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Friday, 31 August 2018

Day 126: Coaxial cables

Well, I never showered. Mike messaged me as I was necking coffee in my boxers to ask whether I wanted to "do something" before he went to work, so I threw on clothes and walked round, and we drank more coffee, chatted about literature and politics and videogames, mostly videogames, and then we went geocaching, as is Mike's wont, and explored city centre backstreets and parks full of unconscious homeless people and cathedral grounds pocked with bird shit, and we ate sandwiches and made jokes about being depressed, and then Mike went to be a twilight file clerk and I went home, and I took photos on the walk back, got in and edited the photos, sat down to write.

And after putting down some thoughts about Zelda on the Switch I forced myself to engage with the story structure notes, and I remembered that I was stuck on the next bit, it wasn't clear in my head how it flowed, and I didn't know how to explain it in my own post.

Even yesterday this was a sign that I was a moron and a failure, but today I just went away and read up on the stuff that confused me, made notes, thought about the plots of films that overtly follow the hero's journey and how they dealt with the areas that I didn't have straight.

And it's weird. When creativity is stuck just go and work anyway. When the well is dry just do what is necessary to fill it back up. I've learnt that lesson so many times before, and forgotten every time.

And yesterday I would have seen that as a sign that I'm a moron and a failure, but from today's perspective it's fine. Every time I forget, the lesson is easier to pick up again the time after. Every time I fall it becomes easier to rise.

Negative thoughts are strengthened pathways in the brain. Neurons that fire together, synapses that have thickened their coaxial cables though use. Except they're not called coaxial cables, because those are the things that connected your TV to your antenna before Netflix, but it's a word like that, and it's late, so let's just go with it. The thickened synapses are like deep grooves worn into the ground. And when the rain of thought falls that water will run down the grooves easier than it will run across open land. So changing your mind, learning new patterns of thought, is about going down again and again and chiselling out new channels. And at first these new channels are very shallow, and the water quickly starts running back into the old riverbeds. But then you go back and dig the new channels out, and it's less effort than the first time, and you dig them a bit deeper. And then the water goes back into the riverbeds. And then you go down again and dig out the new channels...

I'll forget everything I'm saying here, and I'll feel blue again. I'll lose hope. But I'll keep remembering, and it will get easier. And one day I'll look back and find that I can barely make out those old ossified riverbeds, while the roaring rapids of healthy thought will be connected to a hydroelectric dam powering machines that change the world, and I'll dip the coaxial cables into the water and short-circuit my house and the power will go off and then I'll never be able to have a shower.

See how by referencing my mixing of metaphors and the lack of symmetry in the post I get to both show that I'm aware of those problems and provide a sort of solution to them? Writing is great.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Day 125: The right path

I’ve been drifting of late. Going to work, coming home exhausted, feeling a miserable and stubborn thing inside me refusing to engage with my writing, so I’ve spent the evenings instead watching Netflix or playing Zelda or napping, and as the night has gone on I’ve felt worse and worse, and finally forced myself to write a few paragraphs, and then stayed up too late, got up the next day on four or five hours sleep, repeated the whole process.

Isn’t it odd how we can work out precisely the course of action that will be unhealthy for us - and then go and do it anyway? How sometimes it’s like we’re wanting to punish ourselves, or wanting to prove to everyone what screw ups we are? How when your self-esteem is low enough you simply can’t accept that you are capable of creating value, can't accept that you are worthy of love. It doesn’t compute. You have to sabotage your life until external reality corresponds with the ruined reality inside you, because that makes sense.

Well, I’ve done that for so many years now. I guess it’s time I started working on it. I’ve got a day off tomorrow, and I plan to spend the time showing myself some self-care, doing the things that need to be done - showering rather than staying in the t-shirt I slept in, getting exercise rather than sitting slouched in my office chair all day, changing my sheets, putting on washing, working on that bloody story structure post and the film reviews…

Instead of lowering my external reality to make it line up with how I see myself I can put that energy into raising my inner reality up. Even when I’m tired and my mental health is bad and I’ve got very little to give, I can still treat myself kindly, I can still go ten steps, two steps, half a step in the right direction, rather than curling into a ball and letting myself roll backwards.

Now for step one: get some sleep.

x

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Day 124: Episode

Man I didn’t want to get up this morning, left it till the last minute, finally got myself moving and onto a bus in time to make it to work for 7, then sat around for hours waiting for deliveries to turn up. Classic work. The day passed slowly; it was uneventful, ate away at my brain. Didn’t go further into depression but didn’t come out. Just maintained. The time passed. Came home and fell asleep, as I always seem to do after early opens at the moment, woke up not knowing who or what I was, went to buy tea and ate it watching Jiggs play Zelda in the living room. Then came upstairs and watched some Rick and Morty and made notes on story structure. Dan Harmon uses the concept of story circles, which he adapted from Campbell’s hero’s journey, to plot his TV work, so Rick and Morty and Community are great examples of classic story structure to research. Plus because they’re satisfactory stories, and they're funny, they’re easy to watch late into the night when you feel crappy and you’ve got no energy for anything else.

Work again tomorrow morning. Shouldn’t stay up any longer. Might watch one more episode though...

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Day 123: Slow

I’m going to finish that story structure stuff one day - that stuff that was only supposed to be preamble to discussing the story structure of Bourne Identity, which was itself only supposed to be a brief scribbled thought before I went on and watched Bourne Ultimatum, which films were only supposed to be easy thrillers to watch and review while I had nothing else right that moment to write about.

Depression always slows everything down, it’s like being encased in mud, your whole being, your thoughts get sluggish, your plans thicken and congeal, even rising from bed takes a decade, a shower takes an aeon, you focus all your energy down into an interminable battle to get one foot in front of the other, to take a single step.

All while a voice is bombarding you with criticism, with self-loathing, telling you how weak you are, how wretched, all the reasons you’ll fail, all the reasons to undo that eternity of struggle and just climb back into bed.

But, hey, considering all that I didn’t do badly today. I got up and showered. I made coffee for me and Jiggs. Chatted with Phace. I spent a few hours preparing a training session about Belgian beer to give to the staff at work, walked the 40 mins down to town, overcame the social anxiety clinging to me like a blanket, gave the training, sat with the staff afterwards and drank coffee while they drank beer, went with them for two-for-Tuesdays burgers at a nearby bar, came home before 10 and watched some filmmaking videos on YouTube, forced myself not to go down into negative thoughts, not to let the depression overtake me.

I reckon that’s pretty good. I’m going to think about how much better that was than it could have been, and take solace in that. Like I said yesterday, things are improving.

And now I’m going to bed because I’m at work for 7am tomorrow for the delivery. Toodles x

Monday, 27 August 2018

Day 122: Improving

Another day not feeling good. I’ve done a few paragraphs of writing about story structure, but I couldn’t focus on it. Other than that I’ve played Zelda, watched Matt Groening’s new show on Netflix, Disenchantment, and drunk a lot cups of tea. Drank a lot of cups of tea? No. I have drunk.

Trying really hard not to go into self-loathing mode here. It’s so exhausting doing better for a couple of days and then feeling awful again and having no motivation to write and then beating myself up for having no motivation to write and then really not being able to write anything, and all the negative thoughts and sadness and emptiness swirling into a huge storm that rumbles on and on and on.

It’s exhausting enough feeling depressed, this time I’m not going to add to it by hating myself for feeling depressed. I’m just going to feel depressed. And that is OK. And I’ll drink another cup of tea, find some simple words to write here, then watch more Disenchantment and go to bed.

I was thinking a minute ago about how pathetic I am for writing those periodic posts where I pretend to have some wisdom to impart about depression, some insight into it, into how to move past it - the posts that people get in touch to tell me were really meaningful, or illuminating, or that helped them out - and but how it’s all lies, I never learn the lessons, never practice what I preach, I don’t have the strength, I just make the same mistakes in the worn grooves of my wretched brain time and time again.

But that’s not true. That simply is not true. I will not allow myself to listen to whatever voice just said that to me. That negative voice that wants me to believe I'm weak and worthless, to keep me small.

I am improving. I am getting better at dealing with this. I'm not stuck in a loop. I'm climbing out of a deep pit. Gradually, for sure, and the path is not always upwards, but I am climbing. I write a blog post every day. Sometimes I have the energy to write things that excite me, like film reviews, or silly scripts, or discussions of story structure. And some days I only have the energy to do this. But if a couple of posts a week feel worth doing, then that’s still a couple of posts a week more than I was doing 122 days ago. And I’m still posting something on those other days. I’m still coming here and putting a few paragraphs down, which is better than nothing.

