedgehog.

If there’s ever a time to invoke hindsight, other than in a eulogy, it’s in a New Year’s blog post. They’re very similar things, of course — I can finally kill off this year and move onto better things. Unfortunately, the year has had some lasting effects that can’t be eliminated by a calendar change. Here concludes the tangent.

I sat in this chair almost a year ago, brimming with my typical insecurities, worrying about what 2013 might hold for me.  And I believed, ultimately, that it would be the best year of my life — I’d write the book that I’d been planning (which I did) and I’d send it away to publishers (which I didn’t), and overall I’d make my first foray into the industry of putting words in pretty sequences. I didn’t even care about the result of sending it away to people; all I wanted to do was to dabble a little, testing the waters. This sentiment isn’t really evoked by that post, such was my sickening modesty and/or foul mood at the time — the positivity is reduced to a plucky “or should be!” in parenthesis. It seems that I tried to portray the fairytale villain of convention in a comic fashion. I don’t think the skiing metaphor was a good choice, really.

But, with hindsight, and — agh — with a growing headache, it’s an odd thing to look back at that post and its veiled mockery of the world. I was right, at least, about the “horrible, unexpected things” that would arise during 2013. This year has been, without question, the worst year of my life.

No, seriously — it’s been really, really shit.

I go on about it enough. In summary, this year I lost every ounce of self-esteem I had. I have self-harmed and flooded myself with suicidal thoughts on multiple occasions. I have pushed away some of my closest friends, and some did not come back. I have been haunted in dreams and above all have found that there is no cure to any of this — the closest is a strong dosage of time.

And yet I have lived a beautiful fiction.

On some days, before the worst times, I believed that the world was mine. I believed that I could love and was loved. I believed that I could make a star in the sky shine for the people I cared about. I had moments that were happy almost beyond measure — moments so precious that I don’t think I’ll ever explain them to anyone. All of these moments were lies, utter lies, absolute bollocks, but they were beautiful to me.

Don’t be mistaken: I’m not saying that I believe this year has been, in the long-term, for the best. I regret this year. If I were offered the chance to re-do it, I would. In this year, everything I thought I knew has been reduced to ash and, were it not for certain people, that ash would have been quickly carried away on the wind.

HOWEVER — see title.

I don’t know that I have ever placed so much importance in the New Year. There can be no truly fresh start — after all, I’m still me — but I have more control than I perhaps realise. For one thing, next year I go to uni (wherever that may be), and that has a whole bundle of opportunities in itself. Before that, I have a long summer. I’m 18 and I’ve written a novel that isn’t absolute balls — though a significant portion of it may be so; I’m not sure. There’s a lot that I have to stick around to see. I’ve set myself the challenge of reading 35 books over the course of the next year, which works out approximately to a book every ten days. I have ideas for a new novel bubbling and frothing in my head. There’s a lot to do, and there’s a lot that can be done. I might look back on this post in a year’s time (hello future me!) and again cite Past Self’s naivety (or naïveté you pedantic future arse), and decry the horrific events of 2014, but there will be good in that year. There will be good.

So much support has been shown to me over the past few months, more than I can name, but these are the people who have often literally saved me this year:

Tom, Jack, Ben, Joel, Lewis, Andy, Niamh, Frankie, Phillippa, Hayley, Jess L, Ellen D, Jess G, Sophie H, Mary, Dodie, Ellen H, Sarah A, among many others.

Thank you, and Happy New Year.

It’s Almost Like Being Gay

It’s been approximately seven months since that post I keep mentioning (but rarely by name these days) — and I do keep mentioning it, but it was only a handful of blog posts ago and it’s been on my mind a lot. Almost like it was part of my mind. Yep, that’s the humour you all keep coming back for! I’m writing on it again because quite a bit has happened, including that I’ve happened upon a fairly interesting observation to which the title alludes. In fact, the introductory preamble to the previous post is so perfect that I think I’ll re-use it:

I figured that if I started this post in a humorous way, then I wouldn’t regret it in the future. I try not to regret writing things, but sometimes it can be difficult — usually because of other people wanting me to regret them. I’m a stubborn ass in most respects, but occasionally that stuff can break through. And here I am already heading off on a tangent, which is probably indicative of the post that this is. I’m not going to be editing this one (which implies that I edit the other ones, which I don’t, because I’m lazy) so you’ll have to bear with me through the awkward turns of phrase and flat jokes and strange sentence structure. We’ll get there eventually. We all get there eventually. Yeah, you can expect more of that banal faux-wisdom too; I’m just trying to cover for myself.

