Methistopheles
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I have used my last full week before going back to work to sort out all those things that needed doing, but had not been done. DiY, gardening, dentist, medical MOT. I've also finalised my PhD application - it is out for a final review by my potential director of studies - and banged out a load of new agent queries as well. Mainly I have been reading a lot, and playing with Josh.

Dark stuff is still dark. The roller coaster runs out of control and whilst there are ups as well as downs, the ride is heading towards doom.

My cholesterol levels are too high - I've been struggling to understand why, because I don't eat a lot of fat - but it might have something to do with the number of ready meals I have been having for lunch[1].





[1] no "might" about it - those things are lethal

There is still too much difficult stuff going on for me to be able to write about. I have sat down a few times to try and am overwhelmed by it all. The written word makes things true. It is strange that I could write about it if it were fiction, but not this way. I tried to write it as though it were fiction; it was still too much.

Much of my life has been survival mode for the last few months. I've been planning no more than one day ahead, snatching sleep and exercise where I can and mainly holding it together. When anyone has asked me how things are, I have always replied "Ups and downs." A simple truth that hides so much detail. Made one day of Odyssey, no days of Loncon.

So, let me talk about a few of the ups. First and foremost, I have a new job. I'm waiting for the contract to turn up before I shout about it in public, but I'm going to be working for the BBC and the Arts Council. Still doing the same sort of work, but in a very different sector. I start in the middle of September.

Josh is making good progress; slow progress, perhaps, but still progress. His grasp of technology never ceases to amaze me. He's now using google to search for things! He types in the name of the thing that he is interested in[1] and navigates from there.

The prospect of a job also means that my redundancy money - such as it was - can be used for stuff around the house rather than for living expenses; I am excited by this as I am very fond of this place and enjoy the process of changing and improving it.

I also submitted a short story - I think technically flash fiction - today. That'll be the first thing for over a year now.

Went to Heist the other night with H, Kat, and a group of Larpers. It was good fun. The actors were really very good. But so were we, and we stole the painting and got out intact.

There, that'll do for the moment.


[1] This week mainly Steam Trains and Michael Rosen performing "Bear Hunt"

"Everything starts with an E
Everything starts with an E
it's fun to ask for drugs on national TV ... can I have an E please, Bob"

The oppressive, soul leeching, swamp weather continues; as though we are trapped in a technicolour version of the African Queen, but Hepburn hasn't showed up and instead we've cast some Z list celebrity who is famous for having a surgically enhanced bottom, and replaced Bogart with H from Steps.

Last night I slept with the airconditioning on. It is an old unit, the sort of thing that would require the attentions of Harry Tuttle, except for the fact that he is a work of fiction and the a/c is a work of Victorian engineering. It puts out wonderful cold, dry, air; it makes the noise of the industrial revolution.

I pretended I was at some late 80s ICA experimental noise gig; a sort of Test Department vs Neubauten pneumatic drill and bass power noize-a-thon. And in doing so I drifted off to sleep.

This morning I have updated my CV for a job application that needs to be in tomorrow. Sharp eyed readers may have noticed that I am now unemployed, having parted ways with my previous employer during the course of the last week. I have taken the term "gardening leave" literally.

Next on the list is the PhD abstract. This was due in on Friday of last week, but it turns out that studying and academic writing is harder than I remembered. Particularly when dragging a boat up an African River.

I am on the tube. I like the tube. It is an exercise in finding your own space in the world and cutting out all external input. There are a hundred people in this car. I know nothing about any of them - don't even know what they look like - and by the end of my 40 minute ride across the city that will not have changed.

We don't make eye contact. If we have to acknowledge the existence of another human being it is done whilst wearing a metaphorical hazmat suit. We shut down our senses. Smell first, then hearing. Finally sight is turned down to recognise the phone or newspaper held up in front of our faces like a fencing mask made of words.

The massage of the wheels on track, a counterpoint of head phone hiss and the lyrical beauty of the automated message - the next station is Earl's Court - make a gentle hypnosis.

Soon I shall be in Hammersmith. I will mind the gap and trust those waiting on the platform will let me off first. I will turn the news quiz back on - paused while underground - and listen to Jeremy Hardy's faintly suppressed Middle Class Rage, now faded to a tut.

All this happens surrounded by half a million people. All of this happens in isolation.

