A hand has come out and taken yours

I wrote someone a letter today. An electronic one, obviously. And that reminded me of a moment – must have been a couple of years ago – when just for a second, the world caved in.

The letter was about depression. Something I have had in a number of guises and severity levels, and something which I generally live with today, unbothered except for a few dark hours. Though aware that it could change at any moment.

I don’t know the person at all who I wrote to, beyond a few basic facts about her life, and that we share a few common interests. One of those interests is BBC quiz shows and we chat sometimes about their interconnected hosts and guests. Victoria Coren (Mitchell), for example.

As I wrote to – let’s call her Julia – I recalled something Victoria Coren wrote in the Observer a few years back. It’s to do, slightly, with depression and it completely took the wind out of me. Here it is:

“Should I wait until I stop waking up in the night in tears for everything I might be screwing up in my own life, holding on to heartfelt faith but doubting my own hopeful actions and inactions, staring my errors and fears and faults and massive life-gambles in the face, praying daily that this risky, bumpy and winding path leads home, before I start judging other people?”

Those words, appearing in stark contrast to the otherwise light-hearted commentary on drugs and the Olympics spoke so instantly and deeply into the state of my own soul, that is, the state of my own wakeful nights, that even though I was in the middle of an office during a busy working day, I simply sat at my monitor and cried. Not just through sadness, but through… recognition?

Now, this blog has lain fallow for a few months, partly due to life taking over, but mostly because I’ve been having far too much fun on Tumblr. Fun laughing and fangirling and -new word coming up- shipping various combinations of fictional people who seem real and real people from whom we’ve extrapolated so much they’ve basically become fiction. I love tumblr, life ruiner though it is.

Shall I tell you who I talk about most? It’s, in no particular order: Stephen Fry; Manic Street Preachers; Victoria Coren/David Mitchell; the BBC in general; Brideshead Revisited; Sherlock; Cabin Pressure; Monty Python… A collection of smart funny people whose public work I enjoy and whose private life I probably pay a bit too much attention to. And writing, music and books.

But, and here’s the point (FINALLY, you all cry), although I collect comedians, it’s not because they’re funny. Funny, I like. But things to knit my soul to… They come in the deeper moments, born when the darkness seems to sparkle. Moments, like the one above, when it feels as someone has been staring right into my very being, and shown me the reflection.

Here’s another one of those moments, which had the same flooring effect, and also makes the point far better than I can. From Alan Bennett’s diaries:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours”.

That’s when I fangirl the most. Except in those moments I’m not fangirling or shipping, I’m holding onto something, anything, for dear life because it feels as if someone has simultaneously given me the world and snatched the rug from under my feet.

And, back to depression, it’s these moments that in part – I would not wish to do disservice to the friends, family, faith and prayers that also carry me daily – that get me through. The knowledge that I am not alone, and the wider narrative of their lives which indicates that this black dog is neither all nor everything. A reminder that the sun does come. So when I say ‘I like Victoria Coren’ or ‘Alan Bennett’s a really great writer’, I do mean it, but what I also mean is: thank you.

Eyes wide shut

I’ve written a book. Past tense.

It’s a novel about split identities and what happens when they collide. It’s about how the internet may or may not be ruining your life. It’s about faith and love and other Big Things that plague us to the grave.

It’s currently resting in my draw. I’ve read it so many times I can’t bare to look at it for a while.

So maybe you’d like to look instead?

I’m after a few people to read it and give feedback. Honest feedback.

If you’re interested I’ll send you a copy if you think you can
a) read it within the next few weeks, couple of months.
b) tell me what works and what doesn’t, and be specific.
c) not laugh at me for too long afterwards.

I’ll send anyone who does a little thank you in the form of a book token so you can buy something decent to read.
(If I get bazillions I may not send it to everyone, but on the basis that that’s not at all likely to happen, don’t let that put you off.)

Comment below, email me on mail@kathrynhegarty.info or find me on various social networks.

Thanks.

Cuttings from his glory days

I’ve walked Las Ramblas but not with real intent.

I’m a big fan of the local library. Not library as I might usually mean it, not the slightly over-heated, out-of-the-way, never-have-what-I-want-in cubby holes that I treasure dearly. But the other local library, the streets of London and beyond which I tread daily, living and breathing the present but so often the past, or the made up.

