‘Netflix for Dreams’ and Swapping Sci-Fi Stories in Cyberspace…

I like sci-fi. Sci-fi is my jam. I put it in porridge and then said porridge is inedible ’cause it’s got robot bits and cosmic debris and maybe even a techsistential crisis in there as well. Whatever. I eat that mess up because it’s good for me. Sci-fi is brain food.

Because I like science fiction I (literally) jumped at the chance to get involved in a mass sci-fi-writing party when it heard about it a couple of weeks ago. What happened was this: a person named Regular Frog decided they’d set-up ‘SF Swap‘ (hashtag: #SFSwap) and put the proposal out to Twitter. Writers rallied round, rigged themselves up to monitors and got in on the action. That action is the exchange of science fiction concepts and the subsequent writing of stories based on those concepts.

It works like this: everyone throws out a short hook for a story and someone else gets that prompt and has to fashion a thousand-word yarn out of it. It’s then uploaded onto the SF Swap website for everyone to enjoy, and there’s a lot to enjoy. It’s really interesting to see how people adapt to the challenge and how genre tropes and stylings have been played with.

There’s a beautiful mix of stories both in terms of theme and tone. We have pulpy space opera, alien encounters, nature fighting back, technology-based horrors, black comedy cyberpunk, cosmic dread, doomed missions, post-apocalyptic bewilderment and stellar romances. I’ve had a blast coming back to the site over and over to read the latest uploads and I recommend having a read through if you want some stimulating flash-fiction.

My own effort has been uploaded and it’s based on a prompt from Tanya Osborne. The prompt was ‘Netflix for Dreams’ and it’s one of the best pitches I could have hoped for. (I got an email that said nothing but ‘Netflix for Dreams’. It was one of the best emails I’ve had in a while. I got a bit excited about that email.)

Netflix for Dreams is what it says it is, and if you read it you’ll find a dizzying array of eclectic titles on offer (I had a lot of fun inventing fantasies, though some of them are partly based on my own real dreams). Feel free to head over to the SW Swap site and enjoy not only my fresh blast of fiction, but the many marvellous works of others getting immersed in this exciting experimental writing jam…


Thoughts about Time: a Hot Mess and a Fluid Thing That May Not Be an Actual Thing…

I’m going to write about ‘Time’. (I am writing about ‘Time’. I have written about ‘Time’.) Time is a hot mess. It is, it always has been and it always will be.

Time perturbs me. It’s always all over the place, running around with knives and scissors screaming “I happened! I am happening! I am going to happen!” Really though? I’m not convinced. Time doesn’t know what is in itself and – for all the havoc it’s causing and attention that it’s trying grab – it may not even actually be a real thing.

I’ve been thinking about Time a lot lately, just as I think a lot about things that possibly aren’t real. Last night the clocks went back and we slipped into Greenwich Mean Time (and oh it is so mean, bringing Winter back again and why they Hell would I want Winter? What am I meant to do with Winter?). I was asleep so didn’t consciously experience the timeslip while my senses were engaged. How do I truly know that it happened then? How can I be completely sure that Europe dialled back an hour while I was in bed?

The clocks tell us that it’s a particular point in Time, but clocks can’t tell the Time themselves. Clocks are mechanical devices that lack sentience, except the clocks that are connected to advanced hyperintelligent supercomputers and that clock over there that has been possessed (the exorcism is scheduled for Wednesday). What if I approached a clock and re-adjusted it so that instead of, say, 08:34 it read 19:22? How about 11:11, 12:51 or 21:12?

I can have some fun playing with clocks (generally un-fun) and change the Time so that it’s a reference to a rock song but the changed Time wouldn’t be the accurate, genuine Time. Then again, what makes the Time right now the accurate, genuine Time? It was decided that last night Time would go back one hour and I still, in my ignorance, don’t have a solid grasp of who decided that or why. (To give people an extra in bed? So cow-farmers can see the udders they are pulling when they wake in the morning? So we have more excuses to jump into a spontaneous rendition of the Time Warp?)

Of course, Greenwich Mean Time is a human-made type of time tied into what is only one of a number of possible artificial calendars (others aside from the Western/Gregorian – like the Chinese, North Korean JucheMayan and Babylonian – are available and probably not fit for your imminent needs). All these calendars and notions of timezones and systems were created by people (or ancient gods). They are artificial installations, and that once again leads me to question the whole dubious notion of Time, however we conceive it or record it.

Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. So on, so on with all these human-made units designed to mark out the immense thing (non-thing?) that is (is not?) Time. Are these units just there to provide structure and systematic shape to something that is intangible and possibly unreal? Is this just another expression of our collective neurotic need to categorise and label everything? Are we clinging so hard to this possibly-fake notion because we can’t comprehend and stand the mindblowing prospect of complete chaos and absolute freedom from regulated order? Is this just an elaborate means of trying to enforce meaning onto a Universe that may in fact be meaningless?