Sunlight streams in to the carriage.

And so begins another weary day

I worry about the amount of time I spend in front of a computer. It seems extreme. Even my leisure time is spent writing or editing or - when things are not going so well - refreshing social media or playing games.

Yesterday I put up the shelves I had been promising in the back room for over a year[1]. This being done, I wired up the Wii and the PS2[2] and shot some Grindhouse zombies in the head.

I try to offset the geekery with physical exercise. Yesterday was a 100 minute kickboxing training session. It is Sensei Emma's last week of teaching before she goes on maternity leave so we had Sensei Maria and her new Sempai doing the teaching. It was, even by Maria's standards, brutal. Hundreds of press ups, focus on basic technique, and I got kicked, really hard, in the thigh. I suppose it is in the nature of kick boxing that you are going to get kicked; but Lazlo is 7 feet tall and is double hard. I am still limping today.

But movement sets me free. Without the joyous physicality of the training there would be no conduit for the toxic data and cortisol and bleak.

I'm having B12 injections at the moment. One every few days last week and this week. I am not sure why I am vitamin B12 deficient. I need to get to the bottom of that, and possibly eat more marmite, but said injections are not terribly pleasant. They feel quite like being kicked by Lazlo.
[1] More specifically, I put up one shelf and messed up another shelf. This second one needs throwing away and re-doing.
[2] Old school - I happen to like the Gauntlet and House of the Dead series

sorry

Never make a decision on the Tuesday after an event. It is the time when energy levels are at their lowest. Emotions seem to take a hammering and the fog of fatigue still sits heavy over the whole mess.

I am on a tube on my way into work. It is cold. I have a cold. Right now I would rather be asleep. I expect this state of affairs will last until the weekend.

Yesterday I was so tired that I could not see properly. I took the bus up to Muswell Hill for my optician appointment because had I tried to drive, I would have crashed. I slept for most of the afternoon. I scarcely remember the rest of it.

The weekend passed in a haze of mud and stress. I put my tent as far away from anyone else as I could, but by the time I crawled into it at 2am on Friday, other people had decided to set up camp next to me so they could be sociable until 3am and then start snoring. I had to give up at 5am. No sleep, just a hot shower and some porridge to keep me going through to midnight. I am not as good at 42 hour days as I used to be. Particularly ones when I have to juggle times and people. Saturday night there were fireworks, and a disco. WTF that came from I do not know.

I made mistakes this time. Not catastrophic ones, perhaps, but mistakes let the team down. These things are a team effort. One weak link and other people have to pick up after them. I resorted to picking litter and half-eaten food containers out of the mud and putting them into bin bags. That felt like a contribution.

"It seems unfair on the other team members that I let them down. I should stop." Such thoughts are the nature of Bleak Tuesday. One needs a few extra days before coming to any kind of decision.

I saw little of the event; just a path back and forth from Story to God to tent for two lonely days. A radio headset, something wrong with the volume so that every transmission was too loud - I still have a ringing in my ears - was the only voice that ever called me by name. My conversations were professional, relevant to the task at hand, terse, and full of panic

At PD everyone else knows each other. They have shared experiences, battles, events that they have played. I find myself the outsider again. Only a few words with old Harts in the dark keep me from feeling lonely when it got cold. Strange times.

Sleep deprivation? Confusion? The inability to construct a sentence without affecting a northern accent; a paranoid certainty that I am not wanted. How can I keep doing this to myself? This is neither escapism nor the telling of stories, it is Satan's own project management; trying to keep to a time line that swims and mutates in front of me. By Saturday afternoon I have to close one eye in order to read the spreadsheet; the colours were too faded for me to be sure which nation is which.

Questions come through. I have no answers to any of them. I am the receptionist. The people with the answers are ... Elsewhere. Eating, on the field, having a break. I don't know. I don't know. Some names crop up again and again. They've not done the things they are supposed to do; players are waiting. Waiting means we are behind time. Being on time is all that matters.

I have a clock, a cheap battery operated one nailed to the tent post. It is at a jaunty angle so it always looks wrong by 5 minutes.

Cortisol and adrenalin. Suntan lotion and ibuprofen. Mud. A flood. A river running past the back of my desk - situated next to the electric - and a thunderstorm over head. Someone says it is epic. I fetch a shovel and try to divert the stream.

