Here are some things that I don't exactly assume you know about me, but might be useful/interesting; and here are my stories at the Archive of Our Own. I am entirely okay with people podficcing, translating, continuing, or otherwise-transforming my stories, but I'd love to see the end result if that's what you're doing, and please credit me as an original author.
Really, I'm pretty easy-going.
(no one should feel like they missed a trick, by the way; I've been a little piecemeal and reticent about telling people this over the last few months, but it's coming up because of the new lit agent/reviews for Not For Use In Navigation and I thought I should have been a little clearer - thanks all for your time and patience in this respect)
* I read 97 books last year, which includes novellas, graphic novels and friends' manuscripts but not short stories - 6 non-fiction, 91 fiction.
* I revised a novel, wrote another and revised it, and co-wrote and revised a novella - to a total of 230k revised and 120k from scratch. I have given the next project some thought but it hasn't come together yet and may not. I wrote about 300 words of it to amuse a friend but that's it.
* I did not write any short stories, strangely, though I did have a short story and novelette published in January and then in April. The novella came out in December.
(Also 6000 words of fanfic, all in one week at the end of December. I didn't make any vids.)
* I listened to 15 new-to-me albums, of which my favourites were Sandwood, by Duncan Chisholm, and Dessa's Chime. (My favourite song of the year was "Velodrome".) I also got way more into Spotify than I'd been before, listened to a lot of Niraj Chag (Sapno se Pucho and The Only Sadness), got back into the Civil Wars for a while, fell weirdly in love with a single song by the Lowest Pair, "Rosie", and spent whole days of my life listening to the White Sands of Jervis Bay, an amazing Gaelic-indigenous-Australian musical artwork by Breabach.
(I saw Dessa live in London twice; also Breabach and Niteworks (but not Kate Rusby; her Christmas concert that I always go to didn't have a London date this year). I also saw Fun Home at the Young Vic and Translations at the National Theatre.) I really wanted to go to Celtic Connections but didn't make it.
* I watched The Good Place (which I adored) and Star Trek Discovery (which I liked) and One Day At A Time, which is perfect always. I did not - though I really did mean to - finish watching Babylon 5. (Maybe 2019 is the year.) A. and I also rewatched all of Brooklyn Nine-Nine by watching one episode every night over dinner. Possibly related, we also bought a dining table.
* I went to Madrid, Amsterdam and Rome, India (twice: once for a friend's wedding in Jaipur, and again to Shimla in December) and spent a week in the Lakes as usual in July, and a week on Skye at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in April (which was nice and I'm glad I went, but didn't enjoy as much as usual because a) many people were racist at me and b) I was in the middle of a bipolar episode). A. and I also went back to Scotland in October, that time to go to Mull and Iona.
(Speaking of bipolar episodes: I had a prolonged mixed state in the spring, and then a full-on depressive episode in the autumn, and two attempted meds adjustments to deal with some unfortunate interactions, neither of which worked. I spent September and October on limited hours, which did help. I'm back to reasonably well-medicated now, and enduring.)
And the other things: it's three years that we've lived in this house; this year I'll be six years qualified; A. and I have been together for eleven years and married for five. In sum, and barring the other things we don't talk about, it was an ordinary year in an ordinary life, which is what you want. I'm thirty-two today, which feels like an unremarkable age - though, 2018 was also the year I started to find silver strands in my hair. (I really like them! I like how they stand out against the black.) &tc.
Reports of Witches Falling (2455 words) by Raven
Fandom: good luck roomba witch - ofsparrows (Artwork)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Roomba Witch, Shopvac Witch
The Roomba is great. You can just switch it on and leave it. It gets in all the corners. The attending physician says Anurag is lucky he didn't die.
(this story is basically original and is my favourite of the ones I wrote this year - it was an unexpected product of a lazy afternoon just before Christmas.)
Circadian Rhythms (1353 words) by Raven
Fandom: The Murderbot Diaries - Martha Wells
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Dr. Mensah (Murderbot Diaries), Murderbot (Murderbot Diaries)
This is the thing about your neural pathways expanding with practice. Sometimes you open your mouth and say a thing without meaning to, and it’s because you’re better at understanding humans than you thought you were.
(very, very last-minute treat for rmc28! I was still tinkering with this as the archive opened.)
Mourning Becomes Eleanor (1023 words) by Raven
Fandom: The Good Place (TV)
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Tahani Al-Jamil/Eleanor Shellstrop
Characters: Eleanor Shellstrop, Tahani Al-Jamil, Janet (The Good Place)
Eleanor really should have realised she was bisexual when she was alive.
