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Thursday, 10 September 2020

A Year's Worth

A year ago today, England FC played Kosovo in a Euro Qualifier match, beating them 5-3. And I stopped drinking alcohol. For me, that was a big deal. The drinking thing, that is, not the chaotic and, frankly, unconvincing England display. It was a big deal because alcohol has been a big part of my life, from my work (as a bar person), to how I socialise and spend my leisure time, to being a brewer's son etc etc. However, due to using it as a coping mechanism during a shitty few years in my personal life, it started to become too big a part of my life, and, having tried reducing my intake and struggling, I decided to haul on the anchors completely and stop, for as long as I could. For a year? Forever? I wasn't sure, but I was going to try it and see what happened.

The first two weeks were pretty interesting. After my second day, I'd already been the most sober I'd been in about six months, because, even though I wasn't necessarily drinking lots every day, I was drinking a little bit almost daily. After a week or two, I had this very strange feeling of complete sobriety. I noted at the time that it should be the other way around; I should feel weird/different because I'm drunk, not because I'm sober. It underlined what a friend had been saying to me, that we often use alcohol as armour, to help protect us from our nerves or awkwardness, for example, but there comes a point [when we abuse it] that all that supposed confidence and protection becomes toxic, and our dependency on it increases so that what we can do without it decreases. I still don't know exactly what point I got to, i.e. whether I'd have classed myself as an alcoholic. For me, that would be the point at which I can't hold down a job, or my relationships suffered. But my relationship with myself was certainly suffering, and my bodily health too, so I can't pretend it wasn't affecting me, and was merely 'hard socialising'.

I normally get asked one of two questions when the subject comes up. The least-frequently asked is "Why?" often followed by a slightly awkward, "Was it your decision, or... [the ellipsis meaning 'are you an alcoholic, and/or has a doctor intervened']?" Most people don't have more than two seconds to wait for you to speak before they interrupt me (but you, dear readers, shall feel the full brunt of my ramble!), so I hodge-podged it slightly, giving people various flavours of the following reasons; I have an alcoholic in my close family. This has stimulated me to stop in two ways - firstly that I speak to a lot of service users/providers for people with substance misuse issues, and their knowledge and wisdom made me re-examine my own relationship with booze. Secondly, when this family member was to come out of rehab, they had to come back to an alcohol-free abode, and I found it easy to quit while they were away, so that when they returned, I would a) not have any alcohol in the house, and b) not be tempted to bring any back while they were here. Other reasons include various 'normal' considerations. I have been suffering health-wise for a few years with various mental and physical complaints, and drinking helps none of them (even though I have used it 'to help me sleep', and de-stress, it adversely affects the quality of one's sleep, which then affects how you deal with stress etc). I was hoping to lose weight, too. Stop spending so much money... Y'know, fairly normal stuff. And there were also considerations such as the challenge of it, do I still have willpower, etc. Which I do.

The thing people most often ask is, "Do you feel better for it?" It's asked in various ways, often in a leading way, assuming that I'm absolutely going to say yes, and wax lyrical about a million and one ways I feel great now I'm no longer poisioning myself. Actually, although I wish I could say a resounding 'yes', it's an absolute 'no with a but'. I don't feel much better, if at all. My aches and pains are no longer being numbed, and neither are my moods. I was actually a bit scared at one point, because all my mental issues (of depression etc) loomed larger at me when I was sober, with an edge and strength that hadn't been there for a long time, and I thought about drinking again to make me feel better in the moment.

To balance this, tho, my mental clarity has increased. My speed of analysis, recall, ability to separate emotions and assumptions from 'truth' and whatnot is quicker, so I feel perhaps a little better able to deal with what comes. And this sort of brings me on to what I've learned as a whole - that alcohol isn't the big issue for me. It's events and environments make me want to self-medicate, and I could take all the coping mechanisms out of my life, only to find a new one (human nature?). At the minute, I'm really battling with eating. I've always liked (a lot of) food, but really, I think not long after my mum passed away, and I went back into bar work after an all-too-brief absence, I started really eating, lots of takeaways late at night and stuff like that. Trying to fill a hole, as it were, though the 'problem hole' is not literal, it's emotional and mental. Anyway, my weight is up and down, my inflammation problems, depression, sleep, they're all still bad, still causing me problems, and that's because there are other habits that have, if anything, only increased in severity since I stopped drinking. You can see, then, that 'do I feel better for not drinking' is not a straightforward question to answer. There have been benefits, but my problems are still very much here, and won't go anywhere unless I tackle them at root.

