Hard Times; Or, What Will Become of Ideal Koala

I have some sad news. The UKBA has decided I should leave the country, and, since I would like to be able to come back someday, I’m going along with that decision. This obviously means that the way Ideal Koala functions is going to change for a while.

First of all, Seb is still a member of the band. He will be a less active member for a while, but that time is going to be as short as we can possibly make it. Since there’s not a huge call for solo drummers to perform in pubs, he’s going to primarily focus on his other band, GagReflex, until I return.

There are some upsides to the situation. I am going to be performing as Ideal Koala in America, and I know there are some of you over there who have been sad that travel costs to get to our shows add upwards of £600 to the ticket price. Also, believe it or not, but I have musician friends in the states who have expressed a willingness to perform with Ideal Koala, which will enable me to perform some pieces that require instruments such as piano, violin, and electric guitar for you all. Also more cellos. You may not have known this, but most of our songs were originally composed with two or more cello parts, which were then condensed into one for live performance.

Finally, we are also planning on taking advantage of this time to solve the problem of us not having any nice recordings for you wonderful people. We have two EPs planned for this coming year, and we will also be preparing to record a full length album sometime in 2015.

If all goes to plan, I will be back in the UK in late 2014 or early 2015. This coming year will be difficult, but we’re trying to make the best of it. Thank you all for your support, and I hope to see you at a show soon!


Why I Use a Music Stand; Or, I Need All of the Stickers, You Guys

In the past couple of months there has actually been video and photographic evidence of Ideal Koala, the band. You may have noticed that there is a pretty beaten-up music stand in all of these. The music stand is there because I finally came to terms with my needs as a performer, and it’s beaten up because some music stand company decided to make a music stand that could become irreversibly bent upon first opening the box and decided not to put instructions anywhere for how to avoid it. But that’s another, not likely to happen, blog post.

I have wanted to be good at memorisation for as long as I can remember. I mean, there are loads of reasons everyone knows. You can focus on the music better, you can maintain a better connection with your audience, you can jump around with wild abandon…oh wait, I’m a cellist. But for as many good reasons to memorise music, the most important one to me was always “no one else uses music stands in the shows I play.” Which is really silly when you think about it. No one else uses a cello in the shows I play, either.

The awkward feeling of bringing my sad-looking music stand on stage kept me from suggesting Ideal Koala perform again for months after our first gig, while I spent all of my time trying to memorise all of our songs so far. As I started to know a couple of our songs by heart, we started going to open mics, where I rapidly discovered that my stage fright would tear out my heart, surgically remove all traces of song, and sew it back in, leaving it beating far too quickly. That’s when I realised that my determination to memorise our songs was hurting the band.

I had crossed the line from reasonable attempts to learn songs into forcing our band practices into two people playing the same songs over and over again because nothing was ready and we can’t start adding to our repertoire now. As soon as I decided to forget about memorisation, our rehearsals became more productive and we started to play in front of people again. And people like us. No one ever brings up the fact that I use music onstage. So I’m going to go with this for now.

Except, as you might have picked up on, I hate my music stand. I have a plan to solve this problem, but I need lots of koala stickers. So many. If you see some nice ones anywhere, please let me know. I want a variety, so the more places I can get them from, the better. Thanks!


I’m not “just sick.”

So I have a problem with one of the tactics I’ve seen used to fight stigma for mental illness, especially mental illnesses that are commonly associated with suicide. That tactic is the one I refer to as “things aren’t hopeless, you’re sick.” I had trouble putting my problem with this into words for the longest time, and I felt like I was a terrible person because I know that it’s important to see mental health problems in the same way we see physical health problems. That’s a fundamental part of destroying stigma. I’ve finally been able to break down my problems with this argument into two sections.

First, I think that this problem commonly manifests by comparing mental illness to the wrong types of physical illness. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard “If you broke your leg, you’d go to a doctor. Why should treatment for mental illness be any different?” I’m not arguing the whole going to the doctor point, but breaking your leg is something that gets fixed and then you’re done with it. Your leg is usually fine afterwards, and that’s not the case with mental illness. It seems like a small nitpick, but people with mental illness regularly get shamed for both being on medication (and for not being on medication, but that’s a whole different post) and still needing to manage their mental health for longer than others deem is necessary. (“What, you’re still depressed? You really need to just get over it.”) I’m a lot more okay with the comparisons to diabetes in terms of access to medication, since diabetes is also a condition that different people manage in different ways.

