Content note: post contains descriptions of eating disordered thoughts and feelings and discussion of my desire to lose weight.
My eating disorder has been getting worse ever since my father died. I manage not to act on the thoughts and feelings, at least most of the time, but they’re definitely getting more insistent. While I may be keeping the symptoms to a minimum, I’m obsessed with the idea of losing weight and feeling more sensitive to triggers than ever before.
The voice of the summer was probably Marianne Faithful. I picked up her albums Vagabond Ways(1999) and Kissin’ Time (2002) in a secondhand record shop a few months back. One of Faithful’s strengths as an artist is her ability to choose fantastic people to collaborate with. Her albums are so well produced and, despite the wide-ranging material and song styles, retain a distinctive sense of identity. Vagabond Ways is sort of a cabaret album produced by Daniel Lanois. It features her version of Tower of Song which is one of my favourite Leonard Cohen covers. My other favourite track on there is ‘File it under fun from the past‘ which is so bitter, melancholy and defiant. Kissin’ Time is perhaps a little more edgy, with songs produced by Beck, Jarvis Cocker and Billy Corgan.
I’ve been looking for a way to ease myself back into blogging after the summer hiatus and then Sapphire Street gave me the idea of posting a weekly list of 5 things that have interested me, so here we go:
Andy bought us the first season of Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone on DVD and I finally understand why this magnificent series has become such a cultural touchstone. Each episode is like a mini-movie, beautifully produced, acted and directed. We’re on episode 9 and so far themes of isolation, alienation and war have dominated, which is not too surprising for a show that emerged from the 1950s. I absolutely loved ‘The Lonely’, in which a man convicted to serve out his sentence alone on an asteroid gains possession of a robot woman companion only to find himself faced with a terrible choice. ‘The Sixteen Millemetre Shrine’ introduced to me the work of the rather awesome Ida Lupino who both directed and starred in the episode. The best episode I’ve seen so far is one of the most famous: ‘Time Enough at Last’. In this haunting story, a harassed man finally finds himself alone with plenty of time to read his beloved books, but of course nothing ever goes according to plan in “The Twilight Zone”. The ending is unforgettable. We’ve also been watching 1980s reboot, The New Twilight Zone, on The Horror Channel and it isn’t bad, though no patch on the original.
Take my word for it, childhood is a time of unrelenting terror. That many of us don’t remember it that way lets us recover and go on with our lives. But if you carry with you a certain fear you are helpless in the face of, that you live with but will never overcome, you probably acquired it in childhood. You may deal with it like a champ, but inside you’re cold water and you truly understand the phrase, ‘Fate worse than death’.
Pat Cadigan, ‘Introduction to Eenie, Meenie, Ipsateenie’, in Patterns, p. 22.
A billion years after the fall of the galactic empire, the city of Diaspar alone survives on the desert of a world that Earth has become. Its people are all but immortal, their every need catered for by the city’s mysterious central computer. Living untroubled, decadent lives of leisure for hundreds of years, they then rest for hundreds more in the computer banks, until they are called forth again from the Halls of Creation. These people fear only one thing and that is the possibility of leaving the city.
This week we’ve seen a lot of feminist discussion about issues of speech, silence and oppression, so I decided that now would be a good time to post some thoughts on the poetry of Judy Grahn.
Grahn is a lesbian feminist poet and activist whose work is very much concerned with speaking back to power. Her project is one of radical redefinition rooted in a centering of the lives of ordinary women. The Work of a Common Woman brings together poems published between 1964 and 1977, a period when feminists were fighting to break free of patriarchal modes of representation and wrestle back control of the narratives through which women’s experiences had been mediated by culture. This was a time when one of the top feminist priorities was to get women’s voices out there, which obviously meant finding ways to bypass the gatekeepers of publishing and the media. Grahn was an important figure in this effort, co-founding the Gay Woman’s Liberation Movement and The Women’s Press Collective, as well as making her own work available in an accessible pamphlet form that could be easily circulated by women’s groups.
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the sofa with my Mum watching re-runs of Dr Who, Blake’s 7 and the original Star Trek. I’m not sure if she knew I was paying attention, what with Blake’s 7 hardly being suitable viewing for a five year-old. A few years later I was into Star Trek: The Next Generation and Quantum Leap and would try and get away with staying up late to watch The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits reboots. Then it was The X-Files, Babylon 5 and all the rest of those 90s shows.
Considering how much science fiction I watched on television, I was surprisingly slow to start reading the genre. When I did eventually come to the literature of science fiction, it was through reading short stories and this is a list of the ones that have stayed with me.
I’m not a girl
I’m a hatchet
I’m not a hole
I’m a whole mountain
I’m not a fool
I’m a survivor
I’m not a pearl
I’m the Atlantic Ocean
I’m not a good lay
I’m a straight razor
look at me as if you had never seen a woman before
I have red, red hands and much bitterness
I was at my mother’s house yesterday sorting through the stuff I’ve stored there over the years. Being reunited with so many past selves was an enjoyable, if slightly unsettling, experience and the contents of one dusty box were particularly poignant. When I opened it I found, to my surprise, my favourite Barbie and Sindy dolls carefully packed away in there, most of them wearing their now rather tatty original outfits. I’d assumed they’d all been given away years ago.
I’m not the sort of feminist who never played with dolls. My Barbies and Sindys were very important to me and extravagantly loved. I would pick out the one I wanted months in advance of Christmas or my birthday. My mother would then buy it with her Brian Mills home shopping catalogue credits and hide it on top of the wardrobe until the date came around. My parents were the sort of back-to-the-land hippies who probably didn’t approve of Barbie, but having both experienced tremendous neglect in their own childhoods, they wanted to try and give us the toys we asked for and didn’t interfere very much.
