Talking About ‘Talking About It’

(is that too many capital letters in one title?)

A few days ago it was Mental Health Awareness Day, and various social media channels were filled with loving encouragements for people to be open about any difficulties with their mental health they may happen to be having. For one lovely day, ‘talking about it’ was more popular on Twitter than the distracted boyfriend meme, as the Internet sought to break the awful and entrenched taboos around talking about mental health, to help people overcome their individual issues.

An issue with this way of tackling one’s issues, however, is that talking about a problem is not equivalent to solving that problem. That is to say, once one has broken that taboo, and becomes open about their mental health, continuing to stick to the doctrine of ‘talking about it’ can offer few solutions, and actually be harmful for several people involved. At least in my experience.

I’m a person who is both disarmingly open about their struggles, and a sufferer of a range of mental health issues, predominantly severe depression and severe anxiety. My problem is that I’ve talked about it, if anything, too much. Instead of actively dealing with the causes of these issues – my low self-esteem, my willingness to avoid solutions, my unwillingness to push through difficult experiences and situations in order to make myself more comfortable with them – I just talk. And talk. And talk.

From endlessly complaining to my friends, both in person and via text, to sadly and ominously tweeting about my own misery at three in the morning as I cry-eat Doritos in bed, I have both personal experience, and public encouragement, pushing me towards ‘talking’ as the versatile omni-solution to these more complicated problems. In addition to not actually solving them, this reliance on mere aimless conversation is addictive; I’m encouraged to continue vapidly discussing nondescript elements of my psyche because it’s easy, but feels like I’m making progress, which only delays my actual movement towards healthiness, and makes me more likely to continue this charade of self-improvement.

There is also damage in a social environment. I’ve had many friendships fizzle out, or even explode into dust, because my relationship with that person consisted of little more than mutual complaining and dependence, that started with comforting one another in our shared struggles, before collapsing into a personal bitching ground for a range of issues, severe and trivial, for both of us. We would create bubbles of suffering, where we’d moan about our lot in life, in a kind of perverse race to the bottom of one’s self-esteem, endlessly trying to out-depress one another with stories of how sad we were. Unsurprisingly, those intense, negative relationships didn’t last long, and I’m bitter that I ruined some otherwise wonderful friendships like that. Friends exist to be one’s friends, not necessarily personal councillors, and I lost far too many friends before that lesson finally stuck.

Even if a relationship doesn’t break down over these kinds of conversations, there is significant emotional toil placed on those around an individual, as a result of that individual’s fondness for psychological openness. I saw a profound tweet rise to the top of the cesspool that is Twitter once, that argued that the reason for the apparent increase in mental health disorders recently is that the human brain is not designed to absorb the psychological impact of that much suffering, and in a world where every natural disaster, terrorist attack, Trump action and, now, as a result of ‘talking about it’, personal gripe spelled out in a hundred and forty characters, is laid bare in public, we are each having to shoulder the emotional burden of a hundred people. Twitter, especially, has become an echo chamber of sad people retweeting other sad people, whole schools of memes and Twitter personas built around self-depreciation to the point of self-abuse, and the longer you remain in the chamber, surrounded by the equally comforting and harmful accounts, words and pictures around you, the harder it is to get out.

This is not to say that the ‘talking about it’ initiative is a bad idea, far from it. My life has certainly become more complicated since I was seventeen, and the lows are far lower, but on balance an openness and willingness to discuss personal problems, and make introspection a public, communal process where the minds of many can be put to work on a single problem, has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on my mental health. Indeed, Mental Health Awareness Day, and the ideas it represents, does a significant amount of good to legitimise mental health problems, at a time where, in this country at least, such issues are being ignored and actively pulled apart by the government.

But beyond being an entry point to other solutions to mental health issues – medication, therapy, petting Good Boys – publicising these problems may not do much to actively solve them. The next step is to upgrade Mental Health Awareness Day to Mental Health Recovery Day.

Porgs!

(he’s just a Porg boy from a Porg family)

I know they’re the new Ewoks. The new Gungans. I even saw someone on Twitter call them the new Minions which, in my opinion, is a bit far, but not an assessment that’s totally unfounded. But that doesn’t bother me.

I’m of course talking about the new Star Wars species, and soon to be prolific lunchbox cover-stars, the Porgs. Somewhere between a penguin, a butternut squash and a bobble head, all with huge eyes and a cute, How To Train Your Dragon-style growl, the Porgs are an adorable addition to the Star Wars universe that, to be quite honest, has captured my attention with a far more impenetrable grip than anything to do with Luke, Rey, Kylo Ren or Poe Dameron’s beautiful beautiful face.

I’m expecting that the Porgs will play the inconsequential, but vital, role of Cute Things That Sit There Being Cute. It’s an important position in many films and television series, but is an especially vital one, in my opinion, when the subject matter is as distant from reality as sci-fi and fantasy settings allow, and when the plot is one of relative dark seriousness.

