Referendoom: There is no Great Britain, there is only great grief…

This blogpost was originally typed up on my Tumblr blog which is where I’ve been publishing my writing, recently. Still, I’ll re-post it here ’cause this is quite important…

Boh?!

That’s a good word. It’s an Italian expression that doesn’t translate easily. It basically means “I don’t know. How the hell am I supposed to know?! Who could possibly know?!” and it carries with it an extra sense of confusion and bewilderment.

It’s a good word for these dark days and it’s a suitable response for many of the questions that I’m asking, that are being asked of me and that all of us are asking or trying to respond to.

The other appropriate word – an English word – is “fuck”. I’m getting a lot of mileage (nay, kilometre-age) out of that and its infinite derived variations. So are my family and many of my friends. It’s doing a pretty good job at covering a whole host of confusing emotions while suitably summing up the situation(s). Beyond those words, however, I’m often struggling. Lots of words are being said and written but as I continue to hear and read these words (reading with blurry and sometimes weepy eyes) I find myself even more unable to articulate myself.

How are you, James?” “What’s happening?” … boh?

I’ve been in shock. I’m in a state of acute anxiety. I am despairing and feeling either very angry or very sad. Some time has passed since Friday morning but I’m still a bit of a mess and I keep on finding myself stuck, just stood still and and staring into space (the Abyss?). Or I try to sit comfortably, but this mind on overdrive can’t relax and I have the restless sensation of invisible insects crawling just beneath my skin.

Aside from those Psychosomatic Anxiety Bugs, my body feels hollow and a heavy, foggy weariness weighs down the space behind my eyes. But it’s difficult to find the right words, even after several days of going through this. Erm… boh?

I recognise these physical symptoms and feelings as grief, but this time the grief is greater and goes beyond the personal kinds of grief I’ve experienced before. This is more than a loved one dying, a relationship ending or a medical event happening. For a start, you can get over and recover from those most of the time. This, however, is a national catastrophe that affects all of us Brits, and all of Europe and, in fact the entire world in more ways than we can easily comprehend.

I feel like I need to reach out to others – kindred spirits, like-minds, fellow victims, the demonised and vulnerable, potential comrades in a resistance – but the words are failing me. I want to call people up or send messages to a whole host of friends (from the UK and from the EU) and ask them if they’re okay, ask them what they think and offer them my support, my sympathy or my apologies. I’m unable to do these things, though. I end up in a total-body equivalent of lockjaw and I have nothing to say. It’s all choking, freezing, moping or crying. *sighs*… Boh?

So I go out and take walks when I’m not watching the news or scrolling through liveblogs, to pound pavements and trudge a trail of tears. The past few days I’ve been walking around my neighbourhood and Manchester city centre, partly to try and shake myself out of this unfunkiest of funks.

I’ve also been going out to test reality and confirm that this little part of the World I know is still there and functioning. It appears to be, but I know that things have changed and are changing. In the city centre I hear foreign voices and see stickers boasting ‘this thing was partially funded by EU development funds” and I mourn even more for the lost future in which these things will most likely be less prominent. Parliament seemed calm when MPs recovened, but the House of Commons isn’t a picture of the entire national actuality. (And there’s a lot of politicking, party in-fighting and coups going on in Westminster behind closer doors/vivarium ventilators.)

Out there in ‘reality’, I eyeball people’s faces and want to ask them, “Are you feeling it too?”, “Did you by any chance vote Leave?” or “How? What? Why, oh, why, why, why?” but I can’t summon it all up. I avert my gaze to either the sky, the moors or buildings. I look at my little world around me – a world that felt so familiar – and wistfully rue the fact that it’s either got no future, that it’s changing out of recognition or that it’s not the home that I thought it was. Or perhaps both. Boh?!

There’s a lot (too much) to process, and major media outlets are processing it all (at least, the ones interested in reporting and deconstructing current affairs rather than spreading vicious lies and mistruths are). I’ll leave the working out of the political, economic and socio-cultural ramifications to them while I’m feeling a bit inarticulate and am gagging on incredulity. Instead, I’m going to try and type up what the UK’s exit from the EU means to me personally. As I say, it’s far beyond personal but I’m taking it personally. Very personally. This thing hurts a lot, and when you’re hurting you try and work out why. (Unless you’re the kind of person who blames all perceived problems on immigrants.)

How does Brexit (a hideous word that sounds like a brand of conjunctivitis medicine) affect me? I like foreign cuisine and I like travelling around the EU, so it’ll inevitably hit my wallet but I don’t care that much about money. More crucially, as a teacher of English as foreign language my work will be affected. Without freedom of movement, instant right-to-work, free healthcare and so on I anticipate a lot of hassle with visas and suchlike in years to come if I wish to work within the EU as I do (and employers sometimes specify that they can only hire EU citizens to avoid extra bureaucracy and costs).

