Discover more from that & this
On changes, horror, and influence
tl;dr: the letter’s changed, my week’s been the perfect lead-up to Halloween in a handful of weeks, and a photo of Boudica.
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Here are ten things from the past week I’d like to remember.
‘Insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else, you will never see your cup of stars again.’
— Shirley Jackson, in The Haunting of Hill House (1958)
When I’m a bit frantic, low, or distracted, creative time commitments start to fall like autumn leaves from my schedule. Other priorities swell & fill the gaps.
There are those other moments I’d like to write about, though — the ones that weren’t planned but were just as potent as any other story: people pass by my window, having odd little conversations; the lives of patients & staff from the NHS Trust I work with are illuminated; thoughts & images with hidden roots pop into my mind.
Is the time spent on this letter shouldering those stories, too? Do I want it to? The thought paused my initial draft — how had zero, one, two felt to write & publish? I’m proud of the consistency. Each section’s a well-intentioned, solid step away from the stay-in-your-lane constrictions of social media. But no two weeks are ever the same, so a letter that exists to explore the creative things they contained should be ruled by as few rules as possible. All to be permitted, with space to breathe.
So, it’ll now be ten creative things, whatever form they may take.
In the same vein, to scratch the itch of my need to record what I’ve read, watched, and listened to without having to agonise over reviewing each & every thing, I’ve started tracking it all on a Google Sheet.
Yes: it’s early stages. It’ll all be on one sheet, with filters, so albums rub shoulders with books & films & series & podcasts, energised by the thought I could then write comparatively about an episode & song & book’s portrayal of, say, the same seismic event that happened or person that mattered.
For now, I’ve just started reading How to do Nothing by Jenny Odell. I’ve also, inspired by Mike Flanagan’s (phenomenal) series adaptations of Hill House and Bly Manor, put The Haunting of Hill House and The Turn of the Screw on the list (I’ll have to borrow the latter, as I read & got bored of it a few years back), as soon as I’ve finished The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
‘To learn what we fear is to learn who we are. Horror defies our boundaries and illuminates our souls.’
I’m going to search for some academic writing on horror. Flanagan’s aforementioned adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1958), and the original itself, are stunning portrayals of what the genre is capable of in all its forms.
The series, inspired by the novel but taking a relatively long step away from the original text’s themes, is a compelling take on sibling relationships, the self-haunting of addiction, a storyline being chopped-up & rearranged in a compelling, always-revealing way. It shows horror to be a perfect lens for defining love.
(That doesn’t mean I convinced my partner to watch beyond episode one.)
My binge of Schitt’s Creek is complete: six seasons, 80 episodes, 2015-20.
It’s the story of what happens to an extremely wealthy family when they lose all their money, left with no choice but to live in their only asset: a small, unsophisticated town. The sitcom’s laughs & smiles come primarily from culture shock — outlandish fashion in a space of flannel, dramatic privelege vs homegrown character.
The tears, though, come (& they will come) from the show’s raison d'etre: the realisation that not everything was lost, and some of the most moving character developments I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. They grow closer as a family, into their community, death & bodily autonomy & sexuality & requited love with unavoidable endings are covered sensitively, with humour, and weight in all the right places. When the big moments arrive, they’ve been earned.
Bad news is something every place of work will have to deliver at some point to its employees; the NHS is no exception. With a 12-minute deadline, I was asked to proofread a letter that delivered some unwelcome news, particularly in the UK’s current economic crisis. While working for Lloyds Banking Group, I did something similar on a daily basis: turned the nasty stuff, the letters that said we know your partner just died but they owed us money, so now it’s your responsibility or we’ll take your stuff away soon because you haven’t told us why you won’t pay us, into words of empathy — letters that recognised we don’t know anyone’s full story, and that this might be the recipient’s most horrid moment in their life, so to consider that in how we spoke to them.
In that brief return to the task, I realised it’s one of the few parts of any job I’ve had that I can sincerely say felt rewarding — I felt helpful. I’ve added it to this week’s tasks: update my website’s work page a little to reflect this, and start asking around to see where else I could help.
Some other spring cleaning to be scheduled for my website:
focus the work page on well-worn hats, then mention who’s seen them, rather than leading with the names of who I’ve worked with
create some best-of lists
update the hello landing page and consider where my love of seasons could be used in future
‘Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work: we get into it because we have good taste. But there’s this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff — it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer, and your taste is why your work disappoints you … it’s normal, and the most important thing you can do is a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you’ll finish one story. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you’ll close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.’
Thanks, Ali Vingiano, for pointing me towards this Ira Glass quote.
I’m going to use Granta magazine’s latest edition — Conflict — to write a short story. The coming couple of weeks, I’ll read it. The following month, I’ll schedule in a handful of hours each week to get a first draft, however terrible, finished. (I might make it my first paid subscription offer! Exciting.)
I’m owed a small favour in the form of a 1-to-1 session with the writing coach, and my friend, Dr Rachel Knightley. I’ll book that with this deadline in mind.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday.
The line I’ve heard repeated by many — most, in fact — is that even those of us who don’t consider ourselves royalists, people who adore & support the existence of the Royal Family, understand how seismic this moment was.
Collective grief is a profoundly unusual thing.
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