Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Voodoo Case Study Review - omega oil & fish oil supplements on psychosis and schizophrenia, ADD and ADHD

Yes, I'm still here. And I mean that with slightly different implications to merely being a returning wordbot into the blogosphere.

I'm still here living a chronological life on this planet, as part of this family, learning something new every day and finding something to laugh at, usually in the process of ridiculing myself. I still work, I still function, I still make mistakes and pick myself up again - but there were moments in my teens, twenties and thirties when it appeared that was all going to stop.

I had post-surgical, sudden-onset schizophrenia aged 19. I woke up one day and it seemed like everyone around me was suddenly speaking a different language. I didn't understand it. If I said something, they didn't understand my meaning in return.

It was like waking up in the story of a horror movie, on the day that you knew the first victim was going to die, and that victim was going to be you. And everyone on the planet was either conspiring towards it, or in the audience, waiting for it to happen.

I'd had my thyroid removed three months earlier after 4 years of the autoimmune hyperthyroid condition Graves' Disease, and the surgeon had decided during the operation to leave a strip behind to see if it would continue to function. So I had no thyroid, and no replacement thyroid hormone supplement for three months. I'd just received a letter from the specialist in London that my last blood test showed no remaining thyroid function, and I would start tablet replacement for life at my next appointment in two weeks' time. I lasted about two more days, and then as my metabolism failed things started to shut down physically, and I woke up that one day and knew I was due to die.

It took me two days to get across to my family that I wasn't messing around and something was wrong, by which time I was screaming repeatedly "Put me in a mental hospital!" - considering this was 1991, and it wasn't cool, I think if my mother had access to the loft she would have put me up there instead and pretended I'd moved away, given the opportunity :)

So I stayed in the ward back in London, and started my thyroxine prescription, along with a load of other antipsychotic stuff like Melleril, Largactyl, Diazepam, Temazepam etc etc - but as my brain and body started to function again after a couple of weeks, my family got bored of being told I was "textbook schizophrenic" and sprung me out before the section ended. All the anti-psychotics got left behind and I kept taking the thyroxine. Unfortunately I also left behind something called Liothyronine, which they were giving me to encourage the thyroxine absorption. My mental recovery would have been a bit quicker if I'd continued taking it, and I wouldn't have suffered the same breakdown a year later under similar external stresses, resulting from my initial dose being too low for long-term replacement. I found myself sectioned again a year later exactly, and this time what was playing out in my head was more like a mystery thriller, not a horror film. One of those made-for-TV crime cover-up stories - Nancy Drew meets The Godfather :)

So, after escaping from hospital, going back, hearing from my mum that the doctors had written to her saying I was obviously some sort of delusional homeless drifter (a great surprise to both of us, considering I'd only been away at college) and she replied confirming that no I wasn't homeless or delusional, and yes I was an author training as a motorcycle mechanic, exactly as I told them - they did eventually let me leave. Only like the last time, on the promise that it was only for a weekend. Again, my family reneged on that, as they knew my purpose was to get better, not be studied.

Fast forward about ten years. No relapses, I'd learned to suppress them, and to use any crazy thoughts creatively. Holiday romance baby. Coping as a single parent. Then, for no reason, I stopped opening the mail. Or answering the phone. I started getting cramps and losing my appetite. My sleeping patterns got weird. Everything else was normal - as far as I could tell. So I walked to the GP's office with my toddler in tow and a list of symptoms written down, to see if my thyroxine prescription needed adjusting. The doctor was out at lunch, so I left it with the secretary who noted my concern about my dosage and said she'd tell the GP.

My doctor rang me about half an hour after I got home, and asked me to go back and see her that evening at six pm at end of surgery. She sat me down and said I'd listed all the symptoms of clinical depression, and she wanted to give me Citalopram.

"I thought it was my thyroxine."

"Depression is a physical illness. You need something to correct your serotonin levels - and if you're not sleeping as you should, it can quickly become a vicious circle."

I trusted her as she'd been my GP for nearly nine years, and took the Citalopram. Within a few weeks I was sleeping better, opening the post, paying the bills, studying again, digesting food again... and after three to four months I stopped taking the Citalopram and was applying for Uni. Things were back to normal.

It was another two years and another major operation that triggered the next episode. I had my eye disfigurement still from Graves' Disease as a teenager, and although earlier operations had alleviated it, I still wasn't normal. I went to the eye hospital again and volunteered for the new operation they did now, which would almost completely deconstruct my eye sockets to make room for my eyes to fit into again.

It was a massive operation, and the physical shock was nothing compared to the mental shock of seeing a complete stranger in the mirror, for the first time in 20 years. The last time I looked normal, I was still a child, so this was completely unexpected. I'd got used to tiny changes, but I didn't think I could be 'fixed' overnight like that. The result was another post-surgical schizophrenic episode.

This one was the weirdest. I didn't believe I'd woken up from the operation.