If I work in the UK, on the other hand, I anticipate a possible decline in students due to lower migrant numbers and a decline in goodwill. Why would foreigners want to come and work and study in a country that has, in effect, turned its back on them and suggested it’s only interested in itself? I teach the ‘international language’ and have nice notions of it being a tool to transcend boundaries. Now, however, the source of this language is putting up fences and behaving in appalling, antisocial fashion.

Ruminating on it all, I realise that a lot of this heartbreak and heartache comes down to ideology and identity. The truth is that I’ve spent decades dealing with my Britishness and it took a long time to get to the point where I was comfortable with (and in fact, proud of) my home nation.

I accept that identity is a fluid thing and that, ultimately, we’re all human Earthlings. From a cosmic perspective, those arbitrary categories don’t matter so much. Even so, there are certain elements in the ‘Who I Am’ brew that I figured are somewhat essential and that I’m quite attached to. As far as ethnicity goes, I understand myself as a Northerner, as English, as British, as part-Italian (thanks to exposure, love and personality quirks) and all of these different identities exist simultaneously and at peace with one another.

Post-referendum, though, they’re fragmenting and fading away. Psychologically, the Leave vote distances me from my ‘more European’ traits and from Italy – a spiritual home of great friends and second families who’ve adopted me as one if their own. Brexit not only drives a wedge between us, but it emphatically insults my loved ones and an entire continent of good people while simultaneously demonising them.

As a British person – by birth and by current residency – I’m tethered to that. I fear that all of us are going to be tarred with the same brush (’guilt by association’) and and dragged down by a strange new stigma on a worldwide stage. Saying “Not all Brits” won’t cut it. And why would I want to be English and British, anyway? Right now – after a spell of summoning up something resembling national pride – I have zero interest in being English or British and that’s a pretty significant identity crisis.

As an English teacher I’ve travelled around telling a whole host of foreigners just how brilliant all the countries of the UK are. I’ve hailed our cosmopolitan society, our tremendous history, a past and present full of scientific and cultural innovation, our marvellous idiosyncracies, our quirky customs and the beautiful sights that make these islands so remarkable. Even though I’m relatively atypical as a Brit in many ways, I do my best to act as a good representative of my homeland.

Now I can’t do that. I couldn’t push my specially-prepared PowerPoint presentation on the wonders of the UK on anyone if you asked me to. Honestly, if someone asked me to tell them about the UK right now I wouldn’t be able to enthusiastically gush about the BBC, Shakespeare, tea, curry houses, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the NHS, porridge, Snowdonia, tolerance and diversity, or the many accents and dialects spoken by a nation of reet good people (etc., etc.). I’d respond “Fuck the UK”, and it really hurts to say that. And it really hurts all the more when you know that all those good things have been either overshadowed by or destroyed by this Brexit ominishambles which is the end result of a Tory government determined to completely crush the people of this country beneath a sick, misguided austerity regime.

This isn’t the country that I’d grown to love – a process that, in earnest, really started during the 2012 London Olympics. I’d got to the point where I could cheer on the England football team with considerable gusto, but now it’s all gone. (Rock on, Iceland.) I’m witnessing stuff that I’d complacently assumed I’d never see in my own back yard, like the racist incident that took place on a tram on Market Street, Manchester yesterday. (The main shopping street of my city – a cosmopolitan, modern city famed for its diversity, three international universities, its gay quarter, its two football teams replete with talent from all over the globe and its socialist heritage. This city once stood in solidarity with the black slave populations of America, cotton mill workers sacrificing their own work in order to support oppressed foreign minorities.)

If this is England and if this is the United Kingdom of 2016 and beyond, then I’m out of here and I’ll do my ‘Byronic èmigrè’ thing for eternity (I’m already working out my way out for the autumn, and I hope that I can secure EU citizenship in the future when the UK does eventually leave.)

I’m ashamed to be British again, though this time it’s not because of hooligans or because of the lingering guilt of Empire and colonialism. This debacle, for Britain and possibly for the wider world, may well be the biggest disaster of the century (potentially, epoch). I find myself ideologically opposed to the prevailing mood and position of my country – as an outward-looking humanitarian who believes in co-operation across borders, communication and friendship.

As a humanitarian and an idealist I also believe that people are fundamentally good and considerate – that they are compassionate and that common sense, open-heartedness and an inclination towards collective progress and social inclusivity triumph. Every UK election proves me wrong and forces me to question my faith whilst demonstrating that human beings are pathologically destructive and doomed to self-sabotage. This is, therefore, a crisis of faith and a crisis of identity and that’s why I’m hurting so much.