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All About the Red Planet: Getting My Ass to Mars…

Mars! Yeah, MARS. The Red Planet rocks and is having a bit of a moment right now so let’s all be slightly awestruck and look to its immense ochre majesty

They’ve discovered that there’s water on Mars! They’ve released a movie about Matt Damon getting stuck on Mars! They’re getting nostalgic and remembering classic Martian literature! Me? I’m wearing my ‘Get Your Ass to Mars’ t-shirt , singing the Martian Song in twilight car parks and trying to get my ass to Mars. In reality, this mission isn’t making much progress but in my mind I’m bare-naked and bouncing about the canyons of Barsoom like John Carter. I just leaped over a minor Martian mountain and beat up sixteen Tharks bare-handed so, yeah, take that reality…

Anyway, I’m all about Mars right now. With the release of The Martian on my mind I wrote a fresh article on space movies and loneliness for the Den of Geek website. It talks about isolation and how sci-fi films are really good vessels for exploring the theme and feelings of solitude and if that sounds interesting to you, the link is there.

Otherwise, still contemplating space and Mars, I ended up creating the following epic miniature doodle. When I get into these things I kind of get carried away and start meditatively inking and then next thing I’m scribbling out the entire cosmos…


A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

I’m now going to go back to my fantasies of being a naked superhuman warrior on Mars. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon with more stories and stuff (and probably some bruises on my ass).


Fresh Facebook Page, Fresh Flash Fiction, Fresh Thoughts…

Hey! Here’s some miniature news. (Miniature news is delivered by ‘ickle pixies with high-pitched voices. It’s better than ‘Big News‘ which is often just ridiculous…)

I set up a Facebook page and you can go there, ‘Like’ it, follow it or leave comments if you so desire. It’s called ‘Jamazing Things’ and I will do my best to festoon it with Jamazing things. I figured it might be a way to spread my jam further across cyberspace and establish a public front. I also figured it would allow me to devote my private profile entirely to bad summer selfies and in-jokes with Italian friends without any irritating distractions.

I’m not sure – it’s an experiment but you can go find me on the Matrix Fakebook now and it may be worth watching out while I roll out some rad new designs (writing, doodling, even more miniature doodling, war plans, revolutions, new religions, I-just-don’t-know-what-yet-but-it-could-be-thrilling). Otherwise, doodles are happening (see the unicornscape below) and yesterday I returned to ‘James vs. Story Cubes‘ and dashed out a couple of short riffs of flash-fiction. (One of them is about a warrior king who got crabs, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Oh, and I’ve also been thinking about Twitter as well lately. I’ve been very much out of the loop and alienated from that thing, and I got worn out long ago with its ‘rolling news reaction’ grind. Altogether, too many inane opinions, too much snark, too much negativity and the whole unfiltered stream-of-consciousness aspect got dull. Stream-of-consciousness broadcasting is perilous business, especially when my own stream-of-conscious oscillates between overexcited geeksplosions in all-caps and hideous melancholy. From there, trying to understand my Twitter feed looks like that moment in Star Trek where Spock mindmelded with a traumatised pizza. But, hey, maybe it’s time to try a tiny-comeback and engage with it again. Yeah, in conclusion I think I’m going to tweet more – more than just dumping my links – and I think I’m going to mostly tweet unfathomable absurdities because trying to make sense and be clearly understood in this nonsensical Universe is futile.

There is my miniature news, narrated in a high-pitched voice by a shrunken-down version of myself. (I thought it might help me with these miniature doodles and make me cool like Ant-Man, but now I can’t reach the cutlery drawer. Hurm.) More soon, but for now, take care out there and, please, spare a thought for all the unicorns, pizza aliens and pigs that have suffered…

Unicorn Farm…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles August/September 2015: Drawing Pictures in Padova…

You know what I doodly-do when I do English-language summer camps in Italy every summer? Well, one of the things I do – aside from singing, dancing and struggling to control Havoc Beelzebambini while I teach them essential vocab like ‘tape’, ‘shame’ and ‘toilet plunger’ – is draw diary sketches during the lunchbreaks. Sì, signore e signori! Its time for another round of lunchtime doodles from summer camp! *fanfare*

As it was in Torino in June, so it was again in the countryside near Padova in late August/early September. Technical background and insight into ze process for those interested: this time I had to use standard paper rather than canteen placemats because there was no canteen arrangement at this school. Doodles were therefore done in the public park next door and were powered by packed lunch (mostly tuna sandwiches). Furthermore, I was determined that I’d make these daily diary doodles the most Jamazing yet and I sought to raise my game from ‘Yeah! Alrighty!‘ to ‘Oh Gods! Thor Almighty!‘. More sketches! Better sketches! More imagination and in-jokes and off-the-wall absurdity and semi-topical creative lunacy!

I think I did a decent job of that and rate these as my best batch of lunchtime doodles so far (until next year, if I make it that far and if they have me back). I won’t go into detail or try and explain ’em – just appreciate them for what they are. Then again, if you wish you can always try and dive deep into esoteric theory and try and discover the occult symbolism and the secrets of my subconscious manifest in miniaturised ink dribbling.

Here are the fortnight’s daily doodles from Summer Camp No. 2 collected together for convenience (you can also see them and my other arty bits on Instagram y’know). And stick around after the two weeks are done with – I promise that there are bonus extras…

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Homecoming, Hailing the Best Summer and Creative Action Ahead, Ma Dai…

Allora, “kingdom of trash, came home at last“. Yeah, I’m home! Home from the latest fresh exile in Italy. It’s been four (quattro!) in total this year and I kept on going away and coming back and going away again but now I think I’m going to stay put for a bit. Though, of course, nothing is certain (everything is uncertainty) I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be based in the UK over the coming months.

