David Bowie, 1947-2016.

David Bowie was wonderful. He was also an abuser. How do we handle that?

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I dreamt about David Bowie last night. I forget the details, but I woke up thinking I’d write a post about how he seemed to regenerate rather than age. (The first Bowie was Cockney and a mod, the second was Byronesque, et cetera.) The first thing I saw on starting my computer was a friend’s Facebook post: ‘I don’t think I ever really believed it was possible.’ The headline underneath took me a moment to digest: ‘David Bowie, the Legendary Musician, Has Died at 69.Oh no. Don’t say it’s true.

While there was me, I’d always assumed, there would Bowie. At eight, a clip of Ziggy’s arm round Mick Ronson was a queer wake-up call, and later ‘Life on Mars’ would help keep suicide at bay. Having died three short days after a new album’s release, it seems music sustained him too, and it hurts to have been denied the songs the twelfth or thirteenth Bowie would have made. After ten years away, The Next Day and Blackstar were considered two of his best records, and it would be a fair statement that he meant far more to me than any other singer.

It would also be fair to call him a child rapist. (Details ahead.)

Bowie did bad things alright. In the seventies he fixated on Nazis, calling Hitler one of the first rock stars and himself a believer in fascism—a phase which, to be fair, he grew out of and came to call ghastly. More disturbing are the stories of hotel room threesomes with fourteen year old girls. Former groupie Lori Mattix describes Bowie disrobing and having her wash him in the bath before ‘devirginising’ her. Both Mattix and the friend of hers who joined them later had been plied with drugs.

It’s hard to know what to do with this knowledge except rehearse it. I know the above to be true, according to Mattix’s nostalgic account, and that it deserves to be remembered. I also know without Bowie, my own obit would have been written long ago, and I can’t help but remember that too. How do you find room in one eulogy for both those facts? Just for today, I’ll mourn the hero I saw in Bowie, thankful on behalf of the kid who needed all those songs; tomorrow and the next day I’ll let one more hero go. That’s the best I can manage—sorry if it’s not enough.

It’s the legend more than the man I’m grieving in the end, the performances that have stayed with me. ‘Starman’, aforementioned, on Top of the Pops, a Technicolor explosion in a monochrome world. ‘Footstompin’’ on Dick Cavett’s programme, Bowie’s mic trained on joyous, gyrating Ava Cherry. ‘Under Pressure’, where Annie Lennox stares undiluted lust at him after that last breathy note. ‘Heroes’ live in Berlin, where Bowie’s voice rises over six minutes from a mumble to a shout. And then, of course, this week, the video to ‘Lazarus’.

You wouldn’t call it a live act, but surely that’s the point. How much sense it makes now, that song that was so inscrutable days ago, the deathbed pose, title and lines about release, even the rush to productivity between this album and the last, the decision not to tour or perform. Unmissable as it is in hindsight—how visible the cancer’s impact is, quite suddenly—no one took ‘Lazarus’ literally because no one imagined Bowie could die. How unlike anybody else, how entirely like him, to stage his own death as performance art. Now ain’t that just like me?

Hard to think someone who did that could have much faith in any afterlife. (Bowie, for his part, called himself ‘not quite an atheist’.) I don’t often wish I believed in one, and it’s hard to wish heaven on a man with his history, but at eight I longed to travel to Ziggy’s world. It hurts to know for the first time that where he is, I can’t follow. But I do live in David Bowie’s world—the world where everyone followed his tune, where he was sometimes a hero, sometimes a monster, always singular. I don’t feel good about all of that. All the same, I’m glad it was my world too.

David Bowie, 1947-2016.

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I tell stories and write a blog. If you enjoy my work,
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becoming a patron or leaving a tip.

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The Art Of Being Okay

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Yesterday wasn’t the best day. When I woke up, something was stuck at the back of my mouth, tickling my tongue and making me retch. On peering in, I found my uvula was the size of a wax crayon, pointing forward instead of down. Being December 25, all drop-in centres near me were shut, as was the tube, so getting an anti-inflammatory took four hours’ trudging through rain in shoes with holes in them. My feet are still blistered, and I spent the rest of the day alone in a bedsit with no oven. I could probably be forgiven for being fed up—but strangely enough, I’m doing okay.