Here, in Tufnell Park I am in spitting distance of the following:
– The house George Orwell used to live in
– The Seven Sisters which Brett Anderson left ‘for a room in a seaside shack’.
– The Hotel Splendide which inspired a Bernard Butler bside
– The Good Mixer which cooked up Britpop until it boiled over
– The St John’s Road, Archway where Spike Milligan used to visit his friend Harry Edgington
– The house where Spaced was filmed. (I even shop in the same Londis as Tim did.)

The locations in songs, TV and books captivate me as much as the emotions, and send me on stupid Saturday morning missions to seek out a brick wall somewhere in Highgate. Cast the nets a little further, to the rest of London, Worthing, Sheffield and the list could go on.

You know, I walked around Merrian Square in Dublin, and sure people know Oscar Wilde lived there, but who else spots the estate agent Morrisseys on the corner and Yeats’ house opposite, and sees Cemetry Gates made flesh? And then I walked down Las Ramblas in Barcelona thinking of Orwell and thinking of Nicky Wire feeling inadequate in his steps, and I felt inadequate in both their steps, but was somehow thrilled, as if I was doing a secret thing which only I knew about.

Often it’s me on a treasure hunt but sometimes it’s accidental and it catches me unawares. Take this week. I have been reading High Fidelity by Nicky Hornby. It’s set around here, Crouch End, Seven Sister Road, Camden, Kentish Town. Familiar terrirtory but I don’t recognise many of the road or shop names. I know Crouch End well so there’s no need to seek it out.

But then, the book finds me. On Friday evening a friend of mine from work, Rachel, invites me to see her band play in Camden. Suddenly I’m in the Hope & Anchor and the Purple Turtle and seeing Rachel sing, meeting the band and their friends and having awkward but fun conversations and the memory of the book, of Marie’s gigs comes crashing in. Waves of sensation – something like deja vu – make me laugh and I find myself asking my new aquaintances what music they like just to keep the illusion going. It’s not even as if the personal situation is similar, it’s the same thrill as Baracelona – being in a joke that no one else is.

Saturday morning I walk to Oxfam Books & Music in Kentish Town to see what I can dig out for my scruffy book pile. The guy in the shop is berating his younger assistant: “I can’t believe you haven’t seen Zulu! How can you not have seen Zulu? Where have you been?!” I take my books to the counter and he critiques them, all the while continuing to tell his assistant how great Blondie are. As I’m paying the assistant is asked “OK, top 10 records from the 80s?”. On my way out I ask them both if they’ve read High Fidelity. No, says the man. Yes, says the assistant. “Well,” I said to the assistant, “he is definitely Barry.”

She giggles, I leave. But not before I catch the expression on her face, which I know well myself. It’s the joy of being in on a joke that you can’t explain and you couldn’t even if you wanted to.

Still so in love with you

It’s that time of year again, when everything kicks into gear. Not because it’s autumn or anything, but when I open my diary and it’s a mess of train times and confirmation numbers. My head, to match, is a mess of organisation, revelation and glitterly disintergration. Time, in short, for a Manics tour.

A new album too, to add to the adventures of my imagination this month. I’ve been seeing the world through a mixture of Sherlock, Phill Jupitus, Chalet School, Edwyn Collins, Fry & Laurie, Bret Easton Ellis, Edingburgh Fringe, and Patrick Wolf, plus all my usual temptations.

Now’re we’re in September and things are kicking up a gear.

Exhibit A. On Monday we see Stephen Fry read from his biography part 2. I’m re-reading volume one, Moab is my Washpot in anticipation. It’s been a while and I’d forgotten how close to the bone it was. Not in circumstance but in sentiment. I keep having to come up for air during passages. Sometimes I can’t process a whole sentence at a time, the feeling is so thick. I adore it, but it feels like I’m being turned inside out in the process. I remember when I first read it I knew it would change me. That was about three years ago and I was right. The next link in the chain, the next big touchstone for all I’d pick up, read, frame my thoughts through. You’ll either get that or you won’t but either way, it started in Moab.

Exhibit B. I was in York this weekend gone and with two hours free shopping, hit the charity shops to stock up. Very succesfull – Mark Gatiss, Alan and Victoria Coren, a previously un-owned edition of Moab, Grahame Green and Miles Kington all showed themselves. So did a Billy Ray Cyrus CD and a horrible book titled ‘The Smarties Guide to the Galaxy: Space, the universe and everything’. I did not buy these last two monstrosities; I put Billy to the back of the rack and hit the Smarties one against the bookshelf because I am mature like that.