(I feel like the summary is all you need to know for this.)
Scenes from a Repatriation (1284 words) by Raven
Fandom: Ocean's 8 (2018)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Lou Miller/Nine Ball (Ocean's)
Characters: Lou Miller (Ocean's), Nine Ball (Ocean's), Daphne Kluger, Debbie Ocean
Additional Tags: Heist, Fluff
The diamond was called the Koh-i-Noor, which meant ‘mountain of light’.
This was my assigned story - I didn't actually like it as much as the others, but was pleased in the end I didn't default; it would've been a shame to break a thirteen-year streak.
So A. and I are in Himachal, having flown into Chandigarh over the weekend. My parents are here, visiting my relatives in Solan, which was fine in a small dose, but we have paid our respects and departed and are now at Wildflower, which is a lovely place about four kilometres from Shimla. It's ludicrously beautiful - when it's clear, you can see high up into the Himalaya; down here is allegedly only the foothills but still 2500 metres above sea level - biting cold, and as of this morning, snowing heavily, which I have never seen in India before and it's magical. We have been advised to keep our windows closed to avoid having things stolen by monkeys and to come in from the mountain area by sunset to avoid being eaten by panthers.
(I have not seen a panther. The army of macaques who terrorise the place are kind of charming, however.)
I am enjoying being back in India after about a year away, even if this is a very short and impulsive visit. Before last January we somehow went four full years without, which in retrospect was a bad idea. Despite minor altitude sickness, the danger of being eaten by panthers and - once we return to the plains - the usual dust and unreliable plumbing, I feel better for being here and the architecture of my brain becomes less gnarly. Hindi comes back to me here - if I only had the time to stay a month, I'd return to fluency and A would probably learn more than than "namashkar", "hathi" and "chota bandar" (reliable phrases but not comprehensive of human expression) - and I'm so happy to have it back even if it does displace other things in my brain, so I've started to express myself badly in English and can't read Gaelic at all.
I don't need to express myself in English right now though and that's fine. I wrote my Yuletide, such as it is. My comment on the political situation back home is merely that Congress have done well in four state elections while I've been here and my family put on rasmalai for dessert in consequence. We are going back down to Delhi on Friday on the night Shatabdi, flying home on Saturday morning, a course of action of which I'm not in favour.
I have been in this type of fandom since 2001; I was around at the tail-end of Usenet and mailing lists, just before we all moved to LiveJournal. I moved to Dreamwidth with everyone else back in 2010 or so (or whenever Strikethrough was!) and I have not really -- gone anywhere else. (Ye gods. How you know how old I am - I find it momentarily jarring when people call it their Dreamwidth "feed" and not their flist.) I have a Twitter, which I do use, and a Tumblr, which I don't; the form of interaction never worked for me very well because I'm really verbose and I like comments. I also found it quite disturbing that I had been very young for Usenet and LJ fandom, and then suddenly I was very old for Tumblr fandom - somehow I never got a fandom adulthood? (But I'm still into things. Star Trek and Doctor Who (again just recently) and the Vorkosigan series and long ago, M*A*S*H, and really, a lot of other things.)
Anyway! Pleased to meet you. If you have heard of me before, it's probably is because I have written a whole shitload of fanfic over a period of seventeen years. (Most, but not all, is on the AO3.)
About me otherwise: I'm a thirtysomething lawyer and civil servant (and because of the job, a portion of what I write here is locked; I don't mind people reading it if they want to and you should feel free to ask, but I don't like to have it in public). I like languages. I'm a pro writer under another name. I'm brown and nonbinary. I don't really know what else you'd need to know about me! Hi.
Hello, and thank you for writing for me! As always let me say upfront that if you've got a story in your head that you want to write, please off you go and write that and never mind me. I want you to have a nice Yuletide time and I will love anything you write for me.
If-and-only-if it's helpful to you, here are some more things about what I like.
Generally: I like banter, people being good to each other, people being good at what they do.
Generally I don't like: PWPs (though that's not to say I don't like sex in stories, it's just, not just sex), violence against women, and men in positions of dominance over women.
Additionally: I don't insist on happy stories. I do like happy stories! Love them, even. But if the story of your heart is gloomy or wistful or just plain sad, I do still desperately want to hear it. Also, I am not a Christmas sort of person but that doesn't mean I don't like festive themes in stories.
