05/02 – Inertia, British Book Challenge

So, in December I very excitedly posted informing the world that I would be taking part in this year’s British Book Challenge and promised a post at the end of January with my first review, which … well if you scroll back you’ll see that this didn’t happen.

I would say I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I know I can chalk it up to good old autistic inertia. The best explanation I’ve come across so far for explaining inertia and related issues is this post by Luna Lindsey.

Specific to me, I feel like when I have free time and shit that I need to get done, I will sit and think of what I need to do and then all the *other* things I need to do. Then I will feel overwhelmed by all these options and will procrastinate/get locked into something low effort like endlessly scrolling social media feeds. Then I get nothing done. Then I feel terrible for not getting anything done and the whole cycle continues. The annoying thing is this eats into productive time but also eats into non-productive time, I end up in this kind of stasis that isn’t productive but simultaneously isn’t relaxing because I’m tormenting myself for not getting up and starting something. This probably isn’t an autistic-only issue, but there is the flipside of the coin when you’re an autist (hyper-concentration and focus).

I’ve reinstated the Bullet Journal as a means of waging war against this irritating side effect of an autistic brain and have been seeing gradual improvement…if I make the effort to use it (which occasionally doesn’t happen). Today (Sunday) I had an amazingly productive day (which prompted a ‘blog schedule’ being written, which I really am going to try very hard to stick to).

Hopefully this will mean a turning point in what seems like a never-ending battle against chronic “I’ll do it later” and ending up in peaks of intense productivity and then troughs of nothingness. Hyper-focus is a boon but it can be exhausting and I’m hoping that I can try and regulate the useful bits and iron out the less useful.

Anyway, here’s hoping I can pull this off and be back next week (according to the schedule) with a couple of reviews of books I’ve read lately!

PS. Partner and I spent a very fun half hour looking up different dog breed mixes. My ultimate favourite was a Golden Retriever/Dachshund so it seems a good end point. Hope everybody has a good week!

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Collaging

Just a quick post this evening to *finally* get around to uploading some collages I scanned quite a while ago. Whilst I adore my job as a bookseller, working in retail during the Christmas period has been rather stressful and at times somewhat frustrating – It feels like I’ve just been spending my evenings either burnt out and trying to recharge or about to burn out and needing to conserve energy. I’ve had to be fairly strict about self-care and not overexerting myself and was *so* proud of myself when I made it through December without any major shutdowns (and thus not missing any shifts).

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I love The X Files. I also love finding books about the paranormal and UFOs and such, and it was super fun to source images and text that went with these pictures. Plus glitter. Always lots of glitter.

I made another X Files themed collage recently and I can’t wait to upload it some time soon!
Anyway, I’m off to hibernate until the New Year (when I’ll be back with BOOKS! And MORE COLLAGES! And of course MORE AUTISM!).

British Books Challenge ’17

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So, it’s always been my intention (if not actually realized as much as I’d have liked recently) to use this blog as an outlet for my Special Interests, one of these being books (and literature). This interest has been rejuvenated since I’ve become a bookseller and discovered one of the best perks of working in the book trade – free reading copies and proofs. I’ve been reading a heck of a lot more for fun recently, and sometimes devouring a couple of books a week, simply because I can get hold of such a range of new exciting publications! It’s a pleasure to talk about and review these books too (I’ve been more active on Goodreads lately, simply because I’m reading more) and I’m really looking forward to posting more about books on here.

I came across the British Book Challenge through Twitter and am excited to say I’m going to be taking part – the aim is to review one book by a British author (no holds barred on genre) every month. You can read more about entering (there are prizes from publishers and the like!) and the ‘rules’ here.

I’m not entirely fixed on what books I’m going to read, although I’ve got some definites. But here’s a potential broad outline and a few ideas of what I’m going to read – I am, of course, always open to recommendations!
I’m going to be focussing on women’s writing and other points of diversity, especially disability (there’ll be at least one autism book). My reading will also most likely be influenced by what I receive/stumble across as reading copies of books that are due to be published.
(I’ll edit this post as I choose/review books)

January: Butterfly Fish – Irenosen Okojie
February: Addlands – Tom Bullough
March: A Smell of Burning – Colin Grant
April:
May:
June:
July:
August:
September:
October:
November:
December:

Anyway, like I’ve said, I’m super excited to take part in this year’s challenge, and I look forward to chatting more about books on here soon!

Have a lovely festive season!