Covering the latter point first, Star Wars is hardly a heart-wrenching emotional warzone like Game of Thrones (or, to be honest, the final episode of Yu-Gi-Oh), or the gritty blood-and-guns of military sci-fi series like Battlestar Galactica. Yet the trailer for the new film, The Last Jedi, hints at a much more morally muddled and thematically bleak than other entries in the series. We’re not in the realm of Luke flipping off the plank above the Sarlacc pit to catch a flying lightsaber forged by plot convenience in mid-air, before delivering a blow so viciously ridiculous it wouldn’t look out of place in a pantomime with a particular disregard for practical reality in the face of grandiose spectacle. We’re in the realm of the supposed end of the Jedi order, of hints at Rey working with, not against Kylo Ren, and of posters more blood-tinged than Varric’s personal tarot card after completing Here Lies The Abyss. If the new film is to move away from simpler narrative elements – Jedi are good, Sith are bad – and replace them with darker, greyer elements, having a cute thing sitting on the dashboard of the Millennium Falcon could be a nice antidote to that.

And regarding the former point, it’s sci-fi. We wouldn’t be operating in this genre if there wasn’t a healthy amount of new planets, people, technology and creates to discover. I must admit, The Force Awakens was notably weak on this end; the film opened with Stormtroopers blasting rebels and a black-suited commander capturing a resistant figure of importance, who managed to stow away some plans on a willing and adorable-in-its-own-right droid; then we went to a desert planet that totally wasn’t Tatooine, a cantina that totally wasn’t in Mos Eisley, and the whole thing ended with a superweapon that totally wasn’t the Death Star being destroyed because of the plucky work of a small group of freedom-fighters that totally wasn’t the Rebel Alliance. In fact, the biggest ‘new’ addition to the first film was the presence of meaningful women who aren’t Carrie Fisher; the fact that this was not only a novelty, but one that distracted from the lack of actual sci-fi-tastic novelty in the film, shines a less than wonderful light on the film industry as a whole, but I digress. Say what you like about Geonosians, pod racing and the Naboo royal family, the series has always been an excellent source of diverse peoples, species and, frankly, things, and the Porgs are a thing I am genuinely quite excited to learn more about.

However, there is a danger that the Porgs will pull an Ewok, and become jarringly relevant to the plot. From ten-year-old Anakin single-handedly destroying a space station to the unsatisfying resolution to the question: ‘The Most Well-Equipped And Highly Trained Military In The Galaxy Versus Some Furry Bois: Who Would Win’ that we saw in Return of the Jedi, the film have a tendency to push the suspension of disbelief a bit too far when it comes to extraordinary things done by relatively minor people. Maybe a Porg, sat atop Chewie’s shoulder as he infiltrates a First Order base, looses its footing, falls through a tiny crack in the floorboards and adorably tumbles onto the base’s big red self-destruct button.

Although were that to happen, the Porg in question would probably be given a medal by Leia, while Chewie would be snubbed. Again.

October the Eighth

(here I am, rock you like a hurricane)

It’s currently just gone midnight on the morning of Sunday, October the eighth, and I feel like taking stock.

Partially for your credit, it must be said. The last post to be published on here went up eleven months ago (three hundred and fourteen days, to be exact) and so those of you to whom I speak exclusively on here have been treated to an unprecedented media blackout from the team here at JP Casey Industries.

But that face is that most of the practical realities of my life, and my general outlook on things, have changed considerably in the last year or so, and I feel like writing them down, or at least trying to name a few of the changes, will help me inflate my own ego through the medium of frilly buzzwords like ‘perspective’ and ‘introspection’ and ‘self-improvement’. Or perhaps I wanted to start blogging again, and a brief, ‘previously on JP Casey’-type post was as good a way as any to get started.

So the biggest change, at least according to conventional wisdom, is that I graduated. I received a 2.1 in English Literature and Language from UCL, which, I’m told, is quite a thing to have done. However, the direction of this change defies that conventional wisdom. I’ve left university with the overwhelming sense that I’ve not learned anything, that I’m a less capable and independent adult than I was when I started, and even less sure of the direction I want to take in my life. I feel like this experience isn’t singularly unique to me – in fact, most of my friends seem to be in an identical or largely similar boat sailing across the paradoxical oceans that make up our lot – and I feel like we need to think more intelligently about the actual role of university in society.

Sure, in some cases, a student will be awarded a degree in a subject that leads to a sensible and relevant career, or will give them useful skills with which they can find a sensible and relevant career. But for every one of those, there’s an English graduate who can kinda write tweets sometimes and is left with a part-time dodgeball refereeing position as the closest thing they have to a direction in life. Not that that example is based on myself, of course. No way. Not at all.

University, for me at least, provided questions, not answers. It made me think more critically about who I am and what I want to do with my time, but hasn’t given me the answers to those problems, or even given me the skills to go about answering them myself. It’s ironic that an institution that boasts of learning, knowledge and teaching is actually a black hole of tangible knowledge about oneself; maybe we should reverse the entire process, where students are brought in to ask professors about topics that they find interesting, in an attempt to discover more about themselves through the questions they ask, the answers they expect, and how they respond to unexpected answers. And maybe UCL could pay me twenty seven grand for the privilege.

