What I Go To School For

Has it really been a week since last I blogged? What’s the deal with Time these days? Have the Tories made cuts to that too? I’m feeling kind of like the ol’ Prof from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at the moment. Or, at least I’m feeling how I imagine he feels; confused, slow and desperate to get back to Narnia.

Magical wardrobe. you say?
              Magical wardrobe. you say?

As is usual for this time of year, I have some kind of sinus issue that has been building for a good few weeks. This involves pain across my nose, cheeks, eyes and forehead, aka all the places everyone loves having constant pain. Went to the doctor and got a sweet steroid nasal spray. This is the same doctor, by the way, who was inordinately excited the first time he looked down my throat because apparently I have a perfectly visible epiglottis, the likes of which he had never seen. So there you go. But less about the inner workings of this sanctum I call “body”. I think I promised some chit chat about my research this week, which I know you’re all really excited about, so I shall deny you no longer.

For those of you who have never asked, i.e. all of you, I’m writing a collection of poetry featuring animals with voices and researching talking animals in other people’s poetry at the same time. The research is complementary to the poetry, y’see? I’m interested in why a poet might use an otherwise non-speaking, non-human animal to express difficult, human emotions. Speaking purely from my own experience, it’s just a darn sight easier to have a charming, cartoonish bear spouting about the pressures of life’s loneliness than to allow the reader to see the inner workings of your soul.

But I’m fairly sure there are other reasons to give animals voices besides personal masking. Comic effect, perhaps? The idea of a pelican reading a sermon for instance, is (subjectively) funny. Pelicans can’t read, let alone become priests – I mean, where on earth would you find vestments made to fit a pelican in the first place? It’s ridiculous. And would, in my humble opinion, make a good set up for a poem that has the potential to entertain an audience. The question of what’s in the sermon, and whether or not I would be attempting to make a discreet observation about religion comes back to masking I suppose, but the overall effect would be a humorous one and so we could say the pelican speaks to elicit amusement.

Father O'Pelecanidae
                   Father O’Pelecanidae

Over the last decade or so there has been some discussion about whether or not it’s entirely moral to force an animal to speak against its will as it were, with an underlying insinuation that animals who speak in literature and human culture in general are mere puppets of our anthropocentric society, and portraying them in this way makes them ridiculous and therefore easier to exploit and/or kill. Say whaaaaat? Part of me thinks this is verging on absurd, but then I wonder if I’ve just been conditioned by the Judaeo-Christian structures and scriptures that are (somehow) alive and well across the world to believe that humans should be allowed to use animals however we want to because we are (according to God and Father O’Pelecanidae) the smartest animals of all. (The other side of this coin is the argument that portraying “soft” versions of wild animals has led more people to the conclusion that it’s totally okay to go into the woods and try to cuddle a grizzly bear, because Winnie the Pooh is an amiable little tub of fun. Not the case, folks, don’t do it.)

So maybe that’s another reason a writer would use an animal speaker in their work, i.e. because they think they have every right to force words out of a beak or a snout just like they apparently have every right to slice a chicken into bite-sized bits for use in a stir-fry or a family fun fajita filler. I’m not here to judge. I mean, I’m literally having chicken fajitas for dinner later…and also writing loads of poems with animal speakers/characters.

BUT…part of me would like to believe I’m doing it in an attempt to get closer to animals in general, to try and see life from their perspective. Okay, I realise turning a pelican into a priest isn’t exactly seeing the world from the actual point of view of a pelican, but I do write serious poems about animals and the challenges they face. Of course they will never properly portray the feelings or thoughts of an animal (guys, I promise I’m human, stop asking), but poems like these can show a level of empathy for the other creatures that share the earth, highlighting one of the things that actually distinguishes us from animals in the first place.

And then I think, is it empathy or guilt? Have I written a poem about a roadkill fox because I’m trying to empathise and understand how shitty it would feel to be pancaked across a motorway, or have I written it because I feel guilty about the way large swathes of humanity have no regard for anything besides themselves? I don’t really have any answers beyond my own opinions and there’s not likely to be a definitive answer on this topic until animals get their fingers out and learn to speak for real. Aaaaand yet this is my life for the next two years.

This has been a lot longer and more rambling than I originally intended and actually not about Debra Hassig’s Medieval Bestiaries as I promised last week – sorry to anyone who was despo to hear my views on it, I’ll try and sort out some one-to-one sessions for y’all in the future. Anyway I think it’s been good for me to hash out a few ideas into an incoherent, self-indulgent mess #soundslikemysexlife/How was it for you? Answers on a postcard.

Here’s the rest of my week.

  • PhD Stuff

I just told you, stop asking me!

  • Poetry

Poem about the plight of a stag in the works. I know you’re all desperate to read it, but you’ll just have to wait…probably forever.

  • Comedy

We were oot watching Gein’s Family Giftshop on Wednesday night so slightly behind on the ol’ Bake Off – podcast should be up here today though. Yet to watch Fantasia so It Disney Matter will have to wait.