There’s a popular view that the word ‘fine’ is meaningless, that being fine, thank you when a friend asks after you is a hollow nicety. I wrote about depression back in June, and I’ve heard other people with it say as much. That isn’t my experience at all. When your two basic emotional states are ‘at risk of self-harm’ and ‘not at risk’, fine is the best you can hope for. Fine is precious. I sometimes find myself saying my symptoms come and go. In fact they only alternate: most days, when depression isn’t making me want to die, it makes me more reliably okay than almost anyone I know.

Friday was a crap day to cap off a shit year—a year of family harassment, homelessness and political hopelessness. The art of losing isn’t hard to master, and one does one’s best: I lost family and friends in the spring, watched the left lose in May, lost a place to live in July, lost money in winter. (Thanks, all who helped.) For once, I haven’t managed to lose faith. At the moment, I feel much better than I did in June. What living with depression means for me is that my emotions aren’t linked to external events, that how okay I am doesn’t depend on what happens to me. I’m rarely happy, but I’m almost always fine. [Read more…]

The Magic Of Reality: What Growing Up Christian Had To Do With Believing In Santa

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If you ever believed in Santa—how did you find out that he wasn’t real?
And how did you feel about it?

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Some childish things I put away early—others I stayed attached to for too long. In my last year of primary school, Mrs Fanshawe asked if I had toys and things at my dad’s, gauging, I now suspect, whether to let him collect me at home time. I remember sensing I ought to nod, doing so even as I wondered who the hell still played with toys aged ten. (At the time, I would have said ‘who on earth’.) I knew by then that there was no Saint Nick, except the real one, who was a disappointment of a saint, but it hadn’t been long since I’d found out. I’m never sure whether I grew up too fast or too late.

The garden where Mum and I built snowmen had been a rubbish tip, and our house was designed equally messily. Five doors opened onto the living room, which must have been twelve square metres at most, and only three led into other rooms. Behind Mum’s storytelling chair, a cupboard with two compartments stretched from floor to ceiling. The top one smelt of truffles when you poked your head inside, and was where passports and grownup letters were stored—and, more importantly, chocolate boxes and booze. One night a year a glass of sherry was left out, next to a mince pie and half a carrot.

I think I was nineish when Mum fessed up. I distinctly recall lying in bed, hugging the wall the way I liked to when she prayed for me. Before lights out, we’d talk a while, then she would sing the end of Numbers 6—‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you’. That night, she told me Nicholas had been a patron of children even during his life—so what did I think their parents told them after he died? It strikes me now this was likely a fairy tale too, that all I’d done was graduate from one fiction to another, but at the time my reaction was one of confusion. In the years since, that hasn’t changed.

People attached to telling children Santa Claus is real often complain I don’t get it. I don’t. It’s never been intuitive to me why telling someone things you know are false—not to safeguard their wellbeing or your own, but just to watch them smile on being duped—is cruel and degrading in principle but twee in one specific case. Learning that Father Christmas was a lie didn’t make me cry or act up, but lied to was exactly how I felt. This year my niece turned eight: being required to play along was hard, and I’ve known parents admit to being more conflicted than they let on.

When friends say stories of a man in a red suit—the other one—made Christmas magical, I think they mean that on some level, they knew makebelieve when they saw it, but that the power of ritual swept them up. I sympathise—all stories are enchantments, all words spells. The trouble is, Father Christmas was more than a story to me, more than something I half believed. I knew the tooth fairy was imaginary, that costumed men who gave us Dairy Milk on the last day of term were imposters—there was enough nudging and winking in each case—but as I saw it, the man himself was every bit as real as God.

Mum came to regret that particular literalism. ‘I made it into something it was never meant to be,’ she told me some years back. There are a lot of memes about Father Christmas and God, some better than others, but in my mind, they occupied exactly the same space. I was used to the idea whatever extraordinary things Mum spoke of must be true (and she spoke of far more extraordinary things than Christian children all receiving gifts on the same night)—to the idea holding extraordinary beliefs was itself virtuous, never more so than if hostile nonbelievers surrounded you.

