Edinburgh, I’m back

Started on the 23/6/19 and returned to on the 08/07/19:

I know one of my new year’s resolutions or something similarly seasonally remedial was to write these posts into a word processor first so that I don’t ever suffer the pain of writing something and then accidentally pressing the back key and losing it all ever again, but it feels really odd to be typing a thing to nobody in Word. Hello, hi, good morning, evening, etc. It’s been a fair while since I’ve posted anything and I guess to try and put it succinctly it’s just a matter of priorities. There, that’s nice and tidy isn’t it? Priorities. Blog over. HA! But no, whilst writing is the easiest way I can take my brain apart a bit and it feels natural to type things out (probably because I kept a rambly and imaginative and suitably pained livejournal account as a teenager) at the moment I’m giving more time to reading and digesting and recording than to shitting anything out so to speak. So much of my time in Devon was spent writing job applications and forging versions of myself that I guess for the most part time at the computer was less of a treat and more of a chore. But, I figured it might be useful for myself to reflect on the last six months before moving in a new direction, so strap in for some real thorough self-reflective ramble.

I moved home hoping to change my direction in life/start a meaningful and fulfilling career/travel/move abroad and then realised that all these things are very tricky to do, especially on your own, and especially with a poorly house cat. Once I’d had a break over christmas I started to think about what I thought I’d be best at, what I enjoyed doing the most the most over 2018, and where I reckoned I could excel if I put my mind to it for a bit. The one thing that I have found the most rewarding since leaving University aside from my own personal work is feeling that in some small way I might have made it easier for people to create things and share them with each other, and also, hopefully, made it easier for people to see themselves reflected in the dialogue surrounding art and photography. I also realised I’d never actually made a serious go at applying for jobs in the creative industries, which surprised me, so I figured maybe that was worth a shot. I spent the following months applying for jobs all over the UK and abroad (most of them ridiculously out of my league) and being rejected, working at Travelodge, applying for more jobs, being rejected, working on the van, eating a lot of hashbrowns, being rejected, studying a distance course in Digital Promotion for Business, applying for jobs, trying to dispel my fear of country roads, being rejected and eventually (four months in?) when I was beginning to believe I had really zero worth whatsoever I started to get interviews. It legitimately took four months of solid applications to get some semblance of a decent CV and Cover, this stuff takes time, a lot of it, and very thick skin. What is helpful however during this soul-crushing process is an occasional application where you have a bit of fun… I wrote one cover letter for a book-selling position referencing my time as a flyerer for two-woman fringe show ‘Fannys Ahoy’ at The Stand, where I legit used the line (it’s still in my outbox): ‘If I can sell a lunchtime show with nothing but a handful of flyers and a mouthful of fannies I can’t imagine selling books in a book shop being much of a stretch’. Needless to say I didn’t get the job. 

But anyway, I had a mix of really rewarding and mildly mortifying interview experiences and eventually after applying all over the UK I have landed a temporary position in Digital Content Coordination with Assembly for the festival period, back in Edinburgh! So that is fantastic and I’m delighted that someone took a chance on me, but let’s not gloss over the hours of application writing and tweaking and crushing phone calls and emails and the consistent looming worry of my parents who just wish I would get a ‘normal job that pays well’. It would be dishonest to say it was how I expected to spend the first bit of the year and I can’t pretend it was fantastic all of the time (you know, just in case my instagrams of slippers and ponds made it look glitzy). The irony of being back physically where I started is not lost, but I can also now identify the power in removing yourself from your routine, despite the terror this can instill. I don’t think I realised how thinly I had been spreading myself until I was back in my family home with a foreseeable future in my parents’ attic with which to contemplate my own irritability and exhaustion. If you’re not enjoying yourself a lot of the time, even when you’re doing things you ‘like’, you’ve probably given yourself too much to do. Simple. Unfortunately, the truth of the job hunt is that it’s shite. You feel like shite, your chat is shite when you do pull yourself away, your ability to plan things is shite because you are always waiting on someone else to decide your fate for you, you try and continually shape yourself and your experiences in ways that people might see are really beneficial and every time you read a job description you know you could be great at a bit of your brain starts mapping out a wee bright future for yourself in whatever place it is, with all these potential shiny possibilities, and then when it inevitably doesn’t happen you have to accept that and start afresh time and time again. Brains are suckers. 

