My Purist High Horse

Angel

So today I saw Matt Hunt (who is an awesome tattoo artist I really admire) share this Guardian article about the band T-shirt trend in fashion, and express his thoughts. I had somewhat of a personal response too, which I shared on my own wall (because if I have to get on my high horse, I try to do it in my own space, rather than muddy the comments section of someone else’s page.)

I thought it worth expanding upon.

The article in a nutshell – the band T-shirt trend in fashion is divisive because some outlets like the Jenner sisters and Topshop are treating something that is precious to a group of people (in this case, lovers of classical rock and rap) as a commodity. The vapidity displayed by some execs is truly sickening, although the teens who are adopting the trend as their own largely don’t seem to do it with ill-intent – to them, it just does not have the same meaning as to the people who grew up with the music and who were bullied in school for being alternative. Luckily for my own blood pressure, the Guardian manages to take a fairly nonjudgemental stance.

I might not be so neutral.

Ironically (haha!) I was never very good at showing my fan affiliations at school (or otherwise). I was already being bullied, and I didn’t want to give people more ammo. But I was also afraid I didn’t have enough cred to fit in with the other metalheads at school – I was into Nightwish and Within Temptation (and Evanescence, and the Rasmus, and, yes, Linkin Park) while the others listened to Iron Maiden, Cannibal Corpse, Rammstein, Megadeth, Guns-n-Roses, AC/DC. (I did get into Rammstein and AC/DC, but it was towards the end of my time in HS. I had other things on my mind.) There was an irrational fear that I had about looking like a poser. I wanted to belong, not to have to defend my music choices. (Nowadays, I realize there is more than one metal genre and I can enjoy different bands without having to present a 10-page thesis. The joys of growing up.)

Of course, fashion houses appropriating things is not a new thing. ‘Geek Chic’ was (and still is) a thing that hipsters take proud ownership of. And who can forget the whole ‘Tribal’ trend that was happening last year and the one before last, with MAC showing zero awareness of why Vibe Tribe is offensive, and Marc Jacobs trying to tell people dreadlocks on white models isn’t cultural appropriation. (While POC bloggers and YouTubers sat there and gave him the side-eye. Loudly.)

And before someone slides in the comments to call me a Millennial snowflake who has its feelings hurt by everything, allow me to say this: I am not the person whose culture was being appropriated in the above cases and I am not the one to say if the above brands/content creators have shown sufficient remorse to be forgiven. (I can only call them distasteful and buy my makeup from brands that don’t skeeve me out.)

But as with all cases of appropriation, the band T-shirt craze exemplifies a larger problem, and that is, basically: We like to take things and pretend it is our own invention, without crediting the original creators or paying them their due.

You can apply that across the board.

To put it in another way, if you want to use something – like an image or a logo – that is part of a franchise (say, Disney) you need to have license to sell whatever merch you’re selling. Try uploading a Disney-princess inspired design to sell anywhere on the Internet – that design will be taken down within 48 hours because you are infringing on copyright. Fanart is tricky, because not everyone can be bothered to pursue that case, but shopping retailers are not fans – they are businesses, and they can make a tonne of money, and the owners of the copyright have every reason to make sure that copyright is not being infringed upon.

So here is the question – are highstreet brands like Topshop buying a license to make and distribute those T-shirts with the logos of AC/DC and Nirvana? The Jenners didn’t do that when they used Tupac and Biggie, which is surprising, considering the surcharge Kylie adds to her private-labelled Colourpop lipsticks. (You would think she’d understand the importance of the name-as-a-brand and make sure nobody can accuse her of hypocrisy.) Given how low the price can be on these things, I highly doubt it.

We have a problem with fast fashion, and we have a problem with cultural appropriation. As far as bands and artists are concerned, merch and concert tickets is how money is made, and the reason why official band T-shirts are more expensive is because there is so much to pay for: production, booth space, the salaries of the people who stay up until after 12 to sell said merch, and finally, the band itself. But isn’t it more fair that way?

Maybe MAC and Marc Jacobs didn’t have anybody to pay for license to use dreadlocks and tribal patterns, but they could have educated themselves a bit and made an effort to increase visibility for those marginalised. In the case of bands and artists being appropriated for the sake of a trend, there are actual people and estates that own the copyright and deserve our support.

I would never, ever deny a teen the right to experiment with their look. If they discover the band though fashion, all the better. But there is no excuse for ignorance. Know who makes your clothes and who profits from them. Know who makes the meaning behind the logo. Give your money to licensed resellers, not the sleazy execs who just parrot Google Ad Sense keywords and haven’t spoken to an actual customer in 20 years. You deserve better. We all deserve better.

