Monthly Archives: January 2015

Zombeans!

zombeans

 

Ever since I read ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marion last year, I have been trying to imagine what I’d do if there was a real live zombie apocalyse. I mean, would me and my white-belt-in-karate go down fighting against the grizzly undead? Or would I run away screaming and lock myself in my tiny apartment till the food runs out, in the hope that the zombies would get bored trying kick my door in, or at least have the decency to be killed by someone who is a bit more hard-ass than me.

‘Warm Bodies’ (which inspired a blockbuster zom-rom-com movie of the same name) was one of the best novels I read last year. In fact, it is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Period. Unfortunately though, because of my brain injury and it’s associated problems, most of the plot is now receding from my memory faster than the living deadly gorging on a patè of grey matter. Off the top of my head, I can remember it was narrated in the first person from the point of view of ‘R’, a zombie who appears to have died in his late teens to early twenties and has no recollection of anything that happened to him before his death: all he knows is the first intial of his name – and he’s not even convinced he’s got that right.

R lives in an abandoned airport alongside his friend ‘M’ and a community of ‘fleshies’ (zombies that are in the early state of decay) and ‘boneys’ (zombies that have decomposed to the point where they have no soft tissue – these guys are meaner than your average fleshie and appear to be the leaders).

Now, I don’t know if this was deliberate (probably not), but through R’s narrative, Isaac Marion paints an eerily accurate description of what life is like for many survivors of acquired brain injury: R admits to feeling vague, empty and frustrated by his inability to read or properly process his own thoughts; and although his fellow flesheaters are dogged with similar deficits (plus a shared lethargy that makes speaking in more than monosyllables difficult), it is made abundantly clear from the beginning that R is different from the other zombies because he has some degree of empathy towards the humans he eats and because he hankers after a life that involves more than simply shuffling, groaning and guzzling guts (– thus the idea slightly mirrors those high-functioning survivors of the ABI community who have a more acute awareness of their cognitive limitations).

Anyway, whilst R and M and some other random corpes are out hunting, they come upon a group of young resistance fighters led by a nineteen-year-old called Perry. R kills Perry and eats part of his brain. During this time, R is able to feel alive for a few brief moments through the memories and emotions of his victim – this I suppose is not unlike the lightbulb moment a brain-injured person might have when they finally grasp how to relearn something that they’ve previously struggled to remember. R, then, experiences a fleeting sensation of remorse – although not enough to stop him from pocketing the rest of Perry’s brain to savour later – and on seeing Perry’s girlfriend, Julie, feels physical attraction and is moved to save rather than savage her.

Anyway, after wiping zombie-gore on Julie to hide her from his hungry cronies, R takes her home and they bond over old records… and then R starts to feel more and more alive… and then Julie eventually wants to go home to her living pals and there’s a bit of a kerfuffle involving a ‘meet-the-parents’ scenerio and … well… you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next…

Antonia, my gorgeous paramour who’s previously claimed to have my back ‘no matter what’, has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of zombie-defending-kickassness: she said if the living dead swarmed Sudbury then she’d just kill herself because there would be too many to get away from; except for if I was bitten by a zombie, because then she’d become one with me. I really excepted more: I thought she would have acquired a Land Rover or equivalent heavy vehicle that could be used to mow some of the grave-dodging fuckers down – that’s what I would have done if I could drive! And she could have at least broken into Sports Direct across the road and stolen a few baseball bats with which she could have protected me… or exacted her revenge in the event of my demise. Poor show, Madam, that’s what I say.

I did a ‘Will You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse’ quiz on Buzzfeed.com and my result was: ‘torn apart in one week’. Apparently, I’d make a really good effort but would be slaughtered due to poor decision-making and lack of ruthlessness. Sounds about right!

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Bean Damage

Recently, I began talking to a woman on Pink Sofa* who suffers from a mild case of prosopagnosia. In other words: face blindess. Oddly, it’s a lot less rare than people think, and up to 2.5% of the population (including Brad Pitt, and Oliver Sacks – the neurologist who famously wrote a book of essays entitled ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’) have this condition, where they have an impaired ability to recognise people they have met before, even their own friends and family.

