Christina Webber

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a little bit a day, not to publish or post anywhere, there is just a catharsis to typing that takes me back to the unpublished LiveJournal account I kept as a teenager, and the satisfying urgency that comes with a furiously clacking keyboard.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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