Books, Film, and TV of 2020

Funnily enough, one of my goals for this year was to consume more new media, to experience new stories, expand my creativity, and just for fun. The first semester of the year didn’t really allow for that very much but then lockdown happened. Initially, my anxiety was so high that all I could do was watch comfortable, familiar, and safe stories, but slowly I started adding in new ones as a means of escape. This basically revolved around film and TV as I just didn’t have the brain space to read with all of the fear and anxiety taking up so much space. But I really started to get into watching new things and enjoyed it more and more; I think I’d gotten stuck in a bit of a rut of rewatching old things because it allowed me to do other things at the same time, namely my constant (and desperate) attempts to keep up with my OCD-induced diary. But with so little going on, I really only had to write about the new things I was watching. Back at university, there’s been less time but I have still managed the odd new thing here and there.

I haven’t included everything in this post – for obvious reasons. I’ve just written about the ones I thought were really good or had something specific that I wanted to say about them. Please don’t feel that you have to read the whole thing in detail; feel free to skim or just look at one section for example. Hopefully there will be something in here that you walk away thinking, “oh, I want to read/watch that…” Fair warning, there will be some spoilers but I will try and mark them clearly.


BOOKS

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy – My therapist gave me this book just before lockdown and I absolutely adore it. I love the beauty and simplicity of it, of the drawings, of the words, of the characters and the little conversations between them, about everything from cake to fear of the future… I can completely understand it not being for everyone – it is a very specific style of book and approach to life – but  I loved it and found great comfort in it. I still do. It’s permanently by my bed so that I can just open it at random and read a few passages.

I Would Leave Me If I Could by Halsey – Halsey’s first collection of poetry is described as “In this debut collection, Halsey bares her soul. Bringing the same artistry found in her lyrics, Halsey’s poems delve into the highs and lows of doomed relationships, family ties, sexuality, and mental illness. More hand grenades than confessions, these autobiographical poems explore and dismantle conventional notions of what it means to be a feminist in search of power. Masterful as it is raw, passionate, and profound, ‘I Would Leave Me If I Could’ signals the arrival of an essential voice.” It’s definitely true that she bares her soul: some of the poems are uncomfortably honest, giving you the sensation of reading a person’s diary. She’s sharing things she’s never shared before and she’s never been one to hide the ugly from the ugly sides of life. (It’s worth noting that some of the poems have graphic descriptions in them and she does discuss some really difficult subjects like abuse and sexual assault so if those things are likely to trigger you, it may be important to have a conversation with yourself about whether you’re in the right place to read the book.) Some of the ones I found most powerful were Due Date, Battles, Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 1, Wish You The Best, Eight, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, American Woman, Telltale, Tornado, Lighthouse, The Painter, High-Five Kids, A Story Like Mine, I Would Leave Me If I Could, Something For Them, and Seventeen. These aren’t necessarily ‘favourites’ because some of them are practically painful to read, knowing that she has gone through these experiences. But these are some of the ones that gave me that gut-punch feeling, ones that felt so important to the collection. I have such respect and admiration for her in sharing these stories; it’s one of the bravest pieces of personal writing I’ve ever seen. You can feel her passion and her sincerity and her emotions pouring off the page and I think that is what most drew me into this book. Yes, I loved the writing but the emotion was what made it so powerful. The closing lines to Ordinary Boys, I think, sums up the book really well: “You write to calm the craving. / To corner them in fiction / And say / Finally, / I have conquered you.

(I also read chapters and excerpts of multiple music and songwriting books for my course but as they weren’t for the sake of just reading and I didn’t always read the complete book each time, it didn’t feel right to include them here.)

I would’ve loved to have read more this year and I had so many plans but between my mental health struggles and university commitments, I just haven’t been able to. Hopefully next year will be a better reading year.


FILM

What Happened To Monday – In a dystopian future where every family is only allowed one child, septuplets, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday must remain hidden by assuming the singular identity of Karen Settman. They each go out one day a week – the day they were named after – and until the age of thirty, they manage to go unnoticed. But then Monday doesn’t come home and the sisters fear their secret has been discovered. It’s a really great action film (although, be warned, it doesn’t shy away from fairly graphic violence) and Noomi Rapace is incredible, playing seven distinct women, each with their own personalities, their own struggles, and their own emotional reactions (I’ve seen some people call the different personalities less than subtle but, if you’re only real existence isn’t really who you are or want to be, I wouldn’t be surprised by a need to defiantly distinguish yourself from the people ‘sharing’ your identity). From the emotional scenes to the action sequences, she was fantastic and I found myself connecting to each of the sisters in different ways, although I think Friday was my favourite. Despite being an action film, the emotional storyline is what really carries the film, getting more and more intense as the minutes pass. And the ending is really, really interesting but I won’t give it away. I thought the aesthetic was perfect for the story and really effective in elevating the emotions of the story. With the complicated moral debate that the film is based on, the multiple characters, the relationships between them, and the challenges they face, it really is a multi-layered movie, leaving you with a lot to think about after it ends.

(I kind of wish they would make a sequel of sorts because the underlying problem – the rapidly growing population and society’s inability to cope with that – isn’t solved. It wouldn’t have to involve the main characters, apart from maybe a cameo or two to bridge the films, and it could be shot like a documentary, like the ‘The Truth Behind The Child Allocation Act’ (the law that enforces the one child per family policy). Half of it could tell the story of how the Settman sisters revealed that truth (which could be where the cameos come in, the use of ‘crowd footage’ of certain moments, and interviews with scientists, etc) and then the other half of it could be about the committees put in place to find a better solution to the population problem. I think that could be a really interesting way to build on an already existing universe but without it needing to be a direct sequel but more an expansion of that world.)

Isn’t It Romantic – Romantic comedies aren’t usually my thing and I’ve never seen Rebel Wilson in something I enjoyed so I wasn’t expecting to like this film when a friend picked it for a Netflix Party but I ended up LOVING it. I loved how it made fun of romantic comedies (as well as challenging the toxic elements that can appear in them); I thought Rebel Wilson was hilarious; the musical numbers were great; and it was just such a joyful, feel good film. I’ve watched it multiple films since my first viewing and it always cheers me up.

Ocean’s 8 – I really enjoyed this film. Probably more than the original trilogy. I loved all of the main characters and how different they all were and yet, they became this great team. I loved the dynamics between them, even if many of them weren’t given the time or opportunity to be properly fleshed out (it was a big cast so that’s not exactly surprising). There were so many awesome people in the cast, even the cameo parts. Helena Bonham Carter was brilliant and I adored both Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. They were gorgeous and hilarious and they had great chemistry; I wanted them to have their own spin off adventures, just the two of them. I’m not sure if I ship them in the conventional sense (as I know many people do) but there’s definitely a relationship there that would be really cool to see explored. Anyway. I loved the multiple twists and the comedy was right up my alley (most of the time – there were a few moments that made me cringe but that’s still quite impressive since comedy isn’t really my genre). And the ending was just perfect.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky – I love so many of the Studio Ghibli films and during lockdown, a group of friends and I watched a few of them. I hadn’t seen this one before and although it felt quite similar to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, in terms of themes and general storyline, I did really enjoy it. It follows a young girl and her friend in their attempts to keep a magic crystal safe from the power-hungry military and find a mythical floating castle. But the biggest thing for me was how beautiful it was: the design of the castle, the abandoned gardens with all the greenery growing freely, the big, glass rooms… it was just utterly stunning. It was definitely the most beautiful Studio Ghibli I’ve seen.

Fantasy Island – When a group of competition winners land on Fantasy Island, they are given the opportunity to have their greatest fantasy fulfilled. But slowly the fantasies start to spiral out of control, becoming much darker than originally intended. When they start to overlap, the group start to get suspicious that maybe these aren’t their fantasies at all, that they might be in the fantasy of someone else altogether. I was drawn in by the idea of fantasies being fulfilled and because I’m a fan of Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, and Michael Peña. It wasn’t a life-altering film but I enjoyed it and thought it threw out some interesting stuff about the things we fantasise about, whether they’d actually play out that way if they happened in real life, and who we’d be if they did happen. So, yeah, I felt like it was an afternoon well spent.

