EEP 2020

eep

The latest book sent to me by The Phoenix Presents is the second installment in one of my favourite franchises, Evil Emperor Penguin. I reviewed the first edition of EEP a while back, when the world was a very different place. Now, of course, things have changed, and it seems that we’re living in the age of the Penguin. A ridiculous, over-the-top, caricaturish, hair-trigger villain fond of expensive and impractical evil schemes, even Donald Trump would admit that EEP would make a serious political rival.

In fact, this latest collection of EEP’s adventures suggests that this black-and-white bird would make a far better leader of the free world than certain orange clowns. Based on the evidence found in what I shall henceforth (or maybe just this once) refer to as The Rainbow Dossier, I shall put forward my argument as to why Evil Emperor Penguin should be the world’s Villain-in-Chief.

 

EEP surrounds himself with compassionate and competent advisers

EEP’s staff includes Mister 8, a hyperintelligent octopus, and Eugene, a tiny yeti with a heart of gold. Together, they keep the lair running efficiently despite EEP’s outbursts, and mitigate the fallout of any evil plans. No alternative facts or links with racist groups can be found in EEP’s cabinet – instead, his administration is far more concerned with spaghetti hoops and making the perfect cup of tea.

 

EEP’s plans are more fiscally and morally responsible

While he’s never considered building an incredibly expensive invisible wall, EEP is no stranger to a supervillainous scheme. In The Rainbow Dossier, we see evidence of plots to trap all of the world’s leaders inside paintings, candles that give off ‘essence of evil’, and plans for a Yugenator – I’m sorry, a Hugenator designed to blow a person (or penguin) up to giant proportions. (Let’s keep quiet about that last one).

These devices may seem unlikely, but EEP proves time and again that he has the resources and yetipower to deliver on his promises. What’s more, these particular evil schemes always have a (to be fair, unexpected) positive impact on the world, and they never target vulnerable and marginalised groups in a way highly reminiscent of genocidal dictators. Score two for EEP!

 

EEP is, when he’s forced to be, a pretty good boss

One of the major story arcs in EEP Volume 2 involves Eugene going missing. It takes quite a while for EEP to care, and he’s grumpy throughout the search – but he carries out said search personally, and doesn’t stop until he finds his favourite henchman. EEP shows a hands-on approach and a personal level of interest in the wellbeing of his staff that you don’t see in many real-world villains.

 

 

I think the evidence is clear – Evil Emperor Penguin may be an angry, ridiculous incompetent, but he’s the kind of angry ridiculous incompetent that the world actually needs. If he ever decides to gain power through (slightly) more traditional means, he’ll get my vote.

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Sticking Plasters

Beating – or at least, learning to manage – depression and anxiety is a long-haul thing. There are many good treatments, like medication or therapy, but because mental illness is different for everyone who experiences it, finding the right combination and levels can be difficult – and even then, these treatments can take a long time to work, and their effects aren’t always consistent.

Sometimes the long-term, permanent measures aren’t going to help in a given situation, and you need short-term measures instead. It’s easy to reach for short-term measures that, in the long run, aren’t helpful at all – drinking when you’re anxious, for example. I’m trying to put together some short-term measures for dealing with depression and anxiety that aren’t harmful – things that can act like sticking plasters over the scratches and grazes of bad mental health, that will protect you until you get to a point where you can treat them properly. Here are some of mine:

 

Rescue Music

I have a few songs that are my go-tos when my mood starts to dip. For depression, it’s Mr Blue Sky by ELO, because it’s one of the happiest damn things I’ve ever heard. For anxiety, it’s Uptown Funk, because that’s like an injection of 100%-proof confidence straight into your veins – you literally cannot feel shy or inadequate when that’s booming through your head.

 

Soothing Smells

It’s a pretty obvious remedy, but sometimes the old ones are the best. I always have a scented candle on the go (lavender, vanilla, and Christmas spice are amazingly calming), and I’ve also got some face washes that not only smell wonderful, but make my skin feel awesome too. Nice smells won’t fix a problem, but they’re incredibly comforting.

