Posted on December 26, 2021
I gained so much from getting out of my rewatching rut and diving into new works last year that I had to keep going. It was so inspiring, especially for my writing. I’m still struggling to read but I did what I could. Hopefully next year will be better in that regard. And I’ve watched some great things while I haven’t been able to read. I haven’t included everything – for obvious reasons – but I wrote about my favourites, or ones that I felt like I needed to talk about. Please don’t feel that you have to read this whole thing; feel free to skim or just look at one section, if that’s what you’d prefer. Hopefully there’s something in here that you leave this post thinking, “yeah, I want to read/watch that!”
Rather than adding a spoiler alert to – let’s face it – the majority of things on this list, I’m just going to put A REALLY BIG SPOILER ALERT here. All of these works have been out for long enough now that the spoiler rule doesn’t apply in the same way. If you see the name of something you want to read or watch, just skip it so that you can remain ignorant because, chances are, I’ve mentioned something important.
Anxiety in Wonderland by Katia Oloy – After coming up with the idea to write a song about anxiety using Wonderland for a metaphor, I googled anxiety references in the Disney version of the Alice in Wonderland film (I saw it as a kid and felt, even then, that it was full of anxiety) and found this book. It’s primarily a book of art based on Alice in Wonderland but it’s arranged to tell Oloy’s experiences with anxiety and depression, accompanied by her comments about her journey. The drawings are beautiful and I found some of them especially compelling. It was really, really interesting to see how another person used Alice in Wonderland to represent their anxiety, especially as it’s very different to mine. So, although my song – my art – turned out very differently to Oloy’s book – her art – it was a really cool experience and I’m grateful to have found the book. My only quibble is that there are quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes.
You Are Helping This Great Universe Explode by Hannah Emerson – In my search for art made by autistic women, I came across Hannah Emerson’s work. I read this book and it was a very strange experience: I could see myself in almost every poem. As a writer myself, I struggled a bit with the flow of the lines but I really liked the content. Some of the poems, I just fell in love with: ‘My Name Begins Again,’ ‘I Live in the Woods of My Words,’ ‘A Blue Sound,’ ‘Musibility,’ ‘Peripheral,’ ‘The Path of Please,’ ‘Animal Ear,’ and ‘All that Spreads Out Before Us.’ Some of them resonated so powerfully that it’s like they were written from my own thoughts.
Uncommon Minds: A Collection of Poetry and Prose Created by Individuals with Autism by Cynthia Drucker – Continuing my search for work by female autistic artists, I read all of the pieces written by women and while all of them were interesting, there were definitely some stand outs for me. I loved ‘What I saw’ and ‘The Unspoken’ by Kitt McKenzie Martin, ‘A Meeting of Two Minds’ by Alis Rowe, ‘The Emotions Inside of Me’ by Sarah Rollins, and ‘My Head, My Life, My Me’ and ‘Alone’ by Cilinda Atkins. But I think my favourites were ‘Stuffed Animals’ and ‘Poetry is Dead’ by Maranda Russell; I just really resonated with her emotional response to the things she was writing about and I liked the flow of her words, smooth and comfortable. That’s always something that’s really important to me in writing, especially in lyrics and poetry. The works weren’t all about Autism but I could feel the autistic influence in all of them, although I obviously don’t know whether that’s because I’m autistic and/or because it’s an anthology specifically dedicated to work by autistic writers.
Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison – After all this time, I must’ve read the whole thing; it has been a course text for five of the last seven years of my life. I may not have read it in chronological order but I’m pretty sure I have read everything in it at least once. I have learnt so much from it and even if I don’t feel like a technique is right for me and my writing style, that’s still helpful information; the more I learn, the more clarity I have about my songwriting and about myself as a songwriter.
Feel Your Way Through by Kelsea Ballerini – I have mixed feelings about this book. I love Kelsea Ballerini’s songwriting but I wasn’t sure how her skill in one form of writing would translate to another. The thing that really jumped out at me was how much I struggled to find the rhythm of the poems; as I read them, there always seemed to be too many syllables at the end of a line, or not enough. I found that lack of flow – or my inability to find it – frustrating. And a bit odd since I’ve always loved the rhythms in her melodies. I think she covered some really important topics, like eating disorders in ‘Kangaroo’ and PTSD in ‘His Name Was Ryan’ (I kind of don’t like that ‘His Name Was Ryan’ rhymed; I just feel like something so tragic and devastating and life altering shouldn’t fit into neat lines and structured rhyme scheme but that’s me and my writing style) and I think it was really brave of her to talk about these things so openly when she has such a high profile. Sharing poetry as a poet and sharing poetry as a public figure is very different, even if the poetry itself should be judged the same; people know you as a person, not just a writer. I think the poems are a mixed bag: I found some of them quite clichéd (‘When It Rains’ and ‘Put The Camera Down’), there were some that I really liked the concept of but not so much the execution (‘Never Burn The Book,’ ‘You Are Where You’re From,’ and ‘You’ll Always Have Me’), and then there were some I really liked (my favourites were probably ‘If I Had a Sister,’ ‘You’ll Always Have Me,’ ‘Role Model,’ ‘The Right Side of History,’ ‘The Driver,’ ‘Permanent,’ ‘The Little Things,’ ‘Isn’t It Sad,’ ‘Music,’ ‘Nashville,’ ‘Aesthetically Pleasing’ (I think the concept of ‘our lives aren’t the highlight reels you see on social media’ is a bit of cliché but I love how she’s written it), ‘Showing Up’ (again, the concept is a little clichéd but the imagery she uses to discuss the idea are really compelling), ‘My Mother,’ and ‘Cheers.’) There were places where the language irritated me a bit: I find most descriptions of blood too flowery and phrases like “cotton caress” (‘Learning To Love Me’) and “peeved at the pain” (‘A Rose’) kind of made me cringe, as well as the use of words like ‘spirit’ and ‘beauty.’ But these are all personal things. I thought there were some really gorgeous lines and images too, like “catch your breath in a reality of three broken hearts” (The Cheerleading Team), “my best kept secret, my worst kept habit” (Kangaroo), “and if you think it’s wrong / to walk tall in my shoes / and won’t sing along / to those parts of me too / then maybe i’m not / the role model for you” (Role Model), “sing loud for this town, but it’s not “this town” enough” (Aesthetically Pleasing), “if you’ve made it this far / and turn back around / you’re leaving with my heart” (If You’ve Made It This Far), “i’d watch her hate her body / fight daily with her blue jeans / yell fuck you at the mirror” (If I Had a Sister), “my roots and my wings / have grown intertwined” (Holding Me Back), “the tangled teenage atmosphere” (His Name Was Ryan), “the scrunched-nosed / faces of constellations” (Not My Age), “it was all gasoline / on my wildfire / coughing up ashes / as melodies / covered in / smokey magic” (Nashville), “the sky at golden hour when the blue becomes undressed / then bronze and untamed yellows swallow up the rest” (Put The Camera Down), and many more.
Note: There was a lot of reading for my Masters but I haven’t included that here, save for a few important books. And between all of the reading for university and my ongoing inability to get into fiction, I’ve been reading a lot of fanfiction, the familiar worlds and characters making it easier to get past whatever it is that’s making reading so hard. I’ve read some amazing work; maybe I’ll make a separate post for them one day.
Ava – What could’ve been a cliché awesome-female-assassin-grows-a-conscious film (a cliché I am NOT tired of by the way) was anything but. The characters were interesting and multi-faceted, their interactions were often complicated but never lost their sincerity, and the way the story played out was so engaging that any thoughts of cliché disappeared almost immediately. I loved Ava herself and Jessica Chastain’s performance was incredible, from the emotional, vulnerable scenes to the intense and suspenseful action sequences. As her past and difficult family dynamic are revealed, we understand her even more and I was completely invested in her story within the first half hour. I’ve since seen that it’s had mixed reviews but I really enjoyed it and loved Chastain as Ava as well as John Malkovich as her mentor and handler, Duke.
The Dig – Based on a true story, the film begins in 1939 when Edith Pretty hires Basil Brown, a skilled archeologist, to excavate the burial grounds on the land around her home in Sutton Hoo. With the war looming, Brown is strongly encouraged to work on sites deemed more important but both he and Edith believe that the mounds could be Anglo-Saxon, making anything found a significant discovery, but due to his lack of traditional education, he is ignored. Edith is also pressured to let him work on the other sites but she leaves the choice up to Brown and he chooses to stay. The story follows his discoveries, the media attention they draw, and the conflicts that arise when another team is brought in when the site is declared one of national importance, as well as Brown’s relationship with Edith, whose health is deteriorating, and her young son, Robert, who has grown very attached to him, all as the country hovers on the brink of war. I loved it. Even though it was ultimately very sad (I admit, I cried multiple times), it was also very human and there was something really life affirming about it, something that I think came largely from the characters and how they and their relationships were portrayed: I loved the respect that Edith and Basil had for one another; I loved how attached Robert got to Basil and how Basil was never anything but kind and generous towards him; I loved how Basil’s wife seemed to understand him so deeply despite his somewhat awkward and reserved nature; and I loved the care Edith showed Peggy, help without expected reciprocity, advice without judgement, and so on. The kindness we see time and again was very moving. The cinematography was also gorgeous and it had some beautiful dialogue. One of my favourite quotes was, “From the first human handprint on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous.” I was still curious about the story when the film ended so (when I finished crying,) I did some reading about the real story: there are a handful of differences (especially as the film was based on the book of the same name by John Preston, rather than the true events themselves) but the one that really frustrated me was the misrepresentation of Peggy (Piggott, one of the archeologists): she was much more experienced than she was portrayed to be and the fictional romantic storyline felt rather insulting when we have no reason to doubt her marriage, although credit to the actress for bringing the emotional journey to life so beautifully. So that was annoying but aside from that… yeah, I loved it.
The Girl on the Train – While I wouldn’t consider this film life-changing, I was really pulled into the thriller-mystery element, especially the twist that puts the whole story in a new perspective. I loved Emily Blunt in this role; I thought she was phenomenal. The intensity – the pain, the rage, the turmoil – she brought to the character was incredible and just so compelling. But there was also the inner strength that kept her going and searching for answers despite the odds being stacked against her. As much as I enjoyed the way the story unfolded, the way we learned more about the characters and how that changed the whole picture, I think it was Emily Blunt’s commitment to the role that really brings the film to life.
A Lonely Place To Die – After a group of mountaineers find an abducted little girl hidden underground during a climbing trip, they attempt to rescue her only to become targets themselves when her captors realise she’s gone. When I randomly chose this film on BBC iPlayer, I wasn’t looking for anything more than a distraction but I ended up getting hooked. I really liked Alison, played by Melissa George, and I liked her (and the rest of the group’s) interaction with the little girl despite the fact that she didn’t speak English. It wasn’t the best film ever but it was tense and emotional and pretty well paced considering it was essentially a really long chase scene. I’ve seen some pretty negative reviews and while I can understand some of the criticisms, I disagree that there was no character exploration or growth. For some there wasn’t much because of how the story played out but I think there was a pretty remarkable amount considering the whole story took place over approximately forty eight hours. One of the guys, for example, who takes nothing seriously grows up fast, becoming cautious (to the point of life-saving paranoia), selfless, and fiercely protective. Personally, my only real criticism was that it ended very suddenly: I felt like the story wasn’t quite finished. The chase was over, yes, but the story wasn’t resolved and I found that annoying and kind of anti-climactic. Warning for some pretty graphic violence so don’t watch if that’s problematic for you (I’ve seen worse but there were some scenes that I did struggle with).
Moana – I finally watched Moana and I just fell in love. I’m sure I’ll be watching it again and again in the future. I loved the animation: it was absolutely stunning. I especially loved Te Kā and Moana’s grandmother as a manta ray; I thought they were just beautiful. The music was gorgeous and so catchy and uplifting. And the humour was brilliant (it reminded me a bit of The Emperor’s New Groove and The Road To El Dorado in that sense). The ‘David Bowie crab’ cracked me up in particular. I really loved it. It was lovely and meaningful without requiring too much emotional energy, perfect for the stressful time I was going through.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? – This film had been on my list for a while. While I felt like it was a bit slow, I found the story really interesting and I liked the main character, Lee Israel; I found it fascinating how she could so naturally slip in and out of other people’s voices and do it so realistically that, for a long time, no one had any idea. I’ve struggled with Melissa McCarthy in the past but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that I’ve really only seen her in comedy, a genre I struggle with anyway. But I thought she was great in this. I thought it was a good film but I couldn’t truly enjoy it after her beloved cat died. It was so sad and the acting was incredible but – personally – it’s one of those things that I find very difficult to watch and very difficult to forgive in a film, even if that’s not the most adult approach to take; while moments like these can be fundamental to telling a good story – like in this case – it’s just a very raw nerve for me. Despite that upsetting turn of events, I thought the end was a good one. I was glad that she was writing again and that she had a new kitten to love and her response to finding one of her forged Dorothy Parker letters for sale was a beautiful full circle moment because of course she would write to the seller as Parker to refute it’s validity. It was the perfect end. And, last but not least, I loved the inclusion of the facts about the real people (it is based on a true story after all) during the credits. Having gotten to know the fictional versions of them, which I assume the foundations of at least are true to the real people, these little facts were beautiful splashes of colour that just made them that much more real, made me feel like I understood them that bit better.
Destroyer – This wasn’t a film that I instantly fell in love with. In fact, I struggled with it for quite a long time: it felt like a pretty big stretch that a police officer who was that much of a mess (and must’ve been for a considerable period of time since the triggering traumatic event was sixteen years previous) was still on the job; the make up used to age up Nicole Kidman was somewhat extreme, making her look like a walking corpse; the somewhat repetitive ‘find one person who leads to finding the next person and repeat’ middle of the story started to feel a bit tedious. But the reason I mention it is because the performances were fantastic: Chris (played by Sebastian Stan), while only appearing in flashbacks, is warm but with an intensity to him that we see most when he interacts with main character Erin Bell (played by Nicole Kidman), a relationship that feels as important to us, the audience, as it is to the narrative; the most obvious villain, Silus, flirts with danger like it’s all a hilarious game, meaningless to someone like him who’s so high above it all; Shelby, Erin’s teenage daughter, is all sharp edges and fierce animosity but underneath all of that is just a kid who doesn’t understand why her mother won’t let her in. And, of course, there’s Nicole Kidman playing police officer, Erin, who is so clearly carrying trauma that it’s like watching a human being walk around with every bone broken. You could almost feel the weight of her guilt, how it was slowly crushing her, and how the only things that seemed to keep her pushing back were her need for vengeance and her messy attempts to keep her daughter on the right path. Despite the somewhat uneven narrative, the performances were utterly compelling, especially during the more emotional scenes. But it was the end of the film that really got me: one last powerful mother-daughter exchange, one quick and cold act of revenge, and the startling revelation that the storytelling was not, in fact, linear. We actually began at the end or, as director Karyn Kusama describes it, “what we are really seeing is that the detective is hunting herself.” (x). With all of the strings apparently tied up, the ending almost opens up before shrinking right back down. It’s an emotional minefield with no obvious finish line. Oh, and the appearances of both Tatiana Maslany and, briefly, Natalia Cordorva-Buckley were exciting surprises.