The Half of It – Solitary, introverted Ellie Chu lives in a small town, practically taking care of her widowed father and making extra money by writing homework assignments for her classmates. When the less than eloquent, dorky football player, Paul Munsky asks her to write a love letter for Aster Flores, a girl who goes to their school, she initially refuses, secretly in love with Aster herself. But when the power company threatens to cut off her house’s electricity, she accepts in order to make the payment. One letter turns into more and Ellie and Aster connect over their shared love of art and literature, although Aster believes it’s Paul she’s connecting with. Ellie and Paul also start to bond over the experience. I won’t say more than that because the story unfolds so beautifully that I don’t want to ruin it. It’s a funny, gentle, and “quietly revolutionary” (as I believe Rolling Stone described it) coming of age story. I’m sure there will be those who find it too whimsical or too Fault-In-Our-Stars-esque but there’s so much more too it than that. I loved it. I loved the characters and I loved the different relationships between them. I loved the ideas they discussed: about longing, about love, about art, about identity, about life… And the ending is perfect. Utterly perfect.

Official Secrets – This is a docu-drama based on Katharine Gunn, a GCHQ analyst, who leaked a confidential memo that exposed an illegal spying operation by American and British intelligence services to potentially blackmail members of the UN into voting for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is eventually published but immediately discredited due to someone at the paper accidentally correcting American grammar to British grammar. Meanwhile an investigation is launched at GCHQ and eventually Katharine confesses to what she’s done. War breaks out in Iraq and Katharine seeks help from Liberty, an advocacy group which campaigns to challenge injustice, protect civil liberties and promote human rights. Even though this is about a historical event, I don’t want to give too much away because it’s a really fascinating film and I don’t want to ruin that experience if you’re not familiar with the events. It was a very strange experience to watch because I was alive at the time but far too young to be aware of the politics behind it all. I was aware of the war and went to the protest marches with my parents (so, somewhere, I’m potentially in the march footage that they used) but I didn’t know the details, like the story of Katharine Gunn. So it was a really interesting experience to watch it now and learning about what happened (I researched it more after finishing it) and putting that in the context of the few memories I do have of that time.

The Accountant – I have to admit that I didn’t like this film much, didn’t like how baldly stereotypical the portrayal of Autism was (as an autistic person, I found it so cringe-worthy that I could barely finish it) but there was a moment at the end that I thought was important and so I wanted to include it in this list. A family with an autistic son are being shown around a facility for people with Autism (not hospital or lab like at all though; more like this huge, beautiful country house) where some spend short periods and some live full time. The doctor says something that I think is really important, especially after such a traditional and unchallenging (and, in some ways, harmful) representation of Autism…

NEUROLOGIST: 1 in 68 children in [the US] are diagnosed with a form of Autism. But if you can put aside for a moment what your pediatrician and all the other NT’s have said about your son…

AUTISTIC BOY’S FATHER: ‘NT’s?

NEUROLOGIST: Neurotypicals. The rest of us. What if we’re wrong? What if we’ve been using the wrong tests to quantify intelligence in children with Autism? Your son’s not less than. He’s different. Now, your expectations for your son may change over time, they might include marriage, children, self-sufficiency. They might not. But I guarantee you, if we let the world set expectations for our children, they’ll start low, and they’ll stay there. And maybe… Just maybe… He doesn’t understand how to tell us. Or… we haven’t yet learned how to listen.

Searching – The really interesting thing about this film is how the viewer sees the story entirely through screens: homemade videos, computer screens, FaceTime, news footage, etc. It was really cool, but I can’t imagine that it would work again without feeling like a gimmick. Anyway, for this film, it was a really interesting way of telling the story, what could otherwise be a normal mystery film, albeit one full of unexpected twists. It follows David Kim’s search for his missing daughter, Margot, through which he learns that his daughter was going through much more than he’d realised after his wife and her mother’s death a few years (approximately) earlier. The police come up with multiple theories but continue to hit dead ends but David refuses to give up, leading to some confusing and shocking discoveries.

Enola Holmes – I was really excited for this film and I wasn’t disappointed; I really, really enjoyed it. I never quite got into Stranger Things but I did think Milly Bobby Brown was great from what I did see of it. I absolutely loved her in this role though: the incredibly smart, resourceful, and loyal younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. She had great, effortless chemistry with so many of the characters, including Sherlock himself, her mother (played beautifully and hilariously by Helena Bonham Carter), and the young Viscount Tewkesbury, whose story she accidentally falls into and becomes a part of whilst on her own quest. I loved the story, beginning when Enola’s mother mysteriously disappears, and I loved how it was constantly evolving, starting as one thing and then turning into another and then another. It felt really cohesive and flowed really well as a film: I loved the motifs that kept reappearing throughout, like the meanings of different flowers and Enola paying people to change clothes with her as just two examples. I also really loved how they broke the fourth wall with Enola speaking directly to the audience, looking right at the camera; I think it was a really effective storytelling technique. I really loved it and have watched it several times since my first viewing. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking film while still retaining that feel good factor that makes it so enjoyable to watch over and over again, especially when I’m having a bad day.

Legally Blonde*Spoilers* It was good fun and I loved that it challenged societal norms: that we should fit in and conform, that others can tell you who you are and who you should be, that your interests determine your intelligence, your character, or your value… It was great to see a film with a demographic of (probably) mainly young girls, pushing back against these ideas. I loved how Elle used her own expertise to her advantage and how it allowed her to draw conclusions that the others wouldn’t have come to (although I’m not sure that her knowledge of fashion and style would win her many cases). I loved how accepting she was and how willing to forgive she was, with Vivian for example. I did struggle with some of the stereotypes portrayed, like gay men knowing fashion, the sleazy professor trying to sleep with his student, and so on but it was made almost twenty years ago; I have to hope that things are better now. Having said that, they did publicly out a gay man (technically they tricked him into outing himself but is it really any different if they were planning on that exact outcome?), which is beyond problematic. And then to have the whole thing treated as so hilarious and outrageous makes it seem like no big deal when it is. Outing someone is not only cruel but potentially dangerous. It’s not something to joke about. So as much as I enjoyed the rest of the film and appreciated the positive messages it focussed on, ultimately it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Close – Noomi Rapace as an action hero with a complicated backstory? Count me in. Close follows Sam, a highly experienced Close Protection Officer, who is assigned to protect Zoe, the young and entitled heiress, after her father’s sudden death when she and her stepmother travel to Morocco to secure the future of the family mining empire. But while there, the house is attacked in an attempt to kill Zoe and prevent her from becoming a powerful figure in the company. It seems that the stepmother is trying to eliminate her competition and ultimately it’s left to Sam to protect Zoe (and to an extent, teach her to protect herself) and both get them to safety and find out what’s really going on. While it might not be a life altering movie, I really enjoyed it. I love Noomi Rapace and thought she did an awesome job as Sam. I thought she brought a lot to what could’ve potentially been quite a one-dimensional role: she shows an incredible control, calm and quick-thinking under pressure, but she also has deeply emotional reactions to some of the events that happen throughout the film. Apparently she did all her own stunts and was trained by Jacquie Davis, the UK’s first female bodyguard, whom the character of Sam was actually based on. I just loved her as a character and the conflict she finds herself in protecting Zoe, even when it’s no longer her job. The relationship between them grows as they have to depend on each other and it’s messy and complicated but they ultimately develop genuine affection for each other, which is particularly heartwarming when both of them have had such a hard time trusting others. So, overall, a film I really enjoyed and a greatly appreciated ninety minutes of escapism.


TV

Cheer – I wasn’t sure that this would be something I would enjoy but multiple people that I like and respect recommended it so I thought I’d give it a go and absolutely loved it from the first episode. I already had a hypothetical understanding of how physical and intense and skilled cheerleading is but to actually see it (and see the process of learning a routine, practicing it over and over, and then taking it to the biggest of competitions) gave me a completely new insight and respect for it, in a way that I don’t think I could’ve had had I only had that theoretical knowledge of it. I got so invested in so many of the team members (Morgan especially – I think I related to her the most and her journey had the biggest impact on me) and I finished almost every episode in tears because I was so moved by their stories and their passion and then where they had ended up when the series finished. It’s not an obvious choice for those without an interest in cheerleading or sports but I thought it was really, really good and highly recommend it.

Noughts + Crosses – I loved the books so I’ll admit I was worried that that would affect how I felt about the show or if the show would affect how I felt about the books. But they were quite different (Callum going to Police Training rather than Sephy’s school, Yaro’s appearance in the story, etc), which actually made the series much easier to sink into: I wasn’t constantly comparing them because the difference in the stories felt so significant. It wasn’t hard to love them both and feel emotional about how the events played out in each version. The show had a much darker vibe than the books but then, in the books, we see this society through the eyes of teenagers. However that’s not possible in television: we see the whole picture. Quite literally. We also see different plot lines from characters we saw very little of in the books as the story was told in first person, either from Sephy or Callum’s point of view.

