Friday, 17 February 2017

Realising You Are Ready To Tackle Your Oldest Enemy

Realising You Are Ready To Tackle Your Oldest Enemy

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You need to know that for this post to make sense. It’s an anxiety disorder which brings obsessions into the mind of the sufferer (maybe “Is the door locked?” for example). These cause anxiety, which then leads to the sufferer carrying out compulsions to make the anxiety go way (checking the door is locked). The trap is that in checking that the door is locked, the sufferer embeds the obsession anxiety cycle even more deeply. That’s a simplistic view of a complex issue, but it will serve for now.

I have suffered with computer/internet-based OCD from the time that I first had the net way back in 1998. These have taken many forms but nearly all of them relate to security/maintenance fears: Is the security software I installed working, does Windows confirm that it's working, did I log out of that website, has that icon on my desktop changed or moved since I last booted, did my PC shut down or did I accidentally put it into Sleep mode? I could sit here for an hour coming up with all kinds of examples and that is no exaggeration, I’ve done it before as an exposure exercise.

To a non-sufferer, it might all seem quite baffling or even silly, and I can understand that. The thing is, an anxious mind can twist anything into an “issue”, and even if you know something is silly or not really worth worrying about, a body flooded with anxiety has a funny way of convincing you otherwise. Periods of external stress can make this even more pronounced, so you are always at the mercy of life (who isn’t), even in the midst of trying to recover.

I had a bout of PC related OCD this morning, something that thankfully has become only occasional rather than daily. There are always the little niggles but not usually the stuff that causes outright heart-pounding anxiety. This morning was somewhere in the middle on that scale, not a niggle but bad enough to make me feel drained and like I was slipping. I could feel my mind branching off into “Do I check again, do I check this too, when do I do it, do I delay it?” etc. While I took time out to rest on my bed, I came to an important realisation: I actually felt ready to eradicate this variant of OCD from my life once and for all.

In the last few years, I have found a number of techniques and approaches that actually help me shift my mental states without being avoidance-based or reassurance seeking. I won’t go into them here as this is turning into an unintended essay as it is. It’s taken twenty or so years for me to get to this point, by way of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, counselling, applying the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness, my own adapted version of Yoga nidra, self-compassion and other things I may be forgetting. My OCD reaches into many areas of my life, but to date I have gotten on top of my lock checking, tap tweaking, gas oven checking to name only a few. It was overcoming the little things, the almost inconsequential things, that helped me gain a momentum in living with my fears and slowly accepting that this is how things are for now, and before I knew it, I had passed through those too.

The biggest areas left to overcome are my PC/Net-based issues and issues around writing and being a freelancer. As I rested on my bed awhile ago, I realised that even after this morning’s flare up, I felt able to go the other way, to turn away from the compulsions that threatened to drag me down paths that I didn’t want to go (again) and head the other way, to overcoming all of the little niggles and rituals that make up my computer use. My god the energy that would save me! Even if it didn’t save energy, it would make one hell of a difference to my mental health and creativity. There is always a fear attached to my use of a computer, something I live with day in day out, something that I unintentionally feed with tidbits of respectful fear, rather than the compassion to bring it along with me while I work, and to let whatever happens, happen.

So that’s what this post signifies. It’s a way of putting into form something I intend to act on, to make it more concrete than a passing rush of adrenaline or a temporary mood. I want to reclaim some mental power and full productive use of my brain once more, rather than it chugging along like a computer running a 100 simultaneous anti-virus scans at once. Maybe I can get back to being myself in the process too.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Possibly Entering My Last Business Year As A Writer

I’d hoped for some kind of release after having finally written the title of a post that has been looming for about six months now. If there was a release, it was a tiny one. I just feel sad now.

