Lore: Getting To Know The Unknown

A while ago I started to write a “sequel” to my post Books I’ve Been Reading Recently Which Have Made An Impression but then I was faced with the issue of not actually reading enough books to justify an entire post. The few books I did attempt to read which may well have been interesting, I never made it further than a few pages, because my concentration utterly deteriorated in a short space of time.

Quite fittingly, it was around Hallowe’en – the day before I went to Iceland – that I started listening to Lore for the first time. If I’d known just how much of a back catalogue there was to catch up on I’d have started a lot sooner but then, had I known that I’d been missing out on three years’ worth of intriguing true stories, perhaps things would have been very different in my life, but you know. I am eternally late to the party. It seems to be my lifelong curse. Movin’on.

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image courtesy of screenrant.com website

Lore is a podcast created in 2015 by Aaron Manhke, a sci-fi and supernatural enthusiast, who was seemingly as taken with the likes of the X-Files as I am (or was at least back in the day, I was more into the earlier stuff, before Mulder left to do other stuff such as play against-type hedonistic writers and then write Holy Cow), and who was prompted to start writing about some of the many unexplained and unsolved mysteries in the world, before realising that it was better suited to the podcast format – a format that incidentally I had only recently taken to.

And there is perhaps good reason that this format is worth exploring. After a combination of travel burn-out, a considerable stretch of time switching between medications and, basically, a solid decade or so of exhaustive, omnivorous reading, I’d reached a stage where I’d simply had enough of reading. I went through a similar “reading famine” in my mid-teens, funnily enough when I probably could have done with reading most as a respite from real life. But there you go. I wanted more than words on paper, or usually in my case, words on screen. But for a long time I couldn’t figure out what else to do or to try, how to keep absorbing aspects of the world that I couldn’t reach in person, for whatever reason. But as with lots of things in life, the next thing I would be into came out of nowhere.

I can’t even remember what the first podcast was that I listened to that led to yet more listening, during a phase when I couldn’t read more than a few sentences at a time, but when I alighted upon Lore, I was happy to stay and linger for a while. (There are a few podcasts I got into around the same time (which also took up an awful lot of listening time on their own) but I’ve decided to focus on this one as it’s the one for which I’ve managed to listen to every episode.) Each episode focuses on a particular theme – death, ghosts, witches, vampires, etc – and usually centres upon a particular historical story which is basically unexplainable. I started listening when packing my suitcase to leave the next day, and not only barely got any sleep from listening late into the night, but listened in the queue to check-in, on the plane (the first of which I’d been on which had wifi), the bus to the hostel, and basically during any time when I wasn’t undertaking any scheduled activity. Macabre tale after macabre tale unfolded over the course of a week or so, and in fact ended up retrospectively giving the trip to Iceland a “theme” that I hadn’t planned in advance. So now I associate Iceland with lore, and not just their own traditional kind, with the sagas and elf folklore and everything.

I think there were a few episodes left by the time I returned home. That was before I realised there was a TV show and the first book of a series on Lore to get into. So it was a case of suddenly being hit with something which I’d no idea existed, and which I had no obvious reason to have overlooked this whole time. But better late than never I guess, so I’ve been making up for lost time. As I usually find that I have to do.

That is the story of my discovery of Lore, now for a review of some of the tales which resonated most with me.

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image courtesy of goodreads website

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Each episode of the podcast is a standalone one, the type of format I prefer as there are no complex plot arcs to keep track of (which I’ve noticed with other podcasts I otherwise like) and while there are a range of stories to delve into, I’d have to narrow down a few of my favourite ones to:

#5 – Under construction

This episode struck something of a chord immediately as it concerns the phenomenon of the Huldufolk, or the Hidden People who are the subjects of Icelandic folklore, particularly as I listened to this one en route to the volcanic isle. The cold one, between Europe and North America. They are said to be just like humans, but invisible, and prone to interfering in the lives of their human counterparts, in ways ranging from romantic, to mischievous, to hostile, and many Icelandic people still take care to respect them just in case they do exist. The myths emerged during the early settlement of Iceland and tales emerged of people encountering these hidden folk, with various outcomes depending on their temperament and fortune. They are/were said to be prone to acts of mischief or even malevolence, never being a type of people to let mere humans outwit them at any time. They could/can replace human children with ones of their own, lending a variation to the myth of the “changeling”, because of their assumption that the human world was better than their own. (Although given the hardships of the era, it might have been a close call as to who had it worse.) They could/can even be the subjects of romance, with human/hidden person pairings being spoken of now and again. Many people, Icelandic and foreign alike, do still believe in these “alternative” people, certainly a greater proportion of the population than a typical nation. But then Iceland is very sparsely populated, so… in any case, it is a unique country both in terms of its mythology and geography, and so the tales to emerge from the place will unsurprisingly reflect the collective imagination of the people, and what they claimed (whether they were telling a tale or what they believed to be true) to see when they were getting on with the demands of their (challenging) everyday life.