As challenging and upsetting as many of the scenes were, there were so many things I loved about it as a show. I loved the casting and portrayal of the characters, especially when it came to Callum and Sephy. They had such great chemistry that their relationship felt so natural. The acting – all of the acting – was fantastic and you really felt the emotions of the characters as they went through them. I also thought the two families were portrayed so well; the dynamics were so complex, so layered and nuanced. I also loved how visually rich it was: even in the intentionally grim areas, like the industrial areas and the roof of Callum’s house, which I think is ultimately due to the incredible attention to detail that you don’t really get in the books. But in the show, you can really see the cultural influence in every aspect of life (stemming from an African Empire that colonised Europe hundreds of years prior): clothing styles, hair styles, architecture, interior design, advertising, language (slang, pleasantries, terms of endearment, etc), and so on.

I don’t know if I feel educated enough to make an assessment of the representation, especially considering the race reversal and the fact that certain things don’t line up with the present (in the UK at least, which is where it’s set), such as an inter-racial couple being arrested and the death penalty as a potential punishment. It’s not a straightforward comparison. But having said that, it does very effectively and powerfully highlight a multitude of issues around race and class. “Josh Lee [of The Guardian] gave the television series four out of five stars, describing it as a ‘reverse-race love story that is vital viewing.’ Lee praised the series for highlighting the challenges that working-class white people and people of colour share in the real world through its depiction of racism in an alternate world dominated by African supremacy.”

Criminal Minds (Season 15)*SPOILERS* It feels so strange to me that this show is over. I started watching it in mid 2009, in the gap between seasons three and four and now it’s over. I can’t believe I’ve been watching this show for eleven years; that just seems so odd to me. Anyway. I must admit that I’ve been expecting someone to pull the plug on Criminal Minds for a while now. I’m not convinced it’s been consistently good since season seven, although there have been good episodes and story arcs since then; it just felt like they were running out of ideas, reusing old stories and villains, or using ideas that in earlier seasons they would’ve considered too ridiculous or traumatising to make episodes out of. I was endlessly happy to have Emily Prentiss back and that’s ultimately what got me back into the show when I was losing interest, especially with her in the position of Unit Chief; I feel like that was a very natural arc and development of here character. Anyway, back to season fifteen. I hated the cliffhanger to season fourteen and was very relieved to see JJ and Reid recover their friendship and I really liked Reid’s relationship with Max; she seemed like a good fit for him. I wasn’t particularly drawn in by any of the episodes, story wise, and I found Everett Lynch to be a pretty uninteresting nemesis, certainly nothing compared to George Foyet or Ian Doyle. But I liked the more character focussed moments throughout the season. The show was obviously coming to a conclusion and they were muddying the waters of who would be leaving the team, creating new paths for multiple characters. While I would’ve loved to see Emily as FBI Director (not exactly likely given all of the trouble the BAU cause), I think it was fitting that Garcia was the one to leave. She struggled with the darkness of it all and going to work for a non-profit seems like something that would’ve been a really positive place for her to be. As much as I was ready for the show to be over, I found those last few minutes really heartbreaking and I definitely cried when she waved them off, everyone aware that she wouldn’t be there when they got back.

Little Fires Everywhere – As soon as I saw the trailer for this show, I wanted to watch it. The mini series begins with Elena Richardson (played by Reese Witherspoon) watching as her big, beautiful home burns down in front of her and I was instantly invested. We jump back four months and the rest of the series is devoted to finding out what led up to that moment. Set in the late 1990s in the midwest town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, two very different families collide: the Richardson family are privileged, wealthy, and white, while the Warren family are transient, artistic, black, and rarely have money to spare. The children become friends, Pearl Warren drawn to the stability of the Richardson home and developing a crush on the oldest son, Trip, while Izzy Richardson identifies with Pearl’s mother, Mia Warren (played by Kerry Washington), as an artist and outsider. Their relationships bring the mothers closer together with disastrous consequences for all. It’s hard to describe the show without giving anything away, which I don’t really want to do with this one; the show does a much better job than I will. I’m still hoping to read the book but something that I found really interesting was that the author had pictured the Warrens as people of colour because she wanted to talk about how intertwined race and class are but hadn’t felt like she was the right person, as an Asian-American, to talk about a black woman’s experience. But then, when Kerry Washington joined the cast and became an executive producer, the showrunner decided to bring race to the forefront of the story and filled the writer’s room “with creatives who could relate to Mia’s kind of Blackness,” a decision the author was happy with. (x) It was also really interesting to watch how the characters developed and changed due to these relationships and how that affected you, as the person watching, and your feelings about the characters. Everyone I’ve talked to about the show has said the same, that their favourite characters at the beginning of the show weren’t the same as their favourites by the end. But overall, I loved Izzy and I particularly loved the scenes between Izzy and Mia. I thought they were particularly powerful. Having said that, the series is packed with incredibly powerful moments.

Absentia (Seasons 1-3) – Six years after disappearing on the hunt for a serial killer, having been assumed dead, FBI Emily Byrne is found in a cabin in the woods, barely alive and with almost no memory of the years she was missing. Recovering in hospital, she learns that her husband has remarried and that he and his new wife are raising her son. Her former colleagues at the FBI investigate her disappearance again but when they start to find evidence that Emily may have faked her abduction, Emily launches her own investigation and it becomes a race. Will Emily find out the truth before the FBI reach the end of the path they’re being led down? I loved this show. It’s one of my favourites of the year and I may very well rewatch it over the Christmas holidays. I just fell in love with the character of Emily Byrne (played by Stana Katic) – she’s a really well developed character and a total badass – and I was just blown away by how the show portrayed the trauma of what had happened to her, consistently and realistically and with the gravitas it deserved. I also thought it was great that they explored the psychological effects that her disappearance had had on her family and her relationships and how, even though they were incredibly grateful to have her back, their previous issues and their issues stemming from her disappearance didn’t go away and had to be dealt with. So there was a lot of interesting character development throughout the whole show, not just the first season. Fair warning, there’s some serious violence so if that’s not your thing, then you won’t enjoy this. But it’s an incredible psychological-thriller-mystery-drama with great characters. And while I don’t want to talk about the later seasons because that would give away the end of Season 1, I do want to shout out the introduction of the character of Cal Isaac. He’s a really interesting character and I really liked him straight away. The development of his relationship with Emily is done really well too. Anyway, I’m gonna stop here. It’s great. I love it. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Broadchurch (Series 1-3) – Broadchurch follows the partnership of the mysterious and grumpy DI Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and the bright and cheerful DS Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) as they attempt to solve cases (one per series) in the small, seaside town of Broadchurch. It was incredibly gripping and the cliffhangers at the end of each episode were almost unbearable. We watched all three series very quickly because we kept finding ourselves watching almost a whole series in one night. Looking back at it though, I’m not sure I could rewatch it: the stories were so painful and emotional that I’m not sure I could bear to, although I guess that’s a testament to how fantastic the acting is. But I absolutely adored Hardy and Ellie’s relationship; the contrast between their personalities was utterly hilarious but their shared commitment to the job and finding the truth made them a remarkable, if unusual, pair.

Agents of Shield (Season 7)*SPOILERS* I was so upset when I learnt that this year’s season was going to be the last (I legitimately called my Mum in tears when I heard the news) but if there had to be a last, this was the best possible last. It was just incredible, from start to finish. I was a bit wary about it, with the previous season ending with them in the past but then, as they moved towards the present, episode by episode, I really got into it and I loved watching the new timeline develop, story by story. Every episode was excellent but a handful of them were real standouts, not just of the season but of the whole show (7×09 is probably my absolute favourite episode). I loved the references to previous seasons and I loved seeing old characters return as we got closer to the present. I also loved the development of the characters: Coulson, May, and Yoyo all had particularly interesting journeys that I found myself very invested in. And of course, I loved Daisy’s storyline throughout the season. I wasn’t sure a love interest was a good move but they handled it so intuitively that the way it played out felt very natural. And I loved the return to her earlier focus on family and where she came from and what that meant for who she ended up becoming. She was already a powerful figure (powers aside) but she really came into herself in this season and I wouldn’t have thought I could love her more but I did. But then Daisy Johnson is my hero and I will love her forever. I also loved that she was the voice of the audience in the sense of her grief over the team’s story ending; that felt really important and special. And despite it being the end. I loved the ending. It was just absolutely perfect. I sobbed through the last few episodes because it was so powerful and so emotional. A part of me will always want more but I don’t think they could have created a better ending. So I’ll be grateful for what an amazing seven seasons and for all the show has given me. I think it’ll probably be important to me for the rest of my life.

