I can't complain about 2020. Whilst the two people I know who've had corona are still struggling, we're all alive. I was fortunate enough to see Billie Joe Armstrong's side project, The Longshot, on New Year's Eve - something I never imagined I'd experience when I got into Green Day in 2007 - and completed my tour of the Bay Area's Green Day landmarks. I used the time while nobody wanted a photographer to learn to drive and go back to university to follow my lifelong dream of becoming a planetary scientist. I've also made a lot of art, but Falmouth University might disown me for it, because it's... well, it's Pokémon fanfiction.
I admittedly had a bit of a meltdown back in March. As a kid, I didn't just want to be an astronaut or scientist. I truly believed I could be and that my existence could make a positive difference to the world. Years of teachers telling me I was thick, or too mentally ill, put me off. Now, don't get me wrong, photography is still is one of my biggest passions. I don't regret studying it at all, but the world has changed a lot in the time since I first applied to university. Back then, I believed art could make the difference I dreamed of. I see now that it's not enough. So I was haunted by this obsession with making a difference that was stifled in far less time than it lasted. I had nightmares of crying to my dead grandparents, who raised me in place of my dad and saved all my life to send me to university, that I’d failed them because I was a broke artist, not a scientist like we all expected me to be; but there was nothing I could do about it when I couldn't afford to do my MFA (also known as Master of Fuck All), let alone another degree in planetary science.
Taking the piss out of my most successful photo, 'Space Woman'
Then I found out I could get another student loan, but only for STEM subjects, of which planetary science is one. All that was stopping me was my debilitating fear of failure! Yay! That wasn't going to stand between me and a lifelong dream! I bought a load of books to prepare and set up a mini-office in my bedroom. There's a tablecloth duct-taped to my wall to cover up a damp patch, in case you were wondering.
I wasn't coping all that well with being stuck inside at that point. Illness trapped me in the house for over three years in my teens and I'm never in the mood to revisit that time. I bought my mum a Nintendo Switch Lite and Pokémon Shield for her birthday. I knew she'd want to play with me and didn't want her to spend that much buying another one for me, so I bought one myself with the Spyro remakes. Despite being Pokémon-mad and playing every game and obscure spin-off that came before, I wasn't impressed by what I saw of Sword & Shield. My mum bought me Sword... and I never finished Spyro. I don't know if Cabin Fever™ was getting to me or if I just live up to my primary school reputation of fangirling over nonexistent men with purple hair, but my attraction to nonexistent men emerged from its grave like accidentally opening Internet Explorer. I am now married to the Galar region's Champion, Leon. My 'Who is your Pokémon boyfriend?' quiz even says so!
Seriously, though - I don't know how much anyone who isn't a long-time Pokémon fan cares about my opinion on this, but I think Sword and Shield's characters are the franchise's most interesting and layered so far. I'm a sucker for anything about the Dark Side of Fame™ and there are definitely some hints about Leon's struggle to cope in there. Annabelle thinks he's an embarrassment (and my worst crush ever), but we still had some wild discussions analysing him and the other characters. They even dragged their psychiatrist friend, Caleb, down the Raboot hole by buying him Sword and inviting him to analyse with us. He gave me some even wilder ideas. I had no choice. I was way too inspired. I had to write about this!
I was, however, embarrassed that I was actually writing Pokémon fanfiction. I wrote one about a musician (guess who?) as a Pokémon Ranger when I was 12 and tried a bit inspired by Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire as an adult, but I never published them. This was worse. Leon may be perfection, but he does walk around in booty shorts under leggings under a cape for most of the game and I cannot deny he's the main reason I'm writing it. I'd been reading my friend Claudia's stories and talking to Caleb about his hundreds of thousands of words of Lord of the Rings fanfic, though, and I don't think either of them are embarrassing. So I thought 'fuck it.' I'd have a go at publishing a few chapters anonymously.
It was way too much fun! I love writing my fantasy novel (which is being temporarily neglected for my fanfic) and expected to feel bad about this, not just because it's 'embarrassing,' but since work I'll never publish professionally isn't 'productive.' There's something incredibly cathartic about writing purely for fun, though - just publishing stuff without worrying about how perfect it is. I wasn't even slightly embarrassed anymore. It was a harmless way to take my mind off the pandemic. I love all the characters I've expanded and created. Even the villains! Except Chairman Rose. He's a twat. I say I've been mean in my portrayal of him, but it was actually Caleb's idea (thanks).
The cast of Pokémon Fool's Gold
It's also given me practice at using the long-overdue tablet I finally bought with my government corona money. I bought it to illustrate my fantasy novel but yeah, I won't lie, I've just illustrated my three novel-length Pokémon fanfics.
Who cares? This has all turned out to be productive after all. I'm a better illustrator for it. It's completely restored my confidence as a writer, which I was worried I'd never get back after it was destroyed by an abusive online friend. In turn, it's helped me move on from that, too.
Updated map of the Orre region 32 years after Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness
It's also made my few readers happy. Annabelle keeps thanking me for giving them something to speculate and fangirl over and even if they were my only reader, giving one person a distraction from these times would be worth it.
My boy Leon on the Wyndon Monorail
They're actually not my only reader though. I said I'd get Leon tattooed on me if my first story got 1,000 views and it's already at 2,300. Let's be real, though, I was going to get him tattooed anyway, so I'll make a more outlandish promise - I will get a Cipher tattoo if either my second or third story makes it to 10,000 views. Cipher is a criminal syndicate from some obscure Pokémon spin-off games, Colosseum and XD: Gale of Darkness, in case you haven't met them yet. I say I'm writing to write about Leon, but my stories are Cipher fanfics as much as Leon fanfics at this point. I don't really want a Cipher tattoo, but I probably need it, because Ardos has got it right - 'Cipher will live forever' as long as their biographer, Cipher Admin Maria Gloria, keeps writing about them.
So yeah, this is how I've kept myself sane enough to study in these times. I'm doing alright on my course. I got just over 70% for my first 'serious' assessment, which I'm not happy with because I'm a perfectionist, but I know deep down it's not bad given that I haven't touched anything science or maths-related since I left school at 16 and studied photography in the meantime. My next assessment is due in five days, so it's time to get my head out of my Cipher-hole and get that done.
I'm still taking photos. It's great to be able to photograph the things that fascinate me. I've been photographing all my rocks and crystals lately. There's no artsy meaning to these photos, but there doesn't need to be. This is my life as much as my weird self-portraits.
Overall, I hate to be That Person going on about 'gratitude,' but I really am grateful for 2020. Studying from home isn't how I dreamed of studying planetary science, but I can't complain when it's kept my mum safe and I've got the chance to study it at all. Staying home has forced me to reflect on my past adventures and experiences, how grateful I am for them and how I once thought I'd never make it past 16, let alone 26 and how glad I am that I have. I can't complain as long as I'm doing things I love, whether it's taking photos, learning about balls of rocks and gas in a void or writing another 500,000 words of Pokémon fanfic...
Hammerlocke Emo Night
...Which you must want to read, now, right? Here you go. I recommend reading them in this order.
Homecoming is my favourite. If you want romance and a tragedy that will probably make you cry, that's the one for you. It's also the shortest. Fool's Gold is a more traditional Pokémon story, but there's some tragedy in there, too. Battle Armour is the psychological journey that leads to the other two. You don't need to know a lot about Pokémon to get them. Enjoy!
Young Galarian Gym Challengers