#11 – Black Stockings

Another episode which (quite by coincidence) ties in thematically with me personally for reasons I’ll explain shortly, the idea of the “changeling” is brought to the fore. Prevalent in Celtic (and specifically Irish) cultures, the myth of the changeling tells of how otherworldly creatures find a human (usually an infant) and replace them with one of their own. The myth has been used to explain sudden changes in the personality of the changee and was most likely used as an explanation for the apparently sudden onset of conditions such as autism, schizophrenia or depression. It just so happens that my latest study guide was centred upon a story about a woman who believed she was a changeling, but in a twist on the original myth, fully took to this idea and in fact tried every single day to return to the place she felt she truly belonged to. This episode focuses on a different, and true, tale of a young woman who was ultimately murdered by her husband, in an effort to bring back his “true” wife which had gone horribly wrong. I’d definitely say there are themes of lingering superstition (in the face of an increasingly modern culture) and particularly of patriarchy – there is the sense that this crazed attempt to bring back his wife was driven not so much by love as by a sense of possession and entitlement over his increasingly independent wife. Unfortunately, this type of story is far from rare.

#12 – Half-hanged

The Salem witch trials of 1692 was one of the most famous examples of a widespread moral panic gone tragically out of control. It has inspired countless books, films, TV shows, etc and still holds a place in the minds of people today. It certainly does in my mind, having been a fan, growing up, of the likes of Hocus Pocus, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Craft and also having played a role in a college drama production of the Crucible (Mary Warren for anyone who wants to know) and – more recently – having read the The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane for an historical fiction online course. However Salem, however well known, is not the only example of a witchhunt, and indeed many took place throughout the western world from medieval times onwards, up until surprisingly recent times. Sometimes, it was a case of individual outsiders – mostly women who didn’t fit in in some way – who were targeted as being witches. There are examples noted of strange coincidences of people targeting animals and inanimate objects and their alleged witch counterparts suffering the effects, and the story focuses on one particular woman, Mary Webster, who started to have accusations thrown her way before long. Due to her abrasive nature, she was strongly suspected of being a witch, and more strange events befalling her neighbours didn’t do her reputation any favours. In a culmination of said events, Webster was eventually abducted and hanged by a group of men, then left for dead. However, Webster was said to have survived this attempt on her life, and lived for some time afterwards. These events inspired her descendant, the novelist Margaret Atwood, to write a poem about her entitled “Half-Hanged Mary”, about how what was done to her, if she was not already a witch, had in itself made her one. Any period of time up until the present day has always been particularly hard for anyone, particularly women, to live undisturbed, free from accusation and able to benefit from full inclusion in the communities in which they live.

#41 – Hole in the Wall

The theme of witchcraft continues in this episode, with a reference to the Great Scottish Witchhunt of 1597 in particular, showing that witchhunts weren’t confined to the US in the Puritan era. One notable example took place not far from where I live, in Paisley, Scotland in 1696. Christian Shaw, the young daughter of a wealthy landowner, fell ill and it came to be believed that she was cursed. She had accused Catherine Campbell, a servant, of placing a witch’s curse on her after the latter had been caught stealing. Not long after the alleged curse, a “known witch”, Agnes Naysmith, began to appear to the girl, supposedly prompted by the devil to do so. Before too long, Shaw began to regurgitate strange objects which couldn’t be explained by anything other than witchcraft at the time. As to be expected, accusations started flying all around the town, people’s lives were disrupted and even ended as a result of the fall out, including that of Naysmith, who was said to have placed a curse on the town. It later emerged that there was a hole in the wall above where Shaw’s bed would have been, where she had stored all the objects which were said to be coming out of her. The interesting thing about Shaw is that her story did not end there – in fact she grew up to lead quite a normal adult life, at least initially, but then later played a role in overhauling the town’s threading and sewing industry, for which it would become famous worldwide, as indicated by the Paisley Pattern. This shows that sometimes people were not always brought to justice in the way that many might expect, and indeed had more than a singular historical role. Indeed this booming trade somewhat contrasts with the local notion that the curse placed upon the town would lead to the later collapse of Scotland’s thriving trade industry, leading to a lasting economic depression. Or perhaps it was delayed revenge. It is never entirely clear with tales such as these. It is certainly a colourful history, in any case, as places where accusations of witchcraft took place tend to have.

#78 – Exposure

This episode centres upon spirit photography, capturing two of my interests – photography and the supernatural – the former can be seen in other sections of my website, and I think the latter is quite apparent right now… The episode begins with an introduction to the practice of photographing the recently deceased, in order to preserve their memory and also most likely to aid the grieving process of the remaining family. As a very young medium at the time, photography provided an unprecedented opportunity to preserve moments in time like never before, and as cited in this episode, it was thought by some to be a way of “unlocking the afterlife”, taking into consideration what photography would soon be viewed as being capable of doing. The main story focuses on a successful craftsman called William Mumler, based in 1860s Boston, who became very famous when he started taking photos of what appeared to be spirits or apparitions of deceased people, alongside the living subjects whose photos he was originally taking. Teaming up with fellow craftswoman by the name of Hannah Green Stewart, who was herself a successful business woman and dubbed as a “midwife for the grieving” due to her ability to create meaningful keepsakes for bereaved people, Mumler’s reputation spread very quickly, riding the wave of the growing spiritualist movement of the era. It wasn’t too long before accusations of fraud and forgery emerged, resulting in a trial which ultimately provided a verdict of “not proven” but which resulted in Mumler retreating amid the growing backlash and skepticism of those less inclined to believe everything they saw.