Obligatory “lessons” year-end post

 

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I’d put in a meme, but… I don’t feel like Ripley right now. I feel like I’ve been buried 6 feet under.

There are days when I would rather gauge my eyes out with a rusted spoon than retrospect. I know it’s rich, coming from the person who gave you Stories for Lent, and also a Whole Lotta Other Personal Content, but there are times when being open and vulnerable just feels like too much.

And I already feel like I’ve overshared enough on this blog.

Still, it won’t be a complete year without me getting all close and personal One Last Time before the ball drops and we wait to see what horrors 2017 brings. In past blogs (and past nicknames) I’ve shared about all the stories I started and never finished, all the projects I wanted to tackle, all the Positive Lifestyle Changes I wanted to make (but never how those changes ended up messing with my head even more), and other random goals that were too ambitious and yet I set them myself anyway.

(Note: if you think setting yourself ambitious goals is a way to get you out of a rut, power to you and rock on. For me, personally, that stuff tends to backfire because I set too many of them and then I feel bad when I can’t keep all the balls up in the air. Still, if you always wanted to run a marathon and you think 2017 is the year, go for it and may the Force be with you.)

Anyway, while I started querying my novel in 2015, it’s 2016 when I really went for it. It’s also in this year that I opened my Red Bubble shop, so it’s not like I’ve been sitting around, picking my nose for 12 months.

Proactivity doesn’t come without mistakes, though, so here are some I’m about to give myself a dollar for making:

1. I queried every agency under the sun with Orpheus. Every. Last. One. (In the genre.) And you know what? I’d do it again. You think querying a lot of people reeks of desperation? Then I embrace my identity as a Desperate Lady-Writer (TM). I wrote a book, I queried the book. No agent is going to ride up on their white horse (or white Mercedes, or whatever it is that the top means of transport is these days) and recognize me as the gem they’ve been looking for if I don’t first put up a sign. I ain’t getting any younger, kids, and contrary to what the fairy tales say, I’m not about to sit here, twiddling my thumbs for 100 years before the form rejection arrives.

Speaking of which…

2. I queried twice. Not everyone, just those who were nice enough to send me encouragement. So here’s a lesson to you, agents – don’t be nice. People will bite your hand off for it (or at least return to your inbox with a Revised. Better! iteration of the project.)

3. I carried my MS around with me. I edited, I asked for opinions, I badgered my friends to read it. Most people managed to stall until I gave up, which was very smart of them because after a year of query and revision, it’s pretty obvious this project is not meant to be. (At this moment. In this market.) I did get a really nice consultation with an agent at the SCBWI retreat this year, which was really helpful – not least because it reinstated in my mind what the value of an agent is in the first place. So there you go – it wasn’t all that terrible.

4. I waited too long trying to make the book perfect. There ain’t no such thing as perfect, and I don’t know if I would have been able to make the book as strong as it was four years ago, when I first started writing it. I grew a lot as a writer. I changed. But the market also changed, and while I don’t believe we should consider current trends while writing, there is something to be said about sending a book in the vain hope that “fairies migth come back in fashion.” The only thing that happened is that my emotional investment grew, so when the inevitable rejections came, they stung a lot more than they should have.

5. On the subject of stinging, no, I was not always rational. Rejections came. In fact, nothing but rejections came, and while I held off from actually writing back to the agent, I would lie if I didn’t flip both middle fingers up at my computer screen, then forward the worst of them to my best friend so that we could bitch about it together. (I think my favourite one was when an agent used their form rejection to advertise their in-house literary consultancy for me. At the bargain price of xxx pounds, I too could be told all the reasons why my MS sucks, and maybe get a second chance of being represented!) I’m not saying that nobody should vent in private. I’m saying, I spent too much time doing that, when I could have been writing a new book.

6. I queried different people in the same agency. That happened once, and I was invited to do it, but I really should not have gotten my hopes up. If one rejected me, chances are, everyone else saw the query and shared the reasons for the rejection. I suspect it was a matter of market/other writers/other things beyond my control and not the story itself, but again – wasted time was wasted. And energy, and emotions, and whatnot. Bah, humbug!

7. I was not query-savvy. Lesson learned. Tailor the query letter better. Moving on.

8. I wrote what I didn’t know. And I continue to do so. Anybody who has a problem with that can go and behold the field in which I grow my fucks.