The health issues I live with have made the last few years incredibly hard. To function on any kind of level as a freelance writer on top of these issues has bordered on self-abuse at times. But I’ve stuck with it and pushed myself far beyond my comfort zone on many occasions. I am trying to tell myself that, whatever happens next year, I can be proud of my efforts, but me being me, I am an expert in mental self-flaggelation: “Did you really try hard enough?” “Did you really give it your all?”. You get the picture.

One thing that I can’t choose to look at in a positive way is my lack of earnings. I’ve made losses year on year, and that doesn’t look set to change in the near future. I can’t let that carry on for too much longer, my meagre savings have already taken one hell of a battering. It’s with this in mind that I am putting a limit on how long this can carry on for, and a sensible deadline seems to be the end of the next business year (so that’s the end of March 2018).

I hope I can turn things around and I am genuinely going to try. Hopefully in a year’s time I will be writing another post saying “I can’t believe how close I came to calling it a day!” this time last year. The possibility also exists that I could be writing a post called “My final post”. Time will tell.

Fear Factory's song Expiration Date seems quite apt for my mood now. If you like a bit of metal, and even if you don't, check out the video below:

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Dark Game Review - YouTuber's Life

YouTube is quite a big thing. Big things give birth to other big things, often in the form of celebrity and money-making potential. U-Play Online's PC sim/tycoon game YouTuber's Life gives you the ups and downs of trying to make a success of yourself on YouTube, and it's quite good fun. You can read my full review over on Geek Syndicate at this link.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Dark Music Review – Stardust

Dark Music Review – Stardust

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Stardust Album Cover

Alphaxone (Iran) & ProtoU (Ukraine) join forces on Space Ambient album Stardust.

Float weightless in the void to the sound of exploding supernovas. A solid thump closes the airlock behind you. Greeting your vision, a myriad of stars shining like beacons in black space. Rapid fingers across the uplink to the mothership "Feed my cat while I'm gone". The engine roars as the plasma ions accelerate. The mothership but a pixel left behind. Your ship's humming soothes your excitement as you set out for new unexplored worlds.

Alphaxone’s spacey synthesizers sweep in and out of ProtoUs iconic filtered noise on this unique release. Recommended for lovers of space ambient and old school science fiction soundtracks.

Space Ambient, or Sci-Fi Ambient, is a particular variety of sound that, to a tired mind, can end up being a gateway to long-ranging mental vacations, to places so far away that the air-miles collected would probably be enough to buy this planet. Alphaxone and ProtoU’s Stardust is one such album, a collection of seven tracks that entices the listener with the smooth quietude and uproarious activity that might be experienced in the deep heart of the universe.

The opening track is Consumed, a composition that opens with the grainy sound of what just might be teeny tiny rock particles fizzing as they hit the metal of a vast starship, the rumble of its engines and the creaking of its structure beckoned on by a gentle, almost Om-like sound, as it plunges deeper into the void. The sounds of rumbling bass and electronic warbles set up a soundscape of activity but indifference, a lonely space, the sounds of broken transmissions only serving to heighten this effect. It ends more warmly however, as birdsong creeps into the soundscape.

The next track is Planemo Dreams, and this track is a whole different environment. Dripping water and rain is very much the order of the day, but it’s accompanied by the roar of what might be a malfunctioning artificial intelligence, at least to my own warped mind. Circuits hiss and sputter as water droplets run down unresponsive screens, their glowing icons slowly growing dim. A gently throbbing drone with subdued plucked strings and high, flute-like notes adds other interesting touches to a more organic, but still seemingly uncomfortable soundscape.

Up next is Observing Quasars. A leisurely bass pulse twins with a swelling and fading higher tone to hint at vast distances swallowing both time and matter. Lighter tones accompany what could be the sunrises and sunsets on a billion unknown planets, a fiery dance in the dark blanket of space, spitting out sparks of energy in all directions.

Versus emerges next, a track that begins with birdsong and a looming drone. Burbling sounds of machineryesque sound is punctuated by a lone chime. A swell of horn. Another chime. A whisper-like sound with footsteps. A vocal-like cry seems to herald a new dawn, almost sounding like a distant steam-engine might. Around the midpoint, an electronic beeping becomes the focus, a chant-like grumbley backing drone hinting at technological happenings. The track ends with a deepening drone and a whitenoisey hiss.

