Monday 31 July 2017

Dating Profile Cliches and How To Use Them If You Must

Dating Profile Cliches and How To Use Them If You Must

Written by Casey Douglass

I’ve had profiles on various dating websites for many years now. This is mainly due to wanting to have as many chances as possible to meet someone lovely that I might otherwise never meet. It is also due to chronic illness and an inability to socialise as much as I’d like. I’m average looking at best, have never had a relationship (I’m fussy), and have enough emotional baggage to sink a ship, but I know how to craft a dating profile and I do surprisingly well. By craft a profile, I don’t mean some kind of PR exercise to make me look good and brush all of my less desirable issues aside. I portray myself authentically, warts and all, often breaking many of the so called “ideal profile” rules along the way. I always try to portray my true self in any writing or interaction I might have with others. This doesn't always go smoothly and I've made some mistakes in the past, but I always try to be open and honest in an interesting way. With this in mind, I wanted to write a post about the many cliches I see on dating profiles, it’s just so unnecessary.

Oh my word. If I see another profile that says the person likes to “Live life to the full” or “Won’t write much as where is the mystery then?” I might just throw up. This is a potential platform for you to meet someone amazing and you are going to put that amount of effort into your profile? I’m sure if you’ve got the looks, you could probably write that you enjoy killing kittens and you’d still get inundated with messages, but for the more average amongst us... nah. We need to work a little harder.

Cliches just might have their uses, if used well, but for the most part, they are lazy and boring. For a start, they are too familiar. Remember when “You only live once” (YOLO) was at epidemic proportions on social media? Now if it’s used, I’d be surprised if most people even pay it a split second of attention. The same goes for “living life to the full” and “We can tell our friends we met in the pub” So commonplace, so dull.

If you must insist on using a cliché, make it interesting or funny. If you must say that you like living life to the full, and you happen to like food, make a quip along the lines of “I enjoy living life to the full, as does my tummy when a triple cheese pizza is nearby!” That’s an improvement in my book as it tells us something about you and gives readers a potential conversation starting topic.

Adding more information around the cliché adds juice to your profile, but you can go further and be controversial or outrageous too. You know how you aren't meant to be negative on your profile? Bollocks. If you support Arsenal and hate Tottenham, work that in. If you can be a bit grumpy or moody at times (just like everyone else), find a way to mention that too. It takes finesse to do it in a way that doesn't overly dwell on it, but for the scope of this short piece, I think you’ll understand what I mean. It’s all about character, yours to be precise. You want to do everything you can to present the fleshed out person you really are, not a bronzed statue that might look good but is sadly hollow inside.

I will be writing more about online dating in the near future as lately I’ve found that I have a lot to say on the subject for some reason. Thank you for reading and good luck with your online connection seeking.

Sunday 30 July 2017

When you Feel Weak but it Turns Out You're Strong

When you Feel Weak but it Turns Out You're Strong

Written by Casey Douglass

Casey Douglass

The following post won’t teach you how to throat sing in easy listicle fashion (I hate listicles). Nor will it be some tasty piece of fiction with monsters and gore and an ending that stays with you for the rest of the day. All this post will do is tell you more about me, and only you can decide if that tickles your curiosity or not. The reason behind it is that I’ve been absolutely slaughtering myself about where I am in my life, and in a rare moment of what seems to be good sense, I’ve remembered the value in looking back at things and rooting out the positives besides the negatives. This post is what came of that moment of clarity. I decided to post it too, as any thing I tend to do like this just gets thrown to the wayside once I’ve finished, and promptly forgotten. Posting it might help it stick. Who knows.

When I was at Junior school, I felt held back a little. I was the kid who actually asked for homework when we still weren't at the stage of our education that warranted it. I was the only child who turned up at science or computer club. I was a geek, and that’s fine by me. I wanted to get on in life and I enjoyed learning. I even had a couple of girlfriends during my time in Junior school (not at the same time, I was and always will be a gentleman in that regard), but for a geeky fella back then, I did alright.

I was around ten or eleven years old when my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder emerged, derailing the person I was and sending me into a hell that seems to forever be snapping at my heels. OCD is an anxiety disorder in which the sufferer becomes obsessed with some urge or fear, e.g. a fear of germs is one common example, and feels the compulsion to do something to alleviate that anxiety, e.g. washing their hands. The insidious thing is that by giving in, the OCD wants more from you next time. Washing your hands once, to keep with our example, won’t cut it the next time the fear arises, so you might do it twice. This is the birth of an obsessive compulsive loop, and they can form around all kinds of things, issues and fears.

I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until I was sixteen, so five or six years of mental anguish was my companion as I worked my way through high-school and my GCSEs. Schoolwork was one of the easier things for me, even with this other distraction taking up lots of my time. I was in the top set for most subjects, a position that gave the opportunity for my Maths set to take our GCSE a year early. This I did and got an A. I also collected a host of A stars and As in the rest of my GCSEs, with a few exceptions, but I was broadly happy. When I hit college for my Maths, Physics and Computing A-levels, I felt like I’d hit a brick wall.

