Short story – What I wish I could have done

Couldn’t get all the me-too’s and sexual harassment/abuse stories I read about yesterday out of my head. This morning I opened up my word processor and this came out. Based on a personal experience.

Night_train

It had been a long night. I put my headphones on and played some calming, melancholy music. Two hours till the night train reached its destination. It was pitch black outside. Only every once in a while, a light flashed by.

I took out a book, even though I felt too tired to read. I placed my bag on the seat next to me and stretched my legs out. I comfortably occupied almost the whole four-seat area. If only I had a cup of tea. A cup of tea would have made this perfect.

I saw some movement from the corner of my eye. Someone pushed my legs aside. I looked up from my book. A young man sat in the seat opposite me. He smiled. Almost the whole coupe was empty and this guy had to force himself into my cosy space. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t sit somewhere else.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“Fine,” I mumbled and turned back to my book.

“You’re very pretty. You have a unique look about you. Not like the other girls.”

I ignored him. Hopefully he would get the hint.

“Can I have your number?”

I kept my eyes fixed on the page.

“Those are cool shoes. I’ve never seen anything like them.” He touched my knee. It felt like a hit from a sledgehammer.

I wiggled my legs away.

“You’re very pretty.”

I glanced up reluctantly. “If you don’t mind, I would rather be alone right now.” I cringed at the polite words that came out. I should have said: ‘Get the fuck away from me, creepy motherfucker!’ Why am I always compelled to be polite?

“Can I have your number?” This asshole already had his phone out.

“Please, I would rather be alone.” I still had my headphones on. I couldn’t believe this was happening through the divine tones of Lana del Rey. I hoped I wouldn’t associate her music with this creep later.

“Give me your number.”

I stuffed my book in my bag. “Fine, I’ll leave.”

He shot back, his eyes widening. His mouth fell open with puckered lips. For a moment, I felt guilty for offending him. I hated that guilt.

He recovered. “No, don’t. I’ll leave.” He inclined his head towards me and took my hand between his. “I’ll leave.” He sounded so earnest. Yet he didn’t let go of my hand.

White-hot rage boiled up inside me. With my free hand, I reached for something in my bag. The lights crackled.

*

Half an hour later the conductor walked past. “Tick—What happened here?” She gasped.

I looked down at the cleaver in my hands. It was red and sticky. My lovely floral dress was ruined too. The seat opposite me was the worst though. Like a red waterfall had crashed over it. Then there were the body parts…

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I didn’t mean to make such a mess. It was just—He wouldn’t leave. Why couldn’t he take a hint?”

“He harassed you?”

I nodded.

“Oh, honey. Are you alright?” The conductor’s eyes were full of sympathy.

“I suppose. It could have been worse.”

The conductor shook her head. “Don’t say that. These things should never happen. No woman should have their safety compromised for merely being outside and alone.”

The cleaver was still warm.

“Look, there’s a bathroom up there. Why don’t you go and get yourself cleaned up? I’ll take care of this.” The conductor motioned to the carnage.

“Thank you.” I smiled weakly. “Thank you so much.”

The conductor shrugged. “Like I said, these things should never happen.”

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My favourite vampire movies

Ah, October. The most magical month of the year. The leaves are turning, the winds are howling, and Halloween is just around the corner.

One of the things I enjoy doing in October is to bundle up inside, with someone I love, cinnamony snacks and a pot of chai, and watch spooky movies. Most of the spooky movies I like seem to be vampire movies. These are my favourites:

Only Lovers

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

This is not just one of my favourite vampire movies, but one of my favourite movies of all time. It’s a beautiful story about two long-term lovers and how they survive in the modern world. The characters, atmosphere and soundtrack are fantastic. I can never get enough of watching this.

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Interview with the Vampire (1994)

What goth does not love this movie? Who has not fallen in love with the brooding, dramatic Louis, perfectly devilish Lestat and deceptively sweet little Claudia? This movie celebrates everything we love about vampires with all the flair and panache it can muster. After twenty-three years, it remains unrivalled.

