Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pride Weekend

Charlotte Rampling, in a still from Andrew Haigh's 45 Years.

Tonight was one of those nights when coming home feels like a battle. Summer 2015 in Manchester has been an ongoing series of roadworks, bridges being bulldozed and 12 meter sinkholes opening up main thoroughfares. New tram tracks are being laid down, layers of ancient bodies unearthed along the way, whilst a couple of streets away the real, alive bodies of the homeless are shunted again, further out of public view, the latest push by the council, their belongings even cruelly thrown onto waste trucks, another tick box task to dehumanisation. A summer is funny when everybody takes it in turns to go away, and the city isn’t quite itself, but this summer it feels like Manchester has started to eat itself out of restlessness. I wait at the bus stop and watch diverted buses passing against the orange sky, but none of them are mine and there are cars beeping and beeping and inching along. Nobody is getting to where to want to be very quickly. Every moment feels slow but there’s also an excitable buzz hanging over the city; Pride Weekend. Horns and Mardi Gras beads abandoned on pavements, rainbows on cheeks, crowds of people smoking and wobbling outside of bars. Shoppers weaving amongst it all, also trying to get home. A van containing drunk and equally excitable people pulls up beside the bus stop and somebody leans out and shouts “YEAH! PRIDE!” and the people at the bus stop laugh, and one man says “it’s funny when they shout and then they just have to sit there until the light turns green.” And true enough, we watch the man lolling in the back of the van and he watches us back. Our bus still doesn’t appear, and I walk towards the train station instead. 

My head is in that foggy state of re-orientating after watching a film, and spending a couple of hours in another world. The world was a damp and lovely Norfolk, and the film was 45 Years. I fell fully into this world; the woman next to me was smoking an e-cigarette, the blue light occasionally falling into the corner of my eye line, and I didn’t even mind that much. I remained in my real world enough to notice that she was twitchy and birdlike, in her fifties with a woven braid at the front of her bobbed hair and an electric blue denim coat, nicely fitted, with badges from towns, cities and beach resorts around the world sewn onto the back. She had it laid over her like a blanket, and there was nothing annoying about her, even with the flash of her e-cig, because she was alone and I was alone and she and I were spending our respective evenings exactly as we liked. Each morning Charlotte Rampling wakes and walks Max, her Alsatian, through the fields which are foggy and verdant and British. The sky is that grey which is so bright you can’t tell if it’s close-by or deep and open, and sometimes you reach the afternoon without feeling like you’ve woken properly. Her mannerisms are slightly off-kilter and she walks like maybe she has recovered from a stroke, but maybe our bodies and joints just find new ways to sit as we grow older. Sometimes she shares silences with the man she’s been married to for 45 years, and much of their interactions feel comfortable and steeped in familiarity. Sometimes she misreads his mood, asks the wrong questions, and it’s a reminder that two people will always be separate, even if their identities slide higher on a scale of interdependent association as they age together. She plays the piano for the first time in a long time, reading Bach from a sheet of music. Then she puts the sheet away and improvises, and watching her hands I think of two times in the last two years I watched my Granny play the clavinova piano bought originally for me, and reclaimed when I lost interest. She taught herself to play beautifully, making it up as she went along (an approach replicated across many areas of her life) and the first time I listened, sitting at the end of her bed in her garden flat I was taken aback by this new skill; surprised and impressed and moved. Then she played again in her new house, in the attic she enjoyed for a short while as a studio. She had a Tchaikovsky figurine propped up on the surface of the clavinova which I didn’t recognise, so it was probably newly found in a charity shop. She played with her back to me, as I leaned on the banister and I cried a little bit because it was after her diagnosis and it felt so special to hear her play on one of my short visits back from Manchester. Quite mundane and just very sad. By the time she’d finished and turned around I’d stopped crying, because how boring it must be to be dying from cancer and have people crying on you all the time. She probably knew though. I watched Charlotte Rampling’s fingers move across the piano and had a cry in the cinema too. I thought about having sobbed quietly but uncontrollably a few months earlier in a screen whilst watching Love Is Strange, in a scene involving easels and unfinished paintings, which triggered the same feelings of Granny’s attic. I watched that film at the start of the year, so around 7 months ago. Some days pass uneventfully, but rarely is there a week that I don’t find some evocative association has crept up on me and I have to let myself go, right into it. Often I think about the whole compulsive sobbing thing, and feel a bit self-conscious to be experiencing such raw feelings over a grandparent when so many of my friends lost their years ago, and have even lost parents since. But sitting there in the cinema I thought about the line in Leslie Jameson’s The Empathy Exams which I had underlined on my lunch break today because it reminded me of my Mum, but which also felt comforting to me in that moment. “I would tell her she is going through something large and she shouldn’t be afraid to confess its size, shouldn’t be afraid she’s “making too big a deal of it.” She shouldn’t be afraid of not feeling enough because the feelings will keep coming- different ones- for years.” When somebody dies you lose them, but you lose that space in the family too, and so everybody has to move around accordingly and figure out how and where to stand without stepping on toes. They also have to figure out how much it matters if sometimes they do stand on toes, because, and I think I’m beginning to understand this, as you get older you want to feel more sure, and so compromise less. But you have to get the balance right of being very careful with the feelings of others, and very careful with your own. In the wake of a death the sensitivity surrounding this business is heightened and so this “something large” to be going through involves a small family quite consciously having to readjust and grow up even more, even if they are all grown-ups already. Because the grown-ups that were once right at the top aren’t there any more, and we’re having to learn to look down from new places. I watched as Charlotte Rampling sometimes says the wrong things, but is mostly always “true” to herself in order to be careful with her own feelings. I realise that any fantasy I had about a sense of sorted-ness coming with age was exactly that; a fantasy.