On shutting down

I’ve been meaning to write something about meltdowns/shutdowns for a while and the other day the latter happened, so I’ve put this post together from things I scribbled down during and after!
Shutdowns are an unfortunate side effect of processing emotions and senses differently and can come completely unexpectedly, but from the outside I suspect it doesn’t look like what it is. I dreaded letting work know that I couldn’t come in two days in a row, because how could I explain this? My hope with this post is to a) help any allistic readers understand what this is and b) maybe help any (newly-diagnosed) autistic people vocalise what this process is (assuming of course that my experiences are common – please let me know about this!).

I’ve had to call in sick to work today. I didn’t see it coming; I felt a little shaky when I got up and helped my partner get out the door for 7.15, but after coffee, toast and cereal, I felt a little more grounded. I was about to stand up and get showered and dressed, but the quick thought process of visualising what I needed to do – stand up, walk to the bathroom, remove clothes, turn shower on, put on shower cap and so on, right up to opening my drawer, choosing and putting on socks – made me freeze.
For a few seconds, everything seems suspended; I feel trapped, locked in one position while the traffic outside shouts at me. My body feels anxious and poised for flight, an intense urge to move quickly but I also feel unable to move, utterly unable. The thought is there but the action just won’t happen. At the same moment, my mouth feels welded shut; even if I wasn’t on my own, I wouldn’t have been able to call for help, and I’m not quite sure how anybody could help anyway.
I suddenly realise I’ve been tapping my fingers together, drumming out a rhythm. It’s like coming to for a second and I grab the notebook and pencil I’d left on the coffee table and begin to scribble, replacing the tapping with the movement of writing and the soft sound of the pencil on paper. I think in sentences the majority of the time and just letting my hand pour out the thoughts that are speeding through my brain, along with the sensory aspect, helps quell the feeling of impending doom, staving it off somehow.
I force myself after two minutes to break out of the hypnotic writing to stand up and totter to the bathroom. I throw up. I sit on the toilet seat and shake all over.
I give up and practically crawl into bed and lie still under the duvet. A few hours sleep should help me recharge and feel slightly more alive; the waves of anxiety and sensory overload are physically and mentally exhausting. I’ll feel tired and groggy and guilty later, convincing myself that I either failed or brought this on myself, on purpose. Losing control of executive function so suddenly and completely is frustrating, especially when you have somewhere to be and an obligation to others to fulfill.
I sleep until 4pm or so, drifting in and out to use the bathroom or stumble to the kitchen to grab handfuls of cereal out of the tub to hold off the hunger. I wake up properly, groggy but with a bit more energy. I manage to eat the lunch I packed myself that morning. I make dinner, spend the evening in the pyjamas I’ve worn all day, feeling tired and very low.

The next morning I wake up heavy like I’m weighed down by something inside me. I’m pinned. I sit up and immediately slump back down again. I try and get up, pour coffee, and sit on the bathroom floor for half an hour, contemplating the shower. It’s the same feeling as yesterday of being suspended in motion but muted by extreme tiredness and stirred up by anxiety, the kind that grabs you by the throat and makes your chest go all tight. I manage to shower, manage to put on clothes, but the feeling I’ve been pushing back eventually comes crashing in in full force; rising stomach, short breath, loudness like a wave. I manage to summon up the strength to type a surprisingly coherent email before I curl up and snivel myself back into agitated sleep.

Collaging #2

Until halfway into my (very slow) cycle ride home, I was berating myself (and the heavy shopping bags on my handlebars) for having ‘splurged’. Eventually, though, I reasoned with myself that splurging £20 or so in Poundland and the charity shops wasn’t so bad, as splurging goes. Besides, Poundland’s craft supplies game is currently about 100/10 and I couldn’t resist.

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I’ve been spending a fair amount of my free time collaging at the moment, mainly in the evenings after work. I tend to gravitate towards collaging or computer games, and I guess an evening spent constructing the perfect theme park is slightly less of an ego boost than filling a page in my sketchbook. As well, I have had a fantastic haul in the local charity shops recently; the people donating to charity shops here have amazing taste in coffee table books!
I’m quite particular when it comes to sourcing collage material when out charity shopping, otherwise, I’d end up with piles and piles of second-rate stuff that I’m less likely to want to use. I tend to go for books with a higher image to text proportion. the higher quality the paper the better, and I usually try and spend less than £3 (although I broke this and went up to £3.49 the other day when I stumbled across this in the Oxfam bookshop)…

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I’ll round this off with a quick selection of my latest collages, you can guarantee that with the clocks going back and 12 days off from work, I’m going to be buried under quilts watching TV and ferreting away through my new stack of books!