9. I queried under my real name (when I suspected I’d want a pen name anyway). Let me put this out there for you: If you are in love with your name and you want it to be on your work, then it should not matter how strange or hard-to-pronounce it is. And, as Jaron Lanier says, we should own what we write. But there are legit reasons why authors choose a nom-de-plume, and in my case, there are several factors at play. Hard-to-pronounce and thus hard to search for? Check. Plans to write in multiple and highly diverging fields? Check. Unfortunate associations? The root of my surname means “rotten” in Turkish, so I guess?

Was there ever someone who read my query and thought, “This person is not a native speaker, it’ll be hard to work with them”? I don’t know. It’s a possibility. I know that I have been denied work in the past (non-writing work, at that) because a prospective employer doubted my English skills (even after they interviewed me). This post isn’t about Writing Against Cultural Prejudice, because if you want your passport name to match the one on your book cover, no amount of arguing on the part of Savvy Publishing People is going to sway you.

Me? I’m a PhD candidate. It’s safe to say YA urban fantasy is not the only thing I will write. It’ll be confusing enough that my future employers will find this blog when they Google my name. (I don’t swear in front of my students, I promise.) I can’t imagine any prospective fiction readers being enthralled with my doctoral thesis, although who knows? I read some academics in my field like I used to read Garth Nix as a teenager.

 

 

Ultimately, none of these “mistakes” are mistakes if they are what you want to do, and you own them. Going forward, there are some things I will change. There are also some things that I will continue to do.

So here’s to 2016. Inspirational in the cruelest of ways.

We interrupt regular scheduled programming

There are times when I have no idea what to say, let alone how to say it.

This is one of those times.

I don’t want this blog to be a chore, so even though I really want to produce awesome content for you guys and keep you updated on the arty stuff, truth is, I am short on inspiration right now. Inspiration feels like a luxury.

So hopefully we’ll be back to regular scheduled programming soon.

I just dunno when that will be.

Painting Stories: The Witch’s Bower (NSFW)

 

bathtime

The witch’s bower, ink and digital mixed media, available here.

 

Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.

*

(Before I get into the story, how do other painters deal with the NSFW tag? Like… how much nudity is too much? Just checking.)

(I’m really happy with this Inktober one, tbh. It did not turn out exactly as I would have wanted but that is what second iterations are for. It’s new for me, and I’m happy.)

*

Continue reading

Painting Stories: Blooming Wonderful

Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.

*

Death came, as it often does, unexpectedly.

There had been no terror threat. No man acting suspiciously around the train. No driver dancing drunkenly towards the front carriage. Not even a bad weather forecast. When David swiped his ticket through the barrier and boarded carriage G, standard class, he was thinking about the outrageous price of coffee at Waterloo station – not his possible demise.

He wouldn’t leave the house if he did.

In the end, it was all down to a mistake – a mistake and dumb luck. The train driver misjudged the speed at which they were going around a bend, and lost control over the train, three of the carriages falling off the tracks and onto their sides. Most of the passengers got away with minor injuries.

Most.

*

David woke up with a killer headache. All around him, police and firemen were milling around, chatting in quiet voices. At first he wondered if he’d lost his hearing again – how was it possible for everyone to be solemn? And – as he rose – why wasn’t anybody shouting at him, forcing him to sit down? Did they not see he was injured? Was this how they treated victims of accidents?

A woman he recognised from his carriage lay on his right, her feet still tangled in the straps of her wheelchair. David bent down to help her, then paused. Should he wait for the professionals? He didn’t want to hurt her anymore than she already was. She could sue.

“Please,” she said. “Please, what is going on?”

Good question, thought David. Very good question.

“One you can ponder at another time,” someone said, and he turned  to find a little man hurrying past him. He, too, seemed familiar. As he bent over to untangle the woman from her wheelchair, David realized he was the train manager. “Good grief, you young people really are useless aren’t you?”

“Excuse me!” David cried, but the man turned on him again.

“Excuse you indeed! You see a woman struggling and all you do is stare. It isn’t bad enough that we are stuck like this, but you also have to make it all more difficult. Shame on you.”

He opened his mouth to object, to shout loud enough for the police to take notice, and then he noticed the stretchers.

Three of them, laid parallel on the grass, as if they were about to receive patients any moment. Two of them had black bags laid on them. David looked past them and saw the paramedics maneuver a body into a bag.

“No way,” he said. There was no way.

“I’m afraid there is. And… hey, you’re not going to panic, are you?” Bud David was already going… going…

Gone…

*

His headache was still going on when he woke up the second time.  The disabled woman was sitting right next to him, and held out a hand to stop him from rising too fast.

“Stay calm,” she said. “We can still feel pain it seems – I doubt we’re immune to dizziness.”

Her voice sounded posh, and much too relaxed for someone who found themselves newly dead. David looked around – the train was still in the  field, but the police and firemen had disappeared. It was quiet, and the sun was high in the sky.