I’m not saying I should have been offered a job straight off the bat because I acknowledge that the process is more complicated than that and I realise I have no paid arts marketing experience. My Degree is also some four years old, now but a drop in the enormous art graduate frustrated creativity resource pool. I’m simply trying to be honest about the reality of the prospects and process when you’re approaching the creative job market with nothing, or little, to give you a leg up - I mean no friends or family in decision-making capacities, no internships, no residencies, no work experience. Voluntary positions seem to count for less than expected. And those thinking ‘why is she always complaining, I’ve had a job in the arts for thirty years and I had to do an interview too’ - just be open to the possibility that I’m maybe complaining not entirely because I’m an entitled millennial fixated on an impossible golden future but because the creative employment circumstances for those at the bottom are bleak. Also, if you’re reading this post and shaking your head because your journey was problem-free, think if it was because you had money and if not, please share how this can be easier. I’m a hard worker. It’s one of the few things I can say about myself with complete certainty and I’m confident if you asked those who have worked alongside me they’d agree. But even being ready to graft at this, to be able to viably and affordably contemplate entering into this situation you need to some extent be dependent on financial support (and be comfortable with that) or some kind of compromised living situation. This could be anything from living in your parents’ attic to sacrificing any kind of whimsy for the ‘best years of your life’ whilst you count pennies and cram yourself into applications and workshops and CV reviews and online courses during any free time you might have. I guess that’s the decision you make by ‘following your dreams’ and perhaps is just to be expected and accepted, but somehow this still came as a bit of a shock to me. 

Anyway. I’m also aware that I had a lot of things stacked in my favour here including extreme situational flexibility, my own mode of transport, nobody dependent on me, part-time employment, self-led experience and a First Class BA (Hons) but it still took me six months to land a six week position somewhere within the field I want to work in. I can only imagine how difficult this would be whilst independently renting a property, working full time, managing caring or parental responsibilities, accommodating disability, whilst pregnant, applying from overseas - it becomes its own full-time job and you have to be entirely flexible to come, fully prepared, to an interview at a day or two’s notice. I honestly don’t know how you could do it. Which just makes the pool of people applying for these positions incredibly narrow, let alone those being taken to interview. We need to figure out how to make this process more accessible or we’ll continue to see the same people in positions of industry authority forever, those who didn’t struggle to be there and so can’t imagine there is anyone who does. To do this process whilst living in Edinburgh and paying rent and working full time, with the web of responsibilities I had built for myself at the close of last year was just not practical. So, whilst it might seem backward to move to the Westcountry to look for jobs up here and beyond, for me it really wasn’t backward at all. This backward (southward?) action allowed me space to think of a new way forward and pursue it. I am lucky in that I also got to see a lot of family and friends that I haven’t visited in far too long, and fortunate to have family that would accommodate me whilst I tried to get my career on track. I also came to realise how much warmer it is down South, and how Scotland really gets very little summer at all. I’m very grateful to have been able to do it this way.

