Life

What Lies Down Memory Lane

It feels like a thousand years, a lifetime or more, since I was last here.

It really hasn’t been that long, but I’ve changed so much in between visits. Brighton is where I grew into who I am. It wasn’t about growing up, that happened quickly and without warning during my early teenage years. What I grew into though was damaged and confused, bound by expectations and self inflicted restrictions. Thats why every time I return here, I realise that I’m a bit more of who was, hidden under those layers.

I’m more me today that I have been in the last ten years.

It comes down to small details. Specifically, this coffee shop. I’m sat, looking at the cloudy sky with bright sun shining.  It’s the sort of winter sky that illuminates everything in white; snow would be too much to ask for in England, even this close to Christmas. Anyway, as much time as I used to spend here, which was several hours on most days of the week, I was never completely comfortable.

When I would come here to read, write or draw, it was to be by myself. I was looking for a space where I could feel safe, something that house sharing didn’t truly allow me. It was also a space that I used to escape. An afternoon immersed in sketching a scene from a comic book I’d just read felt infinite, yet flew by. But there was also a sort of fear and shame associated with it.

I’d try and place myself out of the way, looking into the room to be aware of all that was going on around me. It wasn’t to be observant, it was to know who might observe me. I didn’t realise it till I began writing with this new feeling, having walked along the road and down the hill from Brighton station about 30 minutes ago. Brighton was where I first began to realise that I was living ashamed of myself, hating myself. It was here, in this very coffee shop, that I had my first taste of the other side. I saw that I shouldn’t be resided to the life that I had and the feelings that went along with it. I could be someone else, someone who I missed and loved when I was a child. I often consider that the innocence of my youth was also my strength. It created a barrier from the self criticism, nervousness and perpetual over analysis of every word said to me and every thought that passed into my mind.

When I lost my innocence, from various hormones and familial revelations, I let in all the deadly things that would affect me for years, and still do.

But now I’ve chosen, not to take my usual seat near the door and in full view of the people, but nestled on the side, facing the bright sky and without any worries about what people might be thinking about me.

Its difficult to explain the feeling of memory that comes with visiting Brighton. As my university town, it was a place that I lived in for five years. It was also my first home away from home, the first place I lived independently (granted under the protective shield of student loans and parental worry). My independence now it much more real, or perhaps just more consistent, than it was. The safety net no longer feels like a ghost following me around but instead a choice on a winding road, a muddy track to be taken in times of need.

I’ve always written to help get out of my head what I’m thinking. But also to record what changed, how it changed, when the realisations happened. It segments moments in my life, which might sound like I’m trying to forget the past. But no, its more about accepting the past, the things I’ve done, how I felt and the choices I made. I’m trying to be more honest with myself.

I’ve just re-listened to Kristen Johnston’s book, Guts. It had a profound effect on me when I first read it. She relays how her addiction destroyed her, but also allowed her to rebuild. What rings most true on this second listen is that one must always remember that even if you are ready to accept the truth, not everyone else will be. And you can’t force that decision onto others, no matter how much you might want to. My liberty is not a domino knocking into someone else’s. Unless of course they choose to read this and something clicks, though that might be wishful thinking.

Among what could be counted as successes in my life, Brighton is a scale of memories being reweighed over and over as I recall the past. People I’ve hurt, people who’ve attacked me, friends I’ve made, lovers I’ve lost. I’ve accepted that i’m probably not a bad person but I’m realistic enough to know that I didn’t make every right or fair decision.

Now however, I don’t worry about making all the decisions seem right in my head. Instead, I let them go, as part but not all of my personal narrative.

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Life, Opinion

Bad Books Are So Good

Have you ever read a book that was so bad, it became good? The more you read, the more you find books that make you wonder how anyone approved them for publishing. And as an aspiring novelist that fills me with SO MUCH hope.

Most recently, I’ve been listening to, the now hugely popular, My Dad Wrote A Porno podcast. If you haven’t listened to it, you should. Each 30 minute episode features a dramatic reading of a chapter of Belinda Blinked, an erotic novella by the dad of one of the hosts. Through a combination of the book being self-published, by the aforementioned parent, and the co-hosts giving great commentary during the reading, you end up being completely enthralled by the somewhat nonsensical and hugely entertaining book.

