Monday, November 25, 2019

Lane swimming

At the pool today they are playing pop music as I swim my lengths. As the recognition of each song’s opening chords dawn on me — I’m Still Standing? No, Maneater by Hall & Oates — I feel stupidly happy. A small, sweet deviation from what I’d expected. Like a snow day, or how being picked up from after-school club by my mum instead of granny used to feel. My £2.65 entrance fee has immediately earned its value.

This is my first time at the pool for two weeks and I can feel it. The water is gently pushing back, my tally rising slowly. I push on, promising to get to 10 laps, and after that maybe more, in the same way that I might avoid looking too far ahead when cycling up a hill. But when the music starts, the resistance slips away with the rhythm. My funny breaststroke moves to the beat, and I wonder how my movement looks to the passive lifeguard sitting above me on his ladder chair. Maybe he’s thinking, Wow, look at her fast yet graceful breaststroke, and will approach me afterwards to invite me to a swimming club that has been short of a skilled breaststroker. It is the only stroke I can do.

It’s not clear why the music is playing — everybody around me is swimming quite seriously, the woman in the next lane doing elegant upside-down rolly-pollies at the turn of each lap. I watch her deft work as she takes off again, and with the music it feels like performance. Over the walkway dividing the deep and shallow pools, the swimming appears more casual, but I see no signs of dancing, no organised clusters of older people or schoolchildren.

I must have come at the same time on a previous Monday, because again, my time in the water was elevated by a soundtrack of Bananarama and Duran Duran. You should try swimming to Girls on Film some time. Maybe it’s something for people with dementia? Playing familiar music to prompt deep contentment. But the playlist feels too contemporary for that. Old people like Vera Lynn, but wouldn’t swimming to Vera Lynn bring everybody to tears? Nobody likes to cry in a swimming pool.

The Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited plays and I want to shake my head in time and yet I notice that I am restraining myself from any visible displays of recognition, channelled the pleasure into my lengths instead. Maybe I should go to one of those aqua aerobics classes. Do they actually dance, or is it just stretching? I imagine dozens of feet and bums underwater, stepping and shaking in time. I would probably be the youngest by 40 years, like that intensive Italian course I once took, where everybody was retired and had beautiful rolling ‘R’s after decades of holidaying in Tuscany. But dancing in a swimming pool I imagine I could learn something about doing what you like, without worrying how you look.

I drop the thought soon after, relieved by the knowledge that I will not fool myself during an aqua aerobic hamstring exercise by saying, I thought there would be more Duran Duran?

As I rest and stretch at the side, two people, acquaintances, are chatting across the floating red lane dividers. She has swimmer's shoulders, google marks across her nose, a broad smile. He is pale with the short beard and brown hair that all white 34-year old men have, and I suppose look better for. I think he owns a lot of striped long-sleeve tops. She had already updated him on a malady she’d recently suffered, I’d noticed that when she listed all the medicines she’d had to take, it was pleasingly in harmony with the The Pointer Sisters’ staccato bridge. He listened attentively, even though a contained body of water seems like the impolite place to catalogue your recent illness. Now she was telling him about her new cat. It had been found wandering around the building she lives in, and unclaimed, her letting agent had tried, but failed, to rehome it, before letting her take it instead. They said I couldn’t have pets, she marvelled, And hello, now I have a cat! She described it’s long fur, it’s green eyes. It was somewhere between 6 months and a year old. That’s not a cat, I thought, that’s a kitten! A sweet, naughty kitten! She seemed delighted by this development, and surprised by how easily, as a tenant used to living with impenetrable conditions, it had come about.

Walking towards home through the park, I pass a border terrier, the weight of it’s old-looking body leaning into its owner’s legs as it gets a comprehensive rub down. Under the ears, a swift removal of sleep from the eyes, around the nose and down to the flank. Dog and owner are offering themselves to the other, and receiving the same amount of gratification in this exchange, here on the path under the orange leafed trees. That daily walk every dog and owner always seems so romantic. The silence and routineness of it, each engaged in their own thoughts, payday, dinner; stick, lamppost, they look like an old couple taking a turn before dinner.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Invite me for dinner, I'll see what I can do.