 

Cute Animals

Looking at pictures of tiny babby animals may not cure depression, but it can be a distraction, and bring up some positive feelings where you thought none would ever be again (just like a nice smell, or a soft blanket). Here are two of my favourite places to go – Hourly Kitten and We Rate Dogs.

 

Good Entertainment

And on the subject of distraction – never underestimate the power of a good TV or book binge. When my depression was really severe, I used to mainline comedy shows, because they gave me something to focus on outside the flat heaviness in my brain – and because even a half-hearted laugh felt like a step in the right direction. Sometimes you just aren’t up to doing anything besides sitting, and being alone at home with a box set or every single Harry Potter book isn’t going to damage your health in the long term.

 

All of these sound trite, but like I said, they’re not supposed to be cures – just little things that lift the gloom or the pressure slightly, because sometimes that slightly is enough. If any of you have sticking plasters of your own that you’d like to share, the comments are open.

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Resist

This blog may be short, and not particularly coherent, because, like many people, I’m feeling overwhelmed at the endless, endless, endless shit we’re seeing every day. (Oh hey, here’s something else I saw literally two minutes after I posted this blog!) But that’s kind of the point. The blows keep coming, and if we keep reeling at them, we stay on the back foot instead of blocking and striking back.

I can’t believe how quickly it’s happened, but, the way things look at the moment, we’ve hurtled past proto-fascism and are heading towards the Maggot Moon with no chance of slowing down – unless the people who’ve been acting keep acting, and the people who haven’t join them in any way we can.

For those of us with multiple privileges who know that we won’t be quite so badly hurt by all this, at least not at first, it’s tempting to step back, close our eyes, get on with life almost as we know it and pretend that it’ll be all right in the end. But we can’t. We need to resist, support the people who are already in the firing lines, otherwise that end will come a lot quicker than we think.

Here are a couple of things I’ve found recently that are helping me work out how to begin to play my part – to plant my feet and get my stance right, to extend a metaphor. The first is actionnow, an invaluable mailing list that gives daily advice on ways to resist, big and small. Run by @mikkipedia, it gave me one piece of advice in particular that I’ll be sticking to, which is, find three things to do: one you can lead on, one you can follow on, and one you can make a habit of. For the first, I’m writing; for the second, I’m volunteering; and for the third, I’m donating and signal-boosting whenever I can.

The second is this article, which brilliantly outlines ways to resist without burning out (and we really need to not burn out, because this fight isn’t a skirmish, it’s going to be a long struggle).

The world at the moment is terrifying, and the idea of challenging it seems even more so – but we have to, because no-one else will. For all the treating-life-like-stories I do on this blog, I know, with sadness in my heart, that no hero is coming to save us – we have to save ourselves. Blackamazon (who you should all be following, by the way) put it best.

Stay strong, everyone, and have each others’ backs. We can do this.

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The Granny Weatherwax Award for Awesomely Written Women #1

While 2016 was a great year for me on a personal level, it’s been a horrible year world- and society-wide. When times have been bad, frightening, or all-out facepalm-inducing, I’ve found myself turning even more frequently to good stories about fighting baddies and resisting evil. Now it’s 2017, and we’re in a period of history where we need those good stories, and good representation of marginalised characters in stories, more than ever. Stories have immense power, and good representation in fiction can go a very long way to combating lazy stereotyping in the tabloids and demonisation in political rhetoric (and vice versa).

I’ve spent a lot of the Christmas period thinking about these good characters, good stories and good reps, and this led me to make up a silly-fun-but-also-pretty-serious award, which I’m calling the Granny Weatherwax Award for Awesomely Written Women (or GWAAWW for short. And yes, that is pronounced like an angry dinosaur charging). The criteria for this award are as follows:

  1. The woman can be a strong female character – as in strongly-written, strongly-characterised, with a strong and memorable impact on the reader. She must, however, not be a Strong Female Character.
  2. She can be good, or right, or kind, or a combination of all three – but she must not be “nice”. (For a bit of background on Granny Weatherwax and “niceness”, read The Sea and Little Fishes)
  3. She can be a character you might like if you hung around with her, but she should not be “likeable“. Instead, she should be interesting, compelling, and engaging.
  4. She can be from any example of fiction – novels, comics, TV, film, podcasts, anything.