But where was I? The present? I’m back in Edinburgh now in a very chilly but quite lovely Stockbridge basement and I feel more at peace than I have done for a long time. I’m excited for all that is coming up, and currently ignoring the impending financial uncertainty that looms at the end of the festival period. As mentioned above, I’ve been reading a lot (and thus ~thinking~ a lot) and trying to make myself as useful as I can until I start my new job. But it’s also been nice to do nothing at all, on my own, for the first time in a while. I start at Assembly this week and I’m super excited to be on the edge of a lot of new stuff, I have a lot to learn but also I think a lot to offer so it will be gratifying to feel challenged and learn from the team. I’m also working away on two personal projects at the moment, but enjoying a slower approach and can thank six months of zero achievements for teaching me that actually that’s fine. You can go away and make nothing whatsoever and nobody gives a flying flip. Yes, it’s good to feel productive and yes, time is always slipping away but primarily the point of everything is to enjoy yourself so putting a bit of energy into getting that covered first and finding my way around photographs and words is nice. An excerpt from my book ‘You are bizarre and beautiful and I will love you forever’ shows a past me in 2013 wishing for the same thing: ’I picture a time where there is less of this hustle and bustle and constant desire to do more and keep up to date, with instead a gentle routine that pushes forward like a low tide and allows you space to think around ideas and behind ideas and not push them out as fast as you can with no real nooks to plunge your heart and your fingers into.’ I think part of me thought this would come with the end of University, but it’s perhaps instead something inside that needed to change.

In regards to what’s holding my attention right now in ~thinking terms~ I’m still feeling my way around ideas of gender and experience at the moment, with particular interest in themes of access and scrutiny. There is so much to read and so much moving every day online that it feels I am about thirty years in the past and have a huge void of books, blogs, articles, tweets and journals to catch up on. With so much information it is unavoidable perhaps to feel often overwhelmed. I am loving Siri Hustvedt’s A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women and also savouring (fairly late to the party) the second volume of Tabloid Art History, which you can read online for free here. I also find @CategoryisBooks a really generous source of information in regard to trans rights and gender queer dialogue, which we all have a responsibility to engage in however we identify (although perhaps of particular interest for me and my personal relationship with expectations of gender). Often online and especially on Twitter this discussion becomes reductive in its necessarily small character limit, and exhausting therefore in its tendency to condense and polarise complex opinions and experiences. I really appreciate the generosity of this account to offer to its followers: ‘If anyone has questions or wants to further understand these issues, we are here all weekend and more than happy to assist, support or suggest things to read/watch/listen.’ This is the twitter equivalent of holding a door open and this is what, at its best, Twitter could be. By my bed at the moment I have something a little wilder with Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. You know, to encourage dramatic dream vistas instead of the weirdness I usually conjure up (night before last I had a dream where I accidentally got stabbed by an elephant’s tusk by looking for my lost property and accidentally going through a fire exit at the omni centre… into the… elephant zone?) I am making a real concerted effort however to edit my other writing into something coherent and focused and it’s nice for the minute to be developing my own sort of methodology for writing about topics that aren’t me and my life. This post is not that, obviously, the theme here is me, this is a personal catch-up. I will conclude this large and sprawling reflective chunk with a quote I enjoyed to offer something for making it through this immense reflection. I hope that if nothing else this is enjoyable and without wishing to prolong this post, and anyone else’s time any longer, I guess this is goodbye. XO

‘Writing is perceived transition from inside to outside, and that motion is in itself a step in the right direction, a passage into a dialogical space that can be seen. Writing is always for someone. It takes place on the axis of discourse between me and you. Even diaries and journals are for an other, if only another self, the person who returns to the words years later and finds and earlier version of what he or she is now. Because written language in this between space, not the writer as her body, but the writer as her words for a reader - who may be an actual person addressed in a letter, for example, or an imaginary person out there somewhere - writing lifts us out of ourselves, and that leap onto paper, that objectification, spurs reflective self-consciousness, the examination of the self as other.’ 

- Siri Hustvedt, ‘The Writing Self and the Psychiatric Patient’ in A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, p.110

Manufactured Oasis: The Next Best Thing

Manufactured Oasis: The Next Best Thing by Emi Kodama 

You can find out more about the artist here.

