Last year, I retired my Sunday Sharing series of posts, promising a different approach. My “21 things that got me through 2021” was a trial of what I hoped would be that new approach, and I enjoyed writing it so much that I’m going to try and do them monthly.
The January blues really got to me this year, too. So blogging about what helped me through it felt especially relevant.
There were a lot more things than what I’ve listed below. But I decided these were the highlights.
1. The Kill James Bond podcast
Up until late last year, I’d felt indifferent to James Bond — both as a character and as a film franchise. Then late last year a resentment began to grow, which turned into full contempt for the character and series thanks to the hilarious Kill James Bond podcast.
Three trans podcasters — Alice Caldwell-Kelly of TRASHFUTURE, Abigail Thorn of Philosophy Tube, and Devon — are making their way through all the Bond movies with the mission of killing the eponymous spy.
You don’t even need to have seen a single Bond film to enjoy the podcast. The three (and their occasional guests) run through the plot — dropping in funny soundbites — whilst tearing apart each film’s most problematic scenes.
They also have a “science-based” rating system: the SCUM scale — rating the Bond movies out of 007 on smarm, cultural insensitivity, unprovoked violence, and misogyny. At the time of writing, I’m in the middle of their episode on The Spy Who Loved Me and the uber-racist Live and Let Die currently holds the crown for the scummiest Bond film.
2. Finishing great books
My reading year has been off to a great start. Dave Rudden’s Twelve Angels Weeping was the first book I finished — reading the final tale on the traditional twelfth day of Christmas: January 5th. Each one centred around an iconic villain from the Doctor Who canon, from the classic Daleks and Cybermen to the Weeping Angels and Zygons. Whilst there were a couple of duds and telling you the central villain often gave the twist away, I enjoyed most of the stories in this collection. The little girl who finds an infant Judoon in the house next door was my personal favourite. Its ending moved me to tears.
Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor was up next and is a must-read for anyone who likes drawing or wishes to start drawing again. I’ve never believed myself to possess any kind of talent when it comes to art, but Lynda Barry has made me rethink the idea of a “bad drawing.” I’ll elaborate on this book in a future post.
PEOPLE WHO QUIT DRAWING A LONG TIME AGO MAKE THE MOST INCREDIBLE DRAWINGS WHEN THEY START UP AGAIN. SOME OF THE BEST, MOST ORIGINAL WORK I’VE SEEN SINCE I’VE STARTED TEACHING WAS MADE BY STUDENTS WHO HADN’T DRAWN SINCE THEY WERE KIDS.Lynda Barry, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor
Then I re-read Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. I’d previously read it in 2018 for my MA but have wanted to revisit it for a long time. It’s a short novel mostly made up of vignettes, which centres around a marriage — its dissolution and attempts at reconciliation. Think of it as a collection of snapshots from this married couple’s life, from the wife’s perspective. It’s a style I really want to have a go at emulating.
Following on from Offill, I finished Claudia Rankine’s excellent poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric. Rankine blends essay and images with poetry seamlessly, creating evocative images of everyday racism. Once again, a poetry collection makes me rethink what poetry can be.
And today I finished Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This, which is written in a very similar style to Offill’s short novel. The protagonist spends much of their time in “the portal” and becomes well-known for their viral posts. But whilst the online world dominates early in the novel, a crisis in the family begins to take over and clashes with the absurdity of the world in the portal. I’m still processing the novel right now, but I can say I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t make my favourite books list.
3. The Journals of Sylvia Plath
As you probably know, I really got into journaling last year. This led me to request Sylvia Plath’s journals for Christmas, which I gratefully received. I’m now slowly making my way through it. It’s been insightful and has already influenced some of my own journaling.
One entry that personally resonated with me:
It seems to me more than ever that I am a victim of introspection. If I have not the power to put myself in the place of other people, but must be continually burrowing inward, I shall never be the magnanimous creative person I wish to be. Yet I am hypnotized by the workings of the individual, alone, and am continually using myself as a specimen. I am possessive about time alone … I am so busy keeping my head above water that I scarcely know who I am, much less who anyone else is.
4. My nan came to stay and shared stories
In the first week of January, my nan came to stay with us for a day. I hadn’t seen her in person since 2017. It was lovely to catch up, of course, but what really stuck with me was the stories she shared about her own past and my dad’s childhood.
You think you know the people closest to you well enough that they can’t surprise you anymore. You get used to hearing the same old stories, you don’t think there might be so many more going untold.
This was a stark reminder that I need to be more curious.
5. Doctor Who: Time Fracture
A group of friends and I travelled to Unit HQ in London for Doctor Who: Time Fracture to save the universe — and save the universe we did!
