So this is usually the column in which I round up the great and the not-so-great things I have read, watched and listened to in any given month.
Which begs the question: what if I haven’t really done anything?
I didn’t even take this photo.
For all my talk about openness around mental health, there’s one thing I haven’t really shared: that over the past few months I’ve been slowly, and with doctor’s supervision, cutting back on my anti-depressants – with a view to, if the time is right, stopping them entirely. For somebody who has been on some form of medication for her mental health for most of the past 18 years, this is kind of a big deal – particularly when I’ve tried before, and barely got a third of the way to where I have right now. But with a big change in my circumstances has come the opportunity to try again.
But this latest change, which coincided with the start of the month, has been the toughest. I seem to be at the dose which marks the difference between remembering to go to bed, or remembering to take a break for lunch, and… not. I’m bone-weary exhausted, all the time (perhaps because I’m not sleeping until past midnight, or having lunch until 3pm), and I’m ending up in bed with a migraine with depressing regularity – and almost always on a Friday or Saturday night.
My previous dose changes have not been without side effects, but they tended to pass after a fortnight most. This has been going on for about six weeks, which has been six weeks in which I have just about had the energy to go to work and to keep my blog going. (And, also, to forgo making any plans in favour of couch time and binge-watching American Horror Story, but we’ll get to that.)
Now, before you start worrying about me (hi Dad), rest assured that I am listening to my body’s cues, drinking lots of water and avoiding stress as much as I can. I have re-started my bullet journal, and this week in particular I am upping my bedtime game with fresh sheets, less screen-time and stricter bedtimes to see if that makes any difference. Going drug-free remains, at least for now, a goal worth pursuing; but I’m not so stuck on it that it’ll be at the expense of my job and my sanity, so there’s that.
And now it’s September, which promises to be the best month: the return of my fave show, two road trips and three gigs I’m excited enough to have actually bought tickets for. Oh, and the small matter of the McIlvanney Prize ceremony on Friday night at Stirling Castle, which I have NOT bought a new dress for due to my new-found thriftiness but still intend to look smokin’ hot at.
Yeah, did I mention my husband made the shortlist for Scottish crime fiction book of the year..?
So yes. Life is good. Apart from the headaches. But hey, who gets everything they ever wanted, anyway?
My Lesbian Mums (BBC iPlayer): Twenty years ago, Jillian Stewart’s mother Susan came out as a lesbian. In 2014, her mums Susan and Gerrie made history as the first lesbians in Scotland to marry each other. But have changing societal attitudes made life any easier for gay parents and their children? I was drawn to this short documentary – part of the BBC’s recent Prejudice and Pride season – because Gerrie was my wedding celebrant and is my friend, but you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Jillian’s lovely family-focused documentary. It was particularly interesting to hear about the impact their mums’ relationship had on the older children, as Jillian was only four when they got together. You can catch up on YouTube. ****
Jane The Virgin, season 2 (Netflix): This ridiculously over-the-top romantic comedy drama has long been one of mine and Jehane’s favourite telly dates. It’s so easy to dip into, thanks in no small part to the narrator recaps at the start of each episode that are a huge part of the show, that it takes us months to get through a season while we’re distracted by the latest new and shiny. This season, having given birth to the son with which she was artificially inseminated, the virginal title character continues to wrestle with her love life, her family, grad school and a murderous drug cartel skilled in plastic surgery. But it’s so good-natured for that, and the relationships between Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and her mother and grandmother are so beautifully realised that I’d keep tuning in even if the cliffhangers dried up. ****
American Horror Story: Murder House (Netflix): Although I’d seen the name of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s horror anthology series doing the rounds, it wasn’t until Laura asked me back onto her podcast to discuss the trailer for the upcoming 7th season, Cult, that I’d ever seen any of it – but I was immediately intrigued. So much so that I promptly binge-watched the first season, Murder House, starring Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott, in about four days. As over-the-top as Jane The Virgin, but in a decidedly more gory way (the plot is pretty much in the name guys), this ludicrously hammy horror had me thoroughly entertained – and the good news is I will soon have six more standalone series to binge! ****
Atomic Blonde (2017): Although I’ve seen this described as Charlize Theron playing a gender-flipped James Bond in 1980s Berlin, Stringer described this as a mash-up of two films: one, a moody spy flick; the other, a cheesy, over-the-top action movie. I felt the same, although my frame of reference was closer to music videos. “I liked them both,” he said. Me, too. Also: eyeliner inspiration for days. ***
