Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Whole Playlist Thing: Sirius Black

What songs remind me of my first crush/Harry's godfather extraordinaire/first character to totally break my heart?
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
Give Me Strength by Snow Patrol
When You Were Young by the Killers
Two of Us by the Beatles
Blindsided by Bon Iver
Conspiracy by Paramore
Don't Call It A Come Back by Motion City Soundtrack
This Place Is A Prison by the Postal Service
Speaking With A Ghost by Citizen
Someday You Will Be Loved by Death Cab for Cutie
Echo by Jason Walker
Bridge To The Other Side by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Doll Hospital

Not long ago, I saw a post on the really awesome Bethany Lamont's blog (I think I saw it on Tavi Gevinson's twitter, if I remember rightly.) It was a post about an art/literature type journal she was planning called Doll Hospital. She was asking for submissions to this zine-type journal which would be a collection of pieces on mental health issues that aimed to destigmatize the topic, to tell the truth about mental health and not to portray it as "something tortured genii struggle with" or "something that only special snowflakes have."

And I wanted to be a part of it.

So I emailed Bethany-really nervously, it's true-and asked her if there was time to submit something. You have to remember this was one of the first times I'd submitted something-ever. I was convinced it would go wrong, or that I wouldn't be important enough or that it was just stupid of me to think I could contribute to something like this.

None of those things happened.

Instead, Bethany replied and turned out to be one of the nicest people you could hope to get a reply from. She told me yes, there was still time to submit something and after a few emails back and forth between the pair of us, I sent in an article.

And she told me it was good. And that she wanted it in the journal.

As you can imagine, I kind of did a few cartwheels at this point. Well, metaphorical cartwheels (as I am not athletic. I am a lot of things but athletic is definitely not one of them.)

So, yeah, I've got an article in Doll Hospital. Which might be a good idea to tell you why I was nervous about submitting it and why Doll Hospital is something that is really important.

I have OCD. I don't wash my hands over and over. I don't count lines in the pavement. But I have OCD. It's just not one of the most common types of OCD.

The same as I have generalized anxiety disorder. And depressive tendencies. But if you knew me, you might not pick up I had any of those. Because I don't always fit in any of the categories and ideas that people have about mental health. And neither do a lot of the other people I know who've had mental health problems.

People like to put other people in categories. They really do. Because life's easier that way. It's easy to depict OCD as something that makes you wash your hands over and over, as something that makes you walk in a certain way. It's easy to portray anxiety as something that you can get over with a couple of breathing exercises and a cheerful conversation, a la a sitcom. And it's easy to think of depression as something that makes you slump down in misery all the time, as something that afflicts the kid who sits in the corner who never talks.

But the truth is, the only sign someone's fighting with their own thoughts, telling them to think the right thing over and over, might be that they're a bit quieter than usual. Someone can have a panic attack about leaving the house one day and the next, can walk out on a stage and feel perfectly calm. Someone can laugh with their friends at school and then go home and curl up in bed and cry because they feel like a failure.

Mental illness has a lot of different faces. We can never write them all.

But it's important that we write it. We put it out there. And it's important because it shows that people who are mentally ill aren't these people who you could pick out at a distance. They don't have it written across their foreheads. It's like that line in Girl, Interrupted: "Crazy is you and me, amplified." Because the thing is, so many people you pass each day will be struggling with mental illness, and you will never know.

And that's why Doll Hospital is important. Because it tells people what it's really like. Not just what you see in the movies or read in the newspapers. What it's like to live with mental illness every day, and not just in the big moments of it you see on TV screens, in the very special episodes of shows. It tells people what it's like to have these illnesses and what it's like to live with them.

And it's OK to be vulnerable. Because no one is strong all the time. You can be great one day and the next, it can fell like you're falling into hell. People are vulnerable and scared and sad, but they can also be strong and brave and they can find their way back to happiness again. But it's OK to have those moments of vulnerability. Because they're not weak. You're just as strong in those moments as you are in any other-you're just feeling overwhelmed for a while and you're allowed to feel that.

Doll Hospital is going to be free. Because nobody should have to pay for mental health. Bethany's starting a kickstarter campaign soon to raise money for printing and I'll link to it on here when she puts it up. But in the meantime, here's the official Tumblr for Doll's Hospital:

Doll Hospital

I hope this journal will help anyone who needs it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Whole "No Power Over Me" Thing

I was planning to write this another time but it's the middle of the night and I can't sleep and I've got Farewell Continental playing on my ipod, so I guess I'll write it now.