The mental health care had changed too. The medication - no more zombie-inducing 1990s drugs, now stuff like Olanzepine, Zyprexa - things that put you to sleep, then you woke up not knowing what you kept in your own wardrobes or kitchen cupboards until you opened the doors. It completely switched off your ability to hold an image in your head when it wasn't in front of you. And the aftercare - they wanted to see you and chat every few weeks for about two years following. God, that was boring. The first thing I did was get them to change the prescription from the downers to Citalopram.

"I'm already depressed," I told them. "I don't want to be any more down or switched off. I've had to label all my cupboards, I can't find anything. It takes me two hours to make a cup of tea."

They heard me, and I got the right medicine, which I only needed for about six months. Although it took a while getting used to the new appearance, and I still had nearly a dozen more operations to go through since as my eyes settled down, everything else went much better. But I was still vigilant for the psychotic thought patterns. My thyroxine wasn't a factor in this one - my brain had found an old short circuit it had used before under stress, and that pathway was still wide open.

I'd started studying Diet & Nutrition ITEC by 2006, and our tutor was a well-known and thoroughly professional nutritionist with decades of experience. While covering mental conditions suitable for consulting on. I was reading the online handout about ADHD and ADD in children and adults.

I realised that my daughter was a 'textbook' example of one, and I was the other.

After class the next session, I spoke to the tutor, and she recommended Fish Oils - starting with 3000mg a day for me, and 1000 for my daughter, who was then eight years old. I could then reduce mine to 1000 after four to five months. She knew we already took a general multivitamin and mineral supplement suitable for each of us.

My daughter's improvements came first. She stopped being distracted in class, her reports got better and better, and what she didn't gain in friends, she found happiness in being academic and being able to talk to adults and being recognised for learning well instead of reprimanded. She later started to show interest in trying different foods, and although her basic dietary demands are unchanged, she still 'tries' something new every couple of weeks - a recipe she's found online, or something she sees on Food Network and asks me to make. Her hearing is still hyper-sensitive, but academically she's cool as a cucumber compared to before, when she didn't have an attention span long enough to remember what happened after 'Good morning, class' as a child. I home-schooled her for a long time too when the bullying phase happened, now she's in college and the same kids have come up to her and apologised for stuff that happened years ago, it's awesome.

The first thing I noticed myself on the Fish Oils (I take Evening Primrose oil as well, for the additional omegas in the range), was that I started to get bored at work when there wasn't a problem to sort out. I'd always had a little narrative in my head before, filling in the gaps and finding things to be distracted with, so finding any moments of boredom for my brain was astonishing. Now I could be bored for three hours straight if nothing was going on. Wow :)

The next thing was, I put a movie on, and actually sat and watched it all. I didn't get up to do laundry, or wash up, or start writing, or mend socks, or type emails, or tidy up Lego, or do knitting, or pick up a psychology book... I sat and watched a whole movie, on my own. I only got up once to get a cup of tea while the opening titles were on. Usually I'd put a film on and barely see any of it, I'd be so busy with other distractions.

The rest was pretty gradual. I noticed I no longer had such devastating unrequited crushes on guys. I sort of miss those, but they were basically delusions too, in a way, so I haven't missed out on anything in the real world - just the imaginary emotions that would carry me along for a while :)

Over the next few years, the old psychotic pathways in my head started to fade - like routes that just grow over with trees because they're no longer used, until eventually you'd never know there was a path there at all. I wrote down what it was like moving on from that, used it as a character in a story, maybe so I wouldn't completely forget.

Sometimes it echoes a bit, when I have maybe PMS combined with some insomnia and haven't been eating properly, but it's not the same - I just get to observe it and reminisce a bit :) Nothing has the power to make me enact anything, or react 'in character' whatever that perceived character is. I get to choose my own brain pathways.

I suppose you could describe the difference, mentally, as having an all-zones all-transport travel pass and unlimited free time to enjoy it in and complete control over where your journeys start and stop, instead of a fixed-route reservation-only timetable-restricted ticket that means you must do THIS thing NOW at THIS prompt, with no control over the speed or destination you travel to.

I still take the high-dose fish oils - once I stopped for about two months when it ran out and I didn't buy more for a while. I noticed a tendency to overthink things sneaked back in, but nothing drastic. So it suits me to keep taking it.

Unlike the 'early risk' control groups I've read about in recent reports, I was already well down the mental illness and personality disorder road when I started taking it. Since 1991 I'd seen things written down about me ranging from schizophrenic and myxoedemic psychosis to the utterly baffled phrase 'multiple disorders' so there is no reason that anyone should think "It's too late for me" if they want to try it out and see if it helps. Maybe writing all this down might help someone, I don't know. I'm still amazed it helped someone like me - I just happened to have the right teacher at the right time.

