Writer Biography and Intro to Celtic Riverside

Hello, Reader! Welcome to Celtic Riverside! Feel free to jump around to whatever section interests you – this is not a singular piece that must be consumed in whole or in a particular order to enjoy.

This really is a tl;dr, so good luck!

What is Celtic Riverside?

First things first – you might be wondering what the deal is with “Celtic Riverside”, and that is a perfect introduction to myself and the blog.

I’m an American-born writer with an Irish heritage whose cultural history is fascinating. I pair that interest in Celtic history with a literary background that favourites works like Sir Barrie’s “Peter Pan”, Austen’s collected works, and Alcott’s “Little Women”. I know those are English and American rather than Irish, but they feature countryside settings.

I had a clear vision of the “Little Women” homestead in particular, undoubtedly influenced by the 1994 film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale. Whenever I hear the winter song “River”, I tend to picture the setting of their ice skating scene.

Part of how I focus is the use of a ‘happy place’ that doubles as a cognitive device known as the method of Ioci. Alternately, one might regard this as a memory palace. In my mind I created a retreat using many influences – how I envision settings from favourite stories, songs that I love, and real architecture (like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and various lodges, cabins, and residences I have encountered).

Imagined, yes, but concrete rather than abstract. It exists with a real floorplan and functioning rooms associated with various interests. I store memories and ideas according to the floorplan. You know how you might reside in a large house but you know precisely where the spoons are? That is how I store memories, facts, and such. I quiet my mind, go to this place, and then to the specific place in the house where I would store such a thing to ‘retrieve’ it.

As mentioned, it not only serves to help my memory and organisation, it also serves as a happy place. When things start to overwhelm me or I need to take a mental vacation, I go to this same place. The structure itself is important to me, but so is the surrounding vista, engulfed in woods that change with the seasons and an enchanted-looking river flowing nearby, the mountains a short hike away (growing up where I did, these are Appalachian Mountains and easy to hike).

In terms of landscape, it blends the familiar woodlands of the Poconos in Pennsylvania with images of the Irish, Scottish, and English countrysides and the Black Forest region of Germany. It’s my Never Land and my Wonderland.

The music I enjoy fills the halls and I often imagine people, fictional and real, who are dear to me roaming the halls. The highest honour I can bestow on a person is admission to this place – my secret garden where I admit only the most important people to invade my introverted, anxious, quiet personal space, but more on that later.

The application of this fictional estate of mine, Celtic Riverside, to the naming of the blog is meant to share that with you.

Navigating Riverside

There’s probably a rule to blogging. Many of the blogs I enjoy most vary to some degree but have a central theme like mental health. Riverside has no such restriction because the purpose of the blog is, full disclosure, simply to provide me a compositional outlet. I’m a perfectionist (again, we’ll get to that later) and composing works of fiction is a gruelling process. The blog allows me to process ideas more quickly with less painstaking revision (I only check these entries for basic spelling and grammar).

The resulted in multiple streams (pun not intended) of thought on Riverside that one will find with the specific pages. The Home page naturally lists all posts with some favourites pinned to the top, but that’s just a dump of all the posts. Supporting pages categorise them in a meaningful way:

  • Mental Health is what it seems – posts having to do with mental health issues.
  • #HeForShe is a page with posts having to do with gender equality issues, the name taking from the UN initiative to encourage male involvement in gender equality issues.
  • The Social Contract is a page dedicated to broader social issues, all of which I review within the context of what is known as the social contract – our implicit social agreement to organise for the betterment of all participants.
  • Critical Thought is a review page of sorts. Sometimes a particular piece, work, or artist will strike me and I dedicate an entire entry to discussing it rather than just the underlying theme. Most of these pieces also appear on the page associated with the underlying theme though.
  • Riverside Reflections are personal pieces, like this one. They relate purely to personal experience.
  • Hearts and Minds is a page highlighting other bloggers and vloggers I recommend with links to visit them.

James M. Keenan, Amateur Novelist

Now that we’ve covered the blog, allow me to introduce myself as the writer. The remaining content of this piece goes against every instinct in my body to provide some familiarity to readers so that you might better relate and interact with me, whether that be here or Twitter or Goodreads.

Mental Health Advocate

My mental health does not define me, but it does colour much of my life. I talk about mental health with some degree of openness, but for the purposes of this entry I am going to try and be even more frank.

I am diagnosed with a personality disorder (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder – OCPD) and multiple anxiety disorders (generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and, while not a designated disorder, medical anxiety), all of which feature heavily in the mental health section of the blog.