Charlie’s Angels – I really enjoyed this film. I loved the cast, especially Kristen Stewart as Sabina and Ella Balinska as Jane (oh, and Sam Caflin had me laughing out loud in almost every scene – his high pitched “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!” was hilarious). I loved the friendship between the main three (Sabina, Jane, and Elena, played by Stewart, Balinska, and Naomi Scott respectively) and I thought their chemistry was great; all of their interactions felt really genuine and they were so funny together. It must’ve been great fun. The stunts were fantastic, especially Jane’s (the early car chase is awesome) but then I am a sucker for slick action sequences. I got a little confused by the plot at certain points but it all came together at the end. It also had a cool end sequence with some great guest appearances.
A Quiet Place – I’ve wanted to watch this film for ages and although I’m not a fan of horror films, I do love a good alien film, especially if there’s an interesting twist involving said aliens. I love these aliens (I think they’re fascinating – they kind of remind me of the future predator in Primeval) and I loved how creative the characters were when it came to adapting their lives, minimising noise and communicating soundlessly (apart from the signing – like the lights strung around the property). After a while, I got so used to the world and the silence that it was actively weird when they did talk. I thought the acting was superb and I loved the different relationships within the family, particularly between the father, Lee, and daughter, Regan. And I loved that the film ended in such a way that the sequel, while taking places in the same world, would be very different because the circumstances had dramatically changed. But I love this film just as much for what was going on behind the scenes. Director John Krasinski said that hiring a deaf actress to play Regan, a deaf character, was “non-negotiable” (which is very progressive – it’s still very rare to find a disabled character played by a disabled actor) and Millicent Simmonds was cast for the part (x). An ASL expert was hired to teach the cast to sign and then to be on set for corrections and to help when script changes were made; Simmonds also had an interpreter on set and while the cast were taught to sign for their roles, many of the crew also started to learn (x). Beyond just accommodating Simmonds, the film, and Krasinski in particular, were eager to hear Simmonds’ experiences and input and there were multiple changes made based on her suggestions, including the fight between Regan and her father (where Simmonds felt Regan should rebel against rather than submit to her father) and the addition of the father signing, “I have always loved you,” in reference to earlier events and conversations in the film (a suggestion that made Krasinski cry) (x) (x). Simmonds was also a driving force behind the authenticity of the signing, both in its fluency and the personal style of each character’s signing (the father’s being “immediate and direct,” matching his survivalist attitude and the mother’s being “more affectionate,” reflecting her warmer nature and so on) (x) (x). Having a deaf character played by a deaf actor is such important representation and her experience as a deaf person (and the film being willing to embrace her input) has added so much more depth to the film than would’ve been possible had they hired a hearing actor, something that the rest of the industry would do well to learn from. It’s not perfect but it is a big step forward in terms of representation.
A Quiet Place Part II – I loved this film just as much as the first one. I loved that we got to see how it all began (and it was nice to see John Krasinski in it again, even if just for that scene) but I also really liked how they managed to move the story along. I liked the way they managed to bring in a new character without him feeling new – Emmett, a friend from before the creatures arrived – and how natural all of the relationships felt. Given how much of the first film was about the parents trying to protect the children, I liked the contrast here where the kids were more autonomous and were more active in the plot: Regan leaving to find the working radio station so that she could broadcast the signal from her cochlear implant and Marcus protecting their mother and the new baby. And I was also really moved by the relationship between Emmett and Regan – particularly given that he’s a father who’s lost his children and she’s a daughter who’s just recently lost her father – as they try to reach the radio station; it felt very complex and emotional, which was fitting given the story. The tension in the second half of the film was almost unbearable, with everyone in precarious situations, and the finale was amazing: the whole sequence was stunning – the acting, the direction, the music, the editing. I loved it. And again, the film has ended with them in an entirely different situation to how it began, giving them another opportunity to tell a new story in this world. I’m particularly intrigued by the creatures, given that they seem to kill everything that makes a sound but they don’t eat everything they kill. So, is sound painful to them or are they – as someone on Tumblr put it – “just arseholes”?
Spinning Out (Season 1) – I really, really liked this show. Figure skating isn’t something I’m familiar with but it was beautiful to watch and I really enjoyed seeing what goes into a routine. I instantly connected with Kat, considering her mental health issues – how they affect her life and the lives of those around her, how she attempts to manage her life, how they keep her constantly questioning herself and her instincts and her future – and although, it was a somewhat obvious storyline for her to descend into a manic episode, I could relate to how it happened: how the pressure to perform prompted her to start cutting down her medication (I’ve been there, although for different reasons). And not only did she have her mental illness to manage, she had the PTSD from her previous fall to contend with: I really liked how they showed her working through that, although it was probably a bit straightforward and simplistic. The show definitely emphasised the pressure of a career in these sports, the intensity of the training leaving the skaters with very little normal life to fall back on. I also thought the family relationships, romantic relationships, and professional relationships made for interesting, thought-provoking, and emotive storylines, as did ongoing issues of race and poverty. There were multiple twists that I didn’t see coming and I also loved the music choices throughout the season. So, yeah, I really enjoyed it and I’m gutted that it was cancelled; I feel like there was still a lot of potential for the storylines and character arcs.
The Wilds (Season 1) – If you’ve seen this show, you know how complex and layered and confusing it is. A basic synopsis is that, when a plane crashes into the ocean, a group of teenage girls headed to a retreat are stranded on a deserted island. Despite very different backgrounds and clashing personalities, they have to work together to survive long enough for rescue to arrive. But when certain implausible things start to happen, some of the girls start to get suspicious that there may be more going on than they originally thought. While the main storyline revolves around the girls’ time on the island, we also witness flashbacks to what led to them boarding that plane and flashforwards to the investigation after the girls are rescued. I thought the island storyline was the strongest, although the flashbacks were very emotionally powerful. My frustration with it was that even though more and more questions arose, very few were ever definitively answered. Thankfully there’s a second season coming so hopefully some of those questions will be answered.
New Amsterdam (Seasons 1 and 2) – Despite the fairly unrealistic speed at which they manage to get significant changes made, I really enjoyed the show. It was just the right mix of drama and restoring-my-faith-in-humanity, perfect for the headspace I was in at the time. I loved Max for his boundless optimism and drive to help in whatever way he could; I loved Helen, loved the way she handles Max and the evolution of her character throughout the show; I loved Lauren and how competent and self aware she was despite a lifetime of trauma… I loved the through line about Luna, in its various different forms. Although, as a drama, there’s a lot of sad and hard moments, it’s really uplifting and I really enjoy the experience of watching it.
The One (Season 1) – I really can’t say much about this show without giving away something really important but oh my god. It’s based around a matchmaking service that has completely changed society in just a few years, created by two scientists who discovered a way of determining a person’s one true love, their ‘match,’ through DNA. Now CEO, the fierce and charismatic Rebecca Webb, seems to have it all, that is until the body of a friend she reported missing is found in a river. It took me a couple of episodes to really get into it but then I was hooked, mostly, I think, due to the constantly zigzagging plot and the incredible performances from the cast, especially those of Hannah Ware, who played Rebecca, and Zoë Tapper, who played Kate Saunders, the police officer investigating the death of Rebecca’s friend. I have so many thoughts about this show, from how interesting the effect of this matchmaking service on society is to how different and layered and flawed the female characters were; the most powerful scenes were often between the women. Or at least I thought so. I also found the scientific aspect of it fascinating, although I admit I have no idea how much of it is scientifically accurate or not (this statement will make more sense if you watch it, I promise). Definitely recommend.
Unforgotten (Series 4) – I was so excited for the return of Unforgotten. I love Nicola Walker and I love her as Cassie Stuart. I also love Sanjeev Bhaskar as her partner, Sunny Khan. So, as I said, I was really excited for the new series. But I have to admit, I really struggled with it: Cassie was so angry about being forced back to work and hurting over everything going on at home. It was upsetting to watch. I found the case fascinating and I was starting to feel like everything might be okay, like Cassie might be okay, and then, suddenly, she was gone. I was utterly heartbroken and it actually triggered a period of depression. What can I say? My favourite fictional characters mean a lot to me. The show has been renewed for another series but, as much as I love Sunny, I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch it without Cassie. I was (and still am) really upset about how brutal that final episode was; killing Cassie (at all, but especially the way they did) honestly feels like an unnecessarily cruel way to end her story and I just don’t know if I can get over it. It’s already turned a show I loved and a show that brought me comfort into something that feels upsetting and painful. So I really don’t know.
Quantico (Season 3) – After rewatching Seasons 1 and 2, I decided to try Season 3 (I hadn’t previously watched it because I’d really liked the end of Season 2 and hadn’t really wanted any more). I have to admit that, for the first few episodes, I really wasn’t sure whether I’d made the right decision: I wasn’t convinced by Ryan and Shelby as a couple, the single story per episode format, Mike McQuigg as a character, etc. But gradually, I got into the swing of it and started to really enjoy it. I found myself really rooting for Ryan and Shelby and I ended up loving McQuigg. I really liked the series of stand-alone stories that turned into a longer story arc (although I found Timothy Murphy playing almost exactly the same character as he did in Criminal Minds surreal and somewhat confusing – part of me wondered if they took (a little too much) inspiration from that story); I thought the shift played out very smoothly. I liked the new team and their dynamic; I loved their loft; and I thought Priyanka Chopra’s acting in particular was just stunning throughout the series. The one thing that just didn’t make sense to me though was Jocelyn Turner as a deaf FBI field agent. I really liked her as a character and having her teach at Quantico and even consult on cases where her prior work could provide invaluable insight seems possible but as an agent in the field, it seemed unlikely and unrealistic. I’m not deaf or hard of hearing so I can’t and don’t want to speak for the community but the portrayal of her deafness seemed fairly simplistic. For example, other than one group argument where she stops them because she can’t keep up with them, it’s never addressed again, even when similar situations occur at least once an episode. And it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t notice when a team of men smash through the glass ceiling and start a gunfight using automatic weapons while her back was turned. The writing felt somewhat lazy in this regard. Overall though, I found it enjoyable and I am really glad I gave it a chance. I don’t know how I feel about the show being cancelled – whether I think it should’ve gone on longer or if it feels like the right place to have ended it – but I’m sad we didn’t get closure on the strings left untied.
Lucifer (Season 5: Part 2) – I loved the second half of the season. Everyone’s reaction to God was freaking hilarious (Trixie and God were just adorable) and I just loved the family dynamics of the celestials; it was so dysfunctional and childish but with powers that could easily cause natural disasters if they weren’t careful. The musical episode was bonkers but utterly hilarious. I think my favourite song was ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ – Lucifer/Tom Ellis is such an incredible singer – and the performance was just so incredible and so sad. ‘Wicked Game’ was really good too and although I didn’t particularly like the songs chosen for the mash up, having a mash up with Ella and Maze was very cool. I’m glad they made ‘Every Breath You Take’ creepy because it really, really is (although the Denmark + Winter version is even creepier) but the revelation that Lucifer thought he wasn’t capable of love was so sad. Maze had a really interesting story line with the revelation that she could grow a soul and the idea that she could be the Queen of Hell – go, girl! I found the idea of Chloe leaving the police weird and kind of jarring but the whole final arc of the season was incredible (having said that, I found the episode, Daniel Espinosa: Naked and Afraid, kind of tedious but to be fair, the ending was fucking hysterical). And on that note, I never thought I would love Dan so much, never thought I’d be so sad to see him die. His fight for his life was incredible and for a moment, I really thought it would be enough. But of course it wasn’t. The scene in the hospital with Chloe and Trixie and Maze and Lucifer was just heartbreaking. I was in tears; it brought up a lot of personal stuff and I haven’t been able to watch it since. I know Amenadiel said he wasn’t in Heaven but I’m not convinced that that means he’s in Hell; I think that’s a story coming for us in the next season. The funeral had me in tears again: Amenadiel’s speech and Ella and Lucifer singing was so emotional. And to have that mixed in with Maze and Lucifer ruthlessly taking out the men responsible, Maze clearing Lucifer’s path like they were nothing, was kind of breathtaking. I don’t quite know what I was expecting Lucifer to do but simply whisper something in the killer’s ear and walk away, leaving him sobbing on the floor, was not it. I’m desperate to know what he said but not knowing is probably more powerful than anything they could reveal. And so Lucifer’s going to war against his siblings to become god. The resulting final sequence was amazing, somehow managing to move through the whole spectrum of emotions. There were hilarious moments, like Michael dramatically declaring himself god and nothing happening and our team doing a weird little dance to give Maze more time. And there were the epic moments, like Chloe – having been gifted one of Maze’s knives – shooting out the angels’ wings with bullets made from the melted down knife and Maze’s shriek-worthy dramatic entrance. And while the acting has been incredible throughout the season, from the moment Azriel appears, every performance is just stellar: Lucifer’s heartbreaking despair and Maze’s fury pushing her beyond even Amenadiel’s reasoning, just as a couple of examples. The whole sequence in Heaven – Lee showing up again (!) with his big revelations, Chloe getting to see her Dad, Lucifer finally telling Chloe that he loves her, the story of Lilith’s ring coming full circle – is fantastic. The final scene is epic and I’m desperate to know what happens next.
