Blogging for Noobs :: I Love You

It is time, finally, to write stuff. Are you excited?

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Number one in our Ten Things to Learn guide is, I’m afraid, NOT how to write gud. That I can try and help you with but, to be honest, you are mostly on your own. If you’ve reached this stage anyway the desire to write already very much exists (which remains half the battle on any given day) but developing a strong, individual style takes both time and effort to perfect. If, like me, you write for other people, their style will vary greatly from your own. That’s why learning to be your own Editor is great practice for when you end up having to deal with somebody else critiquing your work. There are however, certain things you really shouldn’t do, and it seems only fair to provide a list of those:

  • Take the first person out of your work. I did this and I did that is perfectly acceptable, in certain circumstances. The first person pronoun makes for a deeply personal insight, but often not for great writing. I’m going to use myself as an example of this: I think this post would be far better re-written without the excessive use of ‘I’ within it. The content’s sound, but the execution needs work. Using ‘we’ is a better idea for a lot of reasons, and it will make your whole blog resonate better with people you do not know.
  • Use a spell checker. Most blog interfaces provide one as standard anyway. Try to avoid abbreviations or excessive use of jargon/abbreviated speech. Imagine you’re talking to whoever you know personally who doesn’t have a clue about all this stuff and make it so they’d understand what’s going on. If you want people to notice your work, it isn’t just about what you write, but as much about how it is presented. 

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  • Don’t make it personal. There’s going to be a whole week on this, because there’s been some notable legal events in the last couple of months that prove if you are libellous or slanderous to people, there are consequences. I’ve notably used a blog post to stop someone stalking me, but I can attest this is not to be recommended, especially not in the current climate. If you can’t keep it civil and pleasant, don’t write it. Go shout at people on Twitter instead… no, don’t do that either. Just be nice.
  • Explain yourself properly. The point of good blogging, at least for me, is making one point per post. After that you’ll find the retention rate of your audience tends to drop dramatically. Sure, you can make long complex arguments in blog posts, but the best work is when you set yourself a question to answer in X words, or you show your reasoning for something in Y words. Don’t waffle. Learn to work out what is useful in a sentence, and what’s just repeating the same point again.typing3.gif
  • Formatting is everything. If I had a business WordPress, which may well happen by the end of the year, SEO is a thing. If you have no idea what that means, here’s a guide Google made explaining how Search Engine Optimisation works. That, coupled with using formatting for improved readability (which the business version of WordPress will also offer as an option) gives you a better chance that people stay with your article and read until the end. For now? Don’t write massive blocks of dense text. Split it up, and stick pictures in between.

Having said all of that, I told you that ideas matter a great deal, and they do. A combination of information, entertainment and inspiration seems to be why people keep coming back to what I do. There’s stuff on daily events, things that matter to those playing the same games as me, and who maintain a comparable set of interests. I use the GIF as art, whenever possible, as a cheap laugh or to reinforce a bigger point. The fact I’m attempting self improvement via exercise, and that I suffer with mental health issues that I’m happy to discuss and dissect all form part of a complex landscape, that has become an online extension of my real-life self. I’m not expecting you to do all this when all you want is to help people play a game better or share your art. However, there should be a distinct part of you in every word you write. The passion is what matters most.

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The enthusiasm and passion is what keeps the desire to write moving forward, even on the days when you seemingly have nothing to offer. For me, I’ve found a way to counter my lack of enthusiasm by creating a series of weekly ‘topics’: a banner headline under which I can write about an aspect of the general subject matter. That means, that once a week (unless a more important topic supplants it) I’m writing about my time in Warcraft, chronologically, from beginning to the present day. I have the headline, under which I’ve planned several months worth of potential subjects. What this gives me is a chance to both think ahead and know I have work to do even if the game is not particularly active and I don’t have a lot to say. This is a great way to keep your enthusiasm for work moving forward, by planning a larger subject to break down in parts. In fact, this Guide itself is being written on the exact same principle: weekly parts that will form an overall whole.

