This month’s installment of Ten Things is brought to us by my friend Ekho, whom I originally met over on instagram and while now I don’t recall the exact circumstances, you can bet your booty there were lots of books involved.
I am consistently awestruck and wonderglobbed by all of the unique, diverse, and interesting titles and beautiful cover art they share– and my to-read list has grown exponentially in the time I have known them. But more important than the book envy they inspire are the super fun chats that we have on topics ranging far and wide; humorous, heartfelt, and well, just very human things: dreams, therapy, the dumb idea of “glowups”, the vagaries of our physical meat suits (and the skeevy rando turdmuffins who offer unsolicited comments about same) and ever so much more. Ekho is such a phenomenal companion for conversation … I was actually going through our DM history just now, and to be perfectly honest, I think we would be so fascinating to eavesdrop on!
Ekho is a nonbinary trans person living on Wurundjeri land, writing, daydreaming, doing social anthropology, dyeing their hair colours in the blue/green spectrum and looking for shortcuts to mushrooms. Find them on Instagram or check out their blog they promise to update soon. In the meantime, however, I am so happy that they have generously contributed to Unquiet Things this month with 10 Things to Stop You Burning it All Down (the World, the Universe, and Everything), featuring Tolkien tenderness, why comic books have no gender, and how they fill their broken heart.
Acknowledgment of Country
Before I begin, and you begin to read; I wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri and Wathaurong peoples of the Kulin Nations, the traditional and original landowners where this article was mentally gestated and developed as a digital taskscape, whose sovereignty was never ceded. I pay my respects to the Elders, past, present, future, and, emerging.
These 10 Things might not be for you, they might not inspire you to keep fighting the good fight. This might in fact just be a wee snapshot of the insides of my mind and how I reason with myself to get out of bed, put on my clothes in that very specific order I need to keep myself going, make that coffee, take my dogs out to the loo, switch on the laptop and do what needs to be done. Generally what needs to be done is University work (for some strange reason, that began with a hole in my heart, and sorrow I couldn’t fix; I have been enrolled in various Uni courses since 2010), or attending to life stuff like waged-labour and making sure my world doesn’t fall apart. I recognise that I have manifested a portion of self-harm into the research and uni work I do. I tackle the hardest, most painful topics, I refuse the easy way out, I go above and beyond with research and I write out my pain in complex, analytical anthropological essays. I am not fully ready to work on this and make it something more positive. We develop in stages and it is enough that I am willing to think about it and evolve these behaviours in the future, however; sometimes I need to remind myself that I cannot fight if I am dead. The why of the fighting will emerge throughout this article, and the reasons I stay sane might be inane, cute, childish, simplistic and definitely not cool but here we are… I don’t have time for cool anymore, it’s 2019. As 2 parts Anarchist and 1 part Nihilist I will tell you cool is pointless and the pursuit of it is just subscribing to social approval but that might also be the 90s kid or the Gemini in me.
(Making time to heal, and acknowledging that healing looks, smells, and feels like a dumpster fire.)
Let’s start with something really easy, like the concept of Radical Vulnerability. I hate being vulnerable, ew (have I mentioned I am a Gemini) and vulnerability generally = feels, and weakness. For the past decade, I strove to make myself indestructible. As someone with a shopping list of medical and mental health diagnosis, we can see that panned out really well. Radical Vulnerability is something I saw trans nonbinary icon Alok Vaid Menon start mentioning on their IG. They would discuss when they were hurting, they would acknowledge their abusers were likely hurting too and told others what they needed (a hug, love, friendship, safety, an escort to a cab or home, etc). Through being vulnerable, and expressing it, we normalise the very human need for help and kinship and love (of all forms) and we invite others to experience it too. We allow those around us to let down their walls//their golden hair//and allow others in.
I do believe now that Radical Vulnerability has changed my life this year. At the end of 2018 I had yet-another-health-scare and ended up having to see bunches and oodles of specialists, changing my diet and supplements yet again, and do tri-weekly body conditioning. I do not believe in Cartesian Duality so I anticipated the physical struggle would be accompanied by an emotional/mental struggle and that perhaps if I got through it, I could change some of the unhealthy mental landscapes I was existing in. Radical Vulnerability had a big part to play, communicating to myself and my friends the changes I wanted to make, what I wanted to introduce into my life, communicating (EW) feelings, communicating when boundaries had been crossed, allowing others to be vulnerable, admitting I wanted to heal/myself/things… this list goes on. And it’s not easy. I have spent a really long time not being vulnerable, burying feelings, being stoic or angry but defs-not-vulnerable. This has taken practice and active brain rewiring. It has been exhausting. I am also happier this year than I have been in forever because I feel as authentic as I can be.
