Monday, 31 December 2012

What I Learned in 2012

[So this year me and my very good friend and Favourite-Ginger-Who's-Not-A-Blood-Relative (yeah, take that Catherine Tate) Rachel decided it'd be a good idea to do twin Lessons From 2012 posts. And by decided I mean it was her idea. Her post is here, not least because she calls me "Lady" Kate Taylor, he favourite angry feminist. And because she's nice she didn't use quotation marks.]

The alternate title to this post is The Art of Not Caring. That's not to say that caring is bad or you shouldn't do it. In fact it's the opposite: caring is precious and wonderful and shouldn't be thrown away on just anything. Look at it this way: every person has a certain amount of fucks they can give. Some people have endless fucks, while others are more laid back. Some people are discerning in who/what they give their fucks to while other people hand them out like candy and that's okay. The world would be boring if we were all the same. Fucking boring.

The problem comes when people give out fucks faster than they can replace them. It's basically kind of like the banking crisis, only instead of debt you have apathy. Fucking apathy. So if you often find yourself emotionally weary, tired or routinely exclaiming 'I just couldn't give a fuck' then perhaps it's time to be more selective about what you give a fuck about. Now I have a Problem with telling other people that their problems are unimportant: it is not to me to decide that that two week war you've had going on in the comments of that Youtube video is a waste of your time. If you want to give money to a charity which refurbishes inner city parks it's not my place to start yelling about how you should be giving your money to children, or the rain forest, or cancer instead however strongly I feel about those things. However there comes a time when you have to look at the places your energy fucks are going and think: is this really worth me yelling at a stranger in the Internet? Are the good times with this person worth the bitchiness when they're upset or hungry or bored? Am I wasting my time fucks?

Let me illustrate. For most of my third year at university I was Not Happy with my established friendship group. I want to say right now that this is no one's fault, just one of those things that happens sometimes and me and the people in question are all on good terms, though no longer as close. I don't want to air any more of my dirty laundry on the Internet than is necessary to prove the point so let's just say that certain new dynamics left me feeling like an outside, desperately missing the people my friends used to be. In their defence my natural instinct to protect myself may have helped to drive them away but there were also things I was not definitely not just imagining. Some people were more blameless than others. If they're reading this and remember it differently then I hope they realise I have no hard feelings, still adore them and am only mentioning it in even this very tangential, anonymous way because of the life lesson it led me to.

I was miserable. I didn't want to give them up. I didn't say anything about it to our mutual friends but one day I was so visibly down that Rachel, a girl I'd only recently met through the Writers Society, cancelled her plans and took me out for cocktails. Even though she had a nine o'clock start the next day. I've had strangers do a lot of nice things for me in the past: the three year old who returned my dropped passport, the stranger who wrote me a three scene play in iambic pentametre one Christmas, the man who stopped me at my waitressing job because his (female) friend had just called me beautiful in a foreign language and he didn't think I should miss out on the compliment, the parents who looked at their new, pink, squish-faced, noisy little baby and didn't immediately leave it on someone else's doorstep but instead ended up raising it. Rachel taking me out for cocktails remains firmly in my top five, not least because it was one of the things which lead me to a wonderful, supportive group of friends who never cease to be better than I believed possible and, crucially, have yet to make me want to punch holes in a wall.

Slowly I stopped caring what my other friends said, or did, or didn't say. It was a painful process: I essentially gave up on people I had a lot of genuine (and deserved) love for. Everything in my body told me to hang on, be patient, be loyal but once I let go I felt like an anchor had been cut. Anchors are ambivalent things: sometimes they keep you safe, sometimes they drag you down. The difficult thing is knowing which is which. I ask again: what areas of your lives are making you privately miserable or exhausted or cross. And how many fucks do you give?

This is, of course, your decision to make, but here are some of the things I'm Not Caring about in 2013.