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The other way that blogging is incredibly effective is if you have something in your life that you can react to/talk about. That trip to the end of the Earth, your battle with cancer, the problems starting a business, becoming a successful writer… all these things are subject matters someone will want to read about. It might be something that happened to you in childhood, or perhaps your attempts to find meaning in an increasingly complex world. If you have the time to talk to someone, you could write it down. If you find yourself spending more than three tweets in a day ranting about anything on line? That’s blog material, right there.

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Blogs can do many things, the only limit being your imagination. If you have ideas, the best thing you will ever do is not just jump in without giving them form and focus. In fact, planning may sound utterly pointless but it is more likely to keep you from just giving up and not bothering. It is, for me, the very foundation of effective blogging. You have the passion to write, and all the ideas required to do so and now it is time to give yourself a framework on which to hang them. In that notepad that you’ve been using for recalling inspiration, you now need a planner on which they can be placed

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Feel free to copy this and print it out on a sheet of A5/A4 or whatever size your notebook is. This is your first month of blogging. The launch date for your blog isn’t top left either: next week, using April 1st as our start point, I’ll show you how to prepare and plan a Blog launch in advance: from scheduling posts to engaging an audience before a word is even written. I hope, by suggesting this as a way forward, I’ll be able to keep enthusiasm going well past that first four weeks, and help you create and form good habits for years to come.

Blogging for Noobs :: Say My Name

Last week, I told you to think up a great name for your blog, and now you’re staring at the bit of paper with this written on and wondering what your next move is. Blogging does not demand you to have cash to begin (though the assumption you have a computer and reliable access is a given.) However, I do know someone who, for many years, possessed neither and still blogged successfully via the wonders of a Library. It is possible, if you want to write badly enough, to manage with nothing and still get the words out. Having established this, there are some things to note before suggesting a domain purchase is the way forward.

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Any brand marketeer worth their click-throughs will tell you that as a successful website you’ll want a domain to match your product: however, with a finite number of sites available to purchase (and by definition the same with physical addresses) you are and will be somewhat limited in choices. HOWEVER I need to state here that as a blogger, a personalised domain is not necessary in the first instance. Many sites currently provide free, basic hosting at no charge, and you don’t need anything other than yourself. If you want to dry-run your writing experience and are worried that all this cost up front won’t be worth it, then it does not need to be spent. Assuming the name you chose is still available and you don’t mind the name of the hosting platform tacked on too? We can stop having this conversation and you can skip to the next part of the Guide.

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For everybody else? You can buy a custom URL in all manner of places, and sites such as Worldpress will happily pretend they own the domain and point your webpages at it. Google’s Blogger service remains free at the basic level but will insist if you have an address that GoDaddy host it: for me this was the final straw to change providers after a seven year relationship. This is not the place to go into details about how huge companies do their business, but my shift to WordPress was a lot to do with having more personal control and owing/registering domains via a third party I choose and that isn’t forced on me.¬†You don’t have to do this either: WordPress will do that job, Blogger’s perfectly acceptable as entry level publishing as indeed will any number of ‘independent’ website construction sites.

The bottom line is simple: if all you want to do is write? Get a free space and get started, and worry about registering a domain later. If you are serious about doing this long-term, initially register a domain via a third party for 12 months and pick a website provider that uses ‘web forwarding’ as a means of pointing that to your site. If, after a year of being ‘free’ you’re still happy with the situation and want to continue, then you can look at more concrete solutions. What you shouldn’t at this stage be doing is worrying about the mechanics, or throwing wads of cash at something you might give up at a later date. For me, WordPress’ choice of themes, their own hassle free setup and the fact I’ve used them since they were established was all I needed to finally consolidate all my online homes in one place.

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There also needs to be a mention made of webpage suffixes. You don’t need a .com to be cool, kids, and if as I know some of you would like to remain as anonymous as possible online, having a US-based suffix may cause issues if registered elsewhere. When you register a domain, you will be asked for your name and address, and in most cases this cannot be spoofed to avoid people looking you up using ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.) However, if you register UK suffixes in the UK, Nominet (The Official Registry for UK Domain Names) will give you the option to hide personal details. I could hide my personal information but considering my .net’s been in the public domain for over a decade, it’s probably saved on so many cache pages as to be not worth the hassle. However, please bear in mind that registering adult stuff like domains means a measure of responsibility, which might be another reason to go free first before committing long term.

