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.