Living a simple life: F is for Friendship

F is for… Friendship

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

I had two choice for F: food, fandom or friendship. Truth is, the three are fairly tightly connected. However: today we are talking about friendship.

I am drafting this from a train, where I sit with my other half, P and my friend R. We are heading to Glasgow to see another friend (K), and go and watch Caro Emerald in concert. This came about because K moved to Glasgow a while back, and we wanted to visit.

As things fell out, K moved away from Glasgow before the time for the concert came about. By that point, however, we were committed.

So it became an adventure. Travelling to Glasgow is not quick — the train journey is five and a half hours, and that from Northampton, where we spent the night with my friend R.

It reminds me of the time I did an exchange with a university in the USA. I had a group of friends I had made from an online forum, and I criss-crossed the states in that six month period, couch-surfing from one place to another. It was a mad adventure, where I went from LA — rubbing shoulders with teenagers with perfectly sculpted hair and tanned skin who claimed to be professional skateboarders — to a tumbledown house deep in the Bible belt where we threw lightbulbs into a bonfire of junk. America is a strange and varied place.

Internet meme plus MLP. How could I resist.

I can be a solitary creature, and yet other people and my relationships with them have shaped my life far more drastically than any decision of my own.

Meeting P, for example. A chance meeting at best, when he happened to be in the same room as another of my friends and took my screen name from him. We talked, we became friends and then fell in love. Faced with the problems of a long-distance relationship, we got married — a whirlwind event, that we agreed to do before we had lived together. In fact, we had barely spent any real time together. Anybody would warn against such a choice; to tangle your life up with someone that you barely knew.

Yet that decision ended up being the best I have ever made.

I like to read Vonnegut books; it’s one of my guilty pleasures to re-read them. In Cat’s Cradle he talked of finding your ‘karass’, your cosmically significant group of people.

If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons that person may be a member of your karass. — Bokonon aka Kurt Vonnegut.

I am an atheist, but this speaks to me. It is less about cosmic significance, perhaps, than finding the people that make you feel comfortable, at home, safe to be yourself — and thus safe to be able to do the things that only you can do.

We constantly perform. At work I am one person, with some other friends, arms-length friends, I am another. But with the people who are my karass I can be exactly as goofy, forgetful, distractible, obsessed and silly as I like — and I can also be as passionate, as earnest, as determined as I feel.

Squad goals: living in a temple on a beach playing music.

What is this entry? It is a rambling, disjointed post. It hasn’t got across how important my friendships are, my relationships are. It hasn’t really explained how, when I am with them, I feel whole, put-together in some indefinable way.

As I get older, my friendships become more important. They also get harder. My friends have jobs that suck up their time and energy, some have children, everyone has responsibilities. Mortgages or student loans to repay. I cannot imagine being able to up-sticks and travel the USA couch-surfing for months on end now. Yet somehow the five hour train journey to Glasgow means more than that whole adventure, because it is harder — and more precious as a result.

Performing a U-Turn (pretend like you knew where you were going all along)

We all have plans.

Those plans, the big ones, become part of our identity. “I’m the science-type who’s going to make a career in bio-tech.” “I’m the self-sufficient sort who is going to build my own eco-friendly house from scratch.” or “I’m the kind of l33t player who is going to be a World Champion in World of Warcraft.”

I have wanted to move to the USA since I went there as part of a University exchange program. It didn’t matter that I went to a podunk town in the middle of rural Ohio. I loved the place. I loved the wide-open vistas, the idea that I could go into a real wilderness, the way everyone was so open and friendly, and even the food — venison, steak, ranch dressing, refried beans (not all on the same plate!).

When I met P, I fell in love and we agreed to get married. Initially, he had to come to the UK as I had a better paying job. We decided he would get his British Citizenship (two-three years) and then we would move to the USA.

For the next seven years that was the plan. We shifted priorities, but that was always the end game. I would move to the USA. We delayed it when I got my breakthrough job as Digital Communications Officer (until that point I had nothing that resembled a ‘career’), as I knew I needed at least two years experience.

But, at long last, I filled out my visa application. I let my employer know I would be leaving in a few months. And… I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Delays can mean legal immigrants (yes, even those married to an American) sit on a waiting list for months and months. In our case, I had already been separated from P  for most of the previous two years due to ‘life reasons’.

A year of waiting for the visa slipped by.

Our relationship, until that point incredibly strong, began to suffer. Both of us were ‘living in limbo’, waiting for a decision that could come at any point. Both of us were struggling alone, dealing with loneliness, the difficulty of communicating across different time-zones, and (in my case) the impossibility of planning your life when you have no idea if you’re going to be around for a week or another year.

Then I got a new job. A great job, part-time, that would give me time to write and still leave me with enough money to cover our living expenses.

Friendships I had formed in the UK were reaching ten and twenty year anniversaries. The thought of leaving them behind became devastating, especially as I leaned on them more and more in P’s absence.

