Sexuality (Part two I guess haha)

So last July (I think), I wrote a rambling stream of consciousness thing about sexuality and starting to come out as a lesbian (pls see that if you’re interested in the rambling). As of today, I’ve come out to my mum and sister and most of my friends. Everyone has been so incredibly nice (again see last post where I talk about my mum and sister) and I’m so thankful for the reaction.

I guess the main reason for writing this is almost like my own wee diary to look back on and reflect on the progress. It might not naturally seem like it to some, but I think coming out is a moment to be proud of, it’s an incredibly hard scary thing to do, and as an anxious person, it’s something I’ve at times believed I’d never manage. As well as reflecting on my own sense of achievement I guess, I’m maybe writing this update to readers of the last post and any LGBT+ people out there; I feel an overwhelming sense of relief and almost weightlessness, freedom, and I really think it’s important to hear of other’s positive stories and reactions.

I think with having anxiety I tend to catastrophise (although I’m simultaneously an incredibly chilled out person, so it’s a very unusual mix haha), and this is one of the main reasons I struggled to come out. I mentioned my perceived worries in telling friends in the last blog- friends potentially feeling uncomfortable or assuming that I like them etc, but my friends were ridiculously kind. Yesterday we went for covid walk 1817364783 and I mentally prepared myself to finally tell them, revealing the big build up that has led to the brink of many a panic attack. I should also mention that I was also contemplating jumping in the loch and swimming away from my problems hahaha. However, after giving myself time to reflect more on my identity, and some of my family knowing, I knew that yesterday was the time. It felt almost like a gut reaction that now was the time to come out, and regardless of any potential negative reactions that I may have received, I knew that I’m at a place where not talking about and being myself is worse. I mention this because I know how hard it is, and I do not feel that you should have to come out if you are not ready (or ever come out). I believe you need time to yourself and you will know when it’s right. Once you know, and once you come out, you will feel a sense of freedom, a sense of relief. But you will also feel a sense of, not being underwhelmed that’s the wrong word, but normality, continuation. I spent so long catastrophising that the reactions of my friends were so incredibly minor, so incredibly ‘normal’ that I almost couldn’t process it for a wee while hahaha. I don’t mean to say that coming out cannot be scary and I understand that people unfortunately experience reactions far less positive than mine, and I appreciate how lucky I am. However, what I’m really trying to say here is that if you are similar to me, please know that the stress and panic you are putting on yourself is likely causing far more anxiety than coming out as yourself.

This leads me on to internalised homophobia, something I’ve been reflecting on over these months. I’ve naturally gravitated to books and videos that discuss this and reflect on the self-inflicted struggle that LGBT+ people can experience due to the homophobia in the world. One definition I found is: ‘internalised homophobia is both a conscious and an unconscious reaction to external negative attitudes toward people within a sexual orientation minority.’ This may appear to make little sense to people out with LGBT+ communities, however, the homophobia that is in the world can filter into your brain, especially when you are contemplating coming out, and can be difficult to overcome . This can lead to a lack of self-acceptance. I have always been incredibly accepting of others and I’m proud to say that I try to be as non-judgemental as possible, however, I am often very hard on myself and factors like homophobia that I have witnessed (towards others or through media) has affected my self-esteem and self-image. This has in turn led to the catastrophising of coming out and being open about my sexuality. I’m also a very shy person in general and do not really like to talk about myself- although that’s all I’m doing here hahaha- so knowing that being LGBT+ still draws lots of attention and opinions from some is a little bit stressful to me. However, I have reflected that I managed to convince myself that I would not be accepted, something that is my own doing and which does not reflect the caring nature of my family and friends. Ps. When I say my own doing, I really mean the doing of those in society who are unfortunately homophobic and who create this sense of discomfort and a lack of safety.

The relief and happiness I feel today are not to say that I will never struggle with my sexuality again; I know that I will still find it hard, for example, to tell colleagues over the years and there are definitely some members of my own family that I am still very unsure about telling. These family members *cough* grans *cough* are good people and love me very much, however, have made openly homophobic comments about people on tv etc without being aware of my sexuality (which has actually been quite funny and had a strong sense of dramatic irony). I am not necessarily upset on my own behalf, but upset that homophobia continues to exist, and sad that people believe that their comments on social justice issues that don’t affect them are more important than the extreme sense of anxiety and guilt they can cause for the people taking in these comments (I also refer here to sexism and racism, although this is not an area which I have the right to discuss, being white and very privileged). I hope that the more people that come out, who look after each other and who treat each other with kindness (everyone, not just LGBT people), the easier and kinder the world will be. Who knows what will happen next, what will happen with the people I’ve yet to tell, will I look into counselling for anxiety/internalised homophobia (maybe I’ll write a part 3 hahaha), but I feel free and I feel happy just now.

I haven’t planned any of this (evidently hahah) or read over what I’ve written, but the points I want to get across are really that I know how incredibly difficult it can be to be LGBT+ whether you have experienced homophobia  directly or have experienced anxiety due to indirect or unconscious experiences of homophobia. I know how hard people can be on themselves, how much some people are struggling just now. I really wanted to acknowledge these things in this post, and recognise the strength that LGBT+ people have and the hope that things will continue to get better. I want to express that you do not have to come out, but if/when you’re ready you will feel free and you will lose such a sense of the burden that you have been carrying. I wanted to share this positive story because I know there is lots of negativity out there, and I wanted to create a tiny lil space where people can talk to each other (if you want), or just read anonymously and hopefully feel a small sense of comfort. Sorry for the rambles if this makes no sense hahaha.

I truly mean it when I say I am here to speak to anyone who feels like they need someone, if you would like to, please comment here or feel free to message me on Instagram (carlybooksandmusic).