In summary then: depression, you're a moron.

Yes, yes, you're part of me, and I accept that, and I'm not going to fight you. But I am going to tell you that you're goddamned wrong.

Come in, sure, if you're standing out there berating me in the cold. Have a blanket. Sit by the fire. If you're sticking around then I'll treat you with love. But don't think I'll listen to that nonsense you're spouting.

I love you, dark parts of me, but that does not mean I have to put up with your shit. So sit there quietly and drink this cocoa, and we'll watch another Disenchantment together before bed. There's a good depression.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Day 121: Choose

I have no energy, mental or emotional, to carry on that story structure thing tonight. Home from work and done in, depressed, empty, low. Tried to write when I got in, fell asleep, crawled to bed and napped, in and out of consciousness, my brain yelling all the ways I’ve failed, every reason I won’t make it, why everything will fall apart. No energy to answer back, no energy to stand outside of the thoughts and let them be, just lying there listening to them, not sleeping, sleeping, not sleeping again.

Finally got up to make tea. Met Jiggs in the kitchen. Chatted about whatever. I put a pan to boil, emptied in handfuls of pasta, chopped onion and red pepper and courgette and garlic, fried them up and added tomato, basil. Quorn pieces for protein. Jiggs went to his room to carry on watching a film. I watched the pasta swirl in the pan. The world dark outside. The kitchen cold.

Hey. I’m not out boozing. Booze was medicine, and it made me feel good, or at least numb, and I’m not numb anymore, or good. Am I good? I’m OK. Am I?

I am. This is life. There’s so much sadness here and so much pain, and now I’m fully here to experience it. It’s harder than when I was boozing, much, much harder - but it’s also more real. To feel this pain and to not turn away from it, to stay on the path, to remain upright, to carry on going: that's the only way that matters. I choose this way. Even on goopy black nights like tonight, I choose this way.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Day 120: Story Structure Notes #2

So, the hero has answered a call to adventure, travelled to the threshold between the ordinary and magical worlds, and pierced their way through. Maybe they’ve been swallowed by a great creature. Maybe they’ve journeyed across an ocean. Blasted at lightspeed into space. Stowed away on an alien ship. Become trapped in a bathhouse for the spirits. Been bitten by a radioactive spider. Or, like Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings film (I can’t remember if it happens in the book), they’ve simply reached the farthest point from the Shire they’ve ever travelled, and taken another step.

What happens next is what Joseph Campbell terms the Road of Trials. This is the quarter of the circle where the hero moves downwards towards what they want (or what they must get). They face a number of challenges that test their determination and ability to achieve their goal. If the hero is Chihiro from Spirited Away they perform chores in the bath house and learn the adult cycles of work and rest. If the hero is The Dude from The Big Lebowski they set about unravelling the web of intrigue and deceit behind Bunny being kidnapped and, more importantly, their rug being peed on. If the hero is John McClane from Die Hard they fight a whole load of terrorists.

The Road of Trials is where the unnecessary ego-trappings of the hero fall away, or are torn off, bit by bit - the elements that kept them safe and secure, but also stuck, within the ordinary world, and for which they will have no use in the depths to which they are descending, being removed.

The posh urbanite stranded in the jungle loses her makeup bag, her mobile phone, her mink fur coat. The astronauts stranded in space lose their high-tech scanners and engines and life-support gizmos. Luke Skywalker loses his guide in Obi-Wan, and thus his attachment to a parental figure who would keep him mollycoddled and protected. John McClane loses his shoes, his clothes save a primal vest, and, as Dan Harmon notes in his brilliant essays about story structure, eventually even his civilised persona:

“McClaine is advised by a terrorist to whom he earlier showed mercy: "The next time you have a chance to kill someone, don't hesitate." John shoots him several times and thanks his corpse for the advice. The cop has begun to fall away, piece by piece, revealing his inner cowboy.”

It is also during this stage that the hero meets allies, discovers a power within themselves, finds that there is an element of the universe willing to hold them aloft, bear them forwards. They have taken a leap of faith into the unknown, crossing the threshold of adventure, and it is ever true that though there is great danger around every corner, darkness threatening to engulf them, obstacle after obstacle to be overcome, there are also “other forces at work in this world [...] besides the will of evil.” And that, all heroes agree, is an encouraging thought indeed.

The Road of Trials often play out like a succession of mini stories, each with their own call to adventure, crossing of the threshold, movement towards a goal, achievement, and journey back to the status quo (the status quo being here the quarter circle between 3 and 6 o’clock), as the hero trains in their arts, learns valuable lessons, fights towards the dragon’s lair, and in many other ways is prepared by the external world for the moment at the nadir of the circle, the inner sanctum of mystery, the lowest point of the unconscious mind.

For, coming up, is the end of the road...

Friday, 24 August 2018

Day 119: Story Structure Notes #1

Doing some thinking about story structure in that first Bourne film, The Bourne Identity. Want to write something about it, but need to get it straight in my head. Just gonna make some notes here.

Monomyth, then. The hero’s journey. The concept, mostly from Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, that all stories are essentially one story, with a structure that comes up time and time again. Stories tell the song of human growth, of the individual self’s journey into the universal, a cosmic unity, and back again.

So the world of the story is a circle, split in two.
Ordinary and magical. Light and dark. Life and death. Order and chaos. Conscious and unconscious. Village and forest. Kansas and Oz. The pastoral, bucolic, peaceful, tranquil calm of the Shire, and the big scary wild world of the rest of Middle Earth.

The hero's journey is the movement from the ordinary into the magical, on a quest to steal fire, slay a dragon, find a treasure, rescue a kidnapped non-gender-specific person - to learn, to grow, to change - and then the movement back up to the ordinary, using whatever pearls or insights were attained to heal the ills that had become ossified within the status quo, and setting a new "normal". 

So the hero starts at the top of the circle, in the ordinary world, comfortable yet aware (perhaps only dimly) that things are a little off. Luke Skywalker bored on the farm on Tatooine. Neo a miserable office worker and twilight hacker, isolated and restless. Bilbo Baggins fat and lazy at Bag End. Harry Potter living in the cupboard in Privet Drive, being, let's be honest, criminally abused by the Dursleys.

Then comes the herald, and the call to adventure. A wind blowing in from lands unknown. A note. A treasure map. A dead body. A wizard organising an unexpected party. In Star Wars it’s the message for Obi-Wan hidden within the droid, and Obi-Wan’s desire for Luke to accompany him to Alderaan. In Harry Potter it’s the letters from no one. For Neo the herald is the white rabbit tattoo, leading him to Trinity, and Morpheus, and the promise that his whole life has been a lie, and that that lie can end, and he can awaken to the truth, if he just has the guts to swallow the red pill. Whatever form the call to adventure takes, it’s a signifier that change is coming. All that was congealed and rigid and routine in the hero’s life is about to get liquefied, shaken up, turned on its head.

There can be a step around here that Campbell calls the refusal of the call. This is Luke saying to Obi-Wan that Obi-Wan must be crazy, Luke has to go home and tidy his room, play with that little T-16 model he’s got, finish his chores. He’s scared, and he doesn’t feel ready to become an adult just yet, now it comes to it.

This is also Neo coming back in off the ledge outside his office, letting the agents take him into custody. Bilbo waking up after the party to say, hang about, dwarves? Gold? I must have been mad. I’ll go and do the washing up and forget about that nonsense. It’s the wobble, the fear, the uncertainty of the task.

Generally the hero gets over this moment, or else the adventure comes to get the hero instead. The Empire burning Luke’s homestead. Gandalf hurrying Bilbo away to meet the Dwarves, without even his pocket handkerchief. Hagrid busting down the door to the hut on the Scottish island when Uncle Vernon refuses the call on Harry’s behalf.

Then comes the crossing of the threshold. This is the point at which the hero pierces, or is thrust through, the boundary between the ordinary and magical realms. The point his adventure truly begins. Sometimes there’s a threshold guardian blocking the door. A squadron of stormtroopers amassing in the hangar in Mos Eisley to stop the Millenium Falcon from blasting off. The physical barrier of Platform 9 ¾. Sometimes there’s a crucifixion or death into the underworld. A night-sea journey. A trip into the belly of the whale. Star Wars has both those last two as well, because George Lucas really leaned on Campbell’s words to help him turn his gibberish drafts into a workable screenplay.

But the point is that crossing realms is not easy, it takes either an immense force of will on the part of the hero, or a violent move on the part of the chaos world reaching up and grabbing the hero, pulling them down.

