Monday, November 30, 2015

Black Dog Down - November

Ah, November, you grey, miserable thing. Right across the border from Ray Bradbury’s October Country, close to where the skeletons and shadows and dark carnivals patrol, there is where the Black Dog calls home.

November has been an odd month of leaps and lapses. But I give myself credit for not allowing either to affect me unduly. Apart from today, maybe, as my netbook proceeds to die while I type this, auguring another major expense in the not too distant future that I can ill afford. Ho hum.

Financial worry is like the Black Dog’s Scrappy Doo. Really fucking annoying, a pain in the ass, but it really should never be introduced as a companion. Yapping constantly in the background, making a nuisance of itself, it doesn’t serve any useful role. So the only thing to do is separate the two, try to make sure they stay in separate kennels.

How to do that? Well, maybe that’s something to think about for next month. With Christmas impending, money will be thinner on the ground. Definitely not laying all about, deep, crisp and even. There are projects in the pipeline and I have technically launched my services as a proofreader/editor (to resounding silence so far - isn't self-promotion tough when you don't feel so good about yourself?), so there may be the prospect of some income somewhere over the horizon. The trick then will be to try to put off worrying about money until I have some. Wish me luck.

As to Scooby, the Black Dog, well, he’s been snacking on me occasionally this past month. But it’s been a bit like a Scooby Doo reversal, with the dog chasing me, stalking along at a ponderous pace while I keep running. Busy-ness has helped. The illusion of speed, perhaps, since my work doesn’t involve a great deal of actual movement. But as long as my mind and fingers are working then that’s my equivalent of a mad dash.

Maintenance has been an issue, as I might’ve mentioned last month. That is, maintaining order and lack of clutter on the domestic front. Good habits slide so easily. But I have developed a trick there. Nobody likes household chores and I like them even less. So what I do is stick a CD in the stereo, full blast, and tackle a selection of chores for the duration of the album. That makes for about 40+ minutes of progress on the homefront and it feels less arduous because you can kid yourself it’s time spent listening to some of your favourite music.

Music is mood. And mood can be so important.

Loneliness has been a major factor too. Problem there is, loneliness is something you have to cure before you can do anything about it. It’s not an attractive trait. When it comes to dating, I’ve found in the past that the absolute best approach is to just be happy, comfortable with yourself and, above all, not looking for a date.

Sure, I am actually quite capable right now of being great company. Friendly, sociable, entertaining. But there’s quite often an element of faking it just to get started. If I’m invited out to a party or get-together, for instance, one of my first impulses is to make excuses, dodge the encounter. My second is to fight the fear and make myself go out, because it’ll be good for me. And that’s where I have to pretend to be okay, forge confidence and so on, until I forget I’m acting and somehow the act becomes the reality. Until I get home, maybe.

What calls this to mind especially this month was one night attending my regular pub quiz, with the other team members out of action or unavailable for various reasons, I had to fly solo. Actually, no, I didn’t have to – could’ve stayed at home, given it a miss for one week. But I figured it’d be fun. And it was. Had a laugh, did my best, came a perfectly respectable and even pretty worthy second in the quiz. But when I got home I crashed inexplicably and was really down for the next couple of days. Like I’d walked back into a vacuum, or it had walked into me. Feeling the emptiness, anyway.


And I don’t have an answer to that. The natural response to it seems to be to shut yourself away, in solitary, the very thing guaranteed to make it worse. Not very bright, hmm. Bit like Shaggy trying to hide in a basket from some ghostly snake or something that likes to curl up in baskets. Or hiding from the Black Dog in its kennel.

Still, I binged. On TV, video games, music, crappy snack food, vino. Numerous things I like, without properly enjoying them, until – eventually – I did. It’s not my proudest moment of the month. Indeed, that’s probably in part why I’m airing and sharing that here. To make myself ashamed so I don’t bloody succumb to that again. Wallow rhymes with hollow.

Ultimately, it’s a minor two-day episode in a 30-day month, but it’s a key event and definitely something to learn from.

November has mostly been about positives. A London trip, a play, two concerts (Judie Tzuke and Garbage – awesome time had at both). Successfully reduced my meds to every other day and that’s been working out okay. Don’t feel like I’m free-falling sans parachute or anything, so I think that’s a good step in the right direction and, crucially, at the right time. By the end of the year, I’m aiming to phase them out altogether and just fend for myself, without the aid of the chemical safety net.

As I say, I’ve done better at handling the downs and – just as importantly – the ups. Because as daft as it may sound, if you do have stuff to celebrate in life and you happen to be inclined to depression, there’s a danger in going too overboard.