Cruel Summer (Season 1) – Cruel Summer wasn’t exactly a relaxing watch; for the most part, I think I ended up watching just to find out the answers that wouldn’t come until the finale episode. While I think the jumping between three timelines was a very effective storytelling technique for a show about truth, lies, and the perception of both, I struggled with it as a viewer. At first it annoyed me because I kept getting confused about what was happening and why (I don’t think that was helped by all of the subplots throughout the show) but what really bothered me about it was that it was impossible to form your own opinions about the characters because you didn’t have all of the information you needed in order to do so; how you felt about the characters was determined by the show itself and the specific moments it allowed you to see. I didn’t like that; I didn’t like feeling manipulated. And I think that fed into one of my biggest issues with the show: I didn’t really like any of the characters that much and some of them, I deeply disliked. Something always felt really off about Jeanette (her obsession with Kate just got more and more creepy); I did not like her mother, but then I didn’t like Sarah Drew in Grey’s Anatomy and separating them wasn’t exactly easy given that they weren’t that different personality wise but seriously, she just abandoned her family when things got tough; Kate’s mother was a complete horror show; Martin Harris was obviously horrifying, although I wonder if he would’ve seemed so creepy had we not known that he was Kate’s kidnapper from episode one; and I thought Mallory was a bitch in 1993, still annoying in 1994, and I was only starting to like her in 1995, mainly because of everything she did to help Kate, like being her buffer on her birthday to insure she had a good day. I liked Vince but we didn’t see much of him and I felt for Jamie in the 1995 timeline. I guess I liked Kate the best although, having said that, I still can’t get over how, in the early days, she was perfectly content to stay at Harris’ house, regardless of how worried she must’ve known her family and friends would be. I know he manipulated and groomed her (a story that was really important to tell and one I think they told really well) but she didn’t seem to care or even think about how devastated they would be by her disappearance. But despite that, I found her the most likeable and her storyline the most engaging: she went through so much trauma and watching her cope with and work through it (with all of the ups and downs) got me invested in her, making her final scene so joyful and satisfying.
I think the final twist was very interesting. My initial reaction was “Oh my god! What an amazing end, what an amazing twist!” and yes, it was a massive twist to find out that Jeanette had known where Kate was even though she’d technically never lied – it was true that she’d never seen Kate. But after thinking about it and thinking about it in the context of the show, I’m actually kind of disappointed by it and how it changed the story. I think ending with neither of them intentionally lying but telling the truth according to the information they had made a really important statement about truth and our personal interpretations of it, a huge theme of the show. There were no villains (in that situation – Martin Harris was obviously a villain), just fallible, emotional human beings. And revealing that Jeanette was actually lying all along ruined that. Instead she’s a heartless villain, manipulating everyone around her to get attention, to be seen as the victim (after Kate’s accusations) and then as the kind, forgiving, and admired survivor (after her appearance on TV); after all, she forgave Kate and chose not to take her family’s money… Up until that final scene, she was unpleasant and creepy but the twist scene seemed to be the show implying something much worse. I don’t know if I’ll watch Season 2. I think it will massively depend on what story they choose to tell and how that story is set up.
The Chair (Season 1) – I love Sandra Oh. She’s just fantastic (and I have massive hair envy). I’ve loved her in everything I’ve seen her in and this was no exception. For the most part, I thought the show was great: the acting was brilliant, the humour was great, and it dealt with some really important issues. Having said that, I did feel like it tried to tackle a few too many issues and stories in just six half-hour episodes; even ten half-hour episodes would have allowed it to explore and pace the stories a little better. It was just a lot and a lot very fast. But it was very enjoyable with some great performances and unravelling of stories. Also I think it has one of the best opening scenes of any TV show I’ve ever seen:
Believe (Season 1) – This isn’t quite a new watch because I watched it back in 2016 when it first aired but I could barely remember any of it so, apart from a handful of scenes, it felt like a new watch. I just remember really enjoying it so I wanted to see it again and it was great to basically experience it as a new story despite having seen it before. The story revolves around Bo Adams, a ten year old girl with psychic abilities that are still relatively unexplored that she only has a certain amount of control over. On the run from the organisation, Orchestra, that raised her just to exploit her abilities and protected by a small but dedicated team, Bo is reunited with her father (although neither of them are aware of this fact upon meeting) and, as they continue to dodge Orchestra, she learns more about the scope of her abilities and how to control them. Her frequent visions often get them into trouble: Bo is determined to help the people she sees, regardless of the danger it might put her in, which results in her meeting some interesting people. There was definitely potential set up for a bigger story, one that included those characters, but then the show was cancelled after one season. It didn’t get particularly high ratings (I think it would’ve done a lot better if it hadn’t been scheduled opposite Game of Thrones – it didn’t really stand a chance) but I really enjoyed it. I loved Bo and I loved her relationship with Tate, before and after they found out he was her father; they were completely adorable. It still makes me sad that we didn’t get more of what could’ve been a really interesting story.
Vigil (Series 1) – I love Suranne Jones and having loved her as Rachel Bailey in Scott & Bailey, it made me very happy to see her as a DCI (Rachel’s dream) in this show. Her character on this show, DCI Amy Silva, is sent to investigate a murder on a Navy submarine. While navigating (no pun intended) an uncooperative and secretive crew, she’s also trying to manage some pretty traumatic personal issues, which have only become more difficult given that she’s been so suddenly cut off from her coping mechanisms. She’s tough and fierce as hell when she needs to be but she’s also hanging on by a thread, trying to keep everything together. I was deeply attached to her by the end of episode one and I found the storyline of her coping with and working through her trauma the most impactful of the show. While it was somewhat extreme (I know many felt the show could be ridiculous at times – personally, I’m just happy to get lost in the story and suspend my disbelief), seeing her trapped in the torpedo tube, reliving her biggest trauma, and thinking of her daughter and ex-girlfriend in what she thought were her last moments was very powerful emotionally, which I think was mostly down to Suranne Jones’ superb acting. It was a great relief to see her rescued and the takedown of the true villain was very satisfying; I liked that we got to see how personally the crew took the betrayal and how unified they were during the takedown sequence. And while I was never super passionate about Amy and Kirsten as a couple, I did like them together and I thought the scene where they finally got to talk and Amy was finally able to say the words “I love you” was really powerful; I thought it was beautiful writing and really stunning acting. And I loved the moment when Amy and her daughter, Poppy, were reunited; I will admit to getting a bit emotional over that scene. No doubt, Amy thought she’d never see her again so it was all the more emotional; they were just so adorable and you could just see how much they loved each other. I would happily watch a show where the three of them are just a cute little domestic unit. I also thought the larger ending – the political and societal ending – was very fitting. So, to sum up my thoughts, while the story might’ve been somewhat overdramatic at certain points, I really, really enjoyed it and I think that was largely down to Suranne Jones and her incredible acting. Yes, I am a fangirl. But I really do think she was great in this role and I can’t wait to see what she does next; and in the meantime, I’m going to go back and watch the things she’s been in that I haven’t already seen (and probably some I have too).
Girls5Eva (Season 1) – I have to admit, I found this show pretty weird. I always want to love everything Sara Bareilles is involved in but I can’t say that I loved this (although that doesn’t come as a huge surprise since comedy isn’t generally my thing). There were things that I liked: I found all of the digs at the music industry and all of the examples of how shitty it can be hilarious (because, damn, someone needs to call them on it). And of the four main characters, Dawn (Sara’s character) was my favourite and I sometimes liked Wickie (played by Renée Elise Goldsberry) but mostly, I found them too outlandish and caricatured. I did find some of it really funny but then some of it really made me cringe so it was a bit of a mixed bag. Having said that, I did love the end where they performed at the Jingle Ball and how the young rapper that brought their hit back to prominence kept security from kicking them out at least until they’d finished their song. I really enjoyed the song, ‘4 Stars,’ and I also found Dawn’s first attempt at writing – ‘I’m Afraid’ – utterly hysterical. I’m not sure if I’d watch another season or not (I saw that they’ve been renewed for a second season): it was just a bit ridiculous for me as much as I loved the main concept and love Sara Bareilles.
Harrow (Series 1-3) – I love Ioan Grufford so I was very excited to discover this show. I watched all three seasons one after another and have rewatched it multiple times since; it’s become one of my comfort shows, a safe world to escape into when the world feels too overwhelming. Set in Brisbane, Australia, Dr Daniel Harrow is a workaholic pathologist, irreverent, highly intelligent, and always sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. The whole cast is excellent and the relationships between the characters are great: Harrow and trainee-pathologist, Simon, make a hilarious double act; Scenes of Crime Officer, Soroya Dass, and Harrow have great chemistry; and Harrow’s relationship with his troubled daughter, Fern, is deeply compelling to watch. Fern’s relationship with her boyfriend, Callan, is incredibly sweet and I love that he calls her ‘Fish,’ that it’s never explained why. The acting was excellent (the standout moments for me were always the ones between Harrow and Fern) and I really liked the episodic nature but with an ongoing, bigger arc. Series 1 follows the case of a mysterious set of bones pulled from the ocean that Harrow is somehow involved with, the tension only increasing as we get closer to the answer. The climax of the series is fantastic and, again, the performances are just incredible. Series 2 picks up where Series 1 left off and we discover that someone is after Harrow, determined to take apart his life as an act of revenge. Part of the fallout from the finale of Series 1 is the relationship between Harrow and Soroya and with her gone, a new character is introduced, a Dr Grace Molyneaux. While I prefer Soroya, I did warm to her and she was definitely a breath of fresh air in the pathology department. The stakes get higher and higher, especially as Harrow’s friends and colleagues doubt his theory as to who is after him, leading to a very intense final episode. But again, the real star is the relationship between Harrow and Fern; their scenes together, especially in that finale episode, just take my breath away. Between a new, business focussed boss and the appearance of Harrow’s son from a long ago relationship, Series 3 does have a different feel to it. A lot has changed. Of the three series, it was probably my least favourite (although that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it): Harrow’s son is a pathological liar and drags everyone into the mess he’s made. Fern is possibly the most frustrating example of this, given how smart she’s been up to this point, and yet, she keeps letting him get away with it. The final episode is incredibly tense but has a great pay off and if it has to end there, I’d be okay with that, although I would, of course, love more from this cast. They’re all consistently great and the interactions feel so natural and real and there are some really fantastic moments throughout the series (one of my favourite episodes involves a camping trip that is just one disaster after another). As I said, it’s become one of my favourite shows and one that I consistently return to when I want something that feels familiar and safe and good.
Annika (Series 1) – [So I have a confession to make: I accidentally started watching this in reverse order. Because it was airing over the most stressful part of my Masters, I’d recorded it and when I went to the My Shows menu, I didn’t realise that the episodes were listed in reverse order (I mean, what? Nowhere else do they list things in any order but chronological, do they?) and I got through the last and the penultimate episodes before I figured out why it was kind of confusing. It didn’t not work though so I stand by it not being completely ridiculous (but yes, still pretty ridiculous). So, having seen those last two episodes, I went back and started from the beginning but it did change my watching experience of it so I feel like it was important to mention.] Initially, I found the format of Nicola Walker / Annika talking to the camera kind of weird and jarring (I did feel like, with her detailed knowledge of certain literary works, frequent awkward moments, and jokes that didn’t land, she was autistic coded). I still found her engaging and funny though; I’m not sure I could dislike her in anything. But over time, I got used to it and ended up really enjoying what it added to the show. The references to different pieces of literature, her internal monologue, a pointed statement here and there… it all added to the fabric of the show, making it quite different to anything else I’ve seen. And while the team was super awkward at the beginning (understandably as they’re a brand new unit) and Annika wasn’t exactly a natural boss, they found their rhythm and they became a really solid unit with a really great dynamic. It resulted in some really fun moments, like Annika buying them all candy floss after an arrest at a fairground (resulting in jokes about arranging arrests in other places good for gifts, such as the zoo so that they could all get a penguin) and using desk objects to represent suspects (“My money’s on the stapler.”) during a discussion – the script writers must have had so much fun. Their interactions felt very natural and funny, as was the relationship between Annika and her daughter, Morgan: they were very cute and even though they had their ups and downs, they were really lovely to watch. The final episode was great (and features possibly my favourite line of the series, where Annika says to one of her colleagues, “I’m going to need you constantly available to put that kind of spin on all of my neuroses,” after he explains away her vertigo as a survival instinct) and leaves us with a twist that will certainly affect a second series should it be renewed. I felt it was a somewhat obvious way to take the story but it’s all in the storytelling so we’ll just have to see how they tell it.
Lucifer (Season 6) – I have mixed feelings about this season: it was special because it brought the whole show full circle but it was a bit chaotic and the story didn’t feel as streamlined as it has in previous seasons, with the characters all having pretty separate arcs: Lucifer’s attempts to be worthy of being God; Ella figuring out about the celestials on her own; Dan’s quest to reach heaven (his last conversation with Trixie made me cry); Amendial’s struggle with being a police officer, seeing and experiencing racism everyday; Maze and Eve getting married with the bumps in the road of Adam reappearing (an “absolute pancake of a human,” according to Maze) and Maze’s issues with her family. Lucifer and Chloe’s daughter from the future, Rory, is obviously the biggest storyline and while it did feel a bit rushed, I think it so important to one of the core foundations of the show: Lucifer’s anger at being abandoned by his father. And here, he’s discovering that one day he’ll disappear and never come back. Following that storyline through gives us a lot of emotional and special moments: we get to see Lucifer and Chloe as a real couple (they’re adorable) and see Lucifer and Rory really get to know each other. The tension of the penultimate episode was almost unbearable and as the moment where Lucifer disappears forever bears down on them, Lucifer has some very emotional moments with all of the people important to him. And we finally learn why Lucifer disappears and why he can’t change it, because it’s so much bigger than just them. Chloe and Lucifer’s goodbye is utterly heartbreaking; the acting was amazing (and it was even more emotional, knowing that it was also the two actors saying goodbye to each other and the show, all of the tears genuine). And the music choices were perfect: one I was hoping they’d bring back (yes, I screamed) and one that I’d long given up hoping they’d use. The final episode wasn’t as cohesive as I would’ve liked but then they did have a lot of stories to wrap up but it meant we got to see all of the important moments so I can’t be annoyed about it. I loved that we got to see how everything played out, where everyone ended up (I actually shrieked when it was revealed that Dan and Charlotte were together in heaven, having waffles and pudding – that made me very happy). I thought the final scene(s) was both hilarious and perfect and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Season 22) – This season felt very tense and raw, moreso than it has in a while; the stories they told were so powerful. The COVID-based stories were gut wrenching: the episode, ‘In The Year We All Fell Down’ – with the restaurant owner taking hostages out of desperation when, after losing pretty much everything, she’s about to lose her restaurant too – was devastating and, I think, one of their best episodes. They really didn’t pull punches in their stories involving racism either, challenging their own biases and the biases of others, encouraging us as viewers to do the same. That’s something that I’ve always admired and respected about SVU: they may not always do things perfectly but they never shy away from stories that are important to tell. The personal stories of the characters were also really compelling and moving. Of course, a big part of the season revolved around Elliot’s reappearance after disappearing from their lives ten years prior. That damaged his relationship with Olivia – the scene where they talk about how he left was heartbreaking and Mariska Hargitay’s acting, particularly in the moment where she says, “You were the single most important person in my life and you just… disappeared,” was incredible – and it’s only complicated further when his wife is murdered. I know he’s been through a lot but I find Elliot endlessly frustrating: he has so many issues that he refuses to deal with, which often results in dragging the people he cares about into the mess with him, and he never learns that lesson. I really don’t like the way he treats Olivia, the way he messes with her emotions and her life: he tells her how important she is to him and then disappears (repeatedly), forces her to clean up after him and make the hard choices, does whatever he wants without regard for how it affects her… And do not get me started on the letter he gave her – that said what they’d meant to each other hadn’t been real – that was actually written by his wife but he still slipped in “But in a parallel universe, it will always be you and I.” He demands too much of her without giving anywhere near enough back. But even though their story took up a lot of time, the other characters are great too. Carisi and Rollins are adorable (I loved the scene where he told her about how bad his parents are at Zoom to cheer her up) and Fin and Phoebe are cute too. I love Kat and don’t think we saw enough of her. I already knew the character was leaving but I couldn’t imagine her lasting long in SVU when every injustice made her so angry; I get it but you can’t die on every single hill. And some of the cases this season were really great too: the death of Olivia’s half brother, Simon, is investigated, which brings up a lot of stuff for Olivia; a child they’d had institutionalised years ago is released and goes on a killing spree (Rollins is awesome in this episode); and, as I mentioned earlier, ‘In The Year We All Fell Down’ are just some that spring to mind. The season ends in a nice place, with the endings of old stories and beginnings of new ones.