I was receiving treatment for my OCD at this time, was on anti-depressants, and was also seeing the college counsellor too. I was body building at the gym with enjoyable 2.5 hour fully body workouts twice a week, and mountain biking about 20 miles each weekend too. Everything came to a head, and the strain of my anxiety and a couple of other factors ended up with me attempting to kill myself. It was after this that I realised that I didn’t want to go to university, not instantly anyway. My grades wouldn’t have got me there anyway, so I thought about having a gap year, maybe going to Australia for 6 months, that kind of thing.

When I left college, I went through the usual run of shitty jobs people go through. It was during the second one of these that I fell ill with glandular fever, and was fired not long after, because I was still on a trial period. It was absolute bullshit and it made me regret struggling to work with a double chest infection only about three weeks previous to that. Bastards. Anyway, I seemed to slowly get over the glandular fever, but then went down hill again and haven’t picked up again since. That was almost two decades ago, and it led to my diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also called M.E at times).

CFS is horrendous. I thought OCD was hard, but the exhaustion I feel every moment of the day is something I’ve never really gotten used to. Also, the stuff about “exercise being helpful” when it comes to anxiety became a cruel joke for someone who struggled with just getting up the stairs. As I write this now, my hands are shaking, my head hurts and my eyes are heavy and gritty. I’ve already rested once before starting this article, and will have to rest frequently all day, just to stop myself sliding down into flu-like symptoms that take even longer to diminish. As you might imagine, this makes living what people might deem a “normal” life next to impossible. It is also where a lot of my self-directed animosity strikes home.

When I’d been unwell for about six months, I decided to do a correspondence course in fitness instructing, even though going to the gym or any kind of exercise was out of the question. My thinking was that I could do the theory stuff and then get the other half of the certificate, the physical exams etc., once I was better. The course was something that, pre-illness, would have taken me a year I’d estimate. The biology it contained was GCSE level material at best, the exercises and movements stuff I already knew pretty well. Due to the fatigue, it took me the whole three years allowed to complete the course, which was a sign of how my illness was affecting me. I got my diploma but never did do the other part sadly. Incidentally, I’ve casually taken the odd I.Q test since being ill (by casual I mean I was half watching TV) and tended to score around 120, so I don’t think my mental capacity has slid too much, which is something.

After this, I began to get into photography, thinking that I could maybe make some kind of living snapping interesting pics. I learned html and built my own website to display my work, studied the art of photography as best I could, and generally tried to get myself into a position where I felt I could start earning money. It didn’t happen, largely due to how limited I was in getting out and about. Anything close enough to me to snap, I’d already done multiple times. That dream died a death basically, although it’s something I still dabble with for fun.

It was after this that I came to revisit my love of writing. Writing is something that I’ve always enjoyed, and often pestered my teachers to ask “When can we write a story again!” I did an introduction course with the Open University and managed to pass that. I then decided to go for a full diploma in literature and creative writing. This I did over the next two years. I created this website and began getting my writing out there in an unpaid capacity, mainly by way of fiction contests and by writing posts for geeky websites like Geek Syndicate and Generic Movie Blog. I built a portfolio and hoped for the day when I might feel ready to try my hand at being a self-employed freelance writer.

From the diagnosis of my CFS, until a few years ago when I came off it and went self-employed as a writer, I was on ill health benefit. I just want to say that it truly is the system of incompetence and backstabbing that various news stories over the years have painted it as. I did a lot of the things that the benefits system wanted well before they became compulsory, like seeing a disability adviser etc. etc. Let’s just say that they couldn't help and agreed that I was doing all I could. This however meant nothing when your next medical came around and you had to appeal the decision to stop your benefit. I HATED being on benefit. I REALLY hated it. When I did leave the system to pursue my writing, it was after a failed benefit review. I lodged my objections and tore apart the bollocks they had come up with line by line, but it changed nothing. I used the push to make the jump into writing and trying to earn, and almost had a breakdown in the process. I’d rather die than go back on benefit again, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. I’m sure the government won’t mind that one bit though, one less person to support.

My CFS and OCD went into overdrive with the stress of trying to find my way with freelancing. An example of this is that I used to enjoy burning candles or jossticks in my bedroom. I always did it safely, but became preoccupied with the threat of sparks or leaving things burning by mistake. Before I went for a week long break at the coast a few months later, I spent two hours checking around my bedroom for any sign of sparks, smoke or fire, even though I knew it was my OCD. Under my bed, around the table, under my chair, in my friggin’ cupboards, even in some of my DVD cases, checking that the discs weren’t warm. My heart was hammering the whole time and I was drenched in sweat when I’d finished. You’d be amazed at what your mind might take for a spark if your body is already sensitized with anxiety: sunlight reflecting off things, the flash of my mobile LED when a text came, etc. If it happens at the edge of your vision, whether you react or not, it still gives you an anxiety spike. This was the worst period I’d suffered with my OCD since before my diagnosis, and no-one knew. I told no-one how bad things got. This was mainly due to already having had treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for OCD and knowing that nothing new could be said or done to help me. I did it all myself and pulled myself out of the mire once again. My life is full of episodes like this, although not often so severe.