But this was the plan. We had to stick to the plan. We had invested years of our lives and thousands of dollars into the plan. No matter that we were unhappy, lonely, and that I was less and less sure about the benefits of moving to a place with little work and no public transport.

Until, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a bad week. I was sick, and then I got food poisoning. As I threw up, alone, I realised I was done waiting and being alone.

The realisation was both terrifying and a relief at the same time.

The realisation that we could just stop.

Of course, it would be difficult. Giving up on anything is hard. We had spent the last couple of years ferrying suitcases of possessions across the Atlantic. P. had put a lot of work into trying to create a home for us in the USA. Our families had to be told. It was emotionally difficult.

It meant giving up on a dream we had held for a long time.

But giving up was less difficult, and less devastating, than trying to hold on.

Sometimes, you have to change direction.

Maybe that is giving up on a long-term relationship.

Maybe that is giving up on a career you’ve invested years into building but that isn’t making you happy any more.

Maybe it’s giving up on the idea of becoming a World Champion WoW player, because, hey, you need to focus on your job.

And maybe it’s giving up on the idea of living in another country.


Home sweet… home?

We can sometimes overlook the importance of friendship and (dare I say it) community. In a world where people are uprooting themselves, travelling further and further, taking opportunities in other cities, countries, continents… we should remember what we lose when we travel far from home.

It’s something I lacked in the USA. I went out and about with my partner’s friends and family, of course. But friendships that have lasted five, ten, even fifteen years are impossible to replace overnight.

Coming back to Towcester — my childhood home — felt strange. I know all the streets, can wander easily around the water-meadows, and the fields behind Belle Baulk. I run into people I haven’t seen since I worked as a bartender and they wave and say hi. A decade has passed, but they still recognise me. I have friends here, and in the nearby cities. People that did not ‘run’ as far as I did.

I worked here, built relationships with fellow writers (Hi Miss Write! Hi Matt Holland!)

There are people here that would take me in if I became homeless, that share their wifi with me when my internet breaks down, that recommend my web-development skills to people they know. A network, some people close friends, and some people just to wave at me in the street. But I am known.

It takes time, so much time, to build a group of friends and colleagues like that. And the benefits go far beyond someone to have a drink with. Those people have found me work, helped me move, kept me sane. They don’t call it a ‘support network’ for nothing!

Of course, it’s easier now. Emails, blogs, facebook, skype… they all help keep you in touch with people far away. But the truth is: nothing beats face-to-face, and nothing beats that web of favours given and received.

It’s good to be back, although I hope it is temporary.

My Writing Process – Blog Tour

I was tagged by fellow-writer Louise Gibney (also known as Miss Write!) to participate in this writing process ‘blog tour’. Louise’s first novel Girl Meets Boys is unfortunately no longer available for sale, but I’m eagerly awaiting her second novel — which she has said is “a story of family, grief, personal discovery and development.” She also writes tons of fantastic articles on her blog.

Louise asked the following questions:

1. What am I working on?

Writing Process: Moonstruck
Stock images by wyldraven and DigitalissSTOCK.

My second book is a science-fiction/horror called Moonstruck. The hero, Stephanie Walker, joined the Space Navy to escape her past and has worked her way up to First Mate despite being grumpy, violent and unsociable. Disliked by her crew, she’s nonetheless their only hope after a monster starts killing them with abandon. Luckily, she has the help of new recruit, Daniel, and she realises that they are much stronger working together than she ever was on her own.  The book is currently about 20,000 words short of its second draft.

I’ve also tentatively planned out the sequel to The Rising Wind and hope to start on the first draft of that soon.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In a lot of science-fiction and horror, you’re often left with a ‘last survivor’, a lone hero who rises above impossible odds. In this book, I wanted to flip that a little bit, and show a group of people overcoming differences and working together to survive. As for whether they do or not, I guess you’ll have to wait and see…

More generally, I try to include a lot of diverse characters in my writing. The Rising Wind, for example, features a gay couple, but the book isn’t about that. They are just like a normal couple, and the alternate reality that they live in – whilst it has a lot of problems – really doesn’t have any prejudice about same-sex relationships. (At least at this point in its history.)

3. Why do I write what I do?

I grew up reading almost everything I could get my hands on. Sci-fi, detective novels, classics, Mills & Boon, historical romance, straight historical novels, trippy post-modern stuff, everything! I really like combining lots of different elements together in my work. There’s always nearly a fantastical element, but my stories are rooted in a world quite like our own. I also have opinions that some would describe as radical, and I like to explore how some of my ideas would play out if they became a reality.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’m still refining my process, and I’m terribly slow. It took me well over five years to write The Rising Wind. I usually have to spend ages writing ‘around the characters’, stuff that helps me understand who they are and how they think, but which won’t ultimately make it into the final story.

Anyway, here is my current writing process:

I start by writing out a few scenes in Scrivener, just to get a handle on the world and the characters. I call this a first draft, and it’s normally puked out and rarely has any decent ending.