If there’s a flight or night journey across the threshold it can be magical and weightless and serene, though, if the hero is confident and ready. The broomstick ride in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the Hogwart’s Express rocketing through the dusk. Or it can be trippy and vomit-inducing and painful, like Neo’s existentially revolting awakening into the goopy mech-spider hell of the Real.
But however it happens, the hero must break out of the routine of the world within which they have been thus far living, and into a deeper, wider world of symbols, archetypes, shifting forms. Survival in this strange land will involve a number of trials...

[Part Two]

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Day 118: The worst kind of shame

Naomi walks in, catches it on my screen. I pull the cursor across the expanse of pixels, 1080 down, 1920 across - why do they make screens so large these days, so revealingly large? - I drag the cursor at breakneck speed, grapple for the minimise button, but it is too late. Naomi has seen.

I reach forwards and turn the power to the monitor off. The illicit pixels flash in neon for one final moment, then fall to darkness. The darkness of a pit inside me.

My heart is thumping.

Naomi stands in the doorway there, lit from behind, her slippers frozen to the thick carpet in front of the door.

"Well," she says.

I pull a smile at her wide as the grave.

"You've started up again," she says. It isn't a question.

"I-" I begin.

"-Fuck that," she says. "After everything you promised me. After all the tears. All the apologies. I can't believe I listened to you. I can't believe I listened when you said you'd changed."

I want to reach out to her, touch her cheek.

"It was only this one time," I say.

"Oh fuck off, Dan. How often have I heard that from you? I'm such a goddamned idiot. And with the card for the joint account, I suppose?"

"There was a special offer."

"I'll bet there was. Christ, look at you. Red faced. Panting. Glassy eyed. How long have you been at it? All afternoon?

"Not that long."

Naomi just looks at me. Looks and looks.

"You told me never again," she finally says.

"I'm weak," I reply. "I don't have the strength that others have. I was doing so well. But then this month they released the Battle for Azeroth expansion. The reviews have all been saying it takes the game back to the core of what World of Warcr-"

"-DO NOT USE THAT NAME IN MY HOUSE! I TOLD YOU NEVER TO USE THAT NAME. I'M PACKING MY THINGS. I'M STAYING AT CHRISTINA'S TONIGHT. DON'T TRY TO CALL ME. WE'RE THROUGH."

I watch her go. I hear her in the bedroom. Then the stairs, the door, the engine of the car. I sit a while longer, and then I turn the monitor back on again.


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Day 117: Moonlight cocktails

Grey glooming expanse of sky. City rising to meet it. The benign thrum of traffic at the junction down the hill. Telephone wires rattling in the wind. Burglar alarm on red brick blinking into the night. The soft-padding prowl of tabby cat, slinking into shadows between car and drive.

The sky alive, a sheet of rain moving in from the east. Moving in, the sky throbbing in thickness, then it is over us, the raindrops cool against the warmth of evening, the droplets pattering onto the patio furniture, the Velux windows, the old outhouse's roof's waiting slate. The grass wet. The door stood open. A fly aglow in the kitchen's light.

Housemates drinking moonlight cocktails, infusions of blackberry and apple and ginger and mint. Smashing Pumpkins from a phone's tinny speakers. Crusted tea towel hung over the chair.

Feel these moments. Catch them as they disintegrate. Paint them softly into the mind.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Day 116: Mirror

There are children playing in the mirror pool in the centre of Bradford. The fountains shoot high into the air and the sun is low and the families wait with pushchairs while the children run into the water shrieking. One little girl in purple shalwar kameez wanders serenely, golden sunlight in her hair, and the shallowness of the pool and the reflections on the surface give the impression that she is walking on water.

I am with my mother and uncle, we are going to the galleries, exploring the old mills, wandering round the ostentatious Victorian brick buildings lining the streets. We view the Hockney exhibition, rascally and bright and vivacious. We eat carrot cake in the bookshop cafe in the old wool exchange; sit looking out over the balcony discussing Corinthian capitals and gerrymandering and Trump. All conversations lead to Trump, inevitably. My uncle buys a book about the apostles. I buy No Logo by Naomi Klein.

We spy opportunities for photographs on the backstreets, but the sky is grey and the lighting flat; then we move away and the sun comes out and the shadows leap. We climb a cobbled hill and my mum says her head is "bleugh", she's not taken her medication, we feel selfish and tell her to go at her own pace, everything is OK. We walk past white girls gossiping on red bricks walls, unemployed white men gobbing on the floor, Asian kids playing with tennis balls in the shade. A group of Asian lads come up to us to ask how we're doing, to shake our hands, to wish us a happy Eid. We had planned to find a good spot for curry but Mum needs her medication and I'm beat from work and so we turn instead for home.

Winding in through the suburbs of High Green and Grenoside and Hillsborough I see the Hallamshire rising out of the trees on the hill in the distance, and I feel that bittersweet sadness of returning home. Work first thing tomorrow. Saying goodbyes to family. Darkness drawing in. But no escaping into whisky glasses or spliff smoke; stand instead inside the sadness, let the lonely wolf of my heart howl.

Another day down. Tick it off. Find strength in this, and carry on.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Day 115: Unwrapped

Image via Unwrapped
I went to Unwrapped on my way home from Fran's this morning. What's Unwrapped? I hear you ask with a breathless sigh. Simmer down. I'm literally about to tell you.

Unwrapped is the new zero waste grocery store on Crookes high street, just round the corner from my house. It's fabulous.

I've walked past a few times, never gone in, I guess because it always looks empty and kind of imposing, and because I didn't know the Procedure, and new places make me anxious when I don't know the Procedure. Maybe I'd walk in and there'd be a secret handshake required and I wouldn't know the handshake and I'd be dropped down a hidden chute and into a monster's cage to be devoured alive. Maybe I'd enter into a room full of hipster artist supermodels and all my clothes would fall off and the artist supermodels would stand around me in a circle pointing and laughing. Maybe the till would be cash only and I wouldn't have any cash and I'd have to face that utter social defeat.

So I never previously went in. I just felt sad and went to Sainsbury's instead, did my sad food shop, tramped sadly home.

But not today. I threw caution to the wind and pushed open the door of Unwrapped, and let me tell you, what I found inside was a positive Shangri-la of tranquillity and delight and Ecover-branded cleaning goods.

Let me explain how it works, in case you too were thinking of popping in but were scared by the unknown Procedures:

The shop sells lots of staples like pasta, pulses, cereals, nuts, tea, coffee, herbs, spices, as well as soaps, shampoos, shower gels, and washing up liquid. The items are all stored in upright dispense containers, like you get for the pick n mix at cinemas.

You take your own tupperware, or any containers you fancy, or there are recycled paper bags on hand if you need them (I used the bags, as I went in on a whim and hadn't planned ahead). If you bring your own containers then there are scales to weigh them, and pens and paper to jot down their weight so they can be subtracted from the total weight at the till. Then you just fill them up with whatever you fancy. Go wild.

Finally you take your haul to the counter, and the nice person behind the till charges you for what you've bought, and you give them the money (cash or card!), say thanks a lot, and you mosey on out of there and get on with the business of being a complete unmitigated badass. Easy peasy lemon breezy.

So come on. You have hand soap in your bathroom. I know you do. And you've got Fairy Liquid in your kitchen. The plastic bottles in which these are stored are made from the blood of dead Iraqi children, basically, and if you throw them away after one use they'll be burned in a landfill or buried underground to make Wall-E sad in ten thousand years, or they'll find their way into the sea and bob along into the North Atlantic Garbage Patch where they will fuck a little fish's day right up.

That's your fault, that is. Image via inhabitat


So rinse those bottles out, take them to Unwrapped, weigh them, then squeeze in some more soap. It's cheap and it's easy and it's one genuinely nice thing you can do for the world with your miserable entitled consumerist life.

And while you're at it get some pasta, because if you get that from the supermarket it comes in single-use plastic. And cereal, which comes in single-use plastic and cardboard. And kidney beans and chickpeas, which come in tins that leave a substantial footprint through their manufacture and collection and recycling, if you even both to recycle them.

So grab your empty takeaway tubs, that glass Kilner jar from the posh biscuits from Christmas, and go fill them with yummy food from Unwrapped.

I know for a fact that some of you reading this live in Crookes or Broomhill or Walkley or Hillsborough, so you guys have less than no excuse for not popping along. If you live elsewhere in Sheffield it's only a short bus ride (52 or 52a from outside the Cathedral), and you can go every few months to stock up on bits and bobs, and trundle back to Netflix and 24-hour-rolling porn feeling just a tiny bit more smug about yourself. And if you live anywhere else I bet you've got a similar zero waste store nearby. You probably can't spit in London for fear of hitting fifteen or so zero waste stores.