Part of the addiction, as the hosts and fans have pointed out, is that the book is so good at being bad. Or rather, it’s so good at not adhering to your expectations for a story. Elements like: plot, character’s names (which have been known to change mid-chapter) and choice of details, skews from the obscure to the mundane and then to the sexually graphic within a few lines.

The familiar feeling of loving and hating a book in equal measure is something I’m certainly familiar with and rather enjoy. There is a Google Hangouts/ Goodreads book club called Vaginal Fantasy which I absolutely love. It’s a romance-fantasy/genre monthly book club, featuring novellas and novels with (mostly) female leads and some element of romance or sex. In one particular month, when I was reading along, we got to read a novel called: Hunter’s Claim. Now, I fully expected the story to be about this rugged, dominant male figure who sweeps/ravishes the female lead. Oh, were it that simple.

Hunter’s Claim features an alien hunter called…Hunter, who is part of an alien invasion that has taken over earth. He ends up being captured by some angry humans who want to kill him – reasonable really when their planet has been taken over – but is freed by a kindly woman (our lead). Conceptually it has potential, right? Yes. But oh the execution is so weird. Apart from the fact that its written with a questionably limited vocabulary, this lead woman, Jesse, fairly instantaneously become’s Hunter’s wife without, it seems, much input from her. Especially when the choices are: he owns her now, or dies. Its all a bit creepy really.

Also he’s part cat. Alien cat. Yeah.

Suffice to say there were two choices when reading this book. Either decide that it was terrible and hate read the rest, OR, what many readers did, read along for sheer joy of whatever randomness was going to happen next.

A common thread between Belinda Blinked and Hunter’s Claim is that both writers seem to have strange feelings/understandings of female anatomy. In the former, there is far too much (by which I mean any) cervix grabbing, and in the latter, if I recall correctly, when having sex, Hunter had a habit of prodding her ‘vaginal walls’ with his penis – which we all hoped was not too cat-like, as cat peni(plural?) are barbed.

Now, it must be said that these books don’t have clear feminist tones or characters, and thats an issue. But that in a way is a problematic trope of much romance literature like this. Another common trait is that even when these books are poorly written, grammatically or in terms of literary style, we readers are far more accepting. Why is that?

My theory; and its a very loose theory, is that erotica, like fan fiction, is purely based in fun. Its whimsical and so we don’t have to take it very seriously in order to enjoy it. If you ever really need proof of this then think about 50 Shades. Goodness knows thats badly written, and started life as fan fiction, but it was hugely successful. Why? Because it wasn’t serious. As someone who studied english literature at university, there is something comforting about reading a book that you don’t have to learn from. Romance-fantasy books are just meant to be enjoyable, easy reading.

To be fair to the community, it is a broad category in which there are superior texts with careful world building and detailed storylines. But there’s also the absolute trash thats almost as good to read as it is to laugh at. And isn’t laugher what we all need more of in our lives?

I leave you with that thought and the recommendation to start listening to My Dad Wrote A Porno, and watching/joining the Vaginal Fantasy book club.

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LGBT, Life

I want to always remember this feeling.

Please be aware: this post is about the Orlando shootings of Christina Grimmie & The Pulse

I want to say something. But even typing the words is … unexpected. I don’t know what the right this to say is, if there is a right thing. There are tears, of course, which come whenever I switch back to the news, social media. My heart breaks for the people, what they went through, what they are still going through and what their families are dealing with now.

Mass shootings in America have become common place. Horrid and tragic but not totally unexpected. How many more do you think there will be this year?

What feels so personal about this, what strikes the longest and most reverberating chord, is that it was queer/LGBTQI people who were targeted. It was a gay bar. We don’t have many left in London any more. We don’t think we need them, some of us at least. More don’t think we, the queers, need them, that it only segregates us. But they’re supposed to be the safe places for us. The havens from the rest of the world where we aren’t equal, where we require explanation and discussion. They’re where we can just…be.

There were messages from those captives inside The Pulse, some in their last moments. In tragedy we always look to the last words or messages as a sign of something. We grip onto the last point at which we could understand, connect, to normality.

I keep reading the posts, seeing the stories shared. It’s all I’ve done today, apart from when I’ve reddened my eyes too much and I have to look away. I want to understand, I want the outcome to change, for it not to be real.