I like to write stuff on my hands. (Bear with me.) It's a thing of mine. I scribble song lyrics on my hands when I want to remember stuff. I could argue that it's just a tic or something to fill the time but to be honest, it's because whenever I'm feeling something and I don't want to forget it, it's easier to look down and see it scrawled out in lyrics on my skin.

But recently, I've been writing something else on my hands as well.

It's quite simple, not too much of a big thing: YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME.

That's what it reads.

I first heard the line in the film Labyrinth when it was mentioned in a Rookie article about toxic relationships (which I recommend you read because it was great and also because come on, it's Rookie.) And ever since then, nearly every day, one of the first things I do in the morning is write it on my hands. (The current lyrics on my other hand, if you're interested, are It's not the way you plan it, it's how you'll make it happen from "Hello, Cold World" by Paramore.)


Those words can actually help, you know? It can be good whenever I'm walking through the world, or at least trying to carve out my little corner of it, that I can look down at my hand and see those words.

I like to think of myself as an individual. I like to think of myself as someone who speaks her mind. I like to think of myself as someone who doesn't care what other people think.

But I still do worry what other people think. That doesn't always stop me saying what I want or doing what I want, but I still do worry. And I think most people, if pressed, would admit they worry.

Sure, I worry less. I worry a hell of a lot less than a lot of the people I know. But I still worry.

And in some ways, I still fall into the trap of defining myself by what other people think sometimes. Not in the typical way. More in the I-want-to-be-different-does-this-make-me-look-different-enough kind of way.

So I was proud of being different and that I didn't care what other people thought but at the same time I cared about people knowing that I didn't care what they thought.

The thing is, it's difficult sometimes, to know who you are in all the melee. All the melee of people telling you how you should be or how they think you are. You can find yourself falling into the same role over and over or sitting back again and again because you're so comfortable with everyone else's definition of who you are, that it's sometimes kind of surprising when you work out it might not fit with your definition, anymore.

It's a strange thing when that happens. And it can mean you want to figure it out your own way. Without thinking about what other people want you to be.

And so, then it can help to look down and see those words. YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME.

Because at the end of the day, no one does. No one except you. You decide who you are. No matter how it feels, you decide who you are and no one else. It's not up to them. It's up to you.

But those words can help. And they can help with the whole "being a girl" thing too. Sometimes, it's really freaking hard to feel powerful as a girl or woman today. We've got songs telling us that guys are dominant, that we should be flattered by their attention, that we're "chicks", that we should put up with them harassing us in the street because "it's a compliment." We are taught that we should behave like ladies. I can't count the amount of times I've been told to "look more ladylike" or "behave like a lady."

I can, on the other hand, count the amount of times I've heard a guy be told to "behave more like a gentleman."

(Twice. My memory might be clouded on it, but I'm pretty sure it's about twice.)

And it can be hard as all hell to feel powerful when we're constantly being told that we're powerless. That we need the men to come and save us. That we should "be ladylike."

And so those words written on my palm can really help.

And then there's the other misconceptions. There was a quote from Ed Sheeran on Tumblr today.

I don't know the key to success but I know the key to failure is trying to please everyone.

You should wear skirts. You shouldn't wear skirts. You shouldn't wear that, you'll look like everyone else. You shouldn't wear that, you won't look like anyone else. You should be a model student and go to university and get a secure job. You should drop out because school's just another function of societal control and you should just do what you want and who cares about money? You should curse all you want because it's a free country. You shouldn't curse at all because it's not polite and it could affect how people see you. You should say your opinions because otherwise, you're a wimp. You should keep quiet because otherwise, you're pushy. You should cut your hair because he'll like you better. You shouldn't cut your hair because she doesn't want you to. You should break up with her because she's too controlling. You should break up with him because he doesn't take enough of an interest. You should be with someone, people will think it's weird if you're not. You should be single, otherwise people will think you're one of those people who can't exist without a relationship. You should hook up with a few people, you should be having fun at your age. You shouldn't be having sex with anyone, you'll get a reputation. You shouldn't wear make-up, people will think you're not confident in how you look naturally. You should wear make-up, people will think it's strange if you don't. You should, you shouldn't, you should, you shouldn't, people will think, people will think, people will think....

