Wednesday, 19 October 2011


I’m just about at the halfway point of this semester, so it seems like a good point to check in. Not least because next week is Reading & Writing week and that’s usually when I get a little “All work and no play make Rosie go crazy.” It might be nice to have one more relatively sane post. Also, it’s kind of a nice feeling that I have nothing of consequence to post about. (Feel free to wander away at this point, I’m not above talking to myself.) I don’t know about you, but I like reading about people’s lives, the significant and the mundane both. People are pretty fascinating. Small things are just as intriguing as huge things. They’re just as character-defining, if not more so.

Now, to set the scene: Well, my formerly tidy room looks like a bomb site. I need Nick Knowles to come and build an extension for me. There’s some pretty sunlight canting through the blinds and illuminating the door—it’s pale and sharp like dawn, but that was quite a while ago. I have a can of Irn Bru with a green straw craning out of it because of the carbonation. I’m wearing a jumper which is, if I’m being honest, blackcurrant. But I like it because I never usually wear anything on the ‘feminine’ end of the colour spectrum. I’m listening to Jon Hopkins’ Contact Note. I’m thinking about having that MilkyWay right by my left elbow.

So, remember the friendship I thought was over? I’m happy to report I was entirely wrong. For a few days I was fine with having lost them; it seemed that with the end of my book came the end of his role in my life. I guess maybe I had to look at it like that because it was the only way it made sense and the only way I could deal with it. But inevitably the high wore off and something so trivial I can’t even recall what it was sparked off this deluge of emotion. All I kept thinking was He’s never going to make me laugh again. It all seemed to come down to that one point. For a few days the world didn’t really make sense; it looked different, it felt different. I’ve heard the expression ‘it was like being in a nightmare’ so many times but never truly understood what it meant until then. Everything was distorted. I couldn’t really get my head around the fact that everything had possibly been a lie, or that it could so quickly and unforeseeably capsize on me, or that it would never be the same again. And then it began to feel like he had died. The person he was now was someone else, someone I didn’t want to know. That was how I grieved. Let me tell you, I am a horrible griever. I don’t know how to go about doing it, so I just don’t. But grieving is good, it’s part of the process etc etc. However, I suppose like with any loss there are things left unsaid, and so I said them to someone else. I got my thoughts straight. I got the cold and my head went all fuzzy and I felt like if I did something crazy, I couldn’t really be held responsible for it. So the night before my birthday, in my fuzzyheaded state, I thought, fuck it, I have nothing else to lose, and I said everything I had ever wanted to say, and even after I was fully convinced I’d been furtively evicted from his life (no, really, it was like coming home from a challenging backpacking trip in South America and finding an unsigned eviction notice tacked to my crappy apartment door), I sent it away into the cosmos. Why? Because when I talked it over with my friend on a bus ride home, I realised that in spite of everything, the anger and the hurt and the confusion and all those lovely cliché things, I still cared. And when I care about something, I am stubborn. I chase it right to the ends of the earth. I don’t give up. Maybe that’s really selfish, but whatever. I’d rather be selfish than be a pushover. I’d rather know what could happen than wonder about it the rest of my life. To me, regret = paralysis. And that was exactly what I’d told him I wanted to avoid three months before. If there were any walls, I bulldozed through them. When you give everything you have, you can have no regrets. Ball was in his court, so to speak. Except, I wasn’t waiting anymore, and I wasn’t hiding, and I didn’t have to pretend. I thought I’d been at that point so many times before—that pivotal point, balanced on the edge of a cliff—but until I was completely honest and until everything was out there, how could I be? I could never have conceived the feeling of liberation that came with that.

So the next morning I wake up and I am nineteen. My birthday was magical. Simple, but magical. The whole concept of birthdays is just lovely—a whole day when people celebrate your singular existence?! And give you presents?! Great! It was a quintessential autumn day too. Dark, foreboding skies? Check. Trees that look on fire? Check. A puckish wind that changes direction every two seconds? Check. Seriously, sitting on the bus into uni I imagined the world was saying happy birthday! when all the leaves gusted along beside me. Fast forward four hours and I’m finished up for the day. I have an email. Reluctantly, wishing I had an elephant to squash down that trickster joule of hope I can feel rising up somewhere in my ribcage, I check the sender. And I kind of explode. And then run to the bus stop, because I need to be moving. This email contains within it words that have power I don’t even want to comprehend, and I have to be near something that will propel me away if I need to. It’s good news, guys. I’m shaking all over from the relief. I wasn’t evicted from his life—his phone was broken and several other complications have so far prevented him from getting it fixed. (This is completely typical of him. So typical I start to doubt its veracity, but it’s later corroborated by unequivocal evidence.) He sincerely wants to remain friends, he actually knows what I mean about not being reassured enough, he tries his hardest but still finds it difficult, he is so fucking proud of me for finishing my novel, and he will pick me up something for my birthday. I tell him don’t bother, that was a pretty good birthday present. I don’t care now if nothing comes of it. The only thing that matters is we didn’t part on bad terms. And that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the day. People I hardly speak to remember it’s my birthday, there are scary clowns in lab coats and officious charity workers laid out like landmines all over Buchanan Street, Kirk sends me birthday greetings via a Mail Boxes Etc and the Rocky theme tune, Jurassic Park is more amazing than I ever thought it could be in the cinema on the highest floor in the most isolated theatre, I receive wonderful, thoughtful presents from people I care about. And the other night a potential horror movie scene turned out to be an intimate surprise party with jumbo straws because I love them and a scone with two candles because I detest cake.