In the time I’ve been self-employed as a freelance writer, I’ve never made a profit. I’m lucky enough to live with my parents who are very understanding and don’t pressure me to pay my way. I still find that I beat myself up about my lack of progress though. Well, not a total lack of progress. In the intervening couple of years, I’ve been published in more places, I’ve made some money, even if it’s just enough to cover my bank fees, and I have pushed myself to expand my comfort zone, appearing on podcasts, using social media when all I want to do is crawl into a hole and be quiet, and generally trying to move forwards.

I have limited time each day in which I can work, due to symptom management and other considerations, yet I still graft and do work that either doesn't pay at all, or pays so little that it may as well not pay. This adds a kind of hopeless stress to the things I do, but it is what it is at the moment. I feel trapped in a lot of ways, and the only way I feel things could possibly move on is if I can start to earn a little more and be more self-sufficient. Again, more self-imposed stress. I beat myself up about not pitching more ideas to more potential clients, for not reading the stack of Writing Magazines I have yet to touch because of some kind of block, and myriad other things. I know this kind of self-talk isn’t helpful, but it’s so overwhelming when deep in depression, that when I struggle to brush my teeth some mornings, anything else just doesn't seem worth doing, including living. But I go on.

In the time I’ve been ill, I’ve read countless self-help/mental health/psychology/philosophy/ spirituality books, from CBT to ACT, from mindfulness to the Satanic Bible, from Osho to Alan Watts, from Shamanism to The Sedona Method. I’ve worked to get a handle on the things that I can, and to be accepting of the things that I can’t change. I’ve improved my skills in a number of areas and even when I feel dead inside, I can still find the drive to help other people if I can, even if I don’t feel like it. This all counts for something.

This is the crux of what this long post has been about, trying to show myself that I’m not the weak coward that I always paint myself as when I fall into the spiral of hopelessness that I sometimes do. I’m never good at complimenting myself or bigging myself up, but at the very least, by reading back what I’ve just written, I can see that these words don’t depict someone who isn’t trying to do what he can with what he’s got. I think one of my biggest fears is failing at something that I then look back on and wish I’d tried harder, which is a way of thinking I could find myself in about anything really.

I don’t mind failure, I do mind if I feel I could have done more to give myself a better chance at things. To some degree, this post has helped me see that that feeling of wishing I did more, if it does happen that writing isn’t a thing I can do to sustain myself, might not feel so bad, knowing that I have tried, and that’s pretty much enough.

If you are struggling with anything like the issues I've mentioned, you have my complete sympathy, and I hope you will seek help if you haven't so far, either by seeing your Doctor or talking to people like the Samaritans. It might help. It's worth a try. If you'd like to chat with me about anything I've written too, you can find me on social media or use the contact me page by clicking below. If you want to throw money at me to write something, please feel free to do the same. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Dark Doodles - Intergalactic Handshake, Mask and Hooked

Nope, I haven't just come up with some quirky name ideas for wrestlers, I've been drawing dark doodles again and thought I'd do a post to contain the most recent of them. Intergalactic Handshake is what I think would happen if aliens publicly visited Earth right now; how they'd end up. Mask is self-explanatory, I hope. Hooked is about addiction, it has nothing to do with incompetent fishing.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Dark Fiction - High Stakes

High Stakes

Written By Casey Douglass

High Stakes Pic

Morris felt his boot slip on the dull red of the metal beam. His hand shot out to grip the upright; his eyes took in the drop.
‘Fuck me!’
‘What’s up?’ Cliff yelled from a few beams over.
‘Me, thankfully! I almost did a twenty story dive!’
Cliff looked across and saw Morris holding onto the upright for grim life. ‘Nah, you’re all strapped up into your safety harness, you’re buckled up tighter than a gimp at a bondage party!’
Morris tugged at the chords that fastened to his harness. ‘Shit, I know, I know. It’s just not natural, being so high. I forget myself.’
‘I think it’s lunchtime!’ Cliff yelled.
‘Yeah!’ Morris looked across and grinned. ‘Low blood sugar, that’s what does it!’
The two men navigated and negotiated their way to the largest beam and, with moans and sighs, lowered themselves to sit next to each other. Their packs hung nearby. Each rummaged for their lunchbox and drinks. Morris had barely unwrapped his sandwich when his radio squawked.
Oi, you two clowns sitting up there eating your elevenses, health and safety will have my arse if I let you do that!
Morris winked at Cliff. ‘I’ve got this.’ Into the radio he said ‘Don’t worry, I’m reliably informed that we are safe, what with these safety lines and everything. We can’t fall off.’
Okay, let me put this another way. You won’t fall but you might lose your sandwiches.
Morris looked at his Wensleydale and carrot chutney sandwich, the one he had specially bought from M&S earlier that morning, his favourite. He spoke into the radio. ‘Gotcha’. He turned to Cliff. ‘Lets scoot back a bit eh?’