Another significant practical change that I stopped doing everything. Yes, almost literally everything. I went from training six times a week for three sports teams to playing zero sports. From essays every other week to not writing anything in, well, at least eleven months. From seeing my friends, teachers and teammates every day to locking myself in my room for four days at a time, armed even with several water bottles and bags of crisps so I would be able to sustain myself in my self-imposed social exile, like the solitary dwelling in a bomb shelter surrounded by the nuclear fallout of socialising, the tumbling toxic clouds of conversation, the pungent radiation of human existence.

But then I started reading Asimov and I decided that metaphors such as people being equivalent to nuclear winters are workable.

It is true, however, that my calendar is decidedly more empty than it used to be, not least because I am, at the time of writing, unemployed as fuck. Which is a technical term for when you’ve been applying for jobs for four months without success, and are now equally afraid of not getting a job, as you’ll remain in your sad, lonely stupor forever, and of getting a job, as you worry you’ve forgotten how to wear clothes and talk to people in a vaguely professional environment. It’s a good phrase; I use it often.

I tend to do things in extremes, and that’s no more apparent than in this sharp change. I did enough for three people at university, and now am barely doing enough for a third of a person now that I’m a graduate. I’m perpetually exhausted, unable to work on ‘constructive’ projects such as job applications, writing and working out for more than three hours a day before my brain, knees or arms crumble underneath themselves. Maybe I’m lazy. Or scared. Or defeated. But I like to believe that my laundry list of extra-curricular projects, accumulated over a decade or longer, is evidence against such damning accusations, and ought to be considered more seriously than the messy four months of ‘Oh God Why Am I Awake’ nonsense that followed them.

The solution, then, is somewhat evident: do more things, but not so many that they burn you out. And I’m trying – I work three nights a week, not five; I read regularly but don’t pressure myself to do it every day; today I started work on a rewrite of my novel (yes, for real) and didn’t even set a NaNoWriMo-style word count deadline for each of the next 3,520,349 days – but it might take a while before results appear.

Which is fine. I’m not in any financial rush to find a job, and while my mental health is hardly perfect, I certainly have better days, which are not to be sniffed at.

But I guess the main change is that I’ve stopped looking for change. Woah. Profound af right? Someone get me a Man Booker prize. Is that Leonardo DiCaprio on the phone, asking for my involvement in an Inception sequel?

Joking aside though, I’ve developed a tendency to split things apart into neat chapters, and approach them as such, as if every chronologically separate part of my life ought to have a neat beginning, where I adapt to this new and strange setting, middle, where I encounter problems and try to work through them, and end, where I reach a satisfying conclusion and meet my Prince Charming. But divisions of chronology are not divisions of psyche, and the expiry of my stupid student ID that still reads ‘Casey Casey’ does not necessarily mean the expiry of some part of my person, and its replacement with a new character.

I’m still sad a lot, and overly intense and excited in patches; I play too much Bloodbowl and spend too much money; I enjoy writing but have no idea if or how or when to make it anything more than a hobby; I like jotting things down in extended lists of three but am wont to ruin an otherwise neat observation with a ham-fisted and fourth-wall yanking attempt at a joke.

So I am sorry that I’ve not written a lot lately, if these are things you have enjoyed perusing from time to time. I’ll try to keep these up but, as described above, am not pressuring myself to do anything, so another one of these might float across your reader or your timeline at some point soon. Until then, I’ll try to address the problem that I’ve written over seven hundred blog posts and still have no idea how to neatly end these damn things.

Caffeine’d

Howdy,

First, a digression.

I’m going to tell you the story of what happened last Thursday night, the 17th of November. Astute calendar-watchers will observe that today is a Saturday, the 26th of November, a full nine days after the event in question. Maybe I’m getting old and disinterested in blogging, and so I don’t see a problem with such a delay in written observation as I once did, or perhaps my life is increasingly resembling a gelatinous mess of times and dates and deadlines and banterous stories that a nine-day difference is nothing to me when life is one big, chaotic to-do list to plow through.

But regardless, I am going to tell you the story of being caffeinated up to the eyeballs, so here goes.

As some of you may be aware, I don’t drink caffeine. This is in part an aspect of the Straight Edge lifestyle I lead, where I dislike the idea of being reliant on drugs to the point where I abstain from them entirely, and in part based on my own personal catastrophic experiences with alcohol, that ended with me alternating between Red Bull-fueled lectures and naps in Regent’s Park in first year. It’s been pointed out that abstinence isn’t the most mature of responses to something like this – it betrays a fundamental lack of self-control if one doesn’t trust oneself to only take something in moderation – but for the sake of my health, I avoid caffeine completely.

Until Thursday.

*dramatic music*

Due to a series of unlucky timetabling issues and my own negligence, I ended up with nine hours of Old Icelandic prose to translate for a 10am seminar on Friday. I realised this at about 2pm on Thursday. In theory this would give me ample time to complete the work: start at 2, finish at 11, go home and get a solid night’s rest, right?

