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Notes from the midst of a bi-polar slump

I normally write these things and either throw them away (when done with pen and paper) or archive them in a digital folder I never look in, but this time I’m going to experiment with broadcast

Every bit of advice – professional or otherwise – I’ve ever had about depression has revolved around the idea that talking about it is supposed to help, but there’s a deep paradox in that approach, at least for me; a large part of the problem is a feeling – no, not a feeling, a knowledge – that in almost every way imaginable, I have nothing to complain about. In every objective sense, my life is pretty good, and vastly more packed with privilege and good fortune than that of the majority of people on the face of the planet. As such, pity and sympathy – which, to be clear, is very easily obtained, as I also have an abundance of good friends and caring family to whom I could turn – feel unearned, undeserved. Depression is a software problem, as far as I’m concerned; I do not subscribe to the ‘dysfunctional brainmeat/causative chemical imbalance’ model of bi-polarity, because it is part of a diagnostic framework wherein there is a singular model for the ‘right’ brain and a plethora of models for the ‘wrong’ brain. This is a function of the deeply conformist-capitalist understructure of psychology, which has always been focussed on the correction of dysfunction (the Worker must be fixed!) rather than the uncovering of dysfunction’s causes (why is the Worker broken?); it’s all about making the symptoms go away, and little about understanding the actual vector(s) of the ‘disease’.

Rather like politics, come to think of it.

So let me be clear: this is not a cry for help, nor a plea for pity. Think of it instead as a form of the talking cure where I can feel confident that those to whom I am talking are listening voluntarily. With hindsight, I realise that this is why I started writing (and, with further hindsight, that I actually started writing a lot earlier than I used to believe I had); writing, for me, is like a therapist’s couch without the therapist. After all, therapy and counselling are – supposedly, at least – meant not to be didactic; the therapist is not supposed to give you the answers, but help you find them yourself. Which is all very good and noble, but sidesteps the issue that the therapist or counsellor is (quite unavoidably, if unintentionally) observing your narrative from within the framework of their own, which is formed at least in part by their indoctrination into their profession. Which isn’t to say I mistrust the motivations or world-views of therapists on principle – though I’d readily admit to a deep unease around the psychiatric and diagnostic end of the system, as mentioned above – so much as I’m vain enough to assume that my own familiarity with the history and circumstance of my own life is sufficient for me to cut out the middle-man, so to speak. By way of analogy: when I visit a new city, I shun the guided tours in favour of a map, a guidebook and a few days to myself in which to wander, wonder and look.

I probably shouldn’t speak with such scathing certainty about therapy, as I’ve never experienced it except second-hand through its portrayal in popular media. (Sudden thought: the Eighties in particular seemed replete with films and television wherein angsty white middle-class people with no real problems other than their own way of looking at their lives spent a lot of time whining at therapists; this may have influenced my outlook considerably.) Counselling, however, I’ve had quite a few times – and it was actually quite enjoyable for me, because I knew that the counsellor was being compensated for taking the time to listen, and so I could just chunter on without any shame at all. It’s the difference between getting your friends to help you move house and paying a removals firm to take care of it, in a way; it’s not that your friends are unwilling to help – far from it, in fact – or that you’re unwilling to repay the favour. It’s that it’s a job; it’s work. Maybe my rather warped inculcation of the Protestant work ethic is to blame: if there’s work to be done, one should either get on and do it oneself (assuming one is capable), or compensate someone fairly for doing it on one’s behalf. One doesn’t want to feel like a charity case or a freeloader, y’know?

(To return briefly to the influence of media, I spent two nights this week bingewatching To The Manor Born, which was a constant televisual companion to me while living out in Saudi Arabia with my family in the mid-Eighties; it was quite scary to see how many of my attitudes and arrogances echo those of Audrey fforbes-Hamilton. Who was, incidentally – or perhaps not so incidentally – my first childhood media crush of any significance. Selah.)

But anyway, the thing that pushed me away from counselling was the repeated use of a certain aphorism. Every time I explained that I didn’t like talking about being depressed because it felt like dialling all the nines and asking for the existential waaaaahmbulance, I’d be told:

“No one’s life is up for comparison.”

Well, um, yes it is? I mean, sure, I have this issue where my mind flip-flops into a state where I struggle to care about anything, and it can really get in the way of doing things that I want or need to do, and that sucks. But here’s the thing: I have the luxury of circumstance where I can take the time to wallow in that misery. I am, by dint of being born white, male and middle-class in Britain, able to indulge my depression, and counselling encourages that indulgence. But what of someone with a similar dysfunction who was born black in the poor parts of Atlanta, Georgia, or born brown to a low caste in Mumbai, or born in the backstreets of Jakarta, Mexico City, Tangier, Jo’burg? What of someone born female in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, born gay in Uganda, born with an untreatable disease or physical defect? What of someone just like me in all respects, but born to a council-house couple on the outskirts of Havant rather than to my more fortunate and upwardly mobile parents? What of someone, anyone, who didn’t have a Privilege Hat so capacious they could caulk it with tar and use it as a fucking battleship?