I can regain that faith in humanity, but I can’t recoup my faith in Britain if Brexit occurs (it might not, and I’m basking in every ray of hope that it may not be formally passed through). As it is, I’m a human with a broken heart who finds themselves without a country and I know that I’m not alone in feeling like this.

I will continue to go through the motions in this cycle of grief, processing the trauma while searching for my own progressive way forward in a changed World (truth: it’s taken me four days to type this mess up. Yeah, those words don’t come easily). What I do know is that I will never accept the loss and that I reject Brexit wholeheartedly. As for what else I know? Ah fuck. Boh?!

Winter of Post-Discontent, or: How I Learned to Stop Griping and Just Chill with the Killer Chill…

IMG_0704

Into the winter wonderland woods…

Oh, snow way! Yes way. Everything went white and the temperature turned subzero. Winter came and my neighbourhood transformed into something resembling Narnia or an Ice King freakout. It’s really, really cold. Even prior to the snowfall it’d been nippy and, to be honest, pretty glum weather-wise most of the time (you probably know what they say about rain and Manchester). It’s winter, so all the green things are dead and now all those dead plants are symbolically buried beneath several inches of snow.

I tend to associate winter with death. I’m a summer sun child, somewhat afflicted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I’m uncomfortable if the temperature dips below 15°c. I’m charged by solar energy and I feel best when I’m wearing only one layer of clothing. My natural temperament is entirely at odds with the winter and, to put it simply, winter kind of kills my buzz. (And in the UK, if winter takes up roughly 2/3rds of the year, then I’m at odds with the season most of the time when I’m here.)

Thus, musing on death happens more often in the bleak midwinter. All the trees are dead. All the flowers are dead. By 4.30pm daylight is dead. All my summer spirit is dead (or, at least, it’s ebbed away). And what’s more, in the real world, great famous people keep on dying and the news reads as a list of obituary notices and posthumous tributes. There is much mourning. It’s dark and cold. Chilly shivers course through my marrow, and then I go to the movies to watch dark, violent films about people dying in unforgiving winter conditions (The Revenant and The Hateful Eight).

And then I take all of this death, darkness and dreariness and I dash out into the snow, slide around a bit and say to myself “Hey, you morbid drippy bitch! Smile! You’re alive and life is beautiful!” And I am smiling and I am alive and life is beautiful (it always is, in spite of it all). Good news! Somewhere along the way I seem to have found a way to co-exist with winter and reconfigure the whole experience as something that’s actually pretty cool (cool as in ‘good’ good and not ‘mildly cold’). Somehow I managed to significantly downgrade my level of SAD and I did it without resorting to indoor hibernation and death by tea, heavy metal and hot water bottle burns (my usual survival remedies for the season).

I’m not sure how this happened, and all I can conclude is that I just acquired a more enlightened and upbeat attitude. I also probably got bored of being freaking hostile to forces far beyond my control (keeping up constant bitterness and antagonism is wearying, y’know). Winter has to happen so I may as well just accept it and enjoy it as best as I can. I operate in this fashion in the summer months – soaking up as much sun as possible while others hide in the shade because I know that the heat of the moment will pass. Winter shall also pass and the cold won’t linger forever (this isn’t Narnia or Hoth). Neither will the fleeting flakes of winter magic that I’ve noticed when I’m not too busy muttering: “Damn, it’s too bloody cold!

Simple pleasures like knitwear, hot showers and steaming teapots after a day out in the cold make winter alright. I’ve also found tremendous beauty in the season this past week. Those aforementioned films showed me humans (and horses) suffering in extreme winter conditions, but they also reminded me – through film artistry and the language of cinema – just how beautiful winter can be. Winter isn’t a war on nature or on me or the pretty precious little flowers and suchlike – it’s a part of the grand cycle of life and has a wonder of its own.

(I apologise for turning into Captain Obvious here. Try and appreciate that this is written by an over-sensitive, simple soul with poor circulation and he’s only recently come out of the cave and cast off his snow-blinds. You may take this stuff for granted but, for me, it’s a psychological breakthrough and personal psychological breakthroughs deserve a “woohoo!“)

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn...

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn…

When I emerged from the cinema having watched The Hateful Eight this weekend, I discovered that light snow was falling. Frost had been on the ground when I entered but now little floaty motes of white were lighting up the early evening dark. It felt a bit magical, and I wandered around Manchester city centre marvelling at the sight, well-aware that I’m about to leave this place for few months. I stuck my tongue out to catch snowdrops. I idled around in neon-lit Chinatown a while, just watching snow fall on the Chinese Arch. Then I got on a train home and, arriving in my neighbourhood, found that the Saturday snow was even thicker up here.

