Singing Lentils

One of the things I missed the most about being away from the internet was the lack of music.

Not that music somehow requires the internet. If I’d thought ahead I might have thrown some of my albums onto my netbook, although the likelihood I’d have had time to stop and listen isn’t high. It also doesn’t allow for the fact that a huge amount of my music listening these days is done via Youtube, as it’s been many years since I’ve really had the money to just casually buy myself albums.

My playlists are many and varied. I don’t really have a genre that I stick to, but music affects me powerfully. The right kind of songs just fill my chest with a swell as if I might burst, give me emotion that I just want to point at – there, that line, that refrain, that moment in that song just yes. That is a feeling that I know or have, or that makes me think of a character or an entire story. That there. Yes. It’s in breathing and taste.

Currently I’m listening to a lot of Halestorm, although I did a zip through the Saturdays, Paramore and Good Charlotte. Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. The Pet Shop Boys ‘Very’ album (a staple of my childhood). Korn and Marilyn Manson before heading back to Robbie Williams and 30 Seconds To Mars. Listening to 30STM makes me desperately wish I could sing.

(I’m not a terrible singer. I can mostly stay in tune – *mostly* – and easier if I have music or something else to tune myself to. But I’m never going to be an amazing singer and sometimes I wish I just could.)

I’m going to miss it again this weekend, although there might well be IC singing. I would love to play the kind of Scop who sings for people, rather than just hiding in poetry.


From Paper to Practical

Written 22nd March 2015

So, this is the first blog entry I’ve actually got around to doing in my ‘Our Lady of Absolution’ series. The idea is to keep a journal of the process of writing and creating a LARP, from concept to manifestation, including talking about the kind of stuff that I really can’t publish until after the event is done (spoiler warnings, guys), then sticking it all together and putting it online once everything is over.

That was the idea, anyway. We started working on this LARP last summer and I came up with the initial idea at the start of this year. The fact that this is my first entry probably tells you enough about how much I have going on at the moment!

(This is actually a common problem for me. When it comes to LARP, I have a tendency to say yes to a bit too much, and as such I have to have a blanket -NO- across the board until some of these major events are done. I have Empire in two weeks as a player, ongoing VIP reffing and planning, Our Lady as a ref, Lords and Ladies as a character writer (there’s another meeting for that tomorrow) and that’s not even taking into account the regular Saturday playing. Oh, I’m also running a World of Warcraft roleplay campaign, with the last event tomorrow evening. Like I say, I take on a bit too much.)

Today’s ref session was about props and timelines. Obviously we’ve had the bare bones of what will happen at the event for some time: the Scapegoat manifests, starting out distant and disoriented and gradually growing more aggressive and close while the players discover their lost memories and then decide if they’re going to carry on the cycle or let themselves die and answer for their sins. Throw in a bit of side-questing to go out and get food for dinner on the Friday night, and that’s a pretty good umbrella summary of what’ll happen.

However, actually turning the paper plan into something that the players can interact with is quite the task (and took us about 4 hours). There are several things you have to take into consideration:
– How quick do we want to throw the threat out there? Is she going to be seen on the first night? (We decided yes.) At what point does she start doing actual statistical damage? How do we ramp it up over the course of the weekend so that the players have the sense of danger without becoming immune to the effects? Overexposure can leave them blase, but underexposure and there’s no tension.
– How can we help control when the players receive the information we need them to get? In this event, we’re using a very traditional find-the-NPC’s-diary approach. The NPC in question is someone they are close to, and expecting to return soon, and the diaries are in his locked room. We have absolutely no way of telling how long it’ll be before players break that door down – on the one hand, he’s their friend, and they trust him, but on the other strange things will be happening and they’ll need answers. It’ll be impossible to keep them from getting in sooner, but we need to make sure that they get the information in time for the plot to make sense.
– How are we going to make sure that all the players are engaging with the plot and kept busy when it’s a single written prop with the information?
– How will we physically manage the manifestations? We spent a good fifteen minutes debating whether or not putting food colouring in water jugs while the players say grace was viable. On the one hand, they’ll all have their eyes closed and heads down! On the other, it might be a very short grace, and where possible we like to avoid Time Freeze moments.