Despite being okay with the diabetes comparison, I would prefer it if there was a stronger push towards portraying mental illness as being in the same crowd as physical disabilities.* I mean, they’re already covered under disability arrangements, but I know from reading comment threads online that I’m not the only person who has felt unable to get that day-to-day help because “having a mental illness isn’t disabled enough.” And really, while mental illness is similar to diabetes in that it can be managed in different ways and is ongoing, it is more similar to physical disabilities, which are also managed in different ways, are ongoing, are often ignored, and lead to accessibility issues (all of which are different depending on the person and their disability).

The second problem I have with this argument is that I most often see it used to talk to people with mental illness (I’ve gotten it myself more times than I can count), and that is all kinds of dismissive. I’m talking about things like “things aren’t hopeless, you’re just sick,” and “your brain chemistry is out of whack.” When you tell someone that their feelings are wrong, you’re, well, wrong.

Tangent: Some people find it useful to have other people give them reality checks (i.e. Captain Awkward has just recently had an open thread for people with anxiety where several people say they find it helps for people to remind them that the grocery store is not a scary place), but don’t just guess. Ask the person what is helpful for them. In the previous example, if you used the same tactic on me, you might think “Oh, Ariana is having trouble getting to the library, so I’ll just remind her that it’s not scary.” That doesn’t work for me. What works for me is to tell other people I can put it off until tomorrow, then surprise my brain by instantly doing the thing I was scared off. You wouldn’t know that unless you asked.

Back on-topic: I especially hear the “you’re just sick” lines when people talk about feeling hopeless or suicidal, and I can not think of a ruder thing to say to such an admission. While these feelings are common in people who have mental illness, they are not exclusive to mental illness, and, more importantly, why does having a mental illness make those feelings less legitimate? If someone who was grieving over a dead loved one said that sometimes they wished they wouldn’t wake up in the morning, would you respond with “oh, you’re just sick/grieving?” I suspect you’d be more likely to say that it was a really hard thing to go through, and, depending on how close you were to the person, maybe suggest a therapist or a support group. And really, it’s not a bad thing to suggest forms of help to a suicidal person, I’m all for that. The difference between these two scenarios is that in one the feelings are considered legitimate, and in the other, the feelings are dismissed. This is really dangerous, because dismissing the legitimacy of a person’s feelings makes it impossible to actually help them. If I can’t trust you to take what I say seriously, how can I trust you to listen when I tell you that I’m having serious side-effects from my medication, or to respect my decision to not be on medication at all? Why should I even bother telling you I’m suicidal in the first place?

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* I know that there is a lot of stigma surrounding people with physical disabilities as well, but this isn’t the post for that. I do think that people with physical disability and people with mental illness are natural allies considering that there are similar issues at play, especially considering the difficulties shared by people with invisible physical disabilities and people with mental illness.


My Brain is Broken. Or, Why I Have Disappeared Lately.

If you’ve read any of this blog, you probably know that my brain is out to get me. I’ve spoken a lot about bipolar disorder, but over the past couple of months, anxiety has made it nearly impossible for me to leave the house. I manage to get to official things, like meetings with teachers and work, but unscheduled but necessary things, such as returning library books, remain undone. I went to one social event, and I was struggling not to have a panic attack the entire way there. When I say that I hate people, I’m usually thinking of the times when just being within five feet of someone makes me want to hide. The thing is, while I don’t get that feeling around online encounters, I feel so drained that I disappear. I don’t respond to emails for months, I weasel out of instant messaging,* I don’t update my blog. And then the depression side of my bipolar kicks in and tells me that I’m worthless, that I can’t take care of myself, that I’m a terrible friend, and what am I thinking pretending I have a band?

My brain is a jerk.

I’m doing my best to pull myself together over here. Thanks for bearing with me.

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*”What do you want? Gah, just leave me alone to hide in my log!” http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7249/8157682031_d7eaecbaeb_z.jpg


My Happy Musician Fantasy

I’ve been spending the past week catching up on all of the blogs that I love but haven’t had the time to read over the semester. One of them put me back into my “grr Amanda Palmer” state by reminding me that she didn’t want to pay her musicians on her most recent tour, and giving me more details that activated the “GRR Amanda Palmer” state. But this post isn’t actually about Amanda Palmer so if you feel like activating your own “grr Amanda Palmer” states, you’re going to have to Google her.