The period where food has been eaten but lunch is still fifteen minutes from being over stretched out over the rooftops, much like the two men. Cliff was leaning against an upright reading his paper while Morris watched the midday sun chase the shadows through the ironwork.
‘How would you do it if you wanted to end it all?’ Cliff said, the words pushing through the latest failings of Arsenal on the back page of his paper.
‘That’s a bit heavy isn’t it?’ Morris replied, his eyebrows shifted in a stray sunbeam.
Cliff lowered his paper. ‘ I was just curious, seeing as you had your near miss awhile ago.’
‘Oh piss off!’
Cliff chuckled and then fell silent. ‘Seriously though, how would you do it? I’d put some music on, make a nice chilled out atmosphere and take an overdose of something.’
Morris gazed over the rooftops, not really sure if he wanted to be having this conversation. ‘Erm, I don’t know, maybe throw myself in front of a train?’
Cliff lowered his paper. ‘I hope not. I know people who aren’t in their right mind with depression aren’t really thinking that straight, but I’d hope I’d have the restraint to not ruin other people’s lives by having to suffer seeing me go splat on the train they’re driving!’
‘You’ll be dead though so who gives a shit?’
Cliff slowly folded his paper. ‘I know that, it just doesn’t seem fair to me.’
Morris went on. ‘I mean, if you lived alone and no-one would even know you’d died, why wouldn’t you want someone to know by doing it in public?’
Cliff sighed. ‘I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one then. I take your point. I guess it’s just something I couldn’t do. That and being scared of the pain too. I’d just want to go to sleep and not wake up again.’
Morris looked at Cliff. ‘You don’t look your usual self. I told you to buy the sport; get some spice in your life!’ he chortled.
‘Now there’s a stereotype, a builder reading the sport. If I wanted tits I’d buy a porn mag.’
‘Bet it would cheer you up?’
‘No, I don’t think it would.’
‘Why not?’
‘Showing someone page after page of unattainable women when the history of his love life is one long period of being single and unwanted doesn’t really help the mood.’
‘You’re strange today Cliff.’
‘No, don’t be sorry, happens to us all.’
‘Getting down in the dumps.’
‘Have you ever tried to kill yourself?’
Morris blew air through his pursed lips in a silent whistle. ‘No, can’t say I have mate.’
‘I did, when I was younger.’
‘Did it work?’
Cliff gave a snorted laugh. ‘Good one.’
‘I was due,’ he smiled back.
Cliff looked across the city, the gleaming glass of the skyscraper opposite dazzling him as the sun shifted position.
Morris studied Cliff’s face. ‘You get like that often?’
‘Fairly often.’
Morris nodded. ‘My aunt used to as well, can’t remember what mum used to call her episodes, something like “Aunt Jane is in her sad place” or something. I was only about eight.’
‘What happened to your aunt?’
‘She’s okay, still kicking around somewhere. Last I heard she moved to Spain for the climate.’
‘That’s good to hear.’
Cliff looked down at his fingernails, running his thumb over the smooth nail of his other hand. ‘If I get through the day and get to bed without praying I won’t wake up in the morning, that’s a good day.’
‘It’s that bad?’
Morris nodded and looked down at his own hands. ‘I don’t know what to say that might help mate.’
‘It’s okay. I don’t expect you to be able to help. Just felt like sharing for some reason.’
Morris nodded again. ‘I’d miss you.’
Cliff looked at Morris and nodded. ‘Thanks, that means a lot.’
Okay gentlemen enjoying your high tea at noon. It’s past noon now, back to work in a minute or I’m docking you both an hour!
They both stood, Morris slapping Cliff on the shoulder. ‘Something else to ponder mate, we build fucking skyscrapers! Fuck-ing skyscrapers! That’s pretty cool don’t ya think?’
‘It certainly is.’
‘Woooooooooo!’ shouted Morris, pumping his arms. ‘Wooooooooooooooooo!’
Cliff chuckled and yanked on Morris’ safety line. Morris yelped and clasped the upright, his knuckles turning white.
‘I just saved you.’
Morris looked confused. ‘I wasn’t going to fall.’
‘No, but you were starting to look like a right arse.’
Morris sniggered. ‘What would the right arse be for you then? Do you like junk in the trunk or the more athletic derrière?’
Cliff smiled.