So s, I’m home but home is strange after a lot of time away. It’s also hard in the winter, especially right after the highs and sunny haze of the summer. This year was the very best summer so the comedown is brutal. It’s cold! It’s wet! The Italian culture, la dolce vita, all the friends and the amped exhilaration, activity and adoration of summer camps (aww, I miss my pre-teen fans) all feel so far away…


So , I’m in that strung-out post-summer state of confusion and I can’t stop saying “ma dai!“, “ma perché?!” and “non lo so!” because I have acute Italianitis. Regardless, now that I’m here and not set on flying away for a longish time again, I’m going to get on with doing stuff – namely doodling, writing and wrestling with and through other assorted forms of creative action. (Note: there will be wrestling and my ring names are alternately ‘Jamezilla’ and ‘Miss Apocalypse Sweetheart’).

I’ve been doing a lot of doodling lately, and in coming days I’ll put together a compilation blogpost collecting more lunchtime doodles from another English-language summer camp (this one from the countryside near Padova). Otherwise, watch this space – I have the wish and will to blast out a whole lot of stuff and I’ll let keep you in the loop. Please, feel free to be loopy with me…

I’ll leave it there, because the rest is just me bleating about the weather, bemoaning the absence of decent pizza and altogether turning into a quasi-Italian version of Jon Snow. (“Winter is coming… ma dai!“). For now, here’s to the home where your heart is, kicking out creative jams and, for the final time, memories of the magical summer.

Andiamo, autumn action…

James vs. Story Cubes: Furious Fingers Flying for Fresh Flash Fiction…

*Clears throat* Alright! Are you sitting comfortably, my Preciouses? Good – then I’ll begin…

Once upon a time (last week) I had the thought “Hey, I haven’t started a new blog in a while” while simultaneously having the thought “Hey, I want to get back to writing some flash fiction“. These thoughts started dancing together and then they grabbed me and dragged me down a path of fresh creative action.

Here’s fresh action: ‘James vs. Story Cubes‘. It’s like Alien vs. Predator, except better/worse. Here’s how it’s going to work: I’m going to roll my set of Voyages edition Rory’s Story Cubes (recommended for fun with friends or personal creative impetus) and come up with short stories inspired by the images in oooh, say, around 10 minutes and no longer. The results – whether they be good, bad or abominable – will be written up on the new Tumblr blog on a relatively frequent basis. (Probably a few times a week.)

I figure this will be fun creative exercise – on-the-fly story fabrication with built-in limits and without excessive thought. I’ll see what happens (probably multiple atrocities). You can see what happens by heading to the James vs. Story Cubes site and I hope you enjoy what I come up with in the clutch when I’m challenged by the Nine Perilous Pictorial Polyhedrons of Power.

Alrighty? Write on… *attacks the story cubes, and they return fire with extreme prejudice…*

New flash fiction blog-project-thing: 'James vs. Story Cubes' (jamesvsstorycubes.tumblr.com) is go…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Back-and-Forth, To-and-Fro: an Update Between Italia and Britannia…

H’oookaaay’aayyy! (That’s how many Italians say ‘okay’, y’know) I’m back! Yeah, just to update those interested, last week I came back again from bella Italia. Again? Yes, again. I keep on doing this thing of going to Italy and coming back to Britain only to then swiftly go back to Italy again and then it’s back and forth and to and fro and there and here for a little bit and so on, so on, per sempre. And now I’m going to tell you that I’ll be taking off back to Italy again in under three weeks time. I see a pattern here. Do you see a pattern here? I hope you’re not bored of all these ‘Sorry guys, gone to Italy’ notes. (If you are, well, sorry guys, I can’t do owt about that ’cause I’m going to Italy again.)

Whatever, for a relatively brief moment I’m here in England and it’s nice to be home in many ways but at the same time it’s not so nice in others. Do you see my sad face and pouting? Just know that there is a sad face and pouting and sometimes anguished, forlorn and teary-eyed outbursts of “ma perché?!” Leaving Italy is always a wrenching ordeal (punctuated by lots of expressive hand gesturing). I have all these feelings, guys, and the comedown can be (nay, is) sometimes brutal. Here, share in my grief pizza…

Grief Pizza: quick doodle 'cause I'm home from bella Italia after the best time ever and, aww guys, it hurts… #GriefPizza

A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Ah, I miss pizza – and pizza is not about the pizza but about the people you’re eating pizza with, and I miss the people I’ve eaten pizza with. Anyway, putting my grief pizza to one side, I realise that all this to-ing and fro-ing has sorta-kinda positioned me in a constant state of flux. Right now I’m a bit of a drifter caught between two lands not knowing exactly where he’s up to or even who he really is anymore. Being back here in the summer, things don’t make sense. How can I can reconcile my Italian side and the rock-star status I have over there with my humdrum homeland state? (Rock star status from being an all-action almighty hero English teacher) I keep on thinking “Where are the children?! Where’s my fan club?!” and automatically using Italian words all over the place (and even though I’m nowhere near fluent, a lot of basic words trip off my tongue faster than English ones if I’m not thinking about things).