Also, please write your own positive LGBT+ experiences in the comments! They are so helpful! Thank you so much for reading, I hope you’re happy and doing well 😊

Christmas wellbeing

I just wanted to write really quickly to say that I know in what has been a very difficult year, Christmas will feel very hard for most people. I hope you’re able to stay positive, things will get better soon x

If you are struggling please feel free to speak to me and I’ll try to help if I can. Please always always seek professional support, for example if you live in the UK:

Samaritan 116 123

CALM 0800 58 58 58

YoungMinds 0800 018 2138

ChildLine 088 1111

I love reading, singing and painting to try to distract myself when I can, singing is something that I’ve always found particularly soothing and it brings me so much joy (even if I’m not the best), I love being able to find small joyful moments in the day

Sexuality

As a warning, this is probably more a stream of consciousness than anything else haha. I’d also like to make a little disclaimer here- I sometimes feel a bit selfish or self-involved whilst writing because there’s no conversation between people (apart from when you comment, thank you because I love reading comments!) so I have to use the word ‘I’ a lot which feels self-indulgent. I know this is kind of the point of a blog post haha but just know that I’m aware of it! This is also just a place to ramble, I am incredibly lucky to been safe and happy with a home, friends and family and there are so many larger issues going on. Lastly, I don’t represent everyone in the LGBTQIA community. That said, I would like to use this post to ramble about my sexuality.

Whilst I have always known that I have no interest in guys, I have also always been very aware of the prejudice, stigma and discrimination that can come with being labelled as gay or a lesbian. Whilst actively doing what I can to support LGBT causes, I have been very hesitant to come out as a lesbian. I have, however, now told my Mum and sister. I have social (and maybe general) anxiety which is maybe not always evident by looking at me- I often get told that I look incredibly laid back or relaxed which I always find amusing as I’m running through a million thoughts in my mind. In general, I am a laidback and chilled out person which makes for a very strange contrast to my simultaneously anxious ways. This anxiety is a combination of lots of things, from my introverted personality to losing my Dad as a child, and I feel like sexuality or relationships in general have contributed a lot to it. It can be very stressful discovering who you are when being gay still creates such an emotive response in society; I have accepted who I am and I would have been able to do this and meet people a lot earlier if it hadn’t been for the prejudice that exists (not by everyone, many people are amazing). In general, society assumes that being straight is the norm. This in itself is not necessarily a problem, however, society (generalising) also condemn people who do not ‘come out’ as lying or concealing their sexuality. In order to live a truthful, fulfilling life that may include having a relationship, LGBT people therefore have to come out, resulting in sexuality (I’m focusing more on sexuality than gender in this ramble) becoming a big revelation. This would maybe be okay if people were accepting; many are, however, there are still significant numbers of people who are homophobic. Therefore, if you are gay or bi, you are either ‘lying’ and hiding something, or you are vocal about your sexuality and therefore face prejudice (from some). This is a very, very difficult situation and has definitely contributed to my anxiety. I have spent most of my life single- in part, I have been very happy with this, I enjoy solitude and the freedom that comes with this. However, there are times- particularly when I think about the future (society also make you feel old by 24 hahaha)- that I feel lonely. I have been able to rid (supress) some of my anxiety in the past by ignoring my sexuality, however, if I do this for long enough I have become depressed. We therefore must do something about the world we live in where people experience anxiety for being themselves, or depression that comes from repressing your sexuality. Thank you so much everyone who is already taking steps to do this and support LGBT rights. My Mum and sister have been incredibly kind and supportive and have been upset only by the fact that they have seen how ill I have made myself in worrying about what to say and what people will think. However, I am still incredibly nervous to tell others and potentially experience prejudice or negative assumptions. There are also a number of men who genuinely believe that some more feminine girls lie about their sexuality to attract male attention, or who sexualise lesbian or bi girls (again, I am not referring to all men, I have so much respect for most people).

I don’t know where I’m going with this post but in a way it’s allowing me the chance to think about and vocalise some things that I have maybe suppressed. I think one of the things people are usually curious to know is when somebody ‘decided’ to be gay or realised- if I really took the time to think about my sexuality, I probably could have come out at any age. I have a specific memory of being around 6 and my friend talking about marrying a man and having children. Even then, I replied that I want children but don’t want to be married. The first time a guy kissed me I was in panic attack mode for around two days- this was the type of guy who, if I was straight I would have been attracted to. The fact that I felt nothing/anxiety when he kissed me signalled that I would not be able to lie to myself and I found this extremely stressful. I have never wanted a relationship with a man and have thought about it only in the past as a resolution to being forever alone- there were times when I considered pretending to be straight almost to make life easier. However, ultimately, I knew that I would become ill with anxiety and more importantly I could not lie to another person. I would be negatively affecting someone else’s life if I did this and I could not allow myself to do this. This would be incredibly unfair.

 Now that I feel free to admit that I’m not attracted to guys, I have space to think about my feelings. I have liked guys on a surface level before (because I put lots of effort into making myself hahaha, what a disaster) and I still blush or get nervous if an extremely attractive guy talks to me, however, this is the furthest my attraction goes, I have never wanted to be in a relationship with a guy. Interestingly, guys that I have dated in the past are bi or now have boyfriends- I feel like we both instantly felt safer and more relaxed with each other because we knew we were not straight hahaha (this post is probably quite something for a Fredian psychologist). Ironically, I feel like after I come out to everyone, I will be able to have stronger relationships with males. I’ve never really felt very close to guys, and having no brothers, I wish I had close male friends. However, I have always been concerned that if I am very friendly towards guys I meet that they will take it as flirting or assume I like them (not that they’d necessarily like me back, I don’t want to come across as being very vain because that’s not what I mean at all haha). It has been very stressful thinking of 1000000 reasons to reject guys that have asked me out (again, not saying there have been many) without hurting their feelings or being questioned by my friends (I’m honestly so curious as to what my friends think my sexuality is hahaha, my sister said she kind of thought I liked girls but also kind of thought I’d secretly dated more guys and just hadn’t told her, or just haven’t dated many people because I’m so shy/anxious).