It feels like there is nothing else we should be talking about. This is what hurts right now. Yet, only a day ago, the news of Christina Grimmie being shot at her concert. Another murder. One of too many. She wanted to be a light in the world, to bring music into peoples lives, into her life. She performed and brought happiness. Not any more, not in the same way.

Christina’s death was shocking and cruel, it felt like the worst thing that was going to happen, an isolated incident. And then the very next day, we have Orlando, FL, again in the news. At current count, 50 dead. 50 people from an LGBT fucking gay bar brutally shot down. Why?!

Because we have allowed people to own their hate, and worst to arm it. They have voices and guns. The guns do the talking for them when there is no logic in their words. BANG. You can’t argue any more.

Its meant to cause fear. And it does. It will. How many are already questioning, in Pride month, if they’ll attend their local event. Will they go? Is it safe? Will they be too afraid of the “if” to go out and be themselves?

I’m afraid, and I’m so angry. I’m sending my love and whatever strength I have to the people around the world who need it. Whoever they are. We’re in mourning as a queer community for the attack we feel, the people we’ve lost. But every day we are losing innocent people, from around the world, for reasons we invented.

There are no answers, no clear solutions, because we’re more complicated than that. We have too many things to do, places to be, things to achieve. We won’t stop and check in on who we, as the human race, have become.

I want to always remember this feeling. It will challenge me every day to make a change. To be a change. I want to show the unmistakeable love and pride I have for ALL queer people, my belief in goodness regardless of what Guide you need, I will be a light to anyone who needs it. We are equal when we believe and act for equality.

If they want hate, we’ll spread love. But if they want a fight, we’ll give it to them.

 

 

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Life

Offline Sunday

Tomorrow will be my first Offline Sunday of the year. For 2016, my plan is to take (at least) one Sunday per month and be completely offline. That means no Netflix, no Googling, no YouTube and no streaming music.

There are so many things I enjoy doing analog, that by habit, I do digital. Like reading or writing. Writing in particular makes more sense to do on a computer because much of what I write is meant for others consumption. When I think about maximising time, or rather minimising the time when I’d be repeating myself, writing seems like the place where “wasted time” should be minimised.

I feel though, that this is the wrong approach. If you think about it, so many novelists, writers, creators started on paper. A lot of us still do. An idea starts with notes, ideas jotted in a book in a coffee shop, on the train, in the middle of a meeting – inspiration can spring up anywhere. I’ve always enjoyed returning to paper. Its the messy, unclear draft that then becomes the final result in its rewrite, in the digitising of the words.

A writer friend and I, when we were at school, before social media and the online world appeared full force, we’d spend hours writing. We’d create writing games for each other, laying ideas over one another, getting into the depths of world building. I’ve created so many of my favourite stories, many of which have yet to be fully realised, during those after school and weekend hours.

As it has recently been pointed out to me, this may be in part due to not having that many friends at that time. But it didn’t matter because I was creating. I had a love for words and writing, physically writing. Now, if I try to write for even a few sentences, my hand aches uncomfortably. I’m not used to it.

Reading too has become unfamiliar. I read tens of comic books at a time on my iPad, read articles on my phone and webpages on my computer, but the pile of books I’ve yet to read grows taller. Getting to sit and read a real, physical book means something.

One of the best signs, for me, that a book is great is when I forget I’m turning the page. With a physical book, the process of turning to page, seeing chapter headings, making creases in the spine (or desperately trying to avoid them!) and having to stop because of school or work or because its one in the morning. Thats the feeling I miss from reading constantly. But with ebooks, the manufactured light of the screen and the fact that I stare at screens all day, means that the effect isn’t quite the same.

I want to fall back in love with books and writing. I want to doodle, draw, sketch and listen to the world or the CDs I bought all those years ago. Recapture some of the youth when I did, rather than planned and organised and fit everything into every moment.

If you don’t already have plans for Sunday, try reading a book. Don’t have one? Go to a second hand book shop or a charity shop and pick one up. I found out about Ellen Degeneres from a charity shop book, one of her autobiographies, and fell in love.