And it's nothing to do with them.

That's the simple truth of it. No matter who pushes every bit of this on you, it's nothing to do with them. And they have no power over you.

No matter what they say, they can't control your actions. You do. And you decide what's best for you.

And if they decide that they need to bother  you for not doing what they think the right thing is, you've found out what they're actually like and you're better off without them.

But you have the power. You can walk away if you want. It's really easy to feel trapped, like your life is going in some direction you can't stop, like you've become a runaway car heading down a road you don't know if you want to go down because other people are pushing you down that road. It's easy to feel like your life is already mapped out for you, simply by dint of what everyone else says.

But it isn't. You can rip up the map. You can slam on the brakes. You can turn the car another route. You can abandon the car and find another. You can change gears. You can change passengers. You can control your own life.

And sometimes, it's scary. Sometimes, you want to go back to everyone else controlling it. Anyone else. Because let's face it, when you're in control, when you inevitably screw up, there's no avoiding the issue. It's all on you. And that's scary as hell.

But everyone screws up. And if you're in control and you made the choices because you wanted to make the choices, then at least you know it was you who made that mistake, not somebody else making you make that mistake.

And that can be difficult and freaky and scary but maybe a lot of the stuff in life that matters is.

And whenever I feel like that, I can look down at my hand and read the letters on my palm: YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME.

I can control my life. I can decide what to do with it. And so can you.

And you can. I mean, if Sarah managed to defeat evil David Bowie and get out of that weird castle without having to be his slave and without having to go through that maze again, then anyone can.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Whole Cool Character Thing: Charlie

The kid who sits alone in the high school cafeteria, reading and trying not to be noticed. Bring back memories, yet?

Charlie is a wallflower. That's sort of the point of the book. Which references wallflowers in the title.

You'll probably be able to work out which it is.

(Hint: it also has the word "perks" in the title.)

But yeah, Charlie is the ultimate wallflower when we first meet him. He prefers to think rather than participate. He prefers to read and write in the corner rather than speak. He writes letters to someone he doesn't even know just so that he can tell someone the things that happen to him and bother him. He's the definition of an introvert (until awesome people come along and pick him up and become friends with him and bring him out of his shell.)

But the good thing about Charlie-and the kind of interesting thing, in my opinion-is that he isn't portrayed as the "everyman." The book's kind of cited as the ultimate "survive high school" thing-the book that "every high school kid should read". (Catcher in the Rye's the other one that's pretty prone to this.) But the thing is, that neither Charlie nor Holden Caulfield (they're vastly different) are the relatable outcast.

Sure, Charlie has social anxiety and is an outsider and doesn't always know the right things to say or do. But what Charlie has gone through, the majority of kids haven't gone through. (And that's a GOOD thing.)

But somehow, he's relatable, anyway.

And that might be one of the reasons I love Charlie so much. He's one of those anxious, shy, outcast characters that you can relate to but he's not one of those ones that feels carbon-copy, designed-in-a-machine for you to relate to. He's someone that feels authentically real, original-but you can still relate to him because those original, non-designed characters are the ones that are the most real.

And then there's the whole story that Charlie goes through. He makes friends. And he loses them. He starts going out with someone. And it doesn't work. And they break up. And he chooses the worst way possible to do it. And the girl he likes is going out with someone else, who treats her badly. But she doesn't see that.

It sounds like generic high-school drama. But seen through Charlie's eyes, it's not. It's different and it's a new world for him to see. And he's just trying to get through it. And for him, navigating it through his own mindset is complicated and difficult and interesting. And maybe, gradually, we learn that no drama's truly generic. No matter how boring and "typical" it can seem to outsiders, things matter to the people involved. And maybe there are no typical stories because every story and every person is different.

But more than that, Charlie's unique view on the world makes for some interesting ruminations on the people around him. He wonders why people choose the wrong people to date. He wonders why he and others let people treat them badly. He doesn't know why people who are these amazing, funny, awesome beings can let others make them feel like nothing.

We accept the love we think we deserve-Perks of Being A Wallflower

Charlie wants to show people they deserve more. But part of his story is learning that he deserves more. And learning that he can't just put other people first all the time. Because putting everyone else first all the time might be noble but it can also lead to you getting neglected. Or really awful people using you which is all kinds of evil and I do not like to think of it happening to Charlie and I'm just going to put a Stop sign up there.

There it is.