And the conclusion on which I will be building:

I mentioned at the beginning that I don’t have any answers. It would be a beautiful fairytale ending if I could tie a ribbon on this and say “Look! I’m fine now.”, but I can’t do that. Each day is different, and I can’t predict the future. But I’m tired of holding secrets. Not only that, but holding secrets is one of the worst things to do in this sort of situation. It really is time to talk, because we can’t save ourselves from these problems. I suppose a final appeal is to say: please don’t avoid me. Talk to me. Talk to other people — the little things really matter. If you’d like, talk to me about this. I can deal with depression, but I can’t deal with being ashamed of being depressed. That’s what needs to change in society: we need to get rid of the stigma attached to mental illness. Only then can we find real solutions to these very real problems.

In most respects, I imbued that post with a degree of positivity, and the ensuing response was overwhelming supportive and very helpful to me at the time. And yet then I continued to hide the issue from you all for many months, during which period I regressed to the depths I’d written about (and perhaps fell further) and suffered from the very same feelings of shame that I’d so boldly denounced. There is a very strange feeling in writing this post, too, and the allusion onto which I’ve already latched could just be a means of justifying this to myself. Hopefully this will be as revealing and interesting as the other post appears to have been.

But first — some exposition on the events between then and now.

Shortly after publishing the first post, someone decided to inform my parents — someone who will, even now, not reveal themselves. It is obvious that they were acting with the best of intentions, though I still believe it was the wrong decision and only fueled the feelings of powerlessness that I was experiencing at the time. Despite this, no action was taken by myself or others to get me any kind of help: I had been tritely [mis]informed by some that I wasn’t experiencing mental illness at all — in fact, I was just being angsty and/or making it all up, which was what I’d been fearing most of all. I was told that writing a blog post on the issue was a mistake and that universities would without question turn me down. Now that I’m sitting here with three offers (so far) and an interview under my belt, any university that would hereby reject me on these grounds can shove their ‘higher education’.

But this extra layer of doubt — unfortunately only heightened by the sheer contrast between the opinions of my parents and of my friends — made me feel isolated. Would talking more about my feelings impose upon other people? Surely I’d said all that I’d needed to say; anything more would have me seem egocentric. Wasn’t it fixed now anyway? What if I just needed to grow up?

As a result, I began to lean very heavily on my closest friends, perhaps making demands of their time and compassion that were unjustified. I treated particular people as branches of a tree who, if I climbed, would lead me to a shining sky. It was maybe only a matter of time before one of those branches would snap and I’d land again in the undergrowth. And here I am in dead leaves.

Just as home was no longer a realm of safety, school took on a poisonous tinge. I physically hid from those who probably could have helped me most, and I existed in a state of semi-consciousness that can’t be described — primarily because my memory of it is hazy if at all existent. One of my closer friends, a friendship destroyed by my pressure, told me that I was making it up — that I was overreacting for attention. It was a mantra that pulsed in my mind almost constantly until I finally spoke to a teacher. Then I was set on a path that has led to my receiving counselling sessions (which I’m still getting fortnightly), though they don’t help very much. The friendship hasn’t recovered.

I live with an anxiety-based condition, speculated by non-doctors to be a mild form of OCD, which involves taking responsibility for absolutely everything, worrying about carrying out these responsibilities to their utopian conclusions, and punishing myself when they inevitably end imperfectly. In short: I can’t help overreacting.

But it is the idea of shame that I’d like to focus on most: being told that what you feel and experience is either wrong or not real. And this is where the analogy to being gay comes in — though I absolutely have to stress that being gay is not a mental illness; the comparison is in how society treats such individuals, not in the aspects of the individuals themselves. Three cheers for clarity!