Our solution for the threat is mostly ‘as logical’, but writing out the specifics was nonetheless important and took up quite a bit of time. We take advantage of times of low light, and varying locations. We talked through some of the things that could happen at the house while I was outside, such as writing on the walls and bloody handprints, and came up with some props that this will require us to make too. Recordings are another way we want to get the sense of eeriness across steadily and over the course of Saturday morning.

This discussion was also the first time we came up with what will actually be quite a large prop and a key visual moment (assuming everything goes well, fingers crossed): As the players exit the Chapel after a religious ceremony, outside Constance will be tied to a stake, with a flaming rope surrounding her, screaming in agony as being burned to death is recreated in front of them. It’s after this point that she starts to get far, far more aggressive, including actively going after players and draining their willpower at range, as well as touch. It’s dramatic and impactful and if it works will definitely be a Big Moment, and it’s sort of weird to think we only added it this late in the planning.

A lot of ideas come up like that, though. It’s a bit easier with a regular-running LARP with a small ref team like VIP – my fellow ref and I quite often have ideas of stuff to do in court to do with big plot during the courts themselves, then pull one another aside, have a quick discussion, and then go for it. Sometimes key elements aren’t decided until the linears, too – last year’s finale, the players got to kill an evil Magician Vampire doing a huge ritual to empower himself. For this, we used two beings that had been introduced the year before, but we only decided it would involve those specific powers when we wrote it out a few days before it happened. On the one hand, this does mean that players don’t get the chance to work it out beforehand, but then in many ways that’s not really important for them to do with small details like that. Even if they had known beforehand, it wouldn’t have given them any advantages on the day, and the surprise is still powerful.

Getting back to Our Lady!

This meeting we also figured out the idea of Constance giving them a period of time to make decisions overnight on Saturday, so that the players get a window where they know they can definitely sleep. The idea is that as she gets more of her sense of self back, she can explicitly outline the choice they have (in her mind) – surrender, and accept punishment for their sins, or keep fighting and die an undignified death as she takes back what is hers.

Figuring out when players will get to sleep and how to make them aware that this is designated sleep time is always an important consideration – players without sleep generally don’t have much fun, and despite our sadism that is kind of the point of these things. We’re not going to let it be easy – they’ll only have from about midnight until first light at just gone 5am, and I will be slightly disrupting that with some non-harmful manifestations of Constance in the form of reminders of what they each did to me. Hopefully this will add to the horror without leaving them totally exhausted (and also give me some important sleep-time too).

On the second point, of how to make sure players get information, we came up with several solutions: First of all, if they haven’t broken down the door to get into our dear Benacus’s study by midday on Saturday, we’re going to include sounds of someone clawing at the door in Constance’s manifestations to get the idea in the characters’ heads that there might be someone in there who needs help (particularly as they won’t know why Constance is around at this point, and she won’t have been violent yet). We then also decided to split the diary into several locations – the most recent entry will be in the room, and the others will be buried across the play area, with information on where put on a bit of paper in the room. Players generally love a treasure hunt, and it’ll get the people who enjoy physical stuff outside, while those who like reading through can stay indoors.

This particular solution also helped with our other concern, point three on the table – while we advertised this as a reading-prop-heavy game (as well as one with really dark themes), unless players are reading the props or discussing what to do, previously there hadn’t been much that they could actually do about the incoming Constance. The idea of the repeating cycles, of the lost memories and the terrible things they did could have less impact if they aren’t actively reading this source material and instead are just sitting around waiting for more Weird. Having some groups that need to go out digging happily gives more agency to the players.

(This was also the moment where we decided how death and the repeating cycle works, and that some of our players were going to be experiencing strange sensations as a result of having died in aforementioned last cycle. Another relatively key idea coming quite late in the game!)

Oh, and as for how we’ll physically manage those manifestations? I’m not going to sleep. At all.

(Nah. Although we did have to discuss the very real risk of ‘WTF do we do if Lucie has a seizure’.)

One of the problems I had was that I wanted to have Constance mess with some of their artwork – but I didn’t want to actually do anything to spoil players’ OOC art, particularly not when they put lots of effort and work into it. It was Nomlicious who came up with the idea of transparent sheets to put over the top – something we could also use for bloody hand prints on windows. In the grand tradition of re-using props, we’re also going to stick plastic bugs in their beds (AEON has so many plastic bugs) and make use of recording me sobbing and screaming and the sounds of bones breaking and such. It’s a shame we can’t phys-rep smells.