The whole thing made me think a lot about the situation for most musicians, who have to play gigs for free until they get lucky. Then I came up with my own fantasy rules for venues. I don’t think that venues should be completely banned from having bands play for free, because it gives lesser-known bands who the venue might not want to risk a paycheck on otherwise a chance to prove themselves. I like the idea of bands getting live auditions, since even if the venue decides it doesn’t like the band and doesn’t want them back, the band still gets to perform in front of an audience. However, we all know that venues abuse the promise of exposure for free entertainment (which is especially egregious when the band is responsible for all advertisement). I think venues should be limited to say, ten free bands a month, and not be allowed to have the same band play for free more than once ever. If a venue agrees to have a band back a second time, clearly they like the band enough to pay them.

So there you go, that’s my happy musician fantasy. I would love to hear yours.


Let the mocking begin!

I love essays. It is the reason I am in uni. No, really, I almost dropped out, but turned it into a gap year because a few months into fall, all of the Facebook posts from my friends complaining about their essays made me miss it so much. I do have trouble getting started writing though. I tend to research up to the last minute, believing that I don’t know enough about the topic I’m writing on until I actually write it. This usually involves staying up late going “Gah, why did I think I could do academia? It involves words!”

I was working on my last essay of the semester a few days ago. I could not get out of research mode for the life of me, so I decided to write the stupidest version of my essay I could think of, just to get myself writing. It is dumb, it ignores facts, but I asked on Facebook if people wanted to see it so that they could mock me, and some of them said yes. You’re welcome.

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The nineteenth century was the time when people said “Hey, maybe music is an actual art form that we should be studying,” so they did. But they had this whole romantic ideal where composers were gods, so they didn’t really look beyond that. Also, they hated women and foreigners, so you could only be a god if you were a white man. Fortunately, since these people were also white men, they could ignore this and study works of music based on the score alone. “Context? Fuck context,” they said, “These pieces have to be great because they’re written by these awesome white men, so we have Schenkerian analysis to take out all of that extra, not necessarily good stuff in order to explain why it all makes sense and is actually genius.” They particularly liked to do this with Beethoven. Most notably, he wrote his ninth symphony after he went deaf, and also after everybody decided he was god. People heard it and thought “This is strange, but it’s Beethoven, so it must be brilliant! Bring on the Schenkerian analysis!” The thing is, everybody fucking loved Beethoven, so they decided that his music, especially the last movement of his ninth symphony, should be used to support their own agendas. Hitler demanded it be played at his birthday party. It was played in celebration of the Berlin Wall coming down. Wagner decided to become Beethoven. This piece was so easily politicised because it was Beethoven, and Beethoven is god.
So with Wagner deciding to become god, he wrote a ton and composed a ton. If you were in the nineteenth century, you either like Wagner or Brahms, and Brahms didn’t build theatres with dumb seating structures and write the longest-ever operas to perform at them, so clearly everyone loved Wagner. Wagner hated the Jews, but no one really cared at this point. After WWII, of course, people went “Oh hey, this is mad problematic, and his whole “I am god/Jews and women suck” ideology kind of leaks into his music. So this, and things like this, are why we have new musicology. It lets us know when the music we are listening to is EVIL.


On the discussion I’ve seen around the CT shooting – A Rant

Look, I agree that there needs to be better mental health care and less stigma around getting treatment, but please everyone stop being dicks when talking about this? Don’t complain about HIPAA as an obstacle, it lets people like me keep their right to privacy and not be given forced treatment, which is traumatic as hell. It’s not my family’s responsibility to get me, an adult, treatment. If I did get to a point where I was so unwell that it was decided I needed treatment whether I wanted it or not, HIPAA would not stop that.

Also, I have seen people blame the shooter’s mother for owning a gun when she had a mentally ill kid, and also for not getting him treatment. What the actual fuck? Having children, disabled or not, is not a reason to take away people’s rights. On top of that, he was an adult. She was not responsible for him. This is victim-blaming. Stop it.

I am also sick of people saying “it’s all about mental health treatment, shut up about gun control.” Of course this is fucking about gun control. What? You think we can’t focus on two problems at once? Mentally ill people need to be able to receive treatment AND guns should be hard to access because as we’ve seen, treatment for mental health doesn’t always work. Yes, there are other weapons. Guns kill faster. Yes, guns will be sold illegally. They still won’t be as easy to access. More planning will be necessary, and that takes time. And if you even think about saying “I need my gun to protect me from all of these shooters,” fuck you. You’re making the situation more dangerous for everyone around you.

I’m done. I have been clobbered with posts on my Facebook talking about how my rights should be taken away because my brain isn’t “perfect” and neurotypical, all because you can’t stand to lose your fucking guns.

UPDATE: I wasn’t in a state to articulate this when I wrote this post, but talking about mental health at all in relation to this shooting is problematic. This post says it better than I ever could.

UPDATE AGAIN: Here is another great post on the subject.