So not drinking has been a fun 'experiment', but even though I've known for ages that I'm obviously not addressing things 'properly', it's only in this past month that I've started thinking that I really need to change things again. This time I need to try and build health into my life (who knows, maybe even get some targeted help for my depression...), with sleep, anxiety management, more of the five paths, etc etc - something that goes beyond merely forgoing things that are not helping.

Anyway, this isn't how I planned this post to go on. I don't know... It feels a bit bland, and not very educational or inspiring... Nothing ever works out how you think, tho. I wonder what a year's worth of alcohol consumption would look like, how big a barrel it would fill? Maybe I'll get the boffins on it, get a figure to you all by next week.

I hope things are well in your world. Well, they're probably not great at the moment, they're tough all round, but I hope at least that you're finding joy in the little things wherever you can. That's as positive as I can be!

Goodbye!

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Actual News!

I got some rather good news while writing this post. It was originally to be titled 'Something of a Roundup', and feature some news and musings of a decent nature, but this latest development has put an even better spin on things.

Initially I was going to say how I'd entered a flash fiction competition run by the folks at 5asideCHESS (in partnership with the Morecambe Fringe) and although I'm deflated to have not been one of the winners, I'm happy to have submitted something, and I believe an anthology is going to be produced, which I should be in (all entrants will be published, unless they don't want to be, so I understand), which is great. I can't put too fine a point on how important it is to keep talking about mental health, and I'm happy 5asideCHESS and Morecambe Fringe have given us this opportunity to express our Covid-19 thoughts through the medium of sort fiction. It's not just a benefit to the writers themselves, but hopefully everyone reading the stories (or listening to/watching them in these videos that I don't seem to be able to link to individually...) will at least be entertained, but hopefully deeper chords will be struck too :)

One thing I didn't enter, that I should have done really, was the 100 Words of Solitude project. I don't regret not submitting too much, because I wasn't 'just being lazy' and putting it off, I had (and have) other pressing things going on in my life, and will just look out for the next opportunity, rather than chastise myself for missing that one. I've really been enjoying the entries I've read over on their site. There were a few standard thoughts and expressions, sure, but mainly there's a wonderful variety of angles they've attacked the brief from, some real dreamy narratives, and some bizarre surreality etc etc, lovely, go check them out :) And keep an eye out for the book they're producing - I'll be hoping to get a copy myself :)

Another part of the original post was going to mention how it's nearly two years since Till Roll was published. That's nuts... To think what I've (not) done with my life in that time... Shameful. But I digress :) I will instead say how happy I am that Till Roll ever came to be (it was, and is, an honour to have worked with Sam Riviere on that), and I've bought a number of titles from If a Leaf Falls Press since then, which have all pushed the boundaries of poetry in such a way that is enjoyable, but serious. As ever, do check out his site and, if you think you're at all bothered about poetry, then you should check out some of his titles (his own, and the ones he's published).

But now, without further ado: BIG NEWS! I found out on Thursday that I had been shortlisted for the Literary Lancashire Award. I can't remember now if LLA came up as a Facebook advert, or whether someone from a local Creative Exchange group shared it back in February, but either way, I thought it sounded good and got to work on a piece using a technique I'd recently been experimenting with, and produced 'Since Error'. I don't want to blather on about it too much (I'm giddy and all that, but I have to remember not to make you, dear reader, suffer my pretentious dissections of craft, as if I've bloody won the Faber and Faber 'None Greater' award for 'absolutely smashing poetry and being a poet'), but yes, it is great to have that boost, and I look forward so much to reading everyone's entries when the collection comes out. I see that the winners have been published in Cake Magzine (buy your digi-copy HERE), but keep your eyes peeled for the collection of winners, runners up, and 'shortlistees' which I'm assured will be out soon. If any of the organisers are reading this; thank you for your time and effort in creating such an opportunity, bringing together and celebrating Lancashire's writing talent :)

Au revoir!

Friday, 10 July 2020

The Joy of Montalbano

Recently, I wanted to visit my literary safe space, just fancied that bit of escapism, y'know, as we all do from time to time. For me, this means Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri's food-loving, age-precipice-fearing inspector. I was willfully wallowing in the comfortable procedural plots, happy to revisit the old friends that Montalbano, his detective friends, his girlfriend, and incidental characters had become. It's far from the kind of 'trash' level that most people mean when they talk about 'trash TV', but, yeah, it comes across as a gritty soap opera almost (speaking of which - must remember to get some more of that gritty soap next time I'm shopping for ablutables).