Just go! You better goddamned go. I'm going to be so fucking pissed off if you don't go.

Come on. For me. I'll love you forever.

Go go go go go. Go.

Go.


Sunday, 19 August 2018

Day 114: Peaks

Got a migraine. My thoughts are all jumbled, my vision loose.

Family meal last night, Liz and Jamie and my uncle all up from London, meal at my mum's with Fran and the dog. Avocado and walnut and quinoa salad, vegetable samosas, hummus, Yorkshire pickle, cheeses, breads. Piling on helpings, buttering slices, eating far past the point of being full.

The others drinking wine, insisting on midnight adventures walking Fran and me back. Liz jogging ahead with Mission, running back, turning behind us, pushing her way back through. "Out the way, grannies, important business, we got places to be, come on." Mission wagging his tail, trotting with the funny woman, bemused at humans and wine.

This morning long walks in the Peak District. Grindleford and up to the edge, Surprise View car park, down to Padley Gorge and back through the woods to the cafe. Fran stayed at home and had a recovery day, so we took Mission and wore him out.

Stones lined with lichen and moss. The swaying of bracken. The air up on the edge clear in our lungs. Silver birch whispering. The soft sounds through the tree line. The muffled warmth of the woods. And the complexities of families. The calmness of families. Not knowing what to say. Saying nothing. Then discussing the nature of mind and of memory, discussing religion and politics, making nice small talk, then not knowing what to say. The dog limping. Liz recognising that Jamie was flagging. Everyone thinking how far to the cafe. Then arriving, and ordering, big plates of sausages and egg and chips. Yorkshire puddings large as your head. Stained mugs of tea and coffee. The dog collapsed under the bench trying to get comfortable on my coat.

Saying goodbyes to Liz and Jamie, finally home to Fran's. My migraine coming on, taking codeine and lying on the sofa, as Chris and Fran watched Orange is the New Black. Me not taking it in, then finding myself involved, then wondering if I'd been asleep.

Migraine too much to eat tea, lying with the dog massaging my temple, letting the muscles around my eyes all go loose. Letting the world wash out and out and out.

Now in bed beside Fran, as she checks in with her zombie Island, and Mission sighs at the bottom of the bed. The windows wide open, the lamplight soft and red.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Day 113: Dailies

Eeugh. Daily blogging is stressing me out. I'm trying to write full articles and there's never enough time, I keep staying up struggling to get the post to some kind of a finished state, and then it's 3am, and all I've got is a jangled mess, and I have to put that up and it never feels good enough, it's always disappointing, and I go to bed feeling down, and then I'm exhausted the next day, and it all begins again.

But I guess this is the point. I should stop worrying about creating perfect little gems to reflect me in the best light - silly ego stuff - and focus instead on simply doing the work. Every rambling, unsuccessful draft is another day's practice. Every paragraph that fails to make a comprehensive point, every pat or cliched phrase, every crutch word that I fall back on a little too often ("ostensibly"  - I'm always saying things are "ostensibly" this and "ostensibly" that. And "trope" - everything is a trope at the moment) - this is all part of the training. It's all part of seriously forcing myself to become a writer, someone who writes regularly. Being aware that something isn't working is the first step to getting it working, after all.

And if I run out of time each night and have to repeatedly show the world (well, all fifteen of you) my workings, the cramped and messy space behind my curtain -  well, that's probably very good for me.

I can only write as well as I can actually write. I could keep the truth hidden and polish up my work until it makes me look better than I am, put up blog posts once a week, but what's the point? I'm learning more like this, and the ego stuff would be a lie. Might as well accept that I am who I am. Might as well just put up what is imperfect and move on.

As long as I do move on. As long as I keep writing. That's integral. Maybe if I can't write the way I want to write in a year, if I've not made any progress and it's getting me down, then I'll give myself the option to give it all up as a pipe dream. Or let's say five years. Or, no, ten.

Despite the daily stress and frustration, I'm having far too much fun at the moment to even consider stopping.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Day 112: Bourne Supremacy

Right-o let's get to it, lots to cover and it's stupid late at night already. Here are my jumbled thoughts on the second Jason Bourne film, 2004's The Bourne Supremacy. There will be spoilers, if you care about that.

After a first film that came out swinging from its opening shot, the sequel gets off to a shakier start. It's a prosaic first act, leaden and workmanlike, with an over-reliance on cliches of the genre. Lots of exposition, news reports about important characters conveniently playing on televisions, Marie staring at couple photos of her and Bourne to show us they're still in love, a scrapbook she leafs through that lets us know Bourne is struggling to regain his memories - there are news clippings of murder stories with annotations next to them like "Was this me?" and "Who am I?" and "Dear diary, I wish I could get my memory back, it's so frustrating how I still get partial flashbacks filled with smash cuts and Dutch angles and odd snatches of dialogue that will probably become important later on."

Bourne and Marie are hiding out in Goa, but shady folks have hired Karl Urban's Russian agent to sabotage a CIA mission helmed by new face of the agency Pamela Landy, a competent and focused professional played perfectly by Joan Allen - and Urban has planted a fingerprint framing Bourne for the sabotage, in which Landy's field agent and his contact are murdered.

Urban then heads to Goa and is spotted by Bourne rather conveniently, and Bourne's spidey-sense starts tingling and he rushes to get Marie and to escape in their Jeep. But Urban is hot on their tail, and cue a car chase that showcases new director Paul Greengrass's approach to action, something that becomes a calling card for the franchise.

It's a combination of shaky cam, quick cutting, and the partial framing of subject, as if the camera is perpetually struggling to keep up with the action. The style has become de rigueur for action movies these days, a cliched technique that is often used as a way for mediocre directors to mask uninteresting content behind chaotic and nausea-inducing filming. Look at something like the fight scenes in the Transformer movies for the worst examples of this.

Yet here the technique still feels fresh, and Greengrass is careful to show us just enough of the set up and each subsequent beat to ensure we get the gist - Urban is racing after Bourne and Marie, Bourne swaps seats with Marie, Marie cuts the Jeep across the fields, Urban is out of his car with his rifle racing to a vantage point - but within each beat the cuts come just too fast, the framing is just too close and claustrophobic, for us to relax within the shots. We get the information, but no time to appreciate or to process. It's breathless, we race onwards, always a brain jolt behind the action - and then Bourne and Marie have escaped, they're driving over the bridge to the mainland, the tension eases, the cuts slow, we get a chance to rest here in the intimacy of the car with the two of them-

-Quick cut back to Urban aiming his sniper rifle - Then cut back to the car-

-and Marie's head is snapped forwards and the Jeep swerves off the bridge and plummets into the river.

So, yes. Bourne's one emotional connection is torn from him, and he is thus motivated to re-enter the world of espionage and conspiracy and busy European cities, seeking retribution for, or at least understanding of, the death of the woman he loved. It's hackneyed, for sure, but it does the job - though only really because the first film worked so hard to build that tenderness between Bourne and Marie, which the sequel then trades in for a pre-packaged burst of pathos. Cheap, yet effective. We as the audience are there with Bourne as he burns Marie's belongings and prepares to go searching for answers.

And from here, through the second and third acts, the film doesn't put a foot wrong. There isn't the character development of the first film, which really was such a brilliant exploration of what it means to take responsibility for your life, to cast off the persona foisted upon you by an external world and to craft a new identity of your own choosing - but what there is instead is a fevered, unrelenting thrill-ride filled with loneliness and isolation and unease, a cat-and-mouse chase where Bourne holds all the skill and determination, yet the wider world embodied by Landy and Brian Cox's section chief Ward Abbott holds the power. Put Bourne in a room with three cops and those cops are going down. But then Bourne has to escape the building, hide from CCTV, dodge checkpoints, avoid monitored areas. Bourne is implacable, but every step he takes draws attention, and the net around him is shrinking.

The scope of the film is wider than the first, its story further reaching, but in the plotting of scenes there's the same care taken over realism, and the same satisfaction in watching Bourne struggle through set-piece after set-piece as the tension inexorably ramps and you wonder when you'll be able to catch your breath.

It's smart, it does have a heart (embodied in Bourne's refusal to take the lives of those who caused the death of Marie, and in the final taking of responsibility for the actions of his past), and it looks superb, replacing the muted low-fi aesthetic of the first film with a lagoonal world of greens and blues, all swanky yet lonesome hotel lobbies, stark interrogation rooms, and rainslicked motorways stretching into the night.

