Everybody is odd; everybody is normal.

Earlier this week were mental health awareness day and national coming out day. I missed both, so here’s my catch up post.

 

MENTAL HEALTH:

Almost everyone has to deal with mental health issues every day, whether it’s ourselves, a family member or close friend.

For as long as I can remember I have suffered  the kind of low level anxiety that impacts on my life but isn’t serious enough to be clinical or warrant seeking medical help. I have a collection of minor neuroses that are really only annoying. I suspect most people have something similar to some degree.

In fact, I suspect most psychological disorders exist on a spectrum. Even the most apparently well-adjusted individuals will have triggers that make their heart race and put them on the verge of panic. We all have down days when we can’t be bothered with the world and just want to stay in and not talk to anyone.

I don’t mean to belittle anxiety or depression – quite the opposite.  I’m telling you that if you suffer seriously from any mental health problem, you’re not weird, just human, and a little further from the middle of the bell curve.

The best analogy might be physical ailments: sciatica perhaps, or fibromyalgia. Lots of people suffer pain of some sort, but it’s only a problem when it starts to interfere with our lives. Standing up slowly to avoid jolting a tender spine doesn’t stop us going out and getting on with life, but lying flat in bed because every movement is agony is different only in degree, not substance.

 

COMING OUT:

Now the coming out bit. I was closeted and married to a woman until five years ago when I came out aged forty nine.

The coming out process was stressful for a while, as I gradually told various people, never certain of what response to expect (Everybody, bar none, has been totally accepting and encouraging), but it has been brilliant for my mental health in the long run.

Being open about myself has made me realise how hard it was all those years, self editing everything I said or did. It’s exhausting. I’m much more calm these days. I’ve never felt better.

 

The honesty about my sexuality has had an unexpected side effect though: I’m more open now about my mental health issues.

My ocd, intrusive thoughts and social anxiety haven’t vanished, but not hiding it means I no longer need to be anxious about my anxiety.

 

I used to go to parties and work nights out and similar events, and pretend to enjoy myself. I felt that I had to so I wouldn’t be the weird antisocial guy. I’ve given that up. These days I just say no, and, if necessary, explain that attending would make me anxious and I’m no longer willing to put myself through that just to blend in. People understand, and even if they don’t they still accept it. It’s so easy I don’t understand why I didn’t do it years ago. That’s not right – I do understand. I was afraid if being ostracised, afraid of the stigma of having a psychological disorder. If I sometimes walk oddly or take irregular steps so that my left foot will be the first on a staircase, I no longer try to hide it or worry about people thinking I’m odd.

 

EVERYBOY is odd. EVERYBODY is normal. Being lgbt or having mental health issues no longer carry the stigma they once did, except in certain groups and individuals who haven’t quite caught up with the 21st century.

Horror Limericks

The horror genre lends itself to the setup-punchline structure of the limerick, so I wrote a few.

 

A young looking fellow from Leith
Had very sharp, shiny white teeth
You might get a fright
If you met him at night
And never again will you breathe.
A ragged wee laddie called Fed
Grew lesions that started to spread
His brain liquified
And poor Freddie died
So dead Fred’s head’s spread on Fred’s bed.
The ancient Old One called Cthulhu
Had slept for an eon or two
He woke up last year
Filled men’s hearts with fear
And caused quite a hullabaloo.
A sweet little girl from Dunoon
Grew fur and teeth every full moon
She woke up at dawn
Her family gone
Though bits of them round her were strewn.
A thin, starving flesh-eating ghoul
Picked up his wee brother from school
Then he started nibbling
His unfortunate sibling
Until he was happily full.

Newest news.

Hi folks. I’ve not updated this much recently, but the latest things to happen are:

  1. I’ve just been podcasted on the greatest and most prestigious horror fiction podcast in the universe. Listen to it here.

http://pseudopod.org/2015/09/05/pseudopod-454-eastern-promise/

2. I’ve had another story accepted by http://lovecraftzine.com/. More details nearer the time.

3. I’ve been working on a short horror film that should be fit for public consumption in the next couple of weeks. Again, more details will become available in the fullness of time.

Apologies for neglecting blogland.

Book Review: Midway by Nathan Robinson

Midway cover

Sam Berlitz is a team member in an international swimming race across the Atlantic. He feels as though he’s been swimming for longer than his one-hour allocation and realises the boat with his teammates on it is gone.

Alone, afloat in the unforgiving ocean a thousand miles from land his mind starts to create monsters. Or maybe they’re not all in his mind.

Midway is part mystery thriller and part survival horror with a good dose of Lovecraftian weird thrown in. I won’t tell you how it all pans out but the stuff that actually happens is secondary to Sam’s emotional journey. It’s the loneliness, the lack of stimulus, his fear of the dark, sleep deprivation and the tricks his mind plays on him that make this a riveting read. The tension doesn’t let up from about three pages in till the very end. I was furious when I had to stop reading and go back to work.

As well as the anxiety over his almost certain impending death, he starts to dwell on his life and his relationships. He has a fiancée but is having sex with a teammate on the boat. He compares them with each other, with his parents and friends, and with his dog, trying to decide whom he’ll miss, and what he’ll do if he miraculously survives. It’s a touching moment when he realises that dying means he’ll never walk the dog again.