Indeed it was a time during which the rapidly improving technology of the camera, the swift diversifying of America’s population and the upward trajectory of technological and scientific progress all conspired to prompt people to question what was presented to them more than they might have before. Charlatanism was a well known scourge of public entertainment/media so the split between those who wanted, or were prepared to, believe, and those who were not going to be taken so easily for a ride – when people were out to promote an image as much, if not more so, than the product or service they were selling – was probably more extreme than it ever had been before.

#Soundtrack to Lore

The soundtrack to Lore is provided almost exclusively by pianist Chad Lawson, without whose music the entire tone of the podcast would be entirely different in my opinion. Complimentary and unobtrusive to the tales in each episode, it provides a subtle backdrop against which to unravel each episode whilst being more than capable of standing as individual musical pieces on their own.

There is also a book series based upon Lore but for the purposes of keeping this blog post as concise as possible I will limit focus to the audio part of the franchise – at least for now.

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I’ve spent much of my life both afraid of spooky things and the unknown – to this day I’m still in the habit of leaving the lights on for weeks after watching a scary movie and you couldn’t pay me to stare in a mirror while saying a specific set of words three times because you know – but also intrigued by what lies just outside our scope of understanding. I too was taken in readily and enthusiastically by the X-Files at a young age (I watched one episode at the age of eight which basically doubled the household’s electricity bill from my refusing to turn the lights off so that goes back a long time) and one of the first things I ever remember wanting to be when I grew up was a paranormal investigator, before I got “too cool” (full disclosure: I was painfully uncool the entire time) for such a thing.

I’ve always found myself drawn to, or back into, the horror genre, despite maintaining for ages that it just “wasn’t my thing” – however my inclinations, time and again, keep telling me otherwise. One of my current favourite shows is American Horror Story and, despite recoiling against the violence and gore, I’m intrigued enough to keep watching, time and again, for the narrative. For the somewhat-true stories that unfold each season.

Likewise, however horrified and disturbed I was by some of the tales in Lore (and wish I could unhear sometimes – the live burial stuff for instance) I eagerly await each new episode. Although I wish so much that I’d caught onto the series much earlier on – and having been on Spotify for at least five years I honestly have no excuse for missing out for so long – I’m glad I did now.

It has taken me quite a long time to put into words my thoughts and feelings on a show that has become a “big thing” for me in such a short space of time, but I have now, and hope to start creating more of my own original material soon. For some reason I find myself doodling more often when I listen to shows such as these now – it’s early days but perhaps this might be the start of something. Or maybe it’s just doodling. But it’s something, which I suppose is better than nothing.

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Study guide writing: the highs and lows of the Perfect Job (For Me)

On the surface of it, I have the ideal job situation.

For the past year and a half I’ve been writing literary study guides for an online publication company. What this involves is being assigned with a work of fiction, and basically writing about it from every conceivable angle. I have to write summaries and accompanying analyses, and outline themes, symbols, characters, etc, and provide a completely comprehensive guide to the book in question. It’s about as involved as one can get with a single piece of literature, I’m guessing, outside of writing a dedicated postgraduate thesis on it, so it certainly helps me to keep my skills fresh in that area. I send it in once it’s done, I get paid, then I can choose another book to work on.

This position ticks a lot of boxes for me, at least in theory – it’s the *only* regular paying job I’ve had basically ever, let alone since graduation, and I was incredibly lucky to encounter the ad, and be almost immediately accepted for it in the first place. I’ve struggled enough with finding suitable employment my entire adult life to know never to take such a stroke of luck lightly, so I’ve always worked as hard and as well on each guide as possible. Also, as an autistic* person, the absence of pressure to constantly interact socially on the job, and general office politics, is a welcome advantage. It’s done entirely remotely, meaning that I don’t run the risk of accidentally committing a social faux pas while getting the work done. This combination of advantages is still, in my experience, exceedingly rare in the job market, unless you happen to know someone personally who can fix you up with your ideal role.