It was during said surprise party that I was persuaded to have some cornflakes coffee. I don’t know about you, but to me coffee is like wine, in that it is a means to an end rather than a means of pleasure. Plus, if I were to habitually drink coffee I would have to periodically punch myself for being such a big fucking stereotype. Glasgow Uni? Check. English Lit student? Check. Dabbled in Philosophy? Check. As well as becoming a masochist, I’d also have to rent a room in TopShop, stop brushing my hair (or at the very least let a raccoon sleep in it), make sure I have a perpetual pity-me cold, take up bar crawling as a hobby and still tumble into class looking like a Neutrogena ad, vomit (black) on a regular basis and in front of witnesses, start listening to generic indie pop, and kill my tongue with The Accent. Basically, I’d have to turn into a Yah. Okay, that was a total exaggeration, and I know many, many exceptions to my completely horrible judgment, but if you were around The Accent as much as I am, you’d forgive me. On the other hand, I hate those people who say they hate something when they’ve never actually tried it or done it or read it or seen it or—you get the drift. The brief encounters I’ve had with coffee before have all been heavily diluted with milk or so buried beneath foam you never actually get to the coffee. And since then my tastebuds have begun to tolerate wine, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Plus I needed a zap of energy and everyone in my life keeps telling me to start drinking coffee, so in order to shut them up, I did. Meh. I’m not completely closed to the idea; I may strive to find a type I can tolerate, and in time maybe actually like. But every time I drink coffee I can’t escape the horrid sensation that what I’m drinking is out of date hot chocolate. Next thing people will be trying to coax me into eating a hamburger. IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

You know, I never thought I’d get to the point where I would think of leisure time as a chore. Doing two reading subjects means I have barely enough time to sleep. I don’t have leisure time. I don’t even make it. It just defaults to leisure time when the whirring of my brain’s engine stops and I am too exhausted to think intellectually, but it’s still way too early to go to bed. So the whole time I am doing something leisurely, I know there is something more productive that I should be doing. I am too tired even to feel guilty about that last point. However, I have other obligations besides coursework. Like all the DVDs I have to watch (Shirley Valentine, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, Misery, 500 Days of Summer, Thelma & Louise, Buried. So far I’ve scored off The Magdalene Sisters, 28 Days Later, Monsters and Educating Rita) and all the books I have to read (this list is like the population of China walking in a line past your window—it will never end). Also, when I do have time, I have to restrain myself from writing, because I know if I start something I will either not be able to give it my full attention, or I will and the rest of the world will fall away. But time away is time to think. And what I’ve been thinking is I’d like to split The Novel up into two or three or four, meaning each section would be more digestible and I could explore some of the issues more deeply. I’m also thinking I know exactly what I want to write next, so I’m going to use this time between now and next summer to lay the blueprint. Ah, possibilities! As an aside, in classics we were asked to give anonymous feedback on two of our peers' essays on who their favourite Greek hero was (I picked Athena, because she is awesome). This meant I got to exercise my pedant side without any casualties and at least I now know that if this whole writing thing goes to shit, I can make a career out of resentfully polishing up the grammar and word choice in other people's prize-winning novels. That sounded much more appealing in my head. Hm. 

Before I go, I just want to make one recommendation: Ever Fallen in Love by Zoe Strachan, and I’m not just saying that because she’s the writer in residence at my uni. No, really, I’m not. Before you judge it on the title, it’s not chick-lit, it’s borrowed from the Buzzcock’s song and it’s meant in the same slightly cynical, ironic way. It’s beautiful and bleak and it tore me apart. Maybe that isn’t much of a selling point. Well here’s one: it’s unflinchingly honest.

(Okay, two recommendations. Buy or rent Monsters. It's amazing. The acting, the soundtrack, the budget, the special effects, the concept, everything! It's stunning.)

Snaps for everyone! 

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Dispossessed;

I've made it two days and I can make it no longer; I HAVE to explode about this book.