The Fix – I was so happy to have Robin Tunney back on my screen, especially as a main character. I thought her acting, especially when it came to the emotions she was experiencing (or when she had to shut off those emotions), was fantastic. I really enjoyed that the series followed one legal case, allowing the show to really delve into the details and the relationships between all of  the characters, as well as side stories that fleshed out the bigger picture. It might not reinvent the wheel but I really did enjoy it and as I said, it was such a delight to see Robin Tunney again, especially in such a beautiful nuanced and complex role.

Lucifer (Season 5: Part 1)*Spoilers* I love Lucifer and this season certainly didn’t disappoint. I love how much work goes into evolving the characters and their own personal journeys. No one in the ensemble feels like a side character; they’re all beautifully fleshed out, more and more as time goes on. I also thought there were some really great storylines in this season. Michael’s introduction was certainly interesting, although I was glad when he was outed as Michael and not Lucifer so quickly as the idea of Chloe starting a relationship with him, thinking he was Lucifer, made me feel seriously uncomfortable. Both Maze and Dan have really powerful storylines and I felt for them so deeply, even though I hadn’t initially liked Dan. I just wanted to hug Maze the whole time. I also thought the ongoing story of Ella and her boyfriend was a really cool addition. But with so many storylines going on at once, I never felt like the show was unbalanced or that any of stories were treated as filler. And yet it never felt too busy.

There were so many amazing scenes but there were a few that really topped the list. One of them was in the first episode when Maze destroys Lucifer’s piano because she feels so hurt and so angry that Lucifer abandoned her for Hell. Lesley-Ann Brandt’s acting is just incredible; I swear I could feel everything she was feeling. And I’m also really freaking curious how the show made the scene possible, what they did to make it possible for her to tear a piano into pieces. My other favourite is the final fight scene, in episode eight. The choreography is awesome and the special effects, particularly Maze throwing Lucifer through a glass wall while time is frozen, are stunning. The glass seems to hang rather than falling to the floor but they can still sweep it aside. It’s beautiful.

And that cliffhanger. Oh my god.

Away*Spoilers* This is a ten episode season about a group of astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars. I’m a sucker for anything about space and I’ve always really liked Hilary Swank so I was excited when it popped up on Netflix one day. I felt like it started a little awkwardly but I thought the cast were fantastic and I loved the characters, especially the astronauts. I found them all really interesting and complex and I loved seeing how their lives had lead them to that point and I loved the relationships between them, as a group and in the various combinations. I don’t know if that many disasters is realistic or not but I think they conveyed the emotions of the characters really well. I was crying by the end of every episode, if not before. My favourite part without a doubt was the end when, in the last episode, they land on Mars and everything that’s been building through the show (the relationships between the astronauts, their evolving emotions about the mission, the complicated concept of duty, their relationships with their friends and family on Earth) all come to a head. It’s a stunning end and I was just sobbing. Even my Mum, who’d only seen snatches of it as she came and went, found it emotional.

Dare Me*SPOILERS* I’ve been finding this one really difficult to write about, I think because there are so many layers to the story and the relationships between the characters are so complicated. The story follows best friends, Beth and Addy, who’ve been inseparable for years until the new cheerleading coach Colette French arrives, removing Beth’s captainship and completely shaking up the team. Beth, a wild and reckless but ultimately lonely girl, distrusts her immediately while Addy, the loyal follower and peacekeeper, becomes more and more infatuated by Coach French, something that drives a wedge between the two friends. The storyline requires some suspension of disbelief (I doubt a real cheerleading coach would encourage parties and underage drinking in her own home but then, given that she’s bringing positive attention to the cheerleaders and therefore the pretty fucked up little town they’re living in, who knows…) but it’s definitely a wild ride from beginning to end. When I first finished it, I thought, “okay, cool, that was interesting,” but a week later, I realised that I was still thinking about it a lot, especially about the characters and their relationships. They were so complex and intriguing. I was fascinated. I even ended up writing a song based on the show.

The Queen’s Gambit*Spoilers* I know a lot of people found this show really gripping right from the start but it was more of a slow burn for me. I don’t think I absolutely fell for it until the last episode. Like an elastic band being pulled, it was almost like I got more and more frustrated with the show and then all of that tension was released in the final episode when I felt it all come together. I loved every second of that episode: her friends coming together to help her with her strategy, her win against Borgov and his grace over her victory, all of her people supporting and celebrating her, and then it ending with her walking the Russian park with all of the old men playing chess and how excited they were to meet her and honoured to play with her. It was fantastic. I do have my criticisms of it as a show but that final episode especially was so powerful that ultimately my experience of it was positive.

The Split (Series 2) – I started watching this back at the beginning of the year but then the pandemic derailed everything and I forgot about it. But recently I found it on BBC iPlayer and had to finish it. I love Nicola Walker and while the whole cast was great, she just delivered incredible performance after incredible performance. The dual storylines of the legal case her character, Hannah, was working and the difficulties in her personal life were balanced beautifully and they informed each other in a powerful but still realistic way. I loved Series 1 but this series really upped the emotional intensity and Nicola Walker’s acting – the subtlety of the emotional spiral – as the pressure mounted and her life started coming apart around her was just breathtaking. And even though she wasn’t innocent, she also wasn’t the only guilty party and the complexity of the story, the emotions experienced, and the relationships between the characters felt very true to life. The pain that Hannah was going through by the end was completely and utterly heartbreaking and the final episodes had me in floods of tears. I just wanted to hug her. It was an absolute masterclass in acting and I only love Nicola Walker more after watching it. I really, really hope there’s another series and I can’t wait to have her back on my screen, whether in a third series or when Series 4 of Unforgotten airs. She’s fantastic in that too.

Little Voice – I didn’t watch this straight away; the idea of watching a TV show about a struggling singersongwriter felt a little too close to home when I was already struggling with my mental health. And the likelihood that it would probably have a really positive ending for her, music wise, just felt like more than I could handle. So I kept it on my ‘To Watch’ list; I mean, it was co-created by Sara Bareilles so I knew that, in the right frame of mind, I’d really enjoy it. But after hearing Sara’s album of the songs in the show and falling in love with so many of them, I had to watch it. And I did, I really did enjoy it.

*SPOILERS* I got really invested in lots of the characters, especially Bess, Prisha, and Samuel, and I loved the relationships between all of the characters; they all felt really different and natural, based on the characters personalities and experiences together. I especially loved Bess’ relationship with the other characters, particularly with her father, her brother, Prisha, Samuel, Benny, her boss at the bar, one of the elderly women at the senior centre she also works in, and so on. I felt like she had a really special way to connect with people. There were some really touching moments – watching Bess write songs, the first time she performs and it goes well, Bess and Ethan’s conversation about hope, etc – but then there were a handful of moments that made me cringe with secondhand embarrassment – Bess’ early stage banter, watching her father rant during her first studio experience, etc. Overall, it was a positive experience but when I cringed, I really cringed.

It was great to see such a diverse cast and for the show to have a disabled character who’s disability wasn’t brushed aside but also wasn’t his only character trait; he was pretty well developed (considering how many characters there were) with his own storyline, involving his relationship with Bess, his love of musical theatre, and his journey to be more independent, to which he had both positive and negative reactions. There were also some very relatable music industry experiences, like producers trying to mould a song to their own vision or telling you what you want to hear, industry people saying good things and then telling you all of the reasons why they can’t work with you, people making promises that never come to anything, and so on. I haven’t experienced all of these situations but I’ve definitely experienced some of them.

My only real issue with it was that I felt like there was just too much going on, too many storylines that ended up not getting the time they deserved. I loved so many of them that I don’t know which ones I would’ve cut but it was too much for nine episodes and what could’ve been really beautifully developed stories ended up being glossed over. I don’t want to say any more because I don’t want to totally ruin it but I would recommend it if you have Apple TV+. I loved the music and I loved how well it matched the story and the characters. Oh, and I loved Sara Bareilles’ cameo and how Bess and Louis fangirled over meeting her.