Right.

I’d already had about three hours of sleep the night before, and I wasn’t free until about 5pm on the Thursday to work on the translations; so best-case scenario, I’d be working until 2am, by which point I’d have been up for 18 hours after 3 hours the night before. Not impossible, but certainly strenuous considering I’m stressed all the time and haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since September.

So I did what 15-year-old me would consider unthinkable; I broke Edge and drank caffeine.

But I don’t do things in half-measures, so instead of grabbing a coffee or nursing a can of Monster through the night, I bought two litres of Blue Bolt, the Sainsbury’s own-brand version of Red Bull, chugged it, and opened my textbook.

Obviously, caffeine is not the most mind-shattering of drugs, and I don’t expect to be presented with a Hardcore Binge Champion sash any time soon, but it was certainly a shock to the system. I simply didn’t feel tired, nor did I get bored from the work, and I spent the evening chirpily tweeting my experienced to an engrossed audience of about two people, which is two more than I can usually hope for. The nine hours passed relatively quickly and painlessly, and even when I got on the bus home the worst I experienced was a weird lightheaded-ness and an inability to string a sentence together, which is really my default state of being.

I then spent Friday with a constantly high blood sugar and slept most of Saturday, so it wasn’t all peachy.

At the end of the day though, I used caffeine without wrecking my health, which is a huge step forward. It might be an uncharacteristically clinical approach to dismiss it as s purely mechanical force, something akin to an ankle brace strapped to a foot for a few hours for a game, then peeled away at the final whistle to let normal humanity return, but it’s a pretty solid metaphor in all honesty. I might break Edge again over summer for my exams, or even over Christmas to get my dissertation finished, because I’m at the stage in my life where idyllic lifestyles are less important than getting shit done: I have a degree to do, which will get me a job, which will pay for my rent and food, which will allow me to actually live.

But I won’t make a habit of it; I didn’t get to bed until about 4am that Friday morning.

Depressed as fuck but still here

Hello,

This is weird. For both of us really. It’s been over a month since my last blog post, so I’ve fallen quite spectacularly out of the rhythm of writing, and some of you have stumbled optimistically onto my Facebook friends list so recently that you may never have seen a blog post of mine. As someone with over 600 posts under their belt, that’s a very strange thing to say.

This latest drought has not been for lack of trying – there are about three unfinished drafts with much less exciting titles than this one swirling around my WordPress dashboard – but lack of success. They weren’t funny, or informative, or hugely insightful; not that a lot of my, particularly older, posts were, but I always tried to get in one good joke or one interesting observation, so even if nine-tenths of what I wrote was total bollocks, there would at least be a single quotation you could take away from the post. A bit like reading literary criticism to be honest, a form which has an awful lot of cool quotes, and an awful awful lot of bollocks.

But lately my attempts to write have been flat. My writing has mirrored my life, therefore, as I’ve been in a constant state of severe meh for months now, a mehness exaggerated by the fact that I now use phrases like ‘my writing has mirrored my life’ like I’m Augustus Fucking Waters or someone. I’m not happy with how I’m performing academically, I’m frozen by fear of screwing up on a sporting field, and I’m overwhelmed and lost as one disaster after another befalls my societies, leaving me powerless to save them yet somehow totally responsible at the same time.

I’m also aware that I’m a melodramatic fuck, but that comes with being a literature student; I put the killing thing between my teeth, but don’t give it the power to do the killing, then get decked by a physicist for being such a pretentious little shit.

However, there is some comfort in all of this. Comfort in the fact that, to the best of my understanding, I am still very much alive. Despite the best efforts of my useless pancreas, dodgy joints and brain’s masochistic desire to play a sport in which being squished by hulking armoured giants is a mere occupational hazard, I’m still here.

One of my favourite things to do on the DS game Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, which is a fantastic game, even in the form of a stripped-down port, would be to build up a huge empire, then let it burn to the ground. I’d wage an epic, Cold War-esque struggle against a single foe for two hundred turns, each of us building vast citadels and networks of castles, then I’d plomp a villager in an uninhabited corner of the map, stand down my armies, and let my carefully constructed world turn to ash. The only survivor would be that villager, who would then be tasked with rebuilding my glorious empire for another two hundred-turn campaign, while my enemy remained at full strength.

The reason for this, as well as me being really quite good at AoE to the point where this was the only way to give the AI a fighting chance, was that I was interested by the smallness of hope. That even if a single unarmed peasant can drag themselves out of a warzone with two working hands and a scythe, a great empire can yet be built. Obviously, this is the kind of thing that only really happens in unrealistic strategy games and The Iliad, but it’s an ideal I like, and a narrative I always get behind.

And I am that villager, scythe and all. I’ve started projects that have fallen apart, put hours into subjects and modules I now know nothing about, and committed fifteen hours a week to sports I can’t really claim to be halfway skilled in. It’s all ash and fire and death and chaos and there’s not even that bastard Saladin and his cavalry sweeping down from the hills upon my poor French villagers.

