Procrastination, instagram stories & the anxiety of not doing

Do you ever put something off so long it makes you feel anxious? But because you’ve put it off so long already the pressure of actually tackling it builds up in your head, which only makes you less likely to begin? Do you ever write lists to avoid doing the thing you know you should be doing, and waste cumulative hours of your free time refreshing social media platforms you really couldn’t care less about, just because it shaves enough usable time off of your lunch-break to justify not really engaging with more than a cursory thought? I do. And the fact that without ironic fore-planning this blog post has taken me over a month to post is evidence of that. I don’t believe that procrastination is a new thing, nor do I think that social media platforms are solely used for trivial matters, clickbait, self-assurance and stalking - but I do have to confront my own uses of time and imagine that I am not alone in my habitual scrolling. For over a month this blog post has smouldered somewhere in the back burner of my brain and for over a month I have had the nagging notion that I needed to address my procrastination, that I needed to switch on the critically productive part of my brain. I like to think. I like to criticise. I like to engage. Anybody that knows me (or I would imagine, anybody that has casually read this blog) can agree, or at least imagine, that over-thinking things is what I like to do best. And once I get started (now for instance, on a train between Haymarket and Glasgow) I type and type and type, and think and think and think. But something happens in the in-between moments - the period between dinner and sleep, the bit between waking up and putting away the washing - something happens that makes me purposefully turn away from real engagement with ideas. Because browsing Instagram or checking Twitter or logging into Facebook messenger engages some part of my brain but not all of it and not in a way that particularly challenges me - and that’s easier.

I can’t count the amount of times I have opened Instagram without really realising what I was doing, only to instantly realise that it was the very same application I had just closed in order to do so. I open Facebook and refresh without even consciously telling my thumb to do it. My phone is always within my reach. The muscle memory in my hands and some subconscious desire to be engaged with a community - even a digital one - does this without me deciding to take the time to do so. And then back to Instagram, or maybe whilst doing so somebody sends me a Snapchat and I end up watching snap ‘stories’ - which are really the biggest time wasters of all, and disappear after 24 hours of being ‘active’. Why is that? Why are app developers integrating ways of using temporary imagery to express ourselves? It bothers me. Because you try and recall something you saw a day or two ago, or even a week or a month, something that managed to pierce through the shallow (but moreish) images of brunch and of holidaying and #OOTD and #TBT - only to find that it’s gone. The small impression made in this superficial collage of online community information has vanished, and thus is perpetually changing. But what bothers me more is that I wonder about this stuff and yet I conform entirely. I post an Instagram story every now and then to remind my ‘followers’ that I’m here and that I’m ‘active’ but I don’t really know why. Is this all part of a larger social anxiety that we are not achieving enough with our relative wealth, opportunity and intellect? Are we as a Western world of young, talented people just every day trying to justify that capitalism is worth it despite for the most part working low-skill jobs and actually engaging with fewer ‘real world’ experiences? I don’t know. I guess I’m just thinking out loud. 

(YES - that was a funny joke, a reference to the fact that actually this isn’t out loud at all but on a screen, just like everything else these days. At least this will linger for more than 24 hours. Ha ha.) 

My real worry here is a selfish one. All of these half-hours spent keeping ‘up to date’ only push me further and further away from taking the time to make creative progress. Critical progress. Career progress. Physical progress. LIFE PROGRESS. I write a tweet about doing research and maybe take a picture of a magazine. I (triumphantly) share the fact that I have pushed myself to make progress and in doing so it almost takes the edge off the desire to create. Some of that urgency that makes me want to make art in the first place is appeased. If I’m being really honest sometimes sharing your plans for work feels so good and so satisfying and so smug that you never make the damn stuff at all. What fucked up kind of online world is that? The world of over-produced creative fantasies? Half-formed dreams of bigger ideas that end up unsatisfying but with 50+ likes on Instagram? It’s not enough! I did some experimentation earlier this week and was really pleased with the outcome of my prints. It is taking a lot of restraint to not share a picture of this online. YES I hear you, someone shouting at their screen, it’s all about balance! And using social media as a tool to help you. It’s just a shame that our increasingly short attention spans hunger for immediate, disposable content and constant validation of our own purpose. With some 90 million active users of Instagram I don’t think I’m the only one dealing with this conflict. Best case scenario in this strange wanna-be-artist online sphere is that you share the shit out of a project so everyone knows exactly what you’re doing and then when you want to show people in person they don’t give it the attention you crave because they have read a hash-tagged summary of the theme on your twitter account. Worst case scenario you tweet about something you consider making, feel satisfied that people have ‘liked’ your interest, waste the next 6 months of your life observing what other people are doing on the same sites and then never end up making anything whatsoever.