*What people on the Internet think about pretty trivial topics. I had a minor epiphany this week, arguing with someone about fake geek girls. Every comment got more condescending and unlikeable until I snapped. "You know what," I said [paraphrasing wildly] "I don't need your respect. As a stranger on the Internet you mean literally nothing to me. I'm done trying to live up to your standards. If I want to wear a Wonder Woman tshirt as a fashion statement I will. You don't own geek culture. It is not yours to protect. And I am not going away. Direct further questions to John Scalzi's blog post on the subject, moron." I didn't even mention the many geeky things I do do because they are not the point. They are not his to judge.

*What people on the Internet think about important topics. I'm sick of being told my problems aren't important by activists who spend all their time on Tumblr*. Not you. I know because you're still reading, not writing a furious comment telling me I'm doing feminism wrong, or about how I'm not talking about your pet issue (on my own personal blog) and this makes me sexist/racist/homophobic/the devil or (and I kid you not this happened) "oppressing larger people by weighing under 180 lbs". No I don't understand that last one either.

It's great that people have so much passion and are trying to do things about it. I have a lot of genuine respect for them. Social media pretty much saved the world from President Romney (or denied the world President Romney: whichever way you look at it that's a lot of power). And that's great, it really is. So can we stop jumping on people with very little influence and get back to bringing down politicians, campaigning for reproductive rights, putting pressure on homophobic countries by supporting trade sanctions, or raising awareness to the lack of people of colour in the media, or raising awareness for mental health issues or any of the many other, valuable things online activists do?

*Things that are really important but I can't change right now. A lot of things about the modern world are really genuinely galling. But when a problem gets so big you can throw fuck after fuck at it and it doesn't even chip the paintwork you might as well save them for a place they can do some good. For example there's not much that I can do right now about... oh all sorts of things. The snobbery towards the fantasy genre, say. But if I keep my head down and write the sorts of things a moderator wants to read ad pay my dues and come out with a second Very Expensive Piece of Paper declaring that I am in fact a Competent Writer (and the actual skills I acquired getting said sheet of paper) I will be in a better position to argue and still have a ready supply of fucks to give.

So Happy New Year, one and all. May all your fucks be well spent in 2013 and afterwards. I hope 2012 has been kind to you and 2013 is fucking excellent.

*Seriously, I wouldn't mind so much if people told me what is more important than the right to control my own uterus.**
**I accept that lots of things are equally important, but that's not the same thing now is it?

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Writer's Resolutions 2013

New Years Resolutions. They have a reputation for being abandoned by February at the latest. I've known some of mine beat the Christmas tree on its way out. I think the reason that this happens (apart from basic human nature) is that a lot of people make resolutions to make resolutions, not because they have a specific thing that they really want to change. In past years I haven't bothered unless there's something I really want to do. But since I've been reading other writers' blogs and seeing them chart their own progress I wanted to see if something like that would work for me.

So, without further ado, here is what I want to do in 2013 and what I hope will come out of it:

My 2012 Writing Resolutions

*Write absolutely every day, no exceptions. Twitter, essays and shopping lists don't count. I've sworn to do this several times and I am a lot better than I was. But an MRes, especially a full time one, is kind of a big deal. Sometimes I spend so long chained to a desk I need to turn my brain off for a while afterwards, make an omlette, watch bad television and read something where I don't have to think about the Themes or Literary Significance. That said, some of the best and most game changing scenes in my novel happened because I'd been neglecting it for ages and needed to write something before I forgot how. It doesn't take long to scribble down a few ideas before you go to bed and while they're not always brilliant there's usually something salvageable there when you come back to it.

*To finish what I start. I could write 20k in a week but it wouldn't do me any good if it was all half finished short stories and abandoned novels. Better to write (and refine) two thousand good words you can use. This is part of the reason I haven't done NaNoWriMo the past few years: there's no point adding another 50,000 chunk of a novel to my hard drive when there are four (!) gathering dust and another one already in progress. (The other reasons is that university deadlines inevitably get neglected and since I'm in so much debt I may as well try and get the best marks I can.)