Sub Signal features a low drone, delicate electronic tones, undulating vibrations and hums. It grows in intensity. Smooth electro-crackling echoes down empty corridors, probing and testing them. There is also a hollow sound, a bit like what might be made by blowing down a glass tube. Remnants of a transmission mumble near the end, beeps and chirps sounding insect- and bird-like as things begin to fade.

Alignments is the penultimate track and brings with it a kind of distorted buffeting that could definitely sound like gigantic thrusters manoeuvring things into position. Electronic notes seem to rotate and confirm paths... the whole track seems to have an 80’s sci-fi kind of flavour, a kind of bouncing electronica that is fun to listen to.

The final track is Returned. A deep rumbling begins proceedings, small detail sounds adding other areas of interest. A staticy-drone serves as a popping backdrop, like bubbles bursting in a bubble bath. A growing, high-pitched whine sets the scene for a lighter drone to emerge, a claxen/signal sounds, the hum of engines, and a sound that verges between a modem handshake and a baby’s cry.

Stardust is a dark dose of rumbling sci-fi that manages to mix the ingredients of both void-like drones and more nature-based field recordings in a way that seems to work very well. I often like to create my own narratives when listening to a dark ambient album, and the only issue this mixture of sounds caused was a kind of mental disconnect from my own personal imaginings. I am sure that with time, I would come up with appropriate mental imagery that makes sense of the majority of what is going on in each soundscape, but in the mean time, that is certainly nothing to hold against this collection of rich ambient tracks. If you want to check out some very good space ambient, turn out the lights, kick back with a good pair of headphones and sprinkle some Stardust on proceedings.

Visit the Stardust page on Bandcamp here for more information. You can check out Observing Quasars below too.

I was given a free copy of this album to review.

Album Title: Stardust
Artist: Alphaxone & ProtoU
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: January 24, 2017

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Book Review: Hardcore Zen

Book Review: Hardcore Zen

Review written by Casey Douglass

Harcore Zen Book Cover

Blurb: This is not your typical Zen book. Brad Warner, a young punk who grew up to be a Zen master, spares no one. This bold new approach to the “Why?” of Zen Buddhism is as strongly grounded in the tradition of Zen as it is utterly revolutionary. Warner's voice is hilarious, and he calls on the wisdom of everyone from punk and pop culture icons to the Buddha himself to make sure his points come through loud and clear. As it prods readers to question everything, Hardcore Zen is both an approach and a departure, leaving behind the soft and lyrical for the gritty and stark perspective of a new generation.

I first read Hardcore Zen years ago, but recent times have seen me growing more and more keen to have a re-read, if for no other reason than to see what I think of Brad Warner’s words after a second reading. I remember feeling impressed with the book after my first reading, and if memory serves me correctly, I did go on to read more books about Zen afterwards, although I’d also read a few before hand. This leaves the waters murky as to what kind of an effect the book had on me, but hot off the heels of my second reading, with a few more years on the clock, I am happy to report that it was still a very good read.

Hardcore Zen looks at reality through the gritty lens of Zen Buddhism. Standing in stark contrast to many religions that promise you paradise in the next life (if only you’d stop being a mucky pup, playing with yourself and being naughty), Zen lays reality bare and tickles around the truth that right here, right now can be paradise too, if only you’d look and pay attention to what is going on around and within you. Brad also delves into the idea that, again, unlike many religions, Zen encourages you to question everything, not to take anything for granted, be it from an authority figure or from your own habitual view of the world. How many religions adopt the tones of: “Believe it if you like, but if you don’t, that’s fine too, suit yourself” and “Don’t take anyone’s word for it, but try and test it yourself”. Maybe if more religions were like this, the world would be a better place.

