I’ve written and sung and talked about mental health on this collection a few times – most obviously anxiety on “Obliterate, Annihilate” and depression on “Sensible List” – but I haven’t really talked about the ways I soothe some of those noisy voices. This song refers back to when my wife was in hospital and was pretty sick and I was very worried about her and the main way I coped with moment-to-moment fear was to read very nerdy fan wiki pages describing the operations of spacecraft, weapons and vehicles in the Aliens movies. I even did some cartoons where I took those films, and other movies, and decatastrophised them – where the loss of signal from the LV-426 colony was due to a downed transmitter, and colonists had seen “Carter Burke” in their email and assumed it was spam, so never traveled to the site of the Aliens; where Kane never stuck his face next to a pulsating alien egg; and so on. But second to second, if I was feeling panicky I occupied myself with the technical details and understanding how this fictional world slotted together. Therapist and podcaster Lily Sloane introduced me to the phrase “digital pacing” – the act of cycling between social media apps, spending a small amount of time on each before moving on to the next. I’d read about this as a symptom of stress and anxiety, but not given it a name before – but pacing around the internet without getting very far – or letting your brain sit down and have a nice rest – seemed apt.
I spent a lot of of time in my teens reading Warhammer 40,000 lore. For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40,000 (or WH40K) is a science fiction tabletop battle game set in the year 40,000AD. In this world, humankind is beset on all sides by interlopers and corrupting influences, which apparently means it has a sizeable contingent of racists and fascists that like it*. I didn’t see much evidence of that as a kid in Shropshire. I spent time reading the lore, painting the figurines very badly, and not playing very much, because it was faffy and complicated. I was a weird and solitary teenager, which is to say, a teenager, and I was more interested in reading about Space Marines and Chaos Gods and learning their rules of engagement and dress codes than interacting with a peer group whose rules of engagement and dress codes I did not seem to understand. My first contact with The Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear is from the same era, and appears in Frank Herbert’s Dune books – it’s spoken inwardly by the Bene Gesserit, a cult of weird ninja nuns, to calm the nerves and allow clear thought and action. I can’t quite remember it right, but my version goes something like this:
I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration
I will face my fear
I will permit it to pass over me and through me
And when it is gone, I will turn my inner eye on its path
Where the fear was, there will be nothing
Only I will remain
Dune is considered highly problematic nowadays. Herbert conceived it walking through the sand dunes of western Oregon, and envisaged a people in a desert holding a universally-craved asset who are freed from imperial oppression by a very well-bred white dude. When I frame it like that it sounds bad, right? Well, sure, but it does contain a very well-realised world, and reflections on how imperialists manipulate local belief systems to their own ends, and the dangers of fundamentalism, and imagines a fully-functional futuristic feudalistic society without computers. I’m not enough of a scholar to argue whether it’s self-aware enough to undermine its own White Messiah complex, or whether its imagination outweigh its problems, so you might well think it’s trash, or brilliant, or neither. Anyway, The Litany Against Fear is a useful takeaway if you want to pace around your own head for a bit.
(Look at that, I got to the end of the post without sharing my feelings about Ready Player One! Or talking about the sounds in this recording! Well, you can hear about those on the accompanying podcast.)
Next week, we visit the midlands. Until then, you can read about all the songs from Year of The Bird here, and pre-order the album here: https://palebird.bandcamp.com/album/year-of-the-bird-volume-3
*doesn’t everything? I feel like you could jump into a Facebook group on meringue baking and there’d be some ethnonationalist who sees egg whites as a metaphor for racial purity. No grease! Not a speck of shell! Or the precious fluids are compromised! THE FOAM WILL NOT HOLD apart from the flecks at the corners of my mouth