There are two types of prosopagnosia: congenital and acquired (either through stroke or brain injury). In Sacks’ case it was hereditary. I’m not sure about Brad Pitt, but I suspect he was probably born with it too. My friend on Pink Sofa was in a car accident; and her symptoms were so subtle that she didn’t think anything was wrong with her, until she realised that two new acquaintances she’d recently met at separate slimming clubs, were actually the same person AND this person was a work colleague.

The thing is, even though I mostly struggle with other aspects of visual processing such as topography and spatial awareness, I can strongly relate to the difficulties that people with prosopagnosia experience: For example, I have lost count of the number of the times I’ve bypassed people in the steet who I’ve simply not recognised; or I’ve tried to talk to a complete stranger because I thought I knew them; and often people will accost me in the street, and I’ll find myself nodding and agreeing with them and pretending I know who they are and what they’re talking about, because it’s easier and less embarrassing to say otherwise. Because people often get very offended when you don’t remember them. And they think it’s because you’re rude or self-obsessed or (at best) uninterested in them, especially if you’ve met them more than once.

Years ago, I left my then-girlfriend waiting for me outside a shop in Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station whilst I went to use the loo, and when I re-emerged I couldn’t find her because I not only forgot which direction I was meant to be heading in, but what she looked like! She was mortified to say the least and she ranted on at great length about how she couldn’t believe I’d walked right past her, and how could I not recall her

She just didn’t get it. But then most people don’t. Which why it’s often easier to just feign ditziness, to pretend you’re busy in your own wee world.

Another thing that me and my new friend from Pink Sofa have in common is that we both have difficulty following films and TV programmes. Usually I muddle through, relying on accents, hairstyles, clothing and distinctive hats, but there have been a few things I’ve found particularly challenging to watch: ‘The Passion Of Christ’ was one of them – simply because the characters were mostly middle-aged men with beards and I couldn’t tell which one was Jesus! Another was the American gangland drama, ‘The Wire,’ because most of the characters were all young black men with cornrows and I kept getting confused with who was in who’s gang; the principal detective was white so I was able to differentiate between him and the people he was trying to arrest; it was a wee bit trickier, however, with the two leading ladies in the show who were both red heads.

Whenever I go to potlucks or social gatherings I try to transfer my TV-watching strategies to recognising people I’ve already met, but you can’t pause or rewind real life; and as Antonia recently pointed out ‘people don’t always wear the same hat’. They don’t always have the same haircut either; and there’s always the chance that someone I know will get a mohawk or dye their bonce a different colour and if that happens I’ll just have to deal with it as best as I can.

And if I do happen to dither on past you as I’m trying to navigate around town, please don’t be insulted. And, if in doubt, do re-introduce yourself.

Steffi Baby

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Ten years ago, I began seeing someone who had a small child from a previous relationship. It was unchartered ground for both of us because I had little experience with children, and she had none with lesbianism. We muddled along though, and it certainly was a learning curve – in fact, the person who taught me the most was Steffi, my ex’s little girl.

Anyway, when we broke up I was devastated. Not because she was the love of my life (looking back now, she was far from it) but because by having a child she represented a sort of normality for me, and a hope that society would see us as a sort of quirky (if not slightly dysfunctional) little step-family; and also because she was the only person I’d ever brought home that my mother had actually really liked.

I got through the break up the only way I knew how: I wrote about it. I wrote in long-hand in a stream-of-consciousness style, rarely stopping or crossing anything out; and I did this in a variety of cafes and bars around Glasgow, and occasionally in front of the TV whilst the KISS channel with it’s raunchy R’n’B sounds was pounding away in the background. My favourite songs from that period quickly became ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back’) and ‘F.U.R.B.’ (Fuck You Right Back’) and I think that speaks volumes for my maturity at that point in my life. At the end of three months, however, I had a lighter heart and a full notepad (not to mention a tentative new love interest); and when I typed up what I’d written (pretty much verbatim) I had a novella that was just shy of 40,000 words. (Now I have never been able to write so ferociously or fluidly since than, nor have I ever again been able to get a whole story out without multiple stops and starts. But neither am I suggesting that I have to be going through an emotional uproar to do so.)