Then I use workflowy to rough the story out, chapter-by-chapter, and scene-by-scene. (I used to use excel)

Then I re-write in Scrivener. I love Scrivener because it lets me drag and drop scenes around and stops me thinking of the book as the linear a-to-b thing. I give each scene a couple of labels, one is the POV and the other is the state its in. I’ll move around the story at random, so you’ll get some scenes that have been re-written several times and are close to ‘final draft’ and others that are still ‘stuff happens’.

Once it’s in a fit state, I send it to beta readers and get feedback. They are usually good at picking up the odd gaping plot hole.

The last step is to hire an editor to go through it. They usually send back lots and lots of notes, and we work each scene two-or-three times.

Short stories I skip a few of the steps here, but they still get re-written quite extensively. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and written the story I first came up with. They always end up evolving!

Other writers to check out

Cybelle Pauli – A fellow member of the nanowrimo group on Facebook, Cybelle writes some interesting feminist poetry.

Laura Hayley – Another member of the nanowrimo group, and writes over at Quaktaculaura. I’m delighted to see her giving my favourite form of prose writing a go – namely the short story. I thought her latest one, Black and White, was particularly poignant. I wish her the best of luck getting her manuscript accepted!

Matt Holland – I’ve had the opportunity to see Matt’s writing evolve over the last few years. He’s developed a fantastic and unique voice. Biting, funny, with great characters. Definitely check out his Gallaetha novels!

Some thoughts on Fandom

I am re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer right now. Just hit Season Two, and am having ALL THE FEELS.

Anyway, Buffy was probably my first ‘true’ fandom – I had been a fan of stuff before, but this was the first of my adolescence, and was also actually good (my previous fandom was Sonic the Hedgehog, which I still love, but does not exactly have the most complicated and subtle storylines in the world).

Re-watching, I am actually quite shocked at how much I remember, and how much I still cared – deeply, passionately – about the characters.

There are a few reasons I loved Buffy then, but looking back on it I am surprised at how progressive it is, far more progressive than most TV shows made today. There are some issues (like a terribly white washed crowd of students, and no non-whites in the central cast) but it’s also pro-athiesm, pro-women, pro-sex, pro-lesbian, pro-paganism/witchcraft, pro-single mothers… and so on.

I’m not really here to talk about Buffy, however. Instead, I want to talk about fandom. On the one hand, it seems a distinctly modern phenomenon. The internet connected up isolated fans and gave them a community, that in turn exploded into fanfiction, fanart, tumblrs dedicated to gifs, joint twitter watchings, and enabled thousands of conventions to spring up that catered to almost every different obsession.

On the other hand, fanfiction has existed at least since Dante wrote his Divine Comedy and wrote a story about himself hanging out with a whole bunch of famous people. (And there now exists fanfiction of the Divine Comedy, which is altogether awesome). Trekkies existed before the internet. I am sure that Shakespeare’s plays were adored by playgoers, many of whom probably went home and made up stories about the characters to tell each other. Humans and stories are inextricably interwoven, stories are our history and our identity and our culture.

And yet mass media and mass consumption has never before been so… well, mass. Millions of people can share a single moment, a beloved characters death, the first kiss of a blossoming true love story, the final come-uppance of an evil villain, the redemption of one that had almost fallen beyond reach. Our reactions are emotional, visceral, real-and-yet-not-real. Little jokes become gigantic sprawling memes: Loki’s army, for example. Any successful story; book, film, video game, quickly spawns hundreds if not thousands of sub-stories. I don’t know how many hours of my life I’ve invested into fandom, but it’s a lot. I drew fanart, wrote fanfiction, coded fan-sites, moderated fan-forums, participated in fan-role-playing-games, went to fancy dress parties as my favourite characters (cosplay by any other name is just as fun).

There are different types and levels of fandom. Whether you are speculating on soap-operas at work or welding together iron wings for upcoming cosplay you are participating in the culture. We like to scoff at other people’s fandoms (those that adore soap-operas will dismiss people who enjoy more fantasy driven fiction as ‘nerds’ whilst those who enjoy speculative flights of fancy will see the soap-opera watchers as dull beyond words). The truth is, we are much more alike than we like to believe.

I’d love to know: what has fandom done for you? I can credit my fandoms with forging some of my closest and most meaningful friendships, as well as being a big source of my current political outlook. But what about you?

Swan Song

“Hey!” Reno snapped his fingers at the girl behind the bar. She glanced over to him, harassed.

“There is a queue,” she said pointedly.

“I can see that honey,” the red-head jerked his thumb to point behind him. “What I want to know is where I can get a piece of the action?”

She glanced to where he pointed to the cage in the centre of the bar. The rusting fencing stretched from floor to ceiling, marking off a rough square.

“The fight’s off. Cancelled. Someone from Shinra caught wind of it.” she pulled two pints dripping foam from under the taps and slammed them onto the bar.

“Oh yeah? Where’d it move to?” Continue reading Swan Song