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Leo X. Robertson

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Thoughts on National Coming Out Day!

It was National Coming Out Day yesterday when I posted about Mental Health Day ahaha 😅

What the fuck, is it National Leo Themes Month or some shit? I can only type so fast!

And believe it or not, I’ve been reading loads about gay shame lately. And again, this is the kind of thing you mention and I know anyone reading this would be like, “That’s terrible! There should be no such thing”, but it might even be the natural outcome of living life in a society not set up to benefit you—or one in which the majority without even noticing imply that the way they live life is the best way simply because most people do it that way. Even without the epic weights of gay-targeting pandemics, criminalisation and stigma.

But anyway, before I get into it, I once saw in a review of a James Baldwin book, “Imagine what amazing things he could have written if he hadn’t had to dedicate so much time to the analysis of racism.” So that’s really what I struggle with: adequately voicing my dissent against homophobia while at the same time wanting to spend my time and energy on stuff that isn’t bullshit. I just can’t spend too much time on other people’s hatred. And a little wariness at sounding militant and putting people off spending any time with me at all—I don’t know if this is a real concern, but if it is, it certainly wouldn’t indicate that I live in an equal society if I was being judged on separate criteria from straight people, right? Maybe you’ve hardly thought about it. I know I try not to.

So anyway, quick-fire round (no pun intended): I should never have been in sex education classes where the teacher mentions that some pupils think all gay people should be shot. I should not have had that said to my face by someone else: “You know I used to think all gay people should just get shot. But I see now you can still have fun!” I mean, what the fuck? Would you like a list of types of people I would like to see shot? That list is empty. And I hardly like anyone!!

I should not have had people use the word “gay” to mean “broken” or “lame” used around me. When I came out, I shouldn’t have had it questioned? It was difficult enough bringing it up, and I hadn’t gotten it wrong, but what would it have mattered if I had? You think I would have been like, “Are you telling me I kissed all those boys for NOTHING?!” Hahaha… Except I didn’t even kiss any boys until I was like 17!! All that shame about my nature combined with stupid homophobia probably keeping others around me from coming out. Do you realise how much kissing I could have done otherwise? Shame on YOU!!

It’s easy to feel grateful to those who historically have fought for my rights, but nobody could feel thankful that they had to. Adults loving one another is beautiful and should only ever be promoted and celebrated in all its forms. As far as I can be bothered working out, I think it was okay for huge swathes of history before crusaders decided Christianity was the answer for everyone. Jesus is a major cock block, just sayin’…

Kiss men, women, non-binary and trans people—and just focus on the kissing while you’re doing it, right? Don’t be all like, “What does this mean about me? What shall I now call myself? What will others think?” Nobody should fucking care. From my experience, most people talk about the stakes of their life as if they’re much higher than they are. Nobody is watching, and if they are, they shouldn’t be. There has been far too little kissing going on. Worry about that!!

Oh and for all the time it took those around me to grow and accept gay people, I’d just like to point out that from the moment I met my cat, she didn’t care. She likes to sleep on Juan because he’s cosier. That’s her only observation. I don’t know what to make of this but it seemed relevant ☺️

Thoughts on World Mental Health Day :)

I see it was World Mental Health Day yesterday! (A Sunday in October? Yes, good time to be aware of it!)

I have some thoughts 🙂

I take an anti-depressant every morning! I started early 2020, I think? It was after Xmas 2019 where my full-blown Dad grief came back and I thought, gladly, that it was no longer “productive” or “meaningful” to go through that much pain again. See, I had to go through it for the first six months or so after losing my dad because that was a normal or healthy response to what had happened, I suppose. I don’t think anyone would have prescribed me anti-depressants then, nor do I think they would have been a good idea. But I “resurfaced as myself” at some point after that, so when all that pain came back again full force it was like, “Alright, enough of this.” I truly don’t think I would’ve survived another round of it.

I’ve also had pretty bad seasonal affective disorder my whole life too, and at the very least I never want to go through another winter without anti-depressants. (Given that you need to take them months after you feel better, and start taking them pre-emptively again before the winter starts, I might as well just take them my whole life. Who cares if I have to?) I even told my family I wanted to switch my birthday, December 13th, to my half-birthday, June 13th, because I never had anything to celebrate in winter. They managed once but Mum took it as a personal insult that she didn’t get to celebrate my birthday on my actual birthday. Mum disclaimer, she was great etcetera, but I didn’t know about boundaries, growing up.