The winner of this inaugural GWAAWW is probably very predictable if you know what I’ve been binge-watching lately, and I am proud to announce that the award goes to (insert drumroll here):

carol-walking-dead

Carol from the TV version of The Walking Dead.

(spoilers below, for anyone who started watching this show even later than I did)

Carol starts out as a frightened, abused woman who is barely visible in her terrible husband’s shadow, but she has the greatest development of any character in the show, becoming one of the most competent, decisive, and downright badass figures in TWD’s dystopian world. She’s a woman who can fight, at one point single-handedly rescuing the group from a townful of cannibals, but she defies the Strong Female Character stereotype in so many ways – by carrying on caring, by using her femininity as a weapon, and even by choosing not to fight. Carol also defies “niceness” and “likeability” – she suffers fools not at all, and greets any threat to her group with steel, both metaphorically and literally. (And I would still happily hang out with her, talk tactics and eat cookies). It’s also wonderful to have a story where a grey-haired, middle-aged woman has such a significant role, and is treated with such respect by the people around her – shamefully, this isn’t something that happens often.

Carol was one of the factors that made me carry on watching The Walking Dead, which, let’s admit it, started out with some truly dreadful representations of women (it’s got a lot better, both with Carol’s development and the arrival of characters such as Sasha, Tara and Michonne). She shows that women can be spiky, angry, deadpan, can make the tough decisions and occasionally the wrong decisions, and don’t have to be soft, sweet and nice to deserve attention and respect. Most importantly, she shows that women aren’t there to complement the men around them, but are significant in their own right. I can’t wait to see how her current storyline develops – and if the world goes to hell in 2017, the first thing I’m going to ask myself is ‘What Would Carol Do?’

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Sad Vampires Revisited

Facebook reminded me that it’s the four-year anniversary of my trip to see Breaking Dawn Part 2 (it was for uni research, leave me alone). I wrote a commentary that still makes me giggle to this day, so I share it here for your entertainment.

On the afternoon of 19th December 2012, Ally Nuttall went to see Breaking Dawn Part 2. Several hours later, this notebook was found.

– I’m in the tiniest cinema I’ve ever seen, and I’m the oldest person in the room by about ten years. I feel like I’m supervising a really non-educational school trip.
– Ominous blood-red mist! Bet this is the closest we’ll see to blood in the film.
– Ooh, Lee Pace (mentioned in the credits)! Oh Lee Pace, why are you in a Twilight film?
– First thing Bella looks at – Edward’s crotch. Did I really need to see that?
– Oh Kristen Stewart, you are not a remotely scary vampire.
– Kept the line about Jacob smelling bad. Why am I not surprised?
– ARGH THE CGI BABY! THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
-Alice seems to have had even more coffee than usual…
– And another sexless scene. This is just as bad as part 1.
– This is less erotic than a Herbal Essences advert.
– Charlie SPLITS LOGS because that’s what men do when they think their daughters are dead!
– Showing this scene is just an excuse to show Taylor Launtner with his clothes off. (I shouldn’t be surprised about that by this point).
– They all seem far too cheery about the fact that she might kill her dad…Also, why did they need the whole Jacob reveal bit when she looks no different to how she did human?
– Where’s Renee during all this? Worst mother ever.
– Don’t call Renesmee your “niece and daughter”, Edward, that’s fucking creepy.
– The sparkling just makes her look like she has a terrible skin condition.
– Oh good, CGI baby has been replaced by random child actress.
– Do the Volturi ever stop posing?
– Have they slapped a load of CGI on the child actress? Her face doesn’t look real.
– Oh, here come the horrifically racist stereotype vampires – shrieking, dressed in skins, animal mannerisms. FFS, it’s the 21st century.
– Is that Lee Pace as Garrett? Yes, it is. Well, at least he’s good-looking.
– Tiny, TINY children as werewolves. Totally cool to make them fight thousand-year-old vampires for the sake of two boring prats and their kid.
– Vladimir and Stefan…what is this I don’t even…
– Alec, who kills people with CGI. (Bet Renesmee is immune!)
– No! Not more awkward sex!
– Poor Leah doesn’t even get face time in this film…
– Shut up about the War of Independence, Garrett…is that the only thing you did in your hundreds of years as a vampire? I’m not even all that patriotic and you’re pissing me off.
– Aro, what the fuck are you wearing? And what the FUCK kind of noise was that?
– I’m sure you shouldn’t be making that kind of face at a child, Aro.
– This fight scene would probably be awesome if I didn’t know the “clever twist”.
– And everybody dies! Okay, this fight scene IS awesome. Genuinely had to stop myself laughing when the heads started coming off.
– Stephenie Meyer must’ve HATED this scene! Too chicken to kill your characters off, Meyer? WE’RE NOT!
– This fight has made up for the entire rest of the series, it’s like someone’s found the most epic way to troll the fans. I love it.
– And “what a twist”! It was all a vision. All the teens are giggling in relief. This is still cheating, screenwriter.
– And it’s smooches ever after, apparently.

