Why do rainbows look sad?

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Zippy and George

Despite life in general being pretty good, depression is always just around the corner, waiting to piss on my bonfire. No matter how well things can seem on the outside, those suffering from anxiety and depression are always expecting bad news in the post. We know it’s coming, even if it isn’t. A rainbow is a beautiful thing, but it still looks like a sad face. Such is life.

On the flip side, there are of course situations which look worse than they are. I’m not a pessimist. I realise that being an optimist or a pessimist makes no difference to the outcome, but the optimist has a better time leading up to it. So despite suffering chronic (as in, life-affecting) depression, I do tend to look on the bright side. But the dark dog is always skulking in the woods somewhere: One of many ways I describe the perpetual anxiety I have. It’s subjective, it’s as unique as the individual, and others would describe it all differently. We’d all describe it as “a bit shit” but I try as a writer to convey more than that generalisation (true though it is).

Of course, it’s always nice and life-affirming, when something which initially doesn’t look good, turns out to be okay: A bit like someone offering a plate of Russian Roulette sandwiches, where all look the same, but some are filled with Nutella and others with shit. That’s kind of what happened this week, when a lady I know from the council knocked on my door. She’s a very nice lady and part of the team who housed me at my studio when I became vulnerable. My landlord is that rare angel who works with the local authority to offer homes to benefits tenants. As I’ve said before, my studio as a flat is pretty “unusual”, being very small (a bedsit with a separate small kitchen) and with an off-suite toilet and shower room (for my exclusive use). But as an office, it’s feckin’ ace. And seeing as my work is also my life, that’s how come this small living space / cool workspace became known as Le Studio Chez Moi: It fits me and vice versa. The point is, it’s not the kind of place which private renters will be falling over themselves to occupy, even though it’s in a quiet location in a peaceful village. So my landlord rents out the lower end of their portfolio to people like me, who are grateful of somewhere to live. Something I’ve always lacked though, through many years of renting, is a sense of permanence. This is not to be confused with a sense of entitlement, which is something I lack. But for my own personal well being, a permanent home has always been my wish.

When I moved to the studio 15 months ago, I was put on a one year tenancy agreement and the council raised a bond to cover my deposit. At the time, I was told that my landlord may grant a longer tenancy at the end of a first year, depending on how that year went. I’m a good tenant and the first year was without incident. So when that lady from the council turned up at my door, brandishing a manilla C5 window envelope with my name and address peering out, my heart sank (what was I saying about being an optimist or a pessimist?). As it turned out, my deposit bond has been renewed and I’ve been granted a rolling tenancy: It’s the nearest I will ever get to having a permanent home. Council tenancies for life are a thing of the past, but what I have now is the nearest modern equivalent. So that envelope, that potential shit sandwich, turned out to be one filled with chocolate spread, which was nice.

I’ve said before that I don’t want to politicise this blog, and that’s still true. But beliefs are part of what makes the person, so I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m a Labour voter. My day-to-day observations on politics and everything else in the world are on my public Facebook timeline, but I will say a little about recent political events:

I voted Labour and I’m pleased that at least the Tories didn’t get an overall majority. The next few weeks will see more disruption, with coalitions and co-operatives formed. It’s all too complicated to call at the moment but in modernising politics, coalitions will play a part. I don’t see Labour forming a coalition (although I think they should with the Liberal Democrats) but Nicola Sturgeon has said that the SNP will work with any progressive parliamentary party. Progressive is what politics is finally becoming, and that’s a good thing.

Even unilaterally, Labour have a voice in parliament now, which will throw a spanner in the works of Kim-Jong May. The Imperial Dictator called the general election egotistically. She assumed (wrongly) that she would win a landslide majority, giving her the green light to steamroller through her hard Brexit, unchallenged. Under this “no plan” of hers, she was seeking to make the UK an annexe of Trump’s US, with cheap labour (no minimum wage), which could be exploited by employers who’d get tax breaks for investing in UK PLC. Either that, or she called the general election because she was shit scared of Brexit. Both have been equally divisive. Whatever happens next, in the short term at least, I predict increased civil unrest, as the far-right get more marginalised. And May has shot herself in the foot, just like her predecessor.

Social media is a minefield in times like these, with fake news spread by the ignorant. Some of the levels of ignorance I’ve seen have been frankly mind-boggling. I’m talking about those who thought Brexit meant “Immigrants out!” and “Muslims out!”: Fascists, who are probably low-earners and who should naturally vote Labour, but who vote Tory because they think Kim-Jong May will goose step all “Immigrants” out of the country, like some pied piper of the apocolypse. It’s hilarious that most of these people wouldn’t even be allowed entry into some “Pure Aryan race”, when one of the prerequisites for such a twisted fantasy would surely be a high level of intelligence. These are the people who wake up in the morning, see a couple of milk bottles on the doorstep and wonder how they got there. Now there’s a pint I’d like to spill.