Sunday morning it was thicker still. I woke before dawn and went out on a trek through white stuff at sunrise just to appreciate the winter wonderland that had occurred. I made my way to a vantage point and gazed across the landscape, from Winter Hill right across to the redlights atop Beetham Tower. It struck me that Greater Manchester and the moors of Lancashire in my relative backyard have never looked so beautiful to me. I felt connected to my homeland, and that was the work of winter.

Walking onward, the world woke up and I started encountering people – some walking excitable dogs, some clearing driveways and de-icing cars while kids built snowmen and played around with sledges. Little birds bounced around the frosty branches overhanging the footpaths and all the familiar roads looked so picturesque and clean coated with snow. So much for death and dreariness – there’s life, energy and pleasure in winter.

I’ve made peace with the season and had a profound moment the past week that helps me appreciate home all the more before I head off to foreign climes (and those climes aren’t much warmer than Northern England right now). I’m now going to head out for a walk in the snow and enjoy it while I still can. The moral of this winter’s tale, then? Acceptance; living in the moment; appreciation of natural magic and the beauty in all things; opening your mind and venturing outside of your comfort zones (though be sure that you have a hot shower and a cup of tea ready for the aftermath.)

Brrrrr, it’s so pretty…

There's Winter Hill in, erm, winter...

There’s Winter Hill in, erm, winter…

2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

A post shared by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

Heart…

A post shared by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

 

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?

(more…)

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 post shared 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… 😀

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*) 😀

 

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 post shared 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 post shared 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…)

 

Birthday Reflections and Being Happy About Being Alive…

Pa-zow! Yesterday it was birthday. It was a really good birthday, and I celebrated by reading comics and going for a curry with my Blood-Clan (erm, family). They got me an electric razor and my daily-mutilated face thanks them so, so much. I’m now 27 years old and this website advertising an upcoming Nick Cave film tallies that up to 9,862 days on Earth. I’m really happy to be alive on Earth right now. (Though, of course, I’d like to leave Earth eventually, but now I’ll comfortably settle for this planet. There’s still a lot I’d like to see and do here…)

Times past – especially birthdays past – I didn’t want to be alive or, at least, alive as me (James Clayton). I woke up on my birthday to find that, the night before, a pretty significant figure from my childhood had decided that he didn’t want to be alive anymore. I was – and still am – devastated that a great man, the kind of man I’ve always aspired to one day be in so many ways, decided that his life wasn’t worth it. A considerable number of my heroes and inspirations throughout history have made the same decision and some of them didn’t come out of it alive. It’s shocking and sad, and I felt that even more so as I woke feeling certain that, yes, I am 27 years old today and I’m so happy to be here.

As I say, that hasn’t always been the case so to actually consciously realise – I mean, really realise and acknowledge – that I love being alive is quite surprising. Recently, I’ve had a lot of life-affirming moments – some subtle and some explicit – that have really rubbed that realisation in and made me re-appreciate myself, my life, life in general and the wider Universe. Birthdays are milestone occasions that hammer it home hard and that makes sense when you consider that it’s the anniversary celebrating the fact that you’re a living being who was, at a precise point in time, pulled from a womb (or some special magic clay) to join the party. Woohoo! I was born and I’m still here and that’s brilliant! Let’s have music, dancing and curry!

Birthday whoop, 27-years' XP achievement and level-up mini-celebration moment…

A post shared by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Compare that with me of ages gone and it’s a stark juxtaposition. I remember being utterly miserable. I remember (barely) existing in a world of depression, despair, fear, frustration, hopelessness, self-hatred, anguish, anger and, yeah, all kinds of epic moop. All kinds of overwhelming negativity and self-destructive unpleasantness, where life isn’t enjoyable or even desired at all. Birthdays were especially bad times: sharp reminders that I was born as me when I probably wished I’d never been born. Furthermore, time was passing by and from there you can really go to town on worry that you’re wasting your life and that you’re a waste of life anyway and, aye, you can see the vicious runaway crazy train of thought here that drives you deeper down the dark tunnels…

But here I am, the day after my birthday, laughing and casually poo-pooing that boo-hoo backstory, feeling very sure that I don’t want to join the 27 Club. There is no magic wand/burning bush moment, wonder drug (no drugs at all), superhero mutation shock or anything like that. Mainly, I think it’s just living and maturing that instils gradual change, and life is constant gradual change. Experiences and encounters shape you and I can reel off things I’ve done, things I’ve been through, things I’ve read and watched and people I’ve engaged with that have had small-yet-significant impacts on what I feel is a seismic shift. I’m grateful to all of those people, whether I know them personally or not and whether they know it or not. (If you don’t know it yet, wait for me to finish writing this and I’ll come over there and King Kong-hug you into a coma) The same is true for all the ‘things’ and experiences, even if the ordeals have been hell to go through at the time. Things pass, you learn, you absorb something, you grow and life goes on…