His Dark Materials (Series 2)*SPOILERS* I loved series 1 so I was really, really excited for series 2 of His Dark Materials. I don’t want to give too much away since it’s literally just finished and so a lot of people may not have seen it yet but I thought it was excellent and looked forward to it every week. I thought the city in the ‘middle world,’ Cittàgazze, was really intriguing and so beautiful. And it was very cool to see characters from Lyra’s world in Will’s world (which I believe is also our, the reader’s, world?) and how they tried to fit in. Sometimes the jumps between worlds was a bit confusing or jarring but I loved how some elements matched up beautifully and how some were in such stark contrast. And that was just background as it was the strength of the characters and their relationships that really drove the show. I thought the chemistry between Lyra and Will (and Pan, of course) was great and I loved their friendship; even with only seven episodes to the series, we really saw it grow and develop as they got to know and trust each other. I also really liked Mary Malone and her relationship with Lyra (and the scenes with Lyra and Mary’s machine were incredible). As much as I love Lyra (Dafne Keen really was the perfect choice), I couldn’t help but be absolutely blown away by Ruth Wilson in every episode. Her performances as Marisa Coulter are just awesome. She’s such a complicated character (I’m desperate to understand how she can do what she can do and why her relationship with her dæmon is so different to everyone else’s: why he doesn’t speak, why she’s so cruel to him, how they can be so far apart – something that does seem to distress him but not her – and so on) and Ruth Wilson does such an amazing job playing her. I admit that a part of me was waiting throughout each episode for the moment where we saw how awesome she is, because there was one in pretty much all, if not all, of the episodes: her interrogation of Lee Scoresby (and the painful moment with her dæmon afterwards), the moment when Lyra sets Pan on her dæmon but she is able to fight off the affects – that whole scene is amazing, not to mention intriguing – her ability to control the spectres, the moment where she almost turns on her own dæmon… She’s a force of nature. I’m kind of obsessed with her because she’s such a fascinating character. I did feel like the end was quite rushed: they spent most of the series looking for Will’s father and then he’s just suddenly there, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the pandemic had played a part in that. It just felt like it was suddenly over and I was completely unprepared for that. I have just seen that it’s been renewed for the third and final series so I’m really looking forward to that, whenever it may come. This team and this cast have done such an incredible job with these stories so I’m really glad that they’ll be able to finish them.


OTHER

Miss Americana – I don’t know if I can sum up this documentary in just a paragraph or two but, between them, Taylor Swift and Lana Wilson created a beautifully honest and emotionally revealing documentary about Taylor’s life so far, the period of transformation she had found herself in, and what she wanted for her future. It shows footage and discusses the history and the fall out of everything with Kanye and the infamous phone call in 2016 (the full recording of which has since been revealed, proving that Taylor was telling the truth all along), the toxicity of social media and how the response to Kanye’s attacks on her continue to affect her, addressing her need to please and how damaging that had become, the harrowing experience of the sexual assault trial, her body image issues and eating disorder, the making of reputation, the reputation tour, her mother’s cancer, beginning to voice her political opinions and arguing with her father and management team about it, the making and release of Lover, the writing of ‘Only The Young,’ and basically her journey of growing as a person. There’s a lot in there and it was a real eye-opening experience, even for someone who considers themselves an avid Taylor fan. I loved her even more than I already did for putting out this documentary and deliberately including details that she knew would help people, like her previously unknown struggles with her body image and the experience of her sexual assault trial. She didn’t have to discuss these things but she did because she knew that there would be people who needed to hear her talk about it. I admire her so much for that. I would highly recommend watching it, fan or not.

City of Lover Concert (Taylor Swift Show) – I was gutted that I couldn’t be at this show when it happened so I was really excited that Taylor was putting it on Disney+. It wasn’t the same and the flow of it felt quite jerky as they had to cut around the songs caught up in the Masters situation (she can perform them but they can’t be recorded and distributed in a film like this one) but it was still really cool and a lovely tribute to the Lover album since we didn’t get a tour for the album (and probably never will since the release of folklore and evermore). You can feel the joy radiating off Taylor as she performed the then new songs and it’s hard not to smile, watching her do this thing that she loves so much. I still wish I could’ve been there for the actual show but I’m so grateful that we got this, especially with the pandemic and the resulting loss of live music.

Hamilton – I’d been planning to see the show in London but then the pandemic hit and obviously that plan was scuppered but then it went up on Disney+ just as my phone contract offered me a free subscription. The timing was beautiful. From the first note, I was absolutely entranced. I loved it. I loved the music, the acting, the set, how the actors interacted with the set… everything. I’ve watched it over and over and read so many articles explaining different aspects of it because I just find the whole production so fascinating. And as both a songwriter and a songwriting nerd, my mind was just exploding. It really is mind-blowing work and I’m sure there are still things I’m missing because it’s so clever and so layered. I could talk about the music for hours but I won’t, I promise. So, yeah, I found it really inspiring as a writer (and I did actually attempt to write a song in the style of it although I’m not sure it’ll ever see the light of day). It was amazing and I love it. I love it more every time I watch it.

folklore: long pond studio sessions – I loved this so much. I love Taylor Swift and I love the folklore album and in a time where we can’t have real concerts, I so appreciated that this film gave us the next best thing. The studio was gorgeous (I would love somewhere like that to write and record music one day) and the performances were stunning; Taylor’s vocals in particular were just breathtaking. She can convey so much emotion just through her eyes and I found watching the film a really emotional moving experience. I also loved getting to learn more about the songs, what they were about, the context in which they were written, and so on. We’ve been speculating and theorising for so long that it was so satisfying to find out where fans had guessed right and get some insight into the ones where we’d been so confused (‘hoax,’ for example). And the whole thing is so beautiful and intimate. It was just so good and I knew from the first watch that I’d be watching it over and over again.


So I hope that was of some interest and that you’re maybe even leaving with a few new things to read or watch. I’m quite proud of how many new things I discovered this year, after being stuck in a rut of just rewatching the same things. I definitely want to continue this approach into next year, although hopefully it will include more books. As I said, I just haven’t been able to concentrate enough to get into a novel. But having said that, I feel really good about pushing myself out of my comfort zone, exploring genres I don’t generally favour, and expanding my creative brain by filling it with new stories, new characters, and new ideas. So I’m proud of this list and I’m excited for the new discoveries that 2021 will bring.

A Week In My Life (November Reading Week)

While I was going to write a series of posts about the events of this week, the way all of those events played out made that much more difficult than I’d anticipated so, after a lot of thought, I decided to put them all together in one post because I still really wanted to write about all of them. It was an intense week, with some really big events and a lot of anxiety.

The week in this post started on Monday 2nd November and ended on Sunday 8th November 2020, the autumn semester’s reading week. It involved an Autism webinar, the US election, Bonfire night, as well as the beginning of England’s second national lockdown.


MONDAY

My Mum was visiting her Mum, masked, social distanced, and outside where possible before we all go into lockdown again. So I was all on my lonesome, which is pretty unusual these days. Apart from the cats. Once Queen Lucy realised I was awake, she was climbing all over me, very clearly telling me that it was time for breakfast. So I dragged myself out of bed and went downstairs to feed the pride.

I spent the morning doing various admin tasks like replying to emails and finishing a couple of blog posts before having a shower, getting back to my computer in time to get a ticket to Tim Minchin’s upcoming livestream for his new album, Apart Together. It’s scheduled for the end of November so that will be something really fun to look forward to during lockdown. In the description of the event, they describe him as an ‘inimitable poly-talent,’ which is absolutely true and I just can’t help thinking what it would be like to be described that way. What an awesome compliment.

That done, I settled into my little home studio space and got to work. There were a handful of songs that I had been neglecting and so I finally forced myself to stop procrastinating and prioritising other things and spent several hours recording vocals for them. It’s stupid: I don’t know why I put off recording vocals so much. I guess they make me feel anxious and insecure, like I’ll listen to myself and suddenly realise what a terrible singer I am (which, yes, I recognise is ridiculous because while I know I’m not the greatest singer out there, I know I’m not terrible). But anyway, I always put it off and then when I finally do it, I remember how much I enjoy it. As I said… ridiculous, and yet we’ve all had that experience in one way or another.

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It was a challenge because it was really windy outside, so windy that the microphone was picking it up and I had to delete multiple takes because the wind noise was so obtrusive. And then, Lucy decided that she was being left out of something important. I managed to convince her to lie on my bed (instead of climbing all over me) but even her stretching and clawing the duvet was making it into the recordings. I ended up barricading myself in my bedroom for the rest of the tracks. Fortunately, she (and the others) didn’t start yowling until just as I was finishing up so I was able get everything done without the feline interruptions. I think they’ve developed a form of separation anxiety after having me at their complete disposal (by which I mean I’m available to be sat on at almost all times) since late February and the closed door was just unacceptable.