One of the symptoms of living back in my hometown since November is that I really miss my friends who are, of course, mostly in London. I missed familial, unthinking interactions when we were in France, too. But more time has passed - it's almost year since we left London - and the missing has turned now into a longing. I have three friends here in Bristol, and only one that I see with any regularity. She is my oldest friend; we met fighting over a mutual best friend in the playground when we were five. We go to the cinema, she joins me and my parents for dinner, or takes me and Henry to pubs we do not know about on his days off. In the past weeks Lily and I have become addicted to playing Gin Rummy together. It is the one card game we have dedicated ourself to so far. We will work our way up so that when we are in our eighties we will be formidable. But so far we have not tired of Gin Rummy, just like a child doesn't tire of asking the adults to join her in endless, repetitive games.

One busy Saturday evening last month Lily and I played cards all night at a packed wine bar. Watching the line of people at the door, I wondered if it was a bit anti-social, but thought of how people spend evenings in packed wine bars on their phones, even when in the company of others. I  didn't worry about it again. She's now left for Glasgow to work on a TV programme for eight weeks, and when she returns we'll have moved on again.

I've been thinking about what it is takes to be a good companion. And I don't mean the romantic sort, I just mean somebody who is wonderful to sit next to at dinner or at the pub. (For the record, I am longing to sit next to people at 'dinner'!) To be a good companion, you have to be generous and patient (I am working on these two things, but I also have an abundance of judgement that gets in the way.) You have to be sensitive to social dynamics and other people's comfort levels (I am good at this) and - this is the thing that's been on my mind - you should be skilled at storytelling.

Adam is my great-aunt's boyfriend, is skilled at storytelling. He makes it look so easy! They are both in their 70s, and I'm incredibly glad that since my granny died they've moved closer into my life. They've taken me out for dinner, and invited us on holiday. A, a life-long lover and collector of wine who can no longer drink, diligently keeps my glass filled with something good-tasting that I could not afford to order myself. He insists I order Port for afterwards, and like those once-in-a-blue moon teachers or even a marvellous stranger you might end up sitting beside on a flight, he makes up in some way for my odd, disinterested uncles, the dead granddads, and yes, even my dad who has been much less than perfect. I'm not sure I can even remember one of his stories specifically. But that's not what it's about - it's about a story for a moment. Not a brag, or a cruel piece of gossip; just something to entertain the table. He has spent decades honing the narrative of his party pieces. My great-aunt has heard them repeated during the last 10 years they've spent together. But no matter; his pauses are polished, his punchlines are tight. The observations delightfully eccentric, and I always leave dinner with them feeling as nourished with wit as with flavour.

Not long before we left London, we were invited to a party at Quo Vadis, the restaurant and member's club in Soho. This is just the sort of invite a Londoner in her twenties should receive! I thought to myself, already tiring in many ways of all that it felt I wasn't experiencing in the vibrant capital. As we journeyed Central on the hour-long bus, I anticipated meeting welcoming new acquaintances, or in the very least a mix of gregarious party-goers with some good gossip. It's Soho, I thought. I dressed up in wine-coloured satin trousers and a long leather coat, and departed from the first party of the evening; a relaxed celebration of Joe's birthday, where my imperfect but family-like group of university mates were making White Russians and spoiling Joe.

You probably already know what I'm going to say. The second party was not the hoot I had hoped for. There was a banker who glazed eyes rested over my shoulder; a man in a cool linen suit turned out to be a charmless intellectual property lawyer. I really didn't expect this room of people to simply perform for me - but I also didn't think that spending Saturday evening at a party in Soho would be such a bore. Everybody, it seemed, was taking cocaine. And they weren't even fun enough for it to work.

Jeremy Lee was there drawing guests in for hugs, kissing on both cheeks and booming "Now, let me introduce you to the marvellous Lucinda..." His natural hostly energy seemed to prop up the inward facing-ness of my own generation, who were sticking with their friends, taking selfies, or skipping the playing music before the last track had finished. I sipped my Campari cocktail too fast and wondered if what it takes to be good company at a party will stand the test of time. Maybe older generations are just better at it. Before mobile phones, they used to knock on their friends and just walk back home again if they weren't there! I decided that of course our generation isn't devoid of charming people. (And anyway, who voted Brexit? Not us!) You just have to be lucky enough to end up beside somebody who is curious and generous, somebody who doesn't really care what you do for a living.

There have been times when I've felt like a wretched, inarticulate and disappointing dinner guest - my brain hopelessly straining for something, anything interesting to say. I can now see that was a  depression trying to strangle joy out, forcing me to take everything to seriously or feel like staying indoors would be a better option. But you don't always have to be an ebullient guest. You don't even always have to be on form. Here in Bristol, without regular friend contact and suddenly finding myself questioning what a social interaction with friends should be if not satisfying, my stepdad shrugged that sometimes you leave the house and the whole night is off. Someone gets too drunk, somebody else isn't on form. It's life. If your expectations are always high, my mum asked looking me straight on, how are you ever going to meet them?