  • Drawings

Haven’t quite finished this week’s drawing, it’s been a busy time at home with visitors and shows and puppy woes so not had much time to myself.

  • Exercise

Fuck it, I decided to just get fat and be happy. JK! Sinus infection kept me from the pool again this week, but should be raring to go Monday morning, yay!

  • Puppy

There’s been no noticeable improvement with St Chumbo’s Fire as yet. We’re pretty much at the end of our super long tethers. Choices are: A) pay lots of money for a behaviourist to see if she can help with the aggression (both bitten lots again this week), B) rehome him and be utterly broken-hearted forever, or C) continue as we are, until the day he unexpectedly bites a child and we have to have him put down. Watch this space, folks. (I will literally die of crying if it’s B or C.)

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Adventures in Dog

Well, what a jumbled week it’s been. Very nearly decided to can writing a blog since I wasn’t sure I had that much to say, but then the ghost of Marianne Moore haunted me, waving myriad personal essays in my face and I was thusly compelled to take up my keyboard and type for my life.

me and mazza moore
               JUDGEMENT IS SERVED.

We got our puppy neutered this week. In all honesty, he’s been a bit of a shit towards us of late. The growly, barky, bitey kind of shit that you really don’t want to be around. You really come to see yourself as ridiculous when you have your head in a dog cage, growling loudly in order to take back a sock from the jaws of a tiny animal that’s baying for your blood. What’s a girl to do? Cut his balls off, apparently. Not sure at this point how much of a difference it’s made.

I’d say about 85% of the time, owning a puppy is as joyful as everyone is led to believe. In the morning, for example, seeing your tiny puppy’s face pop up at the side of the bed, tail a-wagging and more excited to see you than your mother ever has been, that’s really great. When you hold out your hand to him and he puts his little paw in your palm? Yes, you feel your heart break because you know you’ll never be that cute. But when your puppy comes to you, seemingly seeking affection, which you duly offer only to be snarled at? Not so hot.

Guys, I know what you’re thinking. I’d like to point out that we haven’t just allowed him rule the roost. Our vet told us golden-coloured cocker spaniels can be temperamental and aggressive (Chumbo is a cockapoo, but may as well be a spaniel – see picture). She advised us to keep him off the furniture, serve our meals first and speak to him the way we would if he was a naughty toddler.

The unconvincing terror.
                The unconvincing terror.

So we are trying super hard to assert dominance. Remember? Me? Head in a cage? Growling? It’s hard for two completely non-aggressive wimps to have to morph into alpha-males in order to control a puppy who thinks he’s in charge. But like I said, we’re trying. Chumbo is now on a strict schedule of short walks followed by play and training sessions with plenty of sleep and alone time thrown in. If he so much as curls his lip at us these days, we use our newly acquired “tough” voices, all privileges are swiftly whipped away and he’s in time out until he calms down.

I’d also like to point out, he is NOT like this with other people. We’ve had friends look after him who say he’s the best behaved dog they’ve encountered. So maybe he just gets bored of our company. Or he’s turning into a teenager. Or he knows we’re his pack and he wants to be the leader, which is almost endearing considering how much larger we in comparison. Almost.

Basically what I think I’m trying to say is, he’s certainly no Cujo, but we’ve been slightly taken aback by these instances of bad attitude. I thought that by 5 months he’d be speaking fluent English and able to tell us exactly what he requires, but nay. Instead, it seems we’ve had to learn to speak dog. Might be useful for my research; I’ll keep you posted. (Any suggestions, are, of course, very welcome!)

Besides dog days, here’s a rundown of my week:

• PhD Stuff
Investigations into taxidermy. Not a big fan of the practice, but it’s extremely interesting to read about and has led to a number of new ideas. Also started reading Debra Hassig’s Medieval Bestiaries. V. interesting so far, hopefully more on this next week.
• Poetry
Started 1 new poem and tweaked a couple of older ones. Finally bought stamps. Two envelopes now in transit.
• Comedy
Episode 2 of the Great British Bitch off available here. Episode 2 of the Disney podcast is still being edited – small technical disaster has delayed its release. Hang tight, folks, we’ll be right with you.
• Drawings
Did this guy and have another one I’m finishing up.
• Exercise
Swimming buddy is currently knee deep in the Fringe. Could have gone myself but didn’t because I’m scared of facing the world alone. Lots(ish) of walking instead.
• Puppy
See above.