I finally get back to my house and it’s rather quiet, but I don’t mind too much because there’s a parcel waiting for me just inside the door that I wasn’t expecting. A house at night can be quiet, but an unexpected parcel at least stops it from feeling lonely. When you know that somebody has been thinking of you, the rest of the evening doesn’t feel quite so aimless. Like me, my aunt Mary acutely feels the gap of the ‘sensitive advisor’ role left by my Granny. Sometimes we both miss and need it very much and so we’re learning to go to each other for this comfort instead. The parcel was from her; inside, wrapped in beautifully illustrated paper (I know who we’re both channeling in our minds here) was Infragreen, a recently published collection of poems written by our cousin Kate. I feel thought of, and connected to Mary, and to Kate who represents the side of the family we feel a familial closeness for (and desire to be closer to) even though we see them rarely; most recently two funerals, a wedding and the novel lunch I shared in her garden when I visited London last summer. There’s something about poetry that elicits a school-ish feeling inside me, of somehow ‘not doing it right’, of reading poems self-consciously as if they are above my ability to understand. But I put my keys on the table and lie back on my sofa and plough through twenty in one go. She writes of green, wet gardens and rain, footprints on car brakes, and waking up in the early hours (mind racing but also dumbly half-awake) and the municipal journey of a tulip from a loved one, from Holland to wobbling over the edge of a vase at home. This doesn’t feel like a battle, and I turn each page feeling reassured by descriptions of nature which feel like the Norfolk scenes I was enveloped in a couple of hours ago. I read about foreheads and try to guess which family member they belong to, if any at all. I project memories of my trip last summer onto the words, imagining kitchens described as I remember hers. It seems right to be reading about the earth continuing to turn and school runs, and empty plastic milk bottles on counters and to have spent an evening alone feeling the presence and familiarity of a faraway loved one quite close, and not-so-faraway relations closer.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Weekend List: Cut-out-and-keep special

Two of my friends running butt-naked into the chilly Pacific in April 2012. 

In this special 'cut-out-and-keep' edition of The Weekend List, I've asked some of my friends, and favourite online writers to share the essays and articles which have affected them for personal or professional reasons. I'm excited to round-up meaningful links from this bunch of people, some of whom have actually led me to my own cut-out-and-keeps or moments of reading something glorious. (I'm thinking lying on Formby Beach reading Juliet Jacque's Q&A in the Women In Clothes book in particular.) These are the reads that have helped to consolidate an idea previously hard to pin down; the oh yes moments that changed a way of thinking, or led to an enthusiastic sharing of links amongst friends and conversations in pubs. In short, these are cut-out-and-keeps worth returning to, and they're compiled together into one killer post, a go-to kit for bolstering and yes!ing. 