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Collaging

I’ve been thinking about bring self care/nice things into this blog; one of the things that has really helped me wobble less has been making sure that I make a concerted effort to do things I enjoy, especially now that I’m working a fair amount.

I started collaging when I was in my pre-teens and have kept going on and off, slowly graduating from freebie catalogues to fashion magazines to my current habit of accumulating old vintagey photo books from charity shops and a small mountain of adhesive gems, sticker and craft paper. I usually stock up on cheap A4 sketchbooks from The Works (the paper quality is still p good) and keep with the same one til I’ve filled it.

There’s something really relaxing about cutting things out and rearranging them into something else and I find the high concentration element particularly good for letting my brain recharge and reprocess whilst I fiddle about with the scissors and glue, and hopefully have something to feel proud of when I’m done. Most of the time I just tend to flick through my various folders (there was some semblance of a system a year or so ago, now I tend to organise by books, and I have nearly a whole ringbinder of cat photos lol) or books I haven’t deconstructed yet, and then glue some things randomly together. Lately I’ve been working more towards a general theme per page and am quite proud of the last few things I put together, so thought I’d share. I’m thinking of generally starting a regular ‘self care’ tag for posts, so I guess this can be #1.

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no points for guessing what I was going for here (and agh that lil red line)
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Marguerite Duras double spread, made with photocopies from my Duras anthology. Quote from L’Amant (1984) – ‘The story of my life does not exist. Does not exist … No path, no line. There are vast spaces where one leads people to think there was someone, it is not true, there was no-one’

This glitter paper is one of my current favourite things to use at the moment; I got a huge pack from Hobbycraft for very little money. I guess you can also see in the above two that flowers are one of my favourite decorations; after cat books the thing most likely to make me squirm with glee in the charity shop is a gardening book or a photographic encyclopedia of flowers or something.

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I wanted something to stick on my locker at work so decided to make a small Kafka piece with one of my favourite pithy little quotes from him “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us”

I never know quite how to describe what I do in my sketchbooks or talk about it, so I guess that’s that. Other than, collaging is great; you should try definitely try it if you’re that way inclined.

Books, books, books

Having a year to keep up with studies and working in a bookshop = a very book heavy life. So I thought I’d rejuvenate the blog with a quick post about what I’ve been reading recently.

Kindheitsmuster – Christa Wolf
Once I get into an author, I have a tendency to ‘collect’, and my visits to the Oxfam bookshops every couple of weeks certainly don’t hinder this. I chose Christa Wolf as one of the two authors for my Special Author paper in German and am so glad I did, she is criminally underrated in the UK. I found this English translation of Kindheitsmuster a few weeks ago. I’d tried to speedread the original German for a tutorial essay in 2nd year (three years ago now) (no mean feat, it’s very long), which didn’t go particularly well, so I thought I’d ease myself back into more regular literature study by giving it a (semi-)proper go. (1)
Christa Wolf was an East German author who came onto the literary scene during the 1950s/60s ‘Aufbau’ literary period – the new GDR government was focused on building the new state (Aufbau literally translates as ‘building up’) and creating a socialist identity. This was reflected in East German literature through (state-recommended) Socialist Realism, which was implemented practically by writers gaining work experience in factories whilst also holding workshops and encouraging their fellow workers to pick up the pen for themselves. By actually experiencing the lives of working GDR citizens, writers could be better placed to create relatable works that would appeal to the general readership, and thus better convey socialist ideals.
However as the state (and its cultural policies) matured, so did Christa Wolf’s writing. By the time she wrote Kindheitsmuster in the 70s, Wolf’s prose had become an interesting mix of modernism and Romanticism, with, of course, an underlying socialist vision.

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English translation and Aufbau Verlag edition of Kindheitsmuster – I’ve struck gold and found East German copies of a fair amount of Wolf’s stuff in the Oxfam bookshops!