Yeah, that leaves me depressed as fuck, but it leaves me here.

Now we’ll see what the villager can build. Whether they can drag their grades back to a reasonable level; whether they can shake off the injuries that have built up over years of exercise; whether they can tackle the depression and anxiety and fear of alcohol and much deeper, darker musings that have thrown their life off the rails more times in the last year than they can count.

Maybe they’ll fail. Maybe in two months they’ll drop out, move back home, get a job at Lidl to afford frozen jacket potatoes and slightly-better-than-average porn and die a slightly disappointing death. Maybe the barbarians at the gates will take the last city of the empire, and not even a villager will emerge from the slaughter. I’d say it’s more likely than not at this point.

But in a world where Trump can be president, people hold candlelight vigils for a dead gorilla, and Toblerone can be bastardised into little more than a chocolate bike-rack for really tiny fucking bikes, why not? Why the fuck not?

So come on Depression, do your worst. You’ve got clouds of fear and chains of pain; and I’ve got two hands and a fucking scythe.

Changing priorities

Good evening,

I’m not interested in academia any more.

Call my year six teacher, call my Sixth Form head of year, call the ambulance, the coast guard, even the careers adviser.

Because I don’t want to do academia any more.

Okay, knowingly-exaggerated introductions aside, there is a point here. It’s not that I’ve developed a sudden loathing for trawling through books and comparing Chaucerian metaphors, simply that other pursuits have emerged in my life that I am more interested in. I’ll still be that guy slaving away over Old English translations in the depths of February, musing that, indeed, oft him anhaga are gebideð, and I’ll honestly enjoy my final year of pottering about with books for the sake of achieving an almost completely arbitrary numerical judgement on the quality of said pottering. But there’s more to life than that.

And, most tragically for 14-year-old me, who sought never to deviate from the singular path of academic endeavour, some of these new things aren’t even that, whisper it, employable. My main passions are those related to administration: the running of university societies, the management of my magazine, that kind of thing. Other passions include sports, which have finally taken over a large part of my life after being relegated to the realm of hobby in the past, like a hungry tramp gazing through the windows of an affluent family, starving and alone, which was not coincidentally my response to asking people for a game of footy, only to be literally sidelined when it emerged I couldn’t kick a ball.

One particularly unacademic passion I’ve found of late is my friends. And, at the risk of sounding like a YuGiOh character, my relationships with the people around me are becoming key parts of my life, and things that I build whole events around, rather than a background thing that just kinda happens as I pursue more rigorous bookworming. I wonder what people will think of certain outfits, of how I can attend separate and simultaneous events so as not to upset anyone, and look forward with great anticipation to the next time I can meet someone for lunch or do core workouts with them in the park. This latter passion is also bound up in gender in a way that the others aren’t, and gender itself could be considered a new passion of mine, an active interest in the way I present myself to others and the regard in which I hold myself, instead of the older, more passive approach of identity only happening by accident, and in retrospect.

What this does mean, however, is that my future is even muddier than it was before. What Do You Do With An English Degree? is a question as old as the degree itself and one, ironically, warranting a whole book to be written on the subject that, yet more ironically, will inevitably not sell well enough to secure its writer consistent income. I can’t really turn ‘I care about my friends and like chatting to them about nail polish’ into a career, even with my not underwhelming spin-doctoring abilities.

But I kinda signed up for that. I intentionally stayed away from degrees that offered direct paths to employment – Law being the big one – because I expected my life to diversify and expand once I reached university, and wanted to keep my options open. I can’t say I expected everything from my name and pronouns to change, but they did, and I’m happier now than I’ve been before.

It’s just been hard to admit that academia is no longer my primary goal. My actions have long suggested this – pulling all-nighters to finish dodgeball posters is not the same as pulling all-nighters to finish an essay – but it’s the difference between being addicted to a substance and admitting you’re addicted. Now I’m admitting my addiction to … things I genuinely am passionate about?

At that point the metaphor breaks down.

And I can’t say I’m addicted too much; I’ve got a Straight Edge lifestyle to preserve.

Praise The Bucket

Good afternoon, can I have a moment of your time to talk about our Lord and Saviour, The Bucket?

You don’t know about The Bucket? Well, allow me to educate you. May I come in? Can I have some orange juice? Ahh, that’s okay then, I’ll just park myself on this chair if you don’t mind.

That’s a lovely picture of you and your family.

So, The Bucket.

For a few weeks now, we’ve had an unspecified number of mice in the flat. It could be a horde of small, scuttly lodgers, or a single, incredibly persistent, drywall scratcher, single-pawedly making irritating squeaking sounds at night and covering the kitchen floor with the patter of their tiny feet.