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Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In (2008)

Like Only Lovers, it’s primarily a love story. It’s also highly driven by the characters and atmosphere. The protagonist is quiet 12-year-old Oskar, who is relentlessly bullied at school and obsessed with true crime. He meets a mysterious girl who is new in the neighbourhood. Coincidentally, a string of violent attacks start to occur at her arrival. The horror is certainly there, but as a whole it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

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Wir Sind die Nacht We Are the Night (2010)

With all the brooding vampires around, it’s refreshing to see vampires who enjoy, and even revel in, being vampires. More so when those vampires are women. In Wir Sind die Nacht all vampires, in fact, are women. Doesn’t that make for an intriguing premise? And isn’t Wir Sind die Nacht a killer title?

nosferatu

Nosferatu (1922)

A classic. I have seen this several times in a theatre setting with live music and every time it scared the shit out of me. No vampire movie has scared me quite like the almost century-old Nosferatu. It’s all in the atmosphere and portrayal of the vampire.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

If I believed in guilty pleasures, that’s what I would call this. The special effects, the acting, the soundtrack, the costumes; It’s all completely over the top and ridiculous, but I love it.

Hotel-Transylvania-3

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

I’m not generally a fan of (children’s) animated movies, but my girlfriend suckered me into watching this. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a really cute story about a young vampire girl, her hilariously overprotective father, and a human boy who she falls for. In an interesting twist, the monsters in this world are scared of the humans, instead of the other way around.

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What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Another kooky one in the mix. This is a mockumentary style film that follows a group of vampire roommates in their daily (nightly?) lives. It shows their struggles of dividing up the chores, getting dressed without a mirror, having to feed on massive amounts of blood and other ordinary things. It plays with the clichés in the genre brilliantly.

Series Review – Girlboss

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Girlboss is about twentysomething misfit Sophia and how she builds her vintage clothing business, Nasty Gal. While building her business, she has to deal with a hernia, unsatisfied customers, neglected friends and other vintage sellers who disagree with her methods. The show is full of colourful characters and fantastic fashion.

From the beginning the main character, Sophia, is insufferable. She walks over everyone else to have her own way, acts like she knows absolutely everything and expects others to be endeared by her quirks. Her best friend, Annie, is not much more likeable. This made the first couple of episodes hard to get through. And yet, there was something about the show that made me keep watching.

The story was intriguing enough and the aesthetic fantastic. Watching Sophia go through all that vintage clothing, while well-dressed herself, inspired me to go back to my favourite thrift shops and experiment more with my own style myself. Also, to get my bangs cut again. And go to San Francisco.

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Her entrepreneurship was very inspiring too. She’s not a girl you expect to succeed, but she turns out to be highly resourceful. She actively solves problems and is shown to have good business sense. Together with showing her vulnerability, she becomes a lot more likeable over the course of the series. In the final episodes I was happy to see her succeed with her business and really felt for her when she was unexpectedly betrayed.

Unfortunately, only snippets of the building of her company are shown. Most of the storyline seems to be about Sophia’s personal life, her relationships and struggles (unlike what the trailer suggests). I would have liked to see more about the business side of it. The best episodes are the ones which center on some facet of Nasty Gal, like ‘Ladyshopper99’ in which Sophia goes through every resource to satisfy a disgruntled customer. The ones which are more about Sophia’s relationships, like ‘Top 8’ and ‘The Trip’, I could have done without.

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The humour in the series is here and there. Sometimes it’s hilarious, like in the dialogue or in the portrayal of certain characters. Other times it completely misses the mark. In the already mentioned ‘Top 8’ for example; I kept waiting for those outlandish flashbacks to become funny, but they never did.

It was inconsistent in tone too. The text messages and sales popping up on the screen, to name some, seemed out of place. Those didn’t fit with the rest of the tone/aesthetic the series was going for. In ‘Vintage Fashion Forum’ the incorporation of the internet was brilliant though. I loved how they showed the interaction between the characters on the forum and in the chatroom.

If you like stories about female entrepreneurs, vintage fashion and Wes Anderson type humour, give Girlboss a shot. Even if you don’t love the main character, you may find yourself binge-watching it late into the night.

Lessons learned in a clothing distribution centre

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For the past five months I worked full-time in a clothing distribution centre of a fairly big Dutch clothing brand. I packaged orders at the webshop, threw products onto a conveyor belt, unpacked and put products in storage, etc. It wasn’t my first choice of jobs, but, you know, writers also have bills to pay.