I’m mostly referring to the cultural notion of being ‘in the closet’. Gay people stay in the closet because they believe it’s easier; if they venture outside they’d be, in their minds, attacked for their identity. People might tell them that being gay is wrong, that God forbids it or that it’s just plainly disgusting. People might tell them that being gay doesn’t exist, that they should repress these ‘unnatural’ desires and stop looking for attention. Other people in the world have problems too, you know! I could trip on this loose shoelace at any moment and I don’t go around complaining! But eventually, often at their darkest and most desperate times, someone might ‘come out’ with regard to their sexuality. Most, thankfully, will support them. Some will not.

It all comes down to the same issue when it’s anything concerning the mind — there isn’t an army of gravediggers shouting at the dead for being overly dramatic, but society seems to have an unwritten rule that it’s foolish to doubt a broken leg and wise to crush someone for the workings of their heads. This isn’t something that can ever change quickly, and I feel like I understand why people react in the way that they do. This world is a painful one, and sometimes listening to the pain of other people makes it worse. And it’s easier to lash out at a person who doesn’t necessarily display any physical symptoms. But I dream of a world — a utopia, even — in which we can pause to consider and accept each other.

The dreaming is an issue, if I’m honest, and is a factor of whatever condition this is. I dream that everything is ok, that friendships don’t have to break — even that people miss me! And then, when the dream ends, I’m reminded of all the wrongs I have or have not done, and I feel ashamed. Naturally, my mind spares me a few minutes to believe that the events of the dreams are real before crushing me again. Waking up can hurt.

There are those posters (or, at least, there used to be) that read as such: “Some people are gay. Get over it.” They’re symbolic of a new age — an age in which the default is to not care about being gay, though I don’t deny the existence of some truly despicable anti-gay figures across the globe and even in Britain. Perhaps we could see a similar movement for mental issues. I’d love that even with the gangrenous addendum of thousands of bigots. After all, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be cured — everyone that I’ve talked to professionally, with regard to this anxiety, has begun the conversation with the assertion that I’ll probably never be cured. And if we’re in this for the long haul, then I suppose I can’t let my shame stop me from ‘evangelising’ about the issue of mental illness this Christmas.

To all those who might hate me for writing about this — know that I dream for you.

Let’s talk about: Religion

I was going to do a long and highly sentimental post about why I’m an atheist and so on, but I figured I could just drop a recent Philosophy essay here and be done with it. I’m probably a little bit too sentimental on here anyway, so have this more detached take-down of religion instead. I should probably also mention that I have a lot of respect for the beliefs of all, but as soon as your theology begins to encroach on the rights of others (see: the gay community, women, ethnic minorities) or become self-righteous (“atheists have no morals”) then I’m going to bite back. Have fun!

God is a blackmailer. God is a warden of the prison. He created this all in His image, probably a mistake, and then allows us to run wild and punishes us or rewards us with his beaming vision of Himself. This is no God I really want to have any traffic with at all.
Gore Vidal

When interviewed or surveyed with regard to their disbelief, atheists often cite the problem of evil – in its varying descriptions – as the root of their rejection of a theistic god. Indeed, it is an issue of concern and occasionally of sadness to believers, who may struggle to reconcile the abject evil in the observable world with the biblical presentation of God. While this discontent is demonstrably an emotional argument against the existence of a theistic god, there are nevertheless strong intellectual arguments to support such an inductive argument. If the Bible is to be understood as a literal and entirely “God-breathed” document, then there appear to arise certain logical inconsistencies, as proposed by Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. The attempts to dismiss these supposed inconsistencies, most successfully achieved through the so-called ‘Free Will Defence’, are also logically-flawed and inconsistent with the biblical theory of God. As such, theistic defences must always defer to the questionable argument of God being incomprehensible to the human mind, in itself suggesting a conflict of interest that does not befit a perfect deity. It is important, however, to distinguish between deistic and theistic arguments – it is the theistic idea that there exists a personal God, typically willing to intervene in human affairs, that allows the emotional arguments to be established instead as intellectual points of dissent. Furthermore, evil will, by default, be used in accordance with its biblical definition.