Monday 17 July 2017

Dark Music Review – Akuma

Dark Music Review – Akuma

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Akuma Album Art

Album description: Lovely Dark Work! ALEX and Tokyo Rose team up to make a killer album. Packed with plenty of dark synth, hard-hitting beats and retro-electro sounds. AKUMA is a fresh sound and experience for the Darkwave lovers. Turn this one up and enjoy.

I’ve been very slow to get my backside in gear and properly check out the whole darkwave / retrowave music genre. Awhile ago, heavy metal magazine Metal Hammer wrote an article about it, talking about artists such as Perturbator and someone else I’ve sadly forgotten. While it piqued my interest and sent me off to listen to a few YouTube vids and tracks on Bandcamp, I didn’t really click with it, and so moved on.

Maybe it wasn’t the right time for me, or maybe I just hadn’t landed on a musician that grabbed me by the hair and licked my neck until I went “Wow!”. (That’s a strange image, no idea where that came from). It was on re-watching a film that I realised that the seeds of attraction had been planted years ago. That film was Drive and the reason was its soundtrack. One of the standout tracks of that film was Nightcall by Kavinsky. Another is A Real Hero by College and Electric Youth. There is a really great article about the origins of synthwave on the NewRetroWave website here if you want to read about these artists, Drive, and other people that have made their mark. 

I recently joined Bandcamp, which is something I wish I’d done a few years ago. Most of my music review copies come to me via Bandcamp codes, so you’d think I would have signed up for a free fan account to make full use of it right? I said I’ve been slow. Since signing up, I’ve been browsing around and discovering a lot more music. I think Bandcamp is now my favourite music discovery avenue at this moment in time. On one of my many browsings, I came across Akuma, and it blew me away.

Many of the tracks feature a vibe that seems half 80s videogame score, half neon-painted future dystopia. They make great use of pulsing beats and echoing electro-notes to create soundscapes that contain movement, lightness and heaviness at the same time. And I haven’t even mentioned the infectious melodies that dance around in the top layer, ones that wriggle their way into the ear and are still knocking around in there when you are trying to get to sleep later that night.

The two standout tracks for me are Akuma and Cursed. Akuma begins with what I’d describe as an insidious beat, one that just has a darkness to it. Everything fuzzes up with another layer before Rachel McAlpine’s syrupy vocals emerge to reset the pattern. It feels like a hot, dark track, the various elements creating some great contrasting sensations, such as space and constriction.

Cursed begins with a slight dab of vocals and an airiness that pretty much sets the tone. When the stronger beat and lyrics begin,the swells of rhythm create a dizzying intoxicating effect, which is further enhanced when a kind of duplication occurs to expand them a little later. The effect is added to by twinkling chime-like notes behind the lyrics, notes that sit nicely above the deeper beat and create a teasingly balanced soundscape.

There are tracks that are slower paced, more meditative affairs, such as Delete Soul. Delete Soul is a track that starts low and chilled, and builds in intensity as its playing time progresses, the soft “Oooh” of a female vocal the thread that holds the listener’s hand through the peaks and valleys of synth. Okay, I now realise that I have three favourite tracks.

Akuma is an album that got its hooks into me and seems to have given me an opening into a music genre that I’d only gently bounced off before. There is a dark warmth and sinister edge to many of the notes and beats, like the pounding soundtrack to an 80’s slasher flick or the nostalgia of playing 8-Bit videogames on crappy fat-backed TV’s with dodgy RCA cables, the kind that make the image crackle if moved. This attraction surprises me, as I’m not typically a nostalgic person and I don’t really hanker for the days, or technology, of my youth either. So kudos Akuma, kudos indeed.

Visit the Akuma page on Bandcamp for more info at this link.

You can watch the video for title track Akuma below, a video that further plucks at the themes I’ve mentioned above:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Akuma
Album Artist: ALEX and Tokyo Rose
Label: NewRetroWave
Album Artwork: Ariel ZB 
Released: June 23, 2017

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Book Review – This Book Will Make You Stronger

Book Review – This Book Will Make You Stronger

Review Written by Casey Douglass

This Book Will Make You Stronger

I’ve long been familiar with the benefits of getting thoughts out of your head and down onto paper, but it isn’t always helpful. Sometimes you can get bogged down with what you are doing, and rather than creating some mental breathing space, you actually end up creating a kind of bureaucracy around your issues. Books or journals that already have a framework inside can be a useful way of avoiding the pitfalls that can come from inking your thoughts, and Ollie Aplin’s This Book Will Make You Stronger is one such book, with an interesting twist: it’s aimed at men.

“Manliness” can be a thorny topic, just like giving a definition to anything that might have different meanings to different people. I’m not going into definitions here, but I think it’s safe to say that some people will view the idea of a man keeping a journal as not very manly. This is quite amusing to me, as all kinds of great figures from history are known to have kept a journal, from Ernest Hemingway to Bruce Lee. In fact, one of the early sections of TBWMYS tells the reader what journaling is, what its benefits are, some famous people that have kept one and, most importantly, how to go about it.