I learned a lot from my experience there though. Here are some of the things I took away from it:

  • ANY job is better than no job. Even if all you do is sticker price tags all day, it’s still better than sitting at home useless and parasitically living off other people.
  • Any work can be fulfilling if you’re continually learning new things and getting better at it.
  • If you have nice, fun colleagues it vastly improves your general experience. They are invaluable in this kind of repetitive work.
  • Repetitive actions, like folding and storing clothes, can be meditative and calming; they also give you an excellent opportunity to come up with solutions to problems in your creative projects.
  • Any attempt to wear cute clothes and chunky jewellery when you do physical work is futile.
  • Learn from others who have been at the job longer. Try methods that you see others use, even if it seems illogical to you. It will help you in the long run.
  • Make tasks as easy on yourself as possible. Doing something the hard way won’t impress anyone.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask men for help for something that requires physical strength. You may think you’re strong and tough and can totally do all the things the boys can, but sometimes you’ll just unnecessarily injure yourself if you lift something that’s too heavy for you.
  • A lot more clothes can fit in a box than you expect. Sometimes, you’ll think no, it’s way too much, there’s too big a pile sticking out at the top, it’ll never fit. Just close the box; it’ll fit.
  • Always wash new clothes.
  • The best way to wake up on a work morning is by putting on some cheerful music and singing along loudly. At work, cheerful music is also great to keep motivated.
  • Speaking of music, what the Dutch call fout (‘wrong’, meaning something like guilty pleasure) music is significantly more enjoyable than the modern pop shit on the radio.
  • A positive mindset improves every experience (one of those lessons that you have to learn over and over again).

Picture by Jim Killock

Music Review – Stray From the Path’s Only Death is Real

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Say what you will about the current political situation, it does make for some damn fine music.

Stray From the Path’s Only Death is Real is a relentless attack against the present U.S. administration, and its supporters, from start to finish. SFTP have made brutal, confrontational political music before, but not to this degree.

Only Death wastes no time in engaging the listener and demanding them to pick a side. “You with us or the enemy?” in ‘The Opening Move’. This polarisation is characteristic of the album as a whole. Every song shoves SFTP’s political views down your throat, leaving you no room to breathe. It sounds great if you agree with them. If you don’t… Well, you probably won’t listen to this album for long.

Musically, SFTP have not changed much. Rage Against the Machine influenced riffs, punishing breakdowns that make you yearn for a moshpit, vocals that are more rapped than sung. The first couple of songs on Only Death sound very exciting. But then they tend to bleed into each other. The only standout tracks are ‘Goodnight Alt-Right’, ‘The House Always Wins’ and ‘Only Death is Real’.

There are some gems in the long-running stream of vitriol though. The opening of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ for one: “Everything has its price, but the price is wrong bitch.” SFTP do have a knack for creating killer opening lines. Lines that you can’t help but belt out as loud as you can wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. I also love the breakdown in ‘Plead the Fifth’, with the lyrics “Welcome to the melting pot motherfucker. If you don’t like it, then get the fuck out.” And, of course, Keith Buckley kills it in ‘Strange Fiction’.

Only Death is a good album overall. However, it doesn’t have the same replay value as SFTP’s previous couple of albums. It’s too specifically political and has too little innovation.

Rating: 7/10

Recommended for fans of Rage Against the Machine, Hatebreed, Stick To Your Guns etc.

The best thing about travelling

LucMercelis_rome

There are a lot of nice things about travelling. You get to temporarily escape your daily, hopefully not so dreary, life, explore new, exciting places, meet new, inspiring people; just to name a couple. I enjoy all of these. But what I consider to be the best?

The necessity of living out of a suitcase, or backpack.

It sounds trivial compared to what I mentioned first. It probably sounds like one of the more irksome parts of travelling too. Hell, I used to hate being confined to a suitcase when I went on vacation as a kid. I always thought I needed ALL MY THINGS all the time, so I overpacked my battered suitcase within an inch of its life. I would have to jump on it with my full weight and beat it closed, while desperately battling the THINGS spilling out of all three open sides. Then of course I could barely lift the thing and it would be too heavy for the airplane and I had to take crap out and there would be arguments with my parents. Oh, these vacations never started well.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve become more critical about my values. I’ve gotten less materialistic, I hope. Now, whenever I pack for a trip I don’t start by piling all the convenient things in a suitcase. I start by considering how little I want to carry around. Over the years I’ve come to loathe carrying around too much crap. Have you ever gotten horribly lost on your way to a ho(s)tel with painfully heavy luggage in your hands? Nightmare.

When I pack for a trip, I think more critically about what I truly need. About what I truly value in my life. Do I really need a different outfit every other day? Both my laptop and my tablet? A whole grocery bag full of snacks in case I have trouble finding vegan food?

MantoPrestipino_luggage

My space is limited, my personal carrying capacity is limited. What I take with me has to be worth the space and the hassle. I’ve found that there are rather few things that are worth that.