The thing is though, the “autism thing” has also proved to be, in itself, a major drawback in certain aspects of the job. My strengths lie in analysis and comparison, and most definitely not, as I’ve learned over time on the job, in summarising. Each guide requires a chapter by chapter breakdown of everything which has happened, but at least for me, if this is a work of fiction – with all the nuances and tangents and inner narratives of the main characters, which often play out in a non-linear fashion – this is where I really begin to encounter my limitations. My brain is very poor at condensing and selecting large amounts of narrative detail and being responsible for judging what is relevant for the summary, because essentially I see *everything* as being relevant in some sense. After all, why else would such detail even be in the book in the first place? At least goes my thinking…

I can do almost everything else in the guide far more easily in comparison – in perhaps a deviation from the autism stereotype, I’m actually quite good at understanding and employing metaphor, analogy, subtext, all the interesting and sometimes confusing stuff of which literature is often comprised. I have the thick backlog of marked university essays to prove it – your 100% literal autistic stereotype wouldn’t even be capable of such a thing. Also, sometimes rather sneakily, I can slip in some insights of my own here and there. I’ve been known to draw particular attention to parts of a book where a character expresses vegan-friendly sentiments, for example. The rules don’t say you can’t, as long as you adhere to the guidelines, so 😉

But anyway. The past year and a half or so has been a unique opportunity, for me, to experience how my particular “wiring” can work both for and against me all at once. An internal battle rages every time I accept a new assignment, knowing that I will both love and hate the mission I am about to embark upon. Due to various reasons, I’ve not been able to assume as much work as I would have liked, or as I would even have expected in the beginning. I can be an infuriatingly slow worker when I have even one other preoccupation going on. A couple of health problems, and a general deficit in concentration, have slowed me right down, but I merely spaced out the projects I did, rather than risk taking on too much work and then risking disappointing my hard-won employer by failing to turn in on time. Lots of employers, despite growing “awareness” campaigns going on at the moment, simply do not or cannot fully grasp the complications of both the difficulties and the advantages of trying to shoe-horn a neurodiverse brain into working efficiently in a world where this type of brain is still in the vast minority. I fear coming across as incompetent, unintelligent, unmotivated or otherwise incapable of doing the job, which in fact I can do if the conditions are just right, or at least just right for me.

The solution I’d propose, if it were up to me, would be to work on everything except for the summaries, with someone more suited to the type of thinking that requires chipping in. Another solution, or at least a move towards branching out into other areas I might excel in, would be to assume more in the way of editing work, but given that jobs full stop are hard to come by, let alone ones you are actually qualified for and are related to your field of interest, I am certainly not about to quit completely anytime soon, as long as I am capable of reading and writing in a way which is useful and comprehensible to whoever might be using the study guide, when the product is complete.

I shall, upon completion of the most recent assignment, make another move towards other areas of freelance writing, building upon experience gained, and as a sort of refresher from the near-academia level of study required for the study guide writing, but first I think I will need another spot of recovery time.

*Using the clinical term for the time being, stay tuned for a post coming soon about my relationship to the name/label/diagnosis. It’s complicated so really needs a separate clarification.

Books I’ve Been Reading Recently Which Have Made An Impression

Books can be – from time to time – exactly what you need to press the re-set button on your life.

Over the past few months I’ve entered a weird sort of limbo, feeling quite low and not having any particular direction to go in – and then acquiring a lot of additional anxiety to add to the mix. Indeed I originally aimed to write this post two months ago, hence why it is dated to two months before I actually got round to finishing writing the entire thing.

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For a brief period of time I tried to re-imagine myself as a travel writer, as one might ascertain from my past few blog posts. Having plenty of spare time, and nothing in particular tying me down to my current residence, I jaunted pretty much wherever I was inspired to go. However, after my most recent trip down to London to volunteer at an animal sanctuary, it was unofficially “the plan” to put another plan in place.

However… one thing I did not account for was the possibility of my mood taking a very sudden downturn – previous existential issues which had been humming in the background of my brain for as long as I can remember suddenly got a lot louder and more urgent, and long story short, I’ve really not been in a very good place recently, brain-wise. Indeed, perhaps it is a good thing that, by this time, I hadn’t acquired any greater commitments to any third parties than a remote part-time gig as a freelance literary study guide writer, with no deadlines set in stone. Because I was about to spend at least a good few weeks getting reacquainted with my old regular companion, anxiety – and its bigger and meaner cousin, existential dread. The extent to which I had failed, repeatedly, to “establish” myself in the greater world’s society and culture, and even just in everyday life (by failing to meet many of the milestones which are normally expected of someone my age), was beginning to weigh heavily upon me. For a good few weeks I could do little other than stay in bed numbing myself with Netflix and Youtube re-runs in a bid to silence the ever-growing voice saying, let’s just say, rather scary things to me.

Whether this would have happened anyway, or whether it was a result of a recent change in medication (which can make you feel much worse in the beginning) I’m still not entirely sure, and I still suffer from recurrent depression and anxiety, only now I can (usually (eventually)) leave my bed, and even the house, at some point during the day. There’s no apparent reason why the very things which had been playing on my mind for a long time should have bothered me so much more but there you go. In a bid to cope, one thing which I ended up doing, which I didn’t realise I was doing all that much of at the time, was reading.

Some of this was work-related, which kept my brain somewhat active, and delayed the spiralling of the thoughts I was beginning to have. But most of it was a bid to seek an escape, and some hope. Below are the books in roughly the order I read them in, except where grouping them together makes better narrative sense.