The machine of The Bourne Supremacy's action does take time to get rolling, but once it does it never lets up, and it rolls to such a well-structured conclusion that a third instalment was all but guaranteed.

Let's see what that one was like!

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Day 111: Re-Bourne

Well, after watching the execrable Jason Bourne the other day, I couldn't resist going back to the beginning of the series to see whether 2002's The Bourne Identity actually had anything going for it, or whether it was just nostalgia clouding my judgement...

And Holy Damon, is this film a good 'un! It's a mainstream thriller but with indie sensibilities, invigorating and energetic, assured in its storytelling, grounded in character and emotion.

Looking fresh faced, still with the wiriness of youth, Matt Damon plays Bourne with a wounded vulnerability that juxtaposes nicely with the efficiency and brutality of his instinctive actions. The amnesia plot device is inspired, taking the idea of the macho, walking weapon that is the archetypal movie secret agent, and making that all the stuff that Bourne has no control over. He can't help knowing how to fight and how to scan a room in half a second flat for potential threats, that's just something that happens without him meaning it to - but who he actually is, who he chooses to be, from the beginning of the film when he's dredged up onto a fishing trawler with bullets in his back and no memory, is someone caring, sensitive, and easy for the audience to relate to.

By shearing the constructed amalgamation of Bourne's personality from his present moment existence, the film turns its protagonist's search for answers into an almost existential question - can we be defined as the sum total of everything we've previously done, or do we exist somewhere deeper than this? Is Bourne weighed down by the baggage of the person he's been, or was he effectively born (or, yes, sigh, Bourne) anew in that tempestuous ocean at the film's outset?

It's this question that provides the film with its emotional heart, as well as acting as a natty technique for ensuring the audience are firmly in Bourne's shoes, discovering the story at the same exact pace as Bourne himself.

In this regard Damon is the perfect fit, a supremely likeable everyman finding himself endowed with superhuman abilities, not unlike Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker in the Spider-Man film released the same year as this. Filled with turmoil and confusion, yet possessed of preternatural strength and control over his environment when danger dictates it, Damon pulls off both with aplomb.

Franka Potente as Marie, the drifting and rootless young adult caught up in Bourne's mess, is wonderful as well, strong willed and imbued with agency, yet fragile, overwhelmed, shocked by the violence, providing the necessary balance to Bourne's flattened affect in extreme situations.

It's not rocket science but it's insane how often films get this stuff wrong. You can turn the noise and the bombast up as high as you like, but it's not going to work unless you have relatable and believable main characters to whom the story's events can happen.

Here we care about Bourne and Marie, and so even small moments matter when their safety is put on the line. This is coupled with a solid script and excellent direction from Doug Liman, coming off the indie hits Swingers and Go. There's a feeling of realism that helps centre the tension, helps elevate scenes that might otherwise be formulaic.

So like as an example, early on Bourne has just been to a bank in Zurich and found a lockbox under his name with loads of passports, money in various currencies, and a pistol. Exiting the bank, keyed up from this discovery, wondering who the hell he is, he notices he has caught the attention somehow of local authorities. A traffic warden across the street is paying him attention. Bourne immediately moves off in the other direction. As he turns the corner two police officers step out in front of him. But they're only on patrol, and not after him, although they turn to stare as he walks away. A siren suddenly wails. But it's just an ambulance passing. Bourne paces on. Two more officers coming towards him, and, without breaking stride, direct and full of purpose, Bourne steps across the path of an approaching tram, which barely misses him, putting distance between him and the officers. Bourne glances back. The officers are following, receiving instructions on their radios. Shit. Bourne pushes forwards, but two cop cars come wailing down the road from the direction he's walking. Panic. Bourne looks about. Spots an American flag. A US embassy. Before thinking his US passport is in his hand, he raises it to the guard on the gate, and he's inside, just as the Swiss police behind are stopped by the same guard ("Hold it. Wait. You've got no jurisdiction here."). But out of the frying pan, into the fire...

It's a strong scene, taut and tense, and it works despite its simplicity because we're invested. You don't need rooftop motorbike chases and crashing through windows this early on; we empathise with the character and at this stage it's stressful enough imagining being alone in a foreign city not knowing who you are and suddenly finding the police following you.

Oof, it's so late at night, once again, I desperately need bed.

What else, quickly?

The film looks gorgeous, overcast skies and sombre streets, a film of muted colours, with a palpable connection to the physical world, to tin coffee cups and coils of rope, to peeling paint and rusted metal, to beat up old Minis and ageing shotguns, to neon hotels hidden away down winding Parisian backstreets. The cinematography is great, and the visual storytelling is so assured as well, showing much with the elegance of simple match cuts and the continuation of lines of motion.

Its final act is rushed, tying up the complex threads too easily, with a ludicrous and too-willfully-violent escape from Bourne to cap it off.

I love Clive Owen's character as a rival assassin on Bourne's trail throughout the film. Culminates in a set piece at a farmhouse full of tension that instead of providing the drawn-out fight we're expecting suddenly explodes into a clash that is short-lived and messy and utterly lacking in glamour, exactly as I suppose it would be.

The relationship between Bourne and Marie is tender, heartfelt, well observed. Too often the quieter moments in Hollywood films feel like generic filler, like placeholder scenes that weren't important enough to be replaced, whereas here they're approached with the same care and attention that is brought to every scene, and they are successful because of it. The intimacy of the love scene, all glances and gentle initiating contact, with the camera pulling away as the two finally embrace, retreating out of the room, then out of the hotel, down the street, leaving it all behind as the neon flashes and the night hums in silence and we fade to black - man, it's a really nice moment, that.

And so that's Bourne Identity. A Hollywood blockbuster that's smart and believable and cool as all hell, liberal leaning in its politics, focused on character rather than bombast, asking subtle questions about the nature of personality, yet taut and thrilling all the same.

I wonder what the second one is like...

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Day 110: Things I like

Got the sadness tonight, the wailing blues, but determined not to be ruled by it, so instead here are some things that make me happy:

- When you open the coffee bag in the morning and the fresh, chocolatey aroma hits your nose and you feel like maybe you'll be able to make it through this day after all.
- Reading a novel and finding a line about a far off city twinkling in the sunlight, or a fabulous hidden garden, or a vast mountain range marching to the horizon, and getting a shock of realisation at the breadth of the world and how much magic and beauty there is waiting in every direction.
- That first spoonful of fudge brownie ice cream before it's become sickly when it's still gloriously rich and indulgent.
- Becoming aware of how your vision isn't passive, like light hitting plates behind your eyes, but something active and alert and living, a reaching out into your environment, an exploratory hand of sight sweeping the world, touching it, caressing it; a meeting of self and other, at the mystical liminal boundary where the two merge. And then catching someone's eye and sensing your alert gaze entwining with their alert gaze. Feeling all the mechanisms of defence and caution you both erect to protect those pathways through the eyes that lead back down into the depths inside you, but sensing the possibility that these mechanisms could, perhaps only for the briefest of moments, be dropped.
- The first days of autumn when the breeze comes hard and cold and the leaves begin to turn and the air is clear and the light is fading and it is all so beautiful, so delicate, so doomed.
- Miles Davis and red wine by candlight.
- That opening paragraph of The Pale King, starting, "Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust," and ending with the line, "We are all of us brothers."
- Pretty much any camera movement in a Scorcese film.
- The listening booth scene from Before Sunrise.
- The sensitive, stubborn humanity of Kurt Vonnegut.
- Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki, how he writes courageous and complex female protagonists matter-of-factly, as if it would be ludicrous for other male writers not to all do the same, which of course it is. How he refuses to allow his antagonists to meet grizzly ends getting the comeuppances they deserve, because in real life there are no real villains, no monsters, only human beings each with their own vast internal universes whom we should treat with respect and courtesy and love.
- That video doing the rounds on social media about the importance of the 60s American show Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood, what Rogers did for race relations, having a black policeman move in as his neighbour, inviting him round in a scene when Rogers was bathing his feet in a paddling pool on a hot day, asking the black policeman if he wanted to take his shoes and socks off and join him, which the policeman did, and the two men sat there, white and black feet naked and almost touching, the scene quietly telling children across the US and the world that this was normal, a million times normal, that, to borrow from The Pale King, we are all of us brothers. And for me now to think about this in days that grow dark with portents, as demagogues seek to divide us, and to remember that art can change the world, that there is always a choice between love and hate, always only one choice that matters, and that we are free to make it in every moment in which we still exist.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Day 109: Flogging a dead horse until it's Bourne again

Well I'm home after a close-open and I've done nothing this evening even moderately worthy of blogging about save watching the latest Bourne film, snappily titled Jason Bourne - because, you know, nothing says your franchise has run out of steam like releasing an ostensibly back-to-basics sequel announcing its intention to return to form via a stark, unadorned title - see: Fast and Furious, Rocky Balboa, The Predator, etc. etc. - and of course the film won't truly be a return to form, it'll be a dumb sequel like all the others, but naming it in such a way allows you to flog one more box-office return from the dead horse before you bury it for good. Or you reboot the franchise and start again. Or write a prequel explaining how the alien ship that no one cares about got onto the planet that no one remembers. Or you create an expanded universe tying your franchise to many other franchises. And Hollywood marches on.