I picked up this little book at the start of a small European adventure early last year from Boekie Woekie in Amsterdam. It was the start of the trip and so I hadn’t yet run out of money and justifying my purchase was easy; it’s only a wee thing so fit fine in my bag, with a blank white cover and text that immediately felt pertinent. I don’t know why but I’m always drawn to books with a blank cover. It seems to make me more confident that what lies within will be interesting. (In the image I’ve stuck in my hand too, for scale.) The physical whiteness and cleanness of Manufactured Oasis echoes the artificial sparseness we glimpse within: a immaculate sink, painted leaves, shaped hedges and plastic flowers. The book uses images and text from across the globe to explore civilisation’s relationship with the wild. Admittedly, spelling it out like that steals some of its charm - part of the joy here is the fragmentation of the text, the jumps between time and place that leave you disorientated but invite a second reading and a third. You’re never really sure where you are, or rather, where you are meant to be. Through these shifts, sprayed grass in sun-parched Canada is linked to the artist’s mother dying her hair, we seem glimpses of the author but we’re not sure who exactly we’re listening to, and when. Is this fiction? Is this real? That question, I figure, is fundamental here. A framed painting (that I immediately presume to be mountains or lakes) is hidden behind a shirt on a hanger. Nemo the neighbourhood cat explores the yard jungle with no memory of the wild. There is constant tension between a desire for wildness and the eerie comfort of artifice; with every image comes an immediate search for nature. 

Kodama isn’t critical of urban/suburban life necessarily but something about the framing here makes me feel claustrophobic. Perfect, unsettling scenes condensed tight into the white page. When I read the words ‘I realize I haven’t seen a field of grass in a very long time’ I start to feel uncomfortable. But I think what separates Kodama’s contemplation of wild and artificial from being condemning is a resignation to commit. It is with hesitancy that Kodama isolates these details. They are intimate spaces somehow despite their immaculate strangeness (the text perhaps, the nostalgia there softening - ) and it’s refreshing to not have the ‘wilderness’ presented as an escape and as a solution. When we are introduced retrospectively to a school teacher prepared at any moment to escape into the wild, with camping gear packed and ready to roll - Kodama hints at a brief sense of fear, a desire to be alone in front of the TV: safe, comfortable, artificial, content. This notion that raw nature is so accessible is presented as faintly ridiculous and the wild waiting beyond a vague threat. Somehow together these fragments of experience go some way to exploring the complexity of our relationship with the wild and the domestic. Most of us, I imagine, sit somewhere on the line between being repulsed and comforted by fake flowers, manicured lawns, framed pictures of mountain ranges we would struggle to enjoy in real life. Real life. You know what I mean. And in this uncertainty Manufactured Oasis shows its strength. It does not feel, to me, that Kodama is pointing her camera at urban environments and shouting and cursing and criticising those with fake flowers on their table. It is not with ridicule that we revisit Mr Harris ready always to leave, or Reiko’s mother preparing a foldable toilet for the end of the World. Kodama’s observations are not cruel. This book is sensitive and quiet, playful perhaps, and these images and excerpts linger for a moment wondering instead ‘isn’t this strange, where we find ourselves right now?’.

I don’t know if this has been a review as such, more of a pondering - but I want to start writing about the things I’ve been looking at as being forced to focus my thoughts means forging something more meaningful from my relationship with words and pictures. I have a good few more texts I want to re-visit from 2018 to get me going but going forward I’d like to offer this kind of interaction out to the world. Perhaps that seems strange, but I know that making things for me is a way in to a conversation. It’s sometimes tricky to know how people read your work, if they will read your work and often people are unwillingly to divulge how they respond. It’s easy to look at something and quickly forget the flesh of it, our attentions so often pulled ten ways at once. If you’ve made something and you want to hear thoughts, let me know - my undivided attention is something I can offer right now, happily, for free. Have a lovely Tuesday.