Side note: I knew advanced calculus but I didn’t know about boundaries? What the fuck were they teaching us? And why were so many of them such dicks? No wonder it took me so long to realise that what I was feeling WASN’T NORMAL when school life was so boring, petty, alienating and often run by people who have let the teeny tiniest amount of power go to their stupid heads. But I don’t let adults off the hook for not realising that life is what we make it, not what it appears to be. Experiencing bad behaviour is no indication of “how things have to be done.” It’s not an excuse for its perpetuation.

I mean, what could be more mine than my birthday, right? Still today I celebrate it on my actual birthday out of not wanting to cause a fuss, on a day to me that has more often than not felt like “The lights are out, the world is over, ALL IS LOST, DEATH DEATH DEATH” because I’d hate to be impolite. (Doesn’t feel like that anymore though: anti-depressants!)

Maybe all this does surprise you. It’s scary to me how little people notice the difference between my medicated and unmedicated versions. It’s more of a reassurance to them, not me, when they say I “have never been that bad.” Trust me: I have. It’s my depression, so I guess I can say I am glad to have spared others the pain that was in my own head (thus far, here’s hoping the pills keep working), though it probably came at my own further expense. It also makes me feel I really am alone in my vigilance against my own depression, because most people either don’t want to see it or they can’t. If this is new to some, I’m sure they’re very sorry I ever had to feel that way now, but they weren’t at the wedding/birthday/dinner/party when I was ever so quiet or mopey or legitimately-unable-to-attend-leave-me-the-fuck-alone-not-everything-is-about-you.

  • You’re so quiet, Leo!
  • You’re welcome! You did not want to know what was going on in my head.
  • Why did you stop drinking? Was it as a personal challenge to my own alcohol consumption?
  • What a weird way to have thought about it! Actually I stopped because PAAAAIIIINNN and DEEEAAAAAATH and AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHSTUPIDSTUPIDSHAMESHAME.

Some people around me know all this. Some might be surprised to hear that I still take anti-depressants, because I tapered off them during the summer. It didn’t last! The depression came back, and in a way that was different enough from how it had previously presented for me to not immediately notice. It’s a sneaky one, I tell you. Luckily I still had anti-depressants left so I started taking them again on the off chance that what I was feeling was a new expression of depression—a leap of faith as big as having taken the pills in the first place. Before the pills started to work again, I was fully convinced that they wouldn’t and nothing would ever be the same again and I was trash and all that. Everything I thought I had “learned”, I hadn’t. It was what the medication gave me. Anyway, the only success is my own healthy mental wellbeing, not how it is achieved. If I had stopped taking medication for good, it would have been no kind of victory.

In telling you all this, I don’t feel like I’m “confessing” anything. FINALLY! Depression has had me in a shame-bind for too long! “Confession” assumes I had something to be ashamed of. Should you be ashamed of having to wear glasses? No, your eyes just need a bit of help to see clearly. My brain has an aversion to its own serotonin for some reason. Unfortunately the symptom, unlike poor eyesight, is not that everything looks a bit blurry, but that the world is drained of hope and possibility, the past and the future disappear and all there is is the ever-painful present, OH LORD WHAT A CURSE IS CONSCIOUSNESS, EXISTENCE IS A MISTAKE!

I was reading this non-fiction book by a therapist recently where he was like, “Anti-depressants might keep you in a life that is non-ideal by making you numb to signals that your body is giving you that something is up and you need to fix it.” I think you can agree that’s not the case for me. I’d wake up in my own bed, in a flat I own, beside my husband and cat, about to go to my stable job and think “PAIIIINNN!! ENDLESS PAINNN!!” I’m not really sure what that signal was supposed to mean, do you? I think it’s best to get that out the way so I can go about my day, frankly!

I don’t know who invented anti-depressants but they are all absolute geniuses. It’s like self-worth in a pill. Some of us can’t affirm ourselves happy in the mirror. Going for a walk is a nice idea but to do it you have to get out of bed. Some of us can’t. And when we can’t, you can’t argue against our perfectly legitimate reasons for not bothering our arses.

In my writing, where possible I’ve tried to create sympathetic mentally ill characters. I was particularly pleased about my own character in TrutherNet when audience members said, “No, I don’t want to sympathise with him, he’s so toxic!” Yeah, cause he needs it most!

It’s a toughie! Our horrible behaviour is protection against the love and support we feel we don’t deserve. In earlier parts of this post I might have given voice to my frustrated depressed self who wasn’t receiving the help he needed, but the truth is, we are crafty at avoiding it.