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To the man who street harassed me today

You’re brave. So very, very brave. It must have taken a lot of courage to shout at a person walking alone while you were surrounded by your snickering friends, but you plucked up every scrap of courage and did it anyway.  It was especially ballsy, the way you waited until I was so far past you that you could pretty much guarantee I wasn’t going to turn around, come back, and confront you about what you said. Ballads will be written about you, I’m sure. Little children will hold you up alongside Robin Hood and King Arthur as a legendary hero.

You’re clever. Witty as Oscar Wilde, sir, and far more original. Mocking the way I walk, with a sprinkling of fatphobia thrown in to spice up the mix? It was a stroke of genius that would have made George Bernard Shaw weep into his beard. I’ve never heard incisive witticisms like yours before, except from pre-pubescent bullies at every single school. With material like that, you should try a career in comedy. I’m sure the crowds would eat you up.

You’re a true hero. Us women are getting so unreasonable these days, aren’t we? With our ‘being in public’ and our ‘doing things for ourselves’. Without men like you, who single us out, and smash our confidence wherever you see it, and remind us that we’re only allowed to be in the world on your terms, where would we be?

You’re confident. I only saw you for a few moments, but I can tell just how confident and happy in yourself that you must be. Only a truly content man would need to show off for his friends by tearing a stranger down. Only someone with great self-esteem would have such a burning need for attention and approval. Only someone who was totally okay with themselves, the way they look and the life they live, would want to direct people’s malice at someone else. If only we could all be as self-assured as you!

You’re a real winner, and certainly the real winner here. Because I spent a short while feeling like I’d been kicked in the gut, and then I took my anger and my sadness and put it into working, writing, creating. I poured time and feeling into my novel. I applied for a job that would be perfect – and that I could do extremely well. I faced up to the demons you summoned, and I slashed them into pieces. But, you know, you made a woman turn her head and stare at you, puzzled, for a single moment, so I think we all know who won.

To the man who street harassed me today: remember my strange gait and my fat arse, because you’ll never see either of them again. I’ll always be too far ahead of you for you to ever catch up.

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PMT and Me

Update: I ended up having a really good and positive chat with the team behind the image described in this blog – thank you to Clue for listening.

 

 

Hi, my name’s Alice, and I’m currently deep in the throes of PMT.

I don’t say this simply as part of my usual oversharing – it’s actually a very timely occurrence. This morning, I saw a link to this study about ‘positive premenstrual syndromes’, and have been mulling it over – with a scowl and quite a few mutterings – ever since.

I have Thoughts about this study – or rather, about the posting and phrasing. The study itself sounds promising – I’m all in favour of demystifying periods and PMT, dismantling stereotypes around them, and tackling the taboos that make people (cis men in particular) go “Ewwww that’s gross! (But also it’s not a big deal and you’re all just faking).” But, to my mind, there’s a lot in the wording, and particularly the image, that needs unpacking.

I will freely admit that a lot of my reaction here is due to personal bias. My body has been playing a long and painful game of Gynae Issues Bingo with me since I was twelve years old, and as a result, I don’t have any positive associations with any aspect of my menstrual cycle whatsoever. My uterus is an unwanted stranger squatting in my body who periodically (hah) likes to indulge in a bit of physical and emotional torture. I’m never going to use it for anything, and it’s taking up space that could instead be occupied by…I don’t know, an entirely new organ that lets me perceive multiple timelines at once. Or a small internal air-conditioner that stops me getting too hot in summer. Or just empty space. Something more useful and pleasant than the current tenant.