And so there seem to exist two worlds: the online and the physical. And for me at least it seems a pre-occupation with one, the more convenient perhaps, is affecting the other. You may be shaking your head at whatever device you are reading from but these kinds of questions are going to play out all around us, all of us, even if you grew up in a world devoid of social media and cyber bullying and googling things you didn’t understand. Yes the internet allows a sharing of information that has never been available before. A way of expressing ideas and opinions not tethered to bits of paper and being in one exact place at one exact time. Would you be digesting this text If it weren’t for the internet? It’s a fantastic thing. But I wonder if it is starting to become the product itself and the reality itself as opposed to the tool. Recently I brought a couple of zines into the cafe in which I work. We have a small collection of print material for people to browse whilst having a cake/coffee/tea/whatever. In showing the new titles to my colleague, I was interested to notice that before reading a page she was sharing this new addition to our magazine collection on her Instagram story. I couldn’t help thinking that this was odd - what if Grub was actually a fanzine dedicated to some kind of Donald Trump x Tilda Swinton bedroom action? I mean it quite obviously isn’t (can you imagine that document), and I had already talked it up quite a lot, but it sparked something of a realisation in me. Before starting sequencing or before starting to eat you have to document first! Social media first! Instagram first! There is excitement online and there is an excitement to share. But what of the actual event? The reading? The item? The sequence? I’m not even being critical of social media and this relatively young online second-world but I am observing - interested, and slightly anxious. I’m all for using the internet to celebrate things, to document things, to promote things… but when did this celebration start to over-take the actual experience? The THING should come before the SHARING of the thing. And personally, in my own ‘practice’, it seems to be slipping the other way.

Thoughts? Does anybody else notice that generally speaking we seem to be concerned primarily with the documentation of ‘events’ (in the loosest term: things, work, art, fun) than the actual doing?

And why is that?

Things to look at/listen to that are relevant to these ideas:

Culture Laser: I Wish I Was Lonely

3 years too late discovering this podcast which is a shame because it is a fantastic resource. This episode is from 2014 and features an interview with Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe, the creators of ‘I Wish I Was Lonely’ - a participatory performance encouraging audiences to reflect on usage and dependency upon mobile phones.

Dear young photographer: ‘Shoot lots of pictures. Be a doer, not a chatter’

Advice from Magnum’s David Hurn for young practitioners. An interesting article, I adore his term ‘an exaggerated sense of curiosity’, and I believe this to be well-meaning. But I found this a little frustrating to read. With over 60 years shooting experience comes an earned air of authority - but this is an authority over a way of shooting and digesting pictures that is changed, and changing, every day. The ways in which we interact with photography is so foreign to the 50s, the 60s - I don’t think telling today’s youngsters to take lots of pictures (when they probably shoot 30+ on their phones every day) is particularly useful. There have never been more images in circulation, ever. If I tried to go a day without seeing an image of something I’d have to stay inside with everything switched off and do very little. I agree that we need to be encouraged to do - but I would say thinking (and chatting) is more important now than ever.

He also suggests going on a 6 month trip around the world in order to figure out what you want to do. Well. Wouldn’t that be lovely. 

Are you Living an Insta lie? Social Media vs. Reality

I will be honest - slightly dubious about this video’s sponsorship from (whose own social media channels are more or less a catalogue of #bedroomgoals #bestfriends #fistpo fashion-baiting) and I know full well that this subject matter is nothing new - but the cause and event style chain we see unfold is something that is obviously very difficult to experience when seeing the world through our own very particular viewpoint. This is what made this video interesting to me - that what we post coaxes our online peer groups into their own form of digital action, making every solo post shared online really a wider interaction between similar cohorts. 

