Monday, 13 March 2017

Dark Prose - Rotting Canopy

Rotting Canopy

By Casey Douglass

Every time I dream, I see a lone tree ahead of me. It stands on a small hill, mist caressing its spindly branches. As I walk nearer, the scale changes. What once seemed a normal tree now towers into the sky, the proverbial tree of worlds linking the realms of heaven and earth. It is usually at this point that the low sun begins to rise, straining against the horizon, its golden rays weak and tentative, but illuminating none the less. Light and shadow sway and morph, wooden fingers conducting a celestial orchestra, filling time until the bodies appear. They hang from vine nooses, their faces purple, their bodies distended. They are all me.

I reach the base of the massive trunk and begin my climb. The bark flakes and falls away as my fingers and toes struggle in the grooves. The whole thing quivers and groans, the corpses set swaying in macabre anticipation. Climbing is like going forward, along my own personal timeline. The dead meat near the bottom used to be my young selves, basically anything that had enough form to be lassoed with a final bow-tie. Yes, that means teeny tiny little mes, ill-formed little mes and even strange lumps of something that would eventually become me. It used to shock me, but now I just climb.

I climb through my childhood, my scraped knees, long summers and optimism merging with my teenage years of mental ill health, good grades and breakdown. I climb through the years of quiet hope and yet more illness, aspirations turning to the things that I believed could sustain my soul and hopefully, me financially, those periods in which I studied and prepared for being well again, a time when I might put my skills to use. Times which didn’t really come.

It is at this point that my head breaks through the rotting canopy of used-to-mes and reaches the part of the tree that is barren. A force compels me to look along one crooked branch to the side, seeing an empty noose dangling from the very tip. Another one almost complete. I gaze up the tree and wonder if it’s height hints at my longevity. The spindly branches fork high enough that they are lost in the luminous mist. I edge along to the empty slot, the bodies below reflecting all manner of things: when I shaved my head a week ago, the cut on my right hand, the deeper blackness that settled beneath my eyes yesterday.

I ease myself down, hanging from the branch with my fingertips in a manoeuvre that I could only sustain for mere moments in the other reality. I loop the noose over my head, as I have done thousands of times before. The sun reaches ever higher. As I let myself drop and feel the constriction strangling my throat, my eyes gazing out further, away into the great plain around me. The last thing I spy are the skeletal shapes of more trees, each like mine, puncturing the mist with their heavy burdens.

I wake up to find a new day has broken, memories of the tree already diluting in that special way that dreams have. It will be there again tonight, waiting for me to start its next branch. I’ve tried to fight it, to accept it, to alter it, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to break the pattern. Until, I guess, the morning when I just won’t wake up.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Five years on.

As has become a habit for me, I am posting on or around the birthday of my website. Five years old this week.

As far as previous years, the one now passed has been a quiet one. I’ve continued reviewing various music/books/films and games, written the odd one off article and generally carried on in the same vein as usual, but haven’t really succeeded in pushing on further.

A few weeks ago I posted that this upcoming year may be my last as a writer if I can’t turn things around, and that still very much stands. At this moment in time, I don’t think I will be able to.

I can’t think of much more to add so with that, I will end this subdued birthday post here. Thank you to anyone who reads my writing, wherever it might be posted, I appreciate it.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

New Normative

My article about the playing of PC game American Truck Simulator as being quite a fun way to cope with depression is now up on a new website that I am contributing to: New Normative. New Normative is a website looking at the broader issues that gaming faces, from the problematic sides such as a lack of equality, to the more positive aspects such as when games and their communities do things in better ways. I hope to contribute many more articles to New Normative in the coming months, so have a browse and dig in to some really interesting stuff.

Contact Me

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