Brad imparts his own take on Zen by way of his love of punk rock, his enjoyment of Japanese monster movies, and his personal experiences of struggling with life and its possible meaning at various points in his life, from his early years at Kent State University, to his life in Japan, first as an English teacher, and later as he worked at movie studio Tsunuraya Productions. Amongst these tales he intersperses information and teachings on the basis of The Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra (which is the stuff about form is emptiness and emptiness is form), the topic of zazen (sitting meditation), and other areas of interest such as sex, drugs and enlightenment. He doesn’t spend vast amounts of time on any one subject, which aids the book’s pace and readability, but does run the risk of leaving the reader wanting to know more. Then again, any well written book should leave readers inspired and hungry to find out more, so that’s hardly a draw-back. There is also humour, whether it is Brad’s own slightly twisted look at the world, or by way of anecdote and tales of Zen masters, both of present times and of yore. Dry, this book certainly isn’t.

Since Hardcore Zen, Brad has gone on to pen another seven books. Sadly I have yet to read any of these, but on the basis of Hardcore Zen, I am certainly hoping to in future. If you have any interest in Zen, or maybe not even Zen but just in books that challenge your way of viewing reality, books that do so in a voice that seems to stick their middle fingers up to stuffy dogma and clueless authority figures, check out Hardcore Zen.

Hardcore Zen Book Cover Image © Copyright Wisdom Publications

Book Title: Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality
Author: Brad Warner
ISBN: 9781614293163

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

A Leaf Caught in a Spider's Thread

I filmed this video a few months ago and have only now remembered to upload it to YouTube. I find it quite peaceful to watch so I am hoping others might too.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Dark Music Review – Khmaoch

Dark Music Review – Khmaoch

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Khmaoch Cover Art

Exploring eastern esoteric traditions this will take you on a voyage through old civilization. The crackling sound of incense fills ancient ruins. A solitary flute by Ivan Ioanov leads you through dim lit passageways underneath. Deep drone summons forgotten spirits as lush noise of mother earth calms the soul. The contrast of dark and light on this album serves an enlightening experience.
ProtoU has already created, or had a hand in creating, two of my favourite dark ambient albums: Lost Here and Earth Songs. When I saw Khmaoch about to be released, I was hopeful of another album to add to that list, and largely speaking, that is what I found. The atmospheric field recordings of wind and water merge expertly with echoing soundscapes and various melodies, each track seeming to give the listener something new to listen to, or something familiar, in a new way.

Water seems to be a common thread between many of the tracks, whether squally and rainy, such as in opening track Bridge of Storms, or dripping and bubbling as it appears in Voices of the Water, a lot of flavour is brought by our aqueous elemental friend. Other elements are not overlooked however, wind being shown favour in the form of the above mentioned flute, which features in a number of the tracks, such as the excellent Stygian Vortex. Stygian Vortex is a composition that also includes lots of interesting scrunching scrapings, and a fun buzzing sound that put me very much in mind of an insect buzzing from ear to ear in a sun-bleached skull.

A particular favourite track of mine is Skar Mekh, a deep and brooding space filled with the sounds of furtive industry and an echoing beat. A low drone looms, mixing with voices and flute that for me, created a scene of preparation at some temple or other. Water flows, cries sound and, as the second half continues, there seems to be much bone scraping and the odd blood-curdling scream in the distance.

Khmaoch blends elemental forces with a deft touch, sprinkling in some catchy beats (such as in the track Pel), along with a healthy dose of darkness and light. The end result is a dark ambient album that wraps its arms around you in a strong embrace, but leaving you unsure whether it will drag you down into the ground, or raise you up into the heavens. I give it 4.5/5.

Visit the Khmaoch page on Bandcamp here for more information, and check out one of the tracks, Skar Mekh, below:

I was given a free copy of this album to review.

Album Title: Khmaoch
Artist: ProtoU
Label: Cryo Chamber
Releases: October 11, 2016