I used to keep a scrap book of the magazine and newspaper articles which affected me; they're still glued into an fluorescent pink notebook. There's a beautifully-written profile of Natasha Richardson, an interview with Jane Shepardson from when I was sure I wanted to work in the fashion industry, and a run-down of a morning at BBC Radio 4's The Today Show from 2011 when working in radio became far more appealing. There's a feature about Dave Gilmour and his son and their personal film club (and how Gilmour allowed his son to leave school at 16, so long as he continued to educate himself through cinema.) This article was from a 2008 edition of The Guardian- a tell-tale snapshot of me aged 17, cruising along at college, desperate to be done with education and throwing myself into my new found hobby- solo trips to the cinema. I'd forgotten about lots of these cut-out-and-keeps before I leafed through my old notebook just now, but at the time they all felt important and worthy of holding onto. More recently, after a string of flirtations and romances that didn't go anywhere, that left me feeling cold and like the people I'd been opening myself up to couldn't reciprocate, or couldn't see me, I read this Ask Polly column and suddenly had a new vocabulary for this sort of man: tepid. "You need to tell tepid to fuck right off," Polly said, and when I read that lots of things fell into place and I returned to valuing and loving myself and demanding that anybody I was going to be romantically involved with absolutely had to do the same. On my second date with my boyfriend (though I didn't realise that's what it was at the time) he asked me about my love life and I told him I was only interested in people who thought I was fabulous, and this new rule for myself and for others felt personally revolutionary even though in retrospect that seems like such a necessary wish to have for oneself. This is a celebration of the essays, columns and words which have allowed, and continue to allow these moments to fall into place.

But I Invested In You
Last year, my friends and I all read The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. Afterwards, we referred constantly to this review by Sheila Heti, who analyses the troubling power imbalance in the book between Nate and his girlfriend Hannah (a “seven”/“co-worker material.”) The insight of Heti’s that bashed us over the head was how Nate “outsources the work” of their inevitable break-up to Hannah. “The women around him do the heavy labour of making relationships honest and tender, because that’s their position culturally…” Jessica Stanley, Writer and Freelance brand strategist, London.

Athletic Aesthetics
Brad Troemel's essay talks about ‘a new species of artist flooding the internet with content [inviting] the audience to complete their work by loving their brand, making the artists themselves the masterpiece’. This intrigued me: I'd always been fascinated by Nietzsche's imperative to turn oneself into a work of art, making it the basis for a short story that I first drafted in 2002 and rewrote several times over the next ten years. But the process that Troemel described was all too familiar, particularly where he talks about how social media (as well as precariousness, debt and unemployment) has led artists from making works to ongoing self-commodification, with the audience becoming part of the medium. Any loss in quality was offset by each public statement - a blog, a tweet, whatever - becoming an opportunity for personal connection with the creator, but after documenting my transition in the Guardian and on Twitter, I'd found this constant contact had utterly drained me, and I needed a new way of working. Troemel helped me to break my obsession with broadcasting every aspect of my life, and accept that I didn't need to be visible all the time - I was far better off taking as long as I needed to make work that I could be proud of. In the two years since I read it, I've become far happier as a writer, reconnecting with what made want to do it in the first place rather than remaining caught up in the endless churn of opinion. Juliet Jacques, Writer, London.

Structuring Life With Depression
I suffer from anxiety and depression; it's not something I make a secret of because what good does it do to further internalize fears and worries? (Not much). I came across this Rookie essay about routines and depression a few months ago during a rough patch, and within a few lines, I knew I'd be sharing it with everyone. The best part? When I shared it in my TinyLetter, my readers were also moved by it. I've found that I often share things online for the possibility of sharing a "you too?" moment with others. 2015 has been a bit of a strange year, but the guiding idea of this essay—"Might as well"—has been so helpful. It's so good, I'm just pasting a paragraph here: "My day starts with making the bed, and I’ve discovered that if I can complete this one task, the rest follow with barely a complaint. This is the principle of Might As Well. I made the bed, so might as well do the dishes, and shower, and take some blog photos, and get back to that bit of writing. Might As Well is the queen of forces: Never underestimate its power, for it is singular in its capacity to motivate while maintaining the lowest of low-key profiles—you get stuff done practically without noticing. You got out of bed, so you might as well have a productive day." Sarah Galo, Freelance Writer, New York City.