 Because I am so stereotypically feminine, people assume that I am straight- despite a few subtle stereotypes such as being a crazy cat lady, loving Hozier, Lana del ray songs, Orange is the New Black, Killing Eve, doc martens and being vegan- also the subtle hint in that I show absolutely no interest in guys (I’d be intrigued to learn if anyone on here thought/assumed anything of my sexuality, I find it interesting to know). This is in some ways a blessing as I do not encounter negativity ort abuse from strangers who assume that I am gay, however, it also means that I will have to consistently come out throughout my life and experience the reactions that may not necessarily be positive.

Anyway, the point was I’m looking forward to hopefully building closer relationships to guys in the future because we will both know that it is entirely based upon platonic friendship. I think I’ll eventually be more confident and more able to be myself in general- hiding your sexuality wears (wheres?) you down over time. I’ve felt tired whilst socialising and spent a lot of time holding back, feeling secretive, or lying about which guys I find attractive. I am now worried that some girls may jump to the wrong conclusion that I must secretly like them, and this is something I find extremely stressful in the prospect of telling my friends that I like girls. I always try to go for the approach of saying nothing about guys where I can rather than directly lying, but as I mentioned earlier, having to ‘lie’ is not something to be ashamed of- it is unfair of society to condemn people for hiding their sexuality when the world can be homophobic.

I’m also excited to now feel able to think about what I want in the future, where before it was an anxious disaster cycle of deciding whether to be alone forever (which I still might be, who knows hahaha, and ps. It’s completely fine if you want to be), being with guys which I know I would not be able to sustain long term or coming out. I think this time to think is necessary, as contrary to what some people believe, coming out does not mean you have all the answers and you are going to be in a relationship straight away. I now have more questions that before, for example, thinking about how I will have children and the issues/questions that will arise from this. However, the point is I am starting to feel free to think about these things, I am beginning to feel excited about the future and it is starting to have form. I believe that in coming out you are gifting yourself the freedom that most straight people take for granted (again, I am not reflecting on a number of important social justice issues here, I understand that there are significant problems and abuse that can take place in heterosexual relationships, I am simply reflecting upon the absence of issues specifically relating to sexuality). I have a long way to go and a lot more stress and anxiety to work through before reaching the ‘other side’ (this is very cheesy) but I feel freer already.

If you are currently in the place that I have been in, please feel free to talk to me (my Instagram is carlybooksandmusic), I will never reveal anything you say to anybody else. Also, please know that you do not have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Thank you if you’ve read this whole ramble haha, as soon as I post this I will probably be incredibly stressed (good old anxiety hahaha). I hope you’re well 😊 

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins

If you’ve read this book and loved it, I would maybe suggest reading another blog post hahaha. I wrote a blog post last week about how much I absolutely love The Hunger Games trilogy, that’s a far more positive post about one of my favourite series’. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same way at all about this book. I’ll say in advance, I tend not to like books out with the original series and often I don’t read them, for example, I hate the Fantastic Beasts films and I refuse to even read The Cursed Child, it doesn’t exist in my mind haha. It’s probably unfair for me to write about this book knowing this, however, I did find the premise intriguing, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’ll also say, I don’t think I’ll go too in depth, but this will probably spoil parts of the book if you haven’t read it yet.

I’ll start with a positive; while rereading the Hunger Games last week I was happy to note that it is consistently amazing regardless of how many times I’ve read it, and the impact it has on me never fades. If anything this book made me appreciate the Hunger Games and Katniss as a heroine even more in comparison, Katniss is an exceptional character (I won’t talk about her though, I did enough of that in my dissertation-like hunger games blog post ramble). My favourite books are character driven stories (as I’ve mentioned many times haha), and while I don’t necessarily have to like the main character, I like characters to feel complex or show development or be written in a way where I love to hate them (ASOIAF is excellent for complex characters). I didn’t really connect Snow as being the same character as in the Hunger Games and whilst I despise his character, I didn’t find him very compelling throughout this story or really feel anything at all. I feel Lucy Grey is supposed to intrigue us and balance some of Snow’s more horrible instincts to drive his character development and allow us to see a ‘softer’ side of him. Unfortunately I didn’t really connect with Lucy either as I found her character to be quite cheesy and she was not given enough time to feel like a real person, she felt like a caricature at times (these are all my own opinions, and I probably feel strongly about this book because I’m so connected to the Hunger Games). I think the songs felt forced at times and I found Lucy’s character to be a bit one dimensional and annoying. I feel that the pacing of the book caused a lot of the issues I had with it; this story is missing my favourite elements of Collin’s writing in the Hunger Games trilogy. There is a strong sense of Katniss’ personality and identity coming through her narration, and the love story elements with Peeta feel very realistic and make sense within the book’s context. The Ballad of Songbird’s and Snakes feels like an ‘insta-love’ in comparison and I found it quite jarring:

She was his girl, she had saved his life, and he had to do everything he could to save hers’. (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, pg. 190)

The characters had only met a few times, and whilst the heightened circumstances may have developed their feelings more quickly, I just didn’t believe their ‘love’. The pace of this love story is entirely opposite to the slower development in the Hungers Games and felt very rushed. This book felt a bit vague at times, as though trying to cover too many events, yet I paradoxically felt bored. After around 200 pages I considered not reading the rest, but I feel it’s only fair that I finish a book if I’m going to discuss it or write about it. There were elements of the story that I personally didn’t like such as the circus theme and the way Dr Gaul rhymed constantly; her character just annoyed me overall, as did many. I feel that the ‘vague’ plot may reflect Snows uncertainty around his own character and future, however, it resulted in a lack of character development. I’d be interested to read a review by someone who has never read the Hunger Games, to observe how this book reads as a standalone; it may be an interesting concept, however, in knowing what Snow becomes, I felt that anything ‘decent’ that he did lost a lot of it’s meaning. This did not work (for me) as a character driven novel because I know how Snow ‘turns out’. I’ve also just realised that the Hunger Games are first person whereas this story uses a third person narrator, which may be a reason for the disconnect I felt.