New Amsterdam (Season 3) – Beginning the series with a montage of their experiences during the height of COVID, accompanied by ‘What A Wonderful World,’ had me in tears. I’d somehow forgotten how this show reduces me to tears at least once an episode. Their reactions during the height of COVID and then later on when things were better was really emotional (everyone coming together to clap for essential workers always did and still does make me cry) and I thought Helen’s comment about being “scared of normal” – handshakes and hugs and so on – was very relatable. There were a lot of different storylines and arcs going on over the season: I loved Lauren and Leyla’s friendship and then relationship, from Lauren sneaking Leyla in to use the hospital showers to confessing all of her secrets; Max’s tireless attempts to make things better could be a bit over the top but he does usually manage to make good change, even if it isn’t as much change as he or others would like; I found the storyline following Iggy’s eating disorder very triggering (at one point, he says, “It’s the thing about myself that feels most true. How do you stop believing that?” in reference to the connection that has been forged between his weight and his self worth and I really felt that, about a number of things); Luna was adorable but I found myself hating her grandparents and how overly critical they were of Max and I thought the speech he made about how he’ll always fight for Luna was really moving; I thought they played out the story of Iggy’s patient turned stalker really well because it had you feeling so many different emotions throughout the season. And that’s just a handful of them. I love a lot of the main characters (I think Floyd is the only one that irritates me – he’s so fixated on his dream scenario that he won’t accept anything else, even if it has the potential to be just as good) and I love their relationships. I love Lauren and Casey’s relationship in particular: one of my favourite moments was when Casey was hanging out in Lauren’s room while she recovered from chemical exposure, how she woke up and gave him a hug, telling him that he can’t leave because she can’t do this without him. And he just smiles and says he’s not going anywhere but maybe they can dial back the excitement a bit. They’re very cute. I think my favourite episode was ‘Things Fall Apart,’ where there was a chemical spill in the hospital: of course, Lauren didn’t say anything until she actually went blind (temporarily); the scene with Helen and Max in the decontamination shower – silent – was really powerful; and their reunion was acted beautifully too. I loved how the season ended, with Max panicking about his lost wedding ring (I found it very funny – and deeply relatable – when another character tells him to come out from under the table where he’s been looking for it and he says, “Do I have to?”) and the realisation that that leads him to about his life, past and future.
WandaVision – I’m still not sure what I think of WandaVision. I really loved the concept – how, in her grief, Wanda brought Vision back and created a bubble for them to live in, inspired by the TV shows she found comfort in as a child (but accidentally holding the town hostage in order to keep up the illusion) – but I struggled with the different TV show styles; as cute as I thought Wanda and Vision were, I found a lot of it very cringy. I don’t think I started to properly enjoy it until about episode eight, although I thought witches was a bit of a left field concept for Marvel – they’re usually much more science-y. But I thought it was an interesting twist to have another powerful being in the town. I loved learning more about Wanda and seeing the things that have made her who she is: her childhood, her time with Hydra, the aftermath of Endgame. And I was very relieved when she started using her powers again (I love the way she moves when she uses her powers) and her original accent returned; it felt weird without them. I thought the penultimate and final episodes were amazing: Wanda reliving her memories (I loved Wanda and Vision’s conversation about grief and the famed quote – “What is grief if not love persevering?” – still hit hard, even though I knew it was coming), discovering what she’s done to everyone in the town, realising that letting them go will mean she loses everything all over again. The finale is powerful and emotional and heartbreaking, and it really made the show for me. I thought the whole thing was a compelling, moving depiction of grief that I think a lot of people relate to; I know I did.
Creating The Queen’s Gambit – I loved getting a look behind the scenes of The Queen’s Gambit; it was utterly fascinating. They managed to cover a lot in just fourteen minutes. They talked about the show as a whole, about the main themes: “It’s not about a game. It’s about the cost of genius.” Anya Taylor-Joy – the actress who played the central character, Beth – describes it similarly: “It’s a story about how you survive in a world when you have a very specific gift that makes you harder to understand.” I loved how they really dug into the characters, giving some great insights, especially with Beth (unsurprisingly given that she is the main character). I loved just how much Taylor-Joy loved Beth, just how passionate she was about every little detail that made her who she was: “I fell in love with Beth immediately, and there was a really strong kinship.” One of my favourite things she said about her was about her approach to both the world of chess and the world in general: “She just automatically assumes that she is equal.” It’s so true and I found it really powerful; imagine if we all did that? Anyway. Writer and Director Scott Frank was similarly passionate about the character, describing her as “her own antagonist,” which he found fascinating; He said he’d “never read a character like this before. Somebody who is so brilliant and so self-destructive, and in a world that she was already kind of not a part of.” They talked about her addictions, to tranquillisers and later alcohol, but also to winning. Taylor-Joy said she’s “also addicted to winning. She’s addicted to feeling like she is in control,” and Frank concurs, saying, “Chess is the one thing she feels like she can control, that on that board, she’s in charge. Whenever she’s moving those pieces around, she’s at home.” Taylor-Joy also made what I thought was a very astute comment about Beth and the tightrope she’s constantly walking: “Beth is very obsessive, full stop. Like, I think that is just something that is intrinsic to her. When your brain works that quickly, it can drive you a bit mad. But I also think that she is aware that her gift makes her special. I do think she’s, like, consistently worried that she’s a bit crazy… She’s juggling a very fine line of, like, ‘Am I insane or am I a genius?'” I also loved how much thought went into the visuals, from the characters appearances to the sets and so on. When it came to Beth’s appearance, they discussed in depth the hair, make up, and costume details and development, how to show her growing up, and these decisions were ultimately determined by where Beth was in each moment of the story. Taylor-Joy and the hair-and-make-up artist both strongly and individually felt that Beth should be a red head and that was that; they wanted her to stand out, even when she didn’t want to. Taylor-Joy said she would’ve dyed her hair but shooting multiple ages and styles in a day made that just too impractical so it was a series of wigs. Beth goes through a series of different styles, something that was a deliberate choice: Taylor-Joy commented that “What’s fascinating about watching her grow up is that she puts on all of these different personas. It is incredibly sad, because it’s basically just saying that she just doesn’t like she’s enough without them. It’s not a physical loneliness that she’s suffering from. It’s an emotional and intellectual one,” and the costume designer agreed, saying, “her search for cool is actually her search for herself.” They also talked about the final scene with Beth, “finally comfortable in the world of chess,” walking through Moscow in her long white coat and hat, looking just like the white queen. I loved that scene so I loved hearing more about it. And on the topic of visuals, the director described how it was basically impossible to make the chess itself cinematic so they focussed on the stakes of the game and the reactions of the players. They kept the cameras on the characters faces so that the audience, even if they didn’t understand what was happening on the board, would see the way they responded to the moves, feel their emotions in that moment based on their facial expressions and movements. As for the other parts of the show, they talked about how beautiful the sets were and how incredible the attention to detail was. Apparently the entire cast and crew would come to see every set because they were so amazing and so rich in detail. The director said that, after seeing a set, he would often change the scenes in order to incorporate different aspects that the set designers had added because they were just so interesting or cool. I just think that’s amazing (I think, in another life, I could be happy working in this kind of world). The end is really sweet, with Taylor-Joy expressing her great affection for Beth: “Having the opportunity to spend time with Beth in this way, and not just see all of the wins but of the hard work with the sacrifices that it takes to get the wins. I think, hopefully, that just builds a lot of empathy for somebody who I, selfishly, really, really care about.” I love it when actors get really emotionally invested in their characters.
Amidst the Chaos – Live (Again) from the Hollywood Bowl (Sara Bareilles) – I’d wanted to see this tour so badly so I was so happy to see any part of it in any way possible. And I absolutely loved it. Of course. The ‘Orpheus’ opening was utterly perfect and it was so emotional to see Sara perform again, even if it wasn’t in real life. She was hilarious, pretending it was a real show (or, more precisely, a normal show) and talking to the empty seats as if there was an audience there. She can be such an adorable dork. It made me miss seeing her live and she was clearly missing normal shows: “It’s really all about you.” But they – she and her band – still clearly managed to have a good time and that was so fun to watch. I cracked up when Emily King came on and Sara sang, “If you thought there’d be applause, you were wrong, dun, dun.” I love her. Her performances were fantastic but her performance of ‘She Used To Be Mine’ was truly incredible; she really has an extraordinary voice. I find it so amazing that it was the first song she wrote for Waitress: it’s so perfect and so telling of the whole show and yet it was written, presumably, when she was least familiar with the show. While I can’t fully articulate it, I feel like that really says something about both her empathy and her songwriting skill. Anyway, moving on: it was so cool to see her perform with the other women from Girls5Eva and I just loved ‘4 Stars,’ which I hadn’t yet heard. And ‘Brave’ felt like a very fitting end to the show. When she was thanking everyone who made the show possible, she said, “It was a mountain and it was amazing to move mountains with you,” and I just thought that was a beautiful sentiment. It really stuck with me. It was a really special experience to have, especially as I don’t know at this moment in time when I’ll next get to see her perform, so I’m really grateful to her for doing it and to everyone who helped make it a reality.
Friends: The Reunion – I have no problem admitting that I had a big, stupid grin on my face for the whole thing. It just made me so happy. It was super nostalgic to see the six of them come together on these familiar sets and reminisce about specific moments, recreating the scenes, and telling funny stories that even other members of the group didn’t necessarily know. The episode readings were great too: Lisa Kudrow reenacting the “My eyes!” scene was hilarious and it was oddly emotional to watch Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer read the scene where Ross and Rachel first kiss. And it was so lovely to see them all in that living room, playing a real life version of the quiz, watching the bloopers (Matt LeBlanc running into Central Perk only to fall flat on his face and then Matthew Perry copying him on the next take to make everyone laugh, the whole lot of them breaking and cracking up over one of Ben Stiller’s scenes, everyone absolutely losing it over David Schwimmer screaming ‘Pivot!’ over and over again), and taking the piss out of each other. It was also really cool to see the behind-the-scenes footage, especially as someone who started watching Friends after it finished airing, when it had already been established as a cultural moment. It was kind of surreal, seeing them so young and just hanging out on the set and then suddenly there’s all these red carpets and flashing cameras. I can’t quite believe they actually showed the footage of Matt LeBlanc injuring his shoulder but the process of making that episode was really interesting. And the footage from the final episode and the after party is kind of amazing given what a big deal the show was and, to a degree, still is. It’s like a time capsule: how they all hugged long after they said ‘cut,’ celebrating together even as the sets were being dismantled around them, signing the backs of the walls. I also loved hearing from the creators of the show: how the show was based around “that one time in your life when your friends are your family” and how they became family in real life; how the audience’s response to Monica and Chandler getting together in London changed their plan for the story; how they came to the decision that Ross and Rachel would get together in the final episode. They really pulled out all the stops with all of the guests and features, including Tom Selleck, Maggie Wheeler (I loved hearing the story behind Janice’s laugh), Reese Witherspoon, and both Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles, who played Ross and Monica’s parents (the story they told was so sweet: how the cast would say “the parents are here” and how they did feel like their parents, how they worried about them when they weren’t there). And those are just some of the people who appeared on the actual show. Initially, I wasn’t sure about the section where they all sat on a couch, interviewed by James Corden in front of an audience and while the fashion show felt unnecessary (apart from Matt LeBlanc wearing all of Chandler’s clothes again – that was great), it did also facilitate some interesting discussions and revelations that we might not have had otherwise. It was kind of hilarious to hear, after all this time, that they’re all in agreement that Ross and Rachel were on a break. And it was really, really nice to hear where they all thought their characters would be: they’d all have families and Joey would’ve opened a sandwich shop. I know a movie was what everyone was expecting but I don’t think a movie could’ve lived up to expectations. A special like this was just perfect. It ended with them in a huddle, just like they began every episode, just like they ended the show. It was perfect.