Exhibit C. There’s lots to write at the moment, so I must take notes properly as I go pootle along so I don’t forget all the things I’ll put to page when I get the bloody time. I must keep hold of the Edingburgh spirit when I stayed up all night discussing sketch craft with the UCL Comedie crew. Sketches are where I started. I still have a Monty Python-esque fear of punchlines.

These things might sound like diversion but they’re all the same thing really. Swimming deep in inspiration, infatuation and validation. I love it. It makes we want to work, to create, to design and write.

So after Fry there’s a couple of weeks respite until the Manics tour, which takes up most of October. In between all this introspection, I must organise trains, hotels and myself. I must attempt to remember which of the hundreds of editions of the album/single I’ve ordered.

And then I’ll hit the road. I’ll be working, travelling, and singing, but probably not eating or sleeping. No doubt I’ll come back with a million new in-jokes and a whole host of new favourite lines. Let’s end on another one, Jarvis this time. Why live in the world when you can live in your head – and cringe at the number of hours you’ll spend waiting in Birmingham New Street wondering where the hell you’re headed next?

Information is a gorgeosity

One side effect of having a computer which takes 20 minutes to boot up is the free time I get to flick through Information is beautiful each morning. True to its word, its a beautiful book and before long I decide it’s time to try my own hand.

I’m an Information Architect. Without information I’m only an annoyance to RIBA. Can’t be that hard to construct a visually tantalising self-explanatory diagram, can it? Turns out it can.

First, I needed some data. Figures and/or relative relationships seemed to be the way forward, only I didn’t really have a strong set of either. What I did have was a long-standing amusement over the way characters in Stephen Fry novels interlock. Not just in a Bret Easton Ellis manner where we see the same people across different publications, but where different elements of semi-autobiography are split and twisted for different purposes forming a tapestry of half-truth, fact, madness and breakfast.

It’s not something that’s easily explained in words so it seemed the perfect subject for my info graphic.

But, as any idiot except me could see, that was the easy bit. So we’ve got our complexity, big deal. How to make it simple? Here’s some questions I tried to answer:

What are the important parameters and relationships?
Should some characters be given more weight than others?
How many dimensions (time, truth, relevance, head-hurtingness)?
Am I trying to make the complex clear, or show just how confusingly complex it is?

To begin with I went with something very rigid. I kept it monocrome as I wanted to get the structure and relationships records before I added that extra layer of distraction. Easy enough to read, I think, but it didn’t show the overlaps and confusion clearly enough. Also, using a fact->breakfast scale of confusion is (1) a very geeky Fry thing to do, and consequently (2) only makes sense to me. I happen to like it, even named a site after it, but it’s not exactly accessible.


Bigger.

So I switched to a more complex structure which had lots of detail, but turned out to be a nightmare to design. This was partly because I was over-complicating the different between ‘protagonist’ and ‘love interest’, placing too much emphasis on the source texts and trying to maintain a time/truth dimension to it when really that’s too subjective to record. Bad moves.


Bigger.

The last attempt takes a more subtle tone. It’s character-focused, which the previous iterations weren’t. This is important because the whole point of this infographic is the morphic overlapping characterisation. Good.


Bigger.

But they’re characters, so what? Lots of people are called Steve. So why is this interesting? Because it’s about love, friendship and learning. It’s human. I only care about the way these people link together because I am emotionally engaged with their emotional lives. Let’s show it.

Lastly, I needed a way to show where each character was featured, otherwise there’d be no indication that this was conflation of plots, not just one. This was tricky as I’d already overcomplicated things once and didn’t want to go down that road again. Colour-coding sure, but how? Each element needs to be readable at a glance, but it mustn’t over-power because it’s a secondary feature. A little dot either side of the emotional link. It just about does its job, I think.

From my list of considerations, one, Am I trying to make the complex clear, or show just how confusingly complex it is? still remains unanswered. The concept I’m trying to express doesn’t lend itself to divisions or clarity and I don’t think it’s stands up on its own. Unless you know Fry’s work it’ll be meaningless; prior knowledge is needed.

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best choice of data. It could show just how confusingly complex it is, but actually I think that’s ideas above its station. It’s just confusing!

One thing’s for sure. When Fry publishes the next volume of his biography this September, I’m going to need to redraw. Things will be more complicated than ever.