I had some quibbles with Robinson’s prose at the very beginning: there is some extraneous description that could be cut. But I honestly don’t know if it got better or if I was just too engrossed in the story to notice. The prose became invisible and only served the story – a sure sign of quality writing.

Get past the slightly over-written beginning and you’re in for a rare treat. highly recommended.

Metal and Boxing.

First click this link and listen to the song.  If you can’t stand it and switch off after a few seconds, then I wrote this post for you.  If you loved it and headbanged round your room, read on anyway.

The band is The Dillinger Escape Plan, the song Panasonic Youth, and it’s metal.  In fact it’s about as nasty as metal gets, sometimes almost wilfully unlistenable. The changes in time signature and tempo as well as tonality are confusing and make it almost impossible to just relax and enjoy it.  And the vocalist sounds like an ogre who’s lost his temper.

However, if you give it a chance and just roll with the awful racket that it initially seems to be, some snippets of beauty begin to appear, like bright little flowers growing on a bombsite.  Then listen again – those harmonies are not as random as they first seemed.  There are ideas here that have been used by acknowledged masters of music: Bela Bartock, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Frank Zappa.  And there is structure – thematic development in an almost classical style, and all perfectly performed.  Once you get to know it, it’s as fine a song as any you’ll hear from a rock band.

What I’m saying is that it takes more effort and commitment to find the enjoyment in music like this, but don’t feel I’m judging you if didn’t like it.  I have no right to feel superior, mainly because I don’t like boxing.

I’m sure that if I took the time and trouble to study it, boxing has as much subtlety, finesse, technique and tactical mindplay as any other sport.  Boxers are athletes, and the strongest combatant doesn’t automatically win, yet I have never enjoyed it.  At its heart, boxing is two men (usually), each trying to hit the other hard enough to knock him down or make him lose consciousness.  It seems barbaric and anachronistic in modern society.  I have never managed to see past the brutality of it and find the elegance and beauty that undoubtedly lies behind it.

If lots of people view more extreme or difficult styles of music the same way, seeing only the brutality and not the underlying beauty, who am I to judge?

There is a more general point to be made about genres and personal taste.  I continually judge books by their covers, movies by their posters, music by the look of the artistes.  This seems shallow, but there is no time to read every book, watch every movie and listen to every album, so we have to make quick choices.

If I see a band comprising four pretty teenage boys who look as though they spend more time with a stylist than with their vocal coach, I probably won’t take the trouble to listen to the music.  If a new book appears on the horror shelf and it’s called Dead Sexy and has a picture of a blood-stained apple on the cover, I won’t read it.  I’m sure I’m missing out on some great stuff, but I know I’m saving a lot of time that might have been wasted on things I won’t enjoy.

So you’re allowed to see only the ugliness in my tastes in music, film and fiction – I don’t mind.  I have to respect your choices and your taste, so long as you don’t make me watch a boxing match.

Hello from the Scottish horror writing badminton playing guitarist.

I have a blog now, and I’m not sure what to do with it yet.  As and when I think of things to say that are interesting enough to share with the world I’ll put them here.  In the meantime, here’s a warning of what to expect.

My public life has three main strands: music, horror fiction/ movies and badminton, so those are the subjects I’m most likely to write about.  I also have a wife, some offspring and somewhere to live, but most of that stuff is not for sharing unless I decide to market someone else’s project here.

MUSIC: I make a living teaching and playing guitar and bass guitar to teenagers in Glasgow schools.  I play in a Proclaimers tribute band (3 Claimers – check us out).  I tutor and play with the Glasgow Schools big Band, and I do occasional other gigs.  I also play trumpet and drum kit, sing a bit, write arrangements for bands, brass sections etc.

HORROR: I’ve been an enthusiast of horror stories and movies since I was a child, and in the last three or four years I’ve written a few things of my own, some of which have been published, some due for publication soon.  I review books for the British Fantasy Society, of which I’m a member.  Future publications and news will be posted here, and I’ll probably post some movie reviews, just for fun.  I enjoy the help and support of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers’ Circle, whose area of expertise is wider than the name suggests.

By the way, you’re welcome to send me your book if you want it reviewed on here, but my reviews are always honest and sometimes harsh.  On the other hand, if I think your book is truly awful, I just won’t publish a review at all.

BADMINTON: I play badminton 2-4 times a week, and am not as good as I should be, but I enjoy it and I’m trying to improve.  Any news on that is unlikely to be of interest to the world, but I might share anything radical that happens.  I also run a bit, and try to do a Parkrun every week.  My closest is the Eglinton Parkrun in Irvine, which I’ve managed to get every week since it launched seven weeks ago.  I’ll earn my 100 t-shirt later this month.

I suspect my other minor enthusiasms – curry, beer, malt whisky – will not make it into any real blogs.  Such banalities are for Facebook.

Think of this post as a practice.  I promise that after this I will only post when I have something intelligent to say and I wont feed you my daily drudgery.

Thank you World.