Enjoy that winning feeling

I started to go through the papers and books and folders and bags of stuff kept in corners and in piles and on chairs and behind the doors. I want to move house so I’m cleaning house. I found things out about my past. I found how much I was paid in my first career-type job, which was surprising because in my memory I’d been paid more than that. I found what I was paid for the next three jobs. The evidence was the faded printed payslips. My pay was reducing with each job. Which was weird.

I remembered something about how I was just going for jobs that sounded interesting, and were trying to do good things for people, and that I wanted to do, even if they would eventually end (at least one) in a tearful meeting with my boss, saying I can’t afford to do this, I need to pay rent and eat and pay for transport to get here. And another one ended with fewer tears at leaving, but more with rage at local authority corruption.

I’ve been lucky because I haven’t had to be homeless (technically) from leaving jobs, I mean, I’ve had periods of not really living anywhere, but I haven’t ever had to sleep on the street. That’s definitely more lucky than a lot of people. And I’ve been able to choose my jobs, sort of. I mean, I’ve been knocked back a lot, but I was raised with my mam always telling me this story, that I hated, about some sparrow who managed to survive winter because it didn’t feel sorry for itself. I was raised within racist communities. I went to a secondary school where everyone was richer than me but only some of them cleverer than me. I had a father who’s now estranged.

A Yoruba female hairdresser dressing the hair of a woman. Halftone after a photograph by A.W. Gelston.

Credit: Wellcome Collection, Free to use with attribution

I’ve been an outsider most of the time, so it doesn’t hurt me that much to get rejected for jobs. I didn’t ever think that much of people who knocked me back for that kind of thing. I hate to get rejected for my writing as that comes from something more soft-bellied than my working class instinct for work, and my Hull-upbringing instinct for dour expectation of class, gender and race based discrimination in the workplace.

On the other hand, some of that belligerence still comes through when my writing’s rejected: something about the potential of hob-nobbing in the literature world were I to become some kind of published person makes me nauseous. I don’t really want to mix in with the circles that I’m told form the literati. I tell myself that I just want to write small things that I like.

But

nothing changes on its own.

I see that in my work-self’s context. The poor old archives world, with so many good intentions pinned to its lapel but at heart lethargic towards change, is being slowly brought to the point where its local shop for local people will be filled with strangers touching their precious things. So I mustn’t let a squeamishness seeping of the last parts of my kidhood shyness stop me getting in to the literati glitterati by the window, back door, cat flap, mousehole, or mud-clung to the sole of a shoe.

One day you’ll come down to your stone flagged kitchen to have a blue china cup of tea at the kitchen island, your toes warmed in fleece lined slippers, and you’ll have my book tucked under your arm.

I might have a chip on my shoulder but I am from Hull, so the chip’s dusted with American chip spice. On the other shoulder there’s a pattie buttie. And as I’m from Nigeria too why not add an akara necklace, and moin moin for boots? I’ll stop now. Hungry.

***
I saw a friend post some kind of twitter meme where you noted five books that weren’t necessarily your favourites, but on seeing the list a stranger would know who you were (or something like that). Here are mine, at this moment in January 2018.
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I didn’t know someone else could write about my childhood, I mean, the facts were all different).
Number 9 Dream, David Mitchell
The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig
Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

***
I didn’t really make new year’s resolutions, but I did download a checklist app so that I can see whether what I think I will be up to this year (and what I think would be a good idea for me to get up to) actually happens. My to-do lists at work got very complex by the last month of the year. For such a simple sounding job – more focussed in principle than other jobs I’ve had – it’s turned out to need the most brain wattage of my work life. I’m kind of into that though. It’s interesting trying to get untangley. I think by the end of December I had two notebook to do lists, a post it note sub-list, an excel spreadsheet, email flagging system and a kanban board all on the go. I was full of winter lurgy, [pre]menstrual hormones and painkiller though, so I might have hallucinated some of that.

***
In January you shouldn’t talk about the dead year at all. So sorry, I don’t mean to. The three theatre things that changed my life and perspective in 2017 were The Ferryman (Jez Butterworth), Salt (Selina Thompson), Barbershop Chronicles (Inua Ellams).

http://theferrymanplay.com/
http://selinathompson.co.uk/work/salt/
https://fueltheatre.com/projects/barber-shop-chronicles

Hey ho, let’s go.