*For now, I will not apologise for the fact that almost all of these books were acquired via Kindle – when you can’t even get round to renewing your library card and don’t want to risk having to ask someone for books you might be interested in (what a terrible would-be librarian I’ve become!) but still need to read things, then you’ll do things which are normally not quite in line with your principles: for me, that’s giving lots of business to Amazon.*

 

The Humans – Matt Haig

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from the Goodreads website

This author has started to have an increasingly greater influence on my outlook on life. “The Humans” was the first of his books that I read, as part of my study guide writing project, about an alien being from a faraway part of the universe coming to earth with an order to destroy  the main character, Andrew, and take his place while completing the rest of his mission. Initially a coldly rational being who is puzzled by the strange-seeming ways of humans, he begins to slowly adapt and even to come to love his “family”, and ends up protecting them from the very mission which he was originally assigned to. Various aspects of the personality of “Andrew” – the alien – emerge through interactions with the humans around him; he is baffled as to why people eat animals and refuses any meat dishes offered to him (could he be an alien version of a vegan?), why people wear clothes and make certain facial expressions, and otherwise do things for no clear logical reason. The detached perspective on the ways of the human race cast a new light on how people find meaning in life. “Andrew” begins to find it in seemingly small things; music, wine, the poetry of Emily Dickinson (the author and I seem to share a bit of an obsession with Dickinson) – and ultimately in a newfound love for his family. The “rules for life” at the end of the book, which “Andrew” writes for his son, are full of deceptively profound pieces of advice, and it’s quite difficult to be honest to not try out at least a few.

 

The Last Days of Night – Graham Moore

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from the Goodreads website

Another book read for the study guide writing project, “The Last Days of Night” chronicles the dawn of the era of electrical lighting, and the resulting legal war being waged by proclaimed light-bulb inventor Thomas Edison on his immediate rival George Westinghouse. Precocious young lawyer Paul Cravath, attempting to make a name for himself far away from his humble beginnings, is tasked with defending Westinghouse, which seems like an increasingly impossible task given the ruthlessness with which Edison is prepared to defend his patent. Meanwhile New York has become, literally, a beacon of light in the new world of America as Edison’s bulbs, despite their dangerous direct current electricity, begin to adorn the streets, bringing new light – and resulting new possibilities – to the people. Paul rises to the challenge, and soon encounters another major figure from the era, Nikola Tesla, who has developed brilliant and unprecedented visions for scientific progress, including the safe harnessing of alternating current which would see safe and reliable lighting being brought to everyone in the country, and eventually the world. Paul’s attention is soon waylaid by the appearance of actress Agnes Huntington, who seeks his legal assistance for another case and is soon shown to be hiding a secret past life.

The main thing which drew me into this book was the portrayal of the characters, who have dialogue almost exactly of the style which would be used today, and indeed the author has a knack for making the world of late nineteenth century New York feel just as vivid, relevant and contemporary as it is today. The secret desire of Agnes to shed her stuffy facade and cut loose into the less reputable corners of New York high society shows a flicker of rebellion which contradicts the flat and lifeless image which many have of that era. Another key detail which gives the narrative an additional relevance is the use of quotes from key modern figures in science and technology, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the internet (at least as we know it today)), which effectively foreshadow the events shortly to come. As a fan of historical fiction (when done just the right way) the juxtaposition of old and new automatically catches my interest and creates the feeling that the past is not so much a foreign country as a thing which is often overlooked and misunderstood by many, and takes a skilled writer to bring back to life.

 

 

 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind – Yuval Harari

 

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from the Goodreads website

 

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Yuval Harari

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from the Goodreads website

*I’ll get round to reviewing these two books shortly. They require quite a bit more dissection than I feel capable of right now but trust me – they’re quite something*

 

How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

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from the Goodreads website

The most recent release by the author, “How To Stop Time” is a story about a man called Tom who has lived for over four hundred years, due to having an extremely rare condition – “anageria” – which delays ageing and vastly prolongs life. Over the most recent years he has been starting his life over every eight years in a different part of the world under a different identity, and this time he has chosen to be a history teacher at a school in London. He carries the unimaginable emotional burden of hundreds of years of love, grief and strife, having personally known some of the figures who we consider to be icons today, such as Shakespeare. He meets Camille, a fellow teacher at the school who bears her own emotional burden and with whom Tom begins to fall in love, a thing which he never felt able to do ever again. Almost continually on the brink of having his secret identity uncovered, Tom attempts to come to terms with his past and his condition, and tries to find a way to seek meaning in an unnaturally long life.

In contrast to “The Humans”, “How To Stop Time” casts a new perspective on the significance of the human lifespan by provoking thought on how we experience the passage of time. As the former invites you to imagine landing on Earth from an unfathomable distance, the latter invites you to imagine living several consecutive lifetimes, and what such a life would do physically and emotionally to a person. Also, it has a way of making even the oldest-feeling person feel young, which is something which would benefit me seeing as I feel old all the time.