Get Out (2017): Another one of those films that started out as one – dark, creepy – thing, and eventually unravelled to become something else that I didn’t like quite as much – albeit served with a healthy, hilarious helping of race-based commentary that I very much enjoyed (there’s a scene at the end that’s just… well, this well-meaning white person cringed so hard she almost ended up in the Sunken Place). ****
Brooke Magnanti – You Don’t Know Me (2017): One of the smartest people I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to speak, and a very intelligent and human writer, Brooke Magnanti could probably have reinvented herself however she wanted to and made it work. Instead, her second crime novel – which is even stronger than the first – goes hard on all the topics Magnanti knows better than anybody else (sex work, double lives, media shaming), while introducing (in some cases re-introducing) us to some really wonderfully-drawn, memorable and nuanced characters along the way. ****
Doug Johnstone – Crash Land (2016): A confession: meek-willed laddie gets swept into the orbit of sexy, mysterious lady with a dark secret is perhaps my least favourite genre in all of fiction, so this book had a lot of work to do to win me over. I think it just about managed it though, thanks in part to its fascinating Orcadian setting (I spent a lot of time on Google Earth while reading this one) and some really sensitively done treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. ***
Amy Engel – The Roanoake Girls (2017): So… you know that X-Files episode Home – the one so disturbing it was banned from television for three years? Cross that with The Virgin Suicides, and you might just come close to the premise of this fucked up novel by erstwhile YA author Amy Engel. Sure, I read it in like a day, but I probably spent the same amount of time showering afterwards. ***
Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good At This: Breezy melodies, sugar-sweet vocals and razor-bladed lyrics are my jam, so I’m all-in on an album that begins: when I was sixteen I dated a boy with my own name // it was weird in the back of his truck moaning my name while trying to fuck. Diet Cig is vocalist/guitarist Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman, and their debut album is about asshole boyfriends, vulnerability in male-dominated spaces and eating ice cream on your birthday. All relevant to my interests. They’re also playing Glasgow next month, which I am also very much here for.
And Emily Haines‘ new album, Choir of the Mind, is out next week. I haven’t heard it yet, but I absolutely love the “Statuette” video (warning: it’s pretty uncomfortable viewing).
The She Street Band, SWG3, Glasgow, 5th August: My favourite thing about the all-female Bruce Springsteen cover band show? Just how many people I knew were completely unsurprised to see me down the front. It would have been hard to imagine a better set, or a more fun show, from band founder Jody Osborn and her girl gang of incredible musicians, performing – and, in some cases, quite fantastically reinterpreting – some of my favourite songs. Plus my interview with the band got me a shoutout from the biggest and most famous Springsteen fansite around, which I’m still smiling about even now.
Adam, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 22nd August: The incredibly powerful true story of Adam Kashmiry (who plays himself in the show), a young Egyptian trans man forced to seek asylum in Scotland – backed by a 120-strong, digital choir of trans and non-binary singers. It’s a gorgeous piece of theatre with beautifully-done experimental elements, and yet never forgets its grounding in real lives, real events – and one man’s incredible story. It’s on at the Citizen’s Theatre next week as part of a double bill with Jo Clifford’s autobiographical play Eve, and I’d urge you to catch it if you can.
Lana Del Rey, SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 23rd August: I struggled to find the words for just how compelling Lana Del Rey was in the flesh, which was awkward as I was getting paid for them. The pristine, impassive veneer she brings to those incredible pop songs on record just melts away live, revealing something far more intimate – and utterly joyous – that I’m still not completely over.
I also saw a lot of stuff at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – all of which I would heartily recommend, should it be coming to a venue anywhere near you – and would have seen a lot more if it hadn’t been for the ol’ depression/exhaustion combo. Oh well.
- sharing Kaite‘s first freelance Monday with her (and introducing her to the delight that is
the hill leading up toSingl-end);
- T2 Tea‘s new Scots Breakfast blend – and some Big Bear Bakery cakes made with it!;
- the cute-but-mighty Pebble portable charger Stringer purchased for my freelance adventures;
- getting my first ever essay-style piece commissioned, for Monstrous Regiment’s upcoming anthology of bisexual narratives (back us on Kickstarter pls);
- introducing my little sister to country!Taylor Swift (aka The Best Taylor Swift) over Korean foot peels in our Biggar hotel room;
- all the new Rebecca Solnit essays that appeared online this month, particularly If I Were a Man in the Guardian.
Here’s to a better month!