A long and self-indulgent ramble about warning signs and change

This post has been written in three stages, annoyingly, as I was initially interrupted and then managed to delete an hour’s worth of rambling by closing the window (the internet window, not the physical inside/outside breeze-keeper window, but I guess both could be an obstacle) so, we can start this post (and the glorious new year) with a change of format - from now on I’ll type these posts into a word processor and copy them in. Probably the most boring resolution that’s ever been published, and a damp as all hell way to introduce a new year, but so is life. Where to begin? I only posted twice last year, which is a shame. Perhaps you don’t think it’s a shame, faceless reader, but whatever the responses to any of this stuff there is something about the nature of writing that allows me to process my thoughts in a particular way which I find useful. I say something to this effect every year but I want to write more in 2019. I am thinking of trying to write a little bit a day, not to publish or post anywhere, there is just a catharsis to typing that takes me back to the unpublished LiveJournal account I kept as a teenager, and the satisfying urgency that comes with a furiously clacking keyboard.

My most recent post received some attention and sparked some debate and whilst it amazes me to think of so many people reading my words the discussion that took place in the aftermath took a lot of energy to digest. It was illuminating and I think I would like to write more on some of these ideas in the future, but for now I don’t think it would be particularly helpful to linger longer on a topic which I assume has been momentarily dissected enough. I will say I wish I had had the time to be more present in the debate, at the time, to flesh out my points and untangle some of the uglier dialogue. Art discourse needs to diversify and adapt and the internet is a platform that goes some way toward allowing traditional hierarchies to be subverted, giving you a voice if you feel able to use it. As I mentioned in the end of the post I felt for the first time that I was able to use it. I am grateful to everybody who contacted me to assure me that was a good decision because it’s easy to assume blame in spaces you feel you might not be welcome. December was a total fucker from start to finish, as I will touch upon later in the post. It wasn’t a bad month, it was often fantastic, but I felt permanently stretched and anxious like some strange waning ghost. There simply wasn’t any time. But enough for now. I realise I am rambling and that’s not what this post is about. At the end of the day it was thrilling that what I managed to get down coming away from that talk (yes – whilst picking at some sweet potato stew) was read, shared, considered, criticised and discussed. Thank you.

But onward - things have changed and there is much to recap. I’m writing this post from my parents’ tiled white porch on a quiet street in Torbay, Devon. There is an orange plant behind me and I have a cup of coffee. I have come here to type something because for the last weeks of Christmassy relaxation I have felt a bit adrift and as I have said, typing things to nobody has always been a way of getting them sorted. I have moved out of Edinburgh. It is a beautiful city with some strange grey enchantment that bewitched eighteen year old me the moment I got off the train. I guess at some stage during the latter half of 2018 I realised that the pace I had set for myself was too much. It was a situation entirely self-made, entirely of my own doing: I simply took on too much and expected too much and wanted somehow for everything still to be perfect. My expectations were unrealistic. There were a  number of times I walked away from a perfectly banal conversation in the corridor of a gallery, or the aisle of a supermarket, racked with anxiety that I had mis-performed, consistently in some weird frenzy and at the same time tired. There were moments where I registered on some level ‘I should be really interested in this’ but found only a lack, a gap somewhere in my energy that left me feeling exhausted and my jaw locked in a ‘don’t be a dick’ grimace as somebody I liked tried to talk to me about something I liked and I had to consciously choose to not tell them to shut up. That’s surely a signal. I couldn’t relax, ever, and I became impatient and moody. Sometimes I woke up with a sense of dread at missed opportunities before the day had even begun. Realising that this wasn’t working meant pushing through a feeling of failure and accepting that I wasn’t able to juggle everything forever but you HAVE TO TRUST YOUR GUT in situations like this before you run yourself into the ground. It was a waiting game where I felt for a while like I was going to snap and ruin something because I was trying always too hard to squeeze something out of an empty bottle. Yes, that’s me, the empty bottle. I don’t know why I’m analogising myself as an old bottle of ketchup but it feels right so I’ll stick with it. (I don’t even like ketchup that much?)