The anxiety disorders receive regular attention and I am proud to say are far more tame today than they were months and years ago.

Of greater relevance here is the personality disorder, which undoubtedly has some comorbid relation with the anxiety. I’m a perfectionist obsessed with rules and morality. That is the core of my existence, I think, and I say that because of the hours I’ve lost to introspection. Other things about me, like my introversion, reclusiveness, anxiety, self-esteem/confidence concerns, and the like derive from that.

I mention this here because I feel I owe people an apology of sorts. Theoretically (and in practice according to some people in my life), you will not meet a “better” person. Being right and on the moral high ground is paramount to me, not as a sort of social currency to lord of others but as a matter of necessity. The idea is not to preach to others from a moral high ground, but to lend a hand so that others can attain it without all of the grief often associated with trying to do things the right way.

What I mean by that is that there is often an easier way – one that is not necessarily immoral or unethical, and one that may be more effective to achieving the desired outcome (my mind rebels at the idea of “ends justify the means,” especially if the means involve violence of any kind). Some people admire my perfectionism and desire to do right, but others despise it as ineffective, holier-than-thou, conceited, arrogant, or any number of things. They aren’t wrong. It’s a matter of perspective and context. I respect that.

I owe people an apology because my emphasis on perfection and morality, paired with introversion and reclusiveness, makes me a terrible friend. My mental health is not an excuse for my behaviour, but it does provide an explanation.

I neglect checking up on others, either because of my tendency to introspect (which can border on selfishness) or because of my esteem issues (a belief that the person in question does not want me interfering with their life). When one is reclusive, stepping forward to engage in any relationship feels like an imposition on the other person. Motivation preceeds action, and the action of engaging with someone, especially when it involves crawling out from under a rock, invites questions. While the answer to the question is sincere concern and interest, confidence about my ability to manage that as a perception wanes and I avoid it altogether.

In short, I am a human. I am not terrible but I am not perfect either. One of the benefits and curses of OCPD is a higher-than-average degree of self awareness. Know that I do reconise my faults and try to combat them, but I fail. Being aware of my faults allows others to make tolerable allowances for it until we can work beyond them. I have a core group of friends who transcend many of the issues because we built a level of trust.

The Recluse

Still, it feels though the introversion requires some specific focus.

There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

My reclusiveness stems less from issues of personal distrust, that a person will betray me in some way, and more from issues of general trust. I concern myself as much with how those closest to me treat others and to how they treat me, and while our relationship might insulate me from their mistreatment I worry about the revelation that they might readily mistreat someone else.

This is especially true of men, for whom I tend to project a distrust I acquired from women in my life. It’s not misandry or the belief that men are naturally cruel but rather the fear that any particular man might reveal himself to be a misogynist. For what it’s worth, I do not like that this fear has so much governance in my life, but that’s where things are currently.

It’s the fear that at some point in our association will come the revelation that one holds sexist views and, to a greater extent, how one will respond when challenged on it. I am not a perfect feminist and will encounter situations where inherent biases come to light, but I am prepared to own that and grow from it when it occurs. Relationships require work, and I prefer a healthy distance between myself and many people until I feel I can trust them enough to build the relationship further.

The system is not perfect, but it provides a necessary boundary in my life. Having too many people that I consider close friends revealed to be stubbornly flawed in some ethical area would devastate me, and so I maintain a distance with many that I even feel I like until I have a chance to see how they respond to someone challenging their character or choices.

Voices in My Head, Fictional Friends, and Celebrities

She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

While that may sound like a lonely existence, it comes with three broad considerations. First, my personality specifically does not require a lot of social interaction. I enjoy time along to reflect, introspect, study, and write. Second, I have my core group of friends, family, my wife, and our dogs. Third, I have the voices, characters, and celebrities.

What do I mean by the latter? The voices I attribute to the venerable Robin Williams whose death upset me greatly. As a child watching him, his ability not just to affect a silly accent but to inhabit different characters appealed to my imagination. I was familiar with the idea of, say, reading a story and affecting a different voice for each character, but the extent to which he invented personalities and the speed with which he did it impressed many of us.

It set my imagination on fire, and my solitary play took on a new energy. As with Alcott’s quote, it also appealed to me that I could entertain a character as long as I wished and then place them aside, on pause in a way, and return to them later without fearing of misusing or abusing them. They were not just fictional characters, they were my invention. I had absolute authority to conclude they would not mind.