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin is indubitably one of the most beautiful pieces of literature I have ever had the privilege of reading. And I do mean 'privilege' because I never, in a million years, would have gone into a bookstore and bought this myself. I wouldn't even have picked it up. In fact, I think it's fair to say that myself and this book would never consciously come into one another's orbit. You see:
  • Literature and I share a torrid love/hate relationship.
  • I generally don't read science fiction. This book is science fiction.
  • I think my philosophical ineptitude has been rigorously and humiliatingly established.
  • This book deals with philosophy.
  • Politics to me is like abstract art; it goes right over my head. I know the basics, and I desperately want to learn more, but with all the spin-doctors and rhetoric and jargon, I think I'd sooner find a way through a stampeding herd of elephants alive than understand politics.
  • This book is political.
  • Did I mention it's science fiction?
  • On the whole I'd say I'm fairly open-minded and adventurous with my reading, but my one preference is that the narrative be character-driven as opposed to plot-driven. If I don't care about the characters, why should I care what happens to them?
  • In my experience, polemic literature has a tendency to use its characters as pawns to further its argument or illustrate its point. It works, but at the expense of a flat cast.
  • I have a bad habit of mocking literature by putting on a plum voice and describing it as being concerned with The Human Condition.
  • This book is about the human condition.
  • It's still science fiction, and has been since 1974.
This book is part of the required reading for English Literature: Writing & Ideology, so either way I was going to have to read it. This semester we have to do an eight-minute presentation to our tutorial groups on a book chosen from the list of set texts. Out of all the set texts, this was possibly the one I was dreading most. You know that old proverb that says you shouldn't judge a book by its cover? Well, I think the word 'cover' can be pretty much substituted by any quality related to a book. Do not judge a book by its genre/author/blurb/target audience/length/title/time of publication etc etc. In an ideal world, we wouldn't, but the fact is we don't have time to be endlessly open-minded or unbiased. We need discrimination, distinction, guidelines to help us select--now. We develop a taste for what we like and what we don't based on the standards of a particular division, and there ignorance and missed opportunities for self-expansion abound. Sad, but inevitable. So I'm sitting in the first tutorial and the tutor is going through the list of texts asking who wants to do which, and when she says The Dispossessed, I think Fuck it and my hand shoots up. Because, despite all my preconceptions (and misconceptions), I love a challenge, and if reading a 400 page novel on something completely alien to me (excuse the pun) and then doing an eight-minute presentation on it in front of total strangers is not a challenge, I don't know what is. (I am aware it is a relatively small challenge.)

So on September 26th I sit down at my desk, open up a blank word document to take notes in an unprecedented move of preparation, and begin reading. I'm all Okay book, I don't like you and you don't like me, but goddamnit, we're stuck with each other now, so let's make the most of it.

Two things the book's got going for it at this point:
  1. It has an element of physics, a subject by which I am geekily fascinated and completely daunted.
  2. The guy on the front cover, who I'm assuming is supposed to be the protagonist, is extremely handsome in a rugged, windswept kind of way. YUM.

The first paragraph has me grudgingly enraptured, moved and intrigued. The story starts right in the middle of things, and being new to the genre, I am totally discombobulated, so that throws me a little, but I persevere, and holy freakshow, am I glad I did.

I think about books and the business a lot, and I've come across this notion that a piece of writing, whatever it is, whatever genre, whatever, should always both be enjoyable and challenging. Maybe the enjoyable thing is the style, the plot, the characters, the language, the ideas, the execution. Maybe the challenges are the vocabulary, the motives, the subtext, the ideologies, the ethics, the questions asked. Maybe the enjoyable and the challenging are synonymous. But both should be present.

Both are definitely present here. The characters, specifically Shevek, the protagonist, are beautifully developed and expanded. They are the driving force of the novel. Without them, there is nothing but some fancy maths equations and a couple of spaceships floating around. The language is succinct and seductive--I learned like five new words! The idealogies, philosophies and theories woven throughout are thought-provoking and have no obvious solutions. The politics and anthropological issues raised are as relevant now as they were forty years ago. There were moments when I felt genuine elation or dread or despair or hope. Nothing short of me squealing/jumping around/talking with my hands/gushing is going to do this book justice. There's some truly moving reviews over on Amazon, and I bet there's loads of insightful critiques out there on the world wide web, but the best thing you can do is just go read the book for yourself! Even if you don't care for the characters or the setting or the plot or any of the superficial stuff, the central issues and themes are too fundamental to our existence to be passed over.

Whew, okay, I have officially done my good deed for the day.

Happy reading!