These are strange days I’m floating through, often in a dislocated haze. But that’s okay, because life is perpetual confusion and constantly trying to work out who you are, where you are and what this world and existence are all about (possible answers: “I am a pizza“, “I’m going through chaaaaaanges” and “don’t ask me“). In total – to try and make some kind of point before I pass on the maybe-important information – I’ll say this: there is a lot of movement and some confusion, but there is living in the moment and in the moments there is bliss and the realisation that life is living in the moment and that life is perpetual change. There’s my deep, philosophical, spiritual point.

Allora, the point I originally aimed to get in this blogblast at was this: I’m sort-of in-and-out-and-off-and-away at the moment but I am creatively juiced and regardless of where I am I’m going to be knocking stuff out (all kinds of stuff) and uploading it onto the interwebs. New projects are being spawned and they will see daylight fairly soon on all the usual channels. I’m also thinking about makeovers and upheavals and ripping-up-and-starting-agains and fresh conjurings. We will see and you will see in time…

For now, there’s a lot of doodle action happening up on Instagram and, simultaneously, on my doodle blog. In addition to that tonight – Friday 24th July, from 10pm to 1am – I’ll be making a cameo appearance comeback rocking out and sharing anecdotes on BBC Radio Lancashire’s FNAT show. The rest is all secrets and esoteric mysteries, conceived in a hot ambivalent mess of bittersweet emotions and beautiful memories. Oh, and it’s also partly fuelled by grief pizza, so I’ve got to go back and get some real pizza and share it with great, real people. That’s what I will do and the adventure carries on, so here’s to adventure, creative action and being alive…

H’oookkkaaay’aaay? Good. Bear with me, watch this space and I’ll keep you in the loop. In the meantime, take care of yourselves and each other – live in the moment as much as possible and live good… :D

Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles June 2015: Arty Tricks in Torino…

You draw is very beautiful! Is very good!” Awww, you’re too kind, kids…

That is what I doodly-do when I do summer camps. I get sketching, mesmerise Italian children with my doodles and then bat away their compliments because I’m not Moebius and am therefore not satisfied with my artistic (in)ability. Regardless, when I’m away in Italy I really look to raise my game and get art action on and amped up to a higher frequency. I do this because: 1. Camps require arts and crafts and visual didactic materials; 2. Italian children love drawing and love looking at drawings and art is a great communicative art and means of providing entertainment; 3. I love doodling and it makes me feel good and when you’re in a beautiful place with beautiful people feeling good anyway, yeah, perché no?

Drawing is fun, but it’s most fun when you’re doing it for and/or with children because of their childishness (‘good childishness’ in terms of a sense of wonder, curiosity, playfulness and an open-hearted and ever-present willingness to be amazed). At summer camp, the best drawing time is at lunchtime and that’s because I’ve sorta-kinda created a tradition of ‘lunchtime diary doodles’ (like these from two years ago! And these from last year! And those! And yeah, them as well!).

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Returning Home So I Can Return to Italy…

Allora, ragazzi! I’m back home. You may remember that I left home to go back to Italy for a month. That month has now passed so, yeah, ecco! I’m here to drink proper tea, watch Jurassic World (dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs! Yay!) and get my regular, essential Captain America-style supersoldier serum shot. (Last time I got said shot I was in Italy and it was delivered by J.K. Simmons’ Italian doppelgänger in a twilight mystery district of Milano and it was an unnerving and absurdist affair conducted without any word of English and I had the disturbing sense that I’d stumbled into a mildly-harrowing Coen Brothers movie. When we’re talking about sticking needles in my arse I think, yes, this time I’d rather go and see my local GP.)

Anyhow, home is nice, home comforts are nice and these things are all good but, hey, I miss Italy. As ever I had a blast and highlights include *clears throat*: visiting and catching up with old friends; making new friends; rocking another all-singing-all-dancing English-language summer camp in Torino and drawing for children and acquiring a fan club at that camp; going to Verona for the first time on a bro-trip with my, erm, bro; enjoying the treasures of Torino all over again; seeing the Shroud of Turin (so, in effect, seeing Jesus); pizza; and so much more in the brilliant heat alongside brilliant people.

It was beautiful, and because I’m missing it all already I’m going to head back next week and enjoy summer in Italy some more. I feel that this trip was cut too short and I’m missing too many things and have left too many things behind (for one, my favourite t-shirt, left behind in Torino) so I’ve got to go back. Then when I return I’m going to get on with working up some creative action and I’m amped to do that. I have some ideas…

I’ll be thinking over those ideas in Italy, but before I bugger off again I’ll put up a blogpost chronicling my daily lunchtime diary doodles from summer camp in the coming days. Also, while I was away this article I wrote on Mad Max: Fury Road – a gushing lovefest exploring the masterpiece’s inspiring philosophy and empowering nature – went live on Den of Geek. It may be of interest. More things that may be of interest will be written up and doodled up in the near future.