On a positive note though, I did enjoy Collin’s attempts to show the moral ambiguity felt by some people who lived in the Capitol, or even some of the mentors, with discussion around the morality and purpose of the games. I also found the concept of the design of the games interesting: how the games were constructed to become an ‘entertainment’ form that appeared to alter the purpose of the games. For those who read Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes first, I think it will be very interesting (if dark and horrifying) to read about these changes and read about the modern games from the perspective of Katniss as a tribute. Overall, I think that this book would probably be more interesting if read prior to reading the Hunger Games.

Despite the overall tone and pace of this book feeling very different to the Hunger Games, some of the little phrases were very similar and I found this to be a bit jarring, for example, the consistent use of the phrase ‘rooting for you’ and ‘put as much distance as you can between you and the others’. I feel that I’m being very picky and probably wouldn’t have found this as annoying if I hadn’t just read the trilogy, however, it stuck in my head whilst reading and took me out of the story. I feel that the inclusion of the hanging tree song and the meadow song are referencing the Hunger Games in a nostalgic way, and some comments are made in an ironic nod to the reader of events to come in the Hunger Games, which many readers will love. I, however, appear to be in a moaning mood haha, and I didn’t really like these references. They felt almost like breaking the fourth wall in a way and I didn’t really like how self-aware this book was, for example, when discussing the mockingjays:

If they can, what’s one more songbird?’ She said. Coriolanus agreed they were probably harmless. (pg. 417)

Some people call them swamp potatoes, but I like Katniss better. Has a nice ring to it.’ (pg. 436)

I’d like to end on a somewhat positive note, so I’d say I liked Snow’s internal dialogue surrounding identity; it nicely parallels the identity theme I rambled on about in my Hunger Games blog post:

‘And what on earth would they do with themselves, when the challenges of obtaining food and shelter had been met? Her with no music. Him with no school, military, or anything. Have a family? It seemed to bleak an existence to condemn a child to. Any child let alone one of his own. What was there to aspire to once wealth, fame and power had been eliminated? Was the goal of survival further survival and nothing more?’ (pg. 495)

I find it interesting that Snow and Katniss’ environment, upbringing and personality result in entirely opposite perspectives of life and meaning. The woods and running away represent freedom and happiness to Katniss, whilst Snow associates this ‘freedom’ as feeling trapped and losing out on the life of structure that the capitol can offer. There is also an interesting disconnect between Snow’s experiences, emotions and the choices he makes in later life. He acknowledges the innocence of children, the terrible experience of life in the districts, he himself has experienced the sever punishment and corruption within the capitol and has been in the games himself. However, these experiences are not enough for Snow to care about those suffering, and when he is in the most powerful position rather than making a positive difference, he uses his position as president to maintain this state of oppression, inequality, cruelty and suffering (what kind of president would do that?!).  I think we are supposed to make our own decisions as to the factors that led Snow to become such a terrible man and think about the age-old debate of nature/nurture.

I’m so sorry that I was no negative towards this book, as I’ve mentioned, these are only my opinions and I am biased towards prequels. Please let me know how you felt about this book and don’t let my rambling put you off if you’re interested😊 I love how different the experience of reading is for everyone and I hope you enjoyed this book. Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well. 😊

Rereading the Hunger Games trilogy (spoiler: one of my favourite book series’)

The Hunger games

I decided to reread the Hunger Games this month for a number of reasons- I reread my favourite book series’ around every two years (I love rereading, it’s a problem haha), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is causing a lot of Hunger Games discussions which really made me want to reread, and I’ve found that there is something strangely entertaining about reading dystopian during a lockdown (in a very odd, dark way).  I first read this series when I was around 14 or 15, without any expectations as I hadn’t heard about the series until my friend recommended it (thank you)- it’s strange to think about the extent to which a film franchise can influence the popularity of a book. I definitely think reading this series before the film came out gave me an advantage; I was able to objectively form opinions and I was unprepared for the depth of emotion and the attachment I developed to these characters whilst reading. I’d just like to say that this is not an academic analysis or review or these books, more so a stream of consciousness so that I can ramble about my thoughts and the emotions I experienced whilst reading. I’ll also say here that I typically do not like YA books and a number of their tropes, however, I would class this series as a favourite, and I think it’s beautiful. P.s. sorry this is a long one, also there will be spoilers.

Relationships:

I think I should first address the love triangle: it’s a standard trope in YA that I usually hate, but I think it works in this story. The format of the story and the situations that drive the characters actions and decisions allow the ‘love triangle’ to feel natural and true. A large part of Katniss’ story arc is initially feeling like a pawn of the capital with the burden that is thrust upon her. Katniss’ relationship arcs with both Gale and Peeta make sense within the context of the story and are very interesting in understanding Katniss’ character and the influence of this dystopian society. When I read the Hunger Games for the first time, I was ‘team Gale’ due to the similarities between Gale and Katniss, their pre-hunger games connection and I just liked him more overall. However, I think this was just to get away from the popular opinion haha, and even on first read, the love triangle was definitely not the forefront of my mind; these books are about character and identity, with love and relationships developing as a natural outcome of these themes. I love that the ‘romance’ has been written in this way and I’ll talk more about this when I think about Mockingjay. I love the metaphors and illusions to hope, life and future that are associated with Peeta, creating a subtle (in comparison to a number of YA books) depiction of Katniss’ connection to Peeta before their relationship begins. Peeta personifies safety, warmth and assurance for Katniss who would have been open to these qualities had she not been forced into such a horrific situation.