Either way, we’ve tried various humane methods to deal with the issue, from a machine that makes a high-pitched screech that supposedly mice can hear and are frightened by, to humane traps carefully stocked with some of the more expensive grains and oats pilfered from my flatmate’s cupboard. I even waved a small PETA flag around, making it clear to the mice that I was on their side, that I wanted nothing more than to carefully remove them from their human-infested prison and release them back into the parks and bushes where their lives can flourish and be tragically extinguished by the swoop of a hungry predator. The Circle of Life, and so on.

Tragically, however, these totally reasonable measures failed to dislodge the fuzzy housebreakers, and soon their scrabbling and pattering and scratching and eating-a-hole-in-my-flatmate’s-sack-of-rice got too much to bear, and less humane options were considered.

Yet, fortunately for my fragile sense of ethical superiority, a saviour emerged from the darkest corner of that awkward bit under the stairs that has no real name but has become a de facto storage space for cardboard boxes, vacuum cleaners, and the second freezer my flatmate bought ages ago, thoroughly dissatisfied with the size of our provided freezer. In this tangled mess of discarded cleaning items and dusty floorboards, there is a mop and bucket, a pair of items that get semi-regular use in the kitchen, and so are perennially temporarily lodged in the space under the stairs that borders the kitchen, rather than being placed in the more proper, yet more awkward, room upstairs that is the residence of our heavy-duty cleaning supplies, such as laundry materials and toilet paper.

It so happened that last night, at the entirely-appropriate-to-be-still-up hour of about 1am, as my flatmate and I were chilling on the stairs, we were struck by a small scuttling sound, and a tiny mouse plopped down from the first floor and pattered across the stairs. Screams were screamed, water was spilled, and the weary realisation that our inability to deal with these mice was now becoming a tangible problem descended on our bipedal heroes.

The mouse found a spot on the stairs they seemed to like, and so sat there, staring into the gloom. Carefully, I approached, armed with no less than a colander, intending to trap the small beast inside a prison with ready-made air holes, so they could be transported away in the morning. However, my flatmate accurately pointed out that said colander was too big to fit on the stairs, and implied that my selection of it revealed my foolishness and unsuitability for the profession of humane animal control.

Saddened, but unswayed, I produced a smaller article of entrapment, a Tupperware box. However, having already broken the box in my attempts to punch an air hole in the bottom – in reality I may or may not have snapped the bottom in half and scarred it greatly – the box was largely useless, and as I swung the plastic cuboid down with mammalian clumsiness, the mouse easily dodged to the side.

This mouse, as it transpired, was also more of a daredevil than myself. While I was reduced to metaphorically filling the role of an end table, standing bearing my object – in this case the useless Tupperware box – in silence and passivity, awaiting instruction from a higher power to redirect my purpose, the mouse had leaped from the stairs altogether. Not seeing to where it jumped, I briefly panicked, pulled out a flashlight, and stared hopefully into the abyss beneath the stairs.

And there they were: in The Bucket.

The mouse’s diminutive stature – its dimensions were such that it would not be an exaggeration to call it the smallest living thing I have ever beheld with my own eyes – meant that it was unable to escape from the tall blue walls of The Bucket, and that vessel’s smoothed sides made it impossible for the mouse to gain purchase upon them and clamber out. With dimples in the base, into which could be and were poured water and food to nourish the mouse, The Bucket was a perfect humane prison for the poor creature. With the mouse provided for for the night, and the top of The Bucket sealed with air-hole-punched cling film just in case some act of God were to tip The Bucket over and offer the mouse a chance of escape, the humans went to bed, intent on releasing the mouse the following morning.

And, sure enough, the mouse was released! I carried The Bucket and its prisoner – who admittedly looked rather shaken from spending the night in its plastic belly – to a nearby park, and let the small creature free, before returning home and washing The Bucket, replacing it in its rightful place beneath the stairs, and lodging the much more familiar mop within its plastic casing.

But why am I telling you all this? Do you care for the plight of my flatmates and I, or even more so the plight of our furry guest? Do you even care for the work of The Bucket, they who are both domestic service item and humane animal trap at once, a transcendence of mortal properties to a higher plane of superior, multi-faceted being? Perhaps you don’t, and that is why you ought to hear the tale of The Bucket, and receive their teachings.

What?

No, I didn’t just try to nick that silver plate? No, you’re being very defensive.

No, I’ll call the police.

Then we’ll see who’s laughing.

Yet another new gaming blog!

Hey-dee-ho

I think a key reason for the stop-start nature of this blog, in addition to several other much more valid but less humorous reasons, is my commitment to opening every post with a pseudo-conversational opening. ‘Hello’. ‘Hi’. ‘What’s up fothermuckers?’ None of these actually fill the role of being conversational, as that would require multiple conversing parties, and the closest thing we can get to equal discourse on the Internet is the one-sided, I-write-a-big-long-post-and-you-write-a-tiny-comment mechanic that has dogged YouTubers for over a decade now. But persist I shall, writing as if I’m speaking, and communicating as if there’s someone there to communicate to.