It's true, I take things to heart too much. I judge people and expect too much of them, I wish to be cooler and calmer than I often think I am. I'm working on all of it, as much as a human being can do whilst earning a living, loving the people around them as honestly as they can. I'm working on the stories too. Invite me for dinner, I'll see what I can do.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Get out of the house

I once read that Twyla Tharp, the American dancer and choreographer, has a routine that involves getting up at 5.30am, putting on her workout clothes - "my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat." and walking outside to hail a taxi. Once in, she tells the driver to take her to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where she exercises. "The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym." She wrote, "The ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual."

I've found the idea of daily routines appealing in the past, but never really taken starting one seriously. There always seemed to be too much variation across the days. When I worked in advertising I, a breakfast fiend, went through a stage of taking two boiled eggs into work and spreading them onto toast which I ate at the desk. Was that a routine? I had a hunch that being interested in other people's routines was just another way to put off just starting the work. It tapped into my fear, the fear I still have, that I will never sit down to do the work I wish to do, that I'll realise one day that I didn't work hard enough at it. Why worry about how Picasso or whoever spent their mornings when you could just...start, I thought, not starting. Perfecting a routine, I thought, was maybe left to people who read Brain Pickings.

I liked the sound of Twyla Tharp's routine, though. 'That sounds decadent!' I thought, at first. A taxi everyday! Wow, you'd save a lot of money if you just walked. But I liked that she was affording herself that one thing, those few dollars, to get to where she needed to be.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a rough few days. I missed my friends and I was acutely feeling the loneliness that can come from sitting inside and writing all day. Or, in my case, sitting inside and feeling very down and unsure of my career path. Being here in Clermont-Ferrand, which is relatively cheap is fine, but I wasn't sure I could make the writing I want to do, and the income I need to survive comfortably match up in another city like say, London. (This isn't going to be a post about how I answered that question. I don't know that I will ever answer that question.)

After a few days of sitting inside feeling hopeless and self-loathing, I decided I would walk up to Parc Montjuzet, the big park that hangs onto the hillside overlooking the city, first thing in the morning. Henry leaves for work at 7.45am, so I figured my routine would be walking out of the door at the same time. Like Twyla Tharp. No shower, just out of bed and through the front door. The park offered me the chance to move, but it also offered dogwalkers, and I knew I wanted dogwalkers. The community of responsive Park People, who are up early, no matter where you live. I wanted to say something to a stranger that didn't involve an uncomfortable exchange while I fumbled with French, like I do at the market or the cafe, or honestly most places I go. A short, cheery 'Bonjour!' was enough for me. It was would also be evidence that people, other than the person I live with, could see me.

So now I am a Parc Montjuzet walker. I have my own loop. Every morning I see the older woman in cycling shorts, who marches ahead of her four dogs and looks strong. She looks like many other dogwalkers from many other parks. Which I like. I see the Pointer owner who wears a baseball cap and who always looks like he isn't going to say hello until the last minute. 'Bonjour!' The park is 450m up, and sweat runs down to my elbows as I climb. I'm not terribly fit and I enjoy the novelty of this. I wear the same ribbed halterneck and the same navy cotton trousers every morning, so the people I pass probably think, 'There's the new halterneck lady.'

Sometimes I can't sit on my designated bench because intense jets of water have been set up to hydrate the surrounding lavender. I stand on the path and watch the entire circular course of these rotating water sprays, ttttssss tttttssss tttttssss, and wait for my chance to run through without getting wet. It might actually be nice to get wet and not care, but I have my phone in my pocket, so the momentary spontaneity would be outweighed by caring very much indeed. It would be nice to care less.