If you're allergic to fish or are vegan/vegetarian, there are other sources of the same Omega 3-6-9 range - look up vegan Omega oil supplements, various seed and flower oil supplements are available. I haven't tried them because fish works well for me - you can read up the important parts of the oils that scientists are now discussing on one of the many reports here - http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/fish-oil-supplements-could-prevent-onset-psychotic-disorders

L xxx

Friday, 3 July 2015

Grey Matters - Voodoo's Views

One good thing that came of the whole FSoG furore in 2012 was that it put abusive relationships and domestic violence into the limelight as a topic that needed to be addressed, regardless of how it was originally excavated in fiction.

A lot of survivors who are still hurting, or had been triggered by the craze for the books being plastered everywhere they went, had voices and supporters in the recent Twitter circus, and yet the media has responded to their issues by shouting them down collectively as petty critics and saying 'they're just romance books, get over it'. And James' own response that "no-one would buy/read a book about abuse" is also wrong - she's obviously never heard of mis-lit...?

It's less 'Grey' and more of a 'Whitewash' - writing a pale sequel to an already maligned set of books seems to have more of a purpose towards making something harmless out of something with emotional triggers that affected a large percentage of women, and not in the wanking department.

Not everyone hid their shameful solo fantasies about the books behind criticism. Some hid their revived nightmares, panic attacks, vomiting, and OCD checking that the doors and windows were all locked, while feeling that the books had been pimped onto the mainstream en masse without consideration for what life experiences are represented in the mainstream readership population.

(And I did read them, in April 2012 - as part of a joint copyright evaluation)

People identifying negatively with scenarios in the books aren't going to 'get over it' by being told that it's just fiction. Their versions that they lived were not fiction, or romantic, or safe, or consenting, or any of the other things haphazardly cobbled into FSoG. Maybe the books triggered the outpouring of negativity for those individuals, but they need to be heard and helped positively, not shamed in turn, or collectively viewed as closet wankers with public morals.

It's fairly clear this was a PR exercise that excelled the author's and her publishers' wildest dreams, but her books aren't going to erase domestic violence or abuse, or psychopaths, or stalkers, or feed and clothe Africa, or build schools and free hospitals in the rest of the developing world.

So for the fans - if you'd rather pay the mainstream for more wank fodder than buy a book from Oxfam, please have a little respect for others' history and experience when supporting your favourite authors, and think before shouting them down and answering back - you'd expect kindness, help, respect and acknowledgement if you'd (God forbid) only just managed to get out of an abusive relationship alive.

L xxx

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Voodoo Viewpoint: Is new media stealing our souls and our memories?

Originally posted on lisascullard.wordpress.com

I haven’t blogged for a while, having had new things to deal with through the summer and autumn along with writing, and waiting for other things to be resolved – everyday life has got in the way, and all of it worthy of my time – so I can honestly say I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by not procrastinating online too much.
This post has been on my mind for a while over the past year, and I’ve turning it over further in my mind since a topic came up on Facebook regarding the well-roasted old chestnut of ebook vs. print books, and what might supplant them in the future. When I made my comment, I didn’t realise how much of an observation it really was. But the thought of it keeps returning to me, so I’ll attempt to dissect it further now. (I’ve used ‘Voodoo’ in the title as I was originally going to post it as Voodoo Spice first – but there is another relevance to the reference).
My comment on the post was:
I think real books will stick around for another reason – the same reason as real music disc collections, and real movie DVDs, and real photo albums. The death of these things will mean the end of being able to remember lost loved ones. Imagine going into an elderly relative’s last residence, and instead of shelves full of their favourite media that you can pick up and read and smell, and admire, all that’s there is a computer tablet full of password-protected cloud-storage erotica. Supposing they’re survived by 20+ family members all wanting a memento? Will they have to take turns hacking into his or her tablet to read their, erm, favourites???
It’s not only the issue of having physical objects with which to remember a loved one, though. When you first make a new friend, visit their home for the first time, you see immediately by their books, music, film collections, and photographs what you have in common. Without those, it takes far longer to define. How you learn about a person who wears nothing on their sleeve in real life? Are they hiding something about their personality, their cultural and entertainment tastes, behind password-protected anonymous digital storage products? How much of their social media persona is genuine – do they really like Top Gear, or do they just ‘Like’ it on Facebook? How long does it take to make early judgements of compatibility when all you see in their home is the faceless packaging and housing of technology? Is this creating the hacking, snooping, prying, suspicious culture that troubles present-day relationships?
Are we sacrificing our personalities, our ability to connect with one another in real life without the social media screens, in favour of electronic packaging?
Back to the subject of bereavement and memories, there is another agenda surfacing to consider.
Electronic media itself has no re-sale value. The tablets and electronic devices can be re-sold, but they lose value in the very short term. Unlike physical books, vinyls, cassettes, picture frames, CDs, and DVDs – when you buy anything in digital format, to watch, read or listen to, its solvency value is zero. So even if your descendants, friends and family don’t want to share the digital tablet and know your passwords to enjoy your *ahem* favourites, they can only sell the tablet itself. Even if you have bought 70,000 books, movies, and songs in your lifetime, they do not add up to £70,000 worth of house clearance on ebay to divide among the mourners. They add up to zero.
They money you spend on electronic books and media to fill your device has gone for good. You cannot donate the products to an Oxfam bookshop after you have enjoyed them in order for others to benefit. You cannot have a yard sale or a car boot fair stand of portable entertainment to fund a party, or to pay a few bills. You have not invested your money in anything physically reminiscent that can be enjoyed as part of the soul of a lost loved one, or liquidated as an asset in the future.
The money has gone for good, into the great black hole of the business that also sold you the device to enjoy it on, or to store in some online cloud.
So in the future, without personal possessions for family and friends to remember us by – not even the chance to flick through the same books and photo albums we held, and no idea how to access our family photographs and music – and more and more social lives being conducted online – how will anyone remember their grandparents and great-grandparents beyond faces on a screen?
Will the youngest family members have the sense of identity and individual heritage that children before the digital age grew up with?
Will old people just die and disappear, leaving nothing behind but an online account full of media they spent thousands on, which is worth precisely nothing to their descendants even if they have the ability to access it? Will their living memories and personalities evaporate the second you tap on ‘Confirm shut down/log off device’?
Will folk start leaving clauses on their departure, that no-one is to hack into the tablet at all to avoid finding out how much porn and erotica they downloaded to keep them warm in their old age?
Never mind what to do with Granny, the last Will and Testament says we have to burn her Kindle first… aptly named device, if ever there was one. I see a new business opportunity looming – the “Kindle Crematorium” where dirty old reading habits go after you die…
It’s a mystery that leaves me very curious. I already find houses without books, music, photograph or film collections very odd – rather like pictures of home interiors in advertising, with no identity of the occupants visible. Sterile, like a showroom to sell a product or furniture lifestyle – not a working, living home. And if that is what remains in the future, when individuals die, what is left to know of them? An indentation in the sofa, perhaps – where they sat while playing Candy Crush Saga online?
So never mind that a computer tablet doesn’t provide the same decorative impact as a bookshelf, or provide the same soundproofing from your neighbours. Never mind that it’s a good way of hiding your reading habits, and a bad way of storing your nekkid selfies. It’s also a good way of spending your children’s inheritance – permanently. Throwing your small change onto the Kindle Fire (literally), never, ever to return as second-hand small change, ever again. Quite possibly thrown away along with the material potential for any of your descendants to remember you for more than one surviving generation…
HHappy Halloween! :) xxx
IIf you want to learn to how to format a print-on-demand book, publish and distribute for free, click here for my tutorial. You can also learn how to format ebooks and multimedia booksIf those still light your candle ;) x