So no, I don’t know the answer, and overall really I am saddened that all of us, either experiencing mental illness or being around those who experience it—everyone, then—are burdened with this thing we have to deal with, without which life would be so much more… joyous, I guess. I don’t know about you but there is this oddly idealising wee guy inside me who can’t stop wishing life wasn’t so damn unfair.

If you’re able to read this, I love you (in some way) and I know you’re doing your best. Keep it up. The world is so much better with you here 🥰🥰🥰

Something like a dedication

Three years ago yesterday, my wee dad, Charlie Robertson, passed away. It was sudden and (relatively) unexpected, but given that we all survived the heaviest grief, not the worst way to go out: having a lovely dinner with a friend in London, officially the most internationally convenient place for his three kids to fly from around the world, convene and sort out the funeral arrangements. So I guess my stance in retrospect is—could have been worse.

What followed the news of Dad’s passing was maybe a weird month of peace—shock, probably. I even tried to go into work the next day but they made me go home. I said, “I just want things to be normal.” They said, “Leo, this is not normal.”

Which didn’t make any sense to me. What’s more normal than a person dying? And what was I supposed to do at home anyway: feel really bad without distraction?

But I had no energy to debate, as you can imagine. I couldn’t be at work but I couldn’t be at home. I didn’t want to be anywhere at all, but there was no solace to be had. I get that. I was familiar with it, in fact, having already lost Mum. When I got the news about dad I thought, “Well, say goodbye to a year at least.”

After the month of peace came minutes upon hours upon days upon weeks upon months of excruciating pain, with the occasional eye-of-storm peace again—if only to ensure I stayed alive so the pain could keep feeding off me the next day. “When grief starts, it’s so big,” someone told me once, and I saw her looking up at it, the grief, as I once had. A big boulder of it crushing me into the ground. I’d get off the couch or bed and lie on the floor, where I found it comfiest. The place of least resistance.

You become the worst version of yourself: instantly embittered and blind to almost all good. People will kindly tell you, “No, you weren’t like that.” To which I think, “Oh yeah I was. But it seems like I managed to spare you from it, thankfully.” And at what cost? Perhaps I should’ve raged more, for what good it might have done.

You might do things while bereaved that scare you, that are unexpected or out of character. But this is emergency mode: the point is not, currently, to build a good life but to get to tomorrow. You would have to do something pretty bad for me to judge you.

I’m aware I’m not holding anything back, here. But this is par for the course of any standard grieving experience, and the bereaved don’t have energy to care how hard it is to hear. The least we can do for the grieving is listen without judgment. That it’s scary to others is far from the point. Besides, it shouldn’t be. This experience might have been unbearable—seemed unbearable, since it evidently wasn’t—but I don’t think there was anything special about me for having survived it. You could do it too.

When I lost my mum, I started writing, because she was an English teacher and loved books. My dad loved films, so I started a filmmaking club. I didn’t have any skills, but that hadn’t stopped me writing. I had a smartphone and nothing to lose. Success was being alive. Anything else was a bonus.

Eventually, once I was far enough away from being in so much pain I thought it would drive me mad, I wrote about it. This became Burnt Portraits, which I made over last Christmas with a newly developed skillset and, more importantly, new friends. (And it recently premiered at the Dead Northern Film Festival!)

Dad would be so proud. But if Burnt Portraits was written because of losing my Dad, then he and that work cannot by definition coexist, just as there’s no coexistence of my mum with the books of mine she would be proud of. But it’s nice to think you’re doing positive, rewarding things for yourself and others that you wouldn’t otherwise have done if something tragic hadn’t happened. It means you have managed what once you probably thought impossible: forging meaning out of apparent meaninglessness.

There is still a rawness close to my surface that has not yet dissipated. Like falling accidentally into cold water, that first gasp, and then you stay like that for years. If you want it to go, you just have to wait. And the way out is not back to how things once were but forward into something new, whatever that might be and no matter how tiresome it is to find.

I remember this from losing my mum, and I remember that it fades. But that takes time, and then some more time on top of that.So much of life is spent grieving and mourning. For paths that didn’t pan out, lost relationships, people you used to be that you liked being but can’t be again.

But because I know this to be a fact, I no longer find it sad. Most people have ten fingers, two eyes and spend a lot of time grieving. These are facts about humans. Why get mad that the sky is blue? It just is. Do you really like blue, or have you learned to like it because you had to? If you’ll never know, have no choice in the matter and have found a way for it to please you—what’s the difference?