It wasn’t simply that we were Christians: plenty of children raised in Christian homes are functionally able to distinguish makebelieve from sincere belief (supernatural or not) perfectly well. It was that Mum and her then-church practised an evangelicalism that never drew any such line. Magic, makebelieve, ritual, story, play—these were never acknowledged as mere suspensions of disbelief, or as a realm in which belief might constitute something subtly different. All beliefs were literal, and makebelieve itself was a dangerous and demon-haunted thing: thinking Halloween was only a game was how the enemy got you.

Atheists are often stereotyped as Philistines with one-dimensional worldviews and no grasp of aesthetics or ritual. That described my church upbringing more than it describes me. In my experience, letting stories be stories only strengthens their magic. Believing Santa Claus was real caused me to miss the beauty I now see in the leaving-out of a small sherry and a mince pie, and Mum’s prayers worked because of how she sang, not because she believed—because of a cupboard of secret things, a chair in which fantastic tales were told, and the first snowman in the world that never had to melt.

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I tell stories and write a blog. If you enjoy my work,
consider 
becoming a patron or leaving a tip.

Follow my tweets at @AlexGabriel,
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I’m At Risk Of Homelessness And In Need Of A Laptop. Please Help

Today my iPad froze up on the startup screen. I got it just over a year ago on being hired to translate a book, and this was the first time it had happened. Small issues like this afflict gadgets now and then, and ordinarily, I’d have plugged it into iTunes and been back to normal in two minutes—but that was five hours ago. In September, the laptop I bought as an undergraduate finally upped and died, leaving no way to defibrilate the tablet, and nothing but a weather-beaten phone from 2011 on which to work tonight. (If anyone in central London has iTunes and a computer I can plug into, email me.)

Toward the start of September I became homeless. For most of that month and the next, I floated from one sofa to the next. I’ve now been in the same place, precariously and ruggedly housed but secure and rent-free, for just about five weeks. (This had a lot to do with why I was so much more productive last month.) While it’s a huge relief, I now rely on paying £18 for hotspot internet every five days, which makes a significant dent; seeking new work also means I’m facing the costs of travel and ordering documents, and lacking a laptop is now making a financial impact.

When I’m not writing—thanks to those who support me that way—graphic design provides a major part of my income. (Here’s a portfolio.) Although the iPad and tonight my phone are lifesavers, I can’t do that kind of work without a laptop—and without doing that work, I can’t afford one on my own. (The old one’s death also held up several already overdue projects, which I’ve committed to having complete by the new year.) Last week then, I set up a fundraiser at GoFundMe and asked Facebook friends to chip in who wanted to—thanks to a huge amount of generosity, it’s at £605.

I listed my initial target as £1000, which now looks within reach. In the blurb, I also mentioned the possibility I’d extend it to provide a cushion and meet fundraising costs. It turned out that, due to the oddities of Vodafone’s billing schedule, the three-figure phone bill I mentioned having put me in the red hadn’t actually gone through at the time. Thanks, once again, to everyone who’s donated, as the amount contributed so far means that I’ve still escaped my overdraft, but to compensate, I’ve now upped the target to £1200, a goal I think is achievable.

Since my current accommodation is temporary, I’m likely to become homeless again in the new year, or else to be facing the overheads that come with finding a real place to live, so it’s possible that once I have computer and Photoshop access again, I’ll keep the page alive as a jar I can rattle a little whenever things are tough. Prior to Christmas though, replacing the laptop is the priority. (A quick note, tech people: yes, the old one is irreparable. Yes, I’ve looked into it. Yes, I really do require a new one.) This being said, I’m going to ask people reading this to help out a bit.

Here’s the fundraising page. So far, wanting to give it a good start, I’ve held off on posting it here and sharing it aggressively—now I want to push it all the way.

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If you’ve chipped in already, all my thanks—it means the world. If you haven’t shared the page with people you know on social media (or have, but could again) please consider doing so. And if you’re able to help out a struggling blogger and feel like doing so, it means more than you can know.