Please follow Alok on IG see their shows, buy their poetry etc.
(Something I can always rely on and turn to when my brain is noisy and my heart hurts.)
Something totally different… As a kid who grew up in the 90s I was left salivating after Pokémon cards, Red and Blue, OG Gameboys, yet I was not allowed to participate in that world. I don’t think my Mum liked it. I don’t think she got it. I think she thought that the cards were a waste of money and we were too middle class (aspiring) for that. Who knows? Then my sibling and I got Gold and Silver. My life was forever changed. I remember the moment my egg hatched into an Eevee and the love of my Pokémon life appeared. I was dedicated to Pokémon, I had books that I filled with my analysis of patterns in the game, when specific Pokémon appeared, when items went on sale in the underground Poke-Marketplaces, how to make Pokémon like you more (haircuts). I was 10. I was obsessed. It was the best summer of my life.
Since then I have had my fluctuations with the games, times where I was less inclined to game. But the reinventions and changes have brought wholesome additions to the Pokémon experience. Pokémon Go has introduced a level of accessibility that bypasses the privilege emphasised by being able to afford games. As a free app, it is pretty easy to avoid in-game purchases. This level of accessibility is so important because gaming is expensive. There are so many testimonies to the benefits of the gaming experience as well, with folks playing it to de-stress, increase exercise, socialise, deal with anxiety in its many forms and also network. I used to play it a lot more when it was first released but then went back to the DS games. I have recently started Let’s Go Eevee and am reminded why these games help me alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. The new gaming format has a bigger emphasis on compassion and empathy, and the games have always had a big respect for nature, animal life, nonhumans, and compassion. Introducing these ideas to kids, and adult-kids, is no bad thing. A world where we are compassionate to one another, to animals, to ourselves isn’t a bad place. If you have not checked out the Detective Pikachu film yet then please do, it was for me, what the War Craft film was for my Dad (family of #gamers). If it wasn’t for the fact that a cute person had started holding my hand (see- Ew gross- Radical Vulnerability), and felt the need to talk to me throughout the entire film I probably would have been in tears coz that is the world I want to live in. It was beautifully depicted and so wonderful.
(His writing can be relied upon to remind me others empathise with the world and the situations we are in and anger is a valid tool to get shit done; he didn’t have his days of rage for nothing.)
One day Terry Pratchett became my favourite author, the end, good bye. I never imagined that would happen to me. Me, an outrageous gothic queer, a nonbinary dreamer, an activist academic (aspiring)… perhaps that is why he became my favourite author. You cannot read a book of his without realising he was/is pro-equality, a dreamer, and a realist; able to dismantle social justice issues then reboot them into heartbreaking sci-fi fantasy narrative.
At first, I didn’t exactly click with his writing. Discworld has no chapters and that was a bit of a head fuck, plus his older writing is short and satirical; which took time and probably maturity to adjust to. Pick up a Discworld book towards the middle of the series and they are different books and he is a different writer. He turns literary clichés on their head while still weaving an amazing gothic narrative. He gives us ghetto gang warfare but between trolls and dwarves and still breaks your heart. DEATH is a kind, curious anthropomorphic manifestation that I hope will usher me on to the land of black sand. I still weep that Terry Pratchett is gone (sort of, I mean he lives on in his books and creations and our imaginations) yet he politically resonates more than ever.
Good Omens the TV show was a perfect culmination and evolution of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimans’ book brain baby. It was a pleasure to watch with a lot of discourse that is gender affirming in a sense of nonbinary gender and the lack of gendered behaviour. The main characters which had always appeared campy and gender nonconforming in the original text are beautiful soft marshmallow babies who deeply love each other (whether you interpret that as platonic or romantic) and fumble around and don’t really save the world (a very practical witch does, and a young ordinary boy who happens to be the antichrist) but maybe they save each other. Read it. Watch it.
A Short Cut to Mushrooms
(Rewilding is a gross buzzword I won’t mention here or again because it’s ridiculous but also go out to a forest or a stream or a sand dune or some tundra or a bonfire and get out of your own messy head once in a while.)