My fandoms are as follows:
( The Good Place )
( Wayfarers - Becky Chambers )
( Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell )
In conclusion: I don't have any triggers or squicks, write what you like, and I will like it. Thank you again!
A. and I came off the sleeper this morning after a week in the islands (him) and a week at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (me) which was difficult in some ways because I love the place and I always will and it's not nice to think, if I am depressed here I would be depressed anywhere in the world. And yet: get up in the morning, eat breakfast, go to class, eat lunch, go to class, walk out into the bright afternoon down to the water, come back, eat dinner, listen to some music, go to bed, every day for a week. It's exactly the sort of thing that's good for me and it did do me good. And - bonus - my Gaelic is much better for the week. I was feeling rotten and sad and like I'd lost more than I'd gained, but around about Wednesday I woke up and started participating? And speaking and listening and muddling my way through my various interactions, and that was all ok.
Things I've managed this week:
-Conditionals! Round of applause please. Mura càr luchdaicheadh tu a-nuas! Not that I could pull one of these off the top of my head and that one probably isn't right, but I got somewhere.
-Genitives (but not plurals). I suddenly figured out that "fad an latha" and "fad na maidne" are extremely useful to remember the difference between masculine and feminine nouns. (The other trick: am balach, ris a' bhalach, taigh a' bhalaich; a' chaileag, ris a' chaileig, taigh na chaileige - summarised as "girls a step ahead of boys".) Why, why does a language need four extant cases and a full complement of prepositions. No one needs that.
-Dealing with racists! (One of these things is not like the others, yep.) My fave was the one who, upon hearing that I'm from India, looked surprised. "Wow, I'd never have known," she said. "You speak good English."
Which - ok, is definitely my all-time greatest-hits racist comment, it's the one I've heard the most, in the broadest range of circumstances. But it's the Courtney Love of racist comments? Very nineties. A little surprising in this year of our Lord 2018. Every time I ran into her after that (my racist, not Courtney Love) I forgot she didn't have any Gaelic and spoke to her without space for interruption for a reasonable amount of time before I remembered she wouldn't be able to understand it.
(There was also the woman who wondered why India doesn't divide itself into states for ease of administration. Not states, she clarified, when I pointed out India does have a great number of state governments. Countries. Different countries. After all, we did that once before and it went fine. (Everything's fine.))
And, while we're on the subject of my marvellously racist week. I despise the double takes I get from strangers, when I speak Gaelic in a Gaelic-speaking community to Gaelic-speaking friends. I accept that this is my fate (an dàn dhomh!) as long as I do insist on speaking the language while brown. But I don't like it any more each time it happens.
Anyway. Sin mar a thacras. Given the givens, I had a nice time and the weather was glorious. The little book is not any further forwards on paper, but getting sharper in mind. I got several new books, of which the next is The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane's study of paths and tracks and holloways across Britain, the one after that is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a high-concept murder mystery I'm quite looking forward to, and (in service of the little book), The Celtic Placenames of Scotland. I'm pretty sure I know how to live.
And in all of these - every trailblazing, unrepentant work of literature - is the beauty of the precious and small--
(I quote this bit from Voices all the time, but it never stops being true:
"This is what I meant, about housework. If it isn't important, what is? If it isn't done honourably, where is honour?")
--and the promise of change. "We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings."
So people get married, in Le Guin's stories. They find love in unexpected places. In "A Fisherman of the Inland Sea", which is about what Le Guin always calls NAFAL - nearly-as-fast-as-light - travel, they discover teleportation, which is very exciting - but the story is about a young man who finally goes home to his family. Where they aren't happy stories, they're still human stories - so when they're about colonisation, and war, and pain - they're about how these things reproduce themselves in the microcosm. It happens in The Word For World is Forest; it happens in "Winter's King"; and again, with a very modern solarpunk quality, in "Vaster Than Empires And More Slow".
My favourite of all her work, though, is Changing Planes. It's about a woman called Sita Dillip who discovers by accident that one can move to parallel planes of existence when sitting in airports. It's 200 pages of perfection and I reread it every year. That, and "Paradises Lost", her perfect haunting generation ship novella, which appeared in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, I think.