So, two weeks ago on Facebook, I predicted a hung parliament. Just over a week ago on this blog, I noted that I sensed an uprising and a lifting of the veil: I stand by that and I’ll watch what happens next with great interest.

Away from political punditry, my next novel is almost complete. In terms of publishing, that means I’m about half way through the whole process. Cyrus Song itself is 90% complete: I wrote the ending a long time ago, and the narrative is now approaching that finale. If I pull off the two “Easter Eggs” I’m planning with the word and page counts, there’s about 10,000 words to go. And that’s a book, written. In first draft. At the end of this month, the manuscript goes out to beta readers, all of whom have signed non-disclosure agreements. I’m hoping I’ll get their feedback by the end of July and in the interim, I’ll be poring over my own copy of the manuscript and tidying it up for the second draft. Then there’s editing and checking spelling, punctuation, grammar, tenses, perspectives, continuity etc. After that, the actual book can be compiled and indexed, then there’s acknowledgements, references and a load of other stuff to write before it’s finally ready for publishing. Barring events which even the finest heirophants couldn’t predict, Christmas is probably now at the far end of my publication window. At the moment, I’m aiming for October. 

So it’s all good. But up above the streets and houses, a rainbow still looks like a sad face.

A writer in a residence

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Writer not in residence

Without wishing to tempt fate, or count the eggs which the horse laid before it bolted and I found out where the stable door was, I may have cause to relax just a little bit. All the clues point to my landlady giving me a rolling tenancy, without actually telling me.

Apparently this is par for the course, according to the other two benefits tenants who live in this little hut perched atop a coffee shop. Like me, they came here on an initial one year tenancy and it was never renewed. Which may not seem like great comfort but it’s the most secure I’ve been in a long time.

Three years of varying degrees of homelessness meant that I became quite knowledgeable in a few areas, including squatters’ rights and latterly, those of tenants. We squatted only in abandoned commercial premises and never forced entry. Since then, I’ve had a tenancy agreement and the limited rights which one of those represents. Even without a tenancy agreement, a sitting tenant is entitled to two months’ notice to vacate a property, under the terms of a Section 21 eviction notice, and the latter is a legal requirement of the property owner.

I’ve been at my studio for almost a year now and a Section 21 notice to evict me at the end of my current one year tenancy would therefore have been required almost two months ago. There wasn’t one, and I’ve received a notice from the council about ongoing housing benefit payments being made directly to my landlady. So apart from an actual tenancy agreement, I feel quite secure. In law, I retain the right to two months’ notice, and a tenancy agreement doesn’t give any extra rights. But the key was in speaking to my neighbours, neither of whom have a paper contract but who have both been here for several years on rolling tenancies. Given that the council have confirmed they’ll continue to pay my rent, I have to assume that I have a rolling contract too.

Renting is never secure, as it will always lack the permanence I crave, but this is the next best thing: A rolling tenancy with a council landlady.

The studio is small: It’s a living room barely twelve feet square, with a small kitchen. The toilet and shower are off-suite but for my exclusive use. As I’ve said before, as a flat, it’s not the best; As an office, it’s fantastic. And seeing as writing is my life, I treat the studio as an office which I also relax and sleep in. I’m unlikely to ever make a living from my writing and I’m too ill to work, but writing gives me purpose and it’s therapy. I call it my job, because it’s what gives me and others satisfaction. Whatever it is, when anyone asks me what I do, I am qualified to answer that I’m a writer. It took a long time to be able to say that with confidence. My landlady simply squeezed an extra flat in where others might not; The kind of place which might only be taken by the needy and unfussy. Well, there was a place with a me-shaped hole in it.

And despite its shortcomings, I love my little studio. The flat and the strange little building it’s in with three others is quirky. The end wall on the outside is apparently a rare example of a mill wall, where sacks of flour made from corn were thrown from a first floor door, opening onto thin air, so that they could be dropped into waiting horse carts in the yard below. The door is still there, fifteen feet up, and the wall itself is Grade I listed. The flats sit on top of a coffee shop in the village high street, which is quite a poetic thing for a writer. It’s quiet. It’s very quiet around here, in the studio, in the mews, which is in the yard, tucked behind the village centre. It’s ideal for me. It’s small, but I don’t need any more. I’m paid a basic state income on account of my depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, OCD and many times PTSD. That security has allowed me to improve myself and give something back.

