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Leo X. Robertson

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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!

Married for 10 years!

As of today, Juan and I have been married for 10 YEARS!!

Here is a photo of us in our same flat in Stavanger, taken in October 2014. I must have signed the mortgage papers some months earlier. I did not really understand them. I didn’t know how to calculate how much I had to pay per month or if I could. I was probably scared I couldn’t make the payments, so I chose—not to investigate further! I’m sure they explained all this to me at the time, but I was still in “fake it til you make it” mode and was probably too afraid to show that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Or thinking, “I’m supposed to pay for twenty five years? I AM twenty five! How am I supposed to bind myself to a decision like that?”

These last ten years have been, at times, TERRIFYING! Anyway, I guess I followed my intuition on that decision and that it was the right one. I don’t feel like I have a very strong intuition, but there are a few times when it has been correct and I have known it enough to make big decisions I did not fully understand that later proved themselves to pay off.

At age 13 it told me, “You’re gay.” I thought, “Fuck. Okay. Ugh.*” Sometimes people have asked me how I knew—was it someone I was attracted to? No, it was my brain saying “You’re gay you’re gay you’re gay” over and over. If I hadn’t taken it to be a fact I might have thought it was bullying me. But it was right!

Just a few weeks after I had met Juan, my intuition told me, “This guy has to stay in your life forever. Best case as your partner, but you could also settle for friend.” I was like, “Bit of a practical way of telling me I’ve found my soulmate but okay, noted**.”

And hey, it was right about that too.

I don’t know how we got through the last ten years alive, let alone together. Jesus, I lost both my parents, which I could choose to ruminate on until I never stopped screaming about how unfair it is—but unfortunately I have to park that thought forever if I want to, say, enjoy a morning coffee or play videogames. I hope loss provides others with some resilience, but I don’t think it does, given that each loss is unique. For me, the second loss was even worse. I think because I’d erroneously lured myself into feeling like we were done with the whole “losing a parent” thing for a few decades at least. We’d already punched that hole in the family suffering score card. But apparently not. What the fuck, universe?! Maybe the universe provideth me such a lovely partner before either of these losses so I could better get through them, but it feels unfair to test a young marriage with hurdles so enormous that even one of them can outright break a person.

But there was Juan by my side, just being Juan. A bundle of social energy and joy. An embodiment of gratitude. A personal champion. A big kid. Even in the worst times, never a day without laughter. A collector of objets that he imbues with favourite memories and meanings with which he fills our home. He didn’t need to do anything differently, anything more. Never does. I know who I married. That’s who I want.

And here we still are. Which gives me confidence we can weather anything together in future***.

There is surely a growing trend of people reconsidering marriage based on the fact that, no, you can’t know for sure that you and this other person will want the same things forever. This undoubted fact is often spouted, carelessly, by young men in their twenties who don’t read enough. They act like they’re the first people to have ever realised this. As opposed to only just realising what everyone has always known about marriage. What the kind partner who listens to them probably knows as they, nevertheless, collect wedding inspiration photos on a secret Pinterest board. It’s a leap of faith. One that I know was worth making.

It really helped me to remember at times that one day someone had signed a certificate to be with me forever when I felt, in the midst of hideous grief, that nobody wanted me around. You can’t know you’re doing it for that, can you? You’d hope you weren’t!

Ugh, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on, or why, or what to say about it. I know that I know way less than I thought I did ten years ago. Then again, enough has happened by now for me to forever be glad I civil partnershipped Juan, then upgraded to ruining the sanctity of marriage at a later date. Or would’ve ruined it if only I knew where our certificate was, it’s in a box somewhere…

Ten years ago, we didn’t need to know what the next ten years would hold for us. We just needed to know, and remember, that we really wanted to go through them together. In a best case scenario. But also settle for friend if needed ☺

*I hope to be part of one of the last generations who react that way about the news.

**In Alain de Botton’s brilliant book Essays in Love, he evaluates the statistical improbability of anyone finding their soulmate, disproving the concept from a mathematical perspective. Which I actually find pretty cool. I don’t think anyone sensible believes in the soulmate destiny thing—but I know that when you meet someone you can spend the rest of your life with, THAT’S HOW IT FEELS. And, my God, that’s good enough for me.

***But I already had that, so can I have my parents back? No? Right then. 

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 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

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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!

Anti-Austerity anthology now available!

Exciting news today!

The Anti-Austerity Anthology is now available!

I’ve been waiting a long time for this one—I have a story in it, and it contains work from many other authors whom I admire, including M. J. Black, Andy Carrington, Rupert Dreyfus, Rebecca Gransden, Jay Spencer Green, Chris Harrison, Ruth F. Hunt, Mary Papastavrou, Riya Anne Polcastro, Mike Robbins, Harry Whitewolf—AND MORE!

With a foreword from superstar journalist Steve Topple!

Plus, proceeds from this book go to food bank charities. That’s pretty great, right?

Here’s the link to purchase—I’ve ordered my copies and can’t wait to see how the final product of this one has turned out 🙂

New Losing the Plot, with author Kenneth W. Cain!

Kenneth W. Cain is the author of the novella “A Season in Hell” and the short story collection “Darker Days.” He also edited the anthology “Tales from the Lake vol. 5.” All three books are forthcoming with Crystal Lake Publishing.

We talk about helping other writers in the community, writing that next great story and the joys of making characters suffer!

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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 album out! Check out “MARS HALL” at Captain Crook Records!

 

A quality checklist for writers

I’ve read a lot of fiction, written a lot of it too, and I’ve also given/conducted podcast interviews.

As a result of these endeavours, I came up with a checklist to identify areas in which I can improve. I thought you’d find it useful too!