I enjoyed the book this time, as usual (The Patience of the Spider, or, Il Pazienza del Ragno, the eighth novel of the series). Things don't follow a typical 'solve the crime in time, justice done by the book/letter of the law' kind of thing in the inspector's world, and it's the same that here, the sensitive detective discovers the truth of the matter (who the kidnappers are, in this case), but instead of bringing them to justice (having them tried and put in jail), he makes sure that 'justice' is done (a kind of greater good).

SPOILERS

I'm not really reviewing or criticising this book (for one, I think a review would best be suited for the series as a whole, looking at things a bit more zoomed out, but anyway, that may be a convo for when I've read them all), but I had a few things I wanted to note. The first was the way chapters are realised. I'd not noticed in the previous stories, but there seems to be a tendency for chapters to not do much, other than mark arbitrary progress. Or rather, a chapter ends 'like chapters should' (I mean, in the sense of most conventional literature), in that they end on a pivotal realisation, or in the immediate pre-math of a heavy scene/action, and as we see the page become blank, we think feverishly forward - what's going to happen? A 'cliffhanger', in other words. But the start of the next chapter usually has some whip about it. Perhaps it starts from a new angle, maybe a bit further forward in time (and in this case I'm speaking only about linear time. One could easily jump about temporally, spatially, consciously (i.e. from another character), etc etc), maybe just with an extra bit of scene-setting description, to keep that feeling of 'what's going to happen next?' on a rolling boil. In Montalbano, tho, I notice that the story just keeps going on exactly as it was, sometimes even with a direct response in dialogue to a question posed, for example, at the end of the preceding chapter. In short, the chapter break could just be a bookmark you've placed in at any point, on any page. So I feel the chapter break 'doesn't matter', because everything carries on with the same momentum and feeling as it did before. I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. I suppose it suits the style of the procedural, you know, in that it's 'getting on with it', going forward. And I wouldn't be so arrogant (not on a Friday, anyway) as to suggest that it could be made better when Andrea Camilleri and Stephen Sartarelli are on the team, but yet, I just can't help feel they could have made it more contrived, more artful, and maybe let these moments breathe a little bit. I dunno...

Another thing I thought about this particular book was that it really let a couple of clangers of clues drop. The book, as usual, takes a while to really get going (again, not a negative, because Montalbano's style is usually about being a real sponge, letting these seemingly unconnected tributaries of facts flow into him until he is full of the truth), but I feel that it was about halfway through that we learn more about the guy who turns out to be kidnapper, who lets the inspector know that his property used to be a farm that made wine, and we know by his grand book collection that he is well-read, both of which come into the spotlight when, shortly after, we realise that the girl who has been taken is being held in a wine vat, and the kidnapper chooses very specific, apt words on their notes, indicating a certain level of education. When the reveal came, I was not just not surprised, but deflated somewhat. It's not just an entirely personal reaction, but a logical one, too; if I can work it out (if the clues are that obvious), then how did some of the other officers not see it? It seemed a bit of a poorly grounded contrivance that Montalbano would be the only one to notice it. But having said all this, the actual ending was enjoyable to a degree (bittersweet, like the first Aperol spritz of the evening in a warm, placid piazza), and we have to keep in mind that this Italian detective fiction is not like the Poirot or Marple-esque 'gather all the suspects into a room for tea, scones, and revelations. Place an officer on that door for the inevitable escape attempt by a rich dandy who'd struggle to run his way through a wet paper bag.' It's enough to say that there have been more satisfying conclusions (in the sense of the case itself, not the story) in other episodes.

I know these sound like nit-picks. I could go on about all the things I liked a lot, but ultimately these things are what I like about the series as a whole, hence why they'd be more suited to a dedicated 'retrospective' kind of post (in my mind, anyway. You, my dear, cherished audience, you may disagree. Please tell me if you do. Everyone's entitled to be wrong).

Time for me to go. Until next time, un abbraccio :) Arrivederci amici etc xox

Friday, 5 June 2020

As a Sign of the Changing Tiimes

Today, whilst I was reading, I had to do a double take on a word. What I first read as 'lockdown' was, in fact, 'knockdown'.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Just Checking In, Really

I struggle to believe that it's been nearly a month since I last posted anything on this blog. I had a quiet aim to post once a week, and clearly that's not happened. Things in life have overtaken me somewhat. I don't write this in a 'woe is me' kind of way - I know there are always people worse off - but I suppose I'm trying to come to some understanding of it myself. If this first step is possible (or even when it isn't!), it's always the aim to (probably inadvertently) pass on some kind of wisdom along the way, so here's hoping.