(more…)

Sweet Memories, Feelings and a Sentimental Summary of my Summer in Italy…

Allora, I feel like I should write a blogpost about my adventures in Italy because I’ve been back a while now and time is ticking away. The moment is passing. The trip is becoming old news and something that has been and gone, fading from view in the rear view mirror. If I don’t type up some stuff soon then surely soon will be too late, right?

Even so, I’m feeling ambivalent about the idea of blogging. I could write a blogpost about my travels, but what’s the reason for doing it? Is it because I feel obliged to – that I have to account for myself or file a report because if I don’t I’m being oddly evasive or acting as it’s like it didn’t happen?

I’m also wary because I know that some people out there are interested but I also know that others don’t care much at all, and that’s fine. People – people like me and probably you – put a lot of stuff out into the aether and upload things into cyberspace but cyberspace is vast and indifferent, and that’s also okay and understandable. People have busy lives and there’s just too much going on in real life and on the internet to engage with everything. If I share something on the web and it doesn’t register or cause a ripple, hey, never mind. I’m not very precious and create stuff, first and foremost, because I love creating things. “Do what you love and if other people like it as well then – hey! – that’s a brilliant bonus!” is my kind of general mindset and a terrible working title for the creative self-help guidebook that I’m never going to write. “‘Tis better to share and find that others aren’t interested than to never share at all” is a similar summary of the way I tend to see things, though that line is going to need some editing if it’s ever going to make it into a poetry book or onto a teatowel…

Anyhow, in spite of that it’s not pleasant feeling like – and knowing that – you’re pouring out your heart and soul out in public spaces for no purpose. If I were to write a blogpost on my recent trip, I know that I would be pouring my heart and soul out because Italy has given me feelings. So, so many feelings. This trip meant a lot to me and I don’t want to wrench out all those feelings and beautiful memories and do them a disservice by knocking out a badly-written blog treatment that folk quickly skim over. I don’t think I can adequately encapsulate what was possibly the best six weeks of my life so far in a few thousand words accompanied by context-free photos. There are so many details, moments and intangible elements – way too many to try and tie up neatly and definitively in a post.

I wouldn’t know where to begin and I wouldn’t know how to shape it to do myself and my experiences justice. I also fear – and this is one of my major worries as a writer who says things on the internet – that I’ll come across as smug or insincere (and that is never my intention). I also don’t want to be insufferable and irritate others by banging on about how I had the most awesomest of amazing times. I did, and I feel I can better represent that in person on in more personal sections of the internet (namely, via emails or among friends on Facebook). These black and white bits of text on a screen can’t carry the full, authentic force of emotion and convey the deep truth of what I’m trying to express either. I’m a gushy sentimental soul and there’s a danger that cold pixels will distort or dilute the genuine passion and feeling, making me seem trite and mawkish.

Altogether, I’m not satisfied that a blogpost chronicle of my six week trip around Italy is going to cut it so I’m not going to write one. I can’t find the words and effectively articulate my feelings about the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve had the privilege to spend time with and all that they have all meant to me. Italy is a very special country for me and I’ll treasure this particular trip especially for the rest of my days. All I can do to express that is shut up and scribble down some doodlings on a piece of paper in a sort of reminiscence mindmap to try and give a visual picture of my happy memories.

Basta. I will finish and move on by saying thank you to everyone and everything that was a part of my Italian experience. The best time of my life… 😀

My travels in Italia, a scribbly reminiscence mindmap…

A post shared by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

 

The Total 2013 Backtrack Trip Before We Bring the Axe Down Ahead of New Year Revolutions…

I’m bringing down the axe on 2013…

It’s New Year’s Eve, so following on from the end-of-year musical retrospective of the other day and doing what it seems right to do at the calendar climax, here’s another look-back blog post. I will keep it brief and will try not to be boring and self-indulgent. In truth, the coming of a New Year is always an auspicious opportunity to eyeball boringness and self-indulgence and say “A pox on all your pernicious devices! Begone!” And then we explode boringness, self-indulgence and their dyspeptic brethren with our Positive Mental Attitude in a multiple-Boss Fight and level up. Erm, yeah. Basically I’m just going to write my personal sheepdip blogpost equivalent of Charlie Brooker’s 2013 Wipe though I guarantee that it won’t be as funny or as depressing as that. If you want a more worldly or insightful view on all that’s happened this year, all the newspapers and websites in the Solar System have got you more than covered. You can navel-gaze and dwell in premature-nostalgia as much as you want – it’s all out there…