For now, though, bear with me because Italy is calling and my soul is yearning and I’ve got to return to the place from whence I recently came. Once more, here’s to Italian summer adventures and la dolce vita. Again then, andiamo

Italy has my heart and soul in a spaghetti tangle grip and is pulling me back…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Back to Italy for Adventures: Andiamo, and Bye Bye for a Bit Again…

Allora, andiamo! I’ve got to go and do what I’ve got to do, and what I’ve got to do is go back to Italy again. I’ve got a thing for Italy, y’know? In fact I have several things for Italy. I’m going to jump on a plane at the crack of dawn tomorrow, touch down in Verona and share some of those things with Italy and Italy will inevitably share its own very special things with me. Ah, bella Italia: grande amore

… and that Eurovision flashback reminds me that, hey! I’ve got tickets to the opera! I’m going back to summer camp! I’m going back to see old friends! I’m going back to practice Italian conversation in real life with real Italians! I’m going back to the best food in the world! I’m going back to the culture and the scenery and the atmosphere that I just dig so much…

(Yeah, I’m very excited and that might all sound very nice to you but I’d also like to note that summer camps are brutal. By this time next month I’ll probably be a traumatised and exhausted husk, beaten up physically and mentally by Italian children. Why do I do this? Because I’m a masochist, a sucker and deranged zealot who can’t conceive of summer without English language summer camps in Italy. I may need help.)

So, summer camps are just what I do (it’s an irrational compulsion) and Italy is a place I just get (possibly also an irrational compulsion, or maybe that’s what real love is). Over repeat visits this natural affinity has grown and, even though I can’t shake off my Britishness and am far from fluent in Italian (ways and language), I think that there is something strong deep inside tying me to the place (and/or the Italian spirit). I really realised that when I left Milan in April after a two-plus months stay and stopped by Zürich for three days – it was nice, but simultaneously alienating. I felt foreign where I don’t feel totally foreign in Italy.

I could ramble on, navel-gazing and analysing my relationship with Italy (and indeed myself and the wider world) but I should really be packing, so I’ll leave this short and sweet. Just know that I’ll be in Italy for a month doing my things (gesturing wildly, awkwardly mangling the Italian language, trying to teach the English language to Italian kids, exploring and generally having an array of adventures, etc.). Because I aim to travel light (*the Universe laughs at such delusion*) and because I want to unplug a bit, I’m not taking this laptop and, thus, regular services and communication channels may be a bit erratic. I may occasionally fling something out on Twitter or some of my doodling on Instagram but it depends. My energies and mind are all going to be directed towards travelling, summer camp work and creative activity in notebooks. Oh, and hanging out with good people, searching out good pizza and soaking up the art, history, culture and overall experiences on offer in Italy – my home-away-from-home.

Until July, then, take care of yourselves and enjoy your June. Here’s to summer adventures. Andiamo, indeed… :D

Andiamo! I'm being pulled back to Italy by giant spaghetti so, yeah, away I go… :D

A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Mental Wellbeing: Being Aware and Taking Care…

Hey hey, my my! It’s Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought I thought I’d write a blogpost about mental health in hope of spreading awareness or piquing awareness. Mental health is of optimum importance and we need to be very aware of it. Too often, though, we’re unaware and don’t talk about it or even acknowledge it. There are various nebulous reasons – stigma, fear, discomfort – but the truth is we need to get beyond those reasons and consciously engage with this issue of ‘mental health’ (and its dark flipside) because minds are everything.

Truly, minds are amazing things. Everything around and everything that ever was, is and will be is an expression of and the result of mind-power so, with gratitude and appropriate awe, let’s all politely applaud mind-power. (*polite applause, somebody whistles and hollers “H’yeah! Yeee-aaah!“*) Consider the human mind and realise that it’s the unique attribute that marks us out from the rest of the animals and that has enabled us to dominate this Earth. Our brains helped us excel in the field and we turned that field into irrigated farmland and we invented wheels and language and plumbing and electricity and spaceships and all this other sophisticated, impressive stuff (and some unsophisticated, less impressive stuff though those things couldn’t have been crafted by, say, a moose so humans are still ahead thanks to the immense instrument inside their heads).

I’m thinking about the creation of whole cities, complex systems, incredible innovations and inventions, masterpieces of art. I’m also thinking of the more crucial things that our minds achieve every day – like responding to external stimuli, emotional intelligence, reasoning everything from the mundane to the marvellous, managing the human body’s communicative procedures and its actual functioning, and all the rest. Your mind may not be writing a contemporary gender-swapped Moby Dick with a non-linear narrative in Swedish at a speed of 427 words-per-minute right now, but it is telling you that putting that thing in your mouth is a terrible (potentially fatal) idea. Minds don’t have to be exceptional to be exceptional – they are cognitive, creative, rational and emotional instruments par excellence vital to our survival and our thriving as living organisms in this Universe. Hooray for our minds! (*cheering*)

Ah but here comes the ‘ah but’. (*gasps, atmospheric mood deflated, tension*) For reasons we know not why, the things that raised human beings up are also the things that bring them down, down, right down. Is it nature restoring some kind of balance? Is it the will of the Gods, keeping those hubristic humans in check? Is it some kind of cruel cosmic irony, self-sabotage encoded into the would-be Masters of the Universe? Whatever, these miracle minds that make people what they are can (and do) viciously turn on said people and mess things up for them. Minds afflicted by foggy, disturbing ideas and feelings; minds mixed up thanks to misfiring neurons and faulty connections; minds becoming dysfunctional and destabilised.