No one has held me like this in such a long time. Since my father died and I stopped trusting my mother, no one else’s arms have made me feel this safe.’ (Hunger Games pg. 363)

Characterisation and themes of grief/loss:

I don’t know if I feel more sensitive or ‘connected’ to books during this time of lockdown, but I instantly felt a strange sense of emotion and nostalgia when I started reading this book. I’ve spent a lot of time in woods and forests, and whilst I’ve definitely not been hunting or sleeping in trees, I’ve felt more connected to nature (I’ve always loved nature but a benefit of this time is experiencing it more deeply). I love birdsongs and I’ve been thinking and the importance of birds and nature within this story. I recently read Jen Campbells Instagram story (she’s a writer and talks about books on youtube), where she filmed a beautiful 5am sunrise in an isolated forest with birdsong and wildlife. Jen heard a bird mimicking an ambulance siren in a haunting and sad moment. This contrast of beautiful untouched nature, and the difficult experiences of human life was very emotional and reminded me of The Hunger Games, where the environment creates a peaceful escape for Katniss even within the confines and struggles of her lifestyle. I think in character I’m closer to Peeta than Katniss, and even more so Prim (although I’m not as kind, I think it’d be hard to be), however, I identify with Katniss’ independence and almost closed off nature that has been heavily influenced by the loss of her father (in writing a collection of my thoughts, this may become a bit deep at times). My dad passed away when I was 11 and the portrayal of grief and loss throughout this series is one of the main reasons it resonates so closely with me; I find Collins depiction of grief to be incredibly realistic and allows me to identify with the very real characters, even in such a dramatic story. I relate to Katniss’ sense of independence and extremely close relationship to her family (as well as her drive to look after and protect them)- I think it is extremely realistic to assume that these qualities would drive Katniss after the death of her father. Katniss’ sense of identity is primarily focused on her adoption of her father’s role as a hunter and provider for the family. Collins often emphasises the similarities between Prim and her mother, whilst Katniss has her father’s traits and favours her father. I think this is important is understanding her actions and sense of identity. This is also very important in understand Katniss’ relationship with Gale. Gale’s own grief is expressed as anger and rooted in the past. I feel that Katniss ultimately could not find peace in the future if she was to be with Gale, his anger has become so that it makes a large part of who he is- evident in Mockingjay during the rebellion without the confines of the Capitol.

I glance over at Gales face, still smouldering underneath his stony expression. His rage seems pointless to me, although I never say so. It’s not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything.. I let him yell though. Better he does it in the woods that in the district.’ (Hunger Games pg. 17)

I feel that several books, particularly in the ‘chosen one’ genre have the loss of a parent or carer as an adverse experience driving the main character, however, this loss is never mentioned again. Similarly, the main character will often experience a loss in the middle of a series, to move the plot forward and create character development. I feel that The Hunger Games deals with grief more authentically and Katniss’ memories of her dad are interwoven into the story in a very natural way, influencing her sense of identity and relationships (Katniss’ somewhat unconscious struggle to feel safe and let people in is a very important aspect in her dynamic with Peeta throughout the trilogy). I’ll reflect more on the themes on loss and grief in Mockingjay (after I cry for several hours haha) but I truly admire Collins ability to create a perfect, authentic tone.

Writing style:

I really enjoy the simple writing style and structured format of these books. It can’t be described as calming due to the subject matter, however, I find the format almost satisfying: Katniss deals with the immediate problem, breaks it down and finds a solution. This format ensures that the book is fast paced, interesting and easy to read. I also feel that this approach to problem solving matches Katniss’ instincts as a hunter, and therefore feels like the narration is personalised; it feels like the writing structure is reflective of Katniss’ character and role specifically, rather than a generic narrator. This writing style also creates fast paced storytelling and gets across the message of the story quickly and powerfully.

Identity:

I noticed in rereading that identity appears to be the key theme and is driven by the element’s safety vs. rebellion and family/relationships. Another element of this series that makes it a favourite for me is the fact that these characters are real multi-dimensional people aiming to find a purpose and dealing with the emotions that life brings; the dystopian setting and plot of the games feels secondary to me, but this setting has been used as a device to reflect upon the influence of society, culture and safety on a person’s identity and happiness. I find this incredibly interesting, and coupled with the attachment to the characters, this story is one that really stays with the reader (for the most part any way, I’m sure some people don’t like these books). I think themes of identity are set up in the Hunger Games and are explored more deeply in the next two books.

For the first time, I allow myself to truly think about the possibility that I might make it home.. No fear of hunger. A new kind of freedom. But then…what? Most of it has been consumed with the acquisition of food. Take that away and I’m not really sure who I am, what my identity is.’ (Hunger Games pg. 378)

As I slowly, thoroughly wash the makeup from my face and put my hair in it’s braid, I begin transforming into myself.. I stare in the mirror as I try to remember who I am and who I am not. By the time I join the others, the pressure of Peeta’s arm around my shoulders feels alien. (Hunger Games pg. 450)

Catching Fire

After the games, Katniss (and all of the people in her life) is impacted by more loss and trauma. Katniss has lost the sense of identity she has worked hard to create with the money (and notoriety) she has gained, and I was very interested in the ways in which this perceived freedom and ironically increased restriction impacted Katniss’ sense of identity. Katniss begins to try and align her identity with one that can exist within a state of rebellion. For Katniss, rebellion represents a shift from survival instincts to fighting for Peeta’s life.

Now a new kind of confidence is lighting up inside of me, because I think I finally know who Haymitch is. And I’m beginning to know who I am. And surely, two people who have caused the Capitol so much trouble can think of a way to get Peeta home alive.’ (Catching Fire pg. 244)

Katniss is still treated as a ‘pawn’ in catching fire, passive in the events and rebellious opportunities that have been created. Gale and Peeta represent interest in the building rebellion more so that Katniss, and throughout this story the shift can be observed. I liked Katniss’ uncertainty and shifts in attitude that continued throughout Catching Fire and Mockingjay with regards to rebellion, I think this uncertainty matches Katniss’ identity and is more realistic than the enthusiastic ‘chosen one’ arc that several main characters in dystopian or YA books take on. Again, these shifts and Katniss’ part in the rebellion feel more nuanced and realistic than the sudden and bold character changes I’ve observed in some books.