* Stop reading those writing advice articles. I must have read hundreds over the years so they very rarely tell me anything new and when they do it's always something ridiculous like "paint your office blue" or "stand on one leg to aid concentration". Advice from authors (especially ones I like) is good but mainly boils down to "write lots", "carry a notebook" and "edit", which I'm pretty much doing already. Sometimes they contradict each other on things like the best sources for feedback but if they contradict each other you're going to have to go with your gut anyway. Just because you love Neil Gaiman or Holly Black doesn't mean their writing process will be the same as yours. Find out what works for you and stick with it.

My Goals

*To publish a Kindle anthology.

* 2012 is going to be the year I finish my novel. Or, at the very least, finish a coherant first draft of it.

*To get relevant work experience and a job that pays me.

I always love to hear from people but this time I'm especially curious. What do you think of New Year's Resolutions? Do you make them? Do you keep them? And if you're a writer, do they help you in your writing?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


So one of the painful realisations of growing up is that the shine tends to go off Christmas as you get older. Maybe it's because you have more money and in this cynical modern age we're deadened to the excitement of a bunch of new stuff. Maybe it's because Christmas is For The Kids and once you're not a kid you have to maintain the same illusion of Christmas cheer that was being put on for your benefit a few years ago. Maybe, like a lot of things, it has scarcity value: after a while you get jaded.

I talked to a friend recently about Christmas. I celebrate a big family all-the-trimmings, he does not. He is a Christian, I am not. I want to say before this goes any further that this friend is not the joyless, Christmas-hating stereotype: he is a warm, funny, deeply tolerant person who would prefer to spend the holiday doing good works than eating too much and getting presents. I don't want to defend the way I live my life by being snide about his. But at the same time I value Christmas because it gives me a chance to visit the family I see three times a year. It gives my parents a chance to buy things for their wayward eldest daughter -their only child not at home- so I have a working hair dryer, a new coat, boots without holes in and other little extravagances I can't afford on a student budget so they know I'm warm and dry and supplied with interesting books while I'm off in the big city. I like buying them presents too because it shows that I've taken time to stop and think about them. It's not just about presents though: for the last two weeks I've been able to think of nothing except seeing my dog again and she doesn't give me anything except slobbery kisses. Christmas is the time when I go home, rejoin my family, watch bad movies under a blanket with my brother and sister, peel vegetables on Christmas morning. They are golden. I will only ever get so many. Assuming I'm not unemployed or in further study next year my future Christmases might only be overnight visits, if that. As the length of time I can stay a student dwindles these family holidays become more and more precious.

Thinking about Christmas this year I realised that the things that get me most excited about it are my own personal traditions. Not big things, usually not very expensive things, just little weird personal things I do every year as the days draw in.

Every year I curl up with Terry Pratchett's Hogfather and spend a few evenings catching up with Mr Teatime, Susan Sto Helit and the anthropomorphic personification of Death. I'm not sure how many years I've been doing this, maybe as long as I've been at university. Maybe I started it in the winter of my first year, feeling cut off from family life and needing to reinforce my roots. Maybe. Maybe it just happened. Traditions are all about inventing your own mythology.

Maybe this year I'll buy the DVD adaptation, watched years ago but never actually bought. Or not: the adaptation is perfectly cast, beautifully designed and a faithful but succinct retelling of the book. It understands the knife edge Sir Terry walks between poignancy, whimsy and terror and doesn't try and dumb anything down or shoehorn characters into stereotypical roles.

But it's not the book. I'm not going to compound the cliche of a Christmas traditions post by making statements like "reading is more personal than watching" except, that films tend to be a social, shared experience, prone to having family members come in and loudly exclaim "what are you watching?", "is that a skeleton?" and best of all "what's Del Boy doing in Middle Earth?" I can't snuggle down under the blankets late at night to watch the DVD. I can't curl up in a chair and disappear into it. I can't sprawl on the floor in front of the fire, the dog's head* on my knee, breathing in the smell of wood smoke, hot metal, warm dog and the vanilla smell of old, well thumbed books. Well I guess I could, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't be Christmas. 