The suitcase I have now is almost half the size of the suitcases I used to take with me on vacation. I once bought it for a short trip to London of about a week, because my regular suitcase was too big. I was hilarious, really. For a week-long trip I could now live out of my school backpack. The suitcase I once considered small is now my go-to suitcase for all longer airplane trips, and WGT. I usually have room left in it*.

It is unbelievably freeing to travel with as little as possible. When you’re not as weighed down with THINGS, an infinite amount of roads seem to be open to you. Your personal limitations seem to dissolve. You seem to have more space to breathe.

I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything in the world. Not for my beloved gothic lolita wardrobe, not for dozens of my favourite books, not for any convenient gadgets. When I have to live out of a suitcase, or backpack, I realise again and again how little all those excess material things mean to me.

Sure, it’s nice that those things are waiting for me when I get back home, but it’s nicer to know that I could do without.

* The exception, of course, is for WGT. Goth vanity kills me.

Pictures by Luc Mercelis and Manto Prestipino

Book Review – How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

howtobeawoman

I had been meaning to read this book for ages. It came highly recommended from feminist friends and I had a copy I got for free lying on my shelf for maybe two years. The fact that the copy in question is a Dutch translation was not very motivating. But a couple of weeks ago it felt like its time had come. It’s funny how that goes with books sometimes. They can be on your shelf for say, two years, and many times your eyes skip over them as you scan your overstuffed shelves looking for the next book to read. Then out of the blue, when you’ve long forgotten the initial interest you had in them, they can call out to you and you know YES, this is The One. That gut feeling of how this book was what I needed at the moment proved right.

This book starts off with a rather clunky prologue detailing the author’s worst birthday and how clueless she was about how to become a woman. The best part of the prologue is the end when Moran discusses feminism and its enduring necessity. I loved her straightforward definition:

What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.

After this Moran goes through all the big milestones of “becoming a woman” in more or less chronological order, with a lot of personal stories to accompany them. A lot of this was easy to relate to. I can’t tell you how often I read something and mentally gasped and said to myself I thought it was only me!

I loved the writing style, even translated. It’s lively, creative and intelligent. It’s hilarious at the points when you agree with the author, obnoxious when you don’t. The writing style is also uncompromising and confrontational. Moran has a tendency to assume that all women are the same in certain areas. I get that this tendency is necessary to keep a book like this consistent, but it did bother me at times. For example in the chapter about weddings. She takes it for granted that all women dream about their ideal weddings and look forward to it like it will be the greatest day in their lives. This was completely alien to me.

This book has an extraordinary honesty. In it Moran discusses so much that we would rather sweep under the rug. It gets uncomfortably graphic about certain female experiences. I didn’t mind this much; it was strangely reassuring. The part where she described the birth of her first child read like a horror novel though. If you already know that you don’t want children, this will only make you more steadfast. If, on the other hand, you do want children… Good luck getting through it!

Overall, I loved this book. It was very relatable and eye-opening. Reassuring, as I’ve mentioned before. Also inspiring to improve my non-fiction writing. I would love to read it again, in the original language, someday.

Modern females, if there’s only one feminist book you read in your life, you should consider How to Be a Woman. If the confrontational tone, graphic descriptions and swearing don’t put you off, I’m sure you’ll love it.

Quotes:

You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.

It’s difficult to see the glass ceiling because it’s made of glass. Virtually invisible. What we need is for more birds to fly above it and shit all over it, so we can see it properly.

At its best fashion is a game. But for women it’s a compulsory game, like net ball, and you can’t get out of it by faking your period. I know I have tried. And so for a woman every outfit is a hopeful spell, cast to influence the outcome of the day. An act of trying to predict your fate, like looking at your horoscope. No wonder there are so many fashion magazines. No wonder the fashion industry is worth an estimated 900 billion dollars a year. No wonder every woman’s first thought is, for nearly every event in her life, be it work, snow or birth. The semi-despairing cry of “but what will I wear?” Because when a woman says I have nothing to wear, what she really means is there is nothing here for who I am supposed to be today.

New Converge EP – ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’

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Yesterday I got a casual little e-mail from Spotify: “New single from Converge now available.”

WHAT?

It’s been five years since their last release (excluding live albums and re-workings) and with no warning this bomb gets dropped on us.

The single is called ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’ and along with another track, ‘Eve’, it was released on an EP. The beginning of ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’ is pretty standard Converge, in so far as there is anything standard about Converge: fast, brutal and angry. Then it lurches into another direction with “I just need to leave, just need to find my way out”. Oh, these lyrics. They hit deep.