But Charlie wants there to be only good things for other people. In fact, one of his main problems isn't his own pain-it's other people's, his sister's, his friend's, his ex-girlfriend's-and the fact he can't stop seeing it, everything that will go wrong with their lives and everything that could go wrong in the world. And he can't stop seeing it and it makes him terrified.

But part of Charlie dealing with the world is learning that pain exists. But that along with pain, exists beauty. And even when things get forgotten, they can be remembered again. And that no matter how much he loves everyone, bad things are going to happen to them sometimes. But they can still be there when those things happen.

And gradually, he stops worrying about things being forgotten. Or things coming to an end, or that everything good will stop. Gradually, he comes to terms with everything that's happened so far and he holds onto what could happen. And that even when something ends, you can hang onto the memories.

And OK, here's the big quote.

 I had to get it in.

I guess in some ways, I can identify with Charlie. (It had to come back to me, because I'm self-obsessed and that's one of the perks.) I've just started blogging and this sweet and cool little blogging community has welcomed me in and been nice to me, even though I feel like the weird awkward little kid who's stamping her feet and demanding to be heard. And it's like all the cool people who follow and comment, on here and Tumblr and fanfictions and so forth, are like my own personal Sam and Patricks. And I guess we have the Internet today, and that helps with all of that, but Perks of Being A Wallflower is pre-Internet so it's lucky for Charlie that he has a Sam and Patrick within walking distance.

But my personal issues aside, Charlie's awesome. He keeps trying, even when it all seems to be going wrong. He keeps going, even when it gets difficult and he thinks he's messed it all up. And by the end-no spoilers-even though we don't know what happens to him, I think we know he'll be OK. Whatever happens, he'll be fine. And no matter what, there'll still be unexpectedly beautiful days.

So, you know. Stay infinite.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Whole Cool Person Thing: Kate Bush

I was reading an interview with Tavi Gevinson earlier this week and she said, in amongst all the other pearls of wisdom awesome-ness, that one of the reasons she started her massively popular blog The Style Rookie was because she didn't quite fit in anywhere else and she wanted to find somewhere where she had "no peer", a space that was "just hers'." She managed to carve that out for herself.

But it reminded me straight away of Kate Bush.

Kate Bush is probably the definition of having "no peer." You'll never hear anything quite like her. The closest comparison I can think of is Tori Amos (who I also love) but to mention that on either of their fan sites can incite Internet warfare, so that's the last I'm saying. ( I have no desire to get caught up in an Internet battle of OH YEAH WELL SHE SINGS BETTER OH YEAH WELL SHE'S MORE ORIGINAL WELL YEAH YOU'RE JUST STUPID HAAAAAAA because I think I'd probably headdesk my laptop halfway through and I don't want to have to pay for a new one.)

But back to Kate Bush.

See, the problem is that it's actually kind of difficult to describe Kate Bush, because the adjectives "different" "eccentric" and "unusual" are not different, eccentric, or unusual enough.

Perhaps the best way is just to show her first ever appearance, on Top of the Pops. Bear in mind she was only nineteen.


Kate Bush wrote Wuthering Heights, which became her debut hit when she was only sixteen years old and it was released when she was only nineteen. She grew up the daughter of doctors and her first exposure to music was through her older brothers. She actually hated her first performance looking back on it and described it as "like watching herself die."

I'll be frank: at first, I was sure I'd never like Kate Bush.

I actually won a bet with my piano teacher who bet that my parents would get me into Kate Bush within a week (I got a box of Celebrations for the pains I took to be uncultural.) But over time, she grew on me, though it took me a while to love Wuthering Heights (which ironically, is one of my favourites now.)

But the first song of hers' I remember loving is Army Dreamers.

I actually remember hearing this on a CD in the car on the way home from a restaurant one night and being addicted to the sound of the music. It was only when I looked up the lyrics that it became one of my favourite songs, simply because of how deceptively simple and sad the lyrics are. They're about a mother mourning her son who's been killed at war. It's a story we hear all the time. But the way she writes it, the way she sings it, will stick in your head for days on end.

That stoked the fire but the thing that really started the obsession was Cloudbusting.

Yes, that is President Snow as the dad in the video. And look Cloudbusting up-it's based on a true story, which is fascinating but would take way too long to get into here.

And maybe now you're starting to get why I said Kate Bush has no peer.