Glasgow Zine Fest, a new laptop (which is somehow relevant) & a financial pep-talk

Ok so I have to admit - I started writing this last week and didn’t finish it and then went away and got distracted and when I came back to finish it today it didn’t seem like my thought-stream anymore so I deleted all of it and I’m going to write something new. A lesson learned in leaving things for ‘a few days’. And for being persistent and just getting something done.

Lots has been happening since I last posted: I visited Glasgow Zine Fest and Glasgow Open House Arts Festival, I watched my flatmate perform in the insane Beltane fire festival on Calton Hill, we had a mini exhibition at Fieldwork with the Napier Collective, lots of white wine has been consumed, I left my phone on a bus and got it back the very next day (thank you world), I put pictures from sunny Palma up online, I bought a laptop AND reduced my overdraft from £2000 to £500 for the first time since starting university. Obviously these things will be of varying relevance or interest to anybody reading so feel free to skip bits that you don’t feel are interesting in any way.

Firstly - Glasgow! Turn away now if you don’t care at all about small publications people make with their own thoughts and hands and materials. I’ve been to GZF every year for the past three years and it never fails to clear my wallet and enthuse my ambition. This year I was very lucky to assist Sarah Amy Fishlock’s Zine Workshop at CCA and even have a few photographs in the newest edition of Goose Flesh, which was released the same weekend. I have been a fan of Goose Flesh since I first picked up issue 2 (just managed to grab the last copy of issue 1 too!)  and so seeing my own images in its pages alongside some very talented people was a massive privilege. It was also an inspiration to have a go at getting my act together - a reminder that I can be where I want to be, perhaps, one day, and that it might not be so far away after all. I have included a snap of a spread from the most recent issue and seeing as it seems to a bit of a trend on Instagram I felt I should include my cat… Thank you so much to Sarah for getting in touch, and for letting me hang out on Sunday. I even got to have a go with a digital label-maker - the mind boggles. Assisting in the workshop I was blown away by how quickly all the work-shoppers got stuck in and began producing some quality stuff! No ‘which colour paper should I use here’ and no ‘what method of binding best represents what I am trying to say’ it was just cracking on straight away with getting stuff done. Having attended four years of a creative degree I am only slightly uncomfortable in admitting that this was diligence and decisiveness of a kind I am not at all used to. Aren’t we supposed to second-guess every decision we make because things have to have more meaning than that? I guess not. I LOVE that this was the case. I am trying to apply that to my own practice and trust my gut a bit more because as someone who struggles to be certain about anything a tiny thing like texture of paper or hesitation to commit to a title can stop me actually finally finishing something at all. (Ahem - the last year of my life - ahem)

 So what did I buy when I got the chance to browse? It was just before lunch (pre-pizza me is not the most efficient me) plus the room was full to the brim with bodies so I didn’t manage to give every stall my undivided attention - but that being said I am over the moon with what I came away with. A couple of copies of Goose Flesh (my collection is complete!), a badge featuring a skipping  cartoon stomach/haggis/pink fleshy ball and the text ‘LOOK AFTER YOURSELF’ in nostalgic uppercase lettering, and a couple of treasures I hadn’t heard of before and shall detail below. If you’re not interested in zines or cats, continue skipping.

Two issues of the incredible GRUB zine (which you can buy here and here) - if you are at all interested in food or the intense nostalgia food can inspire or wondering thoughts or emotions or glimpses into other people’s lives (surely one of these things is appealing to you) then I whole-heartedly urge you to buy these, it’s food writing at its most earnest and refreshing. The rigid formula of INGREDIENTS, BUY THESE PRODUCTS, METHOD, PICTURE falls away and the very real connection we all have with what we eat instead makes its way to centre stage. I have thought for a long time that its funny the immense amount of time and money we pour into eating, regardless of whether we actually cook or not, and yet it is still the kind of subject that rarely emerges in emotional, contemplative and creative environments. So I seized the chance, took a risk and committed to TWO issues (risk worth it 100%). 