‘Steffi Baby’ is a story about Debs, a young, single mother in her middle twenties who is struggling with an anxiety-related disorder which confines her indoors and often to her bed.   It is narrated by her daughter, Steffi, a highly-sensitive and strong-spirited four-year-old, who is blissfully unaware that her mother’s new best friend, Alice, is actually her lover.

This novella is a far cry from autobiography, and although there are parts which were inspired by real life events I preferred to stretch my imagination and write about what could have happened rather than the things which actually took place. It was also never meant as a way of getting back at my ex – and I suppose in a way I am really paying homage to some of the good times we did share. I chose to tell it from Steffi’s point of view because it was too painful (and, frankly, too boring) to tell it from my own; and also because Steffi’s innocence and unrelenting optimism bring humour to what could otherwise have been a rather bleak tale.

Before Xmas, I began redrafting ‘Steffi Baby’ again – I’d previously attempted this back in March but found it was too difficult to finish at that time. This wasn’t because it threw up any unpleasant memories for me – on the contrary, it reminded me of quite a few episodes that made me laugh out loud. I simply struggled with the chronology and the picking apart of an already very tight story.

I’ll admit there have been times when I considered giving up on it completely: that old chestnut ‘no-one reads / publishes novellas anymore’ rattled around in my head; and only yesterday, I was so frustrated with one particularly problematic chapter that I printed out all twenty pages of it before physically cutting and pasting the sentences together; I was also slightly worried that I would be accused of trotting out yet another niche-interest piece of fiction that only lesbians of Scottish nationality would ever read.

I am pleased to report that I am now about ninety-eight percent of the way through the redraft. There was loose talk of me writing a sequel, but I’m not so sure. Antonia thinks I should. We’ll see.

The real Steffi was fourteen this month and I can’t believe where the years have gone. I suppose she will stay forever four years old in my mind. I doubt I will ever cross paths with her again, but wherever she is in this world I wish her and her mother all the very best, and hope that they are happy and well.

Our Four-Year Beanniversary

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On Tuesday, Antonia and I celebrated our four-year beanniversary. That’s four years since the date that she asked me to officially be her girlfriend.

Now a lot of people don’t know this (because we used to be quite shy and would subtly brush the question under the carpet when asked) but we originally met in November 2011 on Pink Sofa, which is a dating and networking site for lesbian, queer and bisexual women – and in fact, we were so impressed with the site that we recently rejoined so that could meet more likeminded ladies in our area (of course, we’ve so far sent more virtual hugs, kisses and bunches of flowers to each other than actual messages to other people, and all whilst we’ve been sitting together in the same room.)

Anyway, we decided to go to Norwich for a ce-les-bratory shopping trip / lunch. The plan was to buy each other house coats and a pair of slippers (I wanted fluffy tiger claws and she wanted hairy hobbit toes) but we couldn’t find any we liked, so Antonia ended up with a stripey jumper and I got a plain white shirt; she also chose two early birthday presents for herself but I’m not letting her have them for another month… I’m really not…

For lunch we went to a vegetarian cafe called ‘Wild Thyme’. It took us a while to find it – and we were quite ravenous when we arrived – even though it was smack in the middle of the city centre, inside a wee courtyard above a very colourful shop called ‘Rainbow Wholefoods’, and the website had explained this quite specifically! The menu was almost completely vegan and both of us had trouble deciding what to choose because it all sounded so tasty. In the end I picked the mexican black bean burger with melty cashew cheese and sweet potato wedges, and Antonia got the Japanese noodle salad; and then because we both liked the look of what the other had, we swapped our meals half way through. This fifty-fifty dinner-swapping is a common practice for us (and I can’t remember the last time we went out to eat and didn’t do it) and I suppose it’s one other thing that can be added to a long list of reasons that people think we are a wee bit weird. Both dishes were equally amazing and I was completely stuffed; despite this we still ordered a vegan brownie with soya icecream between us and scoffed the lot.

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After that, we went downstairs to Rainbow Wholefoods and I bought some non-dairy cheese slices with chopped mushrooms through it and a jar of rice syrup. I was particularly excited by the rice syrup because I’ve only ever seen it in one shop, in Glasgow, and that shop shut down about three years ago.

photo 3 Next, we visited a new age place where Antonia bought me an egg-shaped piece of opalite (which is apparently for love, passion and eroticism as well as spontaneity – but she didn’t know this till she looked it up in her crystal bible) and a bit of celestite (it helps dysfunctional relationships amongst other things according to her book, oo-er) and a cute wee pin badge with an angel on it; she also bought herself five tiny slivers of quartz but I haven’t dared to ask what those are for yet…

Then lastly, having shopped, eaten, drank and giggled our way around the town, we took some silly, squinty, god-awful coupley selfies in the rain before waddling back to the car.