Of course, that’s part of the whole Universal Basic Income (UBI) model, now being trialled in Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the Netherlands, among others. While it may be some way off in the UK as a whole, it’s something being studied and which I’m a great advocate of, not just because it would suit me, but many others and much more as well. The argument for a UBI is gaining traction, thanks in part to such visionary advocates as Elon Musk, and the author, Rutger Bregman, whose latest book was the subject of a feature in this weekend’s Observer:

As liberal democracy seems to be crumbling under the weight of widespread despondency, some hardline opinions are in danger of becoming received wisdoms. In the global market, we are told, we must work harder and improve productivity. The welfare state has become too large and we need to cut back on benefits. Immigration is out of control and borders need to be strengthened.

The choice seems to be either to accept this new paradigm or risk the likes of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders gaining power. The centre ground is being dragged to the left and right, and collapsing down the middle. Meanwhile progressive politics has returned to its comfort zone, busily opposing everything and offering almost nothing. Where is the vision, the ambition, the belief?

Yet into this bleak picture drops a book and an author bristling with hope, optimism and answers. Rutger Bregman is a 28-year-old Dutchman whose book, Utopia for Realists, has taken Holland by storm and could yet revitalise progressive thought around the globe…

“I’ve heard for years that my ideas are unrealistic. You want to stick to the status quo? How’s that working out?”
Rutger Bregman

The full article is here.

It’s a facsimile of this model which has allowed me to publish three books, which are now being enjoyed by others, because they’ve told me so. And although I lack some written proof regarding my tenancy, other correspondence and all of the available evidence allows me to conclude that in this instance, no news really is good news. I’m a writer in residence, with the current residence being the most secure that someone in my situation can expect, and the most security I’ve had for the last six years, following that knifepoint robbery in Lewisham which triggered everything which lay beneath, prompting my fall into the gutter and subsequent recovery.

With three books published, I’m now able to relax and concentrate on the next ones: a sci-fi space opera, and a second volume of short stories. I’ve already finished the first for the latter, and I’ve gone back to my slush pile, which contains many unfinished works.

The bubble could burst at any moment. This won’t cure my anxiety, but tonight, I may allow myself a small celebration, with a pizza. Because it was a man from Iceland who used to say, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.”

I, am a product…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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The story of Crass and David King

…I am a symbol of endless, hopeless, fruitless, aimless games.

I am aware, through bitter experience, that the benefits system is a filtering mechanism by design. Having taken my claims to tribunal twice now to prove my mental disability, I have gone where few have the resources and stamina to go. As with most claimants who persevere to that stage, my appeal was successful. But it’s a dehumanising process.

At the moment, I qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Severe Disability Payment. Yet still the Department for Work and Pensions seem intent on making life as difficult as possible sometimes. It deadens the spirit and devalues the person.

I’m going through the same process as I did two years ago and, like then, I’ve won recognition of entitlement and am now battling to receive the funds due to me. I can see why so many claimants simply don’t (or can’t) go through the whole process because it is enough to make one ill. The irony is, that seems to be the intention and my successful appeal feels a somewhat pyrrhic victory.

This latest battle is just drawing to a close and my benefits will be back paid to my original claim date. In the interim though, my benefits have been sanctioned and although I’ve managed on my own, I can see how others with more responsibilities and dependants might not. It is a system which I would rather not be a slave to but upon which I am reliant, because I have quite serious mental health issues preventing me from doing any kind of work.

The fact that I’m a writer is a fortunate coincidence and one which I’m begrudgingly grateful to the system for allowing me to do. It has been recognised that I am unfit for work but that writing is therapeutic for me. Furthermore, I am permitted to work and be paid within certain parameters. Being a self-employed freelance writer, working from home, fits into all of those guidelines.

As I’ve mentioned more than once, the pay for freelance work is poor but it’s a means to an end for me. Writing for others allows me to divide my writing day into paid freelance work and my own work, which I hope will pay one day. Until then, my benefits keep things topped up and allow me to live.

With writing going so well on all fronts, I’m fairly up-beat but when you live on what can seem like the whims of others, the anxiety never goes away. That dark stalker is always there.

I have a list of conditions: They are my mental illnesses and factors which a tribunal panel agreed as being severe enough to entitle me to disability allowances. Alcohol dependence, depression and PTSD (on several accounts) are all listed, but at the top of the list is anxiety. Just as it’s always there, every day, it will always be there. It’s only smoking cannabis which lessens my anxiety and allows me to function.

Without marijuana, I simply can’t relax. Having had a smoke though, I can happily immerse myself into some writing, reading, watching TV or a movie. I am at my most relaxed, yet stimulated, when I have smoked some weed. I’m also more creative.