This morning I sat on my dry, unscathed bench and met the man who sets up the water sprays! I rarely see the groundspeople at Montjuzet and maybe it brought some comfort because my stepdad also works in a big garden. He dragged the yellow hose snaking it carefully around the plants and the path. He said something and I must have showed that classic Look of Fear than falls onto my face whenever somebody says something I don't understand. But we started speaking. I was very slow with incredibly rudimentary French but inside I was very excited. I was talking in French! I was pulling verbs out of my head, endings be damned. It wasn't quite "Je m'appelle Jeanne et j'ai un lapin" but it was pretty close as far as GSCE French goes. He nodded along and waited patiently for me to find the right words and actually replied, which means that I made some sense. I'll be honest, I walked home feeling incredibly elated, and liberated rather than embarrassed of my shite French! When I took an intensive week long Italian class in London last year I was the youngest by about 30 years and one day I burst into tears when the teacher was Loud and Persistent when I didn't understand her. I appreciated this stranger, for not dousing my bench in water this morning, and also for listening. It's funny, and humbling, to be in a situation where my grasp on spoken language is so lacking when it's how I make a living. I think I've wasted a lot of time being scared or just... inconspicuously getting tears in my eyes, when I'm embarrassed of seeming like an idiot in situations that are humbling. I wonder what that's all about. Either way, I'm chipping away at it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I thought, "Fuck it, I want life to feel easier for a while."

At the end of March we put our belongings into a storage unit in South London and left the city fairly quietly. Obviously we told our friends and family but I didn't mention anything online; I think I was putting off saying anything, in case not being in London would mean I stopped getting offers of certain work. I didn't want to miss out, and after all, besides all of the wonderful things about London, this 'not missing out' is a sort of magnetism that brings and keeps people in the city. I figured I could nip back for decent money jobs, and nobody would need to know - after all, there are plenty of people on social media who keep it quiet that they don't, in fact, live in London.

(I realise that may sound stupid, I realise Londoners have a reputation for not being great at seeing what else is out there. After two years of living in the city, I don't know if I'm a Londoner but either way, I wanted to see what else is out there.)

In early January, I stood in a Clerkenwell pub for the leaving do of a couple of mates who were moving to Athens. Only a few months ago India and I had sprawled outside the Barbican on a hot lunch break, eating from our tupperware containers, and musing on what we thought we wanted. Her, to move to Athens; me to leave my job in advertising, where I was working under a manager who was making me miserable. Now, in that first week of the year when everything is slow, contemplative and hopeful (and our natural levels of resignation have not yet come out of Christmas hibernation) Eating the pub's intensely garlic-smelling scotch eggs, I felt rather in awe of the fact that India and her boyfriend had fucking well orchestrated their move to Athens. How many conversations do we all have about our dreams to run abroad for a while? They were actually doing it! I told her how I admired that they were making the leap, and she reminded me that she wasn't the only one who'd followed through after that conversation at the Barbican; I had eventually quit my job too. It was later in the month, during a long weekend trip to Venice that I realised I needed to get out of London for a while too. I know, I know - people get all sorts of ideas on holiday. But eating delicious fish dinners in our Airbnb flat in the evenings, it felt so good to have space to ourselves. The stupid, minor resentments I felt towards my housemates for doing things differently to me (well, I do things the right way, but whatever) felt distant but I knew I'd have to return to them. Everything we ate was cheaper than back in London, maybe because restaurants didn't have to price defensively against speedily rising rents. In short, the grass was greener and I thought, fuck it, I want life to feel easier for a while. Even if just for the summer.

A photograph I took in California, not France, but does it matter. 

So next month, after a stopgap in Bristol, we're packing up our car and taking the ferry over to France. (We own a car now! I went to collect it last week, or rather, I asked Julian from the garage to park it outside my dad's house - I can't actually drive yet. My driving test is the day before we our ferry leaves. Will I pull of a pass?!) Once in France, we'll be living in the Massif Central for at least five months, and maybe longer, who knows? That's how much work Henry has lined up for now. Really, I'd love to end up in Italy but it would be rude not to stay a little longer and put my stellar C in GCSE French to good use. And then back to London again when the nostalgia for British humour, Marmite and my friends gets too strong. In the meantime, if you know where I can find a wide straw hat that'll make me look like a farmer from Province, please let me know. I'm not even kidding, I need your help.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Oh shit, this is bigger than me"

Red Versace two-piece suit from Antibad (who have a great curated vintage collection) (£150) / Parp! 'Derriere' brooch from Sophie Busai (€470) / ROMA earrings from Mondo Mondo ($265) / Lots of good silk and cotton white suitage over at Ode to Odd / 

I save images like I used to make notes on scrap paper. My phone's camera roll is full of screenshots, and sometimes I take them because my digital exploration has become so complex and full of warrens that I worry I'll forget absolutely everything if I try to remember this one extra reference. On Instagram, I save photographs of people wearing covetable clothes, delightfully retro hotel bathrooms and meals to recreate. But really, it still feels like those old scraps of paper; I'm still creating more, even if it's in a 'cloud'. As a teenager my mum would sometimes help me tidy my room and 'let go' of things. "Do you need this?" she'd ask, holding one of my essential paper scraps. "Yes!" I'd say with panic. They contained the scribbled titles of songs I'd heard on the radio, old films I'd heard name-checked in a documentary. All of this information was so important, and if I lost them then I'd be shutting down an entire avenue of potential inspiration!