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Voodoo View - Women in the Media (continued...)

Original vehicle signage, with instructions for use scrawled on by Inspector Helen Bourne Tagart, Aide de Camp for Commandant Mary Sophia Allen

Last blog on here, I had a good rant about the current spate of whining by pro-feminists complaining that women's voices aren't 'out there' in the mainstream media.

Above is an example of the mountain of stuff kept by former suffragette and Commandant of the Women's Auxiliary Police Force/vigilante/Hicks-botherer, Commandant Mary Sophia Allen. This mountain of stuff, packed none-too-neatly in a travelling trunk stamped HBT, for her second-in-command and long-term love interest Helen Tagart, contains news cuttings, letters, admins, booklets, posters, diaries, photographs, reports, autographs of various dictators she visited (with her usual shiny-boot-wearing uniformed buffoonery, to the general embarrassment of the British government), receipts, invoices and various other hoarder's guff that you would expect someone with minor OCD and a bit of professional narcissism to collate in their own lifetime.

This overload of insight has been entrusted to me to scan by her great-great-grand-nephews/nieces who have kept it stored away for the last half a century or more, and to consider using it for an authorised feature film project on their behalf about the well-meaning women's rights activist and anti-slavery awareness promoter, Miss Allen.

So far I'm about 25-30 hours into scanning and typing up anything handwritten, I'm up to 467 images, and only about a third of the way through it all.

What's clear so far is the sheer volume of women's monopoly over stories, writing and reviews in the media during the First and Second World War. Miss Allen subscribed to all the regional and international news clipping agencies, meaning that wherever her name was mentioned in the world, she was sent the original clipping - whether it was from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Italy or Brazil. She would appear in the UK press on a daily basis. I've just spent three hours scanning cuttings from the middle of 1934 alone.

The woman damn near invented 'Googling yourself' before such a thing was conceivable.

But it's not just her own publications, letters and articles that meant women were represented in the press. Here's a review from a Leicester newspaper of her book 'Women at the Crossroads'.

Leicester Daily Mercury, 29 June 1934, review by Anna Bell of Commandant Mary Allen's book

Notice anything? Yes. The reviewer was also a woman - Anna Bell. With her name in a big old font too.

It's not an isolated incident...

John O'London's Weekly, 9 June 1934, review by Sylvia Lynd of 'Women at the Crossroads' by Mary Sophia Allen

Again, note the prominence of the reviewer's name and font size in the article above.

