THE WRITER’S LIFE
I appeared to have a day off earlier. That is to say, I looked around this morning and this appeared to be a good day to take off. As such, I should be relaxed. But no matter how good everything is, that fucking black dog is always there. It’s somewhere, though I can’t see it.
This isn’t the black dog once used as a metaphor for depression: I’ve got that one on a lead and walking to heel. This is the anxiety hound. Ever since anxiety was placed at the top of my list of mental health problems, it’s the one that’s been hounding me.
Things could hardly be better: Benefits and freelance money have started to come in; I’ve bought a few gadgets for the writing desk; and I’ve pimped the typewriter, so it looks cooler and more mine. The fridge, freezer and cupboards are stocked; I’ve got a ready supply of alcohol, tobacco and weed; I’ve added to both my music and DVD collections.
On the music front, I’ve added the back catalogues of Bat For Lashes and Charlotte Hatherley (ex-guitarist with Ash). With a music collection running to the many hundreds of titles and with eclectic tastes, it’s rare that I’ll leave an album on loop all day but Grey Will Fade by Charlotte Hatherley is one such disc.
Film wise, I’ve completed the Savage Cinema collection, as defined by the most authoritative lists. There were three titles missing from my collection, by virtue of them being unobtainable through price (one would have set me back £395) and being banned. I’ve found a workaround though and now Begotten, Aftermath (Genesis) and The Titicut Follies complete the “100 most disturbing movies of all time” collection and about 400 others. Unlike their 97 stable mates, I couldn’t get originals with cover art but better to have them and to complete the collection than not.
The latter title is an out-of-print documentary by Frederick Wiseman, exposing the mistreatment of inmates inside the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater. As my journalistic output through freelance work has increased, I’ve taken a greater interest in a number of things and begun to expand the Savage Cinema with a non-fiction section. It’s small at the moment but it already includes some important films by John Pilger, Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer.
Films like Into the Abyss, by Herzog and The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer) are not pleasurable viewing but they are brave films by some of the more maverick film makers. Into the Abyss is a series of conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime; an examination of why people – and the state – kill. The Act of Killing is a documentary which challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to re-enact their mass killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. These are very powerful films.
Why do I watch documentaries like these? Why would I want to collect them? Because, just like the Top 100 “Nasties”, these are important and affecting films. I want to be affected by what I see and hear and the films I collect are effective in achieving that. I like to explore and learn about things, however troubling that knowledge may be. It means that I’m informed, not blinkered, and can pursue subjects and causes in an educated manner. The democratisation of media and blogging means that I have an instant publishing medium with a global audience, to talk about things.
The move into documentaries was prompted by freelance writing and it’s feeding me with ideas for fiction writing, so life is self-perpetuating.
And it’s not my consumption of controversial films which feeds my anxiety. In fact, the documentaries such as those above make me appreciate how lucky I am, when I consider the cruelty which mankind is capable of inflicting on his own kind. For me, life is comfortable.
The day off didn’t really work out in the end: A freelance client has asked me to write some copy and it looks interesting, so I’ve taken it on. I’ve written this of course. Later, I’ll probably do some writing. In that respect, I never want to take a day off. I just wish some days themselves weren’t off.
Yes, the anxiety can be crippling, but there are many worse places to be.