“How long was I out?” he asked.

“A while. Greg went off to see if there are… others.”

David swallowed. “This is not how I imagined the afterlife,” he said. “Not at all.”

“May I ask, how did you imagine it?”

He looked at her again, a sense of confusion creeping over him as he took in the details of his fellow dead person. She had a voice like one of his clients – distinguished and rotten rich – but she would have never been let through the doors of the office, looking like she was. Badly dyed hair and huge, messy tattoos, shabby clothes… she was as far cry from the posh as he had been, once.

“Not… like this,” he said, at length. “Not at all, if I have to be honest. I thought I’d just… power down. Like a computer.”

“Well, I guess there is still time for that.”

Another pause. David attempted to sit and the feeling of nausea doubled him over. “Bollocks,” he said. “What happened? How did I die?”

The woman shrugged. Of course, how would she know? He was still focused on the bile rising in his throat, but he suddenly became aware of the fact that he was coming across as an arsehole. A useless arsehole, as the man – Greg – had said.

“I’m sorry,” he said, finally. “I haven’t even asked your name.”

“I never offered it.”

Pause.

“Are you okay? You’re… taking this in very calmly.”

“Am I?” A smile now. “Give it a few moments. We cannot have all our breakdowns at once, can we?”

“I think I’m coming off mine,” David said. “So… whenever you’re ready.”

But she just kept smiling at him. Then she reached out her hand and pulled him sitting up, gently. Her grip was strong and firm. David found it really hard to look at her in the eye, so he trained his eyes on the tattoos on her collarbone and throat. The flowers were huge and garish, and yet so beautiful. He almost expected them to move in the breeze.

The thought stirred something in his head. A memory. He’d leaned closer to the open window to breathe in the air, trying to clear the last of the cobwebs from his brain. When the train had hit the bend, and the driver slammed on the breaks, his head slammed against the sharp edge, hard.

A knock on the head… had this been all? He looked down at himself and could not find any other traces of injury. Just the nausea and the migrane. It seemed surreal, and yet… he thought of the pills he took every morning, the warning he’d noted the first and only time he perused the information leaflet. DO NOT TAKE IN CONJUNCTION WITH OTHER BLOOD THINNERS.

He hadn’t stood a chance. “Bloody wonderful,” he said. “And now what?”

The woman shrugged. “Depends on whether you have family to haunt or not. Some people go bother their doctors. I don’t recommend it myself. Waste of energy.”

David gave her a confused look. She was still calm. Unnaturally calm.

“Greg…” he said at length “…he’s not out walking, is he?”

The woman gave a shrug. “Maybe he is. He came to his realization fast enough, and he was happy to move on. I’m just supposed to make sure he’s on the right track, doesn’t head somewhere he isn’t supposed to.”

She turned her chair, and David scurried away from her as fast as possible. “Oh dear,” she said. “You’re going to be one of the difficult ones, aren’t you?”

“Stay away from me,” he said, his panic rising. “Don’t touch me.”

“I won’t hurt you, David.”

“Stay away! I… I want back. Send me back.”

“Your body is dead,” she said, dispassionate. “Your brain shut down before the paramedics could get to you. You’d be a vegetable if you returned now. You would not even be able to move your own head without help.”

“Is this punishment?  For not helping you?” he asked. “Did I fail a test?”

“Death does not judge, David.”

“Don’t touch me!” His panic rose, rose, rose. It seemed to seep out of him, turning into something completely different, something monstrous. “Don’t touch me.”

“Oh, dear.” A resigned sigh. Like she knew what was coming and she didn’t like it.

The panic engulfed him, swallowed him whole. He saw nothing. He heard nothing. He would rush back to his body – screw what the woman had said. He would live again. No one would stand in his way.

Then something changed. He felt himself becoming smaller, more flat. He struggled against it, but to no avail. The more he fought, the stronger the pull became.

Then the cloud cleared and he saw himself looking up at the woman’s face, as if… as if he was on her arm.

“Well,” she said. “I can’t say I’m surprised. You looked like a cactus type.”

*

Blooming Wonderful is now available on Red Bubble.

The witch’s heart

Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.

*

They said that only the cursed fell in love with a witch. But for a while, Tawny thought they could make it. Most lovers think themselves an exception to the rule, and in that regard, she was very ordinary.

Briar was a blacksmith, too, not a noble prince. His heart was tougher than hers, hardened by the fires of the forge and the cruelty of men.

“A viscount brought his horse today,” he told Tawny one night as they sat by her fire. “The animal was so badly whipped, it was limping, but the fool insisted it had just thrown a shoe.”