I suppose the last time I wrote anything on here (rather than just linking) was before a fire that happened in my house. I was using an old laptop and the battery in it exploded. First of all, it's worth pointing out that, apart from happening at all, I was very lucky that a) I wasn't seriously hurt (I burnt my foot a bit, but that's all), b) that the damage was very localised (when you consider how quickly whole houses can go up, you know, this hadn't got anywhere near devastation level), c) the fire services were very quick to respond (I wasn't sure if I'd completely put the fire out before I had to leave the room due to smoke, so I was understandably nervous until they arrived). The worst thing about the whole episode was the loss of some of my writing (lots of papers were on my desk, especially newer drafts that I hadn't typed up yet) and, now that I think about it, the shock of it, and the interruption to what I was doing at the time, and the momentum I had built up (I was doing well sorting out possessions in my room, doing more reading and writing etc). As I say, tho, these are very minor concerns relatively, and I count myself extremely fortunate to be able to tell you this like I am.

Daniele Pantano's Mass Graves: City of Now and Maya Angelou's And Still I Rise are two books the cosmos deemed worthy by trial of fire.
I've gone 'a bit mad' (I won't bother unpacking that one, or we'll be here all night...) since then trying to make some eBay money. The constant scrolling through auctions and all that jazz has taken up lots of time and energy (all my choice, yes), and I've eased off that. Because I'm buying and selling (go to my shop for a bargain!) games, that means I've been playing on a few, too, and though I don't see that time as completely wasted (it's been fun, after all), I sometimes feel it is because it doesn't tie in with my, and other people's, definitions of 'productivity' - of which blogging is only a small part ('SMALL!?' I hear you shriek. 'But your blog's contribution to the world is so unfathomably large - how, pray tell, could it ever be described as a 'small part' of anything, unless in a crude, jokey sort of a way?' Well, I say stop being so sarcy).

Jazmin Linklater's Toward Passion According and Zarf: Issue 11 are two more works that have passed through the fire and come out victorious.
These are two selected flash-points in a general 'up and down-ness' that I think we're all going through at the moment (for those of us for whom life is already like that, then it's more pronounced, I think). There have been other frustrations and niggles that have got me down and fucked me up a bit, but c'est la vie. What did I do to help myself? Well, read on...

I have just written a bit of a diary, and felt my head was a little clearer afterwards. These days, my diaries aren't so angsty and dripping with soul torture juices (TM), they tend to be more about what I'm going to do to change (I suppose the seeds of this were sown in Robert Sheppard's focus on poetics as a speculative writerly discourse - when I write poetics, it is often to find a way forward. But anyway, I'm not the guy to broach that subject. And if I was, I'd do it in a post that isn't already huge, unwieldy, and generally rather inane), as this one was. Then I wrote a bit of poetry - first time in too long. Some of the drafts I mentioned before that were damaged in the fire, I made into a new poem by combining the words that were left behind, the ones that survived, and suddenly felt great (yes, probably a bit of mania before another drop, but I'm using it to write this! Strike while the iron's hot, etc. Dunno what you do when the iron's cold. Put it back in the cupboard, I suppose).

"Nature abhors a vacuum, and fire abhors unworthy poetry," says the aphorism as old as time. So it was that some of my work has completely perished. Some of it, however, fought back.
Is that the wisdomful nugget of this post? Writing cures all? Haha, I don't think so. I mean, I think it can help all of us in some way or another, but I think this deeper feeling of contentedness, perhaps (if it even is that...), is due to paying attention to one's own 'higher power', which for me I think is writing. To put that into a soundbite thing, maybe it's a case of you 'getting out of it what you put in'? Other things that I'm doing to combat the shit mental health are growing chilli peppers (thanks for the seeds, Ann!), and I'm working on making an effort to hopefully get my outdoor exercise levels back up to the point they were at before Covid-19 had me looking at people out the window like 'Unwashed doom-bringer! Stay out of my sight, lest you infect my eyes! The eyes are the windows to the soul, and I want my soul to be healthy. Yes, healthy soul, healthy soul... All the outside air is bad for the soul - Devil air, yes it is!' (this said as I rock back and forth on the floor, slowly clawing at my face until it starts to bleed).