I left at time out. 3pm and I was in the car, air conditioning running and the surprise joy of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" On Radio 4. It saw me home. I was so tired I left the car keys in the lock of the Shark! They were still there yesterday morning. Half an hour later, a family emergency called me out again. I did not get home until almost 9pm. Had a glass of wine. Some Chinese food. Slept.

Reading the player froth yesterday I still don't feel a part of it. The team seem to be on a high, proud of what they have done; loving the interactions with players; "feeling the Love."

I don't know who I am today. I hurt. I have sunburn. A head so heavy with mud that I may topple over forwards. A heart so heavy that there is thunder and lightning inside me. My muscles hurt as though I have cried a marathon.

In another world I would have been at a funeral on Friday - far to the north - and flown to Italy for a party on Saturday; once in a lifetime invitation to the British Embassy in Rome. But in this world I broke myself. I borrowed time from the future. I don't know if I enjoyed it. I can feel nothing.

It is a strange thing, a deadline. A point at which, if something is not done then it is too late. Sometimes it stirs one to action. In other cases it brings about a sort of paralysis; one that surely turns to panic when the time comes closer.

Some people can work well without a deadline. Others can't do anything without a ticking countdown clock and an arbitrary end.

* * *

Went to training last night, even though I didn't want to. There are two types of 'don't want to,' I have found. The lazy kind, and the self-destructive kind.

The lazy type is easily dealt with. You go out and you train; at the end of the session you will feel better for it. The self-destructive kind is dangerous as it often becomes self-fulfilling.
It manifests as a near-certainty that you are going to get hurt. It is the mind set that has seen me fall from a horse, come back from the dojo with fractures and strains. It has torn rotator cuffs and ligaments; it has broken bones.

Yesterday was the lazy kind. I went and trained and I kicked its arse. I am a little sore today, but it is the good kind of hurting.

My body has changed shape. There is a lot of muscle tone where, if I am honest, things were getting flabby. I've reversed the trend of middle-aged spread in exchange for some abdominal definition and the ability to kick down doors.

I wonder how much my mind has changed, though. The Bleaks still come - of course they do - but are they less frequent? Am I managing them better? If yesterday's events are anything to go by, the answer would appear to be 'yes.'

I got into an argument online yesterday evening. With a stranger. I should know better, of course, but it was an emotive subject and someone was being a fool, suggesting that victims of sexual assault should 'just go to the police and let them deal with it.' They'd waded in to a discussion without knowing the full context and were in the middle of judging people and situations they knew nothing about.

I'm afraid I was a tad sarcastic; I suggested, quite gently I think, that the poster lived in a world of unicorns and bottersnikes if that was the only solution they had. It probably came across as rude and aggressive; in my defence it was a lot less rude and aggressive than the words that were in my head.

And then someone - I can only assume it was the original poster's partner - appeared and started making threats.

It is odd, making physical threats against a stranger on the internet. Not only do you not know where they live, but you also don't know much about them. For all they knew I could be six foot seven and a borderline psychotic with a house full of swords. (I am not, of course; I am only 5'9")

Some years ago this sort of threat would have got to me. Anger would turn to upset and then to fear. I'd lie awake while The Bleak took the poster's words and turned them into something possible, something tangible. Yesterday, not so much. Sure, I'm still angry enough to write about it, but that is more for the sake of column inches than out of any need for eTherapy.

Onwards, and upwards.

Today the World Cup of Association Football begins. A sport in which millionaires ruin a lawn in order to make even richer men ruin nations. It pays the mortgage, and if England don't get knocked out in the group stages it will bode well for getting a bonus next year, but I really can't be arsed with it.

That being said, it is something one can tune out. Complaining about football has become fashionable again. I'm going to suggest that if you don't like it - don't watch it. Don't read the back pages of a newspaper. Don't read any tabloids, ever. Boil a kettle when the sport comes on the Today Programme and have a nice cup of tea.

If you must complain; then direct your ire and your impotent rage against FIFA. And while you are about it at the IOC and The Sun Newspaper. Because they are all farage[1].

Well I have managed to write, or think about writing, for the half hour it takes to get from Finsbury Park to Earl's Court. That'll do for this morning.