I suppose I'm just thinking about how, even though we have now have digital space to store the photographs, playlists or bookmarks that matter to us, it still all takes up mental space somehow.

I started making the collage above because I wanted to do something fun with the images I collect. Maybe, I thought, it will feel therapeutic to put the clothes I like but won't buy in together in one place. But once I uploaded the collage, it looked flat. Why did it look flat? Placed together, the individual images looked too ubiquitous for my liking. They look like the Instagram timeline of any woman in 2018 (or 2017 or 2016 or 1976) who likes hammered metal earrings, Paloma Wool, tangerines in a bowl, lavender suede mules or straw bags. I like those things too (obviously, because the algorithm continues to feed them to me!) But it caused me to pause and wonder lots of things about my personal style, and how it might be different today (when so much of my time is spent on platforms with algorithms) compared to a few years ago, when I read fashion blogs and magazines less able to compile data about my tastes. Today it feels like so many of us share a collective taste because of what our algorithms have learned about us. We've ended up desiring items that help us to feel unique, or at least niche in our tastes, but now those same tastes are feeding a proliferation of womenswear brands and stores run through Instagram that are all just so uncannily... the same. Trends have always existed of course, but this feels different. 

I started going down this rabbit hole this afternoon and THEN... Racked published this fascinating and very prescient longread, written by Kyle Chayka: "Style Is An Algorithm."

It's a brilliant read. (And wow, I had to battle my probably algorithm-learned impulse to zone out because of it's length. Blame everything on the algorithm!)

"...As soon as something Cool, Obscure, and Authentic gets put back on the internet, it is factored into the equation, maybe it goes viral, and soon enough it’s as omnipresent as Millennial Pink circa 2017. In this way, algorithmic culture is not encouraging of diversity or the coexistence of multiple valid viewpoints and identities. If a stylistic quirk is effective, it is integrated into the Generic Style as quickly as possible; if it is ineffective, it is choked of public exposure."

What Chayka was saying, (that the more we interact with social and digital platforms that collect our data, the more our personal tastes will become more homogenised) made me feel better about my ickiness over the collage. Part of me thinks "Fuck it! If you like the thing, just go ahead and like the thing!" while the other side of my asks "But what is my personal taste anymore?" 

As I've learned from talking a lot about clothes and personal style with Ana on Layers, sometimes it's possible to ask too many questions. "What is my personal taste?" is a really big question! Without getting too lofty, it's like looking up at the stars and thinking 'Oh shit, this is bigger than me.' My personal style is two pairs of high-waisted white jeans I sometimes wear on rotation. Except the jeans are shorter than I'd like and are therefore imperfect. Personal style then, isn't always real. Sometimes you just carry it around in your head. It's a reflection of taste, desire and sometimes a resignation that what you wear, and what you want to wear won't always align. Sometimes you'll spend years finding the item that's just right, which of course explains the allure of the hours spend online finding just the thing. 

As you may have established, I don't have the answers. Maybe you don't have them either, maybe that's why you're here!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Just quietly hanging out

Over the Easter weekend, Lily, who is my oldest and best friend, messaged me a link to an article all about how freeing it is to socialise in silence. That might make it sound like one of those po-faced manifestos of minimalism, but it's not. Anyway, it's really stuck with me and as I'm going to be talking about it here - you can read it first, if you'd like. 

I've had a manic few weeks of packing up my stuff, moving from our houseshare and filling a storage unit in Bermondsey, London with furniture and things I won't need for a few months. It was a noisy process. Not just the endless sound of affixing brown tape to boxes, but also the constant noise in my head - of making decisions about what to keep and what to throw. Thinking and feeling guilty about how much stuff we accumulate as humans and what a waste it is. (Never an efficient thought process when you have a moving deadline.) I gave away old magazines, stacking them on a chair outside our house. I topped up the pile when it depleted, and bought the chair inside whenever rain was forecast. 