(In case you’ve been sent this and don’t know me, I write about subjects as diverse as religious abuse, mental illness, racism in geek culture, queer politics and Doctor Who—here are all my posts from last month.)

What’s in it for you, you ask? Firstly, here are some perks.

Give any amount and you’ll have my undying thanks.

Give £10 and I’ll send a personalised ‘thank you’ email to the address listed with GoFundMe. If you’ve been lurking on this blog invisibly for an age, as it turns out several people who leant me a sofa during September and October had, now’s a good time to say hello. Let’s talk.

Give £25 and I’ll include your name and an optional link to your online profile below all posts in January, with a ‘Special thanks’ line. (People who’ve given already, feel free to claim this perk.)

Give £50 and I’ll devout a post to giving you a shoutout, together with whatever work you do or care about. If you have a developing blog or want to boost the visibility of activism close to your heart, then (provided it’s nothing I can’t stand) I’ll write a short feature on it for my not-inconsiderable audience.

Give £100 and I’ll write a full article or essay-length blog post on a topic of your choice, whether it’s something you think the world needs to discuss more, something you’re looking for answers, advice or explanations on or just something you’d like me to discuss. (This is, of course, subject to my agreement—in the unlikely event I’m not down for your first-choice topic, we can still select one.) Since it’s something my readers tend to like, you can also choose to commission a snark-post, in which I’ll spend a few paragraphs being acerbic on any agreed subject of your choice.

A couple of other things: did I mention people hire me to design things for them? (Here’s that portfolio again—I’ve done blog banners, book covers, logos, t-shirts, promotional fliers and all things in between.) If you’re interested in employing me, drop me an email: I typically charge fifty percent on commission and the rest on completion of things, and in this case, that down-payment can go into the fundraiser.

Oh—and I’m an editor too. A pretty great one, actually. Last autumn an old friend hired me to edit the first article she ever wrote, which then went viral in the press and garnered millions of hits; a year back, another asked my advice for a note to a childhood bully, which gained just shy of twenty thousand Facebook likes and was reported in world news programmes. I copy edited Greta Christina’s well-received book Coming Out Atheist, have worked with a large number of other names from the secular blogosphere, and have spent 2015 editing a first-time author’s novel. If you’ve got a project you want to hire me for, just call.

Again: here’s the fundraiser. Again: if you can’t contribute but do want to help out, please consider sharing it far and wide. If you can donate to this and want to, it means more than I can tell you.

Stop Saying Homophobes Aren’t Real Christians

It’s common to be told that people who make religions look bad aren’t really part of them, and in particular that homophobes aren’t ‘real’ Christians—as well as that their views are a perversion of faith fuelled by denial of their own sexuality. At the moment, I’m working on a much longer piece than usual, so I’m going to do something unusual and post an extract from it about the problem I have with this.

Think about it for a second, and Christian homophobia being fuelled by queer shame is a shitty idea. It means believing not only that an inexplicable swell of queer people are born into Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterian churches, loathing themselves for no particular reason, but that Quakers and Unitarians are progressive because so many more of them are straight, and that our problems would be solved if straight people could just teach queer people not to be so homophobic. Historically and politically, it blames us for our own murder.

It also means thinking that by sheer coincidence, cultures in northern Europe, Africa and India where bisexuality was the norm developed a sudden angst about it, ex nihilo, at the exact moment Christian missionaries arrived. It means thinking that Rome’s upper classes became squicked out by their previously open sex lives the moment Constantine became emperor; that in the generation gap between the first Christians and their parents, condemning same sex acts went from being a wholly religious act to being nothing to do with religion.

Were the church fathers Christian in name only? Was Constantine less than a ‘real’ Christian? Were Paul, Peter and all popes since, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King? Were the missionaries whose schools and hospitals are points of pride? Or is ‘real’ Christianity a drawbridge that goes up and down, alternately admitting and excluding these people, raised and lowered for the comfort of people who denounce some homophobes then venerate others, only denying their membership of the faith when it’s expedient?

I don’t say this as an atheist with an agenda, or somebody opposed to progressive religious tendencies. I say it as a queer person to whom it doesn’t feel progressive to care about homophobia only when it makes being a Christian uncomfortable, or to be more concerned about the threat it poses to your faith’s PR than to my life and the lives of my friends. All Christians are real Christians; all Muslims are real Muslims; all atheists are real atheists. Deal with it.