At this point, I have three projects that will reach fruition next year and they’re all things I’m very much looking forward to seeing realised. I’ve found, when discussing them with others, my jubilation has been somewhat restrained, low key. As though I’m wary of feeling too good. But it’s not that. It’s only a sensible precaution against dizzying highs. Depression has a habit of making sure feeling on top of the world is followed by a fall down the mountain.

So I welcome the good, embrace it and settle for being quietly happy about them. I daresay I’ll shout about them more when I’m free to do so. For right now, a steady, even course is more important. Let’s just get where we’re going and avoid the turbulence where possible.

It’s a matter of compartmentalising. As per the financial anxieties, you acknowledge the effects but you have to separate that from the internal. With the external negatives, it’s a case of recognising that they can be contributing factors but they’re very often outside your control so you can only tackle what is actually the Black Dog, not just the things that frequently feed it. With the positives, you have to be open to them, obviously, and yes, celebrate them, but like with the meds it’s best not to develop a reliance on them. They’re just contributing factors to your mental health. Not the key.

December Country is just around the corner.

This means Christmas, which – forget the money side of things - is traditionally a difficult time in the depression calendar. But I have various bits n bobs to work on up to the 21st or so, along with a number of fun things planned. Heck, I’ve already turned my attentions to this year’s batch of Doctor Who Advent Limericks. Something for me to look forward to while the rest of you cringe in fear of tortuous rhymes, haha! Wtahc this space, you have been warned!

Laughter is still the best medicine of all. And I feel confident there should be healthy doses of that throughout December.

Some may have to be cheap laughs, but I’ll do what I can to make sure they’re value for money.

SAF 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Long Live Doctor Who!

You know how that goes.

The King is dead. Long live the King.
Doctor Who is, of course, not dead. Nor is it a king. It used to be king among my favourite TV series. But the show has died a little for me. Even at this point I can’t say with 100% certainty that I will be giving up on it, because divorce is never easy when you’ve been married to something for so bloody long. But unless there’s something pretty phenomenal between the next two episodes and the Christmas special (inclusive) I foresee a trial separation at least.
Many folks have told me – so it must be true – that the series isn’t made for me any more. Why? Because I’m too old? Most of the folks telling me this are of a similar age i.e. grown-up kid to adult. And I’m more the former. So colour me confused. If a show called Doctor Who isn’t being made for people who’ve loved Doctor Who all their life then what’s it doing wearing that title?

Even at its previous lowest ebb (for me, that’d be the first season of McCoy – for you, likely, some other period) as much as I cringed at every episode, I never considered taking a break from it.

Heck, I remember one time back in the Graham Williams era being told by my parents, no, I couldn’t go watch The Horns Of Nimon, I had to stay at the dinner table to enjoy tea with my visiting grandparents. The grandmother in this scenario was the spitting image of Davros, but like worse, because the Doctor would never tell you to give Davros a kiss when he was leaving. Ugh. Anyway, I would much rather have rushed to the living room to see what was going on with the guy in the bull’s head in the gold lamé six-inch platforms. In short, I was upset at missing the first ever Doctor Who episode I ever missed. (There was no VHS, no catch-up TV, BBC iPlayer in those days, younglings. If you missed it, it was gone.) Even though I was old enough to recognise that the show had suffered a ‘bit of a dip in quality’.

Now, in its current incarnation, if not for the old-habits-die-hard ingrained attachment, I would gladly be shot of it from my viewing schedule. And it’s about more than just my THAWs (Ten Hates About Who).

I think Hans Christian Andersen or Danny Kaye summed it up best.

There once was an Ugly Duckling, one of those guys said.

Feathers all stubby and brown, the poor little bugger was shunned, ridiculed and generally told to get out of town. Quack quack. Then after a bit of an absence it returned and everyone said how it was, quack-quack, the best thing in town and when it examined its own reflection it thought, hell yeah, I am amazing, BRILLIANT, FANTASTIC! Basically convinced of its own perfection. Beautiful plumage.

Now there’s a fable applicable to Doctor Who.

Mocked by many, not very much wanted by the BBC, it went away for a bit and returned as a glorious, upside-down swan. Probably a thing of beauty and elegance underneath, but to be honest it’s a struggle to see with all the frenetic paddling going on above the surface.