Anyway, armed with the extra experience (accumulated in the multiple-Boss Fight) and resolve to get on with it, here’s the rest of the round-up of my 2013. All in all, it was a pretty good year and I’ve done some cool things and had some awemazing experiences. The highlight of the highlights was definitely spending the entirety of June in Italy, going back out there to work as a English-language summer camp tutor in Italy. I got to see old friends, make new friends and have an absolute blast with the bambini in a country and culture I love. I cherish all the memories of Milano, Torino, Borgo val di Taro and all the things I saw, did, soaked up and appreciated on the way. Good times…

Trip-wise, a birthday weekend excursion to London to see Shakespeare on stage (Macbeth at The Globe, no less) was special. Also special was watching the Charlie Chaplin silent masterpiece Modern Times with a live orchestra accompaniment at the Royal Northern College of Music. I also got to see some heroes this year and had starstruck moments in front of Neil Gaiman and Matt Fraction. Sticking with comics, Exhibiting at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds was a really good time. Oh and while my mind’s in Yorkshire I remember that I actually drove over the Pennines and automobiled over Britain’s highest stretch of motorway for my Pass Plus lesson. I passed my driving test in February! Achievement! An achievement completely forgotten because I don’t have access to a car but, hey, I passed!

Achievements otherwise generally revolve around creative output and I’ve churned out a lot of mess over the past 12 months (though never as much as I’d like). Den of Geek columns most weeks; Alternate Reality News and the Alternate Reality News Timequake Expanded Edition reboot; several Fight! Fight! Fight! episodes; a number of Working Barbarian instalments; monthly Pictonaut short story experiments; several doodly projects like #DrawAugust and the Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar; and a whole lot of stuff that no one will ever see or that people will hopefully see once I’ve done the necessary reprocessing, perfecting or completing. I’ve got a lot of things in pipelines, in notebooks, in neglected files, in locked-up parts of my brain and in other places out of sight but I can smell them and they’re scaring me and i’m going to have to face them at some point before they become even more fearsome. 2014 is ‘get your hands dirty and wrassle with demons’, time…

Before then, though, I’ll tie up 2013 with a few cultural highlights. My favourite comics of the year have been Battling Boy by Paul Pope and Hawkeye (or Hawkguy) by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth. I’ve also been getting jazzed about Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals in recent months and am ultra, ultra excited about catching up on with all the Mike Mignola-related comics (B.P.R.D. and Hellboy) that came to stay at Christmas. Televisually, everything is ultimately overshadowed by the end of Spartacus and I was in mourning for a week when it finished.

Really, I don’t watch a massive amount of TV because most of my square-eye time takes place at the cinema. I used and abused my Cineworld Unlimited card to maximum this year and saw over 100 films. That’s an unhealthy amount of time sitting alone in the dark crying about people who aren’t real but, hey, I got to see some great movies and I enjoyed and got something out of most of them. Trying to nail it down to an exclusive few (I like pretty much everything so it’s hard) my favourite films released in 2013 were Only God Forgives, Gravity, Stoker, Pacific Rim, Pain & Gain, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Way, Way Back. My sweetest movie memory would be getting so high on Pacific Rim that after watching it I ran all the way home punching imaginary kaiju monsters. Yes, that happened…

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix...

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix…

I also experimented with growing a beard for a bit, participated in an all-day meditation retreat for the first time (it was cold and uncomfortable battling with my mind in silence) and dressed up as a pretty witch for Halloween. I’m sure that there’s loads more but I’m going to bring the axe down on this self-indulgent bore ramble and put the year to bed (graveyard bed ’cause ding dong the year is dead. I’ve put an axe through its chest and it breathes no more). 2013 is beasted and I’ve levelled up to bounce my way through 2014 which is an even more exciting stage with fresh challenges. I have more powers, I have more experience and I’m game on to have some fun in the future and get better on the way.

On with the New Year Revolutions (I have so many) and ‘thanks ta-ra’ to 2013, then. Thanks and appreciative cyber-hugs are also sent out to everyone who’s been nice to me this year and taken a moment to give me or my shenanigans some consideration. And with that I’m off into the future. Happy New Year and see you in 2014…

Doing Life Daily, Rocking Rubber Bands and Lessons from a Basketball Legend…

Oh my!” as George Takei who voices my internal monologue would say. Things got quite serious the other day. I’d like to briefly follow that up with something a bit more smiley but, likewise, slightly life-affirmative and semi-profound. I will do that by directing you nice people reading to this link: a recent article for the Esquire Culture Blog by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in which he outlines 20 things he wished he known when he was 30.