Anyway. If you've never read her, here are some of her stories:
-"The Seasons of the Ansarac" (from Changing Planes)
-"The Island of the Immortals" (likewise)
-"Mountain Ways" (from The Birthday of the World)
-""The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" (from The Wind's Twelve Quarters - I deliberately haven't written anything about this story here; it stands alone and without compare)
And finally, on the selfish note. Le Guin is probably the single writer of SFF who's had the greatest influence on me. Like - I try not to take my own writing too seriously? (Hi! I'm a Tortured Bipolar Writer! I sit in coffee shops being tortured and bipolar, and also all my stories are about GIANT EXPLOSIONS.) But all ridiculousness aside: she's what I aspire to be. The way she wrote, the way she thought, and the way she unrepentantly occupied our genre. That.
As it gets colder: Diwali in late October. Thanksgiving last week hosted by American friends. (A lot of food and laughter. happydork made five pumpkin pies.) Last night soupytwist and I went to see Oysterband at Union Chapel, one of my favourite venues and perfect for them, with the candlelight and icy hymnal acoustics. And it's something about folk music, and the time of year - indigenous music, roots music; whatever you like to call it - the music of a place and time, anyway. A ( line from the little book )
I liked that Oysterband prefaced Here Comes The Flood with the note that "socialism" may have become a dirty word in some quarters but this is Union Chapel, this is Islington. (They got a cheer. I keep meaning to go back to Union Chapel's Daylight Music sessions. You pay £5 for the chapel's upkeep and community projects, and you get tea and acoustics.) I went with cosmic_llin to see Julie Fowlis play in early November - again, candlelit and quiet. Between two songs of her set, she said in Gaelic for those with Gaelic: tha mi 'n dochas gun chòrd e ruibh, I'm glad you're here and that you liked it. Just for a minute, music for a handful in a crowd. I was so touched by it.
Anyway, the point of it: live music, the change of season, and self-built ritual, and not so little self-awareness, to not know my reluctant theism is close to the surface. Brioche and ginger biscuits this morning, to celebrate Due South and Slings & Arrows being put on YouTube by the Canada Media Fund. It's still impossibly bright. Five of my friends piled onto my sofa to see Geoffrey Tennant shout, "I have fixed the toilet!"
Work is coming to an end, and a beginning. (I move post in January.) I have a story out at the end of this week, and another at New Year. Christmas in London; and then A. and I are in Jaipur in the first week of January, for a wedding. By then I hope to have a first draft of the little book, and the short story projects finished for the time being. This is the first winter of my adult life in which I have been adequately medicated. And it's as much an ongoing project as ever, and this week less good than most, but in comparison to the other thing, a blessed postdrome - a space where something used to be.
Hi! I'm singlecrow on the AO3. Thank you for writing for me. First up, please feel free to ignore everything in this letter if you'd rather. I want you to have a good time writing the story you want to write, and if you have that already in mind I'm excited to read it. If it helps you, though, here are some things about what I like:
Generally, I like: loving friendships, snappy dialogue, people being competent at what they do.
Generally I don't like PWPs (which isn't to say I don't like sex in stories! I do, a lot, but with other things) and I don't like men in positions of power over women, particularly in a sexual context but generally.
I don't have any triggers or squicks. If you want to write a story with loads of sex in it or no sex at all in it, I like both of those. Also, I hesitate to say this, but: some people do feel obliged, given the festive element, to write a cheerful and happy Yuletide story. I like those! I like them a lot. But this is me saying: if the story of your heart is bleak and despairing, I'm here for it. I want to hear it.
Here are my fandoms, with a bit more about each:
( The Good Place )
( Star Trek Discovery )
( Murderbot Diaries - Martha Wells )
(One last thing - please feel free to assume I'm all caught up with Disco and the Good Place by Christmas.)
Thank you again, friend! To reiterate: write what you want, and don't mind me.
We arrived at our destination ten hours and forty-five minutes later. Late summer Bank Holiday weekends are apparently not the best time to travel. The bright side of this is: a) we are better drivers; b) we are closer friends; c) we can now do literally fucking anything. We drove 273 miles in my car that famously doesn't do third gear. (Or air conditioning. Most of those ten hours were spent in sealed thirty-degree heat.) We went on the North Circular and the leafy suburbs and entire length of the M6 and up numbered gradients on single-track roads in the pitch darkness. We spent two and a half hours under one motorway bridge while Google Maps tried to convince us we could fly. In the last half-hour of the journey we had all the windows open and the night air was sharp with greenery and it was worth it for that; though we did also arrive to dinner and a standing ovation.