Saturday, 1 October 2011


I totally can't believe it's October already! In my very biased opinion, I think it's the best month of the year. It is kind of the epitome of autumn--September's still got that faint murmur of summer, and November is melodramatic and gloomy and filled with dim smudges of light on gleaming pavements.

But October? To me it's like a lullaby, like gentle fingers trickling down my face to soothe insomnia when I was five years old, like diaphanous curtains billowing softly in a breeze as though the wind is whispering to you--like that place between awake and asleep. When October rolls around, I feel like I'm home again. I feel like I'm being hugged by the cosmos, and it's saying, This is your time. This is your month.

I always wonder if I'd have stuck to the schedule and been born on September 27th, whether I'd be as devoted to that month as this one. Being late is in my genes and I'm dubious about astrology, so I guess I'll never know the answer to that question. But regardless, I'm glad to belong to October. I've always felt an affinity for autumn, I've always loved watching the leaves slowly turn to gold and crimson and a thousand other shades, and twirling around in the spiralling sycamore seeds, and splashing in puddles, and listening to the wind and rain outside, and Halloween, and pumpkin soup. Cinnamon, hot chocolate, candy apples, Canadian geese, tealights burning in green lanterns. Autumn is one of those fleeting, elusive seasons, where you might blink and miss it. All around things are dying, yet it's somehow excruciatingly beautiful. You only have to watch The Lord of the Rings or Hocus Pocus to know what I'm talking about.

Autumn leaves in a cobweb @ Kylie & Brian's house,
Phegans Bay, Australia, October 2009.
I should probably mention that I've caught the cold thanks to some cow in English who coughed with such precision at the exact moment I heaved a sigh and breathed in that I'm beginning to wonder if she didn't do it on purpose to spite my immune system. I am never sick. I can't even remember the last time I had a cold. And while I absolutely detest the besmirching of this record, it's been such a long time since I was sick, I'm actually kind of enjoying it in a horrible way. Like, I woke up this morning and put my face right in a hankie and thought Cool, my snot's green. And I keep imagining I am Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail when Tom Hanks comes over with a bouquet of daisies, because they are her favourite flower and he's just put her out of business, and she's totally dying of the cold, and she says in her sweet little voice "My head's starting to get fuzzy." The fuzziness in my head is fun, like I'm constantly drifting between the layers of sleep and awake. And being hot and cold all the time. And staying in my pyjamas and giant red dressing gown all day. And feeling like an innocent little kid all over again. And how fantastic tea and showers suddenly are, even better than usual. And the trippy, fevered dreams. And how the only thing I want to eat are Sesame Snaps. And the achy feeling in my limbs, like I'm made out of shadows and colourful tissue paper. And feeling generally loopy.

Also-also, yesterday I'm pretty sure I met Tibby Tomko-Rollins which kind of made my life complete, and Meejin & I believe if you look hard enough you will find Ollivander's and be able to purchase a wand in Ashton Lane which coincides nicely with the Platform 9 & 3/4s entrance to English, and I didn't have any cocktails because firstly nothing that is pink should be drinkable and secondly because all I wanted to do was put my head in a bowl of soup, and there are only so many stories you can hear about black being the trump colour in inebriated vomit before wanting to drill a hole in your own skull and empty the contents through a straw just for something else to do. Still, it was nice. My favourite part was when Meejin & I went into Waitrose because I needed liquid in my system immediately, and it was just beginning to get dark and the streetlights were coming on and it was warm and pouring and almost October and we got the 118 home like we used to in the snow blizzards and it was purple and had seatbelts like when you go on school trips and we talked about everything and nothing. 

At home I had to bring the bins back round. The brown one is my arch nemesis because it provides a paradise for the tiny flies that make me look like I have Tourettes through summer, and of late it has been found guilty of a new transgression; a spider web. I've watched it grow larger and larger the past few weeks, and last night I finally met the elusive spinner. He was a big guy. Naturally, I ran back into the house for my camera and proceeded to stand in the pouring rain for several minutes trying to get a decent picture. Just as I put my hand around the handle to begin the long, arduous journey back around the house, I heard the distant squawking of Canadian geese flying home, and I grinned because those geese are like the antithesis of spiders to me, and with equal parts moxy and girlish screaming, I made it back to the house unscathed (though the spider melted into the darkness at one point and I have no idea where it is now).  

Yep, ever since my dad recorded Fly Away Home for me as a small child, I've been infused with a sense of giddiness and tranquility whenever I see or hear Canadian geese. As a result, I'm also in love with Jeff Daniels, who happens to star in Arachnophobia, ironically.

Alright, I think my loopiness has come full circle (I just hahaha'd at my own accidental pun, I seriously need to go lie down). I'm off to get this synopsis done and then watch Thelma & Louise. Happy October!

P.S., Is it just me or is Stargazing by Wang Chung a great song for autumn?