Yes, Men Are Better Writers
I encountered this blog post by Helen Addison-Smith almost exactly a year ago, when I was in an unhappy marriage trying to be a mother and a wife and someone who needed to write all the time. It resonated so much for me. After a year of trying to be more selfish, I'm now a single mother, but I'm still writing. There are no easy choices for us, and this goes a fair way to explaining why. Kate Feld, Writer, Manchester.

Since Living Alone
My first attempt at writing this was just pasting the long quotes from Durga Chew-Bose's piece Since Living Alone that most affected me since first reading it when it was published, back in January. Now, in this version, there are fewer long quotes from Durga and a little more from Brodie, but that only serves to reinforce how excellent she is at describing what it means to be a woman alone in apartment—as I've been for just a few weeks now. Durga writes like I wish I could write, with such self-assurance and the kind of references and connections I can relate to and recognise immediately but would never think to draw myself. She writes like someone who's well-read but who doesn't want to rub it in your face and make you feel bad about not having the same cultural touchpoints or not having read the books she refers to. I mean—fuck, man—she makes the act of eating a pear seem like the most important and romantic act a single woman can perform in her own space. I am so obsessed with and jealous of and in awe of her ability to make me feel at once understood and envious. "I’d been avoiding myself with such ease that even when an obstacle presented itself—like the pained limits of a friendship that had run its course—my response was to adapt around it the way we circle street construction on our way to the subway without much thought, as if the ball and sockets of our hip joints, anticipating those orange pylons, swerve so as to save our distracted selves from falling into crater-sized holes…It takes me fourteen steps from my bed to my bookshelves and nine steps to walk from my front door to the globe lamp I’ve propped on a stool under a wall I’ve half-decorated, of which a poster I’ve framed hangs asymmetrically next to nothing more than blank white wall. That globe lamp is the first light I turn on when I return home. For nine steps when I walk in at night, after shutting my front door and placing my keys on their hook, I navigate the slumbered mauve and moon-lit darkness of my space. It welcomes me; the darkness and I suppose the lamp too." Reading this piece makes me feel the same way I did when the credits rolled on Life Itself, the Roger Ebert documentary: at once inspired to write better and tempted to give up the game because I'll never be this good. Brodie Lancaster, Writer and Editor, Melbourne.

One Year Later

My friend Bethany wrote this incredible post about reclaiming the word 'fat' as a factual description rather than a pejorative evaluation, which I read and send to people all the time. Regardless of your body type, it's a fantastic mission statement about self-acceptance and casting off the weight of societal norms. "Denying that I'm fat is denying me the chance to find any beauty in it," she writes. "I enjoy my appearance, whether or not you do. And that's priceless." Laura Snapes, Culture Writer and Contributing Editor at Pitchfork, London.

If He Hollers Let Him Go
One of my cut-out-and-keep articles is If He Hollers Let Him Go, written by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for The Believer. Written in 2013, it’s a bit of an older one, but it really hit me when I first read it. I would have been a bit more green back then, and I remember thinking I wished I could write with her sensitivity, condor, and confidence. Since reading this she’s become one of my favourite journos of all time, and then as now, Dave Chappell is a personal hero. I don’t want to give too much away, because it have a really perfect ending, but it’s such a great study in how to write about a celebrity and a hugely covered subject in a fresh way, while still being respectful and treating them as a person. Funny, last month Good Good Girl held a workshop for writers and editors and we were speaking about certain articles you return to again and again for whatever reason. This is that article for me. I find it frustrating, because in the years since it ran I’ve never approached it for quality. But whenever I feel dejected about writing or my work it is also endlessly comforting that if done right, your words can be so effecting. Wendy Syfret, Editor at Good Good Girl, Melbourne.