When you’re already convinced that this is another great Converge song, it ends with an epic, annihilating breakdown. The second half of this song is really what takes it to the next level.

I have been listening to it over and over and over this afternoon. ‘About Pain’ has a rawness reminiscent of You Fail Me, one of my favourite Converge albums. The rawness is what makes it so disturbingly relatable.

As for ‘Eve’… I have no words.

Just listen to it. With decent headphones.

It’s a fairly long song at 7 ½ minutes, but keeps you captivated throughout. When I was listening to ‘Eve’, with my headphones on and eyes closed, I drifted off to another world. Especially at the beginning, I felt like I was in The North in Westeros or some post-apocalyptic wasteland or something. I have also been listening to ‘Eve’ repeatedly this afternoon, after I recovered from ‘About Pain’.

This EP only has the two songs, but strangely it’s all you need from Converge. Both of the songs showcase the best of them. ‘About Pain’ features their fast-paced, angry side and ‘Eve’ their more contemplative, experimental side. While they’re very different songs, they’re equally intense. No punches are pulled.

I do hope this means that they have a new album coming up though…

My #1 tool to instantly get myself into a good mood

Avril Lavigne - Smile (7)

Lately I’ve been having a lot of bad days. Days when I feel completely unmotivated to do any of the things I have to do. From the moment my alarm goes off at the absurd hour of 4:30, I’ll be cranky. I won’t want to shower, dress in my boring jeans and shirt uniform, cycle the half hour to my shit job with the wind against me, and especially not spend the great majority of the day doing intense physical labour that does nothing to help me achieve my personal work goals.

I’ll get so frustrated before I even get out of bed. I’ll hate having obligations and so little time or energy to spend on the things I actually enjoy. I’ll hate being a slave to money and hate the whole capitalist system and hate my life in general.

When this happens, I know that I have a choice. I can choose to stay miserable and hate everything, or I can actively cheer myself up and transform my day into a nice one.

I tend to choose the latter. How I do this when it seems like there is no good in sight?

Pop punk.

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Yes, pop punk.

Specifically, the good old pop punk spawned in the 90s and early 2000s: Good Charlotte, Blink-182, Green Day, Avril Lavigne and so forth.

It sounds ridiculously easy, but for me it makes a world of difference. It’s impossible to stay in a sour mood when I hear something as fun and familiar like ‘The Anthem’ or ‘All the Small Things’. And I don’t ever wanna, I don’t ever wanna be you…

So in the morning I’ll put on my pop punk playlist at too loud a volume and inevitably sing along louder. (Both at home and while I cycle the long way. Singing while cycling makes the road infinitely more fun) Before long I’ll be happy to be alive again. Able to laugh at my misery. Completely capable of handling whatever the day will throw at me. With pop punk at my side, I’ll show up at my shit job grinning like an idiot.

Of course, I won’t want to listen to such cheerful music at first. When I’m in a sour mood I only want angry music to justify my anger. It’s always an effort to put on something that will make me happy instead. And always worth that effort a thousand times over.

Some of my favourites:

Long live pop punk!

How to not write a novel

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  • Do not, under any circumstances, start writing without an outline or other solid plan. If you do, you’ll spend forever untangling your mess of a novel. Your plot will make no sense, your characters will be flat and contradictory and you will have too many ill-explored themes. Revising this will frustrate the hell out of you and will lead to many bad life decisions and too much money spent on liquor.
  • Seriously, don’t start writing without an outline.
  • Don’t write your outline without a basic knowledge of plot structure and character arcs. I know things like plot structure seem boring and formulaic, but it’s good to have a handle on. Not to say that you need to follow the structural ‘rules’ of writing to the letter. However, you can’t break the rules without knowing them and understanding how they work.
  • Don’t edit or censor yourself as you go through the first draft. Let it all flow onto the page/document. Even if it feels like it’s becoming a mess despite your outline. Revising and editing will come later. Finish this draft first.
  • Don’t assume that others will understand your characters like you do. You may have a crystal-clear idea about who they are in your head, but does it show in your work?
  • Don’t start revising on a chapter by chapter basis. If you do, you’ll keep running into the same structural problems and pushing them back instead of solving them. Rather, start by looking at your draft as a whole. Does it have a consistent theme? Is there a logical sequence of events? Etc. After you’ve fixed the bigger issues, work your way down to the details.
  • Don’t procrastinate on revising by writing blog posts about writing novels.