I had a short time to rest and order my thoughts (change hats, if you will) before signing into an online meeting about an upcoming conference that I’m a panelist for. Just typing that out is wild to me; this is something I’ve always wanted to do. I mean, ideally it would’ve been on a literal panel, talking directly to people, rather than through a screen, but I’m not complaining. I’m nervous but excited. The other panelists were all really nice and we had a good discussion and planning session.

I was pretty knackered after all of that so I lay down on the sofa and attempted to do some blog post writing. I didn’t get very far – I think I was just too tired – but I made progress on a couple of posts so that was something.

I had a place on a webinar in the evening about Autism in young people but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get into it and the anxiety and frustration and confusion – likely combined with my anxiety about the pandemic, the US election, and the impending lockdown – resulted in a lot of distress. I wouldn’t call it a panic attack or a meltdown but it was a serious overload of difficult and upsetting feelings. I talked to Mum about it afterwards and she suggested emailing them to see if they had a recording I could watch since I’d paid for a ticket and then not been able to attend. So that was a job for the next morning; I was too upset and all over the place to try and write a coherent email.

Despite not attending the webinar, I ended up staying up far too late, bouncing between writing for my blog and in my diary. Lucy curled up with me and, completely exhausted, I was asleep in a matter of minutes.


TUESDAY

I woke up with a headache that even my prescription painkillers couldn’t kick. I’d had a busy day planned out, with the US election the next day (I knew it would dramatically affect my emotions and therefore my ability to work so I’d planned to get as much done beforehand as possible). I tried to get up and get things done but I just felt so unwell that I ended up shifting my week around to give myself a lighter day. I just couldn’t do the more demanding tasks I’d planned to do.

I didn’t manage to get much done that morning. My head was pounding and I was tired and I just couldn’t concentrate enough to get as much done as I would’ve liked to. I did start the essay for this module for the Masters, working out the different sections and the elements I could talk the most about. I also managed a little bit of blog writing; I swear, just as I think I have a decent buffer of posts, they’re gone and I’m panic writing to make sure that I have something to post (not that I’m panic writing this post – I just thought I had more posts lined up than I do).

Early afternoon, I joined the the video call set up by a group from my Masters classes last year (they were the full timers who’d done the whole course in one year while, as a part timer, I’m taking two years to do all of the modules) to watch their online graduation ceremony. As far as I know, everyone was watching the ceremony but not everyone was in the video call, including one of my best friends but we were chatting via WhatsApp. When the ceremony ended, the university had organised video calls for each course and so the majority of the full timers logged on, plus a few of the part timers as well as our course leader to celebrate together. Some of the other tutors on our course also dropped in briefly to say hi. It was so nice to see them all. It feels like so long since I’ve seen most of them and I do miss them; I feel like we had a really lovely dynamic. We chatted and caught up and had a drink together and the whole thing ended up going on for about three hours. I was pretty social-ed out afterwards but it had been so nice to see everyone and celebrate their achievements.

Not long after we all hung up, my Mum took Lucy to the vet as I think the cysts she developed a few months ago have returned. They were back within the hour and the vet had confirmed my theory. The recurrence has also confirmed where they’re coming from and so she’s booked in for surgery on the 12th to remove the cysts and hopefully fix the problem. Apparently it’s not much more complicated than the previous surgery and she’s a very healthy cat so there’s no reason to worry unduly. He’s a great vet: we haven’t known him long at all and yet he already takes my high levels of anxiety into account when giving explanations and laying out the options. I really, really appreciate that.

Lucy has never seemed distressed by going to the vet but she’s always very pleased to be home. She often comes and cuddles up with me if possible though. I don’t know if she feels in need of affection, if she was trying to get rid of the unfamiliar smell of the vet, or whatever but it was very cute.

We weren’t confident about the support bubble rules going into the second lockdown so one of my other parents (who we’re in a support bubble with) came over for the evening and we hung out, had dinner, and watched some TV together. It was really nice and I think we all needed it.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, I’d been working on a personal essay to go out as part of the campaign for my recent single, ‘Honest,’ and I finished it at around eleven. I could barely keep my eyes open by that point but I thought it was at the very least decent, as did my Mum when she proofed it for me – I’ve had much more positive feedback since, which has been good for my confidence as I was feeling quite insecure about it. But anyway, given how tired I was, I decided to leave it as it was and have another look at it in the morning before sending it off.

I’d been doing my best not to think about the US election all day, avoiding social media as much as possible, but when I went to bed, all the anxiety rushed in. I was so terrified of Trump getting in again; I was almost overwhelmed by the dread of waking up to that as the result. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t relax enough to sleep and ended up taking both my anti-anxiety medication and a sleeping pill.


WEDNESDAY

While I think we all felt that it was unlikely we’d wake up to an official result, it was nonetheless tough to wake up and see that it still wasn’t over. But worse, was that it could still go either way when I checked the news first thing. I saw this meme making the rounds on social media and it felt very relevant; I’m pretty sure that this was how my face looked.

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It ended up being a long, anxious day of refreshing the various news sites, waiting for updates and not getting much done. I did manage to edit the personal essay and send it off but other than that, I just bounced between writing blog posts and working on my Masters essay without making much progress in either. I was just so anxious; I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I may not be American nor do I live in the US but I have friends and family who do and the political decisions made there have the potential to ripple so far out, affecting so many countries and so many people. So to say I was stressing would be a massive understatement.

Slowly though, the numbers did start to shift in favour of Biden more and more. It wasn’t a done deal by any means but it was going in the right direction. I was refreshing my phone relentlessly; I could barely concentrate for five minutes without having to check to see if there was an update.

In the evening, Mum and I had dinner and then went for one last swim before lockdown closed all the gyms. We tried to make it as safe as possible, going close to their closing time when it’s always quiet. Plus they keep all the doors open to help with the ventilation. I still almost fell apart in the changing room because the experience was so stressful – whether it would’ve been a meltdown or an anxiety attack, I don’t know. But the staff helped us out and the few people swimming were very obliging about making it possible to put as much distance between all of us as possible.

We had a really good swim, including some of the new hydrotherapy exercises, and by the time we got home, Biden only needed six electoral votes to win and Trump needed fifty six. I was so excited; I actually felt like I might throw up from the anticipation. Again, I found it very difficult to sleep.


THURSDAY

And so begins Lockdown 2.0…

I slept long and deep and when I did finally wake up, I didn’t get up for quite a while, going through the election coverage. The numbers hadn’t moved and it was making me edgy.

I got up, had breakfast and a shower, and got down to working on my essay. I’d only been working on it for about half an hour though when a friend called and we ended up talking for over an hour. It might not have been the way I’d planned my morning but it was really good to have that chat; I felt better for it.

When we hung up, I managed to do a bit more work on my essay before getting myself made up to do some filming. It’s getting dark so early now that I couldn’t wait any longer or I’d lose the light. I set up my little corner (I’d love to have a more permanent space at some point) and filmed some bits and pieces for the ‘Honest’ single campaign. It was a bit of a struggle – cold and uncomfortable and the cats wouldn’t leave me alone – but eventually I got them all done, which was an important job to have ticked off my list.

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That done, I went back to my uni work. I spent most of the afternoon working on one of my song assignments: a reimagination of one of my own songs. It’s weirdly hard: you spend so much time trying to make a song perfect and then you have to turn around and create something entirely new from it, bring out a different emotion or try it out in a different genre. I took this really big, fiesty pop song that had this whole ‘I don’t need you’ vibe and turned it into this quiet piano song that was based on the moment of that realisation when it’s still fragile and tentative. I worked on changing the chords and then recorded them but they were still just one chord per bar; I planned to take it to a friend who is a much better piano player than me to help me expand on it, breaking up the chords and changing it a little for each section to keep it engaging since it was just going to be piano and vocal.

I was just finishing and stretching out on the sofa to relax when the fireworks started going off. I hate Bonfire Night. If you’ve read this post, you’ll know why but the short version is that, not only do fireworks massively trigger the noise sensitivity associated with my ASD, I had a firework thrown at me when I was at the cinema as a teenager. So fireworks make me very anxious and the more there are, the more anxious I get.

I was doing okay: I’d done some blog writing, Mum and I had had dinner in front of Legally Blonde (a friend of mine has been trying to get me to watch it for ages, ever since I’d said that I’d never seen it), but then excruciatingly loud fireworks (that we later found out were being let off a few gardens down from ours) started going off. It could’ve been machine gun fire. The sound triggered one of the worst meltdowns I’ve ever had: I was shaking, hyperventilating, sobbing, screaming (apparently I was screaming ‘stop’ over and over but I never really remember meltdowns afterwards), pulling out my hair to the extent that I was drawing blood… I have no idea how long it went on for but it felt like it could’ve been an hour. Eventually it stopped but meltdowns – my meltdowns at least (I don’t want to speak for anyone else’s experience) – often take a while to settle. I’d barely started to relax when a few minutes later, it all stared again and re-triggered the meltdown. Even after they did finally stop, it was still a long time before I was responsive again, able to interact with my surroundings, able to talk again. It was horrific. It was absolutely horrific.