Ask Polly: How Do I Make My Boyfriend Listen?
"And then there are smart women with lots to say who are also very sensitive and weird and analytical and incredibly talkative, who ALSO listen very closely. These women are often labeled “a little too intense.” We think way too much, and slice and dice everything under the sun like a Ginsu knife that’s been sharpened one too many times and is now capable of cutting a watermelon in half like it’s made of crepe paper." I've emailed this essay to all of the smart, special, sensitive women in my life. I grew up in a household where talking about my feelings was normal. When I was at university, I found myself surrounded by a group of people who were deeply uncomfortable with talking about feelings, let alone analysing them. To them, my tendency to delve into matters of the heart was seen as overly-emotional, hyper-sensitive and "taking things too personally." When I read this particular Ask Polly (and there are so, so many great ones), I realised that I wasn't an annoying weirdo. I was simply a sharp knife. Simran Hans, Freelance writer and film programmer, London.

If je ne suis pas Charlie, am I a bad person? Nuance gets lost in groupthink
I still think about this article and regularly allude to it in boozy political/social justice-orientated conversations. I first posted this article on Instagram under a photo I took of a mural that read Je suis Charlie in huge block letters that was located on one of the most traveled streets in Los Angeles. At the time of posting, I felt a bit nervous of getting into a social media conflict with a follower and friend about posting something other than absolute solidarity with the Je suis Charlie cause. My precariousness to press the "share" button is author Roxanne Gay’s point exactly; having a nuanced opinion is not appreciated in situations where groupthink has taken over. This point has undoubtedly been made before but is becoming more relevant when thinking about social media campaigns (think KONY 2012 or the rainbow-ing of Facebook photos in allegiance with marriage equality). I respect Gay for the bravery it took for her to write something like this for an international news-source knowing the backlash she would recieve. Her message is something I think about all the time when interacting in communal virtual environments. Kara Hart, Medical Genetics Programme Coordinator, East Hollywood.

The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain 
When I was twenty I was with a man who was the great love of my life. He ended the relationship when I told him I loved him in a terrible nightclub. Although we carried on loving each other messily afterwards for many years, the end of the love as I desired it (uncomplicated, happy), was a direct result of the confessing of it. You would expect the effect of this to be a fear of making my emotions audible, but the opposite happened -- I didn’t mean to be the woman inspecting, and asking everyone else to witness, my wounds – I knew what kind of ancient dialogue/fetishized mythology this entered me into - but I was helpless to it; I was bored and embarrassed by my own pain, and I bored and embarrassed the people I loved with it; but still, over time, however shaming, it became something I defined my life by. So when I found The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain by Leslie Jamison who asks the question, “why am I talking about this so much?”, it became almost holy to me; I pored over it; I carefully printed it out for the wounded women I knew (there were many), and passed it to them with reverence over pub tables. I carried it in my bag like a piece of scripture; a love letter granting me the permission to hurt, and to transcribe this hurt into the poems I was working on, without defending myself from “the old litany of charges” against “The Girl Who Cried Pain”. She writes, “I’m tired of female pain and also tired of people who are tired of it”, and in this line, and all the many others of its kind in this remarkable essay, I was first able to live with my pain, and then to move on from it, and to see, what she calls, the “last alchemy, pain-to-art, as possibility”. To use the Anne Carson line she references, “it pains me to record this, / I am not a melodramatic person”, but I will forever be in Leslie Jamison’s debt for creating a language for my pain, and showing me how “to find something in it that yields”. Harriet Moore, Literary agent and Poet, London.

Don't Try This At Home: Mooncup Edition
Stevie Martin's article on the humble mooncup is so bladder-shakingly funny, that when I originally read it way back in 2012, after semi-winding myself with laughter, I promptly shared it with all of my fellow Women of the Womb. But more pertinently, it really took me aback at how this ostensibly cool, clever girl was so comfortable about writing the gruesome, sticky details of periodhood. It's gross. But if it's normal for half of the population, why the hell are we so ashamed of it? I am now a proud "over-sharer" of my very normal monthly visit from Aunt Flo. And to this day, if anyone asks me what my favourite accessory is, I answer "my mooncup". Frankie Tobi, Radio Production Coordinator and Writer, Manchester.