“And what did you tell him?” Tawny asked.

“That I could change the shoe, but it would not help the horse run any faster. He looked at me in the eye and said…” Briar gritted his teeth, then continued, “He said that if I don’t like his money, he would go to another blacksmith… and tell his court not to bother me.”

She thought for a while, then said, “It must not be the first time he’s mistreated his horses. I would assume his father had words with him, and now he wants to pretend it was not his fault.”

Briar shrugged. It was the same difference to him whether the viscount was cruel or just foolish. Tawny thought about pushing the subject, then decided against it. The night was waning – there would be more time for this later.

She was wrong.

The news came to her through the children, as it often did. They ran into her garden, screaming and jeering, and she had to wait a few seconds until she could make out what they were saying.

Briar had hit the viscount when the latter came again to have his horse shoed. The viscount’s men had responded by rushing him. Briar was strong, but he was not strong enough.

Tawny ran all the way to the village. Halfway there, she found the pub owner and his wife trying to carry Briar up the lane to her house. His head was lulling to the side.

“Lay him down,”  she said grimly. Her lover’s face was blank and empty.

Gently, she closed his eyes, then brought her hand to his chest. It was still warm. If she focused, she could almost feel his heart, struggling to beat despite the wounds severing it. “Thank you,” she told the people who had gathered around her. “You should go.”

There was an uneasy murmur, and then someone came forward. “The priest won’t want to bury him in holy ground.” Only the cursed love a witch. “Sorry, Tawny,” he added.

She nodded again. “Very well. I will take care of it.”

Then, without requesting more help, she picked up Briar and carried him all the way back to her cottage.

“Don’t worry, my heart,” she whispered as she advanced. “We will be together. One way or another. I will make it happen.”

From somewhere around her, she could hear Briar murmuring his assent.

*

The Witch’s Heart is available as print and other merch on Red Bubble. 

Painting Stories: The Prayer Tree

Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.

*

It was a cruel sort of irony that the monster had chosen this place for their final meeting.

Not that there was an appropriate place for it, Luce thought as she bundled up. But the tree of peace was a little too on-the-nose, even for him.

Her father was waiting in the chair by the door, his old hunting rifle across his knees. He’d been going around the house all day, getting it ready – cleaning, testing the trigger, making sure the ammunition was still good and the weapon would not explode in his hands. “I’d be heartened,” Luce had told him, “If I didn’t know what you plan on doing with this thing.”

“Just be glad I haven’t used it already,” he’d growled. It wasn’t unexpected – not too dissimilar from their usual exchanges – but Luce felt stung nonetheless. She’d turned on her heel and refused to be in the same room as him for the rest of the day.

The anger was gone now. She watched him for a full minute, watched as he tried to get comfortable in his chair – but not too comfortable – without dropping the weapon or waking her sisters up.

I have to go, part of her thought. I have to hurry. 

But did she really? However fearsome the monster was, he could not enter a house uninvited, and it wasn’t up to her to grant that permission anyway. She could just hide. Let someone else take on the duty.

Of course, that is what you would do. Would you rather Renee went? Or Hope?

No. No. No.

“Well?” her father said, finally catching sight of her. “You’re off then.”

“Yes.” She searched for the best way to say goodbye, but the words did not come to her. She wished she and her father were more verbose than they were, but… “Look after them, okay?”

He gave her a look – as if I never have – then he opened the door, letting the cold night air rush through. “Go,” he said. “And don’t come back. If you can help it.”

She grit her teeth. She’d been gritting ever since this whole misery business started, but now, what point was there to hold back. “You’re acting like this is my fault,” she said. “Yet the monster chooses its bride, not the other way around.”

Her father cocked the rifle towards the door. “Go already,” he said. Then his voice cracked. “Go, before I put you out of your misery.”

She gathered her skirts and went, choking back tears as he locked the door behind her.

*

They called it the tree of peace because it was underneath those branches that humans and monsters had finally pledged to end the war between them. It was centuries ago, but the story went that humans would live under the sun, in the open fields and on the bare stretches of land, while the monsters retreated into the shade of the forests, the darkness of the caves, the depths of the lakes and rivers. All the dim places where their ugliness would not show, said her father, although he himself was not as handsome as he’d once been.

Luce focused on the tree now – an ancient oak with weathered bark, its naked branches reaching towards the winter sky – as she crossed the square and hurried out the village. The streets were empty, even though there was a beautiful moon abovehed. Every once in a while, a curtain would twitch as she’d pass, evidence that there were other living beings around… but nobody came to say goodbye. If she came back after… they didn’t want to be blamed for it.