(Aside - have come to the brink of distraction as thinking about GRUB seems to have awoken a huge and unstoppable hunger - learning from past mistakes and powering through with the aid of STACKERS, Aldi’s take on Pringles)

I also decided on an absolutely beautiful publication called Bodies in Space by Gillian Stewart, which considers our idea of self within the ‘global network’ of cyberspace. We exist now dually as ourselves and as our ‘virtual selves’. To quote: ‘The hive mind of cyberspace emphasises the crowd, by extension deemphasizing the individual. The bigger the crowd, the more negligible the individual. This mass mind grows at the expense of individuality.’ It is thoughtful and contemplative of our current environment without being pessimistic or dismissive of change. As a physical entity it is also beautifully hand-bound, using tender imagery to represent the internet: something so often visualised with lines of code and sharp digital hardness. And I found the points about individuality interesting - especially seeing as ‘punk’ notions of rebellion, self-determined ‘cool’, self-expression and ‘alternative’ culture are at the moment marketed by high street brands and social media so relentlessly that they themselves have become the ‘mainstream’ - it leaves you wondering whether or not individuality is possible to express in the traditional sense in such an immediately connected community. Whatever you do or buy or wear or listen to to feel like yourself, there is a forum or a tshirt or a username that’s already taken. This proximity of algorithmically linked interests can actually isolate - what’s meaningful to you is meaningful to everybody presented to you on the web. We are constantly being sold (and sold is a key word here) the idea of ‘loving yourself’ and ‘being an individual’ and ‘being a leader’ but the images attached to all of these advertisements are images of other people. So we buy these clothes and these accessories and they help us look like these people, that we don’t know, and all the time someone else is making money and we are still left feeling self-conscious and confused. Perhaps the real way to rebel against the mainstream right now is to not pay any attention whatsoever.

(Second aside - formatted a picture into my chunks of text and whilst doing so finished the entire tube of STACKERS so that’s just great oh wow)

So that was a couple of weeks ago now and a little has happened since then. I bought a new laptop (a 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid) which was pretty much the biggest decision I have made this year bar maybe shaving my head. As I have expressed in previous posts, getting out of the debt incurred studying a creative degree is difficult before you even start to think about actually paying off any student loans. It is difficult because to make any progress you need to work A  LOT of hours and you also need to spend VERY LITTLE and put your immediate ambitions to one side - which makes the perpetuated idea of the ‘normal working week’ (work five days and then treat yourself/relax/pursue hobbies at the weekend) difficult for a number of reasons. Not only is that conventional workweek rare in low-wage work but to really save anything you can’t afford to treat yourself, or pursue hobbies that cost any kind of money, or really even relax because your entire schedule is orientated about making money and spending none, and your bank balance is continually below 0. I could go on. But let’s try some positivity.

Finally the last couple of years of hard work are starting to reveal themselves and not only am I getting more frequent time off and longer breaks between work, but I starting to emerge from the familiar world of the overdraft and make my way slowly into actually having a bit of money. Not a lot, but enough to address some workflow issues - such as actually having a working laptop! Which I am hoping is going to increase my productivity and connectivity and solve a lot of problems that I have learned to live with. But further than this, it also means that today for the first time since starting my degree I have reduced my overdraft from £2000 to £500. It evaporates completely in September so this is a step in the right direction, and fingers crossed without any financial pitfalls in the next six months I should be A-OK to exist on my own as of then. Which is all a bit crazy considering that a lifetime ago, when my parents were in their early twenties they could afford to buy a house on the salary of a fruit-and-veg shop assistant and a civil servant less than a year out of uni. But times change, and money disappears, and we work hard hoping for the best. Eventually we get results, be it a house and a garden and kids or a new laptop that fits in your backpack.