Biblical fundamentalists commonly present God as a perfect deity, with various absolute qualities at his disposal. For example, he is thought to be omniscient, omnipotent and unconditionally loving – or omnibenevolent.  Hume argues that these absolute qualities cannot co-exist given the evil we witness in the observable world, summarised in his ‘Inconsistent Triad’. If God has both the means and the will to eradicate evil, then surely it would not exist; therefore, given that evil demonstrably exists, either God is not omnipotent or not omnibenevolent. As God is said to be creator of all things, proponents of Hume’s reasoning are typically sceptical of the biblical idea of omnibenevolence. As such, there have been many efforts to prove the claim that God, should he exist, is limitless in his love. In order to reconcile this claim with the natural and moral evil in the world, Christian philosophers often present ‘soul-making theodicy’, or more colloquially the ‘greater good argument’. It is reasoned that, with God being omniscient and humankind being fallen, our perception of what is right and wrong is warped, and the evil that we perceive is always in our best interest. If I were to lose a family member to a terminal illness such as cancer, for example, it might be argued that the resultant strengthening of family unity repays the grief caused by bereavement. However, this argument suffers from the same issues of post hoc ergo propter hoc (‘after this, therefore because of this’) as those supporting the power of prayer. While there may indeed be ‘silver linings’ to certain evils, they very rarely – if ever – outweigh the pain caused. The resistance to soul-making theodicy is most potent in the case of stillborn births, in which there is no biblically-grounded method for the child to escape Hell and in which the mother will be left traumatised potentially for the rest of her life. The plain insensitivity of soul-making theodicy in such a case immediately undermines its validity in an emotional context; furthermore, if the benefits of such a tragedy were at all close to outweighing its trauma then it would not be described as a tragedy at all – indeed, it would be seen as desirable. As such, this attempt to prove God’s omnibenevolence carries little weight with regard to ‘severe’ evil, and again defers to the concept of God being incomprehensible.

A stronger argument for God’s omnibenevolence is the ‘free will defence’, favoured by Christian philosophers such as Richard Swinburne. It is argued that a world without evil is one in which our actions would have the sincerity of robots, and God would not be interested in a world of dogmatic worship: there must be, it is claimed, the potential for evil in order that gracious acts might be identified. While remarkably elegant in its combatting of the Inconsistent Triad, the free will defence is nonetheless based on the assumption that free will is a quality of utmost desirability, and this is an assumption that is difficult to prove or even to defend. It is an ugly idea that the omniscient God could conceive no better method of inciting genuine belief than causing utter pain and suffering. It must be asked: is free will worth the systematic, sexual abuse of children? Is free will worth depression and suicide? Is free will worth genocide? It is plainly sickening that these must be considered the ideal solutions to the issue of ‘robotic’ belief within the context of a free will defence. Additionally, it is doubtful that free will even exists, despite the sacrifices already made by humankind. It is helpful to refer to Gore Vidal’s image of God as “a blackmailer… a warden of the prison” – the choice with which we are presented is to believe in God or suffer eternally in Hell. If I were to be held at gunpoint and asked whether I wanted to die or to live, I would not consider it a free choice. It is difficult, if not impossible, to even begin to consider that the price of genocide and natural disasters has been paid in order to secure such a warped caricature of ‘free will’. In discussing the free will defence, it is important to remember that, within a theistic argument, God is creator of all things, and as such is lawmaker.  God is not subject to the limitation that a lack of free will results in inadequate belief. God is not subject to any command stating that rape and murder must exist to ensure free will. As creator of all things, God has consciously introduced all natural and moral evil, supposedly to secure a choice we appear not to truly have. Even more baffling is the idea that free will, and with it evil, exists that God might seek his own glory. It is not consistent in the human mind that a being might seek its own glory, whatever the cost, and still be called omnibenevolent.

It is understandable that, as fallen human minds, we are not able to fully understand the nature and purpose of God. However, this is again undermined by the absolutism of the theistic mind-set. If God loves everyone, and wants to save as many souls as possible, then it is in his interest to be as comprehensible and as accessible as possible. As there exists an apparently unbreakable epistemic distance between God and Creation, a conflict of interest arises. Again, it is helpful to remember the image of God as lawmaker: the ideas of infinity and incomprehensibility are subject to His will. It is by his decision that we cannot understand him, and this may nullify everything that theistic – and, in particular, biblical – thinking strives to achieve. If the idea of omnibenevolence is abandoned, effectively reverting to a deistic, or at the least capricious, god, then incomprehensibility is no longer an issue. Evil in the world would be derived from and blamed upon the god in question with no logical inconsistencies. However, given that there would still be no evidence of supernatural forces, it seems a pointless belief. However, a god which is not omnipotent, in order to be omnibenevolent, is purposeless, and solves no existentialist questions, the answering of which is often seen as a strong argument for religion and spiritualism in general.