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I tell stories and write a blog. If you enjoy my work,
consider
becoming a patron or leaving a tip.

At the moment, I’m also holding a fundraiser.
You can read more about that here.

Follow my tweets at @AlexGabriel,
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Paris/Baghdad/Beirut, November 2015

When guns go off, people fall silent. Some fall silently.

Silence takes many forms. There is the silence of the dead, that of the living who see death, and in between, that silent half-second when gunshots are first heard.

There is the numbness that comes after shock, the turning-off of news and silencing of radios. There is being at a loss for words, the silence of all speech sounding too loud.

There is the silence of commemoration and the silence of censure; sometimes these are the same. There is the silence that falls over streets where demonstrations have been banned.

There are the enforced silences of a war on terror, unspoken thoughts and words that render them unspeakable: heroes, hatred, extremist, PATRIOT. There is the indescribable nausea of a new one.

There is that silent, tired thirst in me for no more gods, governments or guns. There is the silence of knowing now is no time for certainties. There is my silent longing for them back.

There is the silence I wish for with every new atrocity mentioned, the relative silence of media about those further from my door, my silence on the ones I couldn’t stand to hear of. There is the silent shame of realising that was a choice, the silent listening I should have done.

More guns are going to go off. I hope by then, I will know what to say.

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I tell stories and write a blog. If you enjoy my work, consider becoming a patron or leaving a tip.

Follow my tweets at @AlexGabriel, keep up with my writing, or get in touch.

Why I’m homeless and how you can help

So I’m kind of in a fix.

If you follow this blog, you’ll know I haven’t been as productive as planned over the last few months. In June I wrote about atheism and depression—some nights, as I say there, ‘I fight the urge to smash myself to bits’, but my brain has more effective ways of tripping me up. The worst, despondency, has immobilised me all summer long, and I’ve struggled to get much done.

A few factors fed into it. The last bout of drama on this network took the toll I assumed it would—I’m just starting to post regularly again—but more importantly, it was the latest in a series of things that have made 2015 rough so far. Until July I was dealing with a flatmate who made it hard to work from home, and since late last year I’ve been estranged from most members of my family. Although the latter’s done me good, it’s been a constant distraction from work and stripped me of any other source of support. Political despair, widespread among my friends in the UK, hasn’t helped—in short, I’ve been in a rut.

It turns out knowing you’re in a rut is the first part of climbing out. What my mental health needs, I’ve come to realise, is a change of scene—so a couple of weeks back, it struck me the time’s come for me to move back to England. I’ve written this blog from Berlin most of the last two years, and will never tire of the place, but for now, well, I’m tired of the place, and it’s clear to me I need to go elsewhere before I can fully knuckle back down again. On top of that, I’m long overdue for a health checkup in a country where I have access to medicine.

A writer-friend and I are looking at renting somewhere in the New Year, as grown-ups seem to do, and before then I’ll need to sort various things—accounts, application forms and so on—which can only be taken care of while in the country. With that in mind, having sold off what furniture I owned and reduced my possessions to a rucksack’s worth, my plan is to fly into Gatwick in the next week or two. From September 24 through to November, I have friends’ floors and sofas to sleep on, and I’ll find temporary places for December during that time.

I’m getting back to work as is, and drawing plans to finance the next few months. Now that I’m Patreon-equipped and no longer being strangled by Weltschmerz, I’m going to start writing the two posts a week my page on there pledges. (Thanks to assorted patrons’ generosity, I already make $30 per post, more than I earn from adverts in a month.) In addition, I’m going to seek more paid writing elsewhere, and have one publishing house listening to book ideas. Other projects are in the works: I’m currently editing one book, am likely to edit another before year’s end and am looking to take more on. Similarly, I’m finishing work now on redesigned graphics for Miri’s blog Brute Reason, and am in search of other gigs.