Anyway, that was the majority of the meeting tonight. We did a quick run through of our major props afterwards, and where we’re all at on creating things. Team Benacus Diary is looking ridiculously organised with our multiple internal deadlines and stuff – and it’s coming on pretty well. There are a lot of props that will be sorted out in two weeks time when they have a Meta Meeting (writing the rituals and working out ritual notes), but alas, I won’t be attending that one as I’ll be away at Empire. I think I’ve taken on enough work as it is, to be honest, and so I don’t mind too much – although I like sourcing and making props for rituals so I’m still down on that team.

The next meeting after that is on 10th April, to do something of a ‘show and tell’ on what we’ve done so far – particularly the physical props that a lot of us haven’t had a chance to see yet. The diary will be pretty hefty by then, and I ought to at least have some of Constance’s letters written. I’m generally pretty excited (if a bit nervous) about the LARP as a whole. It’ll be the second time I’ve got naked for players in a horror LARP this year. Hopefully it’ll be a bit less cold by the time we’re in May!

Writings on Our Lady of Absolution

Upcoming over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting up a few posts around prep and time at Our Lady of Absolution. Some of these were written over the past months and kept offline until now to avoid spoilers, and some I’ll be writing after. I’m hoping to do a vlog too (and even have some footage for such), but we’ll see how much time I get. May continues to be very busy!

Tiding Over

I’ve been writing a few posts (although not as many as I’d prefer) for publication after the May event is done, as they mostly revolve around the process of preparing for it and are spoilerific. Hypothetically, I could write a bit about VIP as it happens, but I’m so busy right now with various projects that I just haven’t had time.

Last night was the UK General Election.

When I went to sleep at about 3.30am, things were still thoroughly inconclusive. I woke up to a Tory government. This has made me feel both sad and pretty scared for the future.

I’m not going into any huge detail here and now, as frankly other people have said it far better than I could, and I’m so exhausted that I doubt I could even if I had an original article burning my fingertips. All I will say is this:

It’s going to be a tough five years.

Oddly Hyper

I’m experiencing two things tonight.

The first is an unusual burst of energy. Unusual, in that having a burst of energy is rarer than I’d like it to be, and unusual in that the way this burst of energy is manifesting is unlike how I usually experience bursts of energy. I’m not bouncy, not talking too fast and crazy-eyed (although I was earlier) – no, now I just have this strange, long-burning intensity, a reluctance to try and sleep despite it being nearly 4am, a kind of wiredness that is like a low electric current constantly thrumming through my muscles, animating my limbs. I can think – it’s sort of a ridiculous way of looking at things, but so often my brain is fogged and concentration and focus is so elusive that just being sharp and alive and awake is its own kind of addictive. I don’t want to try and sleep because I don’t know when I’ll get this feeling again.

Chronic exhaustion has changed my life so much, and sometimes I only realise just how severely when I actually feel energy again.

Oh, the second thing I’m experiencing? A strong urge to blog. So, y’know, hence this entry happening.

There’s some nostalgia here, too, for the days of Bloopdiary and Livejournal – of blogging specifically in a community of friends or strangers, where it felt less like speaking into an empty void and more like conversing with friends or sharing odd snippets of secrets with strangers. There was more of a sense of confiding in that kind of online diary, sharing rather than just listening to the sound of my own voice. Yes, there’s always something a bit self indulgent about writing out your thoughts and feelings and putting them up for public consumption, but that at least felt a little like there was an audience, a reciprocation – not just my ego propping the words up. And even now I feel like I’m walking that fine line between trying to be bluntly honest and sounding kind of like a pretentious prat.

But there is a slow-burning rocket fuel under my skin and I might as well indulge the nostalgia while it’s here.