Part of me thinks it is inappropriate to talk about financial issues openly, but then I realise it is the same awkward part of me that doesn’t want to discuss all the important things like gender roles and anxiety and the sense of not having a clue what to do with myself most of the time. Is it to maintain some kind of illusion about how much I am earning, about how everything is fine all the time? An illusion is not helpful when it comes to paying the rent or explaining why I don’t have any advice for recent graduates despite getting a First Class degree and starting adulthood with the very best intentions because I still have no idea myself. I think honesty is helpful and hope that someone reads this and feels better about their own situation. What I would say to anybody that is working their ass off because that’s what they have been brought up to do but doesn’t really see why because all of their time goes to a wage that goes to someone they have maybe never met that owns the house they are living in - do not panic, you are not the only one, for every friend you have that has been given a house by the privilege of their parents and for every customer you serve that spends £10 on their lunchbreak every day without batting an eyelid there are ten or twenty or a hundred people like you who don’t know how this system works out in the end but who are clinging on and working hard and wondering all the way through, just like you, and I do believe that in the end of it all we will be O.K.

A really invigorating song came on whilst I was writing that and I found myself talking out loud and perhaps got a bit carried away without any sentence breaks but the sentiment stands.

We’ll figure it out. 

So perhaps that was a bit of a tangent, and I definitely have more to say and more that has happened, but I have been neglecting my personal work terribly the past week and I feel myself getting to the stage where I have in the past chosen to abandon a project because I face a discrepancy between what I imagined it would be and how it is. I need to work through it and not just stop. And I need to ask other people what they think because communication and interaction is what all of this image-making is supposed to be about, for me anyway. I also know that if I leave this as a draft to finish tomorrow it just won’t happen - I’ll re-read the above monologue and panic at the vulnerability of sharing anything from your brain online, and I’ll end up abandoning this too. So in the interests of getting something finished today I shall press publish and make some proper dinner. Don’t mention the STACKERS to anybody and it’s like they never were here. If you fancied looking at some photos from the beautiful Palma there is an edit available for your viewing pleasure here.

Have a fantastic week (I can’t believe it’s a Monday), and I’ll write something else soon.

Waiting 3 months isn’t exactly ‘posting more’ is it?

Hello hello hello to future me, and anybody else who may happen across this post during their travels of the wide and wonderful web.

I thought it was high time I updated my blog because yes, I did intend to post more frequently this year, and yes it has been a long and silent 3 months since I made that declaration with festive conviction and post-break energy. I don’t really feel bad about the silence because it has been a busy and productive few months where my writing has been limited by a failing laptop and lack of time in which to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) - and this is good. It is better to have things to write about but no time in which to right them, than to have time to write but nothing really to say. It is refreshing to feel like I am going in the right direction and even more fulfilling that this direction is one I am feeling out myself and not being told to follow by an educational institution or some other ‘higher power’ (like tequila). SO I do not know where to begin and how much detail is necessary to part with but perhaps I should keep this relatively concise so as not to risk losing heart half-way through and going to pursue something simpler, like toast. Perhaps a list would be useful. What have I been doing? 

Well, this year so far carries the theme of new work and new skills.

I was lucky enough to enjoy the Colour Darkroom course at Stills, which was really informative and great fun. Colour processing and printing is something I was always pushing to learn at University but for numerous reasons there never seemed to be time or facilities or staff available to show me the ropes. Being able to process my own film is going to save me a whole lot of money (but  equally lose me a whole lot of Boots points) and learning from my January experience, when there are mistakes at least they are MY mistakes (see last post if this makes no sense). I actually processed my first two solo rolls of colour yesterday and managed to load one of my films onto the spiral completely wrong - which I knew had happened in the back of my mind but didn’t have the heart or the time to try and correct it. I’ll add a slice of this happy accident at the end because I actually quite like how it came out.

I conducted my first Exhibition Tour during the open day at Stills last month, spending longer than was probably expected in the gallery pointing out (with glee) as many of Alan Dimmick’s individual images as felt acceptable for a Saturday afternoon. I hope that I showered the tour-ers (?) with my enthusiasm for this work and shared some of how intensely excited it made me feel about images and people and everything, really. They were friendly enough, and if they hated it they did a very good job of feigning appreciation. It was a really interesting show and one I feel very privileged to have invigilated as it caused me to question my own attitudes toward photographic collections, the nature of buying and selling work and the relevancy of physical images in an increasingly digital world. Plus, Alan Dimmick’s work was just magic. A few words from my written response to the work:

‘Put simply this is the best exhibition I’ve been to since Jason Dee in Talbot Rice a few years back. Not that my gallery going life is particularly long and not that these things can really be measured in terms of best or worst-but let’s say I enjoyed Alan Dimmick’s work immensely - that the sprawling and delicious throb of life he has presented gives me goosebumps and what’s more, the notion (that sometimes in this tech filled life seems crazy) that to shoot pictures and record moments has meaning.’