There’s a plan in place here—the trouble is, I can’t start executing it until I’ve left Berlin, and right now I can’t afford to do that. A year ago, when I was in monetary meltdown below the bottom of my overdraft, people who read this blog came to my aid, and as a result of projects they hired me to carry out—as a translator, editor, graphic designer—I haven’t been in the red since. I’m pretty proud of that, for the same reason I’m proud to have reached 24 without having had a credit card, and the aim is to reach December 31 having stayed in the black all year. Debt is a trap, and I’m determined to remain responsible with finances—so I’m going to do the responsible thing and ask for help.

If I fly into London next weekend, several friends’ sofas are waiting for me, but for now I’m stuck floating around Berlin, temporary-homeless, on my last £80 following a depressed couple of months. Making that one way trip is much less pricey than finding a new place here, and will enable me to get back to work properly, but without taking my bank account subzero and facing the resultant fees, not something I can do right now.

If you enjoy the things I write—about queer issues, atheism, pop culture, mental health, geekery—or if you’ve never followed what I do, but have been sent this post and want to help, there are four things you can do for me if you feel like it.

1) Tip me

Now that this blog’s Patreon-supported, I rely less on one-off donations from readers leaving me tips. On the whole this an enormous help, and one of the reasons I’m in the black right now—but since I only get paid that way on the fifth of each month, it’s not going to do me any good till October.

If you’re a patron, I can’t say how much your support means, and I won’t ask anything more of you. For everybody else—and in case any patrons actively want to leave a one-off donation too, I’m going to declare my tip jar open. Here it is.

GitTipJar

I’m not going to turn down anything I get or set a target amount—every bit helps, and by definition, I don’t know what surprise costs might attack me in the coming month—but if ten people each give me ten pounds, I’ll likely be able to leave Berlin without sinking into the red, and of twenty people do, I’ll have room left for food and public transport.

Here, again, is my donation page—everyone who leaves any amount has my thanks.

2) House me

If you’re in London, or in Berlin during the next week, and have a free sofa or (somewhat long) stretch of floor, and you want to help in some other way, I’m looking for places to sleep before the 24th. (Several friends have already offered theirs, but not such that the whole period is covered, and having a plan B always reassures me.) In return for your hospitality, I’ll be more than happy to cook and wash up for you. Here are some of the things I like to make.

3) Patronise me

As I said, Patreon is of limited immediate help—but I’ll still be getting back to writing regularly over the next few weeks, and will still have things I need to pay for during October, November and December—as well as after that. Renting somewhere new in England incurs all kinds of costs, and in the medium-to-long-term future, I’ll still need earn a living. If you like how and what I write and want to support it—examples on my page there—becoming a patron is the most effective way, and as you’ll see, all kinds of perks are on offer.

GiTpatreon

4) Hire me

And if you want to help me get paid for something else—consider this an advertisement—there are other strings to my bow.

For one thing, I design visuals, including but not limited to ones for bloggers and activists. Here are some of the things I’ve made.

For another, I edit books and writing of all other kinds, and I’m pretty good at it. If you’re a writer or communicator and want to clean up your copy, I’m all yours. In Greta Christina’s words:

If Alex is offering you his services, TAKE HIM UP ON IT. Alex did two extensive rounds of copy editing on [my book] Coming Out Atheist, and he is one of the best copy editors I’ve ever worked with. I can’t recommend him highly enough. Seriously. Hire him.

I also translate into and (especially) from German: the secularist book I spent last winter translating for its US edition goes to print early next year, and was a Spiegel.de bestseller in Germany.

My rates for all these things are negotiable, and I like being employed by friends and strangers equally. If you feel like hiring me or might be interested in doing so, drop me an email.

And if you can’t do any of those things, but want to be of assistance, share this post.

A I said, I’m no longer in a rut—but I am in a fix. If you can help me fix my fix and feel like doing so, this is your chance. With any luck, it’ll be another year before I need help again.