  1. Is this entertaining/interesting? If not, what purpose does it serve? (I don’t know if there is another valid purpose, but I doubt it!)
  2. Am I expressing what I truly believe or is it rather what I want to be read/heard stating that I believe? (Often different.)
  3. And to that end, if I find myself giving impassioned exhortations about global/social issues, how much of a personal stake do I have in these debates? Have I any real-world examples of when this issue affected me, or am I just setting up straw men—in someone else’s battleground?

Here’s an example: look at most of that Count Dankula guy’s videos.

He became embroiled in a free speech argument that’s super important—but as for his content, so much of it is riding trends rather than original opinions. In which case, what does he add to any of these conversations but their regurgitation in a Scottish accent? Is that really how he’s supposed to use his time? Is that the best he can do?

Or look at this video by (conservative vlogger?) Theryn Meyer, where she has realised the consequences, for her soul and that of others, of bandwagon-riding.

The point is: What is bothering YOU, not someone else? What is closest to home?

The idea, of formulating your own opinions and observing your environment (starting locally) with scrutiny, is daunting—but exactly how else would you describe your task?

  1. Am I outright stating something I read elsewhere? In which case I should cite the reference, unless I have added something to it or rephrased it in a way that I would express. If you don’t have your own way of adding to a particular conversation, that’s okay—life is so big, and we’re all learning always—as long as you admit it. In other words: Whereof I cannot speak, thereof am I silent? (Wittgenstein 😉 )
  2. To that end, on occasions when I am implored to offer a comment on a particular issue, do I find myself resorting to the same arguments from a small number of books I read/things I heard too long ago? These are then the most pressing areas of weakness to work on next (if they are also areas of interest.)
  3. Am I capable of writing as if no one is reading/ speaking as if no one is listening? In other words, can I face/present pure ME?!

If this seems odd, or even scary, here’s the caveat: The inherent bias here, if you can call it that, is my interest in you and your work—not in what anyone else wants you/your work to be. Not even what I would want it to be, but what it actually IS.

I unashamedly hope you develop in yourself sensors that pick up when any of these questions are relevant. Ask them and rectify any instance wherever the answer doesn’t satisfy you.

I hope the benefit to your immortal soul is so great that it trumps your desire to satisfy the demands of a large audience or market forces.

Here’s an example of that:

Charlie Kaufman is an unabashed favourite of mine.

(Before I continue, we can use this admission as an example of how to comply to the checklist: “How does this standard white guy choice represent YOU, Leo? Aren’t you violating your own rules?”

To that I would answer: I will risk being seen as cliché because I’m assured of how his work relates to me personally—therefore maybe it doesn’t outwardly appear a non-cliched choice but it meets my own criteria, so I’m satisfied and that’s fine. Plus, he’s part of a healthy artistic diet of others, a mix from a sufficiently large pool, which looks like no one else’s.

That’s all I’m asking you to think about with this checklist. Maybe you won’t end up changing anything about your speech/writing etc. You probably won’t in most instances—even so, an internal quality check will make you/your work/your assertions stronger.)

Anyway, his last film, “Anomalisa”, didn’t make its money back—which doesn’t surprise me too much, unfortunately. By most standards, it’s weird and dark and perhaps too depressing. Even so, what you can say about that film and few others is, “I’ve never experienced that before and now I can’t get it out my head.”

Off the top of my head, here are some other writers who, appear to fulfil these criteria: Sheila Heti, Clarice Lispector, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov. I could go on and on and on! But whatever you might want to say about them, what they all have in common is that I know their names and they were at the forefront of my brain when pressed for the names of originals.

And that’s what I want for you—because that’s what you’re supposed to be.

I’ve said this before: if your goal as a writer, as a human being, is to be the next Stephen King, get in line. Your ticket is #20345. (With ticket #1? Stephen King himself. He’s still the current Stephen King. With ticket #2 is his son, and both of them combined are far more than enough for most.)

If it’s to be the next Stephen King meets—I don’t know, Tom Clancy: congratulations! Your place is now #1023.

If you want to be the first you, your ticket number is #1. Thank God you’re here! We’ve been waiting for you! Right this way. I hope you weren’t too difficult to find…

Write in your own vein. EXIST in your own vein. Strip away anxiety and futility as you push yourself towards uniqueness, towards a place of zero competition.

Good luck!!

Harsh truth 8 (of 8) for writers

People don’t take advice; they look for examples of what they want

Therefore you might argue that I’m just writing this for myself. I hope not. And I do thank you for reading.

Sobering truths are one of life’s most important components. How you respond to them determines how you will grow. And growth is the only justifiable option.

However, sobering truths are like the whole grains of your diet, or the cardio of a fitness routine. While perhaps healthy in moderation, if they’re all you consume, you’ll die.

So enough of all of this. You did well to get this far. And it counted as work, I promise you that.

I give you permission to watch 30 mins of silly YouTube videos—at least!

One last bonus harsh truth: Shun enforced breaks and silliness at your peril, writer friend of mine—for shunning fun will make you a worse writer, and, more importantly, a worse human.

Harsh truth 7 (of 8) for writers

You must slough off baddies

Networking is important. Networking with everyone is impossible and, quite frankly, a destructive thing to try.

It is your duty to stay away from people who are doing you no good. You know who they are. You might’ve had some in your life that you shed already. Great.

If you stick around with someone who makes you feel bad because you think they offer you something of value, you’re wrong. All they’re offering you is bad feels. By keeping them around, you are telling yourself, and the world, that this is what you deserve. By shedding yourself of them, you’re saying that you are worth better.

Freeing up your time, for the potential of having it filled by someone better for you, is so much more important than keeping someone worse for you around. And, my God, someone else will fill that time for sure! There are no shortage of people about!

If you like the people you associate with, fantastic. If you don’t, you need to spin that networking wheel again and hope you land on someone better.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!

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