Aha, I hear you say. But I expect the men still had the upper hand, yes? I bet their reviews were published with their names above the book title and author's name, in an even bigger font!

Okay. Let's have a look at the reverse of the above cutting, in the John O'London's Weekly reviews:

John O'London's Weekly, 9 June 1934, review by Horace Thorogood of 'Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings' by George Bernard Shaw

Well, guess what? This piddling single column review on the right, of the esteemed George Bernard Shaw's collection of short stories, doesn't even have a full title, or Mr Shaw's full author name mentioned. The photograph is of neither the author or reviewer - it's of G.K. Chesterton, rumoured to have been caricatured by Shaw in one of his tales. And the name of the reviewer himself, Mr Horace Thorogood, bless him, only appears at the very bottom of the piece - in a font that you could easily read with an electron microscope at your disposal.

Note the partial article on the left, alongside Horace Thorogood's trivial offering. Bigger heading, bigger fonts, more columns - only a pity that Mary Allen's collecting of clippings didn't run to full pages. It's a review of 'Valleys of the Assassins' by Freya Stark, who as you can see from this tantalising snippet was apparently a bit of a Lady Lara Croft-type. She was inspired in her childhood by reading 'The Thousand and One Nights'. On her travels, she learned of other inspiring women, such as "...the story of Qadam Kheir, a lady of the Kulivand of Tarhan, who fought against the government... She was a beautiful woman, and married to her cousin.* They used to go out together to fight, and she could shoot from horseback like a man."

*(NB: Marrying one's cousin is not a prerequisite for pro-feminism)

According to Wiki, Freya Stark died in 1993, aged 100 years old. I expect she was pleased that she hadn't sat knitting and baking cupcakes for the first half of her life...

But I'm digressing. Anyway, what I'm illustrating, by the examples above, is that women got all the big splashy stories and reviews and attention-grabbing headlines in the 1930s. Men, like the unworthy George Bernard Shaw and Horace Thorogood, got shoved into small fonts and margins.

Makes you wonder what the gender of the editors and typesetters were at the time too.

I expect the male editors and typesetters were all away, peeling turnips in the trenches and stuff, or pushing up the daisies after last time.

However, in her review, Sylvia Lynd quotes Mary Allen's writing at the time in 1934, who feared that women were taking their 'new opportunities' too lightly and for granted:

'They have made little, she thinks, of their opportunities since they became voters. Are they able, "with their superior bodily health and mental training" she asks, to accomplish anything that their grandmothers could not do?'

Sylvia Lynd retaliates and points out that women had plenty at the time in 1934 to take pride in, including the Women's Institute and other societies that promoted health, welfare, comradeship, and prevented 'mental anarchy' in British culture.

Not to mention the ability to shove George Bernard Shaw and poor Mr Horace Thorogood into a smaller column of the newspaper.

But like Mary Allen was saying in 1934, today in 2014, eighty years on, those things like the ability to vote, knit a Women's Institute flag, bake a non-anarchist Victoria Sponge, and belittle the menfolk, aren't enough to satisfy the alpha-females among us.

Today, women want to be back in the big fonts and the wider columns. But surely, the daily schedule-obsessives cry, if you're dedicated to journalism and pursuing the media, you don't have time to be doing all the world-travelling and Prime-Minister-bothering and research and advocacy and awareness, that the likes of Mary Allen and Freya Stark were getting up to?

Well, Mary Allen pursued the media to the extent that she could appear in ten British broadsheet newspapers in ONE DAY. She also wrote numerous books on her life and career as a self-appointed Women's Police Commandant, replied to every article about herself in the 'Letters' section of every newspaper (trust me, I've got them right here), had inappropriate crushes on fascist dictators (who gave her autographed and dedicated photographs of themselves left, right and centre, like members of a dodgy international underground boy-band), and she trained women police around the globe.

Freya Stark had twenty-five books published in her lifetime. And lived to be a hundred.

Imagine if you lived that long and only sat blogging about how little recognition women get instead of becoming passionate about something, maybe doing a little research, politely bothering a few individuals, and possibly going out and doing something about it...

A little PM-bothering of my own...

Maybe Mary Allen managed all of that because she wasn't raising children, you pipe up? No. Instead she recruited and helped to train tens of thousands of women in the UK and beyond, most of them educated, well-heeled, fashionable ladies, some who drove their own cars and flew their own planes. I wonder how many sickies she had to cover...

Junior attempts to throw a sicky. Think this is extreme? She's only home-schooled...

I'm led to believe that there are a couple of TV researchers out there at the minute who would love to get their hands on Mary Allen's hoarded stuff handed down through her family, which quite literally hasn't seen the light of day since the 1950s. I'd share more of it otherwise, but you get the general gist.

And there'd be no point posting it where any savvy researcher could nab it for free, while her descendants are still surviving on only the reduced salad dressings from Marks&Spencer on their Lidl's gravadlax and caviar, and I can't afford to give Junior pocket money to save up towards the impending parkour/zombie apocalypse.

