the muffled screams of a cluttered mind

Authorial Voice and Blogging

When writing fiction, exercising your authorial voice is a tricky thing to get right. Rough drafts can sometimes end up cowed by its shadow or limp due to its hesitance. Being able to strike a balance is essential in order to allow a story to unfurl organically. Yet, no matter how hard or easy you may find it to begin with, it will always be there. You are writing a story, after all, and it’s rather difficult to tell a tale without a voice driving the narrative forward in some form.

Blogging, on the other hand, is a rather different beast. The possibilities presented by a blog allow for significant deviation from the normal mode of writing. Yes, you can write stories and relay information from your own perspective – you’ve probably noticed that (when I do write) I tend to follow this path. But there are plenty of other ways to approach a blog.

You can address your readership directly and encourage interaction and discussion to gain a wide range of, hopefully, constructive criticism to inform how you to decide to refine particular projects. You can display your work and just be happy that it’s out there for people to see, without ever checking for comments. You can even create a community blog and involve your readership in the creation of content. You can use this approach no matter whether your blog covers fiction writing, non-fiction, or news.

There are virtually limitless possibilities regarding what you can use a blog for and how you can present it. But still, the most prevalent type of blogs are those where news, in all its forms, is regurgitated with no distinct voice behind it. I have never understood the purpose of this last type.

It doesn’t particularly matter whether you are writing about international events or this week’s comic releases. Good reporting, or journalism of any kind, needs an authorial voice just as much as any work of fiction. Yet, there are countless blogs out there that are quite happy to spew up a vague rewording of a press release or news report without ever attempting to comment on the story they display.

I am certainly no great authority on blogging, but the basic purpose of a blog is to allow you to connect with other people, even fleetingly. If you have a personal blog it should be there to represent your opinion, your outlook on the world. If you would rather fill that space with words cribbed from other sources and never comment on a single thing you may as well print out those original articles and throw them blithely into the streets. Without your voice present to explain why the articles you are re-hashing are important in some regard, personal or political, your blog is meaningless.

Blogging is accessible to almost anyone, but it is a medium driven by personal opinion and expression. I learned a long time ago* that not everyone has something to say. I just wish they would realise it so that those that do can be heard.

* In a childhood far, far (OK, not that far) away

Pity for the Poisoner

Venomous words roll from your dissembling tongue with ease in the absence of the defendants. All pretence of comradeship forsaken as the door clicks shut. Your intangible barbs slice deeply, though not as intended. Each acid flecked barrage serves only to sever the final vestiges of our waning trust. No credence is given to the tortuous calumny that seeps so freely through your splintered masks.

What warps and sullies a soul to so extreme an extent that its only solace can be found in such underhanded destruction of civility?

I know not, but I pity you.

You, who are destined to live a life of spite and misery,

You, who would so eagerly ascend on the bloodied backs of fellow travelers to attain nothing of lasting value or worth,

When you finally reach that barren destination you will find that your high tower’s steeple has served only to split the rancid belly of your bitter soul. It has left you cold and hollow; its frosted silken walls will not bring you happiness, or love, or warmth to carry you through the long nights ahead.

The defendants will not be returning. The doors are bolted; Arachne’s weave has been cut.

We have made our homes far from your withering shadow and, though we pity you, you will be forgotten.

Breaking Boxes

Boxes are made to be broken. From the inside out, or the outside in, that is their purpose. You may be labouring under the common misapprehension that boxes are made to contain things. It’s an easy trap to fall into. After all, boxes do tend to end up containing things. But that is not their purpose, it is merely part of their function.

Boxes are a manifestation of decisions, conscious and otherwise, to segregate naturally occurring phenomenon. Sometimes they are constructed for convenience and ease of identification. But too often they are assembled with malign intent.

Not all boxes look like boxes. Some are fashioned from fences and walls. Others manifest in the form of police lines and hysteria.

Most are built with words.

Fear is a box builder, the most prolific of them all. It dwells deep inside us, waiting to be called upon when we are confronted with something we do not yet understand. Initially it emerges as instinct, infecting us in utero, ready to compartmentalise the feedback received by our newly formed synapses. We are then born directly into the boxes fashioned by the fears of our parents and elders to protect us from the tumultuous tides of the world. Though each of these boxes dimensions vary, sometimes wildly, their flaws and knot holes are firmly of our guardians design.