The berries. I realise the answer to who I am lies in that handful of poisonous fruit. If I held them out to save Peeta because I knew I would be shunned if I came back without him, then I am despicable. If I held them out because I loved him, I am still self-centred but forgivable. But if I held them out to defy the Capitol, I am someone of worth. The trouble is, I don’t know what exactly was going on inside me at that moment.’ (Catching Fire pg. 143)

Mockingjay

I should probably say that I’ve been writing this in chunks, and I’m writing this part directly after finishing Mockingjay- well, an hour after because I couldn’t see the keyboard through my tears (it’s 2am, I’m definitely a night owl). Thank you if you’ve made it this far, I’ve loved writing and reflecting in this way even though I know I’m going to post this and think of so many things I’ve forgotten to mention haha.

Haymitch:

The first thing it strikes me that I want to think about is Haymitch and his relationship with Katniss. Haymitch represents so many things: I see him as an equal to Katniss in a sense, they are very similar and mirror each other in personality, spirit and logic, however, he has a number of roles to play in Katniss’ life- almost a brother or an uncle and in some ways even a father figure (not in a traditional sense, but in the way that Katniss requires him to be and to the extent that she can accept). Relationships and character are the most important elements of a book for me, and I love Katniss’ relationship with Haymitch. At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss is left reflecting upon her own rage and the anger at Haymitch’s betrayal, the way that he has used her as she is consistently used. Katniss is continuously used by the rebellion, individuals, and the Capitol representing the war and politics around her. In this sense, Katniss is a pawn in the rebellion. I was, however, interested to note that Katniss’ instinctual actions in times of agency ‘spark’ the instances where she becomes- as she perceives herself- a pawn. The tribute for Rue, the berries, and Katniss decision to confide in- and therefore trust- Haymitch in her plan to rebel (during Catching Fire). As a side note, this quote represents important growth in Katniss’ transition from pawn:

It just goes around and around, and who wins? Not us. Not the districts. Always the capitol. But I’m tired of being a piece in their games.’ Peeta. On the rooftop the night before out first Hunger Games. He understood it all before we’d even set foot in the arena.’ (Mockingjay, pg. 252)

 Katniss truly understands her connection to Haymitch and feels like she is observing in him the qualities her own qualities that she does not like. I believe that this is why Katniss is incredibly intolerant of his drinking and depression, she cannot abide by weakness and is exceptionally hard on herself when she feels weak. Haymitch potentially represents the reality of the future Katniss could face. In saying this, I love the subtle but essential character development throughout the books as Katniss’ perception of weakness, grief and loss changes to become far more accepting and less black and white. In seeing herself in Haymitch, he is the character Katniss ends up confiding in and displaying vulnerability towards; this results in so many of the cutting remarks that create frustration or a sense of betrayal when Katniss or Haymitch inevitably hurt each other and ‘put up their walls’ to mask their pain. I find their relationship very interesting and touching. I also appreciate their ending in Mockingjay and the way it reflects their relationship and personalities- they are quietly and steadily there for each other even in the times where grief and illness create a need for solitude. Their relationship is consistently steadied by Peeta.

He looks yellow and has lost a lot of weight, giving him a shrunken appearance. For a second, I’m afraid he’s dying. I have to remind myself that I don’t care.(Mockingjay, pg.87)

Several sets of arms would embrace me. But in the end, the only person I truly want to comfort me is Haymitch, because he loves Peeta too. I reach out for him and say something like his name and he’s there holding me and patting my back. (Mockingjay, pg. 191)

‘A furious Peeta hammers Haymitch with the atrocity he could become party to, but I can feel Haymitch watching me. This is the moment then. When we find out exactly how alike we are, and how much he understands me. ‘I’m with the Mockingjay’ he says. (Mockingjay pg. 432, deciding upon a final games)

I’d also like to mention that I love Katniss’ relationship with Finnick. Finnick’s death is always a strange one for me. I feel that it’s a good example of the point about narration that I rambled about earlier. Finnick’s death is exceptionally sad but I never really feel it and this is because it’s over quickly and I feel numb. In writing this way, the reader experiences the numbness that Katniss feels at this moment, the lethargy and horror of War (I also feel that the volume of events and horror happening in this relatively short story are written to represent the strange mixture of lethargy and adrenaline felt in War. That sounds very dramatic, but I just mean I think Collins may be trying to engage us in the setting and tone, as she does throughout the series through the writing style. Then again, I always somehow end up reading this book in almost one go, ending in the middle of the night haha, so that might contribute to this feeling). I feel Finnick’s death more in rereading Catching Fire and Mockingjay as we see the elements of his personality. Some of my favourite quotes:

Really, the combination of the scabs and the ointment looks hideous. I can’t help enjoying his distress. “Poor Finnick. Is this the first time in your life you haven’t looked pretty?” I say.
“It must be. The sensation’s completely new. How have you managed it all these years?” he asks
.’
(Catching Fire)

Finnick grasps my hand to give me an anchor, and I try to hang on. (Mockingjay pg. 155)

It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart. (Mockingjay pg. 183)

I was going to say that I also love hearing Finnick recall his story, however, I realised that I just love his character and entire storyline including his humour and persona in Catching Fire. I love his relationship with Mags, Annie and Joanna, I love his reaction after he saves Peeta’s life and contemplates Katniss’ reaction, I just love his character. I’d also like to spend time thinking about Prim but this is going to become an entire dissertation in a minute so I won’t haha.

Peeta:

There is just so much to say about Peeta that it’s almost making me not want to touch on his character in a way haha, because I wouldn’t do it justice. I didn’t appreciate Peeta’s character the first time I read this series, I think he needed to grow on me because on first read as a teenager he’s not the most ‘exciting’ in comparison to characters like Gale, however, now I appreciate that he’s exceptional. As I mentioned, I love the mirroring of this series and I appreciate that Peeta’s traits, values and qualities align with Prim. Peeta therefore has the ability to recall Prim’s memory and he can support Katniss to process her grief in a positive healthy way.