Left to choose for myself, I did not pick the more sensible looking models, such as astronaut or vet Barbie. No, I always asked for the most fabulous Barbies available, the high femmes with with the biggest, shiniest dresses. I even had glow-in-the-dark Barbie. You might not believe it to look at me now, but I’ve always had an interest in glamour and a liking for shiny things and the Barbies and the Sindys of the 1980s more than satisfied this desire. As I opened each new doll and carefully removed her from her box, I would swear to myself that I’d keep this one in pristine condition, a resolution that never lasted more than a couple of weeks.
The album of the spring has been Cat Power’s, Sun (2012). This is new ground for Chan Marshall – an electronic pop/rock album. It’s political and intense but feels upbeat and actually makes me want to dance, which is not something I thought I’d ever say about a Cat Power album. I can’t really pick a single track as a favorite, but here’s 3,6,9.
Content note: description of self-harming behaviour
For a long time now I’ve felt deeply ashamed about some of the things I did during the time when I was experiencing the worst of my mental health problems. I’ve tried very hard to forget but I still find myself lying awake at night in a cold sweat of shame and horror, replaying it all in my head.
When I look back at that time in my life, I can see that it was characterised by an absolute inability to identify and cope with the strong emotions I was experiencing. I still struggle to identify emotions, but back then, well, the phrase “emotionally illiterate” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Because a lot of my emotional responses were based on past trauma, they were disproportionate to the events that were triggering them in the present. I was sort of aware of this at the time, but I didn’t understand what was happening or why. All I knew was that I was experiencing unbearable emotional pain. I felt like I had a volcano inside me that was always threatening to erupt and, when it did erupt, that I was utterly in its power. I couldn’t seem to control either the emotions I was feeling, or my own behaviour in response to them. The experience of being driven by emotions that you can’t even name is quite terrifying.
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look (while
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and
changing everything carefully
spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
and fro moving New and
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and
If the stories in 2008’s Mammoth Book of SF 21were particularly concerned with death, annihilation and endings, the overarching theme in this collection from 1992 seems to be a questioning of the relationship between concepts of nature and normality. Some of the best stories collected here look into the ways in which nature, as a concept, is mediated to us through narratives and then go on to interrogate the role played by science in constructing these narratives.
I sometimes joke that The Rocky Horror Show “saved my life”, but that statement is not really so far from the truth. When I discovered Rocky I was a profoundly depressed, bullied, 15-year old Catholic lesbian, living in the kind of conservative small town where you could get away with stabbing a gay man in the back by pleading “gay panic”. I wasn’t considered bright, or pretty; I didn’t have many friends and I was developing an eating disorder.
I can’t remember why someone lent me an old copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was probably just being passed around at school with a lot of other illicit material, but something about it resonated with me incredibly deeply. Even now I still get chills when I listen to the opening song, ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’.
Life Mask is set in the world of late eighteenth-century British high society. This period saw economic crises, impending war, and the threat of revolution, but also an increasingly educated population and more social mobility. A few women were beginning to access careers, especially in literature and the arts, but they still lived in a world in which reputation was everything and entering public life remained extremely risky.
Following the early death of her boorish husband, aristocratic Anne Damer has been able to enjoy a relatively independent life and has made a name for herself as a sculptor. Eliza Farren, meanwhile, has risen from her working-class origins to become a successful actress on the London stage, one of the celebrities of the period. The lives of these two women are linked by their relationships with a powerful man, Edward Smith-Stanley , twelfth Earl of Derby, an old friend of Anne’s and suitor to Eliza. Despite the difference in their social positions, Anne and Eliza become close friends, but when ugly rumours about the nature of Anne’s sexual preferences begin to surface, they threaten to bring scandal and ruin down upon all their heads.
What strikes me most about Jamaica Inn is just how much Daphne Du Maurier’s writing improved in the novels that follow this romantic thriller. If she’d written nothing else, I suspect she’d have fallen into obscurity along with a lot of other popular women writers of her day. I read Jamaica Inn at the same time as I was reading a collection of her late stories from the 1970s and while I enjoyed both books, if it wasn’t for the same name on the cover, I probably wouldn’t have recognised them as works by the same author. But, having said all of that, Jamaica Inn does point the way towards Du Maurier’s later works.
Ever since I finished reading the stories in this collection, I’ve been trying to articulate the effect they’ve had on me. It’s easy enough to appreciate Shirley Jackson as a superb writer who had absolute control of her material, but when it comes to discussing the content of the stories, I find myself struggling because they seem to say so much and I always end up with more questions than answers. If I had to try and sum it up, I suppose I’d say these stories explore the high price attached to the modern western construction the “self” as something that must be constantly defended against the “others” it attempts to exclude and deny.
Johnny Cash’s American Recordings (1994) is perfect music for dark, winter evenings. It’s a comeback record that marks the beginning of Cash’s immensely creative partnership with Rick Rubin. I think it’s worth getting for the cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on a Wire’ alone. Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues (2000) is an all-round brilliant folk album, featuring a diverse range of songs with an Irish-American flavour. Neil Young’s triple album compilation, Decade (1977) is just a sublime retrospective and contains some of my favourite Young songs, such as ‘Expecting to Fly’, ‘Helpless’ and ‘Winterlong’. What’s even more amazing is that this retrospective was produced so early in his career.