And communicate I shall, for I have embarked upon yet another gaming writing project. Tentatively titled Dodge Rolls & Determination – bonus points if you can identify which game series those mechanics come from – this blog covers sports strategy games, and dives into the nuts and bolts of their mechanics, rather than the loftier, more artistic approach to games I’m taking over on The Game Shelf and in my impending Skyrim dissertation.

Speaking of The Game Shelf, briefly, that is still very much a thing, although it is going through a rough patch as I’ve been struck by creative lethargy (one of the previously-mentioned ‘valid’ reasons for the lack of updates on this blog). I plan to combine the two projects in a monthly ‘here’s an interesting game mechanic’ piece on The Game Shelf, and leave Dodge Rolls & Determination for more in-depth and frequent trips to the GameFAQs pages of obscure RPGs; seriously, my first post – an introduction to the races of Bloodbowl 2 – pushed 4,000 words.

The reason that I have a shiny new blue-backgrounded site for these latest gaming ramblings is that I’ve become much more interested in the mechanics of game and game design lately, rather than my initial focus on ‘games as art’. Oddly enough this started last month as I watched several Let’s Plays of crappy noughties Sonic games, and I started to think on what makes a good game; how are the levels designed, how is plot presented, how is the player made to care about the characters and worlds of the game. These are more functional questions than ‘Is the opening of Super Mario Sunshine a feminist battle-cry?’, and ones I’m currently more interested in answering; I also feel like these questions are fundamentally different to the more artistic ones that float around on The Game Shelf. The subject matter – games – may be the same, but how they are engaged with is a totally different process; a thesis on the content of a Dickens novel will be entirely different to a thesis on nineteenth-century book-binding and distribution methods.

I’m becoming increasingly aware that, for better or worse, games are my thing. They’re the medium I feel most drawn to, the subculture I find myself most at home within, and the world that is accessible to the point of copyright-infringing democracy. But with great certainty comes great uncertainty, and I’m still not sure how I want to contribute to this growing world: do I want to be a gaming academic, preaching in lecture halls about queer theory in JRPGs; or a reviewer providing a service that is part-political, part-informative to gamers around the world; or even a gamer myself, making guides and tutorials, competing in tournaments and having a more personal connection to the games I play.

In all likelihood, I’ll settle for a tedious office job somewhere near a particularly shite part of Edgware and write game reviews on a half-arsed-looking blog when I’m in my forties and get a spare weekend. But that’ll be a source of delight few people will be able to lay claim to, and I’d love to live such a life; in the meantime, I’ll keep playing, writing, and badgering you to retweet my articles.

– Casey

Normalising Femininity

Hello again,

Yes, I am still alive.

My latest quibble is that femininity still isn’t quite ‘normal’ for me. As it turns out, nineteen years of exclusively masculine gender presentation can be a difficult series of personal norms and comfort zones to work out of oneself. Indeed, I’m in one of the most tolerant, open-minded environments in the world – a university English course full of friends across a range of sexual and gender identities – but it’s still not easy. Damn entrenched gender norms.

For instance, when I get dressed in the morning – provided I’m not feeling aggressively masculine or aggressively feminine, in which case all logic goes out the window and I dash for the nearest pair of tracksuit trousers or heels respectively – I float towards jeans and t-shirts. Putting on a skirt involves some additional effort, some conscious decision to ‘be more feminine’; more feminine than what? I’m currently naked, don’t have a lot of facial hair and was probably dreaming about nail care products; yet even when I am at my least obviously masculine, engaging with femininity is still a bit of a challenge.

Obviously, this is something that will improve with time. There was a time where the thought of doing injections before every meal terrified me, and now I’m honestly so used to diabetes that sometimes I take dosages of insulin, and then forget to eat after them; if self-medication can become more normal than even eating, wearing eyeliner should become normalised fairly quickly.

The end goal to all this is a paradox of the critically important and the completely meaningless. I want to be more feminine, sure, and that’s important to me. But I don’t want to be seen and valued exclusively as such; whether I’m in a dress or jeans, I’d like people to talk to me because I have interesting things to say, not for how I’m dressed. This exact thought led to a lot of insecurity around this time last year; if you just want to be exactly the same person, but dressed differently, why is this so hard? my subconscious would ask, why can’t you just wear a dress and be done with it, why the change in name and pronouns, the self-absorbed blog post and the angry emails to UCL to get them to change my ID card?

Honestly, that voice speaks a lot of sense, and I can’t say with any certainty if I completely agree or disagree with it. But I do know that what makes me comfortable, and has made me more willing to see my friends, and get out of bed in the morning, and generally be proud of who I am, is a wardrobe that includes a few more cute skirts, and a morning routine that is just about long enough to allow me to wear eyeliner most days.

And so in the absence of any grandiose conclusion, about the nature of gender and its relationship to human identity, I’m just doing what’s comfortable. Admittedly, what’s comfortable is still a bit weird, but not as weird as it once was; when I started wearing heels, every step was a physical reminder that something was different, that I was different, and that this was a novelty to be savoured; but now I accept that heels are heels, they’re pretty, they’re painful, but they oughtn’t reshape my whole perception of myself.