I am in the midst of shooting a new body of work, currently untitled, about my frustrations maturing as a ‘Millenial’ in a society that seems to consistently exhaust and infantilise its young adult population. I am sure there are plenty of young adults with different experiences of their twenties but as someone used to hard work but with ambitions to be creatively fulfilled in a way that is useful to my immediate community, so far graduate life has been a test. Things I was brought up to associate with ‘growing up’ - things like having a car, having a career, buying clothes that aren’t in the sale, the mystical ~disposable income~ and ~time to pursue your hobbies~ and the fabled ~~mortgage~~ seem faraway from this reality. When my parents were this age my dad got his flat free of charge as a perk of working in a greengrocer’s, my mum left uni with no student debt and in a matter of years they would be having my brother and buying a house. Meanwhile: 2017 and I am still receiving colouring books as gifts, wondering what I want to do when I grow up and watching cartoons when I should be asleep. But this feeling of somehow being misled and ill-prepared I guess extends to art world too. I haven’t printed anything for myself since university ended. I ordered two prints as xmas presents but somehow packing them in my duct-taped suitcase and shuffling them down a train carriage seemed more like a performance than an authentic present. In my day to day life I try not to allow myself to buy luxuries. To give you an idea, last week I bought a piece of feta cheese in Aldi for 95p and regretted it the entire walk home due to conflicting emotions of understanding the dairy industry to be morally problematic but also struggling to justify 95p to myself when I could equally have bought raisins or nothing at all (and ALSO loving feta cheese - especially with roast carrots). It’s difficult to be told that ‘art is passion’ ‘art is something you can’t live without’ ‘art is necessary’ when in actuality the process of producing it, to this kind of accepted standard that we see put on walls is so expensive, in time and finance, that it can only be regarded as a luxury and therefore somehow lesser than your hours at work and the muesli  and potatoes and the podcasts that are free and that make you think in a similar way.

But I digress. Translating this into pictures is still in its early stages where my ideas are making me excited and the potential that this could communicate something to somebody and start a dialogue is very real and I haven’t managed to sour that for myself yet so I am enjoying myself very much. You can see a couple of sneak peeks of this work, shot almost entirely on my 40 minute commute to work each way on my instagram, but it is still taking shape.

Oh, and I shaved my head! Which is a pleasure I would suggest everybody tries at some stage. I’ve always been curious and once I start considering something I find it difficult to let it go. I think once it dawned on me that I didn’t actually have to have hair - that it was very possible and very easy and very cheap to just shave it off - it was going to happen. In the end I didn’t shave it because I thought it would look cool, or even because I was curious about how it would look (although of course I was), I shaved it because the more I thought about it the more curious I was about how it would feel to have no hair. It was the sensory curiosity that got me. I guess the greatest pleasures are those unknown to us. And once I had started to imagine how it would feel to stand in the shower without a curtain of hair catching the drops, but to feel that sensation directly on my skull, and once I wondered how it would feel to wake up not in a muss of long hair but with warm head on warm pillow and to rub the skin with my fingertips and ONCE I had walked down a windy street with hair whipping in my eyes and in my mouth and dreamt of how it feels for men and other short-haired ladies to walk confidently in the wind it was all just bound to happen. The longer I left it the more experiences I started comparing to my imagined pleasure of having no hair. And so one morning I woke up and I did it.

I feel that this a good place to end, despite there being more to talk about - mainly because my day off is drawing to a close and this has taken three different stints at my incredibly fragile laptop to complete. What’s funny is despite my earlier aside, I did make toast. 

More exciting things to come this weekend, and more things to tell you (future me, unknowable anonymous potential internet audience), and more to do and experience and imagine and discuss. I will be uploading some shots from Palma soon because I went ahead and booked my first ever solo holiday last week. Which was surreal and fantastic - but more of that to come.

Bye for now.

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