Love on the Spectrum (Season 1) – (Since the creator/director refers to it as more of a documentary than a reality show, I’m going to do the same, something which makes more sense anyway as the only intervention was the setting up of the dates and the whole point was to document the dating experience of young autistic adults). I watched this as part of my research for my final Masters project, as an example of how real autistic experiences (rather than fictional ones) are represented in media. I’d heard that it had been positively received but knew little about it. I ended up watching the whole thing in one day just to get it over with. I hated it. I appreciated that it wasn’t all about causing drama and that the team had good intentions but ultimately, it was made by neurotypical people for neurotypical people. As one review put it: “For all it’s intent to break stigmas, in observing autistic people rather than putting them in control of the narrative, it falls short.” Watching it, I felt like it was made for neurotypicals to “aww” over whereas every date had me cringing; I found it deeply patronising and infantilising. They’re weirdly reluctant to say ‘autistic person’ or use identity-first language and spend (in my opinion) too much time talking to the parents of autistic adults (something that would not happen with a neurotypical individual and further infantilises autistic adults). It’s also too white and too straight; yes, there is one date shared by two autistic young women but given the growing evidence that a high proportion of the autistic community identify as non-heterosexual, that one date isn’t exactly representative. It spreads misinformation (Olivia states that 95% people on the spectrum don’t find love and it’s framed as a fact when it’s not true at all), reinforces the ‘othering’ of autistic people (treating autistic people as separate from the rest of society), and encourages harmful behaviour in autistic individuals, such as masking: the tutoring and classes (all done by neurotypical people it’s worth noting) all taught these young autistic people how to act neurotypically (while also confusingly telling them to be themselves), something that seemed somewhat pointless when they were only set up with other autistic individuals to date. That was another frustrating aspect: only dates between autistic individuals were set up because, according to them it seems, autistic people only date autistic people, which only intensified the othering factor. It wasn’t exactly encouraging that none of the dates worked out; only couples who were already together were together at the end of the season. Therein was the one bright spot for me: Sharnae and Jimmy. They were just so lovely together and I particularly appreciated the scene where, together, they navigated Jimmy’s near meltdown over having the wrong colour of socks: Sharnae is patient and understanding, they come up with a new plan that involves a detour to get the right coloured socks, and then they go on to have a really special evening. That little moment meant a lot to me, seeing such a healthy and supportive response to problem which helped to prevent it from becoming a bigger problem and ultimately made the day smoother for both of them. But that was the only positive moment for me; everything else about it was a pretty distressing experience. It just made me feel even less hopeful about the possibility of a relationship, pointing out every reason dating feels hard (or even impossible) in harsh, painful detail. Watching the show triggered an episode of depression so, as you can imagine, I have little desire to watch the second season. “What Love on the Spectrum has shown autistic people need, more than anything, is the opportunity to tell our own stories, to not be observed and fetishised. I hope other producers will learn from their mistakes and put us in charge – we understand ourselves, and each other, better than anyone.” (x)
Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Moment House Online Show) – Given the impossibility of a real concert or tour at the moment, between COVID and Halsey only just having had her baby, this was a really great alternative and a really cool way to celebrate the album. They sounded incredible and the amount of thought and work that went into creating each different performance look and space was amazing. I loved her look for ‘The Tradition,’ with the intricate shirt and collar, and her make up was so striking; with the camera just focussing on her face, it’s a very different, very intimate experience. Her performance of Lilith was equally compelling but I did find myself getting distracted by how uncomfortable it must’ve been, lying in that bath. I loved the simplicity of the look for ‘Easier Than Lying,’ the simple black dress in contrast to the white screens; this performance was just so energetic – very Halsey-on-tour vibes, especially since they weren’t visibly pregnant in this one – which was only heightened by the flashing white and red walls of the corridor. It was somewhat chaotic to watch but in a way that really matched the song. I was intrigued by the inclusion of ‘You should be sad’ but she sounded amazing and the visuals of her inside the box (or coffin perhaps) were oddly beautiful. The look for ‘Girl is a Gun’ is really cool: the big, black cape which is cast off to reveal a lace bodysuit. Her pregnancy is very obvious here and yet she’s still her performance is as energetic and compelling as ever; the space might be big and empty but she absolutely owns it, just like she does the stage on tour. ‘Nightmare’ is equally energetic but this performance looks more like a music video, with the dark forest set and group of dancers, and the lace bodysuit from ‘Girl is a Gun,’ which she continues to wear for ‘You asked for this.’ I struggled with this one a bit due to the combination of flashing lights and twisty camera angles; it was a bit much for me, a bit close to sensory chaos. But that was beautifully reduced a moment later. I think the performance of ‘Darling’ was my favourite: Halsey in a whimsical garden in a pink, puffy dress, offset by black combat boots and almost steampunk-style jewellery. She looked stunning and the way she looked into the camera really made you feel like she was really looking at you. I loved the look for ‘honey’ – the white, peasant-style dress with the warm, golden light – but, while I can understand the artistic choice of spreading honey over her hair, face, neck, and chest, watching it made me cringe a little because I could almost feel the sensation of the honey on my skin and that’s the sort of sensory thing that I really, really don’t like. So I get it but not for me. I thought ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god’ was really powerful: the contrast of the white, toga-like dress and the dramatic black eye make up was stunning and the moving light vs the flashes of red light was almost hypnotic. Seeing just their head and shoulders was, again, very effective: I love the way they move when performing but, as I said earlier, this different approach gives us a very different experience of the song (although having said that, I really hope to see them perform this live one day). It was pretty shocking when she’s suddenly spattered with what looks like blood, with more and more until she’s all but covered. But, as I said, it was very powerful. And finally there was ‘Gasoline,’ another of my favourites: I loved the big open space, lit only by the fire-filled barrels; Halsey looks great in a big, loose white dress with her make up smeared; the whole think looks so desolate, which is fitting for the song, I think. It was a really cool show and I was super inspired by all of the thought and creativity that went into it.
The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 – I love the legend of The Loneliest Whale so I was both really excited for this documentary and really nervous, nervous that it would reveal something that would take away from this story that is so special to so many people. But it was really good: it had light, fun moments (such as when one of the team said, “They say you know you’re doing Oceanography when what you have is too heavy to lift and too expensive to lose and then you throw it in the ocean anyways,” and then threw said equipment overboard) and it had really powerful, emotional moments: they talked in depth about how whales navigate and communicate and how the noise from ships and shipping lanes is so disruptive that it’s essentially creating a world of lonely whales. I found that very distressing, both for the whales and also because I realised the similarities to my autistic experience in trying to cope with the world; that was quite an upsetting parallel to draw. But it was, overall, a great documentary. The whale footage was absolutely stunning and they were all so passionate about whales and the work they were doing; you couldn’t help feeling that you wouldn’t want anyone else to find this whale. I’d desperately avoided spoilers so the end was a total surprise; they’d set out to find the 52-Hertz Whale but what they find is completely unexpected. My one complaint about it was that, when they were discussing the history of human and whale interaction and talked about the killing of whales, there were far too many traumatic images and much too much detail included. It was incredibly graphic and, personally, I found it very distressing.
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – I have really mixed feelings about this film, if I’m honest. I wasn’t sure if it was something I’d enjoy, given the warnings for it, but I am glad that I’ve seen it. The cinematography, the sets, the costumes, the make up… it was beautiful. It was art. But I have to say that I really struggled to make sense of the story beyond the basic narrative; yes, she did this and did that but I felt like I was missing out on so much of the nuance that makes stories/films great. I’ve read every interpretation I can find and while I can see what they’re saying, I never would’ve made those connections by myself. It made me feel kind of stupid, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable. So, yeah, I have really mixed feelings about it.
This was long and, at this point, I have no idea if it flows or not. But it’s done. I’ve had the brain of a goldfish recently due to the ADHD meds I’ve been trying so writing has been hard. This post was a real struggle but I am really pleased to have finished it at all, to have this record of the stories and art that I loved this year.
Category: book, favourites, music, quotes, video Tagged: 2021, a lonely place to die, a quiet place, a quiet place part 2, a quiet place part ii, amidst the chaos live, annika, anxiety in wonderland, art, autism, autistic, ava, believe, book, can you ever forgive me?, charlie's angels, cruel summer, destroyer, documentary, film, friends, friends the reunion, girls5eva, halsey, hannah emerson, harrow, katia oloy, kelsea ballerini, law & order: special victims unit, law & order: svu, law and order: special victims unit, livestream, love on the spectrum, lucifer, moana, new amsterdam, pat pattison, poetry, quantico, review, sara bareilles, songwriting, spinning out, the chair, the dig, the girl on the train, the loneliest whale, the loneliest whale: the search for 52, the one, the wilds, tv show, unforgotten, vigil, wandavision
Posted on December 31, 2020
What the fuck was this year? I don’t even know. To think I ended 2019 with the phrase: ‘2020, please be kind.‘ I really don’t know how to write about this year. Time has become a bit of a nebulous concept and after a lot of thought, the only way I could divide up this year was by separating it into three ‘chapters’: pre-pandemic, lockdown-into-summer, and semester three of my Masters. It’s a bit of a weird system but then, is there anything about this year that hasn’t been weird?
So, here we go. This is my review of 2020, a year I’m sure none of us will ever forget.
The beginning of the year, the two and a half-ish months before the pandemic became less about ‘wash your hands’ and more ‘we’re going into national lockdown’ (in the UK anyway), feel impossibly long ago and kind of frighteningly busy. Looking back through my photos, it’s so odd to think that that version of me – of all those people in the pictures – had no idea what was coming. And now we’re entirely different people. I mean, I know I’m a completely different person because of the last nine months. I’m only speaking for myself but I imagine that a lot of people can relate to that feeling. I look at photos of myself from January, February, March and I almost don’t recognise myself…
Anyway, on with the review.
I wrote up January at the time because it was such a busy, emotional month. I had a frantic Christmas break, preparing for my January assessments (due to a misunderstanding about the assessment, a lot of my research wasn’t helpful and so I had to redo it so I got almost no free time during that holiday). That was incredibly stressful, as was the presentation, and I was beyond exhausted afterwards. And between the second single of the Honest EP, ‘Clarity,’ coming out and the very distressing DSA assessment in the following week, I didn’t really get any rest between the first and second semesters. And to top it off, I was pretty upset about the grade I received and by the time I felt coherent enough to appeal it, the deadline had passed. But in hindsight, it was the first grade of the Masters with a very new approach to working and grading so it’s probably not that surprising, especially as an autistic student.
The new module I was studying, Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”), was really interesting and for the most part, the lectures were really engaging, something that was definitely aided by how passionate my tutor was about the subject. I’ve known him since my BA and he’s so knowledgeable; he’s a really great teacher and he’s a big part of why I did so well in the module. Not that my tutor in the first module wasn’t great – she’s truly awesome and so inspiring and I learned so much from her – but I learned a lot about how the Masters worked in that first semester that I was able to put into practice for the second semester, making it easier on my mental health and helping me to work more effectively, which did result in a much better grade. I found the songwriting classes less inspiring but since I was challenging myself with FAWM (February Album Writing Month) for a big part of the module, that wasn’t too big an issue.
I got to spend some really good time with my friends, both in and out of uni. A couple of them came down from London to visit me, which was really nice. Others I spent time with at uni or around London. I also had lots of writing sessions with people, which was really, really fun. I love my uni friends so much – I love my non-uni friends as well, of course, but during the semester, I rarely get to see them because I’m so busy – and there are a solid handful of people I’ve met during my time at BA and MA that I know I’ll be friends with for a really long time. I feel like I learned a lot about friendship this year, as I mentioned in my grateful post, and I just feel so lucky to have met these people; they are so wonderful and I’ve found it really hard to be separated from them for so long. I’m so looking forward to seeing them again and being able to spend time with them in real life whenever that will be.
(I haven’t got photos with all of my friends from this year and I do like to use photos from the year I’m writing about but don’t worry, you’re most certainly not forgotten.)
As well as writing A LOT, I was releasing music and got to play several really, really fun shows but I want to keep the music stuff together so I’ll come back to those.
One sadness of that time was that my favourite place to eat in Brighton closed, first temporarily and then permanently. That was very sad and I know a lot of people were upset by it. They made amazing Belgian fries with loads of homemade sauces and drinks – that I LOVE – that I’ve only ever had when I’ve travelled to and around the Netherlands where I have family. And the staff were absolutely lovely and it was always such an enjoyable experience; I always took friends there when they visited Brighton. So that was a shock. With everything going on this year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go (and I’m not sure it would’ve survived as an independent business) but I have missed it. It was a true Brighton gem for the time it existed.
I think it’s safe to say that the biggest part of January, the pre-pandemic part of the year, and possibly the whole year, was having to let go of our beloved Lucky, our nearly sixteen year old black Labrador who we’d first met at three days old. He was very old (most Labradors live to between ten and twelve) and had developed some very difficult health problems in the last year or so of his life. We got home one night and he didn’t get up. He didn’t lift his head. He didn’t wag his tail. He was just done. It was heartbreaking and one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever been a part of but the next morning we took him to the vet and they put him to sleep. It was awful and I still miss him everyday, even though I know it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t have been more loved, by us, by everyone he met. He was a bit of a legend. I still wish him back but, again, as I said in my Grateful post, I’m glad that he hasn’t had to live through the pandemic, the sensitive soul that he was; it would’ve been very stressful for him. And the idea that we might’ve had to have him put down during one of the lockdowns where we couldn’t be with him is unbearable, so I do take some comfort from that timing. Still, the house feels empty without him.
Life was fundamentally different after that but we kept going, day by day, and there were good moments. I got to see my course mates put on an awesome show at a local venue, Song Suffragettes announced that they were coming to the UK on tour (I’m pretty sure I dug into my savings to get a ticket for every show…), and my Mum and I celebrated Lucky’s sixteenth birthday, even though he was no longer with us. I’d been planning it and so we just decided to celebrate for ourselves. I think that, in the future, we will think of him or go on a specific walk or something to remember him, even if we don’t actually ‘celebrate’ his birthday. The date will just be an excuse to dedicate some time to thinking about him and all the years we had together.
As well as dedicating the month of February to FAWM, I also took on the #30dayfeb Challenge For Tommy’s, organised by my university tutor/friend/mentor/super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother, to raise awareness about baby loss and money for baby loss focussed charities. The challenge involved doing something everyday for thirty days that was positive for your wellbeing; I saw a lot of people doing yoga, for example. I chose origami and made a different piece everyday. These were some of my favourites:
I was lucky enough to see several shows and concerts before everything closed down. That’s something I’ve really missed this year as they’re sort of THE thing that I spend my money on and go out to. I was going to see The Shires, Alanis Morissette, OneRepublic, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, the Song Suffragettes UK Tour, Taylor Swift at Hyde Park, and Tin Pan South in Nashville – those last three cancellations in particular hit me the hardest. I’d been so looking forward to them so I was really, really upset when they were postponed and then eventually cancelled.