Over & out


[1] n. The rotting juices found at the bottom of a wheelie bin

I gave up on the Oksa Pollock. Someone had force-fed the authors a gerund farm. It was annoyingly repetitive. Imagine Dan Brown, paid by the word, writing Harry Potter.

Today I have picked up Carl Hiaasen's "Chomp." One chapter in and I am starting to feel human again. I think I made the decision to switch at the right time. Otherwise I'd be on strong medicine: A single Mike Harrison sentence taken twice a day with a coffee and a picture of a mountain.

"Shakespeare said 'brevity is the soul of wit.'
I say 'bum,' and thus I win"[1]

Work continues to be awful. Other stuff isn't good either. We'll say no more about them here.

My next kick boxing grading is in July. I've got the fitness for it; I can handle that. I just need to get the movements into my head for the basics and combinations and work on the pairs - a LOT

We did some sparring last night. I was against Anna who is going for her black belt later in the year. I've started to get the measure of her now as I think she landed only one punch in the three minutes. I have to be careful though as she tends to run in close just as I am doing a side kick; one of them lifted her off her feet (it was supposed to be light touch.)

All my writing has stalled these last few months. I need to get back to it. I really miss the exercises and deadlines of formal study.

Deadlines.

[1] Simon Munnery

I have been reading YA fiction. Every now and then I like to have a look at what is being written for teenagers; just in case I can work out how to do it.

I've managed one and a half books in a fortnight. Given that I can comfortably read and enjoy a novel of some size in a day this does not bode well.

The first of these was Divergent. Described as 'the new Hunger Games,' actually it is the old Hunger Games with a few modifications around the edges. Teenage girl is forced to fight for her survival in an unlikely dystopia. Along the way she falls in an entirely platonic love with a mysterious boy with an inner strength and a dark secret. She has special powers and l33t sk1llz which don't really make sense but will probably come out in book 3.

I didn't hate it. But I did swear out loud on more than one occasion; as a piece of science fiction it fails. The technology of the society is too advanced for the underlying social structure. A weird techno-tribalism but without any unifying force behind it. It is a society that would already be in open warfare without needing any kind of manipulation. It read like someone had deconstructed the narrative elements of the Hunger Games, changed a few names, and glued it all back together with pritt stick.

It tackles some interesting issues. I suspect it should come with a trigger warning. It is the way it deals with a sexual assault that makes it interesting. Enough, perhaps, for me to seek out the sequel.

The second book on my list is the opening volume in the Oksa Pollock series - entitled The Last Hope. It's a sub-Harry Potter story of a girl who discovers she has magical powers. It turns out that most of her family are magical fairies of some type or another and they have talking plants and an entire menagerie of Jar Jar Binks style amusing creatures who faint and fart and are overblown or stupid.

The story suffers from two authors. One of them, I think, understands how to write and how to tell a story. The other does not. Large sections of it appear to have been written in such a way as to artificially inflate the number of words in any given sentence. It is as though the writer needed to churn out a thousand words before stopping for a tasty snack.

There is no obvious editing. 'There are so many adverbs that I often find the need to stop and get my breath back,' he thought breathlessly before pausing for a moment to catch his breath.

Now I know I am one so speak. I have, at times, gone down the route of writing sentences that are overcomplicated; I will use a semi colon where a full stop would do. But then I have almost one hundred rejection letters for my writing and the Guardian Children's Books section has never described my work as 'Fantastic.'

I can't read more than a chapter - usually a day in the life of Oksa in which she totally fails to control herself and behaves like a magical turd who needs to be washed away before regretting her actions and having a tasty meal cooked by a magical butler monster - before having to stop.

This morning I read a copy of The Metro in order to calm myself down.

I have a suspicion that it is going to join the very small and select set of novels that I could not finish. I fully acknowledge that it will probably turn out that one of you wrote it under a pseudonym; in which case:

Shorter sentences.
Fewer adverbs.
Show don't tell.
Make your lead character a rounded person.

So what is the point of this? Some sort of talking therapy for a failed writer. I dis other people's efforts in order to make myself feel better?

Not so much. I really wanted to enjoy these books. I read for pleasure. I read in order to escape - now more than ever - and if I have to keep stopping then the story has failed.

I note that were we to transpose the heroine from Divergent into the second book the work would have been more interesting. Darker, but fascinating.

I am not a very nice person.

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