George Saunders Had Read The Best Book You'll Read This Year
I first read this on my laptop, in bed in my flat in Shoreditch on a Monday night, a month off finishing my Masters. Outside it was grey and cold and snowy and I had this weird, poignant sense of anticlimactic disappointment. All my education was coming to an end, and what was it for? I had gotten a job that was objectively my dream job, and in many ways everything was great! But, but (my lip quivered) – is that all there is?? I wondered, pointlessly, about the future, about life. And then I read this profile of George Saunders, which is brilliant because it’s a cleverly-written, sensitive profile of an author, but also because it’s about George Saunders, an author who has taught me ultimately that life is going to be OK. Because it is. And because the whole point of it is that sometimes you are disappointed and sometimes you are angry and sometimes you are joyous and it’s all big, wide and expansive and maybe it’s OK if you can just try really hard and be kind at the same time. I can’t believe it took reading a profile in the New York Times Magazine to get me to realise that. I’ve sent this one on to many friends – and revisited it myself many times, when I’ve forgotten – since then. Those final lines in particular have become a mantra for me: “Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.” Ana Kinsella, writer, and editor at Bon Magazine, London.

Going With The Flow: Blood and Sisterhood and the London Marathon

The story about Kiran Gandhi free-bleeding at the London Marathon resonated with me because my best friend is an elite runner where I live in Sheffield and he's always trying to improve his times despite injuries or other setbacks, and although he doesn't menstruate, health, injury recovery time and mood on the day can really affect performance. I appreciate why Kiran didn't want to start mixing up her routine with menstrual management that might irritate or chafe during the run. No menstrual product is every going to be leak free, no matter how shaming the ads or how great the innovations. My own comedy and (menstruation-orientated) education and engagement work aims to take the stigma out of leaking in a fun, tongue-in-cheek way and I was so glad to see someone doing this for real - it happens more and more lately and it's great that menstrual taboo-breaking is gaining momentum. Chella Quint, Comedy writer and Education consultant, Sheffield.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Weekend List: No. 21

Happy weekend! This Weekend List is a dispatch from KorĨula in Croatia; it's the last day of our holiday- that funny day when the tendency to take open-mouthed naps in the scorching afternoon heat and reflect on 'real life back home' subsides to being ready to return and put plans into action, and drift less. There's the last-day-of-the-holiday guilt of throwing away half-eaten lettuces and knowing that you probably won't spend as much time reading paperbacks back at home, but that you will, for a fixed amount of time, feel more at peace with sleeping in your own bed and looking out of bus windows.


"Elvis opened his eyes, blinked, as if he wasn’t sure for a moment what I was doing there. He twitched a shoulder toward the phone. “Would you mind calling room service and ordering me a fried-egg sandwich?”" Men and the Menu

Jenny Holzer in Interview Magazine

“Vic gave us a job in the Arsenal laundry, so we could earn some cash and play football at the same time. We were scrubbers! Doing the first team men’s kit.” Excellent profile of England's women's football team.

Spotify playlist of the soundtrack to Eden which is so great and you must see if club culture, euphoria on dancefloors and feeling it all is your vibe.

"Eschewing social history in favour of misogyny and murder is far from uncommon in our public historical storytelling." Jack the Ripper, ‘interesting history’ and masculine violence.


"I was going through all these crazy thoughts and analyzing whether I was ether a) a crazy chick who needs to just calm down and reach for an effing tampon or b) a liberated boss madame who loved her own body, was running an effing marathon and was not in the mood for being oppressed that day." Going With the Flow: Blood and Sisterhood at the London Marathon

"Community papers can do this stuff: they can grill or gild local power, make space for voices outside it, and tell you where to find the chili-pepper festival or the soup kitchen or the voting booth." Death of a Young, Black Journalist

"I want to say that at various points in your marriage, may it last forever, you will look at this person and feel only rage. You will gaze at this man you once adored and think, “It sure would be nice to have this whole place to myself.” The Wedding Toast I'll Never Give


These Lists; a collection of reading lists from artists, writers and musicians. (Does the act of sharing a reading list oblige you to show off? Is a part of me 'showing off' by writing Weekend Lists? Probably only as much as we all constantly 'show off' in various ways.)

Charles Manson's Hollywood; a fascinating series of episodes about the notorious killer shoulder-rubbing with celebrities from the You Must Remember This podcast.