Cannabis, in fact, enhances my depression; which may sound slightly counter-productive. But my depression, in common with many others’, does have a manic element. I am on the Bi-polar spectrum: I’m not schizophrenic but I have a personality disorder: It’s one of mood swings and different personalities; It’s manic depression. So cannabis can mean that I get more down but it also increases the pleasure of the times when I’m up. It is simply a magnifier of my illness.

My illness is one I’m at ease with, because it is the reason I’m so inquisitive and imaginative. It’s my mental health which guided me to becoming a writer. It is my friend and ally, even though it can be my nemesis. When I’m suffering internal conflict because of my wonky brain, I always remind myself of the documentary which Stephen Fry made, about his own Manic Depression. In the end it comes down to the metaphorical big red button: If I could press a button and simply switch off my mental health issues once and for all; and that would make me normal, with no depression nor manic periods. If I could press that button, would I? Just like Stephen Fry, I would answer “No”.

I won’t stop smoking weed either.

So, I’m one of those you read about in the red-top tabloids: A person on benefits who has a drinking and smoking habit. Hopefully this blog serves to educate, not just about my situation but those of others.

I, have mental health issues. I, benefit claimant and writer. I, Guardian reader and liberal. I am an atheist, anarchist, restless spirit.

I, am a slave to the system: I, robot.

I, human.

I am an example. I’m no hero of the great, intelligent, magnificent human race.
I’m part of the race that kills for possessions
Part of the race that’s wiping itself out.
I’m part of the race that’s got crazy obsessions
Like locking people up, not letting them out.”

(Crass, End Result).

Books in bags, bags in books

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Having completed a few individual writing projects as a freelancer, I’ve gained a new regular client. I feel much more justified calling myself a professional writer now that it’s not just selling my own stuff. But I do sell myself, baggage included: Baggage full of books.

The pay is poor in a very competitive marketplace but as a freelancer, I can choose the projects which most interest me, and it all goes to building my writer profile on the out-sourcing agency sites.

I’ve found my feet quite naturally as an active freelance writer because it really just boils down to simple business acumen. I’ve run businesses, I hated them and I fucked them up with my drinking. Now that I’m effectively able to run myself as a sole trader, I can think of that as a separate entity. With a brain as fragmented as mine, it’s easiest to just separate the parts.

So in the last few weeks, when I’ve been a little unsure of where my life was, I’ve cracked it. I’ve won battles, mainly with myself, or the various parts of me in conflict. Whereas with previous ventures I had partners, this one I’ve had to do alone, as a team. I’ve achieved my current position by dividing myself up: The pseudonym who writes the work I publish under my own name, and the freelance work I do for clients, where I’m just a ghost.

Then there’s the third person: The one who manages it all. And I’ve found that to be the real me. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written profiles of the writer; I’ve made changes to my website, my social media pages and how it all links up; I’ve arranged everything on my laptop in the same way I would a small business.

I’ve produced an entity, which is what a business is. I’m marketing and selling that writer, gaining work, referrals and all the things I hated when I had a limited company. But this is just me (as a team).

Of course, all of this doesn’t necessarily fit with the professional profile which I try to convey with my writer entity in other media. But that entity is me, however fragmented. I firmly believe that people buy from people and if clients wish to hire me, they get all the luggage. This game is about personal relationships anyway. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so it’s a job which suits me. And this is my blog after all; My personal diary; My sounding board, when I have no-one but myself and my readers around. If my frankness motivates anyone, that’s a bonus.

Right now, I have some articles to write for freelance clients. One is about learning Spanish through Spanish music. Another is a blog entry for a romance author: I love the variety. And it pays.

Later, my pseudonym will continue to write the next short story to be published under my name, provisionally entitled “The box we made”:

Life had been very much a game of give and take: If George had taken something, then he was indebted to someone else. If he received something and it wasn’t in recognition of anything he’d done, he was in somebody’s debt. When he gave something, he expected nothing back…

The third person in the strange trinity which makes up me, is me. I won my benefits appeal today. A Pyrrhic victory perhaps but recognition of my brand of depression as a disability, after a long battle. The tribunal panel were aware of me being a writer because I’d have a pretty tough time keeping it a secret with the online presence I’ve built. I have permitted levels of earnings whilst in receipt of benefits and my writing is recognised for the therapy which it provides.

Writing is in my heart. It has been said by a sub-editor of a publishing company that I write from the heart; That I have an incredible authorial voice. And that’s what’s made me what I am. Whether I’m any good is subjective but the proof of what I’ve done is the public image.

All in all, I’m back in charge of my life because I know where it’s going: I’m a writer getting paid, partly through state finance to manage my mental illness in the most cost-effective way: Self-therapy.

I’m a writer, a copywriter and a ghostwriter. My work is being praised by private clients and I’m only able to write in the way I do because I’m me; baggage and all.

Books full of baggage; Writing which carries weight.