I have no idea how much time that ate up, just that I was absolutely drained afterwards and barely able to sit up on the sofa. We finished the movie (I liked it for the most part but there’s a really problematic scene where one of the lawyers tricks a gay man into outing himself in public, which is just not okay – I get that it was almost twenty years ago but that doesn’t make it comfortable to watch) and headed for bed. The one thing I will say about it being Bonfire Night was that one of my cats, Sooty (pictured below), stayed with me all evening, snuggled up nice and close. I don’t know if she understood my distress or whether she, herself, needed some comfort but it was very nice to have her with me all evening. Nothing really helps with the meltdowns but it did help before when it was the odd bang and after when I was a collapsed on the sofa. She was an excellent little companion.

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Despite being so exhausted by the meltdown, I couldn’t sleep, no matter what I did. Maybe it was adrenaline, maybe it was fight or flight… I don’t know. But I couldn’t fully relax for hours, even with the help of a sleeping pill. I think I eventually went to sleep at some point between two thirty and three.


FRIDAY

I struggled up the next morning and after a while, decided to post about the experience. I’d seen #banthefireworks and similar hashtags trending on Twitter the night before, mainly to do with how traumatising they are for pets and for wildlife. It was, however, the first time I’d seen people with sensory issues and Autism mentioned as well though, which felt like quite a big deal. I’d been too out of it the night before to write anything at all but with my head a little clearer, I thought that maybe it could be a good idea and maybe raise some awareness about what the experience of Bonfire Night (and fireworks in general) is like as an autistic person. So I posted this on Twitter and on my Instagram stories:

I actually got a really lovely response with a handful of likes and kind, supportive comments.

I got up and got myself ready for the day and settled down to do some blog post writing. I was feeling very fragile after the meltdown(s) the night before so I put on one of the movies that I discovered during the first lockdown and ended up watching a lot because it just feels good. It’s called ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ with Rebel Wilson. I’m generally not a rom-com fan and I hadn’t seen Rebel Wilson in a role that didn’t make me cringe so I was initially wary when my friend recommended it but I ended up loving it. It’s just the ultimate feel good movie. So I had that on in the background as I tried to write (my thoughts always feel kind of fuzzy and not quite connected after a meltdown, sometimes for a few hours and sometimes for days – it can get really upsetting if I spend too much time thinking about it; feeling like your brain doesn’t work just feels so horrible and scary).

Mid afternoon, I had a session with my therapist. I haven’t ‘seen’ her for a while so we had quite a bit of catching up to do. We talked in depth about the night before, as I usually need to after an experience like that. I feel pretty lucky that I had a therapy session within less than twenty four hours, even if it was still very raw. But better that than in a week or two. The other main thing we talked about was how I’m struggling more than usual with my OCD: with the new semester of uni and the promotion of ‘Honest,’ it’s been really hard to find the time and emotional energy to keep up with my diary (for those unfamiliar, my OCD manifests as a compulsive need to write everything down. The overwhelming anxiety and pressure to keep up and do well in my Masters and what is effectively my job seems to be the only thing that can overpower my compulsive writing but then the anxiety around that only builds and builds until I feel like I can’t breathe, like my mind is coming apart and I’m no longer able to form coherent thought processes. We spent a while talking about that and about starting to tackle it as an issue, something we haven’t done because the pandemic has had such an impact on my mental health. It was an exhausting session but it was good to see her and hopefully, in therapy at least, I’m moving out of the frozen state I’ve been in since the pandemic hit the UK. I’m reluctant to commit to that as a statement but I’m cautiously optimistic.

I was pretty much done after that; I didn’t have any energy left. I posted a video to remind people about the new single but that was pretty much all I could manage for the rest of the day.

Since I was too tired to do anything, I ended up watching a new film, Inheritance. The trailer had looked good and while it wasn’t the best film ever, I thought the acting – especially the scenes that involved just Lily Collins and Simon Pegg in a room – was really good and I enjoyed the twists and turns. It was very dark though so I can definitely see it appealing to some and really not to others.

While the fireworks weren’t anywhere near as bad as the night before, people were still setting them off throughout the evening, which really heightened my anxiety. I could barely eat; it felt like my throat was closing up and swallowing was actively uncomfortable.

I spent the evening bouncing between trying to write blog posts and trying to write my diary, not achieving much with either. Again, I think I was just too tired. But it was still a bit too early to go to bed and I wanted to try and do something, even if it wasn’t much.

I FaceTimed with one of my parents before going to bed, which was really nice and then, during the call, I got an email saying that I’d got a ticket to Halsey’s upcoming livestream for the launch of her new poetry book, I Would Leave Me If I Could, which was really, really excited. And when I went to bed around eleven, Biden was very close to winning. So that was a good mental state to be going to bed with.


SATURDAY

I struggled up at nine thirty and got straight to work, recording vocals for the reimagination of my song before my session with Richard. That went pretty quickly and smoothly because I was fairly solid in the new melody. I think it’s pretty good, although I was a bit concerned that the rhythm of the melody wasn’t that different from the original. I didn’t have the time to rework it so I thought I’d take that to class and ask for advice, both in terms of whether they thought it was a problem and how I should go about changing it if it was.

That done, I had a shower and breakfast, published my blog post about going back to the gym (pre this new lockdown), and then logged into Zoom for my session with Richard. We spent the next three hours working on the reimagination of my song and of the cover song. I found it quite frustrating since it was mainly arrangement and production based, so all I could do was offer direction and suggestions but Richard had to do all of the physical work, considering the Logic project was on his screen. This is one of the things I find hardest about collaboration via programs like Zoom: you can’t just take over from one another, swap chairs or instruments, or even point to things on the screen. Sometimes I end up finding it hard to engage and sometimes I just end up wanting to scream because I feel so limited. Most of the time it’s fine and I’ll gratefully accept the fact that we can work long distance at all but every now and then, the frustration just gets too much.

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After hanging up, I put Friends on for background noise and spent a few hours working on upcoming blog posts.

I wasn’t refreshing the news as obsessively anymore so I didn’t discover it for myself. I got a text from Richard at 4:28pm with a screenshot of the BBC News announcement. I actually shrieked and shouted to Mum to tell her. I was positively giddy with relief: I laughed hysterically and then I just started crying because I was just so overwhelmed with so many emotions. It was like I could breathe again. And considering that’s how I felt when it isn’t my country or government, I can only imagine how everyone in America – those who had worked so hard to get Trump out and Biden in – were feeling.

The majority of people that I was seeing on social media were hysterical with joy and it being such a historic moment, I felt that I really wanted to add my own to mark the occasion…

We were just finishing dinner when the fireworks started going off. They weren’t bad enough to trigger a meltdown but they did make me anxious, cause me to flinch and lose my train of thought. I was going to be very pleased when those few nights of fireworks were over.

We had a quiet evening of TV (me and Mum are currently rewatching Hustle – it’s easy to watch but still such a good show) and I tried to do some gentle work on my Masters essay but I ended up in a state about all the musical theory language that I was supposed to be using but didn’t understand, being a self taught musician rather than having had lots of lessons or doing grades. So that was very stressful and I got very upset so I emailed my tutors to ask for some guidance.

I was still buzzing about the election news but it had been somewhat dampened (temporarily) by my uni anxiety so I went to bed just feeling like a complete mess. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and anxious and it was all just too much. By that point, I needed the emotional fresh start a new day would give me.


SUNDAY

It wasn’t easy but I managed to wake up around eight thirty. I got distracted from getting up when I checked my social media though, looking through all of the posts about Biden getting in. There were a few negative posts but on the whole, my feed was mostly filled with positive ones, which was a nice way to start the day. Obviously our social media isn’t an objective view of any subject so I wasn’t going to base my knowledge of the election outcome on the reactions I was seeing but seeing so much positivity and joy on my timeline was a real lift in a very difficult week.

Eventually I tore myself away, had a shower and breakfast, and got down to work. I spent the morning working on blog posts and doing some Christmas present planning and shopping. And then I dedicated the afternoon to preparing for the conference. It’s a conference about University and the Covid-19 pandemic and I’m on a panel discussing autistic students and coping with change. So I wrote down all my thoughts, organised and input them into the powerpoint we would be displaying. It took a couple of hours but I was pleased with the work I’d done. Now I just have to pull together my notes for when it’s my turn to speak but I didn’t want to do that until we’d all met again and signed off on the powerpoint as a group.