A Japanese style monkey wearing a black hat and red shirt while holding a fan and a flower.

Credit: Wellcome Collection

Sundays

Time seems to move so slowly on Sundays, and at the same time it has that urgency, that sense that Monday is about to happen and that this laziness will not stand. So when you’re hungover, like I am now, with a work-writing and self-writing to do list as long as it ever is that’s when the self recrimination really sticks in your ribs. Coulda woulda shoulda.

 

I know I’ll get it all done, eventually, but it’ll be painful. The new book is in omniscient third person, with four characters followed in focus and connective tissue of their interactions with each other. So that’s five narratives to write, sort of. I’ve done one and a half. The half is part of the connective tissue narrative. The next one I’m writing is actually a first person voice via her blog. You can read it on Medium if you want to.

I wrote an academic article, that needs a lot of revision, gak.

I’m writing an online exhibition, gak.

And some other stuff needs editing. I am going to overhaul Patience and Bridget’s story – mainly P’s part.

Rolls up sleeves.

Goes back to bed.

What I’m learning

My work life is tsunami at the moment. It’s fun, though. I went to Atlanta, Georgia, to talk about the dance archive at a conference held at Coca Cola. All of the drinks there were Coca Cola brand. There were vending machines in every doorway and corridor. You didn’t need to put any money in them. You could get fizzy drinks from all over the world (made by Coke). All of the attendees were buzzing with sugar/ caffeine/ aspartame/ secret ingredients. I went on my own. The furthest I’ve been alone. I took a book with me (well I took a couple) – Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full. It’s set in Atlanta so I thought it could be my travel companion.

What an amazing book. I should say tome. It is pretty hefty. I finished it in Austria weeks later when my boyfriend and I stayed in a techo-condo which had its own lawnmower robot. Oh airbnb.

A Man in Full was perhaps the best guide to Atlanta I could’ve read. I went to the streets, neighbourhoods and galleries Wolfe described. I saw class structures where I would’ve just seen wood or brick. I mean, the book setting is out of date now, but still. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with such a wide scope of characters, plot-lines, historical, political and geographical depth. The book was more than words on pages. It was in 3 dimensions, 4, 5…

I’ve been writing these little stories, these highly intimate narratives, getting really deep into the minds of my characters. I think I need to take a page from Wolfe’s book (-_o) and learn to put my head above the water, to swim across the waves so that my books and stories can have more narrative depth. After all the times we’re in now are such unsettlingly rich gifts for writers: 2016 is a horrible year for deaths, politics, climate change and social equality.

Can we make better please? Artists? Humans?

Progress notes
Edit #5.3 of book one;
15,000 words of book two;
three stories out in the ether;
idea for a screenplay nibbling at the back of my mind.

Tentacles

You know that feeling when you have worked on a story so much that it is now lifeless, and you think, ‘Did it ever live?’. It’s like, it’s like, it’s like when a fisherman pulls an octopus out of the crystal Mediterranean and takes it to shore and beats it on a rock until it’s dead and what was jewel-like in the water is now jelly on land and what was beauty is now death and what had potential is just wet and slimy flesh grey on grey rock.

But maybe it can be salvaged.

It doesn’t have to be dead.

 

Continue reading

Blackstar, star star.

He was our Pierrot. So that we could be brave, and look into the sky at night and be in love with its immensity. We could love the moon and be in ourselves artists of any sort, and be free to be made fun of, and not to be scared to show ourselves as we are inside, full of yearning and colour and sadness and love.

To be close to something beautiful that we can’t explain. To have a place in the world, or the universe, or the fabric of things from the muck as much to the air.

To have grown up listening for the intake of breath on the track as the needle hits the vinyl.

To have had that.

The knowledge that there are others, that it might be possible.

The bravery of the maker of miniatures, who ‘understood that he had travelled a long way from the early days, that he still had far to go, and that, from now on, his life would be difficult and without forgiveness’ and who still carried on because creation what he wanted to do and it was worth it.

To leave with dignity and to leave us with the invitation that he’d given us from the start, you must create (if you want).