Or if you’re not a reader, write. Get a notepad and jot some thoughts down, even if they are just for you. Whatever you’re think, write it down. See how it feels.

Happy Sunday. See you Monday.

 

 

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Lessons From Lyrics, Music

Lessons from Lyrics: “Don’t Forget Me” from Smash/Bombshell

There are some in this world who have strength of their own, 

Never broken or in need of repair.

But there are some born to shine who can’t do it alone,

So protect them and take special care”

When Katherine McPhee first sang those lines in Smash, I felt chills. Empowered, hopeful, defiant and pleading feelings rippled across my body, mind and soul. Like ASMR, some songs and lyrics specifically resonate with you in unexpected ways.

In the song, in the fictional show within a show (stay with me), McPhee’s character Karen is playing Marilyn Monroe. Its the finale of the fictitious musical Bombshell about Marilyn’s life and the writers need a way to mark the end of the show, a showstopper with heart. A cathartic final bow for Marilyn who would soon die.

While Smash, through the songs it wrote for Bombshell, used it to progress character plot lines, it was also in a meta way, crafting core points in the TV show itself, while exploring Marilyn’s story and what she means as a modern icon. As someone who changed herself so completely to become what the world would go on to adore, Marilyn was depicted by her many facets, not just her singular talents or legendary tantrums.

The song struck home for me so potently because it echoed a sentiment I’ve always felt, like it is never quite simple to say to someone: if you’re strong enough, you can do anything. Strength is such a strange subject, especially when coupled with masculinity or femininity. Men are taught to be strong, physically and emotionally (read: closed off emotionally), while women are often told to be weak, moderating their strength to appropriate levels as expected by men. Even if its wrong it applies to some people and works for them. Thankfully more contemporary ideas allow for a shift, but not as far as it should be.

But those are the strong people. What of those who struggle to find that inner strength that pulls someone through? What if you don’t know how to be courageous and sure of yourself at all times?

People who are depressed, who consider suicide, can too often be accused or being weak. As though they are taking the easiest option. But choosing to stop living is not an easy one, nor is it weak. In the minds of those struggling with life, choosing death is a show of force, not to mention the strength of conviction is takes to carry it out.

Strength has many guises. It can applied to many things. There are some people in the world who can be pushed and who grow from it. They fail or are beaten down and they have this inner strength that picks them back up, makes them carry on. Then there are those who don’t have an inner voice telling them they can do it, be it, make it. For those people, being in need of help or support, doesn’t make them lesser, though in a flippant way that is often how they are treated.

Great people can only be great, if they are allowed. Some are allowed when they take the stage by force, demanding to be heard. They are brilliant and know how to show it. But some people are quietly amazing, secretly special without the ability to demand the spotlight. Caring for them and helping them to understand their worthiness shouldn’t be seen as a double standard or coddling but something key to humanity. The best singers aren’t always the loudest.

The lyrics of “Don’t Forget Me” are some of (this version of) Marilyn’s last words. Her plea to her audience, those who knew her, the plea to create thoughts and hope. It that sustains her in her final moments, finally finding release in the song. She asks that, whatever you think of her, and whatever you believe you know of someone, that everyone has potential. Some you can see straight away and some that will need to be coaxed out. Thats what she wants her legacy to be.

Its a powerful idea if you take it to heart. Don’t just be awed by those who do well because they have their own strength. Keep an eye out for those who could be amazing but need help to get there. If you have strength to give, share it.

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Life

2016: Because I Want To

In 2014 I challenged myself to doing what I normally wouldn’t. I felt that I was allowing myself to stagnate and I needed to force myself to make significant changes. This included writing more, making YouTube videos and finding a career.

For 2015, I had to deal with a lot of change. I consider it a practical year, working hard to gain employment, from my internship, moving house (again and again) to somewhere I could happily live in for a while, helping family move and adjusting to being just that little bit more of an adult.

2016 is the next step. I’m focussing on the part of me that needs restoration, the part I’ve been neglecting – that which makes me happy.

Yes, I do enjoy most parts of my job and its one of the most interesting positions I’ve ever held, but I let it become all consuming. If I wan’t at work, I was working, planning to work, thinking about work or, worst of all, beating myself up for not working. Rebalancing this way made sure that any creativity in my other writing, drawing or video making disappeared to almost non-existent levels.