 

Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

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from the Goodreads website

This is a book which I put off reading for quite a while, but one day recently, decided that I needed to read as soon as possible. “Reasons To Stay Alive” is the personal account of the author’s struggle with severe depression, recalling the worst of the time with emotional clarity, interspersed with thoughts and musings on the nature of depression and how it is perceived and treated by society at large. As someone who has done battle with anxiety and depression on and off (mostly on) throughout my life, this is a deeply reassuring – and of huge value to many more people – book to have to hand when things feel particularly rough and unmanageable. At first worried that the book would contain mere platitudes on the “meaning of life” and how “life is a precious gift and we must live every day to the fullest extent possible” (which to me is not so much helpful as demoralising because if it really were that easy why is not literally everyone doing it by now?), it instead contained a gently but unrelentingly honest examination of the various nuances in mental state which the author experienced on a day to day basis, when simple tasks seemed impossible and the world took on an intimidating hue. It also recalls how the “cure” for depression did not appear suddenly, or indeed even be really a cure; rather the good days eventually began to outnumber the bad ones, small but memorable steps towards the light were made and the author found solace, primarily, in writing. The resounding message is that depression is a common part of the human condition and that it is up to ourselves to find out what gives our own lives meaning. That’s something I’ve been trying to work on for quite a long time now…

 

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

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from the Goodreads website

Having watched the show “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” in my teeny-bopper years, I was intrigued to find a “re-imagining” of the show in graphic novel form whilst quite urgently seeking out more reading (i.e. distracting) material on Amazon. The instant download option – and the resulting instant gratification – is just too irresistible for someone who now, more often than not these days, does not leave the house. This was… quite a departure from the TV show.

This version is basically an R-rated version of a very PG-rated show, in which Sabrina is a member of a satanic coven of witches who are not averse to casting terrifying curses on, and even killing, those who interfere with them in any way. An initially innocent high school romance turns rapidly into a murder mystery, and Sabrina as a young novice witch must try to navigate this world. Exactly how this will be done remains to be seen.

 

The Little Mermaid – Metaphrog

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from the Goodreads website

Metaphrog are a Scottish graphic artist duo who produce rich and vibrant illustrations, often to accompany traditional fairytales. Their latest, “The Little Mermaid”, tells the original Hans Christian Andersen version (quite different from the Disney one), of the mermaid who gave up her entire life (at first figuratively then eventually literally) for a young man she rescued at sea. Of course I did not read the book for the traditional tale but rather for the evocative imagery accompanying the narrative. For a while I considered a move into graphic novel writing but I never felt confident enough in my illustration skills – once upon a time I was quite adept at using Photoshop but I’m living proof that if you do not continually maintain your skills they will quite rapidly deteriorate until it is as if you never had them in the first place. I consider myself a fan of Metaphrog now and I feel like they will inspire me in the future.

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Neil Gaiman once dubbed the humble book as an “empathy machine”, through which anyone can experience another perspective simply by reading. As someone who, more often than is desirable, misses out on the opportunity to flex and exercise my empathy muscle in a more obvious and active way (say by contributing more creative output via actually writing fiction, as I have long aimed but somehow felt unable to do) I settle for absorbing whatever I can, in terms of literature, and trying to write (or photograph, or compose, or something) about my own perspective, in the hopes that it will have any resonance to anyone out there.

Reading – if and when I cannot write, which is the case an embarrassing amount of the time – at least helps me to feel tangentially involved in the wider world (I think the closest term I can think of is the “zeitgeist”  but that sounds unbearably pompous but hopefully you get what I mean) and as if the spark which will finally kick me into action is waiting on a random page – that it’s just a matter of keeping going. Sometimes that really seems to be all you can do because… well, just because.

 

 

 

 

 

Graduate. Again.

Howdy ho,

Since my last post, mostly I’ve finished my dissertation, had it passed through the exam board, judged by the powers-that-be, and received confirmation that I now have a Master’s degree. Well, another one. It was incredibly hard going and I honestly – not even slightly humblebragging here – never thought it would get done. It just somehow… did get done. Failure failure seemed like distinct possibility and even now I can’t help wondering if they got it wrong and are just being extra-nice to me for some bizarre reason. But it looks like I’m a graduate once again, hence the post title.

After catching the last of the summer sun in the family “second home”, as shown here:

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The view is really quite something…

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His favourite place, along with any place where he can go swimming

My lovely sister took me out for a celebration, and took this rather scary photo of me:

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The view is really quite something…

I did some more cat-sitting:

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The view is really quite something…

Then yesterday I went to see one of my favourite authors, Janice Galloway (Google if you don’t know the name), in conversation about a new release. 2015 certainly seems to be an interesting year for literature, if for nothing else on the culture scene, IMO. Being a major influence on my own writing, this was an important thing to go along to, not only due to also having a Scottish heritage but also having a narrative voice that I could almost hear inside my own brain, if I actually had the talent and motivation to scribble/type more often. This will likely lead to a review being done on here sometime in the near future.