Her songs aren't just songs-they're like whole worlds, inviting you in. They tell different tales of people's lives, and of triumphs and tragedies. Each album is almost like an anthology of short stories, with different characters in each one. Her music videos often have to be included because of how visual her work is. Her songs sing with imagery and her performances are constantly visual, with dance moves-each one seems to invite you into the world with her for a while. But she always gives the impression that she's as new to this world as you are and that while she's in command of it, she's inviting you to explore it with her. Complete with her wide eyes, and hand movements, she often looks like she's discovering it all even as she commands it.

More than that, her songs are often powerful for women and girls. A lot of them are about embracing sensuality and sexuality or simply embracing female power. The Sensual World is about opening up to all the different sensory pleasures of the world, without any inhibitions. Her songs contain a message of power and often, a power in vulnerability. It's often the vulnerability in her lyrics that make her even more compelling to watch-she admits her vulnerability and invites her listeners to do the same. One of her songs, Sat in Your Lap, is about how you'll never know everything and how that's OK, because there's a certain power in not being perfect. I actually had lyrics from that song scrawled on my hand yesterday "Some say that knowledge is sat in your lap, some say that knowledge is something you can never have."

More than that, she's someone else for whom fame generally isn't a concern. She was the first woman to ever have a self-written single lead the top of the charts. And now, she's performing her first concerts live in 35 years. She's someone who's main concern really is the music, and her expression of her art. As another singer put it, she's someone who never gives the impression of making music for an audience-she's expressing it for herself. And that's what makes her connect with an audience.

I'm a huge fan of the Nostalgia Critic and I'll always remember a phrase he used in one of his videos. He pointed out that if you just give people what they already want, they'll never learn to ask for anything new. They'll just keep going over and over the same old stuff and just reject anything new. It's the people who defy convention, who bring something new to the table, that change things, that ignite a new passion. And Kate Bush does that. She gave people something new. And she opened their minds to a new way of listening to music.

But I've saved my two favourites of her songs for last. Because they're brilliant.

I've been listening to this song a lot recently.

You don't want to hurt me
But see how deep the bullet lies
Unaware, I'm tearing you asunder
There is thunder in our hearts
Is there so much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me we both matter, don't we?-Kate Bush

The whole song could be about a lot of things but for me it's about putting yourself in the place of someone you love who's ripping you apart emotionally, and recognizing that you're ripping each other apart. You want to take their pain away but then you see the way they're treating you and you're treating them. And even if you take their pain away, you can't take your pain away.

But my absolute favourite at the moment and the one I've been listening to over and over in the last week is Hounds of Love.

Remember the whole thing I said about how part of her power is vulnerability? That comes across pretty strongly in this one. It'll definitely be one of my Cool Songs at some point, so I won't go into all the lyrics, but I'll say that it describes how I feel at the minute.

The hounds of love are hunting me
I've always been a coward
And I don't know what's good for me
Oh, here I go
It's coming for me through the trees-Kate Bush

It's about breaking free of repression and restrictions you've placed on yourself. It's about letting yourself love someone, even though you might get hurt. It's about following a new direction your life's going that isn't the way that you've always planned, the safe, predictable way, but it's the way that feels indisputably right.

It can be about falling in love. It can be about running away from a relationship that isn't working anymore. It can be about letting yourself love someone else. It can be about following your own path, no matter how scary it feels. But it's about taking the risk, even when you have to face your own vulnerabilities and weakness. But Kate Bush owns the vulnerability and takes control of it through her music. It's about not letting your fear control you anymore, but instead, facing it and letting yourself be free of it and letting your emotions out, even when that scares you more than anything.

Don't let me go
Hold me down
It's coming for me through the trees
Oh help me, darling, help me, please
Take my shoes off and throw them on the lake
And I'll be two steps on the water-Kate Bush

It's about admitting you're doing something that leaves you vulnerable, that leaves you scared and excited and that you don't know how it's going to end. It's about admitting it and diving headlong in, even when you're terrified. It's about taking a chance because out of that chance could come more than you imagined you'd want or need.

It's about doing what you need to do. What's good for you. And about being yourself, and facing those fears. Not getting rid of them but facing them. And doing what you want even in the face of them. It's about letting your emotions rip your heart out even when you're terrified. It's about living even when you're scared to.

So, yeah, Kate Bush showed it's OK to have no peers. Kate Bush showed it's OK to just find your own steps. And she's probably helped many other people find theirs.