The book is written in a warm and friendly voice; one early section contains Ollie’s story, how the events of his life brought him to a mental breakdown, and how, from the pieces of that breakdown, journaling emerged to become a powerful tool for recovery and beyond. He admits that he battled with journaling initially, feeling it was unnatural to write so many thoughts down. Talking with friends, he realised that his struggle with journaling was by no means a one off, and he set off down the path to creating a journal that actually helps with the act of journaling. He also realised that men could probably benefit most from this, and via a successful Kickstarter campaign (reaching its goal in only 72 hours), the book emerged, and started helping guys straight away.

This Book Will Make You Stronger

This Book Will Make You Stronger is split into different sections. The first 30 or so pages are taken up with the above mentioned backstory, what journaling is, and what you can expect by working through the book. The middle area of the book is the journal itself, split into three stages: Warm Up, Hurdles, and Strength. These stages are designed to ease you into the act of journaling.

This Book Will Make You Stronger

The Warm Up section is intended to be “light stretching” for the brain, a way to get you thinking about the past and how your life is now, by way of drawing diagrams, using Thought Triggers (writing prompts basically), and even writing a rap. Hurdles contains a collection of tougher Thought Triggers, and focusses on the reader and the people around them. It will also help to show the reader’s strengths and weaknesses, on the basis that knowing these can help you to make best use of them. Strength is the toughest section and gets you thinking about your needs and the future.

The last section of the book contains a Support Guide, a place where you can turn if you are struggling or if you get caught up in something that you don’t know how to deal with. Topics covered include things like giving yourself permission, how to deal with stress and a further FAQ on journaling. This is a great idea, as journaling can throw up some previously unknown stuff. Some of it might be an amazing relief, and some could be heavy shit that just depresses the hell out of you. Having somewhere to turn for extra advice is very handy.

This Book Will Make You Stronger

As I worked through and browsed TBWMYS, I found myself appreciating the layout. It’s black and white and well designed, each title and word feeling “punchy” and well placed. The pages that are intended for you to write on are clearly laid out, with areas for you to write the date, take stock of your current mood or feelings, and a whole free page for your thought writing (I’m never comfortable writing in “proper” books, it always feels so naughty, like the time I got told off for scribbling in my Button Moon book when I was five).

This Book Will Make You Stronger

The structure is indeed very useful, as it guides the journaller enough to give them a topic to think about, but not too much to make things constricted. It’s nothing like using an empty notebook, staring at a blank page wondering where to start. The Thought Triggers will likely make you think of some things that you haven’t even thought about in depth before, like what actually brings you joy, and “How does crying make you feel?” Taking the crying one as an example, it’s easy to focus on the unpleasantness of feeling bad enough to cry, any shame associated with “being weak” etc, and miss the positives such as the relief and expression of strong emotions. If crying just equals “feeling shit” to someone, they might just be missing out on the good stuff that comes with it too.
This Book Will Make You Stronger

This Book Will Make You Stronger strikes me as a very skilful way for someone to get into journaling. It gives you the information and advice that you need to approach journaling in a way that is most likely to help you stick with it long enough to start to see what you can get out of it. Once you’ve worked through the book from start to finish, you will also have completed your first journal in the process, so it’s not a case of perpetually reading about how to do something and not getting around to actually doing it, the book and “doing it” are all in one package. I like this.

This Book Will Make You Stronger

Visit the Mindjournal website here for more information about the male journaling movement, stories and other articles. Oh and links to buying the book too.

I was given a review copy of this book.

Book Title: This Book Will Make You Stronger
Author: Ollie Aplin
Publisher: Ebury Press
RRP: £9.99
ISBN: 978-1785036606

Friday 7 July 2017

Dark Music Review – Trinity

Dark Music Review – Trinity

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Trinity Album Art

Council of Nine returns with his third album on Cryo Chamber. Trinity is a touching, personal and enlightening album from Maximillian Olivier. In a genre where most keep their personal life to themselves, Maximillian opens his heart for all to see. "This is my catharsis. The many stages of grief and the acceptance of loss, deeply personal, unforgiving, cold and painful. This is the story of the greatest loss I have suffered, the death of my mother. This marks the end of a chapter and the closure I was desperately seeking." Blending atmospheric sound layering with a harmonic palette it drifts between dark and light. Walls of sound collide with echoing strums, drones wash over endless shores.

Trinity is a dark ambient album that created quite a flow of mental scenes for me, even before I’d read the album blurb above (I often leave that until after forming my initial impressions). I must admit that the images it helped create do kind of fit with what Maximillian might have been experiencing as he went through the loss of his mother, although I’m sure, in a paler, less raw way than the things he felt in reality. As a consequence, I’ll write the narrative that seemed to impress itself upon me along with the descriptions of each track.