I've been relishing quiet. There were six of us living together and I was really, really ready to not be living in a houseshare. My tolerance for small talk or, to be honest, any social interaction I did not want to have, was incredibly low at this point. I was easily snappy, which made me feel crappy. I just wanted to live somewhere that felt like a real home, rather than a beneficial set-up in an expensive city, for people with different lives, thrown together for economic reasons. I craved a home that was familial, and I suppose to me that means coming in from the city and being able to read my book, or write, or concentrate on a film in an peaceful, unspoken silence.  

It's fair to say then, that this article about a New Yorker looking for silence suited my mood:

"In a poetry class in college, I learned that Wallace Stevens shared an apartment with his wife, but they would often not talk for long stretches of time, circling about the same space in their separate spheres. This struck me as my ideal way of socializing. I immediately told my best friend about this and we began trying it. I would go over to their house and read on their front porch, while they painted their nails in the bedroom, and then we’d converge hours later, maybe make a meal together. Sometimes we would walk to the narrow, wooden pedestrian bridge overhanging the train tracks and wait to feel the train surge beneath us, taking it all in wordlessly."

It's funny because for months I've been thinking about friendships and wondering what is the best way to hang out with people without feeling tired by the interaction. It's not like spending time with people is inherently tiring (though growing up an only child I admit I favour solitude more than many of my friends.) But living in a city, it's common to socialise in ways that begin to feel unromantic through necessity. Because friends are so often busy, seeing them becomes this diarised 'catch-up'. Unlike at University, where we were inexplicably always together, finding ways to see each other can feel like arranging a meeting. You go to a pub, or a bar, or a coffee shop, or some neutral space where you pay to eat and something to drink. It means you can leave when you want, and nobody outstays their welcome. Conversation is like a game of tennis, back and forth, question and answer. Sometimes I return home thinking: "If I stay at home tomorrow, maybe I won't feel as tired."

Writing this makes me feel sad. Why is everybody so tired? I didn't think it would be like this! And honestly, it isn't always, but I do sometimes think it was better when everyone was more collectively skint and socialising meant just - hanging out, and not much else. Once in a blue moon, I have dinner at a friend's and everything feels more generous. We feed each other, we pour ourselves drinks and even better - we get to nose at each other's skin products as we wash our hands in the other's bathroom. But because we're all so tired by - what exactly? - it never happens as often as it should.

I started writing this, thinking it would be about silence. But the more I write, the more I realise it's about home. And how important home feels when you live in a big, costly city. When I think about how I'd like to spend time with my friends, it involves a long table, a home-cooked meal and raucous conversation. It's me inviting people into my home, rather than shutting them out. And it's a sofa! A glorious, deep squishy sofa which is all mine. Not one that's falling apart and holding us hostage, like the sad, broken-down Ikea sofas of houseshares.

The dream sofa (and all it represents) might still be a way off yet, but memories of socialising in silence has given me a much-needed jolt this week. There was the whole evening me and Rose spent making our Halloween costumes in Manchester, she fashioning a bloody bull's horn, pushing a cummerbund through her sewing machine for her gory dead Matador costume, while I papier-mached black crows to attack my Tippi Hedren. We listened to the radio, and we didn't ask each other about work. We didn't look for ways to fill the gaps, and it felt like home.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sometimes you just have to get the thing out there

The other week I was writing something for Layers (mine and Ana's podcast about clothes and what we wear - you should listen to it!) which made me feel wistful for the days when I pored so much love and energy into blogging. Or, I suppose, writing for no money at all.

I didn't pitch ideas to editors and wait to hear if my idea was acceptable. And I didn't have a 'news hook'. Sometimes I wrote utter nonsense (ignore the archives!) and sometimes I'd sit with a small seed of an idea that bloomed into something I hadn't been expecting. There were often typos. Writing this way felt free, lucid and often risky.

Or perhaps it just feels riskier now? Threading together words and publishing them online can feel more laden with meaning than it did say, 10 years ago. A Twitter feed is less the ephemeral soapbox it used to be, and more a record for any potential employee or snooping family member to rifle through. Sometimes it all feels too revealing, as if writing honestly (which sometimes means recording a feeling that was totally of the moment and has since shifted) might be held against you at a later point. I used to share personal thoughts with regularity, and sometimes sharing makes me feel queasy these days. I don't always want to explain myself. Or updates can end up feeling like a branding exercise. People have multiple Instagram accounts because of that feeling - the pretty ones, and the funny, true ones. I like both, but like the funny, true ones even more.