So I’ve started wearing skirts around the house, and garish colours of nail paint, or makeup when I know I won’t go out. Because, for me, masculinity isn’t the default, and femininity not an acceptable, but ultimately mostly sidelined, set of values reserved for special events and big nights out. I’m slowly shuffling towards the centre of the gender spectrum, it’s just taking a while.

And doing it in heels will, for the first time in human history, get me there faster.

Baby Steps

Hello,

Yes, I am both alive and writing! This impromptu hiatus came from the good old-fashioned ‘shit I have a year’s worth of revision to do in three weeks’ fear, which is quite a reassuring kind of piercing dread compared to the other sources of piercing dread in my life these days.

And it’s that piercing dread, and assorted painful emotions prefaced with violent adjectives, that I want to write about today: shattering fear, gouging regret, gut-ripping despair, and the like.

This last year, from September to now, has been the hardest of my life. Certainly not the worst, but absolutely the hardest. I’ve fallen out with at least two close circles of friends twice each, and painstaking rebuilt the bridges I myself burned in operations about as easy as constructing a 1:1 scale replica of the Empire State Building out of matchsticks, chewing gum and discarded zippers from Sports Direct tracksuits. I also shed my assigned gender in scenes closely resembling the emergence of a butterfly from a cocoon, except if that butterfly suffered from crippling insecurity issues and fled back to their boring cocoon state whenever they hung out with their more beautiful and experienced butterfly mates who have been doing this butterfly malarkey for much longer. I started a magazine, lost interest, picked it up again, lost it again, and generally behaved as inconsistently as Rowan Atkinson’s character in the first season of Blackadder, and I was simultaneously distant from all of my societies, yet fanatically interested enough to sign up for two committee positions – including a presidency – next year, all but ruining any fledgling hope I still had of getting a first.

It’s been a year of swings, from wanting to get all dolled up in heels and makeup one minute, to loathing myself and anyone who comments on my appearance the next; from feeling painfully lonely one second, then being afraid of my friends at any social gathering with alcohol and/or more than five people. I was once told that this year has been like a pendulum, and I’m swinging wildly now, but it will soon settle into a more composed and coherent middle ground.

And last night, for the first time, I began to see that middle ground.

I was invited to a three-tiered social extravaganza, promising to whisk me from pub to flat to club like a Disney princess, only with fewer anthropomorphised lizards and more crushing social anxiety. In first year, I would have jumped at such an opportunity; I’d have put on one of my many shirts that falls into the ‘edgy and offensive but not quite insulting enough to result in my being barred from a club’ collection, rocked up painfully punctually, and enjoyed an evening of watching my friends fall into drunken, and hilarious, stages of affection, poor life choices and endlessly retweeted regret. This year, however, such interactions have filled me with horror; for reasons both personal and tediously complex I’ve developed a de facto fear of alcohol, for reasons mental I’ve fallen into increasingly unstable voids of non-confidence about my gender and appearance, and for reasons relating to my personal failures I’ve neglected a lot of my friends, turning social interactions into awkward bridge-rebuilding exercises, rather than anything necessarily fun.

Last night, however, these factors were more nuanced. The fear of alcohol was still there, and it honestly made the night difficult. Even the diabetes tried to screw me over, making everything a little more stressful and painful. But gender wasn’t an issue; I wore a dress and did my makeup and felt genuinely pretty for perhaps the first time ever. I talked to friends, and instead of our early exchanges being awkward and forced, I thought they were fun and relaxed. People were open and talkative, rather than shunning me in the way that I perhaps would have done had our roles been reversed.

Because ultimately, I don’t fit into a lot of ‘conventional’ (in heavy air quotes) social circles: I don’t drink but quite enjoy dancing but hate being in large, loud groups but love being lost in a crowd; I like playing sports but hate the afterparties but enjoy becoming stronger and fitter but hate gyms. If every social scene has, say, ten key features, I usually enjoy about five of them, and am repulsed or scared by the other five.

However, this is not to complain aimlessly, but to provide a starting point for next year. If there aren’t enough non-drinking socials at a sports club, I’ll invent some; I’m a president for gods’ sake. If I like dancing but hate most club music I’ll find new venues and drag my well-meaning but confused friends along to those. I’ve spent two years trying every social niche I can find – arts societies, magazines, sports clubs, after-work socials, you name it – and instead of getting frustrated at not fitting into one or two, I should be looking for new things, and if that fails, making my own amusement.

And I’m sure I’m not the first person in the world to think this. Surely not everyone at KOKO genuinely feels as elated as the handful of grinning dancers in photos they plaster all over their Facebook page, so I don’t want to set up a ‘me against the world’ approach where all my friends represent mainstream enemies, and I’ll find enjoyment by shunning them to start one-person moshpits in my bedroom. I’ve tried that, and it sucks.

I don’t know where this approach will lead me, but I’m excited to find out. In year one I tried everything under the sun, in year two I tried nothing out of fear and spite; now let’s find some events I’ll love with the people who are important.

Casey