However, I did manage to see Halsey twice on The Manic World Tour, which was incredible. I love her, I love this album (it was one of my favourite albums of the year), and the show was just mind-blowing. It was awesome to see her get to play at The O2 Arena (her biggest headline show to date, I believe), especially on International Women’s Day. She’s an amazing performing but I also love how she speaks to the crowd; it feels like she’s speaking just to you. I wanted to run out of the arena ahead of all the crowds so that that illusion wouldn’t be broken. Both shows, but especially that show in London, felt very special.
I also got to see Sara Bareilles in Waitress The Musical several times. I’ve seen several actresses (all amazing) play Jenna but there was something really special about seeing Sara play her, as the person who’d written so many beautiful songs coming from her perspective as a character. It took a minute to stop seeing Sara as Sara and start seeing her as Jenna but once I’d gotten my head around that, I was just enthralled. She was fantastic and so special; I loved the show all the more for seeing her in the lead role. I was lucky enough to go a handful of times and of those, on several special occasions (sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident): I saw Sara’s first show, I saw the one year anniversary of Waitress in London show, and I saw Sara’s final show, which also turned out to be Waitress’ final London show. So while I knew that show was special, I didn’t realise quite how special it was until much later. I tried my best to meet Sara (one day, I hope…) but for most of the shows, Sara was either out of the building before we could line up or we were hustled away pretty quickly. I did see her on the last night – she walked up and down the queue of people waiting and waved to everyone – but she didn’t stop to talk or take pictures or accept gifts because of the growing concern about COVID-19. That show was actually the last thing I did before we went into lockdown, not that I knew it at the time.
Everything changed very quickly. One day I was talking to my friend about plans we had later in the week and the next, she was on the plane home before the borders closed. I made the decision to start self isolating but before I would’ve had to go back to uni (or, having come to this decision, contact them about it), the classes were moved online.
The UK officially went into national lockdown on the 24th March. I’d already been self isolating for eleven days, as had my Mum, apart from necessary trips out (food shopping and business related stuff that had to be done in person). I had two weeks of online classes plus my assessment essay, which I was already working on. It’s strange: at the time, I wasn’t really aware of the outside world because I was a hundred percent focussed on my essay (and it was probably the most difficult, research heavy essay I’ve ever had to write). Maybe I was channeling all of my anxiety into that so that I didn’t have to engage with my paralysing anxiety about the pandemic. But then the essay was done and submitted and it all came flooding in.
Between the inevitable post semester and assessment period crash and the pandemic anxiety hitting me full force, I just went to pieces. I was either having meltdowns or staring blankly at old tv shows, too overwhelmed by fear to function. That went on for weeks and to be honest, it’s kind of a blur. I think I was in some sort of checked out, survival mode haze. I just could not cope. In hindsight (and in the few moments of coherent thought I had at the time) I was and am so grateful that I had that summer semester off. Many of my friends on the Masters were having to work on their final projects during one of the toughest periods of our lives (and created incredible work in spite of it) and I just could not have done it. My mental health was in tatters. Even now that I’m in a better, more stable place, I still feel deeply traumatised by the events of the last nine months: by the constant fear and paralysing anxiety, by the sheer overwhelming grief that so many people have experienced and are experiencing, by the confusion and frustration and outright horror at how the government – the people we depend on to lead us and take charge during extreme situations – have behaved. I mean, how do you cope with completely losing faith in your country’s leaders? Who are you supposed to turn to? Anyway. That could easily turn into a rant and that’s not what this post is about.
I’m not really sure when I started to come out of that because it was such a gradual process. But slowly, with LOTS of ups and downs, I started to feel more able to engage – if only with the people directly around me and the things that I enjoyed doing. Thank god for the cats (and Mum – I’ve talked about how grateful I am for her in my Grateful post – but we both agree that the cats were a lifesaver during the lockdown). They’ve been so good for my mental health this year. It’s so mindful to watch them; you can’t help but feel calmer, watching them play or snuggle and so on. Especially without Lucky, their cuteness and cuddles have been vital and the ridiculous playful moments have made me laugh even when it felt impossible. I’m so, so glad to have had them around during this time and they certainly seem to enjoy our constant presence at home; a day rarely goes by without one cat or another draping themselves over me. As I said, they’ve been a lifesaver. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through without them.
I had online therapy sessions but I struggled with them and often ended up cancelling at the last minute because they just felt too overwhelming. All I could think about was the pandemic and my fears around it; I didn’t want to dig into that even more and it felt impossible to talk about anything else. So my sessions were fairly sporadic throughout the lockdown and most of the year really. I think, in hindsight, therapy just felt too big, too overwhelming to be helpful while all of my emotions felt so incredibly heightened and raw. I was just focussing on getting from one day to the next. The cats were a big help; I started escaping into the worlds of new films and TV shows, like Absentia and Away; and I lived for the livestreams that a handful of people were doing in place of live shows. My favourites were Kalie Shorr’s, both because I love her and because she did so many of them. She did interviews with both interesting and entertaining questions, played covers, and played her own songs, released and unreleased. I’m so grateful to Kalie for doing all of that; they really helped me keep going, helped me get through the darkest of my pandemic-induced depression.
As I said, towards the end of the first UK lockdown, I became a bit more functional, although it was like balancing on a tightrope: one little knock and I was plunging back into overwhelming anxiety and depression. And it happened a lot. But I also had better, more productive moments. I managed to write a couple of songs (which is pretty monumental what with my mental health being so bad); I had writing and production sessions with Richard; I started gentle music theory lessons in preparation for the upcoming semester with one of my parents (she’s a music teacher); I spent a lot of time playing piano (I started experiencing awful nerve pain in my left hand – as well as in my back and leg – during the first lockdown so playing guitar was basically impossible); and I stayed up until almost six am to watch Ingrid Andress’ first livestream show and chat with her in a meet and greet session afterwards. So I was doing just about okay. Probably the biggest help was that all of my family (and most of my friends) were being exceedingly careful around going out: fortunately able to work at home, they only went out for essential trips, like food shopping and picking up medication, etc. I’m so grateful to them for that. So beyond grateful.
The lockdown began to loosen and more and more people were out, which I found terrifying. The silence outside had been weird at first but suddenly every little sound turned me into an anxious mess. Hearing people converse outside the shop we live above, for example, caused so many panic attacks (for fear that those people were spreading the virus). It was awful. For most of the summer, I kept the windows and curtains closed, enclosing myself in my own protective little bubble. It was the only way I could find to protect my mental health. With the gyms opening, I was desperate to swim again (as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s the only exercise I can do) – both for my physical and mental health – but I just didn’t feel safe at my usual pool. Their precautions just didn’t feel tight enough. On the plus side, after various COVID tests, I finally got to see my brother for the first time in months – longer than I think we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. We were still careful but it was so, so wonderful to see him.
Meanwhile, music stuff (mostly to do with the Honest EP) was still happening. Again, I want to keep most of this together (I’ll probably put it all in one paragraph towards the end) but I think this particular day is important beyond the musical context. I’d spent a lot of time worrying about the music video for ‘Back To Life,’ the next single due to be released at the time because my original idea wasn’t going to be possible during the pandemic, even with the lockdown restrictions having been loosened. Richard and I spent a long time discussing it and eventually came up with a plan…
The filming of the video was a big deal for me. I found it very difficult and very stressful being out for so long (even though our planning meant that, of the videos we shot for the EP, this one took the least time) and just being near people caused me a lot of anxiety, even down on the beach at the water’s edge. We were incredibly careful and I did manage to enjoy it to a certain extent but I’m grateful not to have to do another music video under such conditions. It took everything out of me; I spent the next three days on the sofa, barely able to move from the exhaustion. I have no idea how I managed to look so relaxed and even happy in the video. But, as I said, I’ll talk more about it when I talk about the whole EP process this year.
The rest of the summer was pretty gentle. I was trying really hard to improve and manage my mental health. It still wasn’t great but I was coping better than I had been earlier in the pandemic. So I spent a lot of time doing things that have proven to be good for my mental health: I listened to the Taylor Swift’s new album, folklore, on repeat; I played a lot of piano; I wrote songs when I could; I had video calls and online movie nights with my friends; I kept writing for the blog. I took part in research projects involving Autism Spectrum Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, and Anxiety; helping out with these always gives me a mental and emotional boost because it feels like some good is coming out of my difficulties, even if they don’t improve my experience directly. I also watched the final season of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show ever. That was a very emotional experience because the show, and the character of Daisy Johnson, have been a really important part of my life over the last few years and the emotional processing of stuff from my childhood.
And I continued to work on my music theory as the module was based on these concepts and I wanted to be as prepared as possible but I found the idea of going back to university very stressful. I really didn’t want to defer so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do in terms of the new semester, what I felt safe doing. I’d originally thought that I’d much rather defer than do online or blended classes but now that the semester was almost upon me, I felt a lot less sure. After a lot of thought and discussion with my family and course mates, I decided to go back as an online student. It wasn’t ideal because of the lack of social interaction and how much harder it made cowriting sessions but I didn’t feel safe commuting to London to be in a building full of people from all over for just two hours a week. It just felt like too much anxiety for not enough reward. Online seemed like the most productive way forward. But even with that choice made, the process of going back to university, getting clear information, the correct timetable, etc, was incredibly stressful, causing meltdown after meltdown after meltdown. I really wasn’t at all sure whether I was going to be able manage university classes during a pandemic.
SEMESTER THREE OF MY MASTERS
The beginning of the semester was a bit rocky as the university tried to make blended classes (the online and onsite groups combined as one using Microsoft Teams) but in the end, it was simply easier and a more productive use of the time to split the onsite and online groups. My groups were great and everyone was really supportive and encouraging, tutors and students alike. Plus it was fun to work regularly with Richard again. The work was hard and the songwriting briefs difficult since musical language isn’t my strong point but after really positive meetings with both of my tutors, I never felt like I couldn’t ask for help or miss a brief if I needed to. As long as we was experimenting with our music – with the use of melody, harmony, arrangement, etc – and turned in the assessment work, everyone was pretty relaxed about what we were working on.
Despite a pretty heavy workload, I managed to get up to quite a lot during the semester. I celebrated my 26th birthday with the family I could and had a couple of socially distanced meet ups with friends; it was simple and quiet but I’m not really into big celebrations anyway. It would’ve been nice to see more of my family though.
I saw a lot of really awesome live-streamed shows, including Ingrid Andress at The Bluebird Cafe, various shows throughout the virtual Country Music Week and Nashville’s Tin Pan South Festival (I’m so grateful that we didn’t lose out on them entirely because of the pandemic), Halsey’s poetry book release day livestream, Maren Morris’ livestream concert, and Kalie Shorr’s charity StageIt show. But my personal highlights were Sugarland’s livestream show, Kalie’s ‘Unabridged For The First Time’ show (even though technical difficulties meant I missed bits of it), several of the Tin Pan South shows, and Tim Minchin’s ‘Apart Together’ livestream show.
I also attended several webinars and conferences about ASD and mental health, as well as actually speaking at one. That was a really special experience, being invited to speak on a panel and share my experience about being autistic. I felt like I was really able to use my experience to help other people and several of the attendees confirmed how useful my contributions had been. So that felt like a really significant moment.
Even though I was still on the course, many of my friends did the Masters in one year rather than two. They had a virtual graduation ceremony, which I attended in support. They all created such incredible work and under such difficult circumstances; I’m so proud of them and can’t wait to see what they go on to do. Some of them have already released really cool and interesting work and I know that many more are working on really cool projects. We had a celebratory drink via video call afterwards, which was good fun. I hadn’t seen a lot of them since March so I really enjoyed that.
I finally found somewhere to swim that actually felt safe, or as safe as possible: they had really strict safety measures. So I finally got to swim again and it was awesome. Each session gave me such a mental boost and it felt so good to exercise and really stretch my muscles again. I couldn’t get there as often as I would’ve liked (they spread the bookings out to keep the numbers low) but it was absolutely wonderful to be going again. It was erratic, especially with the second lockdown and most of the country now in Tier 4, but I enjoyed every second of it while I had it and I will again when the pool reopens.
The swimming was also good for the nerve pain in my back and leg. A few months earlier, I’d been diagnosed with hypermobility (very common with autistic individuals) and referred for hydrotherapy, which I’m unlikely to get for a while, but the swimming and basic exercises I’d been given did help. Or they seemed to anyway. I’ve also been referred to Rheumatology, Occupational Therapy, Pain Management, and had an MRI just to rule out anything unrelated to being hypermobile. It’s been a very slow process but I feel like we are starting to make progress, which feels really good.
The US Election was obviously a massive deal and not just in the US. I’m really glad that it fell during my reading week because there’s no way I would’ve been able to concentrate on classes. I’m honestly surprised by how much work I got done that week, given how much time I spent checking the news outlets for updates. In the end, it was Richard who texted me that the result was in. I shrieked, I laughed, and then I cried. I was so relieved.
Apart from swimming, the second lockdown didn’t change much for me. I was spending most of my time at my laptop, working on uni stuff. I had to turn in a portfolio of songs and an essay on the 4th January and, determined to get an actual break this year (unlike last year), I worked super hard: I wanted to have all of the work done before Christmas. So the end of the semester was intense and suddenly it was the last week, the session with Richard, and then the Christmas holidays. I worked every day from the end of the semester to Christmas Eve but I did manage to get all of the work done, which I was very proud of.
Christmas was weird. We obviously couldn’t see our larger family but then we couldn’t even see my brother because London went into Tier 4 (and then we went into Tier 4 on Boxing Day). I’d been prepared for a very different Christmas but it didn’t really emotionally hit me until a few days before and then I found it pretty difficult. We tried to embrace the difference: we decorated our tree with origami creations rather than our usual decorations; we structured our day differently… we kept it as different as we could so that the forced differences (like the lack of my brother) didn’t stick out so much. But we still managed to have a good day, I think. My brother and his partner had made a really great quiz, which we all had so much fun doing. That was definitely the high point for me. We were all together, laughing our heads off, and that felt really good.
I also just want to throw in here that there were some really great albums released in the fourth quarter of the year, which definitely boosted my spirits and inspired me a lot. There was Taylor Swift’s folklore: long pond studio sessions, which was both incredible and a fascinating look into the stories and emotions explored throughout the album; Kalie Shorr released the deluxe version of Open Book, Open Book: Unabridged, which included four new tracks, all of them as stunning as the original album tracks, if not even better – ugh, can you tell I love this album? And then, as if folklore wasn’t a big enough surprise, Taylor Swift released a second surprise album, evermore, which was another amazing album. The three of these, plus Manic by Halsey, were the musical highlights of my year. I love them all and I learned so much from them as a songwriter.