Whilst every new container has been constructed from a blueprint, at this point in our evolution they have been re-drawn so many times the lines have begun to fray and bend. Successive generations of boxes are beginning to break faster than at any prior point in our specie’s short history. Fear may be a prolific builder, but it is not a good one, and we are growing smarter. We are escaping faster. You may cite plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. But, before you do, step back and take a look at how far we have traveled from our inauspicious origins. If you then take a closer look at where we are now you will quickly become aware that those amongst us that hate, and fight, and kill are still deeply entrenched in their boxes. They have sealed the lids, erected defenses, and declared hostility to everything that exists outside the construct of their inner fears.

That is why it is up to those of us that have been freed from our hereditary captivity to take a stand. The very existence of these boxes hurts us all; they stunt and deform us.

In order for us to advance together, they must be destroyed.


The Importance of Non-Violent Protest

I actually started to write this in a notepad late last night with no intention of sharing it on here. But, after today’s events at the Shard, it seemed pertinent to share my personal take on the importance of peaceful protest in raising awareness of causes that would otherwise be overlooked.

I’d also like to say congratulations to the #iceclimb team for being so successful in their endeavour. You stole the spotlight and made a lot of people who didn’t know much about the Arctic drilling – myself included – a lot better informed, and outraged, in the best possible way.

 The Importance of Non-Violent Protest

When I was ten, I was a chorister at Westminster Cathedral in London. This involved singing mass in the Cathedral itself six days a week with Monday off. In exchange for this, I received a private school education between the ages of eight and thirteen. It was a very regimented, sheltered environment

I had no clue about anything.

The real world might as well have been another universe. Please don’t misunderstand me here, I wasn’t a “true believer” or anything like that. But all I knew was the ritual and the songs and, frankly, the ritual didn’t mean anything to me. It just meant standing up and sitting down in a pre-ordained sequence, and occasionally we would get to sing something cool in between the day’s plainchants. I certainly wasn’t alone in viewing it that way. Though I will admit that the pageantry of the main feast days was quite fun in a purely theatrical sense.

My friends and I were just kids that could sing. We didn’t think much of the wider implications of anything we were participating in – we weren’t required to.

The first real indication I got of the reality that existed beyond the high, protecting walls of the choir school happened on a Sunday in 1994. I believe that the gospel had just been read and the presiding priest was mid-sermon when, all of a sudden, there were white balloons floating up to the high arched ceiling, and a small group of people were being escorted from the building amidst tuts of disapproval from the general congregation.

Of course, they weren’t balloons. They were helium filled condoms. But no one bothered to explain that to us. Nor was it explained that the people being escorted from the building were members of the LGB rights group OutRage! who were protesting the incumbent pope’s stance on homosexuality.

It wasn’t until after I’d left the choir school a few years later that I was able to find out any of that information. No one told us a thing. But I’d caught a glimpse of something different. There were adults that disagreed with the established narrative and these people… protested?

“What’s a protest?”

No answer.

As far as epiphanies go it wasn’t anywhere near the level of a particular Mitchell & Webb sketch. But my mind began to open to the possibility that not everything I had been told was necessarily as sacrosanct & agreed upon as I had been led to believe. So I started to ask questions, and when I continued to be ignored, I read books and learnt about things no adult would willingly share with me.

Needless to say, by the time I eventually heard of a band called Rage Against The Machine, a year and a half later, I was already well on my way to leading a much more interesting life than the one that had been chosen for me.

All because a small group of people weren’t afraid to stand up in public and say, “No!”

Changes [aka, How I Plan On Escaping the Rise of the Morons]

I’m going to preface this post with a warning. If you recently started following this blog (*thank you*) because of my short story posts, you might want to give this one a miss. This post is the sound of me writing down what ever junk is cluttering up my head and throwing it out on here so I can think about more important things – like stories! If you come back later in the week there should be something more to your taste up here. But, for now, this is what was happening in my head at eleven this morning. You have been warned.