While I was reading today, I began to consider that Katniss became close to Gale due to the connection in the grief for their fathers, however, Katniss subconsciously associates Gale with her own supressed grief and his rage. Peeta’s memories of Katniss’ father are distanced from the loss and grief, and Peeta therefore brings life to her father in the way he recalls his singing. In having this ability, Peeta creates an opportunity for Katniss to think of a way forward through her grief and create a sense of peace in her memories for her father (and sister). This is almost a metaphor for Katniss’ entire relationship with both Gale and Peeta and represents the way Peeta helps Katniss to live and grow and overall represents life.

Rue, who when you ask her what she loves most in the world, replies, of all things ‘music’. ‘Music?’ I say. In our world, I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness.’ (Hunger Games pg. 255)

This is the first time music is referenced in the story. Katniss is in character here with her roles driven by a need to survive and her hunter instincts not allowing time for anything that is not a necessity.

Because when he sings.. even the birds stop to listen.’.. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that it’s a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me too much of my father.’ (Hunger Games pg. 366)

Even as Katniss and Peeta are just getting to know each other, and within such extreme life threatening circumstances, Peeta is the one to draw out memories of Katniss’ father and allow Katniss to process her grief in subtle ways.

‘A hush in the trees. Just the rustle of leaves in the breeze. But no birds, mockingjay or other. Peeta’s right. They do fall silent when I sing. Just as they did for my father.’ (Mockingjay pg. 145)

He couldn’t Haymitch. He never heard me sing that song.’ ‘Not you, your father. He heard him singing it one day when he came to trade at the bakery. Peeta was small, probably six or seven, but he remembered it because he was specially listening to see if the birds stopped singing.’ (Mockingjay pg. 246)

Peeta and Rue allow Katniss to think about singing again, representing a healthy outlet for grief and the time to remember her father as he lived. I find this incredibly poignant. I’ve always felt deeply connected to music and singing, and I remember my Dad through his favourite songs. This can be painful but it’s very healthy and allows me to feel connected and feel the emotions that are important to experience. I can also feel incredibly happy when I sing a song that reminds me of childhood, or a funny memory associated with my dad. The moment that I really start to cry whilst reading Mockingjay is without fail always this one:

something unexpected happens. I begin to sing.. Hour after hour of ballads, love songs, mountain airs. All the songs my father taught me before he died, for certainly there has been very little music in my life since.. a voice that would make the mockingjays fall silent and then tumble over themselves to join in.’ (Mockingjay pg. 439)

The ending:

I’d like to reflect upon the ending of the story now. Because I love character driven stories, I’m actually quite lazy with plot and while I find action scenes interesting, I prefer them to be short to I can get to the impact of these events. This may be the reason that I was very happy with the decision to stay with Katniss and her recovery and discover the conclusion of the war as Katniss does. For one, Katniss has a strong presence as a narrator, and I hate when books turn to a different narrator nearing the end of a story as I find it very jarring. This is a story about characters (particularly Katniss) and the impact of War and loss. This is not a story about a rebellion or War, rather those who are impacted by the War and politics they had no intention to be involved in or no power to avoid. At no point did I want the story to become one of action and rebellion, and at no point did I feel I missed anything by staying with Katniss. I wouldn’t have brought this up, but I made the mistake of reading a number of Mockingjay reviews after reading it for the first time and I was shocked to read so many angry reviews that felt cheated out of the action. This is just my opinion, but I feel that this is missing the point of the series and I don’t know what readers are getting out of this story if after three books they do not feel close to the main character. I interpret the purpose of Mockingjay as being a story to reflect upon the themes of meaning, choice and identity within a society that limits free will through it’s constructs that confine the lifestyle people can have.

This leads on to another point that I saw several readers make- reviewers expressed anger or confusion about the way the romance ends. Some people commented that they expected Katniss and Peeta to be together immediately after the War, to be more ‘passionately’ in love. Again, in my opinion, I feel that this distance and time is the only realistic portrayal of love in a setting where the characters are experiencing so much grief and PTSD. After overcoming the initial trauma, Katniss is finally free to build her life, rediscover who she is out with the confines of the capitol and think about the future she wants- or even just the future she can cope with. This is also true for Peeta. To have these characters gravitate towards each other through choice after a period of  time portrays (in my opinion)  the depth of their relationship and is the only realistic way to express that Katniss loves Peeta- she chooses him, he is not chosen for her, she does not have to be with Peeta or see him ever again, she chooses him freely (as does Peeta). I absolutely love the way this happens even though it is heart-breaking. I also love the writing decision to rebuild their relationship by supporting each other through grief, this is again realistic and emphasises the love they feel (I also love that Haymitch continues to be in their lives as the three resume their roles in their relationship dynamics).

Lastly in my seemingly endless ramble, the epilogue. In general, I hate book epilogues, I don’t even like Harry Potters, I tolerate it. I think it’s the time element that can feel a bit jarring and makes me feel distanced from characters I love. I do, however, think Mockingjay did it well by keeping it brief, sentimental but with purpose. I’ve read reviews where readers were unhappy that we did not read more detail such as the children’s names. I’m very happy these details were not included; they don’t need to be and would take away from the ending of the story in my opinion. I’ve also seen reviews where people express anger that Katniss has children. I understand these more, however, I think the point within the story is not that Katniss doesn’t want children, but instead that she is afraid to raise them in a society where they could be involved in the games. Katniss is incredibly nurturing towards Prim and Rue and I personally believe that her actions express that she would like to be a mother, she has just never allowed herself to think about this. 