Not that any bride had.

Not in recent memory anyway.

The tree of peace… but no peace is earned easily, and this one came at a blood cost. One of men’s daughters would be chosen, every ten years, to become a monster’s bride. In return, the monsters guaranteed safe passage through dark places, for no human could avoid walking in shadow every once in a while. No-one knew what actually happened to the girls. And only one had ever attempted to come back.

Luce was the first that anyone could remember that had volunteered.

*

“He has not forgiven you, even at the end.”

The monster’s voice was deep. It seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, as Luce approached their final meeting place.

“Are you spying on me now?” she asked. “You know you’re not supposed to come into the village.”

A deep rumble. Then she finally saw it – a shadow, slightly deeper than that of the tree, slowly shifting as it rose to its feet.

His feet. His. 

“I need no such help in understanding you, wife. Your face is an open book.”

Luce fought back the fear that instinctively rose up and came closer. She’d heard monsters could change their appearance, make themselves appear more human-like than they were. Hers hadn’t bothered with that, letting her see his face as clearly as she liked, with all its deformities.

He was ugly. He also seemed to enjoy the effect he had on other people.

“It’s our third meeting,” she said, at length. “The final one.”

“Yes.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

The monster cocked his head to the side. “If I am, what makes you think I will tell you?”

True, that would not make sense.

“What is on your mind?” the monster continued. “You already made the choice to leave. You have had all the time you needed to say goodbye. You could have run. What is the point of asking these questions now?”

Luce wanted to look away, but could not. Her eyes kept returning to the monster, studying his features. She would get to know him very well, she knew. Even if his only goal was to toy with her before the final kill. “It’s for me,” she said. “I want to know for my sake.”

The monster sat back down in the base of the tree. “Come,” he said. “Sit with me.”

Slowly, she did as he asked. Then he said, “Beautiful moon we have tonight.”

“Yes. I’m just sorry nobody else is out.”

“I’m not,” the monster said. “They don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve you, either.”

Surprised at his sudden change of tone, she turned, but the monster wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were trained on the sky.

“A long time ago,” he said, “Men were deciding on what to offer my kind, wondering what was it that they had that could appease us. The villages were at war then – not just with us, but among each other, too. Boys kept dying in battle, while daughters remained in the house. The men decided they would get rid of the extra mouths by offering them as a tithe.”

“Is that the story you are told?” Luce asked. “I hear you picked the first of us, like you picked out me – over three nights, selecting the most eligible one.”

“We do not take just anybody, that is true,” the monster said, “because not all humans survive in our forest. But it was not us that made the first offer – it was your people.”

Luce sighed. “Why are you telling me this?”

A sigh, a warm puff of breath against her sigh. “Do you want to hear the rest of this story? Or would you rather we got going?”

Luce looked at the full moon above, and the village, at rest, below. She thought about her father, gun in hand, peeking among the curtains for something non-human to come charging. Something that used to be his daughter, but was not. Something that had wanted to break the contract and had been punished for it.

“Please,” she said. “I want to hear the rest.”

“My people did not like the bargain,” the monster said, without further reproach. “But it was a hungry winter and we were tired. The first year, I confess, we lived up to our names. But by the next decade, we were far better off, and stronger now that we had our territories and were not at war. Humans, meanwhile, still fought. They still had too many girls. We took them in but we could not kill them. The decade after that, we amended our terms – we would not take all the girls they gave us, just the one, and we would be the ones to select.”

“You sound so gracious,” Luce marvelled. “You never thought of just invading us? Destroying us once our guard was down?”

“You strongly underestimate how long we live,” the monster said. “Humans come and go. If your greed does not destroy you, age will, before it destroys us. And… having you among us helps. We don’t forget as easily.”

“So that will be my job,” she said, finally. “To serve as your reminder.”

The monster nudged her hand and she turned to find him looking at her, finally. “That,” it said. “And more, if you so wish.”

She swallowed. Something – anticipation? hope? – fluttered in her belly. “Meaning?”

“No one else has volunteered before,” the monster said. “Not here, not in recent memory. Many had to be forced by her parents to submit. Some tried to run back to their kind and were cast out. None were curious, Luce. None wanted to know as much as you do. Within you, there is change.”

She looked down at her hands – her hands that were already twisting into claws, covering with fur. She took a breath and felt her chest rattle. She didn’t look, but she knew that beneath her dress, her legs were changing too, becoming curved and short. “I don’t know,” she said at length, “whether I will bring you change before change destroys me.”

“Change will never destroy you,” the monster said. “Only fighting it will hurt.”