I spend a lot of time sat at a desk, in an office, doing nothing of importance. I’m doing it right now. Sometimes it’s busy; other times, not so much. But no matter how busy or slow it is I know for a fact – I do not want to be here. This is not what I should be doing with my life. So I scheme, and dream, and imagine an alternate me doing all of the things that I wish I could be doing. Then I go home and plot how to make things change. I do it for hours. Then I go to bed.

Occasionally I will free myself from this pathetic shroud of misery and spiraling disappointment and realise:

“This is the most ineffective and depressing way of going about changing my life!”

Then I sit there and keep right at it, like some demented reverse pavlovian dog/man/dumbass.

On even rarer occasions I get to the stage where I will write about this phenomenon. See, I’m doing it right now(!) This sort of exercise tends to end in me announcing, to no one in particular, that I’m going to change. “I will seize the reins of my own life and do everything that I’ve always dreamed of doing!”

It doesn’t work.

I’ve honed my inner cynicism and anti-establishment sentiments to such a degree that when I make such a grand proclamation some hideous, hipster-like, part of my brain reads those words and screams, “FUCK YOU, I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!”

It’s dumb, and it probably relates to the depression that I have, but usually refuse to acknowledge until it has me over a barrel.

So I’m making no promises to anyone, or anything, anonymous or otherwise. I’m just going to try a bit harder to change things from day to day and see how it goes. I’ve already been writing more in various notebooks for the past few months. It’s cool, but it sucks too because I want to share the things I’m working on but they’re nowhere near presentable at the moment. It’s very easy to talk and write about how fantastic something’s going to be in the future. But my problem has always been getting there. Getting to the future with the story laid out in some place that isn’t my head is not something I seem to be able to do much anymore.

I’ll level with you – my grammar sucks. I just don’t understand it now. I used to – I nearly did a combined English/Drama degree for god’s sake – same as I used to be able to read music as easily as I breathe. But somewhere over the past decade those skills have faded as they’ve become less applicable to my everyday life.

It’s probably safe to say that I’ve unlearnt more than I’ve learnt in the past ten years. My memory is definitely worse than it used to be, but I think that’s just because most of what I l hear and see each day is irrelevant to me, personally. It doesn’t compare to the conversations I used to have with friends, teachers, or colleagues at my previous jobs. There is no excitement or interest in the wider world, and I am no longer surrounded by people who like the same things that I do.

For example, if I were to mention any of the following topics: Politics, Gender, Sexuality, Equality, Hacktivism, Comics, Anime, Performer and Performance as Catalyst for Change – all of which can lead to some really interesting discussions, I think you’ll agree – the best reaction I can hope for at work  is a shrug or grunt of disinterest. In some cases these are actually met with outright hostility and a level of closed-mindedness that absolutely astounds me:

Politics – “It’s all Bullshit; they’re all as bad as each other.” <-An amalgamation of pretty much the same phrase I’ve heard from everyone I speak to about this subject at work, and home.

Gender/Sexuality/Equality“Where the fuck did we go wrong?” <- That’s a genuine quote from the woman that sits next to me at the office. This was said in response to the subject of transgender & gay people being brought up about a month ago. I won’t expound any further on her views of equal marriage. But you can see my reaction, here.

Also“They’re not usually pretty, are they? You don’t usually see any fit lesbians.” <- That’s another quote from the same conversation; this time from the woman that sits opposite me. She then went on to say that even her boyfriend (and father of her child) thinks that the sole [unfortunate to have ‘friends’ like these] lesbian they know is an anomaly because she’s, “actually fit enough to be [considered] doable”.

Hacktivism  – Oh god. Yes, apparently hacktivists are the scum of the Earth and are, most likely, just putting on a show so that they can gather credit card numbers and personal pictures… Fuck that conversation, I’m sick of it.

Comics/Anime – I don’t dare mention these at work, even though I have an Adventure Time cast picture as my desktop background. At home, my wife is not a fan. She pretty much just views them as a waste of time and money. I also have one friend who claims to be the world’s biggest X-men fan, despite not reading any of the comics since the early 90’s. Any time I mention anything Marvel related my opinion is (obviously) null and void…

Luckily, though, my kids think that daddy knowing lots about comics and cartoons is REALLY COOOOL, so at least I have them to cheer me up. My kids are awesome.

Performer & Performance as Catalyst for Change – This idea is so far out of the box for my work colleagues that I refuse to ever try and broach it again. Some people are just willfully stupid and I see no point in slamming my face into brick walls.