Fictional friends are slightly different because someone else holds domain over them and, yes, I feel bad about the idea of putting them aside. It’s not as severe a concern as with a real person, but within their fictional world they are a personality with needs, wants, and desires.

Austen’s heroines, Wendy Darling, the March sisters, no shortage of Disney characters, and countless others are “friends” of mine (who reside at least part time at Riverside).

Readers enjoy living in fictional worlds for a spell; I enjoy inviting fictional worlds to live with me for awhile.

Still, it’s probably not as ill-advised as my attitude towards celebrities, real people who exist in an almost fictional sense. By this I mean the way in which we feel that we know them because of their familiarity in the public eye despite the complete lack of personal knowledge. Understandably, talking favourably about a celebrity immediately invites controversy because those with alternative perspectives on the celebrity will take issue, but we form our opinions based on our idea of the person (as unfair as that is ultimately).

Saoirse Ronan, Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, Lorde, Lindsey Stirling, Hayley Westenra, Chris Evans, James McAvoy, (Jimmy Stewart and Audrey Hepburn historically) and others are people in the public eye that I respect and who I sometimes imagine interacting with at Riverside.

Chief among them is Emma Watson, who I should probably refer simply as Her Royal Highness. If one wants a topic to engage my interest without fail, she would be it. I often hesitate discussing it because, as mentioned previously, perception. I’m a man in my thirties and she is a gorgeous, world famous celebrity of about the same age, but that saddens me.

While I enjoy her acting (after all, she was Hermione and Belle and is soon to be one of the March sisters), she strikes me OCPD self as a wonderful person. I love the grace and eloquence with which she discusses topics that matter to her like gender equality, art, and sustainability. She introduced me to the former of which. At a time when I valued the principles of gender equality but had no real notion of how to approach it, it was the launch of the HeForShe campaign and her efforts that opened the door to actual action and all of the other activist voices I began to hear.

I do not discuss it, beyond professing to be a fan, but my idea of Emma Watson as a person guides much of my behaviour. Because I approve of how she approaches things, that became my metric for how I might approach things. Would it disappoint her to know that I said/did/believed a particular thing? If so, it guides me carefully away.

Her choice of roles and that peculiar sort of literary connection, not to mention her proclaimed exuberance for reading, provides focus for my work in fiction. I cannot please everyone, but the purpose of writing fiction is foremost to entertain. I work on stories that mean something to me but that I feel might entertain her (regardless of whether she ever actually would).

In short, I stan and it feels significant enough that it ought to be part of an autobiography.

And, in the interest of continued full honesty, I think the reason I am open about this now is that I am generally tired of pretending innocent things aren’t true because of others’ opinions of it. Perhaps no one has a negative opinion about it, but the fear that people might has compelled me to keep many things quiet for many years and I see no need ❤

Anyway, apologies again for probably being a poor friend until we have built some advanced level of trust. My close (but aware) relationship with fiction and introspection is often my focus in the spirit of being the best version of myself and the most help to others possible.

I am working on it.

Interests and Themes

Some of these items already appeared, but one might also want to know what appeals to this writer as those influences would likely appear in the writing as well.

I alluded previously to some literary works and musicians of note, as well as my fandom for all things Disney and Emma Watson.

Philosophy is a broad appeal which, in more recent years, has taken a narrower emphasis on existentialism and absurdism. While I would not call myself either an existentialist or an absurdist (in fact, I think my anxieties are contrary to both in practice), they are the philosophies with which I most identify. Influential writers like Kierkegaard and Camus have a profound effect on my worldview.

The idea of a social contract is also a central theme, as mentioned as one of the sections in the blog. It’s the idea that humans are animals, but social animals able to order ourselves in the common interest. We accept certain restrictions on our behaviour in order to guarantee freedoms, liberties, health, and happiness. The specifics of that contract, however, vary across time and space, and the investigation of that contract is perhaps the most notable undertone in my writing.

Issues regarding race, gender, sex, orientation, class, and numerous other social divisions relate back to the idea of this contract; specifically, how we apply the contract inequitably to members of society. My interest in gender equality, for example, comes from recognising the continued existence of gender inequality and my notion that I can do the most good for the most people by focusing on that area.

Athletics appeal to me because they are physical within socially acceptable levels of aggression (I detest violence in sports, especially my beloved ice hockey). They require a combination of intellect and strategy alongside the athleticism, and often they require a degree of cooperation among members to achieve. Ice hockey, soccer/football, and baseball are at the top of the list, and my newfound respect for playing golf (not watching) is making that a hobby.