When I die, in my honour I want you to go create all those things you kept talking about doing one day. Write that novel, start that company, call that loved one. Or whatever. You know what to do, you just pictured it. Then again, now would be the time to do it. All of us have limited time, but given the above, I have none at all for excuses!

Writing advice!

Who doesn’t love writing advice? Well, me, actually. I can’t remember the last time I, or really anyone I know, took advice. (I know one person who takes advice and he only takes it from like two people anyway.)
That’s one of many reasons that it takes a long time to become a good writer. Being a writer is, I think, more a question of temperament than anything. Artists in general are people who can’t really be told what to do. So then good advice is just annoying because if you want to follow it, you have to forget having read it and pretend you came up with it yourself.
Except recently a horror writer asked me if I had any tips! It was super flattering. Here’s what I told him, and we agreed to share it here in case it helps anyone else 🙂
So: I have a group of four writer friends and I send them my work for feedback. (Any more people than that and it gets confusing, at least for me.) I found my trusted people through Goodreads—LitReactor is a good source also, I think, though I haven’t used it myself. You might have to try a few different groups/options before you find “your people.” Might surprise you from reading my fiction, but I can’t stand snarkiness/meanness/ridicule—it’s so unhelpful/unnecessary when it comes to feedback—I respond better to gentle encouragement and refuse to accept anything else, haha. As for what feedback is useful, technical stuff like “There are too many passive sentences” or “The story doesn’t seem to begin until the third paragraph” is great. Nothing to be done about, “I object to the story you’re telling”, so, uh, just ignore it, maybe?
As for what to read: read the top litmags in/outside of your genres of choice and find the authors whose work you like. You probably already know them, but for horror, mags like Nightmare, Black Static, TheDARK and Unnerving Magazine are good places to start. Read stories once for enjoyment and read a second/third time to study. You don’t have to like everything you read, and if you’re anything like me, you probably won’t. But once you’ve found authors you do like, see if they have short story collections or other works to read. Using this method, I found Gwendolyn Kiste’s “And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe”, Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please” and Rich Larson’s “Tomorrow Factory.” (I’ve since been published alongside Gwendolyn Kiste and also Rich Larson—which I don’t think is a coincidence.) All these authors use mostly conventional story structures—beginning, middle, end—mostly short sentences with simple vocabulary, and deliver compelling original stories with new and complex ideas. I would bet that this is why they get published so often. (Not concerned with showing off their vocabulary or needless experimentalism—both things I used to love doing!)
You might like to know about my podcast, “Losing the Plot“, on which I interview authors and other creatives. It’s hosted by Aphotic Realm, who also have a magazine and enjoy publishing new authors—if you submit, they may even give you kind feedback also. Might be a great place to start! (Duotrope, The Horror Tree and Submission Grinder also useful sources of horror markets.) You could even start your own horror writer interview podcast—all you need is Skype and a mic. Authors are lovely people and almost all of them like to chat. Of all the many authors I’ve asked, only one or two said no—but even they responded!
All I do know is that there are no iron-clad rules when it comes to writing or advice that you “must follow.” (Well, that and that rejection really isn’t personal, unless 100+ editors a year really do want me to suffer, haha!)
Anyway, there are nothing but really good suggestions. I hope you find some of mine helpful. They’re all things I’ve done and continue to do, because I find, as all my favourite authors do, that writing is a lifestyle/continuous practice. It’s nice to think of it this way because, whether you get published tomorrow or in a decade, you’d still be doing the same thing anyway. Reading and writing, reading and writing.
Hope this is helpful to whoever read it! Have you picked up any tips you wanna tell me? Let me know! Cheers and best of luck with writing and all your endeavours 🙂

Cover reveal! “Greev” coming March 27th!!

It’s about a futuristic city in which, one day, everyone’s mother dies. The citizens mostly resort to android therapists to cope with their grief—but then scientists discover a potential way to bring back everyone who ever died. A cult enlists a lonely programmer to track down and stop this technology, because they fear it will bring about the end of the world.

This one I wrote on and off for 7-8 years. When I started writing, it was just so I could tell this story and then I didn’t think I’d have others.

So if you wanted to know where best to start with my writing—or really anything about me—this book contains about anything I ever figured out in 28/29 years, haha.

Ever forget to post anything on your blog for almost a whole year?

Oopsie!

It doesn’t mean I’ve disappeared from the internet–but where did all my content go?!