So, yes, I need to make a change so that I am happy and able to pursue something that I find interesting in order to lead a more fulfilling life.

If you were expecting some kind of pay-off at the end here, I apologise. I just needed to vent and re-kick my own arse to be the change I want in my life. After all, who needs a support group when I can just scream into the internet in vain?


TL;DR – I’m gradually trying to change my life because if I don’t I will remain miserable in a pointless job and be surrounded by morons forever.

Relative Importance

Beneath the sky - a tree.
Beneath its leaves - the earth.
Beneath the earth - roots winding down.
Beneath the roots - a body festers.
Maggot riddled, pulped, and forgotten.

The body had a name once. It had a family, and friends.
It loved and laughed, schemed and plotted.

It had at least one enemy.

But the maggots and worms do not care.
The body is a new kind of temple now;
a haven for the denizens that live in the earth 
beneath the roots of the tree whose rusting leaves 
wave cryptic warnings at the darkening sky.

Its tale and history - inconsequential.

© Benedict Durbin 2013

Album Review: The Impossible Girl – The Sky Is Calling

In the interests of full disclosure I would like to make it clear that I am one of the 1,319 people that backed Kim’s kickstarter for this album. Therefore, whilst I have tried to approach this review as objectively as possible, you should be aware that I do not tend to just throw money at things I think I may like.

The Impossible Girl - The Sky is Calling

The Impossible Girl – The Sky is Calling

Now that’s out of the way let’s get down to the business of actually looking at this artist and album.

The Impossible Girl was originally the name of Kim Boekbinder’s first solo album but has since become her musical alias. Before her first album Kim performed with her sister, Zoe, in the cabaret band Vermillion Lies. However, I didn’t become aware of her as a musician/artist until she wrote this post all about pre-selling gigs over on Warren Ellis’s blog. Even after that, which I thought was a rather excellent idea, I was too dumb to actually go and listen to her music. I have only myself to blame.

As I eventually found out, The Impossible Girl (album) was a rare thing of quiet beauty built around simple loops and melodies with Kim’s voice weaving everything together to form a musical love letter to anyone smart enough to stop and listen. The array of instruments involved, from the standard set of  guitar/piano/violins to the supporting cast of found objects (e.g. glasses/dishes in Open/Avocado), all helped to shape the landscape without ever overwhelming the listener. It’s quite mesmerising and I would recommend it to anyone regardless of their personal taste. With that in mind, I was intrigued to see how this approach in her song writing had evolved for The Sky Is Calling.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the theme of the album. From the get go this was established as an album about SPACE, which is a pretty vast subject to tackle at the best of times. Droves of prog-rock and synth bands have spent their entire careers writing about it. The problem with space, as Douglas Adams observed, is that it’s big. As much as I love The Impossible Girl it is a very personal, as well as fantastical, album. So I honestly wasn’t sure how Miss Boekbinder was going to approach such an expansive subject.

The answer turned out to be incredibly simple and effective. She takes us on a journey. The album starts at the beginning and progresses to the distant end. That is to say, it begins at the start of everything – The Big Bang – and progresses, through the past and present, into the future.

Like I said, simple and effective.

After the initial four second synth recreation of that pivitol moment we are pitched straight into the heaving cosmic uncertainty of particles being born, joined, separated, re-joined and shaped into new elements in the first main track of the album: Stellar Alchemist. The bubbling synth loops and steady rhythm capture the idea of fluid creation whilst the Impossible Girl’s voice twists and weaves through the flux with ease giving the song its form. She embodies the Stellar Alchemist and, in doing so, transports the listener in to this brave new land.

Lyrically, the next track, Fix You Good, leaps forward to the idea of humanity attempting to master creation in the lab. Musically, this track incorporates the first use of repeated, layered vocal motifs. This technique will become a leitmotif of the album and harks back to songs from T.I.G., like Open/Avocado. However, its use in this particular song, combined with the vocal imitation of the mid-synth (alto) loop, helps to give the song a more regimented, industrial feel. In turn, this helps to lock the previously fluid, ambiguous possibilities presented in the previous song into a clear pattern. The elements have been tamed.