I had some chill time before one of my other parents arrived for our weekly evening together (she’s in our bubble and it seems that bubbles – those that bring a household and a single person together anyway – are still permitted during this lockdown). We’d decided, given that we were already in a bubble and none of us do anything out but the essentials, that we felt safe to continuing seeing each other.

We had a really good evening. She’s a music teacher (or at least that’s one of her hats) and has been for decades so she was able to help me out with my essay: we went through the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements of every section of the song and it was kind of hilarious how consistent I’d been without being aware of it: almost every element built on the idea of tension and release, except the release never comes. Non-diatonic chords, uncommon intervals, irregular time signatures, syncopation for days… The song had been an experiment in the weird and it was certainly that.

We had dinner with a movie (we missed the new episode of His Dark Materials because I got the time wrong – me and Mum made a note to watch it the next day) and while my parents were content to relax with the rest of the movie, I went back to blog writing. My brain struggles to sit still, to do one thing without getting distracted or bored. So I kept writing, with Sooty curled up between my knees. It seems to be her new favourite place.

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Once it was just me and Mum again, we took our time winding down and then headed for bed. I checked my phone one last time and saw that, as promised if Biden won the election, Kalie Shorr had released a worktape of one of her unreleased songs, ‘Strawberry Blonde.’ It’s such a great song. Her lyric writing especially just blows my mind:

“…Sometimes I still get wasted

To stop thinking ‘bout the time I wasted

I started taking long walks again

And I started talking to God again

You’d hardly recognise me with my rose-coloured glasses gone

You might find it surprising I stopped taking shit from anyone

I got a new tattoo so you don’t know what I look like when my clothes are off

And I went strawberry blonde…”

I learn so much from her songs and I’d love to have the confidence she has in her writing style, in herself as an artist and as a person it seems. She is one of the people I want to write with most; I feel like it would just be so much fun and I’d learn so much. Plus I think we could write one badass song. She’s such an inspiration to me and has been ever since I met her and started following her career in 2016. I don’t know if she knows what an impact – what a positive impact – she’s had on my life.

My brain was going off like fireworks (ironic, I know, but it’s the only metaphor I’ve found that fits) after hearing that song, lyrics bursting into life behind my eyes, which of course I had to write down so as not to forget them. My brain is often at its most active and creative at night. So it took me a long time to get to sleep.


So it was a hell of a week. There was good, bad, really good, and really bad. I can’t say whether it was the week I expected or not because I had no idea what the week was going to look like, mostly due to the US election. Most of all it was exhausting. The new week felt daunting, going in so depleted, but it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.

I hope this was interesting; I hope you enjoyed it. And I’ll see you in the next post.

My Lockdown Favourites

As stressful (and often traumatic) as it’s been, lockdown has provided the opportunity to try out different pursuits, things that we didn’t have the time or mental energy for previously. Even though said lockdown isn’t actually over yet, I’ve been thinking about some of the things I’ve discovered or things that I’ve been finding relief in during this difficult time and thought I’d share them, in case they’re helpful or comforting to anyone else.


The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy – My therapist gave me this book just before lockdown and I read it all in one go. It’s comforting and inspiring and the illustrations are just stunning. But even though I’ve read it, it’s a really good book for just dipping into, for just opening at a random page, and ruminating on the message of the words – while there is progression to it, it’s not in a traditional story format so you can simply read it in this way.

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My Kelsea Ballerini sweatpants – Obviously any good pair of sweatpants will do but my favourite pair come from the merch line accompanying Kelsea Ballerini’s third album. I know that a lot of people have talked about needing to get up and get dressed as they did pre-pandemic to be productive but I’m honestly more productive when I’m comfortable and these are just super soft and cosy without being too thick. I’m pretty sure they’re one of the best pieces of merch I’ve ever bought.

Kalie Shorr – I’ve loved Kalie’s music for years, especially her debut album, ‘Open Book,’ which came out last year. Her music really is unique: her lyric writing is brutally honest and perfectly balances detail and metaphor, her melodies surprising yet effortlessly catchy, and the production not only perfectly matches each song but takes you on as much as a journey throughout the album as the lyrics do. It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard and as a songwriter, I learn more from it every time I listen to it. I’ve been playing to it a lot during lockdown and even learning some of the songs on the piano as I try and improve my skills. It’s so cohesive, emotionally, lyrically, and sonically. It’s so utterly Kalie. I hope that, one day, I’ll be as assured of my musical identity as Kalie is.

My keyboard – I love playing the piano but between life and managing my mental health, I do often find it difficult to just sit down and play simply for the fun of it. If I have a university assignment or song idea, of course I’ll work at it until it’s perfect but I struggle to fit in time to just play because I like the sound or learn a song I love or practice a specific skill. So having this extra time has allowed me to do that. There’s also the added bonus that piano playing takes up so much concentration for me that I’m distracted from my near constant anxiety, something I’m very grateful for.

Absentia – I’ve been meaning to watch this show for ages; it’s been on my To Watch list in a number of bullet journals now. But I always felt guilty for putting the time aside to get into a new show. In these current times though, it’s been the perfect escape and I found it so addictive that I ended up watching a season a day. If you like a mix of crime show and thriller, plus an awesome, well developed female lead, then this is a show for you.

Banana Bread – It’s a bit of a lockdown cliche but seeing everyone making banana bread inspired us to make it again. I haven’t had it in years and oh my god, I’d forgotten how good it is. We went a bit overboard, probably making (and sharing) at least fifteen of them…

Fanfiction – As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been struggling to really get into reading. Whether it’s my anxiety about the pandemic or my mental health in general, trying to absorb brand new characters, settings, and storylines just seems to be too much for my brain and I just can’t concentrate. Reading stories set in familiar worlds (Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary, Harry Potter, Criminal Minds, etc) with familiar characters just feels more possible and I love how they build on and fill out something that I already love. I’ve always found it to be a really good form of relaxation, a really good way of escaping reality when everything gets too much. Maybe one day I’ll make a post listing my favourites because some of them are genuinely among the best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read.

1SE App – I’ve been a fan of the 1 Second Everyday app for years but I’ve found it particularly helpful and enjoyable during lockdown. It reminds me of the good moments, that I am actually achieving things, that we are moving forward. I don’t know if lockdown is going to have a definitive end but if it does, I may post a one-second-a-day-of-every-day-in-lockdown video. Otherwise I’ll probably post the video of the whole year at the end of 2020.

Lauren Cimorelli – I have been loving Lauren Cimorelli’s recent music, especially ‘Atom Bomb’ and ‘Rabbit Hole.’ The lyrics create these beautifully dark and romantic images, they’re super catchy, and the production is awesome: vivid and chaotic but glittering and iridescent. They really inspire me to get better, particularly at production.

Isn’t It Romantic – I’m not usually a huge fan of romantic comedies but me and my uni friends have been having regular movie nights, taking turns to choose the movie. I can’t remember who chose this one and I was prepared to simply watch it and then forget about it but I absolutely loved it, so much so that I’ve watched it three or four times since that initial viewing to show it to other people. I loved the ridiculousness of it and how it made fun of the romantic comedy genre, while still being a really fun, feel good film.

Broadchurch – My brother and his Mum watched all three series in a week and insisted that me and Mum would love it so we tried it out and got through it in even less time. It follows the partnership of the moody, complex DI Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and the bright and bubbly DS Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) as the try to solve cases (one per series) in the small, seaside town of Broadchurch. It was thoroughly gripping and we repeatedly went to bed hours later than intended because the cliffhangers were so intense.

Taylor Swift – I know folklore only came out yesterday but I’m already completely obsessed with it and I know I’ll be listening to it daily for a LONG time. I do miss the big, bold, glittering production from her previous albums but I also love this new sound for her. I’m finding it completely impossible to choose a favourite but I absolutely adore ‘the 1,’ ‘exile (feat. Bon Iver),’ ‘my tears ricochet,’ ‘mirrorball,’ ‘this is me trying,’ ‘illicit affairs,’ ‘mad woman,’ ‘epiphany’ (although it’s actually painful in its sadness), and ‘peace.’ It’s a stunning album.


So these are some of the things that I’ve been enjoying in lockdown (the words ‘enjoying’ and ‘lockdown’ in the same sentence sound very strange). I hope these are interesting to you and if you have any favourites of your own, please share!