Nothing makes a dangerous outdoor sport safer than doing it one-handed with a camera...

All I can say is, if you can get through half of what I've had to get through so far about Mary Allen and women's rights, glorified by early 20th Century women journalists in articles such as the ones above in REALLY BIG FONTS while the men get teeny tiny crappy ones, without turning the TV onto 'Dave' and mainlining Jeremy Clarkson and Sean Kelly to restore your sanity, you're a better pro-feminist than I am :)

Speaking of which, must be nearly time for Top Gear. And those fancy dress outfits don't sew themselves...

Happy Easter. Screw the media. Remember to get out more :) xxx

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Voodoo View: Women's voices in the media and where to find them - or when...

I'm curious about the avalanche of discussion going on suggesting that there are not enough women's voices gaining artistic recognition in the mainstream.media

It seems to me that most of the highly successful writers in the last 15 years have been women, and they continue to proliferate - JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Charlaine Harris, EL James, Sylvia Day, Suzanne Collins, Belle de Jour (aka Dr Brooke Magnanti), and now Sally Green to name a few - consumers' money is doing all the talking that's needed. Whatever artistic integrity and skill is on show here, you can't deny their success. We don't know how many of these successful women writers have been offered interviews, columns, journalistic or presenting jobs. Just because the rest of the exposure that the academics judge isn't there, doesn't mean it hasn't been sought.

Not everyone wants to be a 'media whore' or has the time in between writing their bestsellers to take on yet another job promoting themselves, or consulting on academic-level subjects, even though many of them do. But because a few commentators have pounced on the fact that 'women's voices' have been overlooked in this literary award or that, or this review column or that, apparently somehow we're back in the Middle Ages of a patriarchal Arts world, where women are an invisible minority.

So why is it that 8 out of 10 blogs I visit are written by women? Does the internet not count? So far as I can tell, the virtual world is seething with women's voices, quicker and keener to post their thoughts, responses and opinions than men. Women sharing, telling true-life experiences, penning stories, relating anecdotes, rallying charitable and political support for good causes, and even just trying to relate to the world. But because the few folk that still read a Sunday paper aren't looking in the right place, apparently there's a soapbox out there with my name on, which I should be standing on complaining that I haven't had my 1.5 column inches of fame/validation yet.

What, in tomorrow's chip wrapper or kitty litter tray liner? What's the big deal with that anyway?

Like I said, women writers are already bankable (see the list above). Nobody doubts that. Are these petitioners for equality in media storefront airtime just a tiny bit jealous? Do they want their turn? If they've written something that worthy, shouldn't they try selling it and let the public judge for itself?

Why do the complainers ignore the internet as a valid form of media exposure, and the freedom that women have to speak there? Why are they even wasting time and money on a Sunday paper that doesn't review their taste in writing, or by following and commenting on awards that don't either?

Withdraw the attention (and money) from those who irritate or who don't fulfil your needs, and they'll either be forced to change, or disappear. All the time you're throwing attention their way with your demands, you're keeping their profile high and in the public eye. Which, if you're right about their misogyny, isn't what they deserve.

Unsubscribe from any media that refuses to satisfy your wants, and look up blogs, vlogs and websites that do. If you can't find what you're looking for, nothing is stopping you from writing, filming and publishing your own online. And there you have instant, searchable, public exposure for the subjects and interests that you want covered.

In the first and second world wars, newspapers were full of women journalists and women writers, reviewing books by women on the work being done by women. The reason for this was that the men previously in those jobs were away fighting. Women had a monopoly over the media during those years. Agatha Christie and her contemporaries had little competition to hold them back or suppress their success.

But the women who succeed as authors and in media jobs today don't have that excuse. They've had the right combination of skills and good luck to achieve what they've done, in spite of the fact that men are in the same position and have the same opportunities.

If something isn't out there that you want to read, maybe it's the world telling you to write it. And if you aren't satisfied with the great success that women currently have in the arts and media, how would you improve on it? What areas specifically need attention? What do you want to see women gaining recognition for? Have you approached any of these women, or offered to interview them, and submitted any articles about them and their work to the mainstream Press?

One example - Google the name 'Sophie Neville' and you'll mostly find matches for the actress who played 'Titty' in the movie of Arthur Ransome's 'Swallows & Amazons' in 1974, her artwork, and her career to date.

Three years ago, none of those matches for that particular 'Sophie Neville' were there. She wanted an internet profile and online presence to support her current writing career, and had to make her presence known to the virtual world and the contemporary audience from scratch, which meant blogs, videos, online photo albums and social media - everything. In the last year, she's also appeared in the Telegraph, the Sunday Times, and the Daily Mail - more than once.

A second example: Recently I was invited to appear on two separate writing and arts blogs - one guest post about my sporting hobby, and one interview about my experience of releasing a book under a pen-name for the first time. Both invitations came from men. So I don't believe it's men that are keeping the door 'closed' on women's voices, as current perceptions would have us believe. Maybe it's just the case that women haven't been taking full advantage of the opportunities that are there.