Every time I hear “no one’s life is up for comparison”, I see all those people and more in my mind, and imagine explaining to them how awful it is for me to be depressed, explaining what a barrier it is getting anything done, explaining how my life of comparative ease and privilege is marred by this terrible affliction.

Everyone‘s life is up for comparison, especially mine. And I am, by any even slightly objective assessment, far less in need of help and support than 99% of the population of the planet. If anything, I should be doing the helping and supporting.

Which is a very long and roundabout way of explaining to the world (and, by extension, to myself), why I don’t like to seek sympathy: it’s too scarce a commodity already. Save it for them as really needs and deserves it, instead of wasting it on someone who in every other respect has – and has always had – all the cards stacked in his favour.

So there’s my own personal version of the talking cure: a rejoinder to myself, a reminder of which side my bread is buttered. It is based on the belief that bipolarity and/or depression cannot be cured, only managed, coped with, come to terms with.

But the real kicker, of course, is the knowledge that it is only my privilege that enables me to be so blasé and self-sacrificial about being depressed; that other people with the same symptoms are at far greater risk of disruption, disaster or poverty as a result of them.

Which means that, rather than somehow shrugging off my privilege by writing this piece, I have in fact been indulging it.

And thus the loop begins again.

Didn’t even have to use my AK

I suspect I’ll remember the 29th of November 2012 for some time to come, as that’s the day when I found out my Masters dissertation scored a First/Distinction. Not sure exactly how the module scores for the rest of the course are combined, but I suspect that means I will have a Distinction grade overall.

I can live with that. 🙂

Plus: a guy got in touch in response to an ad I put on a Sheffield community forum in search of people to make music with; I’m going to meet him and his two bandmates at their practice space on Sunday, see how we get on.

And Palestinian statehood was a nice touch, too. (And no, I have no idea whether it’ll turn out for the better or for the worse. Unless you’re a fucking wizard or time-traveller, nor do you. I tend to judge news items like this by who’s angriest about them — and this seems to have pissed off an awful lot of warmonger hawks in the States, as well as the Israeli hardliners. I’m chalking it up as a win.)

On a similar note, right-wing thinktanks here in the UK are furious about the government’s new Energy Bill. Which means that, while it’s a long long way from being a blueprint for a viridian utopia, it’s evidently splashed some droplets of piss onto the shoes of Big Fossil and the windmill NIMBYs. Yeah, I know everyone’s bills are going to increase, and yeah, it’ll probably hit the poor hardest, as changes of this sort always do. But that’s the thing with kicking a long-held addiction, see; it’s painful as all hell, and your former dealers will make you a lot of offers that look deceptively generous over the short term in order to win back your custom. But we all of us need to face up to the hidden costs of our energy use, and start paying the real price… and while we could have done with starting back in the Seventies, it’s better we start now than leave it any longer. It’s a hobbled step, but it’s in the right direction.

So, yeah – I’d say yesterday was a good day. I’m hoping there might be more of ’em in the pipeline.

One last night in the West End

Well, the vast majority of my stuff is packed and stacked around this tiny room. Tomorrow two men will come and put it all in a van, I’ll put KJ in her kittybox, and then we’ll go to Sheffield — just to the east of Sheffield proper, in truth, where I have found a little terraced house to rent.

That makes it almost exactly one calendar year living in the Stepford Wives/Potemkin [pri]Village mash-up that is South Kensington, and I can’t say I’ll miss this part of town very much — nor it me, I fully suspect.

London I will miss, though, for a lot of reasons. The history, the sights, the human churn (when observed from a distance, at least); the gigs and launches and readings and conferences and things to do and see and people to hang out with. And I’ll surely miss the bookshops (though my bank balance will be the better for their distance, I fear).

But it feels good to be moving again; good and, though I’m wary of the the word as I flinch from the feeling, right. I’m wary because, well, the last time I moved north, it felt right, and that didn’t end too well, to say the least. But the circumstances are very different, and I lack the nagging doubts I should have heeded that first time. As I described it to someone the other day, it’s like I’ve found a door propped open in a wall where I never expected there to be any doors. I’m slipping in to see what I find on the other side.

I know one thing I’m going to find, and that’s a whole raft-load of work. Indeed, I have a large academic paper (my first proper one) due just after the turn of the month, and much as I’m stoked about it, I’d really have liked a little more of a breather between finishing my dissertation and starting another tight-deadlined project of comparable size.