The title track then breaks from this new found form with an ode to exploration. You should go and listen to it here. This track essentially captures the soul and DNA of this album. It incorporates all of its major song writing elements – simple repetition, layered vocals, and a multitude of synths, to name just a few – and uses them artfully to describe a personal fascination with the cosmos that is instantly relatable for all of us dreamers. The Drake Equation then builds on this, asking the age-old question – Are We Alone?‘.

It says a lot more about me than I would usually care to admit that the mid-point of our journey, Hand to Mouth, is far and away my favourite song on the album. That’s not to say that it’s the best song on the album. But it’s the one that affected me the most on a genuine, personal level.

On my first listen I was already enjoying the album by the time the initial, sparse, synth sequence kicked in. I was glad that I’d backed this album and felt that I had already got my moneys worth. But this song took me by surprise. Like I said before, I was already very clear that this was an album about SPACE. So when an acutely personal song exploring self-doubt, perseverance and the drive to improve and get better/be better materialised from nowhere, it hit me hard. I wasn’t expecting it, and it took my breath away. I ended up listening to it at least four or five times before I could carry on with the rest of the album.

From a purely technical perspective, it’s the drums that carry the song. The fragile nature of that first synth sequence combined with the minimal guitar could have grounded the song and bogged it down. But the drums are relentless. They drive the song forward, never allowing it to falter, and this mirrors the lyrical drive and  determination in Kim’s vocal delivery. Few artists can give voice to lines as easily maligned as, “Will I ever be happy? Look at me now, I’ve got it all, I’m still sad somehow.” or, “Always finding a reason not to be loved.” without spiraling into trite self-pity. But she does it, and it works because self-pity is not the point of the song. It’s the journey – the getting through. I could go on, but all you need to understand from these particular paragraphs is that Hand to Mouth is my personal song of the year. And I never saw it coming.

The next track, Falling Apart, continues this exploration of the personal but takes it and relates it to the larger world; cleverly disguising itself behind the facade of a bouncy, pop song. All of which is then subverted when we come to my second favourite track of the album – Animal.

Animal is a primal, multi-layered, exploration of sense and sexuality told from the perspective of an inventor building a female A.I. that can never be satisfied. Why? Because she lacks the fundamental, natural, ability to feel. It’s a fun song and serves to diffuse any underlying melancholia that more sensitive listeners may have carried over from the previous two songs. It also brings us neatly back to science and exploration.

The following track, Alien, is structured in such a way as to detach from the rest of the album. It slows right down and uses vocal layering to evoke a shifting in the musical ether. Personally, it called to mind the shimmering lights and shifting gas clouds so often used to represent the alien, or other, in countless sci-fi movies. Whilst I originally had some doubts about this song – so jarring is the shift in tempo – I’ve warmed up to it on further playthroughs. I eventually realised that, in some ways, it is the best conceptual song on the album as its structural difference so completely embraces and embodies the track’s title. To Be Touched explores this theme even further with a highly evolved consciousness craving the physical touch of another being. But again, at its core, it is a personal song.

And this is the point at which all the themes of the album, and the musical history of Kim Boekbinder herself, tie together. Yes, this is an album about SPACE. But it is also an album about the self. She has successfully taken this vast theme and used it to explore the deeply personal whilst incorporating the fantastical, as she did previously in The Impossible Girl. Likewise, all of the core song writing mechanics exhibited in her first album are here, just on a grander scale.

The final song, Planet 216 (which is, actually an asteroid) is a celebration of life. The main refrain, a defiant mantra:

“In my solitude I wrote three commandments: You will be fierce, you will be fragile, you will be free.”

The album’s journey has been completed. But the song acknowledges that the personal journey of the listener, and the artist herself, continues; and, like all good art, it gives the listener something to take with us on our way.

You can buy the album here, and you can find out more about The Impossible Girl, HERE.

I strongly recommend you do both of those things.


The Price of Virtue & Honour

I wake, and bathe, and put on my dress. Then I sit and wait in my chamber as I have been told to do. But the waiting tires me and soon I realise there is a dull pain in my stomach. So I rise to call a maid.

That’s when they arrive – the tall men with the tall hats and long jackets with tails that reach down to their knees. There are two of them, one young, one old. They scare me, but I do not show my fear. Fear is a weak, womanly vice and I have been taught not to give into vices for I am virtuous.