Life lessons from a living legend and, indeed, I do find that NBA basketball players (both active and retired) are actually some of the inspirational, philosophical public figures out there. Regardless of my own affection for that game and for the 7-foot-and-2-inches dude with the sublime skyhook shot, a role in Airplane! and a fight against Bruce Lee on his personal record, there are sage words for everyone in that piece. It’s interesting to read for me as someone in his mid-20s though, as ever with this sort of stuff, the advice rings true regardless of age. Age is an elastic concept that you can stretch and bend like a rubberband. “Fwip“. That was the band flying across the room ’cause you’re not gonna let the vulcanised binding time tag bring you down. You own that band, you are the boss of that band and you wear it how you damn well please…

Anyhow, stretching back to the subject at hand, some of Kareem’s thoughts are less relevant to me (mainly the romantic tips) but others resonate – particularly the parts about patience, compassion and practicing yoga. To pick a potent one that I reckon is crucial for everyone on this perturbed planet, here’s lesson 16 abridged…

Don’t be so quick to judge. It’s human nature to instantly judge others. It goes back to our ancient life-or-death need to decide whether to fight or flee. But in their haste to size others up, people are often wrong… We miss out on knowing some exceptional people by doing that, as I’m sure I did…. You have to weigh the glee of satisfaction you get from arrogantly rejecting people with the inevitable sadness of regret you’ll eventually feel for having been such a dick.

And who wants to feel like a dick and handle a whole lot of self-humiliation and regret? Judgementalism is a drain and a dud mindset to drag along everywhere – open-hearted, open-minded compassion should be the modus operandi and we, as a society, need more of that and less of the judging. (That’s just my opinion, and I’ve already outlined how my opinion and judgements are irrelevant. See? Who needs judgement?!)

Overall, I suppose the main point of this post: compassion and conscious awareness make you a better human being and the world a better place. There are so many articles, blogposts, guidebooks and manifestos on how to live your life, be creative, get by, succeed, thrive, achieve, rock ‘n’ roll, be awesome, be honourable and so on so so on in existence out there. It’s neverending and endlessly repetitive but, nevertheless, reading them is always worthwhile because there’s always at least one point of quasi-mystical, profound truth in each individual one. Like repeating mantras, if you engage with wise advice and profound principles on a daily basis you absorb it and it becomes a conscious, cognised feature of life.

I genuinely believe that a daily dose of this kind of stuff works, whatever your preferred brand or format is (aphorisms, motivational quotes, Zen proverbs, inspiring articles, self-affirmations, creative tips, spiritual principles or tenets, etc., etc.). I don’t intend for this to sound like a self-help guru spiel – the fact is that we’re all living-and-thinking-and-functioning sentient organisms with souls and we’re all innately entwined in an ecosystem with other organisms. This is just about doing life, and a daily reminder that we’re doing life where we challenge ourselves on “how we do life” is, I’d say, an essential part of being a functioning human being.

Today, waking up and reading the wisdom that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has accumulated through his life experience reinforced many things I already knew but gives me the opportunity to appreciate ’em afresh. I want to be a better human being and I don’t want to be an old man bewailing about all my regrets and how much of an idiot bastard I was in younger years. Consequently, I’ll keep listening and looking around, regularly for the greater righteous good (it’s good for me, good for those around me and good for the great cosmic grand scheme of things).

I hope that doesn’t read like an overly preachy rant (I’m very deep and serious on this blog all of a sudden) and I’ll wrap this thing up in a colourful stretchy rubber band with this: a little bit of learning, compassion and conscious awareness every day potentially goes a long, long way…

Now go elsewhere with an open-mind and sense of warm affability and find someone really erudite and sage to absorb immense insight and wisdom from…

Inspirational Heroes Emerging Out of Shame’s Shadow…

This is a serious post and serious posts are not something I enjoy writing. I’d rather dwell in the realms of light-hearted whimsy and enjoy myself rather than getting down into the dirty moop. I’m more eager to follow a  “Why so serious?” mantra in my online activity and push an upbeat, perky and proactively positive persona. There’s a lot of bleakness out there and the web doesn’t need another dour avatar face doling out the grimness, bitching and moaning about bad stuff. This is all good and keeps me happy, but there’s also a downside. That downside is denial of reality and that denial may have a detrimental effect in the grand scheme of things.