In Kindheitsmuster, Wolf turns her attention to the previously taboo German past. Part of the GDR’s drive to establish itself centred on the rejection of the previous Nazi regime. With the ideological break from the preceding capitalist structures, the GDR could, theoretically, be absolved of any complicity in the horrors of the Nazi era. Wolf, however, points out the flaw in this worldview by showing that, despite the political changes, the citizens of the GDR population were the same people that lived in the Third Reich. Using a complex narrative structure, Wolf remembers the Germany of her childhood whilst at the same time reflecting on the process of memory. Almost ironically, the rupture in political system does correspond to a rupture for the narrator, although it is more psychological  than political. Addressing herself as ‘you’ and only able to remember and describe her child self in the third person, Wolf creates a multi-tiered and uncanny representation of how the mind remembers whilst simultaneously revealing a chilling truth about life in Nazi Germany for the non-Jewish middle class – its utter mundanity.
The child’s life in the Third Reich is for the most part distinctly average, comfortable and undisturbed. The things you expect to be shocked by – for example her active membership in the Hitler Youth – prove to be unsettlingly banal. This mundaneness, however, serves to offset the shadow of the dark truth the reader knows is lurking behind the apparent idyll. Much of the novel is an exploration of what was and remains unsaid, unacknowledged or purposefully-not-remembered, with the intention that, by interacting with the past, the modern reader can understand what went before and ultimately seek to avoid repeating it.
I gave up on Kindheitsmuster (again! Although I got much further this time!) because I mostly ended up reading it during the evenings and its hard reading a book you have an academic interest in during your leisure reading time. I end up reading it super-critically and it stops being relaxing. I’m looking forward to returning to it in work mode though…

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A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Which brings me to my next book, my new ‘reading-for-fun’. I bought this ages ago, began it, really enjoyed it, then managed to leave it at my mum’s. Having picked it up again and restarted it, I’ve been hooked right back in. Toole’s prose is lucid and sharp and witty and breathtaking all at the same time; one minute I’m chuckling and the next I’m dumbstruck by the absolute perfection of a particular sentence, or even clause (‘Soon Myrna’s brutal social manner had driven my courtiers from the table, and we were left alone, all cold coffee and hot words.’). The characters are so great and Toole moves them and the reader through a narrative that feels distinctively filmic. I’m really enjoying this (and am racing through it); I have a feeling it’ll be one of those books you really don’t want to finish.

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If ever a title spoke to me

Kafka: A Guide for the Perplexed
I tend to read non-fiction during the day when I’m on the bus or having a cigarette break or whatever and I picked this up the other day in The Last Bookshop (2). It’s a great little introduction to Kafka, although I haven’t got to the more literature focussed sections yet. It is nice to read an engagingly written and highly detailed summary of Kafka’s life and I’ve learnt tons of biographical lil factoids.(3) I’m guessing the survey of his work will be just as interesting (and useful).

So yeah, I guess that sums up my not-so-brief round-up. *Returns to book cave*

(1) When I first came up to Oxford, we were given the impression that reading in translation is the literature equivalent of Google Translate. I have however, slowly realised that sometimes it is necessary. Reading in German is a lot slower than reading in English, and literature partly works through reading it fluently at a more natural pace and being more absorbed in the narrative. I do for the most part tend to use translations in tandem with the original text though.
(2) If you’re in Oxford and haven’t been here, you’re missing out. It’s on New Inn Hall St. The shop works on a “everything is three quid, two for a fiver” basis pretty much, and there’s always a really great selection too. I’ve got so many books from here that I wouldn’t have bought otherwise, and really broadened my reading horizons.
(3) This lil anecdote that I just read before going over this post (my heart, such feels):

He did have time and patience for other things, however, among which were some that might come as a surprise to those who think of Kafka primarily as the author of ‘The Metamorphosis’ and ‘In The Penal Colony’. One autumn afternoon when Franz and Dora were walking through a neighbourhood park, they encountered a little girl in tears. When asked what was wrong, the child explained that she had lost her doll. On the spot, Kafka improvised a tale of consolation. He told the girl that the doll was not lost but simply away on a trip. He knew this to be true, he said, because the doll had written him a letter. When asked to produce the letter, Dr. Kafka apologized, saying he’d left it at home by mistake and would bring it tomorrow. Dora later described how Franz went home and set to work immediately about composing the doll’s letter ‘with the same seriousness he displayed when composing one of his own works.’
The next day he met the girl in the park. She was too young to read, so he read the letter to her. In it the doll said that she loved the girl but needed a change of scene. The doll wanted to live her own life, but she wouldn’t forget her old friend. She promised to write every day. And for the next three weeks, Kafka produced a daily letter from the doll.
Of course the doll could not go on writing indefinitely, and the man who could not find a satisfactory conclusion for ‘The Castle’ cast about for a way to end this small-scale epistolary novel. He came up with the idea of having the doll fall in love with a young man, get engaged, make wedding preparations in the country, and at last tell her friend in Berlin that as a married woman she could no longer write to those she had loved in former times. Apparently it worked. The little girl was happy for her doll’s new happiness and no longer anguished over her loss. Kafka scholars continue to anguish over the loss of the doll’s letters, however, because they have never been found. A series of prominent announcements in Berlin newspapers have never turned up the woman who once, as a little girl, met Franz Kafka.