As such, I have such a thirst for blogging as it used to be. For the past couple of years I've thought 'Eh! Blogs have had their time. Move on.' I've updated very sporadically, wondering whether to let the thing be. But now, I'm craving a return of writing more freely, fretting less what people think. It seems to me the internet needs less seriousness. More messiness. Or at least words that come in larger doses than an Instagram caption. I've noticed those captions getting longer and longer, like we have more to say. Sometimes the captions are less an accompaniment to the image, and more about a larger though or feeling that needs to get out. Something that needs to be linked to! ("Link in bio") To breathe in a place that's not overcrowded in a feed of noise - of other people's dogs and meals and shoes.

Whatever. Expect more short bursts on here - the short and the long. I might not always have a photograph to accompany the words. I might have to figure out how to create a composition of outfits I like using a software programme that... may or may not exist any more? I might think about whether that's something I should still be doing, now that I am 26 instead of 16. This blog does not look beautiful on a phone. It's okay though, sometimes you just have to get the thing out there.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

I could continue, but I suppose the point is that I started writing

By the end of the day I find that it's far too easy to eye my journal and think "Nah. Some other time."

This isn't a new habit. It's the way I've felt about diary-keeping for much of my life, as if I must record my days in the most accurate and truthful way, so that later I can revisit my decades-old self as authentically as possible, and really embody the feelings I actually felt. But – and this is important  the written record should have a sort of retrospective pragmatism too. An older, wiser knowingness otherwise it would be far too embarrassing to read at a later date!

As you might imagine, this makes the idea of opening my journal, let alone writing inside it pretty fucking tiresome. I think if you've wanted to write from a young age, you have this funny idea that every word you scribble down will one day be a valuable resource to incredibly grateful historians. 

Beautiful rocks at Bristol Museum

Keeping a diary should be a space for being as free as possible, instead of burdened by whether you're your own reliable narrator. Heidi Julavits overcame this bind by returning to her childhood diary-writing technique. Every entry would begin with "Today I..." The restriction helped the words out, and it became The Folded Clock. Today I met this woman at a party and. Today I missed a deadline and. Today I walked over Vauxhall Bridge and felt very light.

Now that I am freelance again, I feel on the whole much happier. Something about an ending and a beginning has cleared away my brain-cobwebs. I think I'm learning and thinking more, even if the thinking is thoughts like "I think I'd like a pair of blue baggy camouflage trousers??!" 

Even if things feel clearer, I will always been in the habit of treating my brain like an internet browser. Just as I like to open dozens of tabs, I switch between dozens of thought paths. I'll think about 15 different features I would like to write. I'll browse Instagram because I feel like "shopping". I'll screenshot a photograph because the geotag is an art gallery I've never heard of. I'm forever creating new paths to leap down, but sometimes I forget to slow down and actually follow one.

But a diary can be whatever you'd like it to be. So why not treat it as somewhere to set down the cerebral atoms which will otherwise keep crashing into each other? Today I visited the mineral section at the Bristol City Museum and looked at the hulking lumps of agate and quartz. Maybe I thought that going there would feel like being 6 again and visiting after school with Granny. But I'm 26 and there with my sister, and being 6 is still inside me, and so is my Granny even though she isn't here, and I still have the same agate and quartz, and she's those rocks now too. 

Look at them!

What else is life like on 25th August 2017? I spent one hour researching which pair of men's blue camouflage work trousers to buy (on Amazon!) which is proof that right now I feel as giddy about clothes as I did when I was 17. I'm a bit more discerning now though. I want to wear bright things, but breathable things because I'm sick of sweating so much. No more viscose please. I'm thinking about new outfits that many of my friends will inevitably choose not to comment on when we meet at the pub. Everyone will be quiet for a little longer but they'll think "you know what, I respect Stevie for carrying her cards and change in a small construction toolbelt she found god knows where." 

I could continue, but I suppose the point is that I started writing. And after all, this isn't really a diary. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Katharine Hepburn was pouring Bourbon she didn’t really want, thinking “what now?”

As I walked up my road last night I saw the local fox with her three cubs. This was very exciting because I know this fox, but I did not know she was a mother. It was only 9.30 but my street was very quiet. More like an early Saturday morning than Friday night. Everyone was either still at the pub or tucking duvets high and close under their children’s chins. I'd pulled myself through that restless indecision that follows an evening of sitting on a sunny curb drinking beer after work. That was some good curb time; I talked to a colleague about New York City and how good people are at flirting there. Better than in London where we don’t like to stare at a stranger’s shoes for too long in case they spot our approval. He is Greek, and told me that "Nostalgia" means homesickness and sadness, that it's a sort of homesickness for a place that made you sad. That's all he really said, but I look it to mean longing for something you don't really want.