It might come at cost, of course. (Might, ha, no might, it definitely will come at cost.) Tomorrow I wanted to get up and go to get coffee with Mr. VI and do some writing, and I know with each hour I stay indulging this feeling now, the more likely it is that tomorrow will be vague and cloudy and I’ll spend most of it hiding in bed telling VI how I’m a dragon in a cave hoarding sleep and no I won’t get up, I’m sleepy, and that would be something of a waste of a Tuesday, but then I don’t know if that would be how it goes anyway and at least this isn’t a waste of a four-am-brief-bout-of-madness. Is this the other side of the coin to my depression, to the mental illness that I battle (and win sometimes and lose sometimes), is this a low kind of mania?

Is it because I talked about some of my past, some of my history today? Those memories of dark days can be painful but they also remind me just how lucky I feel now to not be in that place. The constant paranoia, the feeling of self-hatred that just seemed to permeate everything, the way I was so scared it was never going to end, that I would always be that way until I finally had a successful suicide attempt. I sort of want to hug past-Lentil, want to give her the benefit of my hindsight. Can I hug adolescent Lentil while I’m here? If Time-Travel-Advice-To-Self is on the table I wouldn’t mind some time giving Child-Lentil a bit of affection too.

Sometimes I want to write them letters.

Maybe it’s just something in the air right now. Earlier the cat was chasing his tail, and he has now thoroughly murdered and errant receipt, as well as the half-dead scratching post that I don’t throw away even though he has new ones because he seems to love it so much. Seriously, I should take a picture of that scratching post and show you – it’s quite impressive how much he’s taken it apart.

Huh. Now I’m writing, now I’m getting the words and thoughts out, I’m realising just how much this slow-burn energy really is hyperness, really is a mania. Contained beneath the surface, maybe, but these are thoughts that are rushing out the moment I’ve given them the option. I’m cold, that kind of cold that brings just a fine trembling, and that fine trembling feels like it basically encapsulates my entire mood right now.

Feeling: Gently Vibrating. But not like that.

Then there are the thoughts that have been waiting for me to work out how I feel about them – the prospect of father-out-law talking to mother-actual. (And as I write that, I wonder if this entry actually belongs on my recovery blog, but I’m here now, and sticking with it.) Sometimes when I think about my mother, I’ve managed to create such a careful distance between the events of my upbringing and my emotions that I feel oddly empty about the whole thing. I keep it carefully at arm’s length, and yet when I was writing LARP downtime responses I found myself tearing up over family descriptions. Perhaps it’s not as carefully distanced as I’d thought.

(And maybe this intensity is just the aftermath of running VIP. I can’t pretend it doesn’t bring a kind of mania – it’s such a damn intense creative process to go through. Yesterday we wrote downtime responses for 13 hours, writing 24.5k words between us. It is both tiring and yet really energising, especially when you then see the players react to what you’ve thrown at them, see them then talking about it in roleplay, watching a room full of people playing around in a world and plot that’s literally come out of your brain, and I love it, I love it so much, I love all my players and my fellow ref and how crazy and powerful it is to be that creative. Did I mention I love reffing?)

If I wrote a letter to adolescent Lentil right now, I probably would cry, though. Gently vibrating and also hormonal and feeling things a little more intensely than usual.

Sometimes when I read a book or write or roleplay or watch a show I love, I feel like my chest is aching, like my heart might explode I’m so intensely involved in the emotions present there, like that is more real than real life. I don’t think I could ever Not Write.

There’s probably an element of sugar high in this too, though, if I’m honest, as I’ve been dripping little bits of maple syrup into my palm and then licking them up for about forty-five minutes. Maple syrup is amazing.

The Sunshine Pills (TEN THOUSAND UNITS, don’t you know) have been helping, I think. It’s not always easy to tell objectively, but I have had more instances of being able to concentrate and do things, and fewer of that thick suffocating exhaustion that makes my limbs heavy and fills my brain with deja vu and epilepsy. When I get tired like that, it’s not just sleepiness – it’s like its own kind of agony, like I can’t breathe properly or think, like I just want to cry because trying to stay awake feels like torture. I slur my words, I stumble, I’m slow to react… And sometimes how bad my memory has become makes me want to cry in frustration, but then other times I just shrug and keep detailed notes on everything and that’s how I remember what happened one week to the next.

But if I’m not blogging as much as I used to, if I’m not taking the time to record actual Lentil Events as well as writing or roleplay, how will I remember what was when or what? Will I look back and know exactly what my characters in a game were up to and struggle to bring to mind an incident of my own feeling?