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Okay, that’s the mechanics of the process sorted, but there’s one more question to ask. Does it matter what you call yourself? Did you not read last week’s introduction? Yes, OF COURSE IT DOES, but as we will discuss next week you are not necessarily doing this to become an overnight sensation. What the right name does is give you the opportunity to create your own brand, which is basically what everybody else in the World who wants to be noticed is also attempting to do. The difference between them and us is simple: we’re smart. This is, ultimately, your first lesson in branding, but right now what is far more important is CONTENT, which is where we start now. Your name, ultimately, will help get the word out once you’ve established a reliable content stream you are comfortable with controlling.

Next up therefore, you’ll need a word processing programme and something to type on. It doesn’t need to be flash or fancy, and all it really needs to be able to do is record your thoughts.

Next week? WE START WRITING SHIT.

Introduction to Blogging

I am a noob. I’ve been writing now for 42 years, and there are still days I cannot string a coherent sentence together. Despite having an English degree, I am lost without a spell checker. However ‘good’ anyone tells you they are, we’re all noobs when it comes to words and bad days. You never stop learning how to write until you’re not writing any more… and no, I’m not going to get all maudlin on you before we’re out of the first paragraph. In the week, a very good friend of mine asked if I’d be willing to offer some advice on how I cope with three blogs on the go simultaneously, and it seems like a fairly decent shout, to be honest. There is a method to it, and I am more than capable of sharing that. Therefore, once a week on Fridays from now on (and no this doesn’t get me out of anything else, don’t worry) I will present for you How to Blog Gud, or at least what I’ve learnt having done this for nearly a decade.

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You don’t need to be fit to do this, but you will require a level of organisation that has to start with one question: what are you going to name your Blog? This might seem quite tenuous or indeed pointless when all you want to do is write, but trust me when I say to you that the name you pick has a great deal of relevance going forward. First of all, if you want to have a custom domain, a Twitter handle to advertise your efforts, or even a Facebook page with the Blog name writ large, you’re going to need to pick something that nobody else has. Ironically, naming will probably be the single most difficult part of this entire process, because it can become a reflection on what you finally evolve into as a writer. I’ve owned the laughing-geek.com domain since May 2004. I knew that was going to be my online identity well before I got around to making it into a functioning website: I’m not suggesting that level of organisation to begin with, but so you understand where I’m working from, La Geek Qui Rit matters as a ‘brand’ I can be identified with.

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Before next week, therefore, I’d like you to think about not just what you’d like to call yourself, but what you’re going to be writing about. As has previously been established, I run three blogs because, as things stand, there is a need to separate the distinct subject matters I write about. This is my Writing Place, and the Warcraft Blog… well that’s pretty self explanatory. It might therefore seem odd to have La Geek Qui Rit existing at all but as I discovered, it is useful as a place that runs alongside the two, that binds and effectively ties all three together. People like things to be distinct and separate when it comes to blogging, far more so than is accommodated on Social media, which thrives far more on the random and unpredictable. Some of my friends don’t even know the Warcraft blog exists, others have only ever seen my Writing… and the ‘personal’ blog is becoming slowly more popular than both. With these different places, I can grow and evolve as an author.

If blogging will be a serious or long term concern for you, then it will need to reflect the diversity of your interests, or the specific nature of your desires. You will need to decide what you want to do with it, and how long you think it will last. The name really does matter, more than perhaps anything else you’ll decide before we go forward, as will exactly what it is you want to write about. I strongly suggest that you spend an hour in a quiet moment with a favourite beverage of choice and think really hard about what it is you want to achieve, and list at least 10 ‘general’ subject areas you could cover on any given day. If all of those are gaming-related? You’re a gaming blogger. If you’re covering a far wider range of subjects? The you don’t want a name that just sells you playing.