Food was my grandmother’s favourite form of abuse

Since the god I believed in died, it’s my mum’s stories I’ve turned to. Her grandmother, one of the last Victorians, schooled her in Roma tradition while she was a child, and although Mum had swapped card readings for hymnbooks by the time I arrived, her touch for oral history remained. Numerous relatives, having wed and bred later than usual, died before I was born, but I met them all in bedtime stories: her father Bill, whose hair turned white when he abandoned ship in the North Sea and swam ashore; my other grandfather Silvestras, who lost a homeland to Stalin and countless shirt buttons to British beef; and my great grandmother herself, whose real name must have been Catherine but whom Mum always called Kitty. Lately, I’m remembering meals with my own grandmothers.

To understand my gran, you have to understand how she used food. Like many children born after the war, Mum spent her first holidays in the north, including in Blackpool. In my twenties, I heard about the aftermath of one such trip: on coming home, her mother approached a small boy who lived across the road, offering him a stick of Blackpool rock with a smile. On unwrapping the gift, the boy found only a long and thin stone disguised with left over wrappers, and so began to cry. Loath as she was to acknowledge her older sister’s birth in a vardo, Gran was a storyteller too: even in her nineties, fifty or sixty years later, serving the greedy boy over the street his just dessert was a favourite of hers. ‘That boy,’ Mum once replied with laser eyes, ‘was four years old.’


I wrote about my family at Medium. This is how the post starts. Read the whole thing.

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A click or two ago when you opened this page, there’s a good chance my entire blog got shunted to the right, jolted across to make room for an advert on the other side. Depending how long you’ve been reading, you may have known immediately how to get rid of it – or had to faff longer, clicking the wrong ‘Close’ sign and getting a white box instead of a readable post. By the time you nixxed it, or just refreshed, you could have been half way through this intro.

Maybe you were less lucky still and got landed with a pop-up or pop-under advert – or one of the bastards that pops up and then pops under, making you switch windows to defeat it. (Did it have sound? The worst have sound.) It’s only thanks to FTB’s tech guys, who found a way for us to outwit our own ads, that you don’t normally see one of these mid-post:

Look at it – look at its horrendousness, great orange baboonarse sticking obscenely out. Unlike a real anus, there’s no way to avoid seeing it, centred, unclosable, without the text so much as wrapping tastefully around. Normally, through html magic, I can banish it to the end, but even then, it appears in all my old posts from the last two years, flotsam in an absurdly wide text field. Don’t think it doesn’t madden me.

You hate the ads, and so you should. To be honest, we hate them too – in fact we hate them more than anyone, because we are their hostages. Bloggers must eat, and adverts have long been our only hope of doing so off the back of our posts. They are the burly kid at school with trigger-happy fists, the big, obnoxious bully with whom you had no choice but to be friends.

This is why I’ve set up a Patreon. [Read more…]

My atheism isn’t joyful or meaningful. Thank fuck for that

000Something like once a year, I spend a night wanting nothing but to curl up and die. It’s not that I think of killing myself, though way back it did come to that – just that those nights, under what feels like the crushing weight of conscious thought, I long not to exist. Some hungry pit in my chest drains all colour from the world, refusing to swallow the rest of me, and being awake hurts. Social contact becomes like prodding a cracked rib, everyday tasks an uphill slog: I sit for what feels like an age trying to find the will to tie my shoes, fall apart making tea. These are, I’m acutely aware, insane things to find hard – because I am insane.

At twenty-four, the dark spells come and go quickly. When the worst hit, I fight the urge to smash myself to bits – to skin my knuckles on the wall, claw at my forearms, beat my head against the window pane till either cracks – but nowadays those fits of self-loathing happen years apart. (The last, in April, was my first since university.) Most days I’m fine, and it feels like yesterday the urge to self-destruct lasted months rather than hours. I was ten when I first wanted to die, fourteen when I decided how, fifteen on first attempting it. Nine years and counting without incident, it seems to me, is a good run.

For the short time I took them on the quiet, antidepressants only did so much, but atheism has helped me no end. You might expect me to report that as a churchgoer, being called a sinner in a hopeless world did my head in; actually, hope was the problem. As a believer in the risen Christ, it can be hard not to feel ashamed of existential gloom, as if the grace of salvation has bypassed you through some fault of your own. There must, I felt, be some turmoil in my soul if being saved didn’t make me feel any less wretched, some failure in my faith that warranted further self-punishment. As an atheist, I feel differently. [Read more…]