But when my concentration is so low so often, finishing a whole blog entry becomes that much harder, and I reach a point where I either have to throw it out without a satisfactory arc and conclusion, or consign it forever to a drafts folder that secretly I know I probably won’t return to (after all, by the time I do I’ve usually lost the context and it no longer feels real to write about).

I don’t actually have an official diagnosis. The closest I’d get a medical professional to commit to was ‘experienced trauma and prone to episodes of major depression’. They checked me for psychosis, too, but I think they concluded that my psychotic-like symptoms were just part of that trauma (hallucinations, being convinced people could read my mind, – oh, and the voices, but those are more part of being a writer than actual trauma, because who doesn’t hear their characters. Certainly that part is less scary than aforementioned extreme paranoia and hallucinations).

This definitely ought to go on my recovery blog, but I’m here now. I feel like I could go on a while, too, like there are a lot of thoughts to record and threads to chase, but my legs are cold and it’s now 4.23am and I really should be going to bed if I want a chance to write properly tomorrow.

Sometimes I think just how fortunate I am to be doing a job that allows me so much freedom to write. I did about 150,000 words in 2014 (original fiction only – let’s not include roleplay-related writing such as downtimes or stories because they’re ultimately not the words I really want to ‘count’, just fun 13-hour-Sundays). Some of them were even good. I’m always a bit surprised when I read back my work and go, oh, that’s cool, I’d like to read more.

My music has gone around in a circle. I’m listening to Ovo by Peter Gabriel, the soundtrack to the performance-thing at the Millennium Dome all those years ago. The Nest That Sailed the Sky is both intensely peaceful, and yet reminds me of A-Level Theatre Studies, when we used it in a piece that we spent the usual 5-hours-every-evening preparing. That was just how much work you had to put into theatre productions, really, but I suppose looking back I’ve always liked to throw myself into creative endeavours with thorough obsession.

The album finishes on ‘Make Tomorrow’. Apt, and a song for one of my LARP characters. Not a bad place to finish the first entry in a long while.

Put back the photo under your window,
Put down the phone that you hold in your hand,
Put away these things that stand in between us
And let us be what we can.

When it seems hopeless
When it seems hopeless
Make tomorrow
Make tomorrow
Make tomorrow, today.

On Suicide

[A/N: I wrote this entry some time ago this summer, and in uncertainty kept it as a draft for some time. I am publishing it now because with space and time to reconsider, I am okay with the honesty of my own experiences here.]

The news of Robin Williams’ suicide is everywhere at the moment, and this certainly isn’t the first blog response to it, and I doubt it’ll be the last. In some ways, this is usually the sort of thing I would write about on my recovery blog, but I want to be able to put this out publicly for everyone to read, and those two things don’t work well together.

Honestly, my thoughts are still a mess. When the story first broke, when the word ‘suicide’ was first used, it felt a bit like someone had pulled the string on my diaphragm and snagged it taut. For many people in my generation, Robin Williams was a staple of childhood, a huge influence and presence while growing up. It’s hard not to feel the inherent tragedy of someone who made so many people laugh ending up lost in such deep depression. The usual ‘if only’s and thoughts on how it shouldn’t have been that way that come with suicide just feel that bit more poignant.

Mr VI said it best for me, in a status he posted online:

“And all I can think of is that all it takes is *one* bad night. Just one. I shudder to think how many bad nights he had over his 63 years. How many times he was hurting but made it on anyway.

Just…be kind to people today, OK? And even it’s *just* today you might save a life. And lives are made up of many days and nights.”

The thing is, I’ve made attempts on my own life before. I first did when I was twelve, with a naively small overdose that nonetheless knocked me out for a few hours and was never treated. Again in my early twenties, more than once. Five times I was hospitalised for it, and I am only alive today thanks to (among other things) the invention of modern fuses. I’ve had those bad nights – I can still remember clearly the moment of just needing everything to stop, of the sense that you just can’t, you just cannot be for even one more minute. The desperation, the blinding exhaustion.