The house is the one out of Swallows and Amazons - it's still owned by the same family, who rent it out for part of the year - and it's beautiful, a rambling eighteenth-century farmhouse that's been iteratively modernised but still has the original beams. It has a particularly lovely kitchen with a local-slate floor and a table that seats thirteen adults if they like each other. This is the second time I've rented the place for a week on behalf of myself and twelve friends, and I'm more and more convinced that this is the best idea I've ever had. As well as being glorious inside, the house has a wooden rope swing, sweet peas in the garden, sheep, chickens, and a view over a glorious sweep of hill country. On the other side the River Ness slops gently to its estuary and at the bottom of the hill is a ruined cottage in a coppice, with some slate walls still standing and the rest grown over by nettles and curved-down trees. A. says it appears as a structure on the 1911 Ordnance Survey but after that disappears from habitation, and a hundred years from now it may have sunk entirely into the moss.
I had given up on not working over the holiday - I have far too much to do at the moment, and in any case the drive up pushed me right over into unpleasant hypomania. But it was much easier than it would have been in London; I burned it off by running, and taking long walks, and I sat outside with cushions and papers and did my manuscript revisions in the open air. I ended up doing four full days' worth, which I'm proud of, and then stopping, which I'm prouder of. I ate and slept when I could. At the start of the week we had the Tesco man arrive with the whole week's work of groceries and during the course of the week I think people baked eight different cakes. And at the end of the week the skies cleared, and you could stand in the garden at midnight and see no artificial lights for miles, and a massive spread of stars. It was dark enough to make out the Milky Way, following the same orientation as the roof of the house, which made me think that where we were standing on a hill near Coniston was in line with the galactic plane.
We came back this evening (after a drive of merely seven hours) and A. and I unloaded everything and went for a quick dinner at the Singaporean place up Holloway Road, because there are some advantages to living in the middle of a city of seven million people. But places uphill where the air smells sharp are better for me. The landscape around Ulverston reminds me of where I grew up - it has the same wild-not-rural character, not manicured and muggy like it is down south - and Whitehaven, along the Cumbrian coast, is the first place my father lived in England. We might not be able to go back next summer, but the year after that. The message in the guestbook was: Baked many cakes walked many steps enjoyed much house. The cottage down the hill was like that when we got here.
fic:: everything as it was and everything as changed
1200w, Deep Space Nine, Bashir/Garak. The fight started with why must you wear a chintz dressing gown covered in blue elephants and ended somewhere else.
( there comes a point where nothing will serve )
Provenance is Ann Leckie’s latest: a follow up to Ancillary Justice, Sword and Mercy. It’s in the same universe – and, from what I gather, set not long after Mercy – but at a different end of the universe. Ingray, our main character, is not Radchaai, neither are her friends and family, and there are no sentient AIs, either.
I have some criticisms, but I really, really like this book. ( spoilers, but they are minor )
In conclusion: it's good. I liked it. I read it in uncorrected proof in which pages 35-40 were in the wrong order; it comes out on 26 September.
I'm also not doing well with reasonable self-care related to the book, which I should, because finishing the version that went on agent submission - in a several-month, every-spare-minute sprint - was what precipitated my last visit to the bottom of the well. (Perfectly nice as wells go, but not one to revisit.) But I keep wanting to just finish it and get it over and winding myself up in the process. And of course I'm aware that I have read it approx fourteen thousand times over the last two and a half years and naturally I'm seeing nothing but flaws? And perhaps other people might not think it is the worst thing ever committed to paper? In my more rational moments I think this. And yet, oh my god, I hate this book. I want to bundle it up and throw it into aforesaid well and write SOMETHING ELSE. It never gets less ridiculous. I spent four days trying to think of a 1940s-appropriate preferably-funny insult? And it had to be two syllables because otherwise the sentence wouldn't scan? And then tau_sigma suggested "strumpet", because she's a perfect human? And all of that hungama was about literally one word? etc.
Etc. Two months ago I was about as a far from a clean, well-lighted place as I could be. And now I'm not, but nothing terrible will happen if I don't finish this book soon. (Or ever? Like, it would be sub-optimal after two and half years, but I'm not writing Hamlet here.) And nothing terrible will happen if it's not as good as I wanted it to be. And nothing terrible will happen if I do it in ten-minute, 100-word chunks. This is quite a rubbish pep talk but there you are, it's what I've got, and it's better than the alternative.
In other news: I'm enjoying being back out in the world. I'm enjoying seeing friends and going for walks and learning to love this city again. I miss my legal practice and my Gaelic. I'm looking forward to returning to both in the autumn; I'm ready for the new terms and the start of the year.