Frog Child

Beach_Knight

‘On the Beach’ — Laura Knight

The thing we’d never noticed was the staring. I held her hand as we floundered through rock pools, giggling at the skittering crabs and plunging our feet deeper into wet sand. We were sun-hidden beneath our hats and I smiled at the silliness of it all. It was easy to forget yourself like this, melding together a pool of clouds and sky and warmth to make your own world. I clutched her hand a little more tightly and bit the inside of my cheek.

“Are you having a nice time?” she said, swinging our linked arms as we splashed into another beach puddle.
“Of course I am – why wouldn’t I be?”

I looked away and swallowed hard, having let through more bitterness than I’d intended. I saw her face, just out of my vision, fall in on itself and she sighed. My heart shattered. She wasn’t crying; Mollie never cried. She slipped her hand out of mine and stumbled forwards a few paces by herself, but then stopped and sighed again. She’d never been able to get very far by herself. We ended up sitting down, dabbling our feet in the water and staring off across the sea. It felt like a Currer Bell novel.

“It’s what might be called ‘cerebral paralysis’, Mr Hawthorne.”
“What can you do about it?”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing to be done; I believe the cause is a starvation of oxygen during the birth. Mollie will have to live with the condition for the rest of her life.”
“How much?”
“How much, Mr Hawthorne?”
“How much must I pay you to fix this problem?”
“As I said, sir, there’s nothing to be done. Unfortunately there isn’t even much advice that I can give you. It’s a fairly unknown condition at the moment. Would you like to make a donation to research efforts?”
“A donation? Do you think I’m one of the landed gentry, Doctor?”

Or so the conversation had progressed according to my father. He’d been very angry, hauling Mollie back into the house with one hand and fumbling his tie with the other. His hand always moved to his tie when he was angry – that or his belt. I’m not sure if Mollie was much aware of the debacle, since she’d been very young at the time, but growing up she’d known something was wrong. Perhaps she realised it when she found she couldn’t climb trees, or couldn’t run as quickly as the other children, or whenever she had to repeat herself tens of times to be understood. Or perhaps it was the staring.

“I’m ugly,” Mollie said, “and that’s why you aren’t having a nice time.”
“Don’t be silly – if anything I’m the ugly one.”
“But if you’re ugly,” she said, her lips quivering, “I must be horrid.”

I hugged her tightly, staring back at our parents walking a little way off. I hoped that my expression would be enough to catch their attention, but they were too involved in their own conversation to notice us. A taller man had joined them, though his suit certainly seemed bizarre for beachwear. Mollie had composed herself as much as she could by the time they’d arrived, and the man was introduced to me as a Mr Wilson, a name as tawdry as his manner.

“What a pretty little thing you are!” he said to me, a dangerous flicker in his eye.
“Thank you. I like your suit.”
But his attention had quickly turned from me to Mollie, who was yet to untangle herself from my arms. He dropped a hand into his trouser pocket and raised another to his chin as he stooped over her.

“Would you let your sister go,” he said again to me, “that I might speak to her?”
“Why?”
“Because I’m asking you, dear. Would you please let go of her?”

I glanced up at my parents, but they were as stone-faced as ever. I opened the hug and the man leaned down, lifting her with hands under her arms.

“Quite a specimen, I’d say.” he whispered, half to himself and half to my parents. I heard both halves. “What did you say was wrong with her?”
“They call it cerebral paralysis. Very new, they told me. Nothing can be done. We’d have to live with the shame of it forever were it not for you, Mr Wilson.”
“We haven’t yet discussed the price yet, sir, though I’m sure there’d be some willing to pay to see this.”
“She’s a frog child, Mr Wilson,” said my father, “there’s no doubt about that.”
“A frog child, yes. People would stare at a frog child for days.”