The Writer's and Artists Yearbook lists all newspapers and magazines, literary agents and publishers. If you want your own voice out there in the old-school market, just get submitting. If you know artists and writers who you think should get that sort of recognition, instead of leaving a sour comment on the newspaper's online arts page, send them a glowing article about the object of your passion. If you have a new insight on Jane Austen's motivation, or have cooked up a dinner party menu worthy of one of Agatha Christie's famous murder scenes, find an academic journal or cookery magazine that might showcase your skills as a wordsmith.

Don't let bitterness about success (or lack of it) fester and undermine real opportunities that you could be working with, or encouraging others to work with. And don't blindly join in with the voices of negativity - look at the actual success stories in the real world, and listen to people who have real ideas in their heads - not ancient attention-deprived echoes.

Lxxx

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Change.org - #endFGM

Join schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed's campaign for schools to teach the risks of cultural female mutilation practises - click here

To summarise what is being done to young British girls aged from a few weeks to young womanhood, picture it in the form of a criminal investigation:
  • The families of underage British girls enable a stranger to commit GBH/ABH/assault on their daughter.
  • The stranger is 'armed and dangerous'.
  • The stranger is either located in an unfamiliar country to which the girls are taken by family members to be assaulted - the 'accessories' to the crime - or the stranger has travelled to the U.K. with the specific intent of committing ABH/GBH/assault and the permanent mutilation of underage girls.
  • The lasting trauma impacted on these girls could be compared to having suffered an act of terrorism, where the intention by the assailant is to ingrain and impose a cultural form of repression on women.
With all the existing assault laws, anti-terrorism laws, abduction and human trafficking laws, laws governing surgical procedures, cosmetic procedures and body modification in the UK, and domestic violence awareness in the current political agenda, the outline protocols are already in place for reasonable and clear prosecution of such perpetrators.

What is needed is to reframe the perception of such incidents so that potential victims can identify them as crimes, and are empowered and enabled in turn to know that there are grounds to report what they see and hear for their own safety, in the same way we teach personal safety in schools already - whether part of the curriculum, or by charity organisations such as the NSPCC Childline Schools Service.

You can sign the petition on Change.org and spread the word further by sharing on social media using the hashtag: #endFGM

L xxxxx

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Voodoo Hoodoo - Who Do You View?

I didn't watch the Grammys - I haven't watched stuff like that for years.

I worked in nightclub security from 2004-2010, so I pretty much went off all mainstream music when hearing the same cheesy requests and chart dance or R'n'B night after night turned my brain to mush. I liked what the local DJs were doing in their own time much better, and the mashing-up of existing tunes to create new sounds, sometimes on the spur of the moment, never to be repeated. I go on Soundcloud nowadays and look for artists like Dominatrix Rmx and Reaps (Reaps/reaps007 on Youtube) mashing up my favourite old tunes by Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Daft Punk are one of the few current bands I like, and that's mainly because of their remixes and alternative versions (they also started out before the internet was a big wahoony too).

But when there was nothing on TV yesterday morning and I was trying to do my physio exercises, I switched over to the music channel and caught a few news clips of the Grammy awards ceremony. And I was really startled by how alienating it was.

This didn't appear to be the music industry as I recalled it. It was the money industry. Patting itself on the back and applauding its own adopted politics and talent. I've seen kids on Youtube with two sticks and a bucket who have more talent.

If you're passing him in an Australian mall and don't stop to listen, I would so swap places with you...

I found myself looking at all the 'industry' professionals in the Grammy awards audience, and wondering what place the fans have in all of it (you know, fans, those lowly lumpenproletariat currently waging war against gig ticket hidden charges). That show wasn't about the fans and what the youth masses are thinking about from day to day. It was about money and politics and the bling that Madonna wants to pimp out her kid's teeth with.

Maybe they brought the first-world politics into it because they're so far removed from the real world that they need some lifeline to claw a way back into the empathy of the viewers. But it didn't disguise the bizarre members-only club that the upper echelons of the music industry has so transparently become. Not helped along by all of these 'talent shows' where the money industry now openly stamps its brand on some hopeful in order to make a fast buck.

I have a teenager a bit younger than Madge's eldest, and she's never engaged with what's on the TV unless it's stand-up comedy or Top Gear. She gets all of her music from Youtube inspiration, watching manga fan videos made by children her age all around the world, and the music that they share which isn't shoved down their throats by today's chart-topping marketing moguls.

Over 34.5 million views and comments still being uploaded - that's a real-world fan-base...

Last week I retweeted a friend's Twitter post about his band getting mentioned in Kerrang! magazine, and suddenly my Twitter follows turned into a MySpace stampede. Instead of chirpy indie authors adding me with the tag line "Here's my author page on Amazon, please leave me a review" suddenly it was bands and artists deluging me with "Our new single is on Youtube!" and "Latest album out now on iTunes!" Don't get me wrong, I bloody love it (and their music!) but it makes me realise what a tiny little miniscule petty self-satisfied corner of the 'music business' the Grammys are, and they're only on TV because they've got most of our kids' pocket money.