As well as a reading tradition I also have a writing tradition. Years ago, before I'd grown the thick skin necessary to share my writing in the real world, I used to write online. First fanfiction, then parodies of bad fanfiction and then back to fanfiction again, until I went to university, had to read my work aloud in front of people and promptly lost any sense of bashfulness. But before I decided to concentrate on my own stuff I'd already taken part in the Yuletide Treasure annual rare fandoms fanfic exchange. The way it works is you give them a few suggestions n what you'd like to receive, offer a few fandoms you'd be willing to write in and everyone gets something custom written for them to open on Christmas morning. The first year I did it someone wrote me a three scene prequel to Midsummer Night's Dream. In iambic pentametre. For a stranger. I don't think I've ever been more touched by a present in my life.

I go to bed on Christmas Eve wondering about what someone's written for me and whether a different someone will like what I've written for them. My mum's cry of 'put the laptop away and talk to people' is almost a Christmas tradition in and of itself. And I do. But Yuletide Treasure is such a geeky, open armed, warm hearted tradition that it doesn't feel like Christmas day until I've checked it. When was the last time you worked on something for weeks just to make a stranger smile?

There's an argument (not a bad one, a Christmas one) between my brother and sister about how to decorate the tree. My sister favours an arty, minimal composition of one tasteful base colour and a selection of bird ornaments, whereas my brother prefers the traditional just-throw-everything-at-it-and-hope-it-stays-on look. I change from year to year but this time I think I'm on my brother's side. Last year I found some little knitted woolen angels I used to buy at Brownies Christmas events back in the day and I can honestly that they are the only good thing that came out of me going there. Anyway they were pretty grubby and about to be thrown out but I cleaned them up and they turned out good as new. They're pretty badass, to the extent that a knitted woolen angel can be badass, and the thing I look forwards to seeing on the tree every year.

What are your traditions? What are you celebrating this winter? Will you be taking part in Yuletide Treasure? Let me know in the comments.

*This image is tinged with sadness because when I started reading the Hogfather it was a different dog I was curled up with.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Kate Reviews: Skyfall

Skyfall. How do you describe what is already being described as the highest grossing, even the best, Bond movie of all time? Of course it's in the nature of reviewers to describe things as the best (or worst) thing of all time, but I think in this case they might actually be right. Mild SPOILERS from this point on.

Bond have always have never been afraid to titilate but in Skyfall the camera lingers most over the scenery. The roofs of Istanbul, the Shanghai skyline, the Scottish highlands... Bond's various romantic entanglements take a backseat after what's happening between between the location guy and the scenery.

Speaking of which, MEET BOND'S LOVE INTEREST!!!
This is Eve. Don't call her a Bond girl.
She's smart. She's tough. She's Naomie Harris. She's sexually empowered (who can remember the last time someone seduced Bond who wasn't a) evil, b) not long for this world, c) both?) She's funny and brave and remains manificently indifferent while Bond hits on another woman in front of her hours after they have sex. Yeah, Bond's still kind of a dick at times but to be fair she did accidentally shoot him near the start so... they're even I guess?

Bond's supreme dickishness kind of coincides with the other love interest, Severine, whose basic function is to make eyes at Bond, smoke sexily, have steamy shower sex, stand dramatically on a boat and then get shot in the head. Literally, those are all of her scenes. The actress does a decent job but it's obvious she's as much of a relic as the Aston Martin that turns up at the end and like the Aston Martin you get the impression that she's there because it wouldn't be Bond without her. Also, the film loses some inclusiveness points here, as Severine is a victim of child sex trafficking and it is never acknowledged by Bond or the script that sneaking up on her in the shower and having sex with her, literally without a word of explanation, might trigger her a little. But no, Bond can get over seeing her shot in front of him, literally hours later, so I guess trauma just doesn't exist in this world. Basically Severine's character (or rather the way she's treated by the script) is a blackhole of bad: every time she's on screen it's like the film forgets it's trying to be progressive and just goes straight back to the days of disposable, interchangeable fuckbuddies (apologies for profanity but that is not how you treat a love interest). On the other hand she apparently has a Berretta strapped to her thigh so... empowerment?