I realise that when I use these analogies that might seem ridiculous outside of my head and when I lay my brain out on the internet I run risk of being accused of melodrama, or being criticised and sneered at and I guess all I can say is I’m not saying this for pity and it doesn’t come from anger and I don’t think I’m exaggerating. I am conscious I want to steer this blog toward photography and away from my labyrinthian insecurities but tis the season for self-analysis so let’s have one last hurrah. I understand I created that situation for myself and hopefully reading about that realisation might help others identify warning signs that they’re about to burn out. The internet is a fantastic platform for honesty, one that doesn’t need physical or sentimental closeness. I celebrate when I see others’ insecurities talked through online not because they are feeling that way but because it offers insight into the existing vulnerabilities all around us, complex situations which so much of our digital behaviour tends to condense, abbreviate and filter. I don’t know why but it’s easier for me to type this out here than talk it through with someone in the next room. That’s just the way it is. I recognised that the pace of life I had mapped out for myself was on a time limit and I acted to make changes. It’s ok to identify when things aren’t working. I was fortunate enough to have people around me to remind me of that and after ten years of graft to have the resources to put an escape route into place. Maybe reading about that might be useful for somebody else. It’s ok to need a change.

So - after three months of learning and searching, in the final fortnight of the year I bought a second-hand minivan and drove 465 miles from Edinburgh to the Westcountry with my cat strapped into the passenger seat and my life’s possessions jammed into the back: duvets, a handful of christmas bits, picture frames, way too many coats and a whole side of smoked salmon. When I reached my family home, ten hours later, I was met with love and comfort and pride. Christmas is always a weird (lovely) dynamic of suspended reality and nostalgia but I am coming to learn that accepting love  when you have learned to live alone for so long bears challenges of its own. Why is it that accepting affection makes me feel awkward? What is it about being cared for that makes me feel like I’ve failed? I understand, of course, that these challenges are a privilege, that the situation I have managed to retreat to is a fantastic gift and that I need to adapt. I guess when you have adjusted to being independent and making things happen on your own accepting help feels a bit wrong. It’s a new thing to navigate; being an adult child in a family home. If I manage my money with sense I can use this time productively: to apply for a career within the creative industries or else use my qualifications to travel, to visit loved ones I don’t get to see enough, to remember parts of myself there wasn’t space for in last few years of hard work, to reflect on all the fantastic achievements and opportunities 2018 meant for me and my peers, to appreciate the family I have and the home I haven’t seen enough the last few years, to remember how to be quiet and still, to focus on making work and looking at work and reading. But - leaving my city, the structures I had built around myself, the fantastic network of friends and colleagues and peers and support that I worked hard to deserve during 2018, will be difficult. Is proving difficult. Was always going to be difficult. Difficult things are important too.

I feel like I’ve mumbling been here forever and need to send this out so I can get on with applying for jobs and opportunities to build the next step. The main thing now is channelling the energy I have used for the last year, which propelled me into such a strange state of restless productivity, into new avenues and territories, whilst remembering that Edinburgh is still there. There is so much I managed to produced last year that I need to re-visit and re-package and get online and out there in print. In the last week of December I finished a new book: a goodbye of sorts to Edinburgh the place (a goodbye to the people would have taken too much paper) titled You are bizarre and beautiful and I will love you forever. I will be finishing the first run over the next couple of weeks and will update with where and how they will be available for purchase. I will also be sorting through the archive of photo books and zines I have managed to amass over the last years and intend to write a little about the ones that particularly stood out for me. I am writing that here so I am committed to doing it, because that’s how these New Year reflections work right? I am excited to see what happens. I have hope that concentrating on this time and its potential, where I have the space to sit in a porch for hours and type this nonsense to nobody/everybody/myself, is a gift.

Happy New Year everybody. XO

P.S my resolutions are: stop drunk smoking, take time to be slow, try and enjoy driving, and always, every year: work hard, make things happen.

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