The latest video for "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (LOVE it, in spite of my ranting!!) is a demonstration of money spent on something to fit in with what everyone in the real world is watching anyway. Fatboy Slim did the same as I recall, back in the day - who can remind me of that song? Moby is probably another one...

Pharrell's feelgood tune from 'Despicable Me' promo emulates Youtube home videos and fan videos

Meanwhile, the rest of the money industry seems to think achievement is all about strutting around dressing and behaving like an actual pimp, male or female. Which doesn't seem to fit very well with the first-world news and politics right now.

As an indie writer it made me think about the book publishing industry in the same way. Major publishers can't deliver books at the same rate and quality that the indies and self-publishers are uploading them (rapidly approaching 50,000 new titles per week at present onto Kindle, Smashwords and other platforms). What appears on the foremost shelves of Waterstones and other stores has been paid for, its prime positioning guaranteed by one of the Big Six publishing houses - the readers don't get a say in what they see first as they walk into the store, and neither do the store management.

But what writers have to face is that readers move on quickly from one book to the next. Yes, they may get 100 readers keen on their story and few knock-on recommendations, but once a book is put down, the reader wants another adventure. The writer can't (and shouldn't) expect that handful of readers to do their promotional work when the reader has his or her own life and interests to get on with once they've put the book away (although I know one or two individuals who can't move on from one book or another *snorts inappropriately*).

Good music is different. Those four minutes of heaven can trigger off an unlimited number of adventures in the listener's mind, so favourite songs are revisited and shared far more often than a book ever will be. And that's because the listener's imagination is in complete charge. They can plug in a set of headphones and get on with enjoying their life at the same time.

Also - the singer and songwriter isn't looking over their shoulder saying 'This is what I want you to be thinking about when you listen to my tune. Here are some discussion topics and questions to raise when you hear my song out in a nightclub with your friends, or with your 'listening group'. And I would appreciate it if you would leave me a review on Amazon...'

The best music doesn't have the musician's agenda attached. It just has a little bit of their soul. The rest is for the listener to interpret, and to go away and play with in their own imagination and inspire their own creativity.

But when I see first-world money-industry artists acting like entitled tits (Adele's early rant over her £4m tax bill comes to mind, thanks for all the NHS treatment by the way) they seem to have lost the joy of just sharing something now it's become their new branded lifestyle, and they're finally in that tiny little industry country club at the top of the TV mountain. I forget about their nice music because all I see and hear is their spoilt whining.

I wonder when any of them are going to experience being noticed for any skill, kind word, good deed, receive a spontaneous compliment, without a sense of political obligation or the media pointing at them first? And is that what any of them wanted when they started out? To be a puppet for the industry's marketing agendas?

And what's with the culture of wanting to be "known for something" whether it's a skill, an art or a job - what's wrong with just being known as yourself, as a person who does a few things? And why are we putting the ones who send out the most extreme mixed messages on pedestals, combining 'Dress Like Pimps & Hoes Day' with sexual equality politics? I'm sure this year's Grammys was the first time Madonna has put the bottom half of her suit on in about thirty years. No wonder she needed a stick, the unfamiliar chafing must have been insurmountable... *wanders off topic*

I remember Ye Olden Days when you could draw a picture or play a little guitar for yourself and feel like you'd achieved something. Now you can go online and see any number of youngsters with more talent than you can conceive of.

62.2m views...

And the fact it's even there tells us that having talent of any kind is not that unusual. Not every talented child's parent is putting videos of them on Youtube. One of my brothers could find and change a spare wheel on a car aged six. That's a skill.

What is unusual is that a bunch of marketing experts and fashion sponsors exists with ways of convincing us it's so rare to have any talent whatsoever, the money and attention they suck up for it is justified. And they do this by only showing us the extremes next to one another on these talent shows.

Encourage your creative peers and your kids in their own right. Don't teach them that being the next double-standard, branded piece of merchandising is the future. Let them share what they want to share and find enthusiasm for it in ways they can appreciate as real people. Being creative is rewarding, but then so is doing a regular job that people respect you for. And that's without being asked to represent an entire sexual and political movement while being trolled by fake fan user accounts on social media.

Even big celebrities now want to get closer to these guys who are able to share their talents online with the world, or other passers-by discover them for us - the ones who just do something for fun, without a big management team taking 80-90% of their income. People doing what they love creatively, and others love them just for doing that...

The Darth Vader Unipiper is corralled onto TV, so they can check if he's really real...

I guess in summing up I just want to say, enjoy what you do creatively and artistically. Don't compare it to what the money industry, members-only club is doing. If you want to share, share. If you want to go out and perform in public, go for it. But do it for yourself first. Don't let the fun drain out of it in pursuit of what you imagine that other thing might turn out to be.

L xxxxx