Luce sighed. She knew that. Deep down, she had always known – that was why she’d volunteered, that was why she’d gone on to this final meeting. Not for the sake of her friends, her sisters, or  even her village.

In the end, it was her. It was all her.

And the monster didn’t seem to mind.

It only stepped aside to make room for her, as she came into her new body, then side by side, they walked into the forest.

 

 

Painting Stories: Clipped Wings

 

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Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.

*

A clip on Instagram made me think about it.

How there is always pressure on you to perform, even when you are not feeling 100%. How thin the line is between “pushing through laziness” and “working until you hurt yourself”. I know. I’ve crossed this line one too many times myself.

This weekend we had a sports event. On the morning of it, I woke up with a headache and a runny nose. The day before I’d gone on a run in the cold, convinced that I had to burn off all the carbs I’d eaten the night before. (Despite all my talk about saying goodbye to bad eating habits, shaking the negative mental self-talk is brutal.)

I went.

I wanted to go. But I also felt like I had to.

I was driving.

*

When is it good to push and when is it better to wait it out? I have no idea. I’m still trying to figure out for myself. It’s hard to be forgiving of oneself. Harder still to trust your own judgement if you’ve spent the majority of your life doubting yourself.

Doubting, doubting, doubting.

I doubt whenever I so much as get cold. I wonder if this pain is menstrual cramps or the start of a fever. I feel panic whenever I get a muscle ache in my leg. It’s terrible and it’s scary, because every once in a while, it isn’t false alarm. Being able to tell the real from the anxiety is when my head truly turns into a mess.

I cannot pretend that all of my fears are psychosomatic. But those rule my life – not the moments of true, terrible illness, the moments that occur for every living being, but rather, the watching, and waiting, and anticipation.

*

And yet…

And yet…

Recently I’ve began to let go. I don’t know what started it – perhaps it was a much dreaded trip out of town, where I was convinced I would be rendered incoherent with pain, either because I hurt myself or because I ran a high fever (it happens, about twice a year). None of it happened. Despite my discomfort, I was able to persevere.

It could have been last weekend, when things went better than I expected.

It could have been this morning, when I awoke expecting agony and more sickness and actually found myself feeling… okay. Not perfect, but okay.

It could be all of it. It could be something else entirely.

But it feels like the clouds are opening up. And my wings, they feel like they are starting to grow back.

Bye Dietland, wish it was good

 

 

They say that the hardest part of it is admitting to having a problem in the first place.

I didn’t think this was accurate, but then again, I don’t have a problem telling people things – this blog is a testament to that. Even if you say you have a problem, there is always a lot of hard work you have to put in to make yourself better. It’s the habits you have to reinvent, the relationships you have to reforge, the sense of self that you need to find. How is admitting to a problem harder than all of that?

I didn’t realise it until recently, how hard it is to make a genuine admission. Or how often you would have to make it.

*

 

I’m just going to put this out here: for a period of my life, I was not my best self.

The reasons for that are many and varied – I will never try to pin it down on one person, one happening, or one diet, (even if at points I did just that, in my head). A chronic overachiever with low self-esteem and a terrible penchant for people-pleasing doesn’t enjoy the most stress-free existence even without throwing a load of dieting and food rules into the mix. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder what would it have been like if I had been a different sort of person.

Someone more resilient.

Someone who did not rely so much on the opinions of imaginary others.

Someone who did not need to control everything.

*

Diet culture is pervasive and sneaky. Even after it’s had a wellness makeover, it holds the same values at its core – demonisation of one food group over others, an insistence it is the only right way, and that, should you not adhere to its rules, you will suffer eternal damnation… err, I mean, you’ll get fat. Or “unhealthy”, or whatever it is they’re calling it today.

People far better informed than I have written about the way we’ve shifted from “diets” to “wellness”; how, far from a simple alteration of language, we are now looking at a veritable cult to kale and organic food and living free from everything bad for us… even if nobody can tell for sure what that is.

Even more people have written about the fact that there is no such thing as a one-size-fit-all approach to dieting and sport. I won’t tell you how it’s all about trial and error and being kind to yourself and figuring out what works and what doesn’t and that there isn’t one food that is completely bad or good (unless you have an autoimmune disease or an allergy) because it’s all been said before.

I’m not a doctor. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.

But when I tried to live by someone else’s directive, when I was constantly beating on myself for showing weakness and watching all my meals as carefully as I could, I did not become the best version of myself.

I was neurotic.

I was self-punishing.

I both looked down on my nose on everybody who didn’t eat like me, and I was jealous.

I wanted to make new friends and “spread the good word” and instead I got weird looks from my friends and colleagues.

I isolated myself. I started to punish myself for transgressions with exercise.