The Breakfast Writers Club

breakfast writer club

Yesterday, I kickstarted the new year by distributing my first bundle of fliers for the new creative writing group that I’m setting up in Sudbury.

I’ve called it ‘The Breakfast Writers Club’, partly because I want this to be an early morning group, but also because I’m a huge John Hughes’ fan, and I love his 1985 brat pack film ‘The Breakfast Club’, where a jock (Emilio Estevez), a geek (Anthony Michael Hall), a rich girl (Molly Ringwald), a rebel (Judd Nelson) and a compulsive liar (Ally Sheedy) are forced to spend Saturday detention together, despite being from different social cliques.

Now I’m not suggesting that all writers are misfits (although a lot of them are) or that a motley crew will turn up en masse to greet me (I can but hope), but I have been to many, many writing related events and I’ve certainly met a few, shall we say, classics:

For example, the first time I actually went out and discussed my stereotypically teenage angst-ridden scribbles with other people was when I enrolled in a creative writing module at college when I was nineteen. There was an ex-librarian in my class whose brilliant, and often eerie, on-the-bone poems appeared in epileptic bursts, hampered by the same depressive illness that had rendered her unfit for work; then there was the pyromaniac goth boy who’d been expelled for setting fire to his school, and his friend who claimed he wanted to be a vampire and was saving up to have his teeth filed into fangs – both of them wrote horror stories and were obsessed with internet roleplaying games; lastly, there was the vegetarian jewish girl who wanted to write sting-in-the-tale stories for womens’ magazines – she had a very ascerbic wit, and I honestly think she may have been the most successful student if only she hadn’t let her family grind her down with their ideas of what a ‘real job’ was.

Another instance was when I turned up early and enthusiastic at a local writer’s group in my area (this was about six or seven years ago) only to be told by an elderly gentleman with a permanent scowl, who appeared to be running things, that I was half an hour late – it transpired that they had changed the time slot some weeks before but hadn’t actually rectified the advert. That same scowling gentleman (who I later dubbed ‘The Critic’) then went on to tell me that I was ‘as useful as a chocolate fireguard’ because I hadn’t brought any samples of my work – because I believe it’s bad manners to turn up at an established writing group and thrust half your novel in someone’s face at the first meeting. He also told a terribly nice old lady in her eighties that her short story was ‘absolute crap’, and when I tried to intervene with something a wee bit more constructive he told me there was ‘no point sugar-coating it’ and ‘when something’s crap just say it’s crap’. Needless to say I wasn’t a member for very long.

There have been other groups of course: some incredibly sucessful, some not so much. When I did my masters degree at Glasgow Uni we were assigned to editorial groups at random and most of them disbanded within a few short months. The group I was assigned to in my second year was at one point the only one left standing and we actually had to start turning away other students who wanted to join! Since then I’ve tried day long workshops and weekend retreats; and coffee shop meetups with friends who wanted to have-a-go; there have also been online writing circles where you’ve had to email your work to complete strangers; and more recently I was part of an intimate all-female collective called ‘Wild Women’.

I decided to start the Breakfast Writers Club because there is currently no creative writing group in Sudbury – I understand the library on Market Hill is in the process of setting one up for the over-fifties, and I think that’s great, but I am looking for a more diverse age range (one that I’m officially old enough to attend). I’ve realised over the years that it’s crucial, for me personally, to have other writers to talk and socialise with. I have tried going it alone, but I’m really not the most adept judge of my own work; and sitting glowering at a blank laptop screen for weeks on end when I’m in a creative rut just doesn’t work for me.

I wholeheartedly believe that criticism (when it’s constructive), an audience, and a relaxed space that isn’t just your kitchen table, are key ingredients in balancing the personal and the artistic in a writer’s life; and I really hope that by starting this group I’ll attract a few likeminded individuals.