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After that? Well, it’s about an hour’s work and you can be blogging almost immediately. All the hard work is in this first step, and if you’re reading this and are not sure how to proceed, I AM HERE TO HELP ūüėÄ I’ve helped name countless Blogs over the years, and my names have in some cases long outlasted the friendships that encouraged people to write in the first place. If you are stuck for a name, I’ll be happy to brainstorm with you, just come find me @AlternativeChat on Twitter. I love helping people take this important first step, and it cements my commitment to help people start writing and communicating their ideas to a wider audience. Plus, any opportunity to get people writing is okay in my book.

Without further ado: what are you going to call yourself and why?

Moving On Up

Three posts a week still isn’t happening, but the last seven days has been an important step forward. Adapting my brain to this more structured way of working is far tougher than I’d anticipated. I’m also very good at not doing things that need doing. That pile of paper over there, that I’ve been trying to sort and shred for a month now, is just getting larger and it has become a metaphor for shuffling old and new together. Having taken on the decision to remove items from the house every day for a month, I made myself drive to a recycling spot yesterday to prove I can make good on promises. Tomorrow, that pile will be dealt with and vanish. Tonight, I’m not skipping a Gym session but going late.

Promises made are going to be kept, and that means it is time to decide what I can do in writing terms and what will be put aside.

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I want to finish¬†all twelve of these, and I have outlines for several already planned. The initial idea was once a week, and this is still doable. Therefore, starting next Friday (10th) I’ll start with Sellers and then cover everyone else in no particular order. This gives me a regular weekly third post for the next two and a bit months, and hopefully time to sort my fiction projects. These are a bit of a mess at present: not because of lack of time, but a basic inability to organise the ideas needed to move forward. That requires a fairly herculean effort to unscramble, but I have provisioned for that moving forward. What is needed at this point is a better set of objectives than previously existed, and that’s why I can now plan and commit with impunity.

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There’s also at least five short stories in various states of completion in this series as well. As confidence continues to rise, you can expect to see these as well, plus I suspect the story already up will have a tidy up.

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I’m spending quite a bit of time thinking I should write more about how mental issues affect the work I do (or mostly, the stuff I don’t) I am considering another ‘series’ under this umbrella, especially in light of how exercise and organisation are allowing me to be more focused. This one is still in planning, so I’ll be back with you on details.


That’s the major stuff to deal with, and once that’s moving forward, I’ll look at the other stuff on the table. I’ve also factored in a couple of Back End days starting next week, where I finally address the issues behind layouts and content that never made the switch from Blogger. There’s still a bit of it to finish but when it is done I hope to be more completely organised than I ever have been before. If I can accomplish these simple tasks, I have decided, then I truly will be capable of anything.

Okay, less chatting, and down to work.

Here is the News :: January 14th, 2017

I have, for the last couple of weeks, been running a ‘news’ service on the Gaming Blog, and what this has come to make me realise is how important the context of reality is when you’re writing daily. It’s quite easy to get sucked in by the major issues that drive yourself, or your friends, and then forget that this isn’t the bigger picture.¬†Therefore, starting this week, I want to keep a record of the ‘smaller’ news stories that catch my eye each week (and there are many of them) so that when I come to look back on a year, I hold a rolling reminder of what accompanied my life at that time. So, without further ado? Here are the stories that caught my eye this week, with my own take on the wider issues behind them.

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Luxury Items and the Legacy of Consumption

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Full story can be read here

I remember the first time I was given salmon, that my mother knew just how much of a rarity it was and that I would do well to make sure none of it remained on my plate. It was a gift from when my Dad worked for a US car company, and we ate¬†it for weeks afterwards. Sushi is, without doubt, my favourite expensive dine¬†out items of choice and to read that we could see salmon as a true rarity by the end of the year is a sobering thought, especially considering how organised farming of the fish has become in recent years. However, nature has a way of¬†throwing such spanners into Humanity’s collective game plans (see below) and I wonder now if this is just the first of many such ‘evolutions’ the planet will undergo as demand continues¬†to¬†outstrip supply.