I wasn’t happy. I was training hard, and I was making myself sick.

*

Recently I went on an event where I met so many people I hadn’t seen in years. They could not recognise me. I could not recognise me to be honest. My body shape is still the same, and yet, despite all the suffering I lug around, I feel somehow lighter. More at ease.

I still have a lot to figure out. I still have to try and negotiate my eating and exercise. I’m lucky. I have good friends.

But I wish I never fell down this particular rabbit hole. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time being miserable when I could have just enjoyed movement and what my body can do.

Painting Stories: Wildwood Dancing

Painting stories is a series where I share my current works. Sometimes it is how they came about. Sometimes it’s more of a story I associate with them.

*

 

To tell her or not to tell her. The ent thought about it for a while, then cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”

The woman jumped as if she’d been stung. Then again, she had been leaning on him.

“I’m so sorry!” she cried, looking genuinely piqued. “I didn’t see you there!”

The ent nodded. This happened a lot too. Even in winter. Yet the simple statement was not enough – she went on to apologize and apologize, drawing the eyes of more and more people. He wondered if he ought to walk away – but then would he not seem even more rude?

“That is enough,” he said, when she paused for breath. “You made a simple mistake. No need to overdo it.”

Her face paled, then went bright red. “Why! I never!”

Bemused chatter surrounded him as she turned and flounced away. Had he done something to offend her anyway?

The ent sighed. He really preferred the parties back in the forest, but… well…

“That was mean of her,” someone said. He turned to find a dryad in a blue dress sitting next to him.

The ent had a fairly good mind, but it took him a while to catch up without context. He paused for a beat too long, then asked, cautiously, “What was?”

“Saying that she did not see you there, and then putting you on the spot,” she said.

“Ah.” The ent considered this. “What spot?”

The dryad gave him an appraising look. Would she be mad too? But all she said was, “You aren’t too fond of proverbs, are you?”

“On the contrary,” he said. “I am here because of a proverb.”

A raised eyebrow, then, “How so?”

So many questions, the ent thought. Compared to this, the parties back at his home were downright tame. Everyone knew everyone and communicated with minimal words. Here, everything was shiny and bright, a sensory overload. He wasn’t even sure if he liked this dryad or if she was just nice to answer to.

“The humans say you must try everything once,” he said, finally. “At first I thought it was just something they uttered before mating, but from my observations, it seems like it applies to any number of activities that appear unpleasant to the doer. Of course, that made no sense to me, so I thought I would investigate for myself.”

“I take it that this is an activity that is unpleasant for you,” the dryad said. Then she asked him why he had not simply asked the humans for more clarity.

“They seem very frightened of me,” the ent said. “I am not sure why.”

*

For a while, they sat and watched the revelry in silence. The ent did not make a move to leave, and neither did the dryad. Eventually, he stirred. “Do you not wish to dance?” he asked. “Or is it simply an activity for pairings.”

“Not necessarily,” she replied. “But people do tend to talk if you go out dancing by yourself. I mean… they gossip about you. Saying unpleasant things.”

Pause.

“So an activity for pairings then?”

“Yes. It is an activity for pairings.”

He thought that a very strange thing indeed. But then, his kind did not dance much. He wondered if he ought to ask her, out of courtesy, but he’d committed enough social faux pas for one night. He did not need another.

The dryad sighed and asked him, “I don’t suppose you’ll stay long. At this party, I mean.”

“No,” the ent said.

“It is very unpleasant, is it not?”

“It is. Why do you come?”

“The hostess invited me personally. And she tends to remember slights. Don’t worry,” she added. “You will not be judged if you leave.”

He said he did not care about that, and immediately his mouth filled with the taste of copper. He hated to lie.

Slowly, the ent rose to his feet. “Well,” he said at length. “I suppose I should go.”

She raised her face up. “If you suppose so.”

A long pause. “I find it hard to leave you here,” he said.

“You took root.” For a second, he wondered if that was an elaborate figure of speech, then he looked down and realized that he had, indeed, been sitting for too long. Little sprouts had found their ways out of his shoes and dug into the soil.

“Very embarrassing,” he said, trying to stomp himself free without drawing too much attention. The dryad offered him her hand to balance him out. A few good tugs and he was free.

He looked down at her. “I appreciate you help.” Then, “I don’t suppose you would like to dance.”

“You don’t have to.” But her body was already leaning forward, drawn towards the music despite her attempt to seem detached.

The ent was still holding her hand, and he gave a gentle tug. “Come. I am still unclear about that proverb – you can help me out.”

*

Wildwood Dancing is available on my Red Bubble shop.