A fox I saw in 2010. 
Now I was hungry and incapable of knowing what my stomach wanted. I decided that my stomach didn’t know what it wanted, so I just had to get home and give it something good. I needed to parent my stomach, and that meant being loving and stern. I thought about how red my sister’s eyebrows used to turn when she was a small and tired. It was a warning sign. I don’t have a physical indicator of listlessness. It either comes out of my mouth as a babbling list of possible outcomes, or I just go home. I think lots of people just carry on drinking through that feeling. But I had to go home. Henry was at work, and the others were far south of the river. Everyone already had plans.

But the foxes. I stayed very still when I saw them. I hoped they’d let me watch, but I couldn’t take a chance on them spotting me and running away because I wanted this moment. The mother was washing one cub's tail while the others raced skittishly. Before I came to London, I never saw foxes by daylight. A fox in Bristol or Manchester was a moment that stood still some time after 3am. I’d round a corner and share mutually shocked eye contact until it bounded off. Seeing a fox was like seeing an big full moon, or smelling a jumper that belongs to someone you love. I’d climb into bed thinking “ahh, thank you universe for giving me a fox tonight!” But the foxes in London are audacious and shabby and not really loved. They sunbathe on garden sheds and pick fights and stalk down the streets like commuters. Because they are Londoners they have learnt to be unbothered by the close-quartered living conditions. They do not have time for privacy, and are not embarrassed about gathering chicken bones or washing their cubs out in the open.

Hungry on the street, I wanted a fox mum to clean my tail for me. I wanted to be close to other people without having go to a restaurant or a bar or spend more money. I wanted to lie quietly in a room with a door open, and hear people pottering in other parts of the house. I wanted somebody to make me dinner, and for me do the same for them tomorrow. There are so many things I want, and I don’t think I will ever grow out of it. Sometimes I am plagued by longing, but sometimes it wraps me up. It wraps me up when I’m sprawling on the mad flower patterned sofas at my parents house, or at the cinema with my arm hairs on end, clutching at something.

I long for the feeling of lying on my parents’ sofa here in London. I long to own more than one shelf in my fridge. I long for summer holidays. I don’t begrudge the longing, because I am used to being guided by it. It’s what gets me up in the mornings, working for a bigger fridge, a longer holiday. I’ve accepted the everyday presence of longing, which sort of makes it feel less deep. Maybe you're reading this and thinking 'oh, she is having a bad time' but my feelings can be flippant. I go deep into my longing, and the next moment I'm thinking about something else. I reserve my right to write something and feel differently later. Longing always summons another Friday.

I think I like longing when it’s doesn’t make me obsess over money. But maybe I sort of like obsessing over money? I have carefully calculated monthly budgets in spreadsheets, I am always keen to learn how people can afford to live. I don’t know where I learned to love this obsession, or who it is serving. Longing, I think as I watch the foxes, is just how I pass my time. What would it feel like not to? In twelve hours time, I will be walking by the canal, following the Canal and River Trust’s signposted suggestions (“Be like a Tortoise, Not A Hare!”) and I will remember again.

I left the foxes to their washing and familial tumbling. At home, I stood at the counter shovelled hummus and crackers into my mouth, a really good prawn and mayonnaise sandwich from leftovers. I watched Summertime in bed, David Lean’s tale of longing in Italy. For much of the film Katharine Hepburn leans on Venetian bridges, marvelling at gondolas, water fire engines and old stone, trying to settle into her aloneness. She is forever crying out in wonder, and then moments later the ‘o’ of her lips has slumped. Her shoulders rolled forward, saying “what now?”.

There’s no one to turn to and say “would you look at that!” but if there was, she’d have to move through the crowds in a different way. Her holiday isn’t much different from being back at home, if you think about the gaps we really live in. One moment you’re watching a fox and wishing you had your people around, the next you’re spreading mayonnaise across bread, just being. Or rather, you're always being. You don’t remember that listlessness once you’re back at home from your holiday. Everyone had left aperitivo on the balcony for dinner, and Katharine Hepburn was pouring Bourbon she didn’t really want, back to thinking “what now?”. I was asleep within five minutes.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Peter Shire's Cotton

Peter Shire's colour-coordinated tee shirt drawers in blue, green, yellow, orange and red. 
Via the ever-compulsive My Place series on Nowness.