It’s no lie that when I am stressed out, the stressed get going – to the forest – to look at mushrooms. I adore fungi. I am not a mycologist so I do not know everything about them but I know enough to look and not touch coz somehow the edible ones in Australia also look like the ones that give you the runs and also look like the ones that make you cough blood and also look like the ones that will kill you. The most distinguishable, in fact, are the ones that will get you high, which I think the local parks council has realised much to my dismay when I went to my favourite wet bush walking spot and half the place had been dug up. Now, I get where they are coming from. They think ‘fellas some class A drugs are growing IN THE GROUND’ and probably ‘we Australians need to make this forest Australian again so we will dig up the introduced holly, psylocibin fungi, non-native trees and let’s just hope the ecosystem bounces back and looks like the hardwood forest pre-invasion’; (hot tip that forest was decimated by logging by colonisers to make happy homesteads and farms, it will never ever look pre-invasion, not a single one of those trees exist anymore). The land there seems sad. The land there seems like it is waiting. I deeply love the Macedon Ranges, it welcomed its self to me in its damp mossy ways and I plan to live in this area as long as is feasibly (fiscally) possible. I spent a lot of time in this forest looking after my mental health (by walking and taking photos of fungi), many a friendship has been forged as I forced a pal to walk one of my dogs here, and I have spent freezing afternoons with the heater in my car pumping while starting (gasp) the prelude to a romantic relationship. Spending time in a spot that I feel deeply enriches and soothes me is one of my favourite parts of living in the Australian state of Victoria, and living on Wurundjeri land. The land is diverse, exquisite, and bursting with narratives. You only need to step out your front door to encounter stories, old, new, and emerging to help you fall in love with the land.
Realm of the Elderlings
(This book series reminds me that having everything crap happen to you makes for a hell of a narrative, forgive me Beloved Fitzchivalry Farseer.)
As a series of books I passionately love. it is a little bizarre that I haven’t reread these novels yet. The Realm of the Elderlings is a recent turn of phrase for the sprawling universe Robin Hobb developed with her multiple fantasy series. It begins with a coming of age story, a boy and his dog, except this child is nameless and then given the lovely term of endearment Fitz (yikes) and begins many an adventure as an emotionally underdeveloped and unreliable narrator. You may wonder why I adore these books as Fitz is pigheaded at the best of times and downright problematic when the occasion arises. Hobb is a brilliant writer (is why) with a beautifully constructed gender diverse character who weaves their way throughout the entire series (sort of) also SPOILER. Hobb gives us a crash course on how fantasy can be hugely gender inclusive and gender diverse without mirroring transgender narratives in the Western world. I refer to her writings when discussing great ways to be gender inclusive to author friends who want tips and do not want to rinse-repeat the male-to-female, female-to-male coming out trope. It’s trope even in our world; something frequently expected of trans people to experience. What if that person was always nonbinary but had a doctor assign a different gender at birth because we equate genitalia with gender. What if that person was always male regardless of what stage they are in with their physical transition; they’re not trying to achieve masculinity because masculinity is a social construct, they are just on their gender journey to their gender destination. Fantasy and sci-fi books can be fantastic ways to think about these things and apply these concepts without people breathing down your neck telling you what trans is/isn’t or spewing transphobic rhetoric. Oh, wait they do that anyway to the author?
Damn. I guess this circles back to Radical Vulnerability, writing about this stuff makes me vulnerable, and as soon as a transphobe opens their mouth (or Twitter account) they are vulnerable too and fear leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side, and dark side leads to goth, and goth leads to emo, and emo leads to scene kids, and now we have Instagram Influencers with big eyebrows and snatched things and I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S SNATCHED I AM TOOOOOO OOOOOOLD I am one sprained ankle away from Baba Yaga and a cauldron full of semen and smeg (neither of which are gendered either, they are simply bodily emissions and some folx can do both).
(This cash cow brings me a lot of binge watching down-time pleasure. Also social justice in space, Finn and Poe are my princes, maybe Rey will bring balance to the Force?)
A Long Time Ago, in a cinema… far far away; I was 7 years old, it was 1996 and I was watching The Empire Strikes Back because the films were in cinemas again and my little sibling was being babysat and my parents wanted to take me. No, I wasn’t scared. Yes I ADORED HAN SOLO he basically is the same person as my (Grand)Pa and OMG DARTH VADERS’ VOICE is exquisite thank you James Earl Jones (I am sorry they stuffed an old bald white guy into your sexy rubber suit for Return of the Jedi). I watched the full trilogy on VHS and yep dug it, medieval space battles, magic swords, and celibate wizards. Got it.