The above, and also applying vehemently for jobs aside, that leaves quite a bit of spare time once again. Filling it in a productive way is now proving to be the next big challenge. There’s only so much “recovery time” I think I can plausibly take before needing to do something again. So:

  • There’s writing. There’s always writing. That now really goes without saying.
  • Doing something worthwhile. Volunteering, in the absence of something which actually pays money, because bad things are happening right now (and admittedly always are) and it would be the least anyone could do with time to spare.
  • Photography. Keep meaning to spruce up the photography page on this site and this would be a decent incentive.
  • Socialising. Still working on being better at being a “normal person” again after months shunning company while in Dissertation Mode. This may take a while.
  • Travelling. Plenty of time but little in the way of inspiration or direction.
  • Online dating. Some of which I’ve already done. More on that another time…

The nights are fair drawing in (again – why does this keep happening?!?) but the autumn sunsets this has brought have been rather impressive. Managed to snap one:

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The view is really quite something…

Culture Vulture: Part II

A few years ago I posted on the site about an attempt to get more into local “culture”, and not only that but to write about it too. That idea didn’t take off as much as I thought it would, and my desire to see all the things was somewhat quashed by 1) too many other people having the same idea at the same time 2) no-one in my life at the time who shared the same interest in seeing all the things as me 3) not being able to justify travelling extensively due to the above factors often making visits to places of culture not very worthwhile. However recently, with the encouragement of someone who does have an interest in things of “culture” just as much, if not more, than me, (and also a mosaic of Shakespeare in a bathroom stall – true story) I went with said companion to the Glasgow School of Art Degree Show – something I really should have gone to see by now. After all, there but for the grace of god (and a harsh, borderline elite, recruitment process during several applications to the GSA) go I…

The 2015 degree show was needless to say going to have a touch of poignancy, due to the fire which destroyed almost all the work of the hard-working students stored in the iconic Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building in 2014. Upon hearing the news at the time, it struck me just what it must have been like to have the culmination of three or four years of dedication and passion literally gone up in smoke. Having applied quite a few times to get into the School of Art, and having once taken a summer portf0lio-building class there, I can only say that the mere thought of it, let alone having it actually happen, was unbearable.

However, the degree show faithfully rolled around in June 2015, defiantly putting on display the emerging talents of the soon-to-be alumni. So in we popped to have a look around to see what it was like.

A free-entrance exhibition on a Monday afternoon wasn’t exactly peak publicity time, but this was to my advantage, as I got to all the more fully appreciate the work on show than the last time I attempted to view an exhibition. Paintings of all styles were on show (what with it being an art exhibition) but there were quite a few surrealist images on display, which I’m innately drawn to, and which show the environment we live in, from an entirely new perspective. Not only paintings there were, but corners and entire rooms were dedicated to a single “message” which the artist wanted to convey. Acrylic faces hung from the ceiling, ceramic objects were wobbled slightly on the table by me (thinking they were fixed down), TV sets showing something which you had to stand and watch for a while in order for it to make sense and intricate costumes of satin and lace (even at one point a lace “painting”) were refreshingly juxtaposed with a flourish of humour and the odd satirical message here and there. At one point I walked up a ramp with the end point obscured by a wall – it led to a small window, and nothing else, and I’m still trying to figure out its meaning…

My description of my visit is probably not the most evocative, and that is largely due to the fact that I didn’t take any photos while I was there. Unlike many places where photography by the visitor is banned, this place allowed pictures to be taken, but from prior experience I’ve learned that any photos taken in such a setting never does the object of the photo the slightest bit of justice. It’s just not the same. It’s the same reason that a few months ago, when I visited the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City, I very soon gave up even trying to take pictures because, even without the heaving throng of people obscuring almost everything there except the ceiling, I realised that it’s never the same as actually being there – unless it’s a damn good camera.

It’s certainly an incentive to pick up the camera, and the paintbrush, for artistic purposes again…

Book Review: “Holy Cow”

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Image not mine: from goodreads website

It’s about time I started doing more book reviews on Silly Goose.

Book reviews are something I’ve done quite a few of before, but these have tended to be scattered around here and there, never in the one place. Book reviews are also something I really enjoy doing, primarily as they combine reading, writing and giving my opinion on something I like 🙂

So on that note here is my first book review exclusively for this website, and that book is “Holy Cow” by David Duchovny.

Duchovny, of the X-Files and Californication fame, has been around as an actor for quite some time, so I had to at least investigate this first major literary offering; not least because of the title. Having read the outline, and who it was buy, I was intrigued enough to impatiently wait a month before downloading it onto my Kindle.

It is a novella-like tale of a talking cow called Elsie Bovary, (far from the only “cow” reference) who, apart from having a very human-like way of thinking, is your average cow, living in a field like your average cow, not knowing any different life, but whenever she starts to wonder why baby cows are taken away so quickly, soon followed by the cows themselves,  never to be seen again, she simply accepts this as a mysterious fact of life. But one day, wandering too near the farmhouse, she catches a horrific glimpse on TV of the reality of the human-run food chain.Elsie says some uncomplimentary, but undeniably reasonable, things about the human race. The term “humane” is perversely misguided to Elsie – and to everyone who knows something about what the modern food chain is really like: “Humans have to earn the right to be called animals again.”