I also did some adventurous travelling this past year, going to places I wouldn’t normally go – I have a strange personal rule where I think I should only visit places where I can at least speak a little of the language. Then in 2015 I went to Italy and Vietnam, places where I speak ZERO words of the language.

I viewed both trips as adventures, as a chance to go outside my comfort zone and really learn if what I always thought I didn’t want from travelling was true. I can honestly say that I do not crave hot weather, sandy beach or flip flops. They just aren’t me. But I’m glad I went and I was lucky to be able to.

This year, I’m going to revive my own writing, both within my blog (here) and in my writings for online publications and I’ll finally finish that last part of my book THAT IS SO NEARLY DONE! 2016 is going to be the year that I focus on doing the things that actually make me happy, worryingly less about what I should be doing, or rather what I think is expected of me. Its my life and I have to do it my way.

But that doesn’t mean that I still won’t be pushing myself out of my comfort zone by trying to learn new skills. For example, I want to attend my first Comic-Con and in cosplay, meaning I’ll need to figure out how to make a costume. I want to learn Japanese, get better with my Sai, and Pinterest craft my flat into a home. I’m going to play more video games, either on Steam or 3DS. I want to go climbing and sailing. I’m going to start a new podcast, which will be a fun experience and help me learn how to make and distribute one.

Most of all though, I’m going to stop standing in my own way. Fear holds me back, forcing me to worry about doing rather than actually doing, having ideas rather than actioning them, wondering about new experiences but never looking into them. I might not stop completely, but I’m not going to let myself stagnate again by not doing.

I want to do these things, not to better myself for someone else, not because its expected or makes me more interesting but because I want to. Thats enough of a reason to do anything.

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Bisexual Visibility Day
Bisexuality, LGBT, Life

Bisexual Visibility Day and This Guy (Thats Me)

Being bisexual has been explained a lot. We explain it to better people’s understanding in the hopes that it leads to recognition. At this stage in our social development we are pretty comfortable with what gay is – even if some people still don’t agree with it, like its optional. Lesbian is a relatively well understood term, even if the use isn’t always as high as gay. Trans we also see as on the rise. But then theres bi.Strangely whenever I read about a person being described as “openly bisexual” I still feel a bit of prideful surprise. Seeing the acknowledgement of a shared sexuality, an identity that comes with ridicule from all sides, is shocking, yet welcome. Thats the emotional journey I have in that moment.

I don’t think that bisexuality has necessarily become more visible since last year but we are creeping, inching towards widespread recognition and that is positive and worthy of note.

While my own wanderings about the world have led me to finding bisexuals in unlikely places, such as Andy Mientus (Smash) and Shane Dawson (YouTube), I have spotted some more public acknowledgements of bisexual awareness within the public consciousness.

Often it feels with LGBT+ issues that we’re preaching to the choir, talking amongst ourselves and like-minded people about what it means to be us and the difficulties that come with not being wholly equal in society and within the law of where we live, be it city, country or planet. Bi people talk to bi people about being bi. When we talk to others, it is either explaining to friends/family/other LGBTs, often to convince them to care about bisexuality as an issue.

However, the children are our future; as has been said and sung, and this has always given me hope. Research published recently spoke about the increasing percentage of young people who didn’t identify as simply straight or gay, that they saw themselves somewhere of the Kinsey/bisexual spectrum. It reminded me that, only a few years ago we were being met with news of a change in actions from teenagers, especially in men, who worried less about the labelling implications of kissing someone of the same sex. Straight men kissed straight men for dares, to show affection and it didn’t give them hetero-masc fear based egos.

Whether it was the over confidence of teenhood, the internet or simply a change born from a resistance to hateful older generations, young people have started to become instilled with new attitudes and perspectives.

After the Stonewall conference I attended for bisexuality, I thought we’d hit a great turning point with them. As a large organisation, under the new leadership of Ruth Hunt, at the time I wanted to cling to the meeting as a lifeline to hope but now I see it as a sign of progression. Bisexuals are becoming more recognised and accepted.

I consider the daily actions of myself and others like me on Bisexual Visibility Day, of allowing ourselves to be seen and proactively raising the subject today of all days, to be the best sign of changing times.

We can. We will. We are.

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