527: Dripping water and chiming bells join with snatches of melody. Other watery sounds rise up, giving the impression of someone waiting under a stone bridge, waiting for an empty passing boat to be near enough to jump inside, to ride away from an abandoned town. Slithering slurping sounds join with a distorted rumbling, much like the noises some massive creature might make as they laboriously dragged something along the bridge over head.

Memory: Piano notes set up the core of this track, both providing the melody and the gravity with deeper multiple tones. Wispy echoes hint at settling dust and rubble, a high pitched whine sits atop everything, much like that heard when entering a state of shell-shock, when something has rocked your world. The boat drifts along the lazy river, the familiar but empty town nestling on each bank, hollow and filling with murk. A bell chimes after the midpoint of the track, the soundscape beginning to become the audio equivalent of a hall of distorted mirrors.

Bargaining: A drone builds with rumbling and swellings of fuzz and gloom, before the track lightens a little. The boat is entering open countryside now, the lone occupant having to turn away from the sight of people crawling on their hands and knees, trying to slither into the water, into the current to be whisked away. Vocal-like sounds waft through the air, and metal chimes sound near the end, the last bending upward, much like someone’s inflection might if asking a question.

January 3rd: A female voice distorts and recedes. Muted notes and a light drone grows. The last signs of civilization have vanished now, only nature on both sides of the river. The figure drifts in the silence. A voice is heard again, distant and impossible to understand. A deeper tone emerges near the midpoint, a throbbing echo that quietens and soothes. A small chime sounds at a slow interval, the river water parts, the boat plunges down into the darkness below.

I No Longer Hear You: Everything sounds like it has been muffled in silk. The boat travels through an underwater cavern system, the screeching metallic creak of a gate opening ahead unleashing air currents that set myriad candle-flames sitting in impossible places a fluttering. A digeridoo-like thrum echoes, a loud bang or report is heard. A deep tone grows and vibrates, a “tut” noise setting up a rhythm that might just be the slow ticking secondhand of the travellers watch. The track ends with the squeal of metal again, the sound of water dripping, and what might be classed as an insectoid-purring noise.

Silent Dawn: Clattering metal opens this track, dripping water and an echo-filled space its canvas. It happens a few more times as the track progresses, piano notes and a flowing soundscape building up to the dawn spoken of in the track title. In this case however, it happens underground, as the boat glides along a raised canal, skirting the edge of a massive internal space, the pulsing glow of hot magma filling the darkness as the boat continues its journey.

Trinity: An echoing rattle launches the track before gentle piano notes emerge to hang in the peaceful air. The boat shoots through crystal caverns now, joined by an airy effect hinting at lungs being able to breath again. The glowing core at the centre of the largest space claims the boat, embraces it and sucks it inside. Distant bird song floats down from an elaborate fissure in the ceiling, wisps of light rising up and out into the vast blue sky above.

I’m betting those images aren’t the ones that Maximillian had in his head when he created Trinity, but I hope you’ll agree with me that the themes and tone seem to line up pretty well: the sense of loss, the holding of the breath and the search for some kind of peace. For that is what Trinity provides, a peaceful and melancholic journey through soundscapes infused with delicate tones and smooth experiences. Yes, there is the odd slightly jarring effect, but these simply heighten the peace that comes after. Trinity takes the listener into the raw part of the human experience, but makes it as beautiful and comforting as it possibly can be, yet it doesn't water the sadness down to make it easier to stomach. Trinity is a dark ambient album that I can see myself revisiting again and again.

Visit the Trinity page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out track 527 below:

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

Album Title: Trinity
Artist: Council of Nine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: July 11, 2017

Rob Hooper's Flaming Pencil

I recently revamped the header at the top of this website, along with my social media and various misc other things. I didn't want to put a photo of myself up alongside my name because I don't really like looking at myself, let alone on some kind of banner. I settled on the idea of having some kind of cartoon/caricature done, something I could push into a tight circle (easy there at the back!), something that would provide a dash of colour in my intended black and white banners.

I approached artist Rob Hooper, feeling that I probably couldn't afford his talents, but was very pleasantly surprised. You can see the result:

I highly recommend Rob if anyone needs any artwork created. He was a pleasure to deal with. You can find him at his website: The Flaming Pencil, where you can have a browse around his portfolio to see his stylistic range. He also has a range of Gentleman's Colouring Books which look rather spiffing too.

Thursday 6 July 2017

Dark Doodles - Money, Struggle, Time and Suicide

No, I haven't just created what seems like an excellent concept for a new prog rock band, I've been doodling. I used to enjoy art but like most things, when I had to do it more rigorously at GCSE I drifted away from it. I also don't like the frustration of the stuff I create not even slightly resembling what I have in my head. So doodles to the rescue.