I try not to get drawn into depressing current affairs debates and dive into popular shitstorms. I also try not to overshare and force my personal daily life problems down people’s throats. I have a history of heath problems and used to blog extensively about them but it got too painful and I felt like a raw, exposed nerve. I felt defined by illness and found myself engaging with communities and cyberspaces that were all about disease and depression. It was very unhealthy and unhelpful and it got me down so I shut it all down, closed off those connections and channelled my attentions elsewhere. The bare shame and scar tissue were hidden and covered by a thick jumper, out of sight and out of mind.

It was the right thing for me to do way back when but it was also, in part, a retreat into denial. The end outcome is that there’s a separation of self-image from sombre real life issues in public spaces. I keep on with conscious self-censorship and try not to talk about my past and present health crap online. (There’s a lot of it, it’s boring and I’ve more than had enough of it for a lifetime thank you very much) I’m ashamed, both because of my shame and because the shame prevents me from being totally honest about myself and then I wonder whether I should just rename myself “Shame Clayton” and live in the wilderness in an igloo made of frozen, guilty tears.

All the wider world gets is occasional cryptic outbursts on Twitter that elicit confused sympathy from some very nice people. (And I’m grateful for the concern and best wishes in those moments, so thank you!) When I do have those moments I end up blurting out because I want to urge others to enjoy their lives as much as possible and cherish good heath while they’ve got it. My power to do that, however, is limited though because of the taboos I’ve taken on. I don’t have the courage or conviction to back it up and run with it, so I stick to irreverent discussion of pop culture and 99% of the time that’s perfectly okay with me.

I’ve therefore got a tremendous amount of admiration for people who actually do what I can’t do – genuine human beings who are so much braver than me in that they actually power through silence, shame, stigma and various other hang-ups to talk about the things that just aren’t talked about. I’m in awe of people who open themselves up and express themselves eloquently and creatively  to inform, educate and inspire others. It’s a risky move and it can be incredibly painful, but there’s a chance that in publicly discussing problems they beat stigma and ignorance. They may potentially save someone’s life.

As I say, I can’t do it but several events move me to write this short, serious post in praise of those that do. Today Angeline Jolie has written a piece in the New York Times explaining her decision to get a preventative double mastectomy. Here an infamous public figure is putting their physical and mental scar tissue on show and doing so to raise awareness of breast cancer. The issue is, for the present moment, out in the open and people are enlightened and possibly empowered if they were living in doubt and fear. That’s a win for knowledge and wider worldwide wellbeing. It’s a blow for cancer and the result is that much suffering may ultimately be prevented. This is why I don’t agree with those who sneer at celebrities for preaching about serious health issues from positions of comfort. By virtue of their fame they have way more influence and reach than any public service ad campaign or initiative. When someone like Russell Brand describes drug addiction in the Guardian or Magic Johnson makes a documentary about HIV people take note and come away armed with knowledge and possibly entertained and uplifted.

That’s showbiz, but I’m even more awed by those who aren’t celebrities and don’t have massive media attention or media resources supporting their bold decision to put it all out in the open. My main inspiration for writing this post is the artist Katie Green who is both a lovely person and a brilliant illustrator. For years Katie has been working on her graphic novel Lighter Than My Shadow which is an autobiographical memoir of her experience with eating disorders. She’s delved into all the pain of the past to write and entirely hand-draw a 507-page chronicle in comic panels. That’s immense and insane. It defies comprehension. It is possibly the boldest creative project I’ve ever encountered yet and I’m looking forward to finally getting a hold of the thing when it’s released in early October.

Katie says it all best in her blog in which she provides insights into her reasons for writing and drawing Lighter Than My Shadow. She is so right about breaking the silence and challenging secrecy. Her artwork is beautiful, her voice is authentic and it’s a guarantee that the final published thing will be an astounding work that will inform and inspire people. We’re dealing with a devastatingly destructive illness and I’ve experienced its awful impact firsthand (but we don’t want to go there). By making this graphic novel, Katie is effectively providing hope and education, putting up a strong fight against eating disorders through a creative medium.

Comics are an ideal format through which to explore health issues – the Better, Drawn blog and this recent webcomic chronicle of depression are two examples. I believe that  Lighter Than My Shadow will be an important graphic novel work, even if it’s only regarded as such by a niche, special interest audience. Regardless, it’s a worthy project and I can’t adequately express how much I admire Katie for embarking upon such an epic personal endeavour. This book will potentially do so much good, prevent so much hurt and heartbreak and I believe it will save lives.

Shame and silence kill people and cause awful, unnecessary suffering. People who courageously rise above shame and earnestly open up in public to raise awareness are heroes in my eyes. We should listen to them, learn from them and thank them for their bravery and honesty. If you’re going to take anything from this inarticulate, awkward attempt at writing a serious post, please take this – take care of your health and do whatever you can to help others take care of theirs.