We faced Daleks, met Leonardo Da Vinci, my friend danced and sang to a Clockwork Robot, we drank Who-themed cocktails whilst listening to a blue-skinned woman sing Radiohead songs and found ourselves in the Panopticon on Gallifrey.
I’m hoping to go again in the next couple of months as I loved it so much. Plus, it’ll be a different experience if I go again. There are so many different scenes playing at once and so many characters to meet, it’s impossible to see it all in one visit.
6. Great YouTube videos
I’ve watched quite a lot of YouTube this month — perhaps too much.
Preston Jacobs — who has done some great A Song of Ice and Fire theory videos — re-uploaded his guide to George R.R. Martin’s Thousand Worlds, a shared universe for at least 27 of the author’s sci-fi stories. Schaffrillas Productions shared their top movies of last year. DAVIS launched his third season of “Broke Canon” — an exploration of some of the most bizarre Doctor Who lore from across the extended universe. Whitelight investigated Red Dead Online’s most disciplined clan. And I got all nostalgic watching Burback’s retrospective on LEGO Star Wars. (They also have a good video on why video game marketing needs to change.)
Also, late last year I stumbled upon the video essays of Super Eyepatch Wolf. I watched his lengthy deep dive into what the Internet did to Garfield alongside setting up my BuJo, which may be over an hour-long but was incredible to watch. I checked out some of his older essays, too, including “The Bizarre Modern Reality of Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Devotion: The Most Disturbing Game You Cannot Play.”
Speaking of my Bullet Journal, I discovered Plant Based Bride’s approach to “The Rolling Weekly” that I’m trialling this month.
7. Nazi Zombies
Like many teenage boys in the late 2000s and early 2010s, I played a lot of Call of Duty. As I grew up, I lost almost all my love for it. And I can’t really think of the series now without thinking about the franchise’s politics.
But I do love gaming with others, and Call of Duty is one of the only games that my brother, my mother and I can all play together.
How we started playing Nazi Zombies again I can’t recall, but it’s something the three of us have enjoyed playing a great deal recently — more than I initially expected. And whilst my productivity suffered for it, my mental health benefitted.
The way I see it: days like this won’t keep coming around forever. Gaming with my family has helped me to appreciate this time whilst I still can.
8. Volunteering at Brentwood Theatre
I cannot express how good being in a theatre is for my soul.
I ushered two performances this month: the Young Essex Musical Society’s production of StarKid’s Twisted and Shenfield Operatic Society’s performance of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic Carousel. And whilst the narrative of the latter was not to my taste, I thoroughly enjoyed my time watching these performances.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, I had lost a lot of enthusiasm for theatre. Turns out what I needed was to just see it live again to rediscover my love for it.
9. Playing games in my web browser
I tried guessing the WikiHow article from the article’s image — harder and more ridiculous than you might expect.
I also played Tom J. Watson’s Wikitrivia — placing randomly generated Wikidata cards correctly in the timeline. So far, my best streak is 10.
10. Articles, blog posts and newsletters
I read a lot of stuff online and here are my favourites from the month:
- George R. R. Martin’s touching farewell to John Miller. | Not a Blog
- Amelia Horgan, author of Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism (one of my favourite books of 2021) wrote a scathing review of Charlie Warzel’s and Anne Helen Peterson’s new book. | Gawker
- Mic Wright on the BBC: “The BBC tried to make concessions to vandals. But the vandals dream of arson.” | Substack
- Angela Davis and Gina Dent talk about their new book, Abolition. Feminism. Now. and why abolition is the only way. | Harper’s Bazaar
- From Ijeoma Oluo’s Behind the Book newsletter: “Open Wound Writing” about writing on race and gender as a Black woman; “Ok, But Is Writing Even POSSIBLE?” on writing with ADHD; “Capitalism Sucks, But Don’t Be Shamed For Your Hustle” about why rest isn’t revolution; and “Your Worst Writing Nightmare” where she answers the question, “What if I get dragged?” | Substack
- Hussein Kesvani analyses how LinkedIn seems to be on a mission to kill off good writing. | Independent
- Tom Whyman on how the pandemic killed our respect for artists. | ArtReview
- A mixed mailbag of interesting letters from Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note. | Substack
- Sierra Garcia explores how early sci-fi authors imagined climate change. | JSTOR
- Ginger Strand details how Jane Vonnegut made Kurt Vonnegut a writer. | The New Yorker
- Ed Zitron has put out some great issues of his newsletter this month, including “What Actually Makes People Successful” and “Gaming Doesn’t Prove The Metaverse Is Here.” | Substack
- Mollie Goodfellow on how the past 18 months have been the loneliest of her life — a feeling many of us will relate to (myself included). | Independent
- A fun-to-read and nuanced take on the whole West Elm Caleb thing. | Substack
- “Fan fiction and the mode of the fucked-up.” | Isaac’s Law