But hey — life doesn’t work like that, and opportunities are best not wasted. Time and tide, time and tide. The wind is blowing. The sails are full.

Anchors aweigh.

Colinthology

Colinthology cover art (by Andy Bigwood)Here is an ebook you might consider purchasing. The Colinthology is an anthology of stories collated by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall in celebration and memorial of Colin Harvey, a novelist late of the Bristolian SFF parish, and one of my clients from my webdev days.

Reasons to buy:

  • 21 genre fiction stories for just £2.99
  • DRM-free multi-format ebooks, bought direct from an independent publisher (i.e. “screw you, Amazon”)
  • All proceeds go to charity
  • An appropriate send-off for someone who went way too soon

If the reasons above aren’t sufficient, then I doubt this one will make much difference, but nonetheless:

  • The first story in the book is “Biz be Biz”, a collaborative story by myself and Gareth L Powell

“Biz be Biz” takes place in the (currently mothballed) New Southsea universe I was still playing around with at the time, and grew out of one of my Friday Flash Fictions. It was a lot of fun to write; I talked about the process (which ended up as a sort of brinksmanship tennis match, in the best possible way) on a panel about collaborative creation at Bristolcon this weekend just gone, and hopefully the audio will crop up online somewhere at some point, should you be curious to know more. (It was, by all accounts, a fairly interesting panel; I certainly learned a thing or two.)

I was asked to write a few words about Colin for the book, which I think would be suitable for sharing here:

I only met Colin two or three times in meatspace. He was a client in my webdev days, so we chatted via email — but email is no intimate medium, and we mostly spoke of business.

Colin at conventions was different thing; there, the easy-going character familiar from his emails was overlaid with a garrulous, generous bonhomie. The sort of chap who, on seeing you passing, would not merely nod but actively drag you right in to whatever conversation he was involved in; an extrovert, for sure (or so he seemed to me), perhaps with a well-leashed hint of Jack the Lad lurking behind the grown-up façade, but the sort of extrovert whose happiness seemed to derive in significant part from the happiness of those around him. A fun guy to be around, in other words — though tiring, unless you could match his herculean tolerance for alcohol in the early hours of the morning.

There’s a third Colin, too — the one I wish I’d got to know better, the Colin who blogged about rescuing injured baby blackbirds. I only caught the last fifteen minutes of his movie, so to speak; I never got to see the full range of his character, the depths and subtleties.

But you can tell a lot about a character from their final scene, can’t you? And that the writers and readers that knew him have come together to honour his memory with an anthology says, I think, a lot about a guy whose honesty and drive had a knack of making things happen — for himself, yes, but also for others.

He’s still doing it now, as you can see.

A good sort, in other words. The Bristol scene feels Colin’s loss very keenly, and the anthology is a testament to that. I’m very pleased to have my work in there.

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Other miscellaneous updatery: I move house this Friday! I haven’t properly started packing yet! I have deadlines dropping on me like bat guano on a spelunker’s hard-hat! Everything’s going a bit mental! Nothing seems quite real! But yet I’m still oddly excited!

More on this before the move. Or, if I manage to manage my displacement activities appropriately, after the move. One or the other. Ahem. Yes.

 

 

An interlude for gratitude

I went to see an old friend for lunch today.

Jeremy Lyon is the guy who founded Futurismic, back in the day. He was also the first person (other than me) who was willing to publish my writing back in 2006, when he took me on as the site’s daily blogoid.

Six and a half years… it seems a lifetime ago, but at the same time, like just yesterday.

It felt like the perfect moment to finally meet Jeremy in person. We’ve not been in touch much since he handed over Futurismic to me; at the time, he’d just landed a gig in UI at Palm and had his second child, so he’s been all colours of busy. Long story short, he’s now involved with UI development for Android, posted over here in London for a year, so he invited me to lunch at Google’s L4 building near Victoria Station[1], and I got to thank him for setting me on what was, with hindsight, the long and winding path that got me to where I am right now.

So: thanks again, Jeremy, for taking a shot on a guy whose ambitions and ideas far outstripped his native talent at the time[2].

Like Jeremy, you may be wondering what’s happening with Futurismic. Right now? Nothing much. But I have plans. Plans, I tell you. The ‘zine shall rise again, phoenix-like, transformed and transcendent, like itself but much much moreso…

… just as soon as I can suss a way to fund it, or find a hidden three hours in the day that I was heretofore unaware of. 🙂

(But seriously, stuff’s gonna happen. Watch this space.)


1 – Thanks to the plague I picked up from being coughed all over on a train last week, I was unable to avail myself of the plentiful catering options, though I can inform you that I had a Granny Smith apple, and it was very nice.

2 – Before you accuse me of false modesty, have a trawl through the earliest posts on this very site. I learned in public, and am proud to have done so.