If you want a sobering reality check as to how dire food supply issues could become in the next thirty¬†years, this is a good place to start.¬†There’s also the persistent spectre of global warming (yes Donald, it does exist)¬†doing things to large portions of the planet where food production is already precarious to begin with. Things like these lice have come out of left field, and may force us as a population, like it or not, to redefine how we eat and drink in the next decades. I should also award 10 extra points to the Guardian for that headline, which at least proves that someone on the writing staff isn’t as miserable as most of their compatriots seem to be of late and is willing to stick something clever into the header.

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The Superbugs are Here

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Full story can be read here

This story is the wake-up call everyone should read before they go to the doctor and plead for a course of drugs. Do you really need them? Does it really matter, if so many animals are fed antibiotics to compensate for the appalling conditions they exist within? Well, the apocalypse is already here, as a woman in the US finally succumbed to an illness which was literally untreatable by conventional medicine. Fortunately that does not seem to be airborne in nature, so you can all relax and stop assuming the Apocalypse isn’t just the Orange Guy being sworn in as President next week.

What this does make me consider however is what medicine will have to become alongside the issues of food production in the years that follow. Of course, vegetarians will tell you that were there not so much of a desire to eat meat, a lot of these issues would never have become significant to begin with.¬†That’s undoubtedly true, but man did exist alongside beasts as transport and nutrition for a very long time before we came along with fast food and obesity. For me, the bigger picture is making sure that healthcare isn’t beholden to people experimenting with new stuff without due care and attention. This horror story from France is the stuff of a short story, or perhaps a future episode of Black¬†Mirror.

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The Disaster that Never Came

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Thursday night was bizarre in the Weather Department: incredibly heavy rain all day that then turned into snow with surprising speed. What I wasn’t expecting (and indeed was anybody else by the way the news cycle diverted) were¬†the Flood warnings that resulted in the Thames Barrier being raised and threats of flooding being posted all the way down the East Coast. My little bit of Essex (right at the bottom) fared as well as the rest of the coastline, which was very well thank you.¬†In fact, as the last warnings fell away there was a sense of wondering what all the fuss had been about.

For some it might seem like crying ‘wolf’ but this kind of incident is going to become more and more prevalent as time goes on. All that water melting at the Polar icecaps has to go somewhere, kids. Low lying areas will suffer, and that means London may yet see a repeat of the incident last year when the Thames came perilously close to completely bursting its banks in a great many places. You think the map above looks colourful, that’s nothing compared with the London map I looked up earlier. There’s also a brilliant overhead picture of the Thames Barrier in action from yesterday I’ve seen on Facebook, that’s now appeared on Twitter:

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There you have it: If you like this, share it around for me. Lord knows I could do with the views.

NaNoWriMo ::Day Four

Absolutely the best thing about creating a Novel is that it is your rules and nobody else’s. That means, in the last two days, I’ve completely rewritten history. As part of that, I’ve needed to design an icon that will appear all over my ‘World’, which is a visual representation of the organisation¬†in which my main character (and pretty much everybody else I’ve written so far) exists. I’ve been working at this for several weeks, if truth be told, and now I think I’m there:

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The fact it started as lady parts is really important: this is a female-driven hierarchy.¬†It will be the symbol that appears on flags and standards, on the uniforms of the modern-day iteration of this ‘Regiment’and I can imagine it carved into the stone of ancient temples, castle walls and into the prow of ships. It will be a good luck charm, a ward to dispel evil spirits, and so much more. This is the moment where I wished I could draw better than I can, so I could come up with a modern graphical representation of this: I may give it a try as relaxation going forward.

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The word count really isn’t going to be a problem. I’ve stopped for the night, mostly because I need to think through my next scene, and I’m far enough ahead now to not worry about where this is going, because I know my destination. That means I’ve been cheating a bit and going back over earlier dialogue, but it is utterly worthwhile. I’m in a place that I cannot get enough of and utterly love, and the story as a result is just telling itself. That’s the most amazing thing of all, and makes me smile whenever I think about it. I have a story that really works, and the ease at which it’s translating from head to screen is a testament, I think, to the hard work I’ve done in previous months honing my craft.