(Also: I'm a qualified lawyer in England and Wales and a career civil servant in central government. I hold a joint honours degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Balliol College, Oxford and a Masters degree in constitutional jurisprudence from an Ivy League law school. Nevertheless men gonna mansplain.)
Anyway, I'm crashing very, very hard. My mental health has been very tiresome recently and I got through last night by means of sedatives and alcohol and quite possibly deserve how crushingly terrible I feel now. But I wanted to sit down and have on record that we did something extraordinary today; that it was so hard, and it will be so hard; but we worked and donated and campaigned, and what we do matters. I keep thinking about the Labour Party - a party I have been a member of since I was sixteen years old - and how it isn't a party like the others. Labour is the party of the labour movement: it is a movement, a slow progress of people towards the light on the hill. We should be at each other's throats all the time. We should rail against our failures, we should strive towards great, extraordinary internal diversity, because we are the many, not the few. We believe that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone. The Tories said, only we can save you - but we don't need anyone to save us. We are many; we can save us. We are many; we don't have to do everything ourselves. I've been too mentally ill to canvass, so my friends did that. I'm not allowed to campaign, so my mum and dad did that. I can write and think and argue, so I did that.
We need to know each other's names and what we are asking, Margaret Atwood says. Do not be any thing. Be the light we see by.
I am not a gay man in New York but I see the resemblance:
"Worse, really, was the L, which I'd take home from Oliver's on the West Side. Not the train itself, which was fast and frequent, but what it represented. In that direction, the L is packed with people on their way to Brooklyn, whether going home or out partying. They always seemed hip and gay (in the original sense of the word) and young, whereas I felt like an old man being taken away from where he really wanted to be.
I feel guilty now that I projected my unhappiness on the subways. The L, and the 4/5? They did right by me, getting me home and to work on time and safely, and each brought its share of discoveries."
Hayes loves cities, the anomie and connection of them, and also the way they hold their own microcosm in mass transit. (He says, mass transit, and I think: golden age SF, that magic gilded modernity. When people say public transport I think of quiet country stations and Yes, I remember Adlestrop. Different, but the same human topology.) And it's a beautiful, beautiful book. Textured by grief, but full of defiance, a willingness to see beautiful things. I think I see queerness in that, the theoretical version? The notion that queerness is some vanguard avant-garde, so we approach it through anti-capitalism and rejecting the sexual status quo, but it advances beyond us, so we are never truly queer. I'm not sure if I could uncritically subscribe to queer theory, or even critically understand it - my mind and/or education never feel like they're up to it - but this I like: that it is queer to reject the mainstream pessimism of the left. You queer the text by daring to find some reason not to give up and die.
And then of course it's a straightforwardly queer book, too. A queer writer, a queer life, a queer city, set out in bitesize vignettes and photography. Everything in it is something Hayes has noticed, something he's chosen to notice, about Sacks and about New York: a smokestack, a fisherman on the subway, a conversation with a stranger waiting for a moving truck, an army of skateboarders on Fourth Avenue. I have been unmedicated for two weeks now and settled to a scratchy, dimmed, distractible baseline. Everyone - GP and therapist and friends - says, one day at a time, rather than rage against the light; which for me doesn't come easily. But I happen to be reading this book as London shifts to summer, which isn't right, because London isn't New York. You don't buy air conditioners in London, or wait until next time for the favourite outfit. I always think it's like a kid playing dress up - look at us, constitutionally raincoated, looking for the window keys, in the dresses we never wear, with the little self-conscious bottles of water on the Tube. It's twenty-six degrees today but it might not be ever again. Some of my colleagues have dug out salwar kameez; a girl I know wore a paisley hijab and tried to put her face in a frappuccino. Meds withdrawal has dialled my hypersensitivity up to eleven but there's something in noticing every small sensory thing: passing perfume, a girl humming, with two different decorated Converse and a Wonder Woman t-shirt; the scent of rotting rubbish (which - I'm sorry - takes me to New York again, the Lower East Side when I lived upstate, and last summer - Hamilton, Pride, and gelato). You may as well notice these things whether or not the world is burning. You might as well live. Also from Insomniac City:
"I once said to someone that one doesn't come to New York for beauty.
I said that's what Paris, or Iceland, is for.
I said one comes to New York to live in New York, with all its noise and trash and rats in the subway and taxicabs stuck in crosstown traffic jams.
I didn't know what the hell I was talking about.