Well, I wrote some blog pieces for Aphotic Realm which you can find here–and then I half-wrote a whole bunch more, thousands of words of them languishing in Google Docs somewhere, for me to maybe get around to one day…

And my podcast, Losing the Plot, has similarly migrated over to Aphotic Realm’s podcast network! Sorry I didn’t inform you of that on this blog, dear follower—but please do head on over to AP to catch up on the latest ‘sodes (ew, haha!)

As for my fiction–Urban Crime Short Stories from Flame Tree Publishing came out earlier this year, featuring my story “Mr Sleepy.”

Super exciting to have gotten work in such a prestigious anthology! I even found a copy in one of the mainstream bookshops here in Stavanger, leading me to believe the book is all over by now. I opened it, showed my name to the woman working there then left immediately (as one does. Sharing TOC joy with a strange? Yes. Sharing tears of joy? Not so much!)

I also have a story in Weirdpunk Books’ forthcoming anthology The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg. I’ve seen the full cover art for it and it’s absolutely wild! My story, “Lackers”, is about a secret sex club for maimed people, because of course it is. I interviewed fellow contributor Gwendolyn Kiste about this book recently, and plan to interview some of the other authors in future also 🙂

Finally, my novella/novel/memoir thing, “Greev“, will be out with NihilismRevised on 30th December looks like.

Does that mean I can finally tell you what it’s about?! I guess so.

It’s a sci fi story that takes place in the fictional city of Los, where one day everyone’s mother dies. Soon after, a pair of doctors stumble upon a technology that may bring back the dead–though a local cult is convinced this technology will bring about the end of the world…

I’m excited to see what people make of it. I initially started writing just so I could write this book, but along the way became enthused by the notion of telling so many other stories. Over the course of 7 years, I kept taking the new skills I obtained back to the writing of this book. How could I possibly say, after a time like that, whether it’s what I expected it to be? It half-is, half-became something else. But it’s as “what it’s supposed to be” as I can make it, and for that I’m glad 🙂

What’s next? Well, I seem to be halfway through writing two separate short story collections (which doesn’t tell you anything about when you might get to read them!) while also pouring a lot of energy into the Stavanger Filmmakers Club, a club I started in because, well, it didn’t exist already. And I started it on no greater authority than having seen the necessity for it. As is my right!

We have any number of ideas for the direction of how this thing will go. I already made a little short film so I could demonstrate to others what I was after. Here is “Can I quit my day job yet?

What to say about the club? If you ever find yourself in Stavanger, hit us up! And wherever you are in the world, you have my permission to pursue anything you damn well please 🙂

Cheers for reading, sorry for not checking in earlier, and hope your year is going well enough!

New Losing the Plot, with Jenn Stroud Rossmann!

Jenn Stroud Rossmann is a fiction writer and an engineer. Her first novel, The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh, is out now from 7.13 Books. She writes the essay series An Engineer Reads a Novel at Public Books.

We talk about the ways in which society perceives us, the challenge of pursuing two passions at the same time—and the Navier Stokes equations, of course!

As always, if you’re a reader, writer, creative type, someone with something to say, you can always get in touch with me using losingtheplotpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Marshall, who provided Losing the Plot’s intro music, has a new EP out now! Check out “Emerald Shitty” here!
emeraldshitty714.bandcamp.com/releases

New Losing the Plot, with Sam Richard!

Sam Richard is an editor at Weirdpunk Books, whose latest book is “Zombie Punks Fuck Off”, co-released with CLASH Books. He is also an author with two forthcoming books, a memoir from CLASH Books and a collection of short stories with NihilismRevised.

We talk about writing, grief, and people who pretend to be characters in Cormac McCarthy novels!

Zombie Punks Fuck Off

Weirdpunk Books

Facebook

Twitter

As always, if you’re a reader, writer, creative type, someone with something to say, you can always get in touch with me using losingtheplotpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com. I look forward to hearing from you!

New Losing the Plot, with Renee Miller!

Renee Miller is a prolific indie horror author from Canada, and an undeniable inspiration to us all!

She has a slew of great material out with Unnerving, such as Church, Stranded and Cats Like Cream (now collected in the paperback Licking the Devil’s Horn) and she has a forthcoming short story collection, Flesh & Blood, out with Deadman’s Tome.

We talk about the trials and tribulations of the indie lit world, joining Scientology and Christmas ouija boards!

Renee’s site
Amazon
Twitter
Facebook

As always, if you’re a reader, writer, creative type, someone with something to say, you can always get in touch with me using losingtheplotpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Marshall, who provided Losing the Plot’s intro music, has a new EP out now! Check out “Emerald Shitty” here!

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