As I drift off, I try to imagine that world, somewhere in the future, with no games, no Capitol. A place like the meadow in the song I sang to Rue as she died. Where Peeta’s child could be safe. (Catching Fire pg. 427)

I was going to go into grief a little bit more, but I’d rather leave it where it is in a somewhat happier note. I do, however, as I’ve mentioned appreciate the portrayal of grief in this series, I find it very realistic (and therefore very hard to read at the end of Mockingjay). I’m sure this is going to sound dramatic, but I feel like books can be an outlet for grief. I’m constantly brought back to the comfort and nostalgia of rereading my old favourites, but ironically a lot of my favourite books feature elements of grief, for example, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and The Time Travellers Wife. These book also feature friendship, love and characters that I feel connected to, and I think I’ve therefore come to associate these characters and consequently reading as a safe and comforting way to cope with grief and anxieties in life. That sounds very depressing and morbid, but I think it’s quite magical in a way. That someone can write a story, create a fictional character that can resonate with your personality, experiences, interests, emotions and even grief, and that this work of fiction can comfort and potentially heal. This is why I think writers are incredible and why I read.

Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well. Please let me know what you think about this series.

April Favourites

Book:

I hadn’t heard of this author until this month, when I listened to the Podcast ‘Greek Mythology Retold’ and discovered that Janell Rhiannon is writing a book series called The Homeric Chronicles. I loved this book, it’s an interesting and easy to read account of the events leading up to Trojan wars. I’d recommend this is you like mythology and this might be a good place to start if you’ve never read a Greek myth but would like to- if you google some of the characters and Gods/Goddesses as you go along 😊

I’ve already mentioned Girl, Woman, other this month, but this was another favourite read because of the thought-provoking writing style and the interesting characters.

TV programme:

I rewatched Killing Eve this month before starting the new season, I love this programme. I tend not to like crime programmes but I love the balance of dark humour, well written characters and the atmosphere in this show- the music in Killing Eve has been used so well to create this atmosphere, I love the way music can influence the tone of a show. 😊 I can’t think of anything I’d change about this show, I’d recommend watching it if you’re bored (I also enjoy You for its similar humour).

Music:

I LOVE music, I think it’s so important for mental health and can really lift and affect my mood. I end up listening to the same songs constantly and this month (basically this entire year haha) I’ve listened to The Beatles constantly. For some reason I keep listening to I’m only sleeping in particular, this song will not leave my head when I hear it.

The song Spanish Sahara by Foals came on shuffle recently, I’d forgotten how much I love that song, it’s very calming and atmospheric (apparently my favourite word to describe things). I think I first heard it years ago watching Misfits, another amazing programme. 😊 I really should listen to some new songs, please let me know your favourite singers or bands!

The outdoors:

I’ve loved being able to get out most days and be around nature. I love riding my bike (very slowly, a man who was possibly 65 years old passed me today and rode away into the distance haha) and getting fresh air. (I know there’s no other way to write, but I feel like I say ‘I’ constantly and I’m very conscious of it now, it sounds very selfish haha). It’s also been good to feel a sense of community and see so many kind acts during the crazy times, even small acts such as clapping for the NHS and getting to speak to neighbours we wouldn’t usually get a chance to speak to- I’d like to say here that I completely understand the perspective of those who feel this is a pointless act and the biggest thing we can do is not vote the Tories. I’ve never voted the Tories and agree that they have made many many mistakes that negatively impact a number of people. I will continue to vote in a way that will hopefully remove the Tories power one day, and hope that we can become more liberal in our politics and actions. I do, however, think small kind acts have a place in maintaining positivity and helping people to feel together in times like these.

Someone has been painting little rocks with kind messages at the loch beside my house and it’s created such a nice sense of community, so me and my family decided to paint easter egg rocks at Easter as a little hunt for the children who live nearby. All of the stones disappeared so hopefully children enjoyed finding them, but a swan may have eaten them all, we’ll never know haha. I’d like to do something with books, like a little anonymous book swap at the loch, I’m unsure how that would work but it’d be quite fun to try 😊. I also enjoyed bringing some books for my gran to read and being able to speak to her (from a safe distance). I feel a bit useless sometimes because I can’t think of something I can safely do (my mum’s in the at risk category) to help or volunteer with, I’ll hopefully find something positive to do soon.

Cooking:

Cooking/baking seems to be everyone’s go to just now (I’ve managed not to make banana bread yet haha), its been fun trying to make new things- I’m a kind of possibly okay as long as it’s just me eating it type of cook, but I cannot bake hahaha. I like giving myself little challenges, so I’ve been trying to make creations from the food I’ve bought and I’m only shopping around once every three weeks. A quicken nugget (quorn) katsu curry has been my favourite creation, and my homemade pizza was not what I’d call edible. Homemade vegan brownie recipes are also pretty good! 😊

I really hope you’ve all felt okay this month, thank you for your comments and I’d really like to know what books, films and shows help you to feel better 😊 I’m ending this with a picture of Dusty because she’s always my favourite wee thing.

Welcome to the rambling

Thank you to whoever is reading this, I hope you’re doing okay in these crazy times. During lock down I feel thankful that my family, friends and I are healthy and safe- as safe as anybody can be- and are able to stay inside. I’m not someone who naturally likes to stay in, I love going out and staying busy although I am naturally shy and introverted. I’ve been trying different things to keep myself entertained (whilst feeling guilty that I’m struggling to find a way to be helpful during this pandemic) including painting, cooking (mixed results), and reading lots as usual.

I like writing (just for fun) and love reading, so I think this will be a good place to talk about books and the emotions that I experienced whilst reading them. I tend to read fiction- some literary, some fantasy and I love retellings of mythology, particularly Greek, however, this blog will not be at all professional or offer indepth literary analysis; I read purely for fun and love Harry Potter, ASOIAF (and I will admit that in times of stress I enjoy the comfort and ability to rant that rereading a book like twilight brings). I’m always looking for recommendations and love to talk about books with people, so please talk to me whenever you feel like it (I say this, this blog will probably get 2 views a year hahaha)!