If there could be a chip implemented to track one's vocabulary, as miles logged are counted with those fitness bands people go around wearing, I'm sure beautiful would be in my top-ten most-used words. I am always saying that that's beautiful or this is beautiful. The thing is, beauty comes in unbeautiful ways here."
Last week in post next week; also, an intake appointment for psychiatric care; and my departmental privilege day. Not sure if I can write on it, or at all. But we shall see.
(On this basis, my soul left Singapore four days ago and is currently slouching towards Bethlehem. Onwards, onwards.)
Australia was wonderful, I really enjoyed it. I (mostly) enjoyed New Zealand; I was in Christchurch, Wellington (briefly), Lake Tekapo and Hanmer Springs. I do tend to feel uneasy in NZ though. The first time I went to Hanmer, a pack of white teenagers stared at me with hostile fascination until I cracked and left. It wasn't particularly pleasant and was replicated elsewhere in the rural South Island. So partly it was that, and partly it was the place in itself, but I really enjoyed Singapore. It's not my favourite place for various reasons - not least, I was travelling without my drugs because they're controlled substances there - but, well. I went on about this elsewhere but in Singapore people look like me. People on the street, popstars on TV. Adverts for make-up, adverts for wedding venues, adverts for law school - they all had girls like me in them. I wonder how much less utterly neurotic I'd be if I lived in an environment like that all the time, because there is a psychological pressure you don't notice until it's gone - until you spend a day thinking, oh, hey, I look pretty today, oh, hey, I said something funny and people laughed, and all those casual quotidian thoughts aren't followed with "Despite..." and a giant asterisk.
I read a fair bit while I was away, which is what I originally opened this tab to talk about I've been meaning to read the Moore graphic novels for years, and finally got around to it on the long flights. Watchmen - I wanted to like it more than I did. It's a critical darling, yep, I get it, and even on a visceral level, I get it, it's rich and complex and fascinating, I was swept up in it. But in the end I just found it distasteful and unsatisfying, which is a bit tragic. The women in the story exist to be raped or denied agency. And I loathe Rorschach - I loathe being placed in the mind of misogynist, homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, tragic-childhood-waaaah men, and I particularly loathe ~narrative ambivalence~ in respect of them. Rorschach is not an anti-hero. I do not admire his integrity. It's a virtue in itself, but I don't admire it in bricks. And ultimately I don't know what the text is trying to tell me. Is it that being a superhero is possible, that being a hero is possible? Or is it 300 pages of nihilism? Either way, by the end I didn't care.
I liked V for Vendetta much better. I thought it was interesting and clever and hit a lot of the narrative tropes I adore. And then I had this thought, which I share with you because it's a sad, pathetic little thought and I'm sort of ashamed of it. Here it is. V for Vendetta is set in a near-future dystopian Britain, where the fascists are in charge and totalitarianism has seeped into the public's skin. It's richly and devastatingly imagined. It's a world in which there are explicitly no brown people and no queers - they've been destroyed by the regime. And I - the brown queer reader - am being placed in the position, as reader, of feeling empathy and concern for those who are left. For a now wholly white and non-queer society. For the story to work, I must be invested in what becomes of it. And I'm capable of it - this is the task of the brown queer reader, to find empathy and commonality of self, in that distant human for whom existence and interiority is permitted - and capable of it to the deeply ingrained, deeply socialised extent that it took me 200 pages to have this thought at all.
But I had it. And then I didn't enjoy the rest so much - but I did enjoy it a bit. Because, as I said, I've had the practice. In some ways, I'm wondering why I participate less and less in media fandom, and in other ways I know the answer: it's that I no longer want to encourage this tendency in myself. To queer the text, or run the fic challenge focusing on the browns, or whatever, is work. Unpaid female labour, in fact, which in my non-fannish life I yell about all the time. And I know I'm missing the point deliberately - fandom was never about the labour-for-capital economy, quite the reverse - but it's also emotional labour, isn't it. It's emotional labour to centre the brown or queer experience in stories that were not written about those things. It's emotional labour to just write or consume the white dude pairing du jour while carefully Not Thinking about the other thing - and as I get older I get crankier and less willing to do this. For me, the way through the Gordian knot is to write my own stories. It'd be different for someone else, perhaps, but that's it for me.