The other day I sat and just doodled. The results can be seen below. I scanned them into my PC and used Gimp 2 to colour them. I'm quite pleased with them, some more than others, but I was only going for capturing a mood, and I feel I did that. The suicide awareness one came about because I wanted to make the noose-pondering doodle useful in some way, rather than just be a dark expression.

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Dark Music Review – Sleeper’s Fate

Dark Music Review – Sleeper’s Fate

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Sleeper's Fate Album Art

8 years. Still locked inside.Sentenced to this prison of beeping machines and wires.
Forced to watch the world unfold from behind the veil of suspended hell.
Nobody ever expects to end up here. Not like this…

God Body Disconnect presents us with the next chapter in his saga of a comatose man banished to the recesses of his tortured mind. The journey begins taking us back to the fateful night of his sentencing. Beyond the halls of beeping machines, whirling sirens echo in the distance. Blackened clouds grumble down a bitter melody of tears upon the streets. A single shot blares between your ears, dropping you to the bed of concrete below. Here we witness the transformation of a once awakened man turned to sleeping prisoner.

Plunging deeper into the heart of the unconscious mind, the doors to a mysterious labyrinth emerge before us. From behind the towering walls, strange voices beckon us to enter. We insert and turn the key, unlocking a hidden portal to the past. A forgotten dimension, where once suppressed memories now filter through the lens of the surreal. This is the place where our darkest reflections go to hide. Self-perception is liquid here, and the emotional landscapes morph at will.

Deep bass, ethereal guitar and post rock influences mixed with Vocal narration and Binaural field recordings, This album has it all. A sonic explosion of the senses and a deeply moving and personal experience brought to the microphone.

The album description above gives more than a few insights into the kind of sounds you will hear on God Body Disconnect’s Sleeper’s Fate. Field-recordings are used prodigiously, so when you read about sirens, beeping machines and strange voices, that is exactly what you will hear upon listening to this atmosphere rich tale of a trapped persona. I love dark ambient albums that make heavy use of field recordings, as nothing mentally transports me more effectively to another time and place than the mental movies conjured by the sounds that might actually be happening in that other place.

A number of tracks make great use of the sounds that you might associate with laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to all manner of beeping equipment. This isn’t just the beep-beeping of a heart-rate reading though, you’ll also find the hiss of breathing equipment, the squeak of gurneys being wheeled past the room and the general vocal hubbub that any locale full of humans contains. On the flip side to this, you have the locales that the character enters when he is less aware of this so-called reality, the dark bubbling places and metal creaking environs that all tell of a soul exploring the limits of its own experience.

Reservoir Dreamer was a standout track for me in the way that it set up a really interesting soundscape. Churning water and some kind of motorised chugging seems to be joined by a distant klaxon or alarm. Creaking metal can be heard next, the sounds of a door or hatch being manipulated. Airy string notes hang high in the soundscape as a melancholy seems to seep in. The second half of the track becomes a quieter, slightly lighter affair, particularly when the sounds of distant people enter. It creates a strong feeling of being at the boundary or edge of something, a bit like having your view broken by a hill ahead but still being able to hear the activities happening on the other side. With the theme of the album in mind, that makes a lot of sense, but I felt it worth saying that this track really nailed it for me.

Another great track is Lair of the Dormant Host, mostly for its tremendous use of footsteps, hissing mechanical sounds, and the unnerving clinking of keys and chains. As the track progresses, voices can be heard, seemingly crying for attention. This track is dripping with the theme of imprisonment, the musical notes, when they do appear, compliment the electro-fuzz that has slowly built to make a discomforting yet riveting soundscape to explore.

The final track that I wanted to single out for praise is Flesh of a Ghost. This track really struck me as a kind of “travelling soundtrack” for an out of body soul astrally projecting their way through the mundane world, everyone else around (hinted at by the crowd-like voices) ignorant that they are passing by. I envisioned the narrator walking through the hospital canteen, or maybe even a shopping mall nearby, the bright afternoon sun glowing through the clear glass ceiling above the atrium. The latter half of the track darkens though, as if he has pushed his link, his etheric chord, to breaking point and finds himself snapped back into the darkness once more, a slow ticking clock his only real stability once more.

Sleeper’s Fate is a loving glimpse into a dark situation, one in which the listener becomes travel companion to the main character as he struggles. He struggles with seemingly having all of the time in the world and yet having no means to do anything with it except to explore less tangible realities. Definitely one to add to your dark ambient collection.

Visit the Sleeper’s Fate page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out the titular track, Sleeper’s Fate, below.

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

Album Title: Sleeper’s Fate
Artist: God Body Disconnect
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: June 27, 2017

Saturday 1 July 2017

The Next Level Podcast – E3 2017 Special

I got together with Barry and Ant to pick over the offerings that E3 offered to the gaming gods this year. Click here to visit Geek Syndicate and take a listen.