Devastated by this new knowledge, Elsie begins planning to relocate to India, where she hears that cows are revered, and more importantly not eaten. Unable to keep from telling her best friend Mallory everything, including her plan, Mallory is shocked but still, for some reason, makes the decision to stay – presumably because she’s about to have a cow baby and the “nesting” instinct is more powerful than that to run away – but she urges Elsie to go, which results in an emotional departure. However, before long some others nearby catch onto, and want in on, the plan; Jerry the pig, who renames himself Shalom once he realises that pigs are, not quite revered, but are not eaten, in Israel, and Tom the turkey who decides on Turkey because… of the name of the place. So begins their journey, shared but separate, filled with much enlightenment and misadventure.

The “narrative voice” – which is Elsie recounting the tale with her editor giving her advice along the way – is a very young and naive one, which would have come across as immature, being peppered with lots of lingo associated with the text-speak generation, if she were not using it to tell a tale with a compelling message, and above all, a tale from the perspective of a cow who is being subject to the cruelty of the human world, and who simply wants to try and make a better life, and not to simply end up on a plate. I was expecting a totally different writing style, but I quickly got into the flow – and the misadventure.

I guess it’s glaringly obvious why this book would appeal to me (who doesn’t like talking animals who successfully disguise themselves as human in order to smuggle themselves on a plane..?) – I’m not sure whether or not “Holy Cow” has an intentionally pro-vegan message, but the most clear one is of the “circle of life”, encompassing humans and animals alike. In any case, it basically forces you to empathise with a would-be victim of the shadowy industry which carries out the acts which disturbs Elsie enough to run for her life in the first place. A thought-provoking globetrotting tale.

I’ll make myself leave it here so that the review remains spoiler-free…

Writing Update

In order to celebrate the summer solstice (since I can’t make it to Stonehenge and I would probably never find the place anyway) I’d like to draw attention to some more stuff I’ve been working on.

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View from my abode – love that midnight sun

#1 – My latest fling with some verse*

*Now has its own page on this site: “Meta-lite”

#2 – An extract from my new work-in-progress short story “Spin”, inspired by the legend of Arachne:

Before I really understand what I’ve taken on, I am unceremoniously set to work at the loom, with a different, much lower, stool to sit upon for the purpose.

I really have to reign in my recurring impulse to embellish the tapestry in my own way. I am given strict instructions not to “deviate” from the pattern. She has it all planned out for the big day.  I look at the picture, already becoming clear to see, of a young devout man, and a young devout woman – separately – imploring the gods to grant them a wish I cannot decipher from the clues provided here. This is followed by a cluster of young men and women enjoying each other’s company in an entirely wholesome way, then a flock of birds soaring over a field of wheat and grain.  The tapestry ends, rather abruptly, over the face of a young maiden (I don’t know if it’s the same one as the first one but she has a different expression on her face), and this is where I have to take over and finish the tapestry. It is around this point that I realise that I have not actually been provided with a “pattern”, per se, but the instructions were explicit nonetheless, to finish the tapestry in a way that is fitting. They have obviously credited me with barely enough common sense to finish the pattern more or less by repeating what has come before.

Each time I return to the tapestry, I re-evaluate what I have to do next, and it changes only a little each time. Mostly, I try to recreate what has come before – groups of young men and women enjoying a chaste gathering, flocks of birds, trees and bushes, houses, basically anything inoffensive.

I begin by finishing the girl’s face and body. She is perhaps too symmetrical to be realistic but better that than imperfect – or ugly.

I soon find that this is too easy, but at the same time it’s too hard, too boring to do this all day every day. The temptation to alter the pattern, to add my own flourish, is getting stronger each time I sit down to face the loom once again. I fantasise about making the silliest and boldest changes to the tapestry; having the young man yawning whilst praying, the young woman’s strand of hair coming a little loose, the lambs bouncing around the field, the birds “depositing” on the house below, one of the young men giving a sneaky pinch to one of the  young women… but each impulse I only barely manage to suppress, falling in line with the prescribed pattern.

This task has taken a few days, as I’ve been called away from the project several times to attend to some other chore in the house. I am going to give myself the gift of something of my own.

 I set to work, barely thinking about each motion I go through in my sequence which I’ve taken many years to learn to perfection.

Eventually the tiny threads converge to make a rainbow-like string, strong enough to catch the light, yet delicate enough that I barely felt it when I placed it along my wrist, allowing myself to imagine what it would be like to be allowed to wear such a thing, such a thing that wouldn’t snap and flutter away if caught on something.

It just barely covers the mark made upon my wrist many years ago, which although faded with time. It is now covered with something of my own making. Almost. Not quite.

 

Happy pagan dancing!