Then oh boy, then… The Phantom Menace came out. I have zero interest in debating whether this is a good film, I literally don’t care if you don’t like it. It was a bloody masterpiece with a martial artist actually getting to play the character whom he is doing the judo chop for, and Yodas’ furry green ball sack; Darth Maul changed my life. Gothic af, his aesthetic is still drool-worthy, his stunts and choreography are breathtaking and John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” is still my favourite cinematic score and basically the soundtrack to my internal dialogue. Whenever I am frustrated, I build Star Wars Legos, I jump into a generally trashy Star Wars novel, I chuckle about all the forced celibacy and sexual yearnings of the Padawans and Sith apprentices, and I let myself emotionally uncurl and unspiral while watching podracing … and try to not write mental essays on the colonisation of Naboo and reoccurring, always-there-NOT-A-NEW-THING-social-justice politics embedded in the narratives.
(If I burnt everything down, who would read with me?)
A few years ago I relocated from the place I grew up to the place I am now. I did in fact make a handful of IRL friends, however, our calendars often clash and I often have not enough spoons to physically go out (and they, for the most part, don’t have cars). Creating a Bookstagram on IG became a wonderful healing process where I connected with all kinds of bookworms and discussed my love of literature, comics, novels, and all-round geekery. I have had my Booksta account for around 3 years now and due to this, I have made some incredible lifelong friends. I love finding odd nooks of the internet where all of a sudden your nerd herd emerges and you are no longer alone.
The chaos that the TV adaptation of Good Omens has brought to the internet has kept me going all June. It is a gender non-conforming queer life force. Buddy reading, this was about that. It really got me communicating with likeminded people and sharing my bookish love. It is this wonderful feeling to curl up on your couch, in your time zone and send a voice message to a friend overseas about where you are up to in the book you are reading. Or send photo reactions for your heartache. Or grieve together for the death of a fictional character. It has really helped fill that sense of lacking within me due to loss of community and has brought me back to myself. There are less intense ways of participating in Buddy reads of course; like, you do not actually have to record how much you have cried over The Faithful and the Fallen (by John Gwynne) but if you are so inclined, you can. You can be as extra or as introverted as you wish. Did I mention this has somehow formed kindred spirit type friendships and also made friends for me, with folx in my own new-to-me city?
(Beautifully illustrated and written capsules of narrative, I would miss you the most if I burnt everything down.)
I was lucky to have access to comics from a really young age. A few years back when a lot of femme readers came forward to me saying they felt gate-kept by the comic community and like it was something just for cis-boys I felt really confused. My Mum would take me to the corner store to buy Archies, Jugheads, and Sabrina Double Digests in the 90s. My Dad would take me for my Birthday, and then again for Yule, to the expensive comic book store in Brisbane city to buy me 2 trade paperback comic books (that was basically all I got for those events and I literally do not care, priceless) in the early 00s. No one around me read comics so not only did I NOT FEEL LIKE THEY WERE A GENDERED ACTIVITY, as an Australian I was seeing very little evidence that it was a masculine thing.
Growing up in Brissy, the cis-boys were skateboarding or surfing or playing AFL. The cis-chicks were playing netball or softball or getting orange fake tans coz it was Brisbane in the early 00s. Geekery has no gender (none of the above-mentioned activities have genders either FYI), so for me, I never felt like I was reading something for boys. The rebirth of the comics industry ESPECIALLY WHERE IMAGE COMICS ARE CONCERNED works to cater not only to being gender inclusive but simply put; inclusive AF.
You want POC driven feudal fantasy? I got ya, fam. You want empathy robot children in space with sexy cyborgs? I got ya, fam. You want alt-world Batman where the Joker is a woman and Barbara Gordon is in charge? I got ya fam. You want a queer urban fantasy with pop-icon deities in stunning fashion? I got ya, fam. You want a femme murder mystery with drama galore? I got ya, fam. You want comics written and illustrated by Indigenous creators? You want comics written and illustrated by women? You want comics written and illustrated by queer folx? I GOT YA, FAM. All of a sudden, I realised the stuff I loved about comics, was beloved by more than me, and these people weren’t sitting on their hands (like me) wishing they could create, they were creating, and I was reading and buying their work. Not only are comics for everyone, (ok unless you are blind, I mean there is word-to-audio conversion programs but unless it describes what has been illustrated this is not as accessible as I imagined 2 seconds ago), ahem if you are willing to pay, they are being made by… everyone.