This process has made me realise that a lot of previous ideas that have never made the light of day (and at least one that did) have come together to produce this story. Mostly, I can see all the influences and derivatives here, I know what has swayed this story to where it now lies. This is a fascinating insight into process for me as a result.

It’s also the most fun I’ve had with a NaNo since I began participating.

Writing as Therapy :: Shut Up

This is only the second time I’ve used that song title for a Blog Post. I’ll take that as a minor triumph. I’m also aware that I owe you another¬†post on Depression, but this is more important, because when I¬†open my mouth and words come out, there are often all manner of unintended consequences I don’t consider. Take today, for instance.

Sometimes I write stuff and know I’m putting myself up for potential issues. This comes down to an understanding not only of the place I work in, but a grasp of the people who ‘live here’, many of whom I never communicate with unless they want something from me.¬†I know the people who just say ‘hi’ and are happy to chat and normally come with a cuppa or a snack when they do. Then there are those people who’ll ask the occasional favour of me (normally reading shit) and for them, I will drop everything.¬†Then there are those whom I know just read my post and need to point out their perceived injustice: typos, meaning, you name it I get the need to pop up, because you guys care too and that’s utterly cool.

Then I look at the people who don’t say anything at all right up until the moment they think they’re being ignored.¬†I’ve written about this subset before, for various reasons, but today I had an epiphany of the like I’ve not experienced before.¬†I am the agent of my own demise: because I choose to stand up and be critical, often that’s all that is needed to start a fight, often from a place where one doesn’t even exist. It goes back to the ‘popular’ opinion Tweet up top. Saying someone is X, even when X is an obvious¬†truth to you¬†just isn’t useful sometimes, because that doesn’t mean stuff gets better. What you really need is someone who ignores the bad and simply focuses on good in order to effect real and palpable change.¬†

I, in effect, really am the problem because I can’t look at the world 100% positively all of the time.

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Depression makes me want to fight everybody: the world, other people, myself. When I see something wrong I have to try and fix it right away, and only today did I work out why. It came from the most innocuous of conversations too: my daughter saw a meme I made yesterday about my 5 favourite chocolate bars, and went to the shops to buy them for me. When she asked me what I’d eaten while she was at school, I told her I’d gone for the #1 option. The conversation went as follows:

HER – That’s weird, I’d have gone for the number five and built up to the best.

ME –¬†But what if I died today and then I was only on number 5, I’d have missed the chance to appreciate my favourite first.

HER –¬†Wow Mum, way to make this far more serious than it needed ever to be…

This is my problem.¬†Even the mundane matters, far more than it ever does to anyone else. Twice in recent memory I’ve been asked by friends how I feel, and on both times have replied ‘well if I died tomorrow this is the happiest I’ve ever been’¬†reducing both to a level of incoherence I’d not quite grasped could be possible. I do look at every day as my last, and have done for as long as I can remember, because death sits with me far more comfortably than I realise is the case with others. When you drift close enough to something, it loses grip on you. I don’t care sometimes what consequences I create for myself, mostly because part of the joy now of being alive is to fight for everything, just so you can feel vital¬†and not this terrible, horrific nothing that depression¬†creates inside your soul.

If you’ve never felt how utterly damning that can be, I have no way I can make you understand, but trust me: your entire existence pivots around it, often whether you like it or not.

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Maybe this doesn’t make me the best advocate for building communities as a result. Perhaps people like me really should keep quiet, but sometimes rainbows aren’t the answer. Grabbing your own lapels and physically pulling yourself up to standing is all that works, because all those rainbow colours bleed into a grey, watery mess. You want joy but you can’t, even though your enthusiasm can be infectious. Only at the highest point will you ever see everything? Try being at the bottom and then look up. Your reference point is different, but the place is the same. Which matters more?

Should you try and make a difference, or is it best to leave it to the people who don’t work in the extremes?

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Some days, I wonder if I make the right choices. Today is one of them, mostly because what I love matters above all else, but others don’t see me well enough to understand what I’m trying to do. That’s when I understand that maybe, if I explained myself better, that might change.

So, maybe that is the place I ought to start.