We’ve had a quiet few days up to new year, which is good. It’s been nice to have a bit more space to breathe, if that makes sense; there’s a bit less pressure in my life at the moment. Having said that, being in Tier 4 with a spike in COVID cases, has caused my anxiety to rise again.
And that’s the year…
So it’s time to talk about the music. With more content coming, I don’t want to go into too much detail; I kind of want to save the real round up for when everything is done, but I do want to do a quick review of my musical year because I think this is the first year where I’ve really felt like a professional singersongwriter. Of the five tracks on the Honest EP, all but one were released this year (the first single, ‘Bad Night,’ came out late last year). The second single, ‘Clarity,’ came out in early January with an accompanying music video; it did even better than ‘Bad Night’ and was even selected as BBC Sussex & BBC Surrey’s BBC Introducing Track of the Day. That was very cool!
I got to play a handful of gigs, all of which were so much fun. I headlined one of Indigo Eve’s nights, where people both waved their phone lights to a song and sang along to another. It was one of best gigs I’ve done and one of the best nights of the year. I played as part of my university’s songwriters’ circles, which is probably my favourite uni event; it was particularly special because it was the LGBTQ+ History Month special. That meant a lot to me and it was a great round. All of the performers were fantastic and the atmosphere was so positive. Looking back at my Instagram post about the show, I said, “I’m just on a joy train!” That was very accurate; it was a wonderful night. I was also invited to perform in the foyer of The Brighton Dome for their Access Open Day event; it was so much fun and I was giddy about the fact that I was performing there again when it was the first place I publicly performed. And before the lockdown started, I even managed a day in the studio, recording a fun project with some friends.
Everything slowed down when lockdown began but with a lot of help from Richard, we did eventually get the EP cycle moving again, starting with the release of ‘Clarity (Academic Remix)‘. A month or so later, the third single of the EP, ‘Sounds Like Hope,’ came out, followed by a music video beautifully animated by the lovely Lois de Silva. This one didn’t do as well as the previous two but it was a much slower, less radio friendly song so that wasn’t surprising. Having said that, it got some of the highest praise of the EP so although it didn’t reach as many people as the others, it seemed to really resonate with the people who did hear it.
The summer was a very exciting time, in terms of the EP. I got to ‘perform’ in the virtual Disability Pride Brighton Festival: they played the ‘Invisible‘ music video and it was streamed online and on TV! That was very cool: seeing myself on the television for the first time! Then, as I described earlier, Richard and I planned and filmed the music video for ‘Back To Life.’ I was very anxious about putting this one out, given its upbeat sound and title during the pandemic. But in the end, I decided that to leave it out would be to release an incomplete body of work, as the song is an important part of the EP. So I announced it with this message: “Given the difficult and often distressing times we’re currently experiencing, I seriously considered delaying the release of new music, especially as we reach the more upbeat songs on the EP. But I didn’t want to leave the story half told. This song represents the upward turn after a painful chapter of my mental health and it feels important to include because while there are brutal lows, there are also wondrous highs. They’re all important and all part of the journey.” (x) I released the song in August, hoping that people would understand that the title was metaphorical, rather than literal. It didn’t do quite as well as the others had but given everything, I wasn’t surprised. It may have done better in a world without the pandemic but then we’ll never know, will we? Richard edited the video – with my feedback at various stages – and despite it not being what I’d originally imagined, I absolutely loved it. I’m really proud of it, especially given the circumstances and stress under which it was made.
And then, in October, I released the fifth and final single of the Honest EP, the title track, ‘Honest.’ It’s my favourite song on the EP and putting the last of our budget into promoting it, it did really, really well – the best of the EP. I’m so proud of it: the song means so much to me. It felt fitting to have the music video show some of the weird and wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ of this EP process…
As I said, the project isn’t over yet so I don’t want to write anything that sounds like too much of a conclusion but I’ve learned so much from it, from this year. I’ve learned a lot, dealt with enough stress that it’s probably taken years off my life, and never been so proud of anything I’ve done. I can’t wait to share the rest in 2021…
This blog post spiralled into something much bigger than I thought it would. But then, given that ‘normal life’ sort of evaporated around us and everything was constantly changing, maybe it’s not that surprising. I guess, there were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t leave to assumption so I included them just to be sure. Hopefully it’s made sense and got you thinking (or not thinking) about your experience of this year. It’s weird, isn’t it: we’ve all gone through this massive, world-encompassing event together and yet our years will look quite different. It reminds me of a quote I saw on social media (that I will have to paraphrase, unable as I am now to find it): “We’re all on the same sea but we’re all in different boats.” So, yes, we all experienced a global pandemic but our personal situations created a spectrum of experiences, with either end looking nothing alike. But I think we can all say that we’ll always remember this year. I know I will.
Although I spent a lot of the year feeling very negative, feeling depressed or anxious or frustrated or angry, I’m actually finishing the year feeling overwhelmed by gratitude. Yes, I’m anxious about being in Tier 4 and the rising COVID numbers – I think it would be ignorant not to be – but I’m just so grateful for all the positive moments and experiences that I’ve had this year. And, of course, the people in my life. I could not have gotten through this year without them.
“I don’t even know how to fully sum up this last year. If I thought 2019 was difficult, 2020 was on a whole new level of emotional chaos. I’ve been in survival mode for most of it, just trying to wade through waters that kept rising and rising, and every time I thought I’d found my balance, another strong wave appeared to knock me down. It’s easily been the hardest year of my life and one I know I won’t ever forget. But as painful and terrifying and exhausting as this year has been, there have been some amazing moments too: pre-pandemic gigs, releasing my EP, the contact with my friends and family, time with my cats, the awesome music, movies, and TV shows I’ve discovered this year, the chances to swim… So despite all the negative emotions I’ve experienced this year (and continue to experience), I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the good in my life. // There’s a blog post with all my ramblings via the link in my bio 💜” (x)
Category: about me, animals, anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue, covid-19 pandemic, death, depression, diagnosis, emotions, event, favourites, holidays, identity, meltdowns, mental health, music, therapy, treatment, university, video, writing Tagged: 2020, 2020 in review, 30dayfeb, agents of shield, albums, anxiety, anxiety disorder, asd, assessment, assessments, autism, autism research, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, autistic meltdown, autistic meltdowns, autistic student, baby loss, baby loss awareness, back to life, back to life music video, bad night, bbc introducing, bbc introducing south, befries, behind the scenes, black labrador, brighton, brighton dome, cat, cats, chloe bennet, christmas, christmas day, christmas holiday, christmas quiz, clarity, clarity academic remix, clarity music video, clarity remix, concert, conference, coronavirus, country music week, country music week 2020, covid-19, cowriting, daisy johnson, debut ep, depressed, depression, disability pride brighton, dsa assessment, evermore, family, family of cats, fawm, fawm 2020, february album writing month, film, films, folklore, folklore album, folklore: the long pond studio sessions, friends, grief, grieving, halsey, honest, honest ep, honest music video, honest single, hydrotherapy, hydrotherapy referral, hypermobile, hypermobility, hypermobility diagnosis, i would leave me if i could, identity, ingrid andress, invisible, invisible music video, joe biden, kalie shorr, labrador, lectures, lgbtq+ history month, liberty's mother, live music, livestream, livestream concerts, livestream shows, lockdown, lockdown 2.0, lockdown 2020, lois de silva, loss, loss of a pet, lucky, manic, manic tour, manic tour dublin, manic tour london, manic world tour, maren morris, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year one, masters degree year two, mental health, mental illness, movie, movies, mri, music, music theory, music video, music video shoot, musical language, musicology, my cats, my dog, nerve pain, new years eve, occupational therapy referral, old dog, online classes, online learning, online therapy, online university, open book: unabridged, origami, pain management referral, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, part time masters student, part time student, performing, pet loss, piano, poetry, poetry book, reflecting, reflection, research study, research volunteer, rheumatology referral, richard marc music, richard sanderson, richard sanderson photography, sara bareilles, sensory overload, singer, singersongwriter, singersongwriter life, songwriter, songwriters circle, songwriting, songwriting assignment, sounds like hope, sounds like hope music video, sugarland, swimming, taylor swift, therapy, tim minchin, tin pan south, tin pan south 2020, trauma, traumatised, tv show, tv shows, universitiesuk, university, us election, us election 2020, waitress the musical, waitress the musical uk, year in review, zoom
Posted on December 12, 2020
Since my last week-in-my-life post didn’t include any time ‘at’ university, I thought I’d write another one this semester, one that included uni time and all that that entails.
After three really bad mental health days, I was a bit wary about the week ahead – starting it feeling so depleted. It ended up being a very mixed week, as they’ve all been recently. Maybe it’s an end of term thing: I start off strong but then I hit a wall somewhere in the middle and it doesn’t always take much. I’ve worked hard this semester so hopefully I’ll be able to finish all of my assessment stuff fairly quickly – it’s mostly just polishing now – and get some proper holiday time. Last year, I had to work every day of the Christmas break, only taking Christmas Day off. So some time off would be really nice.
The week in this post began on Monday 30th November and ended on Sunday 6th December 2020.
I slept badly so I took my time getting up and having a shower. I had some breakfast (and ALL of my pills – there’s so many at the moment, what with my normal medication, extra supplements, and some antibiotics) and then I got myself sorted for my session with Richard.
We spent about three hours on the call, working on the production for a new song I’d written, and then just chilling out together, chatting about our uni work, the various projects we’re working on, the tv shows we’re watching, and so on… We’re always texting and we have our Zoom sessions but we haven’t hung out together in months and I really miss that.
When we finally hung up, I was exhausted and what started as an episode of The Split while I recovered turned into finishing the second series. It was really, really good – even better than the first series. Nicola Walker and Stephen Mangan were particularly fantastic. I love Nicola Walker; she was incredible in Spooks, Scott & Bailey, River, and now in Unforgotten and The Split. Her performances throughout this second series have been breathtaking and the ending had me in floods of tears. She blows me away every time.
I spent what was left of the afternoon and early evening working on my assessment essay. Then Mum and I had dinner together before starting a rewatch of Unforgotten (yes, we’re on a bit of a Nicola Walker kick at the moment), while I did some diary writing. I’m so far behind, what with everything I’ve been dealing with healthwise and doing for uni. My anxiety over it is so high but so is my anxiety over my uni work so the two are constantly pushing against one another. I never have any respite from it and it’s exhausting.
I managed to go to bed reasonably early, which was an achievement, especially since I had to get up early the next morning for uni.
Again, I slept restlessly but with disturbing dreams that I couldn’t quite remember when I woke up; it just left me feeling kind of uneasy for most of the day, which wasn’t fun. I swear, I’ve had as many nightmares or disturbing dreams since the pandemic began than in my whole life up to that point. It’s horrible; I really feel for anyone who deals with this generally, independent of the pandemic.
I got up, got showered and dressed, had breakfast and pills before logging into my first class of the day. I could only stay an hour of the two (pre-arranged with my tutor) but we spent that hour identifying and discussing different kinds of hooks and how they’re used in songs. Then I had to sign off for a call about my rheumatology referral. It seriously cannot come quickly enough; the pain in my arm, hand, back and legs is only getting worse as time passes.
Before I got down to work, I checked my Spotify stats and saw that the Honest EP has surpassed 30,000 streams. It’s a weird feeling, knowing that so many people have heard these songs. A good feeling, but a weird feeling. I can’t really describe it.
I spent several hours working on my essay, all but finishing the first draft. So that was a good bit of work done – more than I can usually manage between classes. I had some lunch, some time to dedicate to my diary writing, and then I was signing back into class.
The afternoon’s workshop was a productive one. We got through a lot of songs and we had some really good discussions, despite only having an hour. Everyone was really lovely about my song, which meant a lot since it was such a personal one. I also had questions about the grading criteria and learning outcomes because I find the language very unclear and that lead to a good conversation about the assessment as well as inclusivity and accessibility of the course. So it felt like a really positive class, in all sorts of ways.
When my class finished, my Mum and I FaceTimed with my Granny for her birthday and I also got to see my aunt (they’re in a bubble together), which was really lovely. I don’t think I’ve seen either of them in person since Christmas, which has been hard, even knowing that it’s the right, responsible thing to do. It a weird world – a difficult world – when the best way to love someone is to stay away from them.
I also FaceTimed with one of my parents who’d had a particularly rough day. So it was a very social day! It was good to do but I definitely felt drained afterwards.
I was having some downtime, doing some blog writing and watching TV, when another of my other parents called me and told me to change channel to a very cute programme about puppies. It was indeed very cute and it did make me wish for a puppy again, not that we intend to get one in the foreseeable future – we don’t have enough time to properly devote to one so it wouldn’t be fair. But I’m always up for any puppy time I can get.
But the best bit was how one of my cats, Mouse, reacted to it. She was fascinated by the puppies, even patting the screen, trying to touch them. It was utterly adorable. She sat patiently through the advert break and was just as absorbed by the puppies when they returned to the screen. She watched intently for the rest of the programme and then, when the credits rolled, she got up and walked away. It was the funniest thing.
So that was very adorable.
Mum and I had dinner with another few episodes of Unforgotten and I finished my essay. Well, the first draft anyway. It needed a read through and a tidy up before I sent it off but what I’d wanted done for my tutorial session was essentially done. A productive day’s work and in bed before eleven: not bad at all.
So Lockdown 2.0 has ended, not that it felt like much of a lockdown. If you’re going to call it a lockdown, then you have to do what you did in the first lockdown and shut everything down. Otherwise it’s not going to make a difference, people are going to have even less faith in it as a safety measure, and they’ll flaunt the rules because they don’t think it matters. It’s been driving me up the wall. I’m so frustrated: with the government, with the people ignoring the rules (and boasting about it), anyone who is putting casual convenience over the safety of others… Yes, that’s a generalised statement. I’m aware that there are important and necessary reasons to go out but there just seem to be so many people who just don’t care that we’re still in a pandemic and I find that incredibly distressing.
I woke up at eight and intended to get up but then suddenly it was quarter past nine so I must’ve accidentally gone back to sleep. I did manage to get up then and headed straight for my desk to record the vocals for the song I’d been working on with Richard. Even though I love it, for some reason, I find it really hard to motivate myself to start recording so it seems that the easiest way is to just get up and do it before I can get into a procrastinating mindset.