Look around and women are taking over DC, Latinx creators are getting their voices out there, DC has an Aboriginal superhero (WHO DESERVES HIS OWN COMIC), Marvel is writing trans characters and Image is covering every base there is. If a new identity emerges I know Image will feature a creator or include a character by next comic book day (so Thursday).
(Because it builds empathy, slows you down, gives you access to more voices than the ones in your head, and ideas can change this world.)
Reading has saved me, and many a friend, many times over. It’s what I turn to when life gets too much (so, daily) and it has been a companion from a young age. One of my earliest not-quite-memories is of walking over to my Mums’ tabby cat Cosmo and throwing a pile of board books on her head screaming “READ TO ME” like the demon child I was. I think my Mum had to surgically remove the cat from my arm. My childhood was full of bizarre health issues which impacts my behaviour and moods and often made doctors send me off for CT scans. When things got too much, my Mum would read to me. Read absolutely whatever, but as a bookworm. the children’s lit library she developed for me, and then for my sibling was, and is, phenomenal.
One of my fondest summer holiday memories is after swimming for hours we’d sit outside drying off (in the Brisbane humidity, yep it took a while) and she would read one chapter of The Hobbit, acting out sections and doing scary voices where necessary. I was petrified of Flies and Spiders, and my sister wept when Thorin lay dying. My Mum was bemused, “didn’t you say every afternoon you hate this book?” I remember my sister replying, hands crushed in fists against her eyes, golden curls refracting blistering sun “bu-bu-but I loved [Thorin] him”. That dried my tears up quickly. I knew as the loud, annoying older sibling that this was teasing dynamite. I was ready to explode. My Mum saw this immediately and made it clear I was not allowed to tease other people about their feelings. I still maintain that feelings are gross.
The Lord of the Rings
(Middle Earth is debatably where I belong, I am definitely an Orc, an eloquent Orc however.)
My family took me to Middle Earth at a young age, (no not New Zealand, still not visited yet) and introduced to me to a wonderful universe. As an adult, I have had my fair share of qualms with Tolkien, pastoralism not the least of them, but on average they are wholesome books with wholesome characters and wholesome adaptations and SO MUCH QUEER CODING SWEET BABY GANDALF. Something I really adore about the film adaptations is the tender masculinity present in the characters. Aragorn kissing his friends’ foreheads and singing poetic verses. Sam weeping over salt or rope or potatoes or Frodo or Rosie or pints. The sweet sexual tension between Gimli and Legolas. Legolas’s facial expressions. Pippin and Merry–the bffs or friends-with-benefits?
These characters fought the good fight, for others, not themselves. And some are lucky enough to live, but never to live unchanged. They give me hope in dark places when I need courage, and when I need to remember that the smallest of folx can make big ripples in this universe. Plus the LOTR community make pretty sweet memes. And fanart. And fanfic. When I am stressed out I put on Howard Shore’s An Unexpected Journey (perfect for reading any kind of fantasy book or just having on low volume for naps). When I am weary I binge well, the LOTRs film trilogy, not the Hobbit so much; this is an article about things keeping me in the world or keeping me from destroying the world so SKIPPING OVER THE HOBBIT FILMS (the first is not so bad, and Thranduil is glam af) is a good idea or I may just need to write a follow up rant article on 10 Things that Make Me Want to Take Back My Word and Burn Everything.
Whether you think Bilbo and Thorin are perfect soul mates or just platonic enemies to frenemies, there is a lot of comfort in these tales. I think that’s what Tolkien set out to achieve, to talk about awful traumatic things that change the shape of your world and how you then relate to that changed world and your changed self. There is a sense of comfort whether it’s imagining Bilbo’s larder and pantry (drool), listening to Thorins’ singing voice (drool), pushing yourself to go on an adventure without your damn pocket handkerchief, crossing over to the Grey Lands as some kind of … assisted dying with emotional support group; there is a lot of beauty in Middle Earth. Which means that it is a beauty that can still be found in our world; Tolkien based his creations on Saxon, Norse, and Anglo myths to bring new meaning to the history of the land he lived on and fought for. This resonates with us; we live now seeing the outcomes of these wars and like a Nazgul on the horizon, we know too that another war is coming. We don’t know how it will be fought, I cannot anticipate this stuff despite my study, despite my heart, despite my paranoia. But we have the stories of our ancestors, our transcestors, our Elders, and we still have time to learn. Maybe that’s what Tolkien set out to do, not build a great faerie tale or a mythic cycle for Britain, but caution us against ourselves and our shared history of violence. To be gentle, to be tender, to kiss those we love (ew), and to find a peaceful mode of living.