Altogether, minds are vulnerable and liable to start acting up and working against their owners as opposed to working for them and with them. This, sadly, is not a rare phenomenon. Lots of people (I’d argue every single person, in fact) are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, psychological disorders, mental illness or just general ‘mental wellbeing deficit’. Labels are a tricksy and problematic thing, but altogether we can put them under the same umbrella of ‘poor mental health’. (An umbrella may not be a good image to use, actually. This umbrella isn’t protecting you from the rain. In fact, the rain is coming from the inside of the umbrella and sometimes that rain is actually smoking black tar.)

Poor mental health is distressing and, potentially, devastating on both an individual and collective level. Poor mental health makes me sad. Poor mental health makes me angry. I have history with poor mental health (both my own and others’) and that’s part of the reason why it makes me so sad and angry. Thus, I’m writing this to exorcise some of that sadness and anger and have a “People! Be aware!” moment. If it helps someone, then bonus.

I know and have known too many good people who’ve suffered with mental health problems. So many wonderful human beings with so much going for them and with so much life within them and ahead of them brought down low by depression and/or by mental disorders. It’s horrible and heartbreaking to witness, especially when you end up feeling completely powerless to prevent it, fight it or improve the situation. I appreciate that I’m speaking generally and non-specifically here and that the spectrum can run from “oh dear, this low mood isn’t good” to “this disease is soul-destroying and has completely destroyed a life here“. Whatever the condition is or however intense or acute it is, the truth is the same – mental health is essential and something we need to consciously engage with and be aware of.

You may not agree with my view that we’re currently going through a global wellbeing crisis, but I think we can all agree that the line between ‘sanity and sound, stable mind’ and ‘disturbed mind’ is a very fine and fragile one. The way our modern society and culture has developed, I’d say it’s even harder to stay on the bright, right side of that line. Everywhere, I see people feeling pressured and stressed in an Age of Anxiety in which more of us (read: pretty much all of us) are feeling on edge or out-of-sorts more often. Hardwired for worry and conditioned by our culture to constantly strive to achieve impossible ideals of perfection, we’re even more vulnerable.

The good news is that we can be aware of this. The other good news is that we’re not alone when it comes to grappling with this. Every single human being on the planet (except a special few existing on an especial plane of pure enlightened cosmic consciousness) has something ‘up’ with their mind – a neurosis or irrational hang-up; a personality ‘flaw’; trouble with stress and anxiety; a psychological dysfunction; or what might be called a mental disorder, whether it be diagnosed or not.

We’ve all got to take care, of both ourselves and each other. Mental illness and the panoply of problems related to poor mental wellbeing shouldn’t be allowed to have their merry way with good people and no one should suffer alone if they can’t cope. You’re not alone, and if you by any chance do find yourself struggling I’d urge you to reach out for assistance (and it doesn’t matter what your state of mind is, whether it be ‘mildly bothered by this bleak bugger’ or extremes of ‘all of Creation is a living Hell and I am the blackest abominable spot in this roiling inferno of abject despair’.)

Charities like Mind are a good place to start, and a few clicks and entries into a search engine can get you to support and advice related to specific conditions. Otherwise, talking to friends and family (or anyone, really) is a great way to get outside your own mind if your own mind is letting you down or actively declaring war on you. If that doesn’t help or you need more support, go and see your doctor or try and secure a referral to specialist services. If they prove to be ineffective or, indeed, useless (or if the services just aren’t there) try to find seek out other support groups.

Whatever you have to do to fight the demons, to keep the black dogs at bay or to try and get better from the invisible ailments afflicting you, do it. Cling on to the good stuff and the good people that make you feel better and that help bring the light in. And of course, as a guy with a surging geekstreak, I have to encourage folk to find therapy in the things they love, and throwing yourself into creative activity (writing, art, music, crafts) and/or immersing yourself in your favourite entertainment products and hobbies can be hugely beneficial and provide emotional uplift when you’re feeling down.

Go to your happy place – or, at least, stable place – and do what works for you. Life is beautiful and it’s too precious to be wasted and drained by depression and the dark anti-energies and dim effects of mental disorders. As best as possible, with compassion in your heart and your consciousness carefully and sensitively engaged, don’t let moop, mental illness and low mental wellbeing bring you down and remember that you’re not alone (and that’s an essential thing to hold on to, because loneliness and alienation makes everything so much worse.) I repeat again, be aware and take care of yourself and others.

Here’s to better mental wellbeing and human beings with brilliant minds living happy lives… (*cheering, hugging, smiling*) :D


Devastated and Confused: Soul-Searching the Day After the Election…

No. No. No. No. And throw in a few more ‘nos’ with tears, screams and profanities. Remember yesterday? I was so full of hope and optimism. Ahead of all the ballot counts and the actual post-count reality of this morning, I genuinely thought that we’d see a new government and the death of the current Conservative regime in charge. I had an inkling that maybe lovable Ed Miliband – both real-life Aardman Animations character and a nice guy who actually cares – might become Prime Minister and that better times might be ahead. I woke up to find that not only are David Cameron and his cabal still in control, but that they have more power.

