I always find myself interested with how we all naturally find ourselves under that impulse to try and put forward our best selves online. We post the photos that came out best, we pretend the half-dozen that didn’t were never taken at all. It makes the etiquette for talking about your bad day in public difficult, but, let’s give it a shot.
Not long ago you may have encountered that tweet from J.K. Rowling, where she quietly points out that a popular kickboxer’s thread on ‘positivity about depression’ was nothing of the sort – more, as she put it, defence mechanisms and projection. Living in a world where we are all empowered by our positivity, and thus life will bring us good things, is a terribly reassuring idea. Living in a world where mental illness can strike anyone, very nearly at random, against our will, less so.
We are not supposed to be on holiday, in an interesting country, among friends, hiding in our hotel rooms afraid. We complain about air travel, but we are not supposed to look out of the window at a glorious vista of white clouds and blue skies and glittering oceans below, a rare and majestic sight, and think ‘I wish this plane would vanish so I could fall out of the world.’ We are not supposed to put the sun, the sea and the gleam of gold on the clouds into our mouths and taste only a familiar poison-of-the-self in it. It’s not Instagram friendly. Someone will shout at us if we say those things happened.
I had a very nice working holiday in August. Only two of the four flights served suspiciously familiar poisons as part of their on-flight refreshments, and the hotel rooms were pleasant and filled with the good hospitality of Berlin and Helsinki.
If I’m perfectly honest with myself, financially it wasn’t really affordable. But in terms of spending time with my friends, seeing the professional machinery of the SFF publishing industry at play at Worldon 75, meeting with authors (some of whom I admire very much) to ask about odd details of their working lives only to be reminded that they, too, are people with flesh and blood and the occasional mental health problem, was all incredibly liberating. Making this whole ‘writing books’ thing something mortal, rather than something only the Gods may attain on mount Olympus, is worth any number of weeks staring at a negative number in my personal budgets. It helped me feel like I can write too, if that wasn’t plainly obvious enough from the fact that’s what I do. Berlin, which was much more just for friends and soaking in the good atmosphere that accompanies any furry convention at Eurofurence 23, which was the second week of that adventure, was a little more difficult. But putting aside my running out of emotional energy, being in Berlin, being with my friends, finding quiet pizza places and seeing a multitude of fish at the Berlin Aquarium (next to the zoo – there’s a multitude of aquariums too) was equally important for reminding me that I have a personal life too, not just a career.
But it wasn’t really holidays and conventions, for me. Not with what’s going on in my head. It was a kind of therapy. The difficult kind that tests your endurance, shows you what you are and are not capable of, reminds you that while you have limits, you can test those limits and discover that no, you can’t really handle two full on weeks the way you could while you were healthier, but you can handle about eight or nine days, and those eight or nine days matter too.
It also showed me something very strange about all these mental health issues. Sometimes they feel like a magical curse. An enchantment descending from God-knows-where to change who you are, and who you can be. Turning you into a frog prince and leaving you ribbeting at the world you knew, wondering why you only seem to fit in on lily-pads now. And something about that, something about this collision of daydream and nightmare and the weirdness of getting by, has something very important to tell me about what magic in fiction means to me. About what makes it creepy, delicious, meaningful, life changing.
We’ll see how I wind up putting this into my fiction. It’s already creeping in around the edges of the Scapes book, reinforcing minor themes that seem all the stronger. Which, to me personally, is a very positive thing. Much more instagrammable.
Answering this month’s questions from Sponsorship level patrons:
In “You Can Never Go Home,” the protagonist finds themself listening to a “calm, civil, neo-classical heavy metal.” While this could be left as an exercise for the reader, what did/would you imagine this to sound like? Do any songs come to mind that would fit the bill?
I can only say that Yngwie Malmsteen is a great starting point for this fantastic music genre you’ve basically never heard of. (Although in my head the stuff playing in the cafe there has a slight Faroe Islands folk-metal influence to its classicalism.)
And Sulucamas also asks:
In a similar vein, and with the same caveats, how high-pitched is Carlisle’s voice? You mentioned “mewling,” which sounds pretty high.
To which I can only say, the vocal range of foxes is astonishingly broad, but they do tend to be high pitched yappers. Just ask Carlyle. (Or Kyell Gold.)
(I’m still not sure which spelling I wish to use for Mr. Foxblood. Carlysle?)