The tall men escort me from my chambers, down through the echoing stone halls and stairways of the ancient house, to the waiting carriage. It is a nice carriage; black with silver trim, pulled by dark stallions with feathered head-dresses that whiney and neigh in protest against the chill morning air.

As I descend the entrance steps, I look out across the gardens and see the thin veil of dawn mist beginning to rise, leaving tiny droplets of dew hanging from the foxglove bells in its wake, like tears. The sight makes me shiver and I pull my silken shawl tight around my shoulders. I will be warm soon.

As I approach the carriage, the older of the men unties the rope securing the horses to the balustrade next to the stairs and climbs up into the driver’s seat. The younger man opens the door and helps me ascend the narrow step into the warm interior of the cab before following me inside. He locks the door and takes a seat opposite me. We do not speak.

I am nervous as the carriage starts to move and my breath comes in fits and starts, fogging the air intermittently. The man sits silent and watches me, his face impassive as stone. Though I cannot see his eyes beneath the brim of his hat I can feel them on my skin and my breath quickens involuntarily.

After a short while his gaze begins to disturb me. No man has ever looked at me in such a way before. In truth, no man has ever looked at me. The cab suddenly feels smaller and I close my eyes to focus, desperately trying to quell my rising anxiety. I try to distract myself by studying my hands. I note the short lines that lace across my palms and I count the points at which they intersect, watching how they change as I manipulate my fingers. But I can still feel him watching me and my anxiety refuses to subside.

Eventually, despite the cold, I begin to fan myself with my hand, and that’s when I hear the crowds cheering; my simple gesture mistaken for a wave. Surprised, I realise that we have reached the town already. The journey has been much shorter than in my dreams of this moment.

I look out at the townsfolk lining the road and reality diverges yet further from my imaginings. They look wretched and drawn – drained of their colour. Haggard husks clad in drab garments and heavy shawls. Yet they seethe with a fraught energy the like of which I have never seen before. I feel another pang in my stomach, but I swallow and block it out. Our journey is almost done.

We progress slowly down the rest of the main street, flanked the entire way by men, women, and children, all straining to touch the cab. Finally, we pull into the town square and the driver reins the horses to a standstill. The tall man unlocks the door and raises a hand as he descends to ward off the surge of the assembled throng. He then offers me his other hand to help me down and I emerge into the sweat and stench of the massed bodies clamouring to catch a glimpse of me in my finery. I am humbled by their devotion.

We push forward. Hands grope and grasp from the crowd desperately trying to reach me, but my escort deftly fends of such gestures and I reach the scaffold unmolested.

Once I am in position, an official in carmine robes says a few words that rouse further cheers from the assembled townsfolk. I smile with beatific grace as they raise their sigils to the Mother in thanks and I understand, in that moment, this is my purpose. This is my part to play and I will not fail these people – my people. Though some small part of my soul yearns to run and be free, their faith must be rewarded.

Now, the warmth is rising around me. It flits between my skirts and dances up my sleeves and hair caressing my neck with cinder kisses. Briefly, my stomach aches again. Oh, how it aches. But I do not complain. No. I do not complain.

Crap I write in the office (1/∞)

In my mind there’s an eagle but in my heart there’s a moose.

I may need to clarify that statement.

I am an artist and I have decided that today is the day I start my new novelty webcomic. There will be regular updates. There will be forums, with updates, and – most importantly – there will be Merch. Also known as merchandise.

Money will be made hand over fist, and I’ll never have to work in an office again. That is the plan.

That would be the plan.

Unfortunately, none of the above is true. I am not an artist – I cannot art. When I try to art, whether by manipulation of pen, pencil, or brush, I fail miserably. But it’s nice to dream, and in my dreams my webcomic is about a moose (even though my brain tells me an eagle would probably sell better).

It’s hilarious. You guys are missing out.

If only I could art.

You’re Safe, Honest!

“If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and your personal life you have nothing to fear – nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls or anything like that.”

– William Hague, (UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) reassuring us that as long as we have nothing to hide there’s no harm in the police or government monitoring everything because it will never affect you or me. You know, apart from when they periodically monitor us to check that we don’t need to be monitored.

I feel so safe now.