That’s awful news, but even more awful is acknowledging that the people of this country have come out in force and given this gang of smiling, smug pantomime villains the greenlight. I’m devastated – devastated as in ‘like the razing of Carthage’. I am at a complete loss. What’s more, I feel that the United Kingdom is at a complete loss. It’s a sucker punch to both mind, soul and spirit and I’m an emotional wreck. Bad news is bad news and is a daily occurrence, but this? This election result has thrown me into a black pit of depression, despair, disgust and despondency. All the deadly and disastrous Ds, and it’s all because of the deadly and disastrous D who will continue to be our Prime Minister. I can think of a few more D-words to describe him and his fellow kind.

I just don’t understand. I’m trying really hard to work out what would make someone vote for the Tories and endorse this government and I’m not getting anywhere. Keeping this business in layperson terms, I get that people are different and have differing opinions. For instance, I don’t like coffee but I understand that it’s an appealing option for some people. I like heavy metal and you might like cheesy ’90s pop and we might not like each other’s ‘thing’ but we can respect and come to comprehend our dissimilar perspectives and tastes.

Nonetheless, I can’t understand why or how anyone would vote for the Conservatives with a good conscience. Maybe in terms of policies there are things that may seem logical or sensible to these mysterious minds but, ideologically and in terms of human feeling, I can’t see how you can be a right-winger and support this party. It perplexed me when I was a naïve high school student with a mancrush on Che Guevara and it continues to perplex me even more as a more mature, more open-minded and better-informed adult over ten years later. (And I feel more far-left now, by the way, and that flies in the face of that ‘you get more right-wing as you get older’ jazz I heard over and over.)

It’s simple – if you support the Conservative Party you’re in favour of selfishness, self-interest and injustice. The needs of the many are outweighed by the needs (or agendas) of a select privileged few. If you support this current manifestation of the Tory Party you are actively opposed to care and compassion for the entire population of this country. You are opposed to equality. You are in favour of what is effectively a modern continuation of ye age olde class system and you value big business and private profit more than the public good.

How can you endorse that? In your heart, soul and conscience, how can you stick up for that and put your own X-mark seal of approval on that on a ballot paper? Plus, the policies are an ill-conceived grab-bag of measures inspired by kneejerk fear, laissez-faire recklessness, stultifying myopia and just plain mean lack of concern. The austerity programme and the cuts aren’t working and are hurting this country and its people (and this country is its people, which the government fails to recognise).

I’d like to know how you can get behind that. Please, if you did vote for the Conservative Party or are a far right-winger, reach out to me and let me know what’s in your mind and in your soul (if you still have a mind and soul, which I fear you don’t but I’ll try and accept you on your terms and engage in a conversation.)

As I say, I’m at a loss and I’m devastated. The thing that hurts the most isn’t the fact that we’ve got a Tory government for another five years, but the fact that my faith has taken such a blow. I had faith in humanity, but this election puts it in doubt. Don’t people care about the most vulnerable in society? Is the majority of the public really that indifferent, or really that lacking in compassion? Are the people of Britain really that short-sighted, bigoted, easily misled and/or self-interested?

I’m looking ahead at the next five years and I’m very scared. ‘Doomed’ is a heavy and desperate word – another D word – but unfortunately it feels apt. I’m not a great patriot but I’m proud to be English and British and my stints abroad have augmented that. This is great nation – even if the Union were to break up (and that’d be okay and it’s appalling how the ‘threat’ of a break-up has been manipulated in this election). The things that make this nation great – its intellectualism, its culture, its National Health Service, its spirit of innovation, its welfare state, its humanitarianism, and its people – are all under attack and its the government of the UK that’s attacking them. We’re now even more irrelevant and even more of an embarrassment and I can’t go abroad and speak fondly of my nation with such confidence any more – as long as David Cameron and his saboteurs are destroying all that’s good about us.

They have been treating this country like toilet paper and they’re going to continue with more vigorous aggression. I’m thinking about five more years – potentially five worse years – of this and I’m filled with dread. I’m thinking about students and would-be students priced out of education. I’m thinking about children who won’t even get a decent education because the government is screwing schools and teachers. I’m thinking about the impoverished people who’ll only get even poorer and who’ll be demonised even further. I’m thinking about the rise in numbers of folk who’ll have to rely on foodbanks or choose between eating or central heating. I’m thinking about all the people exploited by zero-hour contracts or forced to desperate measures like work in the sex trade, payday loans or gambling addictions. I’m thinking about the immigrants and asylum seekers who are going to get an even colder reception thanks to the ugly political narrative that far-right parties have been getting high on of late. I’m thinking about the public transport services in further decline and public amenities and services that are going to dwindle or be taken away altogether. I’m thinking about all the charities that are going to go under and all the people they serve who will thus receive no care or assistance. I’m thinking about all the artists and talented creative people who will never get funding or any kind of support and who won’t reach their potential. I’m thinking about all the sick people who are going to pay for the misfortune of being ill. I’m thinking of all those caught up in this massive mental health crisis who have no chance of ever getting treatment or getting anywhere near the possibility of getting better.

I’m thinking about this country not getting better and I’m thinking about all of this and so much more and it’s a major headache and it hurts. Maybe I’ll be able to see more clearly in a few days when the devastated sensation has passed and I can get beyond the confused anger, but the hurt isn’t going to disappear while these soulless crooks are in power. It feels hopeless, but we have to do what we can to opposed this and get over this. Here’s to saving Britain’s soul and here’s to the human beings of Britain. We’ve taken a beating and we’ll continue to take a beating, but here’s to hope and here’s to surviving and thriving, together, in spite of it all…

*hugs Britain and hopes we’ll be okay…*

Our country under this government… *flushes*

A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Vote! Vote! Vote! A Brief Blast For Change and a Better Britain…

VOTE! Here's my #GE2015 propaganda: VOTE! We have the power to save this country!