Well, anyway, want to know what I thought of Jason Bourne?

I thought it was utter crap. Formulaic, paint-by-numbers dross. The first two Bournes were frenetic, no-nonsense European thrillers, slick and gritty and hip, hearty antidotes to the adolescent silliness of James Bond. Spy films not for 13-year-olds, but for... well, 16-year-olds. The thinking teen's spy film.

But Jason Bourne takes what could generously be described as the series' common elements and turns them into tired tropes, each existing with no internal logic or greater meaning beyond ticking off the hallowed checklist of Things All Bourne Films Must Contain.

So you've got your vulnerable potential sidekick who's killed off early on (spoilers), robbing Bourne of anyone with whom he could have formed an emotional connection. You've got your FBI or CIA or whatever director embroiled in nefarious schemes protecting a top-secret agency initiative.

Is there an assassin with preternatural abilities comparable to Bourne's own, referred to by the agency only as "the asset", brought it when bungling agents fail to get the job done, you ask? You bloody bet your sexy bum there is.

And how about a structure whereby Bourne is always a step ahead of the agency in every situation, except when the asset comes into play, which forces Bourne onto the back foot, until just as it looks like the agency has Bourne cornered it turns out his plan was an extra step ahead of them all along? Wow, you're good at this!

And if you guessed there's a female analyst character who realises Bourne isn't a baby-eater and comes over to his side when he needs her the most, and an interminable punch-up between Bourne and the asset, with both utilising makeshift weapons scavenged from the environment, and flashback scenes where shadowy memories from Bourne's past come back to haunt him, and a car chase where all the windows of the cars smash and the bonnets accordion and the bodywork crumples - if you've guessed all that then gold medals and meringues all round, because you sir or madam are right on the money.

That car chase: the asset, after being thwarted by Bourne, sneaks out of an expo centre while the cops are looking for him and into the fleeing crowds. Then this highly trained secret operative decides his best chance of escape is to knife a soldier in the back and steal a SWAT van, and he careens off into downtown Las Vegas with cop cars and helicopters and searchlights after him, as Bourne steals a Dodge Charger or something I think they said (I don't know cars) which was waiting with its keys in the ignition and obviously wasn't product placement paid for by Dodge (or whomever), and there the SWAT van is smashing into traffic and ramming cruisers, there's Bourne ragging it after him - and the scene ends up reminiscent of nothing so much as the inevitable conclusion to every play session of Grand Theft Auto ever, after you've got bored of the story missions and structure and everything and you decide to just steal the biggest vehicle you can find and smash through waves of police, shooting your Uzi out of the window, trying to hold out as long as you can before you're taken down in a blaze of glory, which takedown you don't end up minding so much because tea is almost ready and you're getting a headache and all this nonsense is a bit immature in honesty anyway.

That's Jason Bourne all over. An energetic shaky-cam dash through a plot that at heart is as nonsensical as any videogame, sticking to not just genre but franchise conventions with religious rigidity, falling eventually apart into noise and idiocy, as if everyone involved has realised their tea is ready and they're too old to still be doing this.

That chase scene culminates in Bourne and the asset wailing on each other in the moody shadows of a storm drain, back and forth, back and forth, two old men once possessed of killer instincts, now lacking the energy to finish the other off.

There's a metaphor for the entire series there somewhere, but it's too late at night for me to be able to quite find it, so all I'll say is that this film is so dumb that it literally has a character yell out a version of the "zoom and enhance" trope as if it wasn't the lamest plot device in all of screenwriting.

What a load of pish.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Day 108: Photographs

Something different today. Word-sketches based on the photographs of Steve McCurry, whose work I adore. I was feeling flat and uninspired, so I looked through some pictures, opened my notebook, loosened my brain, and let the words spill out.

The door cracks in blue ointment as brusque feet splosh in plodding rain. Inky reflections run universal, a space opera splayed on tiled water, sandals slop in marching lanes. A chequered brick bracketed wonder, the wall sighing, lugubrious rain slowly flows. Drifts, dollops, sadness clinging, a loony god measures one more crying day.

- - -

The glassy luminance of a pale river. Banked greenery distantly settled. Depths of marble spread buttered castaways, sunken treasure in rising paths. Spire sparkles, heaven's glory spilling forth. Plaza houses, river paddles, minted teas by dusky banks. Cracks in glory billows breathless air in clouds rocked with gold. The air sharp, tangy. The fisherman goops in delicate joust.

- - -

Dark pupils pierce a frame of razors, wet gangles crisping locks fall coiling, massing bed of opals upon the ground. The father bent with steadfast hands of working day. Ears jut jugbowls resting on shoulder's haunch. The hair falls in glinting daggers to snitch-snitch of busy clippers, mellifluous pupils silent stare. Tight pendant weight. Necklace choker. Mother's hand cracked chestnut stone of ages. Child sat still with panther's poise.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Day 107: Pickles

Last morning at Fran's mum's, board games and mugs of tea, lunch of leftovers, with the rain falling outside and the leaves catching the raindrops and the sky heaving and pregnant with clouds. Jars of pickle on the kitchen counter. Coffee grinds in the compost tin. Crumbs and coasters on the dining table. John showing us round his converted camper van. Helena filling our hands with apples from the garden and half empty cartons of milk, asking if we've had enough, if there's anything she can get us. Talking with Suzannah about Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens. Fran sitting by my legs making noises to get me to give her strokes. The afternoon wearing on.

Snoozing with Fran in the backseat on the way home, holding hands, my head in Fran's shoulder, Fran playing with my hair. Then back to my house, the emptiness of my room, a few hours to myself before bed and then work tomorrow. Easy shows on Netflix, dark chocolate Lindt, a cup of Earl Grey, the loneliness of the night.

No escaping into drugs or alcohol, no resisting the quiet sadness all around. Let it be and let it be and let it be. Breathe in and breathe out. Feel the surrounding air, the encroaching emptiness, the play of breeze from window upon skin.

So much aggression and fear growing in our world, angry people people lashing out at the wrong targets, power-hungry politicians struggling to the top of piles of shit on rivers of bile, all to preside over dust and bones, amass gold that glitters at nothing as we hack each other apart.

We need to stop and feel the sadness of the cosmos and rest within it, see its beauty, back away slowly from this edge. All of us together. We all contain marvels, each of us is made of glorious dirt. Just drop the weapons and embrace the stillness. It is the only way that ever worked.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Day 106: Zines

Another day in the country. Fran's family are wonderful, kind and funny and wicked smart. A little too smart, actually, cultured and educated and travelled and knowledgeable, it's easy to feel intimidated around them. They know about Rothko paintings and Conrad's The Secret Agent, the names of trees and plants, how to build fires, where to go in America, and I can just pour pints of beer and talk about videogames that were good on the N64.

But in reality they were lovely and the only stress or expectation was in my own head.

In the morning we walked through the village down country lanes with long hedgerows and the distant shush of traffic, honesty boxes for the sale of sunflowers and giant yellow courgettes, and on, into hidden woods of oak and willow, then to the pub for pints (them) and OJ (me) and crisps (all round).

Back at the house we lunched on salads and cheeses in the garden, with coffee afterwards, slowly dwindling incense sticks warding off the wasps hovering just out of reach.

A fire in the metal fire pit as the sun went down, the flames leaping and the ash blowing in our faces, chatting and reading the zine Fran's sister had brought about surviving holidays when you're queer and depressed.

Then the rain pushing us indoors, to books and sketchbooks by the glow of lamplight, and final mugs of tea and glasses of port, depending on preference, and then one after another meandering up to bed.

Feeling over-socialised now, and tired, but happy, ready to sleep. Going to turn off the light, roll over, and snuggle in close to Fran.