(I also want to quickly say I’m dealing with some big life stuff at the moment, which is another story for another time, but if I’ve blown you off or made you feel like I’m ignoring you this week, I’m not, I’m just not really myself right now. Peace pals, peace x)

Embarking and EdFringe

(This is my new blog. I’m hoping to update it weekly and will use it as a means of documenting my life as a poet, researcher, dog owner, comedian and artist. Doing this because I read that Marianne Moore wrote 5 personal essays a week while she was a student and while I can’t really say that these posts will be “personal essays”, I’m trying to get more general writing done on a week-to-week basis and a blog seemed like a good way to do it. Plus Mazza Moore is one of my research subjects and she was a stone cold poetry babe master, so hers isn’t a bad book from which to take a leaf. I also want to use it as a means of perseverance  – life is kinda tough right now, but hopefully recording small achievements regularly will provide much needed encouragement, even if I’m the only one who ever reads them. Okay, here’s goes!)

Good afternoon, world, this is your captain speaking. When I say captain, I mean captain of this website/blog, rather than anything fancier like an aeroplane or a volleyball team. I was never very good at sports and can barely drive a car let alone a plane. However, I’m going to maintain this plane captain style of speaking in the hopes that it might encourage you to sit back, relax and enjoy what will no doubt be a turbulent, rambling flight through my life.

So right now the weather in Edinburgh is fine and sunny, a smooth 16°C for this, the first day of the Fringe Festival (I think the official first day is tomorrow, but there are a ton of shows already on, and I’m going to see my first one this afternoon (Ben Target: Imagine There’s No Ben Target (It’s Easy If You Try)), so we’ll call it the first day and have done with it; anyone who disagrees can see me after the flight. JK, of course you can’t mix with the captain! I’ll be busy moving through the airport in slo-mo, wheeling my tiny, perfect-square suitcase along behind me. I mean, what can I fit in there, really? Like one pair of pants and a toothbrush?)

This Fringe is quite novel for me because it’s the first one in all of (my own) Fringe history that I’m NOT doing a show. Admittedly it’s only my fourth Fringe, and I get that other people have been coming for a lot longer and have done more shows than I probably ever will, but I’m already enjoying the stress-free atmosphere that is abuzz in our little flat*. Up until about a month ago I was in fact scheduled to do TWO full-run shows, one as one half of Me3 Comedy (more about that later) and one as a cast member of a show called F-Holes (every day (except the Wednesdays) at Paradise Palms, 13:10 – go see it, it’s genuinely going to be great!) HOWEVER I’m also trying to juggle a PhD, a new puppy, a fledgling career as a fledgling poet and a haunting past, so decided that this would be a Fringe worth dedicating to something besides comedy/an inevitable nervous breakdown.

Am I sad about it? Slightly. Lots of friends are doing shows and it’s tough to watch them getting ready and excited about performing – there really ain’t nothing like the thrill of a successful stage appearance, folks. But at the same time, I don’t envy the high octane anxiety that they’re definitely going through – don’t lie, guys, you know putting on a show is really worrying. Also, big crowds of people make me super sad. I’m a fast walker, crowds are slow. I’m a polite person, crowds are RUDE. I understand that taking up an entire pavement to get a selfie with a statue of a dog is idiotic, crowds do not get it. So I am zooooo happy that I have the option to avoid it all this summer and see whatever the heck shows I want without having to plan it all around days off and my own performance hours.

Marianne MacRae
How did this get here?!

That being said, I am making a few guest appearances (that makes me sound so famous and in demand, so I’m sticking with it, but FYI, I’m the least famous/in demand person you do or do not know at this point). Me and my comedy/life partner Richard Hanrahan will be doing Backrow Presents… on the 8th and 15th, 21:45 at Banshee Labyrinth (we watch a bad movie and say shit over the top of it); I’m on at the Blind Poetics Big Night of Spoken Word event on the 10th (it runs from 8pm til 1am, and I’m on in the 9pm-10pm slot) and I’ll also be doing Chutney Exhibition’s Poets Against Humanity on the 21st , 20:40 at Chiquito on Frederick Street. They’re all sure to be good fun in spite of my presence at them, so do come along if you’re free and in Edinburgh**.

And now this blog is over. Here’s brief a roundup of my week thus far:

PhD Stuff
Read a bunch of essays on representing animals. Became very interested in the idea of animals representing the dead, so we’ll see where that goes.
Poetry
Started 2 new poems, finished 1 poem. Met with Poetry Gang to discuss last week’s poem; not gonna lie, it needs work. Put some work in an envelope to send to Mslexia. Have yet to buy stamps.
Puppy
No bites for me, one bite for Hitch. Slowly realising we’re in charge, but taking his sweet time about it. Balls off next week, promise to keep y’all posted on our dogs genitals!
Comedy
Me3 Comedy released TWO new podcasts; one about Disney and one dedicated to the Great British Bake Off. Listen here!
Exercise
Made it to 20 lengths in the pool, spent the next day in bed exhausted. Diagnosed myself with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Drawing
Working on some new things…I’m sure there will be hilarious/amazing illustrations to accompany these posts at some point.

*It’s clearly not stress-free, we have an excitable, five-month old puppy in our midst.
**This works on the assumption that anyone is actually reading this…if you are, hiiiii! Thanks for spending your virtual time with me ❤