Ben Wishaw
Of course neither of these women qualify as the female lead. This honour goes to Judi Dench's M. Without killing the entire ending for you, Skyfall is very much the Judi Dench M's swan song. There's this serious, adult melancholy to the film, this tension between the old school spy thriller fun and the way it does or doesn't fit into a modern world full of modern crime. There is serious doubt from quite early on about whether M will even be around at the end of the film, whether they need someone younger and more modern to replace her. Speaking of which, this is Q. Yes he's dreamy. Yes he's a good actor. Now back to M.

M actually gets to do stuff in this film, rather than just setting things up for Bond. Although he's a very individualist character, Skyfall did a good job of creating an ensemble while still maintaining Bond's emotional distance from it. His emotional distance from M however...

Bond and M have always had this sparky, belligerant screen chemistry as far back as GoldenEye, when he was Pierce Brosnan, which makes their interactions often more interesting than his interactions with the film's resident Bond Girl. Platonic chemistry, I hasten to add, although much has been made (admittedly most of it by me) about Bond's handog little "I guess I'll find a hotel then..." after he finds out that MI6 has (quite reasonably) sold his flat while he was off being presumed dead and doing shots with live scorpions in because...why? Anyway, M who is awesome tells him he's bloody well not sleeping there (actual words) and they go back to their standard slightly Oedipal brand of grudging affection, only this time they're really exploring it. And I'll take your 'ewww' and raise you a 'well it worked for Hamlet'. Also the Lannisters.

Speaking of dysfunctional Oedipal relationships (though really, is there another kind?) we need to talk about the villain, Silva, played by Javier Bardem. He's openly bisexual, not in a campy sexual-chemistry-with-the-good-guy way, but in an actual honest tries-to-seduce-Bond-and-it's-legitimately-hot way. I admit, I may have been wary going into this but it was treated really tastefully by the writers and Bond, not in the eeeew cooties way I'd half feared. It's restrained and intense with this crackling tension and it's never precisely clear who's trying to double bluff who. No one's masculinity is challenged, even when Bond hints at his own bisexuality and best of all none of it is played for laughes. Not that that stopped the people sitting behind me from giggling nervously but to be fair in most blockbusters it would have been. Also, without spoiling anything, there's a point where something happens to Silva's face and whoever did that make up/special effect, that person should get an Oscar.

One of the really great things about Skyfall is the sheer level of concentrated, uninterrupted awesome. I'm trying to keep this vague for people who haven't seen it, so I'll use an example from eariler in the film. There is a motorbike chase on the roofs of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Then inside the Grand Bazaar. Then a fight on a train. WITH A JCB! And all that in the same chase sequence. And through all this M, being updated by Bond's driver/partner Eve, keeps acting surprised. Oh M, you think it's unrealistic that he's driven a motorbike up a steep flight of stairs, jumped between roofs and smashed through a window without damaging it or himself? ...Have you ever met Bond? Did you not read the mission report about that time he drove a tank through central Moscow? (And when I say 'through' I mean there weren't a lot of walls left afterwards.) Do you not watch your own films?!

The film's over abundance of awesome almost becomes a stalling point. 'This film is too awesome,' I found myself thinking. 'I can't process the awesome because another awesome thing is already happening. I wish it'd be mediocre for a little while so... OMG ICE LAKE DEATH CHASE!!!' Of course when the very worst thing you can say about a film is that it's too awesome that's not really going to discourage people from buying tickets.

Overall I give Skyfall ALL OF THE STARS!!! although when I've calmed down a bit it's probably a 8/10, but only because I knocked a point off for that thing with Severine.