I can do life. I can. I can.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Day 105: Family

With Fran's family at her mum's house for the weekend. Wasn't much looking forward to it, I've been so down the past week or so, trapped in the dark recesses of my mind, and the idea of having to perform, having to act, to be sociable, was terrifying, when I felt so small and bedraggled, when I wanted only to spend the next three days in my bed away from the world eating bad snack food from colourful packets and watching films in which expensive sets blow up in fiery explosions, not engaging in small talk and navigating social complexities and having nowhere to which I could escape. 

But it's not like there was any choice, it's important to everyone that I came, not least of all Fran, to whom I haven't exactly given my undivided self of late, so I had to just pull myself out of my doldrums and force myself along. 

And as with many things, I felt much better once I was moving.

The house is a beautiful old place in the country, we arrived to the soft light of evening falling over tall hedges and snug gardens, and in the house large rooms full of wood and books and the right kind of smells. Comfortable, elegant, homely. 

We ate curry that John had made at the long dining table, then cakes that Helena had baked, before retiring to the living room to talk and drink tea, and it was calm and easy and nice. Fran sat on the floor with her arm around my leg, and I teased out the knots from the back of her hair, and listened to the others talk, and I felt very far from the pub and from stress and from the depression that has been lying on me of late.

In bed now in the spare room, faded books from Fran's childhood around us, old school photos, blankets and cushions and paintings in frames. Fran smooshed up beside me. My eyes starting to droop.

This is nice. I don't know many things but I know this is nice. 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Day 104: Shudder

The smell of spices when I go outside. The world getting dark. The air cold on my arms. It is the first day of the end of summer. Walking to the shop in the dusk, with the light failing and the streets empty and a car alarm wailing, I feel the loneliness of the world. In the shop the bulbs are strong yet heartless, everyone has their heads down, lost in their plans for the evening, and for tomorrow, and for ever afterwards. Home to an empty house, cooking stir fry in a silent kitchen with the rest of the rooms dark. The cooker blinking. Phace's trainers lying on the linoleum. Dirty glasses pointing at the ceiling. What a forlorn night. Shudder that runs right down the soul. Up the stairs to a computer humming, to lamp shining, to bright videogame worlds to keep me warm.


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Day 103: Touch

Vast expanse of charcoal sky stretched to the horizon. Distant lights shimmering. Air taut with silence. This bedroom could be a spaceship lost in the cosmos. Cut off from all of humanity. Ceaseless thrum of computer fan. Cold light from desk lamp. No sound of traffic.

I've just woken up from a nap after work. Was up at 6am for deliveries, after string of closes. Four hours sleep last night. Limped home and chatted to Phace, snug in her room under blankets, then up my stairs and collapsed in bed, watched mindless videos on YouTube until I passed out, been asleep since. Now I don't know which way is up or why I am or who life is.

Been feeling flat these past days, disconnected from the world. Like I'm bobbing on a boat on the surface of my existence, unable to pierce down to the depths beneath. I want to read more literature, take more photographs, look at the world through eyes soft and alert. Interact with the world through a touch that is greater than the grab and flick of thumb on phone screen. I want to caress. To fondle. To palpate. To murmur in the ear of the universe, and to hear it murmur back.

Look at this opening paragraph from the short story In Another Country by Hemingway:

In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew in their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains.

Can you hear the music? I have been having trouble hearing the music, but I can hear it a little, in this paragraph. I want more of this music in my life.

Time for bed now. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Day 102: It came from under the boardwalk

This is what happens when you hear the same song fifteen times in one day. For Joe and Dale.

Oh when it's dark at night and there are no stars out in the sky
And your stomach gets so knotted and you feel that you might cry
Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah
That's where a portal between dimensions ripped into view

(Under the boardwalk) That's where the beast came from
(Under the boardwalk) It was drawn to our blood
(Under the boardwalk) People torn from above
(Under the boardwalk) Feasting on their guts
Under the boardwalk, boardwalk

In the park you hear the piercing scream of fleeing crowds
You don't know which way you should run to save yourself
Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah
You come face to face with a trans-dimensional monstrosity

(Under the boardwalk) That's where the beast came from
(Under the boardwalk) It was drawn to your blood
(Under the boardwalk) It pulls you into its mass
(Under the boardwalk) As you lose consciousness
Under the boardwalk, boardwalk

Oooh under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah
It has been a number of hours. You awaken. Your vision is somehow sharper, yet less distinct than before. You are able to pick up minute variations in the currents of air around you. Your sense of smell is... different. You feel a ravenous hunger. Your skin itches. It hangs loose upon your... shape. What is happening to you? You open your mouth to shout for help, but a guttural, squelching howl is all that emanates from the orifice in your... face? You look down at your arms. They are not arms. Your legs are not legs. You do not know who you are. All you know is that you have a hunger, and it is rising. You crave something of which you do not know the name. You spot a small boy paddling in the waves twenty or so feet out. He has not seen you here in the dappled shadows under the pier. Maybe you will go to him, ask him if he knows what is happening. You can smell his eyelashes. The matter under his fingernails. The tang of sweat on the skin around his armpits. You begin to pant. You will go to the boy. Yes. He will be able to help. He is just what you need. You rise from under the boardwalk,

BOARDWALK!

Monday, 6 August 2018

Day 101: Just when you think you're out...

The sun is a blinding white gash in the clear blue canvas of sky. No wind blows. Down here on the ground is a swimming pool. The surface of the water is pristine, calm. Terracotta tiles surrounding the pool gleam in the sunlight. Beside the pool is a villa, the faint noise of a television set drifting through the open patio doors. Nothing else save a potted palm tree, and a man.

The man is Ray Winstone. He lies, out of the shadow of the palm tree, sizzling in the midday heat. His belly is a hot plate. Sweat dribbles down his forehead. He grins. He is at peace.

The noise from the television grows louder. Too loud. Suddenly, the set crashes through the villa's window's glass and into the pool, shorting and zapping, sloshing water all over Ray Winstone's reclining body.

A figure appears framed in the broken window, hidden in shadow. The figure steps through the window, expensive polished shoes crunching on shards of glass. A tailored suit leg. Crisp shirt. Neat tie. Hardened face. It is Michael Caine.

Caine:
Ray!

Winstone:
Oh, no. No no no. Michael. No.

Caine:
Raaaaay.

Winstone:
No way. I'm done. I'm out. This is not happening.

Caine:
It bloody is happening, my son.

Winstone:
Look around you, Michael. Can't you see? I've got a pool. I've got a pool boy. Where's 'e gone? I've got a palm tree. A bloody palm tree, Michael. This is retirement.

Caine:
No it's not.

Winstone:
I'm retired.

Caine:
You're not.

Winstone:
Yes I am.

Caine:
You're facking facking not. Not not not. Facking. Facking not. If you are facking retired you better facking un-facking retire yourself right facking now. Facking right facking now. You 'ear me?

Winstone:
I'm not doing it.

Caine:
Just hear me out.

Winstone:
No, Michael. I'm well out of it.

Caine:
I'm putting together a film.

Winstone:
I don't make films no more, Michael.

Caine:
You never let me talk. Are you going to let me talk? Are you going to... No. Facking do not talk! I am going to talk. You are going to listen. You facking listen. You facking... Are you listening? No do not respond! I do not want you to respond. OK? Say "OK, Michael." Say "OK, Michael." Say it.

Winstone:
OK, Mi--

Caine:
--FACKING DO NOT FACKING TALK. I FACKING TOLD YOU NOT TO TALK. YOU DO NOT TALK. YOU FACKING DO NOT TALK. FACKING LISTEN.

Winstone:
...

Caine:
Good. Right. Where was I? You get me so flustered. So. I am putting together a film. One last film. One last big one. Guns, gangsters, getaway vans. Right? I'm in it. Broadbent is in it. Facking Gambon is in it. But we need one more man. We need one more man, Ray. You're that man, Ray. You're that man.

Winstone:
I can't do it, Michael. I just can't do it. That's all there is to it. I can't. I'm retired. Films about jewel heists, shootouts, that stuff is behind me.

Caine:
THAT STUFF IS IN FRONT OF YOU.

Winstone:
Look at my palm tree, Michael. Look at that goddamned beautiful palm tree. Look at it leaning in the sun. Going nowhere. Content to lean. That's me now. That's Ray Winstone now.

Caine:
FACKING NO FACKING NO FACKING NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. NO. NO. FACKING NO FACKING NO. FACKING FACKING NO. FACKING. NO. FACKING. FACKING NO.

Winstone:
Are you done?