That done, I had breakfast and a shower, leaving me with just enough time to tidy up my essay and send it to my tutor before heading out to have a blood test. I had one a month or so ago and it showed dangerously low Vitamin D levels so I’ve been on a high dose Vitamin D supplement to try and build them up again. This blood test should tell us whether they’ve helped and what the next steps are.
It was almost dark by the time we got home so we settled down in the living room, lit a fire (one of my favourite things about this time of year and about this house – the fireplace) and continued watching Unforgotten. I also kept working on my Lockdown 2.0 blog post. I’d been keeping the list updated throughout the lockdown so it was just a case of tidying it up, adding all the right links, and writing an introduction and conclusion.
I had to stop in the middle to sign in to my tutorial. I had a really good session with my tutor. He was complimentary about what I’d already done and had some really good feedback so I feel pretty good about my next steps. I know what I need to do and now I just need to do it. Then I get one more tutorial before the holidays for any final feedback or guidance. The deadline is in sight, which is more than a bit scary. I just really, really want to do well.
I was exhausted afterwards but I still managed to finish and post the Lockdown 2.0 blog. So I guess it was a pretty productive day.
That done, I had a quick scroll through social media and saw that people had started to post their Spotify stats of the year, both as listeners and as artists. I always find this difficult, regardless of any rational talking to I give myself, regardless of whatever I’ve personally gone through or achieved that year; it just taps into my lifelong insecurity of not doing well enough, not being ‘good enough.’ So it’s not easy. This year should’ve been different, with four of the five tracks from my EP being released since January, but Spotify doesn’t count anything after 31st October and with ‘Honest‘ coming out on 30th October, only one day of its streams were counted. So my most successful song wasn’t a part of my Spotify Wrapped, making it completely inaccurate. So I haven’t shared it – haven’t wanted to – and I feel a little bit robbed of that. I have included the percentage increases here but in reality, they’re a good bit higher since ‘Honest’ did so well.
Hopefully next year, or whenever it is that I release more music, the figures will be more accurate and I’ll feel confident in sharing them. This ‘comparison anxiety,’ as my friend called it, was something I really wanted to work on in therapy this year but even when I’ve felt able to ‘go’ to therapy, it’s been difficult to get much further than damage control around the pandemic. That’s been really difficult – a real frustration – this year. I’ve just felt completely stuck at therapy: while I want to move forward, I’ve only felt able to maintain the fragile balancing act I’ve managed to create. And I haven’t even been able to do that a lot of the time.
Early evening, my Mum and I FaceTimed with my Granny before having fish and chips with one of my other parents. We watched the new episode of His Dark Materials (Series 2 Episode 4) and it was so good. Oh my god, that cliffhanger!
I was just getting ready for bed when I felt the pain in my back. It had been aching all afternoon but that’s not unusual right now but then it started to get worse, sharper and higher. It came on so suddenly that I couldn’t get from the bathroom to the bedroom without Mum’s help and then, when I collapsed on the bed, I couldn’t move because the pain was so bad. It seems to come in waves: there’s the pain and then it surges like a series of electric shocks before finally (FINALLY) receding back to the original pain level. And I never know how long it will go on for; sometimes painkillers seem to make a difference and sometimes it seems to go on for ages regardless. I’m not entirely sure how long this one went on for but it was at least half an hour. And then it always takes quite a long time for me to get my body to relax afterwards, my muscles having been so tense while the electric shock pain was so bad. So even though I was exhausted, it took me a long time to get comfortable and drift off.
It took me a long time to get up because I was so stiff and sore. The rheumatology appointment can’t come soon enough. I struggled through breakfast and a shower and then had a Zoom production session with Richard, continuing to work on the song we’d started on the Monday. Considering how out of our normal styles the song was, I think we did a good job, especially for a demo and I’m definitely interested to hear what my class have to say when they hear it.
We also had some chill time, just chatting and hanging out, almost like we would if we were actually together, which was really nice. We’re coping with remote sessions but I cannot wait to hang out again properly, have face-to-face writing sessions, and actually do things together. Or not do things together but do that together in the same room, if you know what I mean.
When we finished, I did a couple of FaceTime calls with family and then collapsed on the sofa. I was completely exhausted. Me and Mum watched the last episode of Unforgotten Series 3 and oh my god, it gets me every time (if you know, you know – I’m not going to spoil it but the acting is incredible). Nicola Walker does not get the credit she deserves, although from what I’ve read in interviews, she seems to be pretty happy just buckling down on great projects and not doing the whole spotlight thing. (I’m so annoyed with myself that I missed seeing her in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – I would love to see her on stage and it’s such a great book.)
Mum and I were having a relatively chilled evening until I asked her about her call with my doctor. There had been multiple things to update her on and ask about but some of the advice she’d given was just really triggering and upsetting. I will talk about it at some point because I think it’s an important thing to have conversations about but it’s not something I’m personally ready to talk about yet. But it really upset me and just killed the warm, cozy mood of the evening.
And then, to make matters worse, Mouse (the cat) brought in a dead mouse, which is something that almost always sets off a meltdown (fortunately Mum understands this and is okay with dealing with it while I do my best to avoid said meltdown). I managed to remove myself quickly enough that I didn’t have one but it was just the final straw on what I could handle that evening so even though it was still quite early, I went to bed. It was all just too much.
I slept for about twelve hours but I still woke up feeling exhausted, depressed, and miserable. I feel like I spent most of the first lockdown working really hard to get my mental health into some sort of box so I felt like I wasn’t constantly overwhelmed but most days, it still feels like I’m walking on a tightrope and it takes so little to knock me off and back into that suffocating depression. And that’s exactly what the night before did.
I really struggled all day. I just felt completely unmotivated and so, so tired. I was also having to deal with side effects of my antibiotics – they left me with a disgusting taste in my mouth all the time – which was just an extra strain. I only had one day left so I tried to focus on that but it just felt so much harder than it would’ve had I not already been feeling so awful. I did manage to finish and post the blog post about What’s Next for the Honest EP so that was good to do and helpful for my mental state – ticking stuff off my list always gives me at least a bit of a boost.
The good news of the day was that Kalie Shorr had re-released (I guess) her debut album, Open Book (which I wrote about here), but as Open Book: Unabridged, the original album plus four more songs. ‘My Voice’ and ‘Lying To Myself’ had already been released as singles and she’d played ‘Eighteen’ during her livestream concert but ‘Out Of It’ was completely new, which was really cool. They’re all stunning songs and all in their own way. ‘My Voice’ is empowering and unapologetic, as well as a very effective middle finger at the Country labels in Nashville. ‘Lying To Myself’ paints an aching authentic picture of insecurity after a break up with incredible lyrics like, “I picked out all my favourite things you said, then like a delusional architect, I built you up like a house of cards” and “You liked it up on that pedestal ’cause damn, you looked incredible, but coming down’s inevitable.” ‘Eighteen’ is a brutally honest, heartbreaking song about looking back at a relationship that really wasn’t okay, where you were all in but you were only ever treated badly. And ‘Out Of It’ is similar to a previous Kalie song, ‘Awake,’ but this time, she’s saying ‘no’ and isn’t going to get pulled into the bullshit; this time, she’s cutting the cord between herself and the other person. And because I’m a lyric nerd, here is my favourite (or one of my favourites) from each song:
My Voice: “Too rock for country, too country for punk / But who said I had to pick either one / Tattoos at the Opry / I could cover em up but it’s not me”
Lying To Myself: “I’m a little out of touch with reality, it’s never been that nice to me / I like the pictures I paint the best”
Eighteen: “I see you out with younger versions of me / While I’m trying to find who I used to be / I’m terrified that you and I will always be chasing eighteen”
Out Of It: “Your mom and dad put you through hell / You tell your secrets ’til you scare yourself / It’s a big dramatic entrance then you leave / And now I’m the girl I said I’d never be”
Late afternoon saw me dragging myself through some preparation for a mental health assessment that I have coming up, which was another thing I needed to do. But I was so tired that it took forever and I spent a lot of the time it took with my head on my arms, just trying to think. It was just a really bad mental health day. There was no way around it so I just tried to get through it. I was too tired to do anything really but I still tried to write my blog post about the UniversitiesUK Conference. I find it so hard to just do nothing; it causes me a lot of anxiety so even when I’m exhausted, I’m still desperately trying to do something.
By necessity, it was a quiet evening and I went to bed early, all too aware of how soon I had to wake up again to watch Maren Morris’ livestream concert.
After MANY alarms, I struggled up at 2am to watch Maren Morris’ livestream concert. It felt very strange to not be a part of the crowd, singing (or screaming) along with her but it was so good to see her perform and hear her gorgeous voice again. It was very comforting, like a reminder that some things don’t change. The world might’ve turned upside down but Maren Morris is still Maren Morris, an exceptional songwriter, singer, and performer. So I was really grateful that she and her team put together this show for us.
I didn’t get back to sleep until about five and couldn’t be roused for anything. I eventually woke up at twelve and then I felt so tired and heavy that I could barely get out of bed. I spent several hours unable to do anything but lie on the sofa and watch TV. Disrupting my sleep patterns always throws me for six and with the depressive feelings still very overwhelming, I was really struggling.
Eventually I managed a shower, which completely exhausted me. It also makes me feel sick and dizzy to stand up for the amount of time it takes to sort the shower, have the shower, and then get dried and dressed. One more thing on the list of things being investigated.
Back in the living room, I put on Lucifer and attempted to do something productive. Mostly I ended up jumping between this and my diary, writing a few sentences here and there before switching back, just too tired to think enough to write anything decent. So that was frustrating, plus I had the nerve pain in my leg again – not the electric shock version but the bit that always comes before that (even if it doesn’t turn into said electric shock feeling) where it aches deeper than feels physically possible. So that didn’t help.
Mum and I had an early dinner and then she went for a swim. I really wanted to go and felt like I should – I’d been looking forward to it ever since the pool closed for lockdown – but I just had absolutely no energy. So she went and hopefully I’ll feel able to go next time. I got some good writing done though, so at least the time didn’t go to waste.
Having gotten up so late, I ended up going to bed too late, which was a bit of a pain. My sleep schedule is so easily knocked off course and then so difficult to correct. It was worth it though. Seeing Maren Morris perform is always good for my soul.
I slept restlessly and struggled up around ten. I still felt incredibly depressed and it took a huge amount of effort to just get out of bed, into the shower, and up into the living room. I had a quiet day, not that that I think I could’ve managed anything else. I managed to finish and post my blog post about speaking at the UniversitiesUK Conference. I also finished all the paperwork for the upcoming mental health assessment and worked on the interview questions my university had sent me about doing the conference (that interview has since been posted). So, considering how awful I felt, I did manage to get something out of the way and check some things off the ongoing list, which – as I think I’ve said – at least helps me to keep my mental state from sinking lower. Having said that, I don’t want to promote the idea that being constantly productive is essential for your mental health; I’ve just found that, if I can tick something off of my to do list, even if it’s something tiny, then that can help me to keep moving forward, help me not to get stuck in my depression. It doesn’t always work; sometimes I just have to surrender to a bad day and hope that the next one will be better. But trying , even if not succeeding, does seem to do something positive.
In the evening, one of my parents came over and the three of us had a chilled evening, eating dinner in front of the fire and continuing our rewatch of Lucifer. It was gentle and undemanding and I did feel better for it. I often simplify my mood into two levels: surface and deep. And in this case, even though my deep mood was still very depressed and twisted up, my surface mood was a bit lighter. Calling it a surface mood doesn’t, to me at least, make it any less important than the deeper mood; it just means that it’s the mood that deals with the day to day stuff while the deeper mood is the one that you carry inside you and the one that sits with all the big, important stuff in your head and in your life. I guess, I see this mood as the one that’s so intricately intertwined with a person’s overall mental health. For example, in the previous few days, I was depressed on both levels (I’m not sure how good a job I’ve done of illustrating that but it’s the truth) but after the Sunday evening, my surface mood started to lift out of that depressed place. My deeper mood was still there though (and still is as I post this). But the lightening of my surface mood did make it a bit easier to face Monday and the coming week.
I tried to go to bed early but as usual, failed. I swear, I’m desperate to sleep all day and then, at about seven o’clock in the evening, my brain snaps on and starts firing wildly, almost too fast for me to keep up with my own thoughts. It’s so frustrating. It’s almost as if my brain has got day and night confused.
So there you have it: another week completely different from the last. I think I’m grateful for that – it must be better than feeling like you’re stuck in a hamster wheel surely – but it’s not without it’s difficulties. When planning is the thing that makes life easier to bear, it can be hard when each new week seems to bring something unexpected.
You guys seem to like these posts so I’ll be sure to do another one soon but probably not until the new year. Touch wood, I can get all of my coursework done in the next ten days and then I can have some time off (although I’m not exactly sure whether it will feel like time off – my brain already has an anxiety fuelled to-do list waiting for me – but I’m going to try my best.) Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this and I hope to see you in the next post.
Category: animals, anxiety, body image, chronic fatigue, covid-19 pandemic, depression, emotions, favourites, holidays, medication, mental health, music, ocd, sleep, therapy, treatment, university, writing Tagged: a week in my life, anxiety, asd, assessment, autism, autistic, autistic adult, autistic spectrum disorder, autistic student, blog writing, cat, cfs, christmas, christmas holiday, chronic fatigue, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, comparing, comparing myself, comparison anxiety, compulsive writing, concert, coproducer, coproducing, coronavirus, coursework, covid-19, depressed, depression, diary writing, doctor, emotions, essay, essay writing, facetime, family, family of cats, fatigue, favourite lyrics, feedback, his dark materials, holidays, home recording, honest, honest ep, insecurity, interview, kalie shorr, livestream, lockdown, lockdown 2.0, lockdown 2020, logic pro x, lucifer, lyrics, maren morris, masters, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, masters degree year two, masters part time, medical advice, medication, mental health, mental illness, mood, my cat, nerve pain, nicola walker, obsessive compulsive disorder, ocd, online concert, open book, open book: unabridged, pain, pandemic, pandemic 2020, part time masters student, part time student, production, productivity, recording, remote writing session, richard marc, richard marc music, sleep, songwriting, spotify, spotify streams, spotify wrapped, the split, triggered, unforgotten, university, vitamin d, vitamin deficiency, week in my life, writing, writing partners, zoom, zoom calls, zoom writing
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.