A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on


It’s election day. It’s very exciting. I’ve already been to vote and felt the thrill of democracy in action. It’s such a rush and the buzz you get after marking your ballot, putting it in a box and leaving the polling station is a rare kick. If you haven’t voted yet, I urge you – nay I beseech you and beg you – to go and vote to get that kick. VOTE! Use your power, feel the power and VOTE!

Our political system being what it is, I can’t vote for what I really, really want (anarcho-socialism and the complete dismantling of capitalism and ‘the way things are’ in the pursuit of an enlightened utopian society inspired by the Odonian philosophies and organisational structure of the planet Anarres from Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed. Erm, yes. I’m an idealist and I can dream and I will dream.) Still, as flawed as our first-past-the-post system is, it works in some ways and we can work with it to make it work for the UK. While we’re waiting for proportional representation to be implemented, we can still make our voices heard. Today is the chance to have your say so, I repeat, go and have your say and VOTE.

I voted for the parties that come closest to my political sympathies and that have the kind of policies and principles I agree with. I voted for potential representatives who I believe will do right by the people in my local area and, where the opportunity arises, for the nation as a whole. For the General Election, even if you feel that no one is precisely representing your ideologies on the national stage in parliament, it’s still important that you go to the polls. You can still make a difference even if you are voting against something.

Today I voted for something but – yin/yang-stylee – I was also voting against something, and this brings everything into holistic balance. First of all I was voting against irrelevant bigots who have attempted to hijack the election and the national political agenda and turn it into a debate on immigration. They don’t need any more attention, so let’s just hope that they really underperform and, post-catastrophe, go and educate themselves and learn how to be more humane and sensible human beings.

The other thing I voted against was the Conservative government. If we want to make this election really simple, I feel it can ultimately be boiled down to this: can we take another five years of Tory-led government? The answer is ‘NO’. In fact, the answer is ‘NO NO NO’. Just thinking about it makes me sick and, feeling nervous and nauseous, I’m now going to go on a short badly-written rant to express my feelings.

I apologise for the melodramatic soapboxing and bleeding-heart pleading, but I have to put this out on the off chance that it might make a difference. (Our biggest enemies are apathy and indifference, y’know.) In brief, for five years David Cameron and his cronies have been taking the UK backwards and hurting our country and our people. Time and time again the “We’re all in this together” mantra has been exposed as a lie and I find it ironic that the party that talked so much about “Broken Britain” has continued to do its best to break this country even more. The austerity policies haven’t worked and won’t work should the party be allowed to continue down the path in the future. We’ve got to prevent that grim future. We’ve got to stop the Tories getting into power again.

They lecture, but never listen. They don’t care about public service or public services. They seek to perpetuate and push a class war that belongs in the past. They misunderstand and mismanage the things that really do matter and that will ensure this country’s wellbeing and future – namely education, healthcare and welfare. They continue to kick the most vulnerable members of society in the face and then tell them that they’re doing it for their own good and that they should be grateful. They side with big business, industry and the privileged few but have no concern or compassionate concern for the public. I could go on, but the information and statistics are out there and other people’s experiences and testimonies tell the sad story better than I can right now. Ultimately, the Conservative government has been very bad for Britain and will continue to be bad for Britain.

They are out-of-touch, out-of-time and out-of-order. We need them out of government. Please, please, please vote today and I’d urge you to use that vote wisely to ensure that we get a change of government – a government that is interested in serving the people of Britain and interested in making Britain better.

(And we can all push for proportional representation and the anarcho-socialist revolution at a later date. We have the power to make change happen, people…)


Hooked on a Feeling: Marvel Movies and My Emotions…

Feelings. Feelings, friends. Aaawww. I have so many feelings and they all fight each other in a forest of confusion fogged by the mists of memory, grappling with artificial intruders and elusive subtle intelligences and secret agendas that I may not consciously be aware of. Sometimes I’m not sure what’s going on or who’s winning. Still, the soundtrack is stirring, the images are moving and it feels quite dramatic in here. Hey! I’m having fun!

It’s just like the opening sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron, really. Speaking of which, I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron the other day and had an absolute blast. It was a great experience both because of the film itself and because I was actually going to the cinema. I’ve been enjoying this strange old-familiar phenomenon of being able to trip off to the flicks whenever I please after not having that luxury while living in Milan.

In further film-related news, it’s also been good to get back to Den of Geek writing and, with Age of Ultron coming around and my mind occupied by Marvel heroes, I wrote a piece on the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I recommend you read it if you’re interested in these movies or want to see me crying about how much I love fictional characters.

Awww, feelings. Empathy. Emotional content. Here’s to great art that touches our minds, bodies and souls. Thus, I leave you with a timely bonus sketch of Shakespeare and the Hulk. Onward and upward, true believers, and onward and upward with a whole lot of heart. Excelsior…

It's Shakespeare's Birthday and Avengers Day. It's a great day… :D #Avengers #Shakespeare

A photo posted by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on


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