I survived. I took not enough pills, or too many, or changed my mind partway through. Through luck I am still here, and I still live wary of the danger of that one bad night. I started suffering from depression when I was ten. It’s something I’ve learned to live with, but it’s always a risk, always a danger. Always something to overcome.

And the world really is filled with some utterly ableist bullshit. The common narrative of suicide as ‘selfish’ or ‘stupid’ now makes me grit my teeth with anger. I remember hearing it often when I was a teenager, from ‘friends’ who should have known better, who heard me talk about my problems and decided the solution was this ‘frank talk’. I don’t even think they did it maliciously, but that didn’t stop the ignorance causing me untold amounts of anguish.

There was one friend in particular who felt the need to inform me every time the subject came up that self harm was for ‘weak people’. She would never direct it explicitly at me, but my struggles with such were known to her. These little jabs culminated until I once wrote a blog entry about my experience and the concept of it being selfish, and she left a comment saying the exact same: ‘I wouldn’t say self harm is selfish, just weak.’ Something snapped, and being fourteen and having serious confrontation issues I wrote an entry responding to it angrily. This blew up and ended with me desperately apologising for offending her, as she was convinced (and subsequently convinced me) that her comment had been perfectly reasonable and I had ‘turned into some kind of hate-note’. I felt awful about it for a very long time, as if I had taken my issues out on my friend for no reason.

Alas, it wasn’t just peers who would say this sort of thing. I wrote a piece in college about a girl who self harmed and the teacher commented that ‘you have to be pretty messed up if you’re taking a knife to your arm’ as a criticism of me trying to portray her as reasonable. My scars weren’t as obvious back then, and so I doubt she knew I was a self harmer, but saying that sort of thing casually to a sixteen year old was still fucked up.

These messages were everywhere – from the song ‘Waste’ by Staind (which I would listen to and berate myself over) to everyday conversations and media representations. I was bombarded with it, told over and over that I was weak, selfish, and less than for suffering from a mental illness. People would always frame it in terms of ‘what you’re depressed about’, looking for justifications, rather than accepting that actually it’s a chemical imbalance and while things being shit certainly didn’t help, it wasn’t the cause. There was no one issue you could fix and resolve and suddenly have everything be better.

Growing up it didn’t get any easier. My abusive partner pushed my self esteem into the ground, leaving me feeling suicidal (and not telling anyone) for months. When I finally tried to tell him, he reacted exactly as I’d known and feared he would – ‘don’t be so fucking dramatic’. Years later, back at the hospital, you could never tell if you’d be treated by a doctor who was sympathetic or who would treat you like dirt. Things I was told by doctors in A&E include:

‘If any other patients come in, I’m going to leave this and go treat them first.’

‘People in the world have it far worse. You should look at pictures of blind and deaf children to make yourself feel better.’

‘You don’t need medication, you just need life goals. I went through medical school which is one of the most stressful things you can do and I didn’t cut myself.’

The worst part of this was that in the shame and mire of having just tried to kill myself, I had absolutely no will in me to point out how fucked up and wrong they were. I just nodded and accepted it. My other two visits, the doctors were absolutely amazing and supportive and helpful, which fortunately for me included my worst time. The nurses were always great. There was never anything in the middle.

All I can conclude about this? We need to talk about depression.

But we don’t just need to talk about it in vague terms. We need to make a concentrated effort to change the way it’s portrayed in our media, to make sure our medical professionals are educated on the matter. Suicide is not selfish. Self harm is not weakness. These are signs of an illness, a disability that people who have never experienced cannot possibly imagine – it’s not just the same as having a bad day or feeling a bit sad. The more people have these messages pushed onto them, the less likely they are to actually come forward and look for help, because god knows the last thing you need when you feel suicidal is to have someone tell you what an awful person you are for thinking it.

We need better treatments, we need more support. We need the tabloids to get smacked around the head for the way they’ve reported on this (some of the headlines made me feel physically sick in the grotesque and ghoulish detail they went into). We need more options for people who are suffering from mental illness to get help before it reaches a crisis point.

For now, I just want to curl up and not read or think about it too much. I want to move away from the knife-sharp memories of my own attempts – of the utter devastation that failing to kill myself brought. I want a little more kindness in the world, a little more laughter, and the sad fact is that we just lost a source of kindness and laughter.

RIP Robin Williams.