And that, I think, is it (I have to legally add "for now" after saying that, because people's Blogtastic-based disappointment translates to a lot of litigation). Let's re-cap; it's all about moving forward. I'm not dwelling on the bad stuff in the past, or the bad stuff now. I am happy that I'm doing good stuff (self-defined), that there are people that I love and that love me, and that life is (at least potentially) rich and wonderful again.

Peace, love, and light, folks :)

Friday, 17 April 2020

Rakhshan Rizwan reads from Paisley

Whilst aimlessly Facebooking this evening, I happened upon an event in swing (well, it had already swung by the time I saw it, but it had 'gone live' to the world recently), and I'm so glad I did. Rakhshan Rizwan was reading from her debut collection Paisley from The Emma Press, and chatting to her host Emma Wright, founder of said press. You can (I think...) view the reading by clicking here: https://www.facebook.com/TheEmmaPress/videos/159614752058509/

First off, I want to say a bit about the reading as a concept. In this time of lockdown, the gig was held over an online conference call facility, but, put simply, it detracted from nothing. The poems sparkled with the same jewell-light that they would do had they been coming in live, over radio, or whatever. You still got that 'extra magic' of seeing the author interacting with their own work and the audience - which is always the great privilege at readings - and even, thanks to the generosity of the participants, some questions and answers, too. In some ways, I actually preferred it being online. Sometimes while traveling to events, especially in a big city, I can tend to arrive there fatigued and nervous, and can't always give the artists one-hundred per cent concentration. Not so when I'm watching it at home! I did miss chatting to other people who were enjoying the evening, tho, especially one person who I often get to chat to on the train back from Manchester after Peter Barlow's Cigarette extravaganzas... Anyway, this isn't a 'compare and contrast' of reading types - it's just to say that I felt all the wonderful buzz and inspiration I normally do when I go to a reading, that everyone did a bloomin' good job, and how lucky I am :)

I enjoyed the poetry, too. It started off with a poem about time, which is my favourite philosophical preoccupation (just reading that phrase will do strange things to your temporal perception, so I'd call a doctor if I were you...), that conveys such an important truth about 'organisation' - of society and therefore our lives.

When I hear a 'broad title' (i.e. a title that's named after a topic/issue/concept, so as to give it an expansive gaze) such as 'Migrant', I often worry that it's going to take on a kind of polemic tone, be very preachy and flat, but Rizwan absolutely avoided this in her poem of that name. Her work instead found new, touching ways of exploring ideas surrounding migration. One 'cheesy' line gives us an essential, immediate image ("Leerdammer cheese sits on a slice of toast," making me think of the things that unite us all in humanhood), whilst the next one zooms out to the wider injustices played out by many in a society that is, unfortunately, more divided than it should be - "I shed pounds working two jobs in hopes of securing a paper-thin ticket home." For context, this last line brings together much of the poems tangible quality, the idea of the length of grass, the movement of turbine blades in air, of snow's weight - it really holds you tight into its being, so you feel it, and hear what it's saying.

Next I want to say how repetition is used well in many of the works she read out tonight (indeed, repetition is discussed in her QnA at the end, so do watch 'til the end to gain the benefit of insight). In 'Eve', the speaker 'carries' and 'brings' with her many visceral things ("fragments of pain," as Rizwan calls them in her preamble), and the repetition of the act of toting terrors adds it up, like a physical weight, in the mind of the listener, and if it makes us feel uneasy to hear the poem, just remember back to the first lines, and how "the misplaced smiles of acid-corroded faces" are not just words, but realities. Also, in 'Urdu/Hindi' and 'Paisley', there is a significant amount of repetition - of the titular words themselves. As you will know if you read my blog, I have a weird quirk where I don't like repetition very much usually, and I think Rizwan just balances on the tight rope over 'Too Much Chasm' (it's a real place, look it up). It helps one focus on these concepts, I felt in a meditative way (not in the sense of 'drift off to music' meditation, but 'intense, re-centring' meditation), and the repetition served as a kind of 'Om', a primordial calling, getting us to listen and be there with her as she speaks.

So, yeah, I definitely have another book to add to my Emma Press wish list :)

Hope you folks are all staying well under lockdown, and I urge you to take my life advice (suitable both in and out of a crisis); find what brings you joy, and do it (barring things that cause harm to others!). In my case, poetry readings bring me joy, and I just want to again say how lucky I have been to listen to this one, and thank you for reading!

Peace, love, and light.

[a link to some of Rizwan's work: https://themissingslate.com/tag/rakhshan-rizwan/]