Based on this, it’s not a surprise that when I first saw the image from the study, I mentally ran down the ‘Negative Symptoms’ column and put a big fat tick next to every single one.

01

Seriously, I was like the aliens from Sesame Street:

yep

Being a curious little Martian, I was interested to see what kind of positive premenstrual symptoms people experienced, because in my eighteen years of sporadic bleeding, I’ve never had (or heard of) a single one. The closest I can think of is that, in the week leading up to my period, my sense of smell and taste gets more acute – which is kind of cool and makes me feel like I have superpowers, but is also annoying because it comes with an aversion to some of my favourite, staple foods, like salad. None of my friends or relatives who menstruate have ever mentioned anything good about the whole PMT lark. But just because I’ve never heard of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, right?

So, I looked at the list of positive symptoms.

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I had two main reactions to this, and I’m going to deal with the less-irritated one first. If anyone out there gets more energy and motivation, and feels more efficient and in control, when they’re up to their eyeballs in pre-menstrual hormones, I would genuinely love to know about it (the comments section is open if anyone’s happy to share their story). When I have PMT, my focus is so poor that I can barely work out questions like “Why did I come to the stationery cupboard?” (answer: to get stationery), and the only thing I’m motivated to do is curl up on my bed and binge-watch whatever TV show I’m on at that particular moment. I’m so far away from relaxed that my fists are near-permanently clenched, and my energy levels are non-existent. So, if anyone turns into the enhanced individual described above, I’m deeply envious of you and I also kind of want to know your exact hormone levels throughout the month and attempt to replicate them.

Now for the second reaction. Two of these things are not like the others. Can you spot them?

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There they are. Two of the ‘most frequent positive symptoms’ of PMT are, apparently, ‘younger facial appearance’ and ‘more attractive breasts’.

What’s wrong with this? Oh, so very much.

First of all; attractiveness is completely subjective. Look at the way beauty standards have changed over time, and how they differ from culture to culture. Think about all the different things that you and people you know find attractive or unattractive (if you experience sexual and romantic attraction, which not everybody does). So what does this study mean by attractive breasts?

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The answer, apparently, is “bigger”. Which plays into the most basic tropes of white Western patriarchal beauty standards, and is just plain insulting. “Yeah, your boobs might feel like two bags of rocks and hurt with every step, but they’re slightly bigger, and that makes them better!” The same goes for ‘younger facial appearance’ – when I’m crying because my hormones are picking my brain apart for funsies, I don’t care that I might look like a weeping 28-year-old instead of a weeping 30-year-old. I’d rather look 50 and feel cheerful, thanks.

Second of all; attractiveness doesn’t matter. It really, honestly doesn’t. Your physical appearance is almost entirely out of your control – genetics rules nearly absolutely when it comes to the way you look. And on top of the fact that (as mentioned above) people’s reactions to it are going to differ wildly depending on circumstances, there’s the much more significant fact that their reactions to the way you look are not important. Sure, other people are allowed to have opinions about you – but the only one that matters is yours.

Implying that a “better” appearance is a “positive” part of PMT ties in with a very old, very sexist stereotype. While not everyone who has periods is a woman (and not every woman has periods), people who menstruate are very often coded as women by society at large – and part of being coded as a woman means being told, not in so many words but repeatedly and pervasively, that you are an ornament to decorate someone else’s life, not an active agent living your own.

I stressed above that appearance doesn’t matter, and I meant it – on the real, fundamental level, where we treat everyone as people, it’s only your actions and your behaviour that matters. However, out in the world, women, and other people put into the ‘woman’ box by society, are so frequently told that our appearance the only thing about us that does matter – that if we’re going to insist on living our lives, making our own decisions, being full and actualised people, then we’d better look young and pretty doing it, otherwise what’s the point of us?

The point of us is that we’re people, like everyone else. Suggesting that a physical process, which may be causing someone immense pain and playing havoc with their mental health, has its good points because it gives some dude bigger boobs to stare at, doesn’t support that. It just objectifies us all over again.

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