Caine:
You're not done. You're not done. I'm putting together a film. Broadbent is in it. Gambon is in it. I am in it. And you, Ray, you are in it. One more time. You're in it. One more time, Ray. Just this one last time. This one last film about one last score. It's a deal, Ray. It's a done deal. You're in it. You're coming with me. You're coming, Ray. So pack your bag. Pack your bag you fat facking slag, because the plane is waiting, and we have a film to make. Now COME ON.

King of Thieves is coming to a theatre near you in late 2018.



Sunday, 5 August 2018

Day 100: Friends with bicycles

I'm in Amici & Bici, a coffee shop on London Road. I'm by myself. This is a big deal.

I get incredible anxiety, thumping and leaden in my chest, whenever I'm alone and I walk past a coffee shop or bar I haven't been in before and I think about going in. It's weird. I get suddenly terrified that I'm not going to know the Procedure - that over the threshold in the darkened recesses of this strange new territory will be a coffee shop or bar unlike any other coffee shop or bar I have yet visited, with an esoteric ordering policy - that like I'll stumble in all awkward and sweaty, glancing left and right shiftily like a cartoon burglar, and I won't know that here you're supposed to post your drinks request into a slit between the floorboards, or whisper it to the cat painting in the corner, or just go round the counter and help yourself to that carrot cake sitting in its case there - and everyone will see me doing the Wrong Thing and tut and shake their heads and hound me back out of the door with their stony piercing glares of judgement.

I mean, I know that's insane. I know it is. But in that split-second as I'm walking past on my way down the street and I see a new place I could go in, I always have that lightning thought - What if there's a Procedure? What if I don't know the Procedure? And that zap of fear sends me puttering on my way past the new place and into somewhere old, and safe, and... Starbucks.

I don't get this anxiety when I'm with other people. When I have a friend with me I get a frisson of excitement out of not knowing What Happens at a place. I make a joke out of it with the server, even purposefully push the uncertainty into mild social transgression to see what will happen, to try to chip away at delineated order and routine and structure to find the real beating realm of chaos beneath. Cashiers get so bored. Why not be a bit silly with them and remind both you and them that we're strange funny human beings, not robots stuck in an endless loop of propriety protocols?

Except suddenly when I'm by myself all my confidence in that game falls away beneath me, and I'm left stood in a spotlight at the counter twisting my coattails feeling weird and twitchy and on some icky, repulsive way, seen.

So I don't go in new places. I usually chicken out without even being consciously aware of what I'm doing. I just get a pang of social anxiety and before I know what's happened I've quickened my pace and walked on by, and often the whole decision doesn't even reach my top layer of thought except as the last wispy ends of tentacles going all the way down that up here only stir up a vague sense of cowardice and regret, feelings that I don't dive down to analyse but merely let swirl with all the other turbid waters, sloshing around, spilling over the edges of my brain.

So but today I churned this all up as I strode into town, passing a string of coffee shops that looked delightful in the distance but that one after another I hurried past rather than entering. I thought about what exactly it was I was doing - avoiding a New Place in case I didn't know the Procedure, and I thought how stupid this is. Not even wrong or pathetic, just stupid. Not facing that fear of the unknown is worse in the long term than facing it. I've had a lifetime of avoiding things that trigger my social anxiety, and it hasn't worked. Running away isn't better.

... All of which is to say at half one in the afternoon today I find myself in a bright and airy cafe called Amici & Bici, by myself, waddling sheepishly up to the counter.

And you know what? The Procedure is not immediately apparent. I can't tell whether it's counter or table service. It actually is kind of confusing. There's no cast-iron rules in this country, borrowing from so many cultures as we do. So I stand at the counter, and wait to see if the woman tells me to take a seat. She doesn't, so I order coffee and cheesecake, pay at the till, and go to sit down. On each of the tables is a pot of flowers, and in each pot is a little note saying:

"Amici & Bici. Please place your order at the bar."

I smile reading this. None of us know what we're doing. We're all muddling through.

And I drink my coffee, eat my cake, and continue on into town. It's not like any of this is a major step for me. The rest of my day goes as it would have done, filled with minor frustrations and failures, all of the usual stuff. But I did go into that coffee shop. However tiny and silly that is, it's better than walking past. It's something.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Day 99: Spaghetti

Quick one tonight. Still feeling pretty low, but trying to see that as natural, as just the way of things. Fran's friend Genna was over today, the three of us ate veggie sausages for breakfast and watched Netflix, then Genna and I talked about game design and filmmaking while Fran showered, and afterwards we walked Mish in Meersbrook Park, sat atop the hill looking down at the city arrayed below, then we went home and Fran and Genna coloured a page from one of those adult colouring books (though Buffy the Vampire Slayer-themed, so "adult" there is a relative term), and I went upstairs to write/sneakily play Switch. After Genna got a taxi to the station Fran and I sat downstairs and watched The Good Place, and I played Switch, and we ate spaghetti, and the sun went down and the sky turned a deep sapphire blue and the dog rested his head in Fran's lap and I collected mushrooms from under trees in Zelda and everything was at peace.

Fran is brushing her teeth now, taking Mish down the street. We're going to watch something in bed, get a nice early night.

This is alright, isn't it? This is how people live. I'm trying, trying to see that this is so.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Day 98: To the front door

Eee, enough of that. Time to stop wallowing. I've showered. Clipped my nails. Trimmed my pubes. I've cleaned my bathroom. Put towels to wash. Edited some photos. Replied to messages.

I've just been fatigued, is all, and depression has swept in, as it always does when I don't have the resources to fight it. It's no big deal. It's what will happen from time to time. But I've been doing well. These 98 days, I've been doing well. Not as well as some people, or even most people, perhaps, but better than I was doing.

Look at it like running. I want to be a marathon runner, but I'm overweight and out of shape and my ankles are weak. I've spent years going to a couch rather than a coach.

But for 98 days now I've forced myself up and out of the door, run round the block, sometimes further. Sometimes much further, and I've been up all night pushing myself, then felt burnt out afterwards. Maybe it's good to push myself as hard as I can, but I think I crashed after the finish line of 90 days, and for the last week I've been back on that couch - still going at least out of the door and down to the front gate and back every day, but no more than that. And I've been feeling like there's this elastic around my waist that ties me to the couch, and the harder I run, the more I eventually get twanged back to the couch, and the more it hurts.

Well bollocks to that. Beliefs stay true for precisely as long as you believe them. Beliefs that you've held about yourself for many years are, yes, difficult and scary to overturn. They become part of your sense of identity. Losing them can feel like losing yourself. Like going all the way over a cliff into nothingness. There's always subconscious resistance to changing long-held beliefs about yourself.

But it can be done. And it's what I need to do. I don't have elastic round me. I'm not cursed to stay depressed and weak forever. I'm not inherently and inevitably broken.

I've been doing well. And I got tired.

I don't need to judge myself against marathon runners. I don't need to judge myself against my next-door neighbour who runs five miles a day. I don't need to judge myself against anyone at all.

I just need to do as much of what is difficult for me as I am able to do. And to carry on doing that day after day after day. If I can't run five miles then run one. If I can't run one mile then run to the postbox. If I can't run to the postbox then drag myself on my hands and knees to the front door, crawl over the threshold, breathe down the fresh empty air, and crawl back inside.

Darkness can be fought. It can always be fought. Even if just with the strength left in one fingernail. Do not stop. Everything is right where it should be.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Day 97: Moons

In work for 8am this morning for a delivery that didn't turn up till nearly 10. Busy lunch with theatre matinee. Spent all afternoon taking pictures for social media, staying an hour after my shift to get them done, then feeling at the end that I'd done a bad job. Don't like anything that comes out of me right now.

Got the bus home, tried to stay awake, fell asleep in my clothes face down on my bed, woke up at 11, ate cheese sandwiches, drank a cup of tea, watched rubbish on YouTube. Kept starting stuff and getting a few seconds in and closing it again. Restless and antsy, yet lethargic and drained at the same time. Pick up a book to try to do something worthwhile, can't make it through two sentences before flinging it down. Put on an easy video, but despise it within seconds. Nothing works. Passing time hurts. But don't want to sleep, either.

Ended up making evening disappear with Always Sunny on Netflix while playing Mario on my Switch in portable mode in my hands. Got about thirty power moons but already can't remember a single one.

But feel a bit better now. Will try to sleep.

Being depressed sucks.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Day 96: Soup

Another day with nothing to write, no words in my head. Stayed in bed till 1, saw Mike, did washing, ate soup and bread for tea (all I had energy to make)... I don't know. I've been snoozing. I'm up for work in three hours.

I'll see how I am tomorrow.