Hardly an episode goes by without quantities of frantic hand-waving and leg-thrashing like an attention-starved child shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” Perhaps a side-effect of its tendency to overdose on artificial sweeteners. Or is it born of some old, deep-seated insecurities, a leftover from those old days when it was something of a joke to many? Oh no, people might not watch if we don’t do something big and flash that has nothing to do with tonight’s story or at the very least keep talking really fast and inject lots of wit every line absolutely has to be witty because otherwise people will lose interest and anyway if we move things along fast enough nobody will notice that it’s full of holes. Whatever the cause, it’s tiring.

Where old Who used to pad out its 100-minutes-or-more tales with running up and down corridors, now they pad out their 45-minute time-slots with big dumb grandstanding and verbal diarrhoea. Everyone talks like Duracell bunnies on speed and on the rare occasions they don’t (eg. The Woman Who Lived) the episode is declared by many to be dull.

But old-new comparisons aren’t the crux of the problem.

The ‘problem’, if I can call it that, is that there are too many other shows – contemporaries or close contemporaries anyway – that I much prefer. That’s why I use the word ‘problem’ loosely. This is not a glass half empty situation. Far from it. This is a glass brimming over with great stuff.  At this point I’m just finding room for Doctor Who out of habit but it’s not a favourite tipple. It has slipped steadily further down my Top 10 list, to the extent that it’s probably now somewhere outside my Top 30. Haven’t calculated an exact chart position, sorry, but suffice to say it’s just not a priority.

There are many greater shows out there that I love much much more.

There, I said it.

Doctor Who is still the show with the greatest potential, I believe. And that’s another problem. Because it means it’s falling so far short of everything it could be. Actually, all too often it’s less a show, more of a tell. It’s constantly telling us stuff. E.g. “They’re one of the most feared races in the galaxy.” Which would be bad enough, but then it proceeds to show us evidence to the contrary. See also “This is brilliant!”, “Fantastic!”, “Genius!” Assuring us something is clever when it’s not. It’s like the worst stage-magician ever. Stuffing cards up his sleeves in plain sight and proclaiming it magic.

It seems to me that at some point writers are sitting back from their scripts and saying to themselves, “That’ll do, pig.” Or “Good enough.” And hitting save and send. Basically, it’s either that or smart, intelligent people are failing to spot glaring errors and weaknesses and declaring the works fit for production. This leaves many stories with a half-finished feel or material of some merit embedded in the flimsiest of plots. (eg, again, The Woman Who Lived.) Where ‘good enough’ or ‘that’ll do’ has to be the final assessment. Or worse, I imagine, “Oh wow, that’s BRILLIANT!” (pig).

Maybe I watch the wrong kind of telly, but there’s no other show I can think of that leaves me with the impression of any similar attitudes going on behind the scenes. And if the failings don’t bother you, if you’re one of the many who still believe it’s all great, all power to you and hats off to you. I’d just add that the show can be all the things you find great about it and So. Much. Better.

For the most part, (apart from the THAWs!) I’m advocating that stuff be added, not taken away. It’s not going to change, because those in the driving seat are happy with the status quo. Playing the same three chords.

Recently, I was asked to write a Doctor Who short story. My first Who-related work in a Time Lord’s age. And although I never once paused to consider passing up the opportunity, when it came to writing the tale I experienced something very unusual. A large hole where my enthusiasm used to be. It was (temporarily) horrible.

Naturally, I overcame it. Hell, I’ve written Merlin novelisations. I have a strong track record in overcoming lack of enthusiasm. But it troubled me that it was there at all. For Doctor Who! Unheard of. As it turned out, it was huge fun to write, had a blast in the space of a few thousand words. Yay!

It was that little speed-bump, or sleeping police box, that made me think I needed to do something to restore my enthusiasm, to remind myself of all the things I loved about Who. Which brings me – finally, hurrah – to the point and why this post bears the title it does.

Tomorrow is November 23rd. Doctor Who’s 52nd birthday.

And I can’t think of a better time to begin a classic Who rewatchathon. Starting with an Unearthly Child onwards.

This decision alone confirms me as still a fan.

It’s sad, I know, but it’s also great.

Some of it will by necessity be a listenathon, because the BBC in its infinite wisdom burned a lot of episodes instead of all those Jim’ll Fix Its in their archives. Hindsight, wonderful thing. But I hope to re-experience every story in whatever medium available.

I’ll probably do something like post mini-reviews on Facebook, because it’s fun to share this sort of journey. No need to wish me bon voyage.

Some of it will be patchy. There will be potholes and plotholes along the road. There will be Blue Peter here’s one I made earlier fx. There will be overacting. There will be underacting. There will sometimes be no acting at all. There will be bulls in six-inch gold lamé platform heels.

My mission: to find something to love in all of it.

Long live the Ugly Duckling!

SAF 2015