I also read Marbles, by Ellen Forney, which is a graphic memoir about living as a writer and artist with badly medicated bipolar disorder. I was both interested and nervous about this book, because it focuses on something I'm worrying about a lot lately: the relationship between creativity, medication and mental illness. It's a lovely book, actually. It's all grounded in a single experience, melodramatic and abrasive, without purporting to generalise. Forney decides that to be medicated is better for her, even if she does worry about its effect on her creativity, and makes significant effort to emphasise it wouldn't be the same for every mentally ill creator. It wasn't reassuring, but it wasn't meant to be. I liked it.
I read other things, but they'll have to wait for the next post. The drive-by rec though is for Tansy Rayner Roberts' Castle Charming novellas, which are sweet and colourful and queer fairy tale parodies. And the first one is free!
(Urgh. My soul is still plodding across the Middle East. It's taking in the sights. It's ordering olives and shakshuka. HURRY THE FUCK UP oh my god.)
(Other news: am in Christchurch (the one in New Zealand!), having had a very pleasant time in Sydney and Wagga Wagga, which is underrated. Coffee good, wine awesome, driving down to Mount Cook tomorrow.)
The story in brief, for those who don't know it (and also to give me an excuse to tell it again): after the First World War, there was a worldwide outbreak of Spanish flu, which killed more people than the war did, but has mostly been forgotten. And following that - and yet more forgotten - was an epidemic of an illness later called encephalitis lethargica, also called sleepy-sickness. It was prevalent between about 1918 and 1928, and has never really been seen since (beyond isolated cases). People who got it tended to fall asleep - for weeks or months. And then, when they woke up, they were changed in some deep, indefinable way: neither asleep nor awake, but something in between. They sat motionless in chairs and stared into space. They could be "posed", their arms outstretched, like living statues. They couldn't be woken, and some of them didn't appear even to age - so forty years later some had been frozen in place for decades, still looking largely as they had in the late 1920s when initially struck down by the disease.
In 1969, the neurologist Oliver Sacks - who was one of the few clinicians with responsibility for a large number of post-encephalitic patients, about forty of them, in a hospital in New York - hit upon the idea of giving them L-DOPA, which at the time was a brand-new drug. (It's a chemical precursor to dopamine that can pass through the blood-brain barrier.) So without a great deal of knowledge of what would happen, but that something would, he started giving L-DOPA to these patients who had been out of the world for four decades.
And they woke up. This is the amazing part of the story, and Sacks writes about it like a dream: this glorious New York summer, in which these people not only woke up, and spoke, and moved, but became the people they had been. Sacks mentions one patient who had been a flapper, and the nurses going to the NYPL to look up the people and places she spoke about. He mentions another who had been a young Jewish emigrée from Vienna in the 1920s, and startled the staff because they had never known it until she spoke with an Austrian accent, and asked for a rabbi. It's just incredible to read about. And heartbreaking too, because L-DOPA turns out not to be quite the miracle that it promises. There's a honeymoon period, where Sacks and his colleagues are convinced it's just teething problems and they'll figure it out - and then the realisation that they can't stop the effect of the drug wearing off with time, or giving the patients side-effects that are too much to bear. So while some of the patients stay "awakened", others slip back into their pre-L-DOPA state, or into a coma this time. It's tragic and has an awful inevitable feel but it doesn't take on the feel of a Greek tragedy - you never lose sight of these people as real, individual human beings, not archetypes or fairy tales. I am not always convinced by Sacks' theoretical approaches, which draw a lot more from straight philosophy than I'm accustomed to seeing in a book that also purports to examine the scientific method. And it's also a book of its time and place, and a medicalised book - it doesn't always shine in a good light when considered through the lens of disability activism and theory - but Sacks is always interesting, always humane, and always interested in individuals and their stories.
The coda to this is that I hadn't really gathered, the first time I read this book, that Sacks was queer (although I was reminded of his lifelong friendship with WH Auden, which is the kind of historical congruence I love). And then happydork linked me to this beautiful article: My Life With Oliver Sacks, by Bill Hayes, who was Sacks' partner at the time of his death. It's one of the loveliest things I've read in ages - a snapshot of queer work, a queer life, as well as a love letter and obituary. I adore it. i've been rereading a lot of formative things just recently - all the best-beloveds of teenage crazies, so The Bell Jar and Prozac Nation - but also Slaughterhouse Five, Gender Outlaws, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, and Wild Dreams of a New Beginning. (The last of which because I read a poem: Lawrence Ferlinghetti Is Still Alive.)
I feel like there ought to be some sort of conclusion to this thought, something about my foundering mental health, but actually I think it's just, there are always books, and that precious kinship of inquiring queers.