Video games are a hobby if I find the story compelling, which is another area where I tend to keep to myself. Gamers are a rough group online and I am not a gamer. Once I find a game or franchise with a story I enjoy, I will replay it exhaustively (the Arkham series, Assassin’s Creed, the Call of Duty Modern Warfare reboot).

Riverside Politics

It also seems worth mentioning some of my politics and beliefs as they will spill over into my writing and interactions. Though this is probably too flaky for some, I am not an expert on most things and these reflect opinions formed based on the evidence provided – that is, they are subject to change with the introduction of new evidence and I do enjoy constructive disagreement with people (that not being the typical vitriol we see online).

Social inequity, particularly with respect to sex and gender, is a primary focus and I absolutely believe that these problems persist today. Third and fourth wave feminism is not a waste of time and the focus on intersectionality is long overdue. I do not agree that women or minorities have achieved equality and that the need for feminism is gone.

I believe climate change is real and man-made, tipping on the point of irredeemable. The world will not end tomorrow, but I believe the science that we are approaching the point where the process will lead to Earth being inhospitable for humans in the foreseeable future if we do not take action.

I believe capitalism is the best economic system in the world – in theory. In practice, modern capitalism is another natural system perverted by human involvement that now threatens quality of life or life itself for billions around the world.

I support vaccination and find the anti-vaccination position untenable.

I support a woman’s right to choose. While I tend to get nervous about stating this outright publicly, the moral philosopher in me does still struggle with the concept of viability and how that affects the calculus of the situation, but my sincere position is full right to choose for all women.

I support responsible gun ownership but personally despise firearms (and violence in general). Even the idea of resorting to throwing a punch is objectionable to me because it represents a failure in reason and de-escalation.

I hate much about US politics. Gerrymandering, campaign finance, partisan tactics (per the earlier stuff I’d written, I understand how it’s effective but I find it logically unethical because it seems fundamentally duplicitous), lobbying, and the general conduct of many politicians is objectionable to me. It’s kind of like capitalism – in theory, it’s the best system of government imaginable. We don’t practice it according to theory though. I tend towards the Democrats as less objectionable on moral grounds and more in lines with my personal attitudes towards issues, but even the Democrats frequently bother me.

The same may be said for public discourse around the issues. While I have obviously seen my fair share of trolls and abhorrent people with opposing views, I have also seen plenty of folks who share my opinions in a less than agreeable way. I do not mean arguing or standing up for oneself against the unjust tactics of someone opposing them; I mean objectively objectionable tactics. Racism, sexism, bullying, and vitriol exist on both sides, and often the insistence on my side of the issue that these things do not is more insidious than the blatant flaunting of values on the other. Again, I rarely express this opinion because one has to worry about incurring the wrath of that crowd.

I support increased mental health care. American medical care in general is a mess, but the neglect of and stigma around mental health is a unique problem both here and around the world.

This extends to other social ails like substance abuse and homelessness, which people sometimes dismiss as self-inflicted and fail to provide necessary assistance on that flawed understanding of their nature. I became a firm supporter of housing-first models to address these issues.

I support immigration and global attitudes towards social issues, politics, and economics. Some matters are domestic, even local, but everything touches everything else in the modern world and isolationism, nationalism, and xenophobia are not only unethical, they are harmful to everyone.

I support a full separation of church and state. Secular governance that allows the freedom to practice religion as the individual sees fit. I am not religious myself but I admire the faith I see in others and love the way many practice religion. We do not need to vilify any religious belief, but we do need to divorce it from social governance as we cannot apply any particular religious belief to all members of society.

I support animal rights and have begun moving myself towards veganism – though I am not a vegan by anyone’s definition. I despise trophy hunting and oppose most hunting.

I do believe in welfare and a social safety net (for reasons too complex to describe here). Short version: we live in a society that puts people at financial risk; society is therefore responsible for providing a safety net.

I oppose artificial intelligence and machine learning. This is less out of a Skynet-type fear and more a consequence of seeing how tech companies leveraged personal data in recent years. I begrudgingly participate in social media as a necessity for being a writer today.

Plenty of other social issues, but I think that gives a solid foundation, right?

Closing Invitation

Please, feel free to drop a message introducing yourself and to explore the blog. As mentioned about 4000 words ago, this blog is a place that helps me to process my non-fiction thoughts while I work on fiction projects. I am also hoping to grow familiar with readers who will later find interest in reading my work and who will then be in a position to interact about it.

I am also always keen to meet other writers to discuss their ideas and read their work as it comes available. I have discovered several wonderful books written by social media contacts and look forward to many more!

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