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

The maker of miniatures

I went to see the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. I don’t have anything clever to say about it. It made me think again about identity and who we think we are, or might be, or become. It seems to me that Basquiat was between more worlds than only being the black artist in the white scene, homeless to famous, private school to sleeping on a bench, between languages, between forms of expression.

Maybe the most punk rock thing to do is something that you think is a good idea and probably everyone else will hate. Has anyone read the Stephen Millhauser story, In the Reign of Harald IV? What do you think is going on at the end of it?

Here are some more discarded words from the old version of the book.

My head thuds. ‘Set me off again?’ I ad-lib, ‘That was a long time ago.’ I hold my breath. Don’t push too far. Let it come. What more there is, let it come.
‘Yeah I suppose so. I mean everyone’s a bit nuts when they’re kids. I’ve done my share of wild things,’ Debbie says. Her attention is somewhere inside her head. She laughs.
I laugh too, clipping it, trying to cover up clipping it. Act natural. I have my hands shoved into my jeans pockets and I feel your hand grow inside my fist. A tiny baby hand becoming fleshy. I jerk my hand out of my pocket. Debbie doesn’t notice. I flex my fingers, find a glove in my jacket pocket and put it on.

Shared Ownership

This rewrite I’ll break the back of, at the cost of thousands of words of the old version of the book. Probably about 40,000 words. They weren’t, or aren’t, bad words. It’s not their fault, but they don’t work together, not as a whole. The great white whale of the novel is being gutted, with the blubber cut away.

Some of the waste words I’ll put up on this blog now and then, so that they have some kind of after-life. Maybe they’ll turn into stories of their own, part-buy, part-rent. Part old, part new. Part lost part found. And still not enough in the bank.

 

Here are a few of them:

It’d been at least twenty years since the last time I’d seen Aunty Maggie and dad’s funeral.

I picture her by the graveside, her dyed-red hair pulled back into a ponytail so hard it lifted up her eyebrows. I spotted her between the bounces of light reflecting from my Nigerian aunties’ lip gloss; I caught sight of her between their Hayes head-dresses; Aunty Maggie’s brown eyes set into a face drawn with lack of sleep and a lot of eyeliner. Her lips disappeared into her mouth. Her black cotton blouse still carried its shop creases. Her black skirt was pulling itself apart at its seams. Her legs ending in patent black high heels.

I could smell overturned earth. I could hear traffic going by behind the cemetery’s trees and wooden fence.

Maggie accepted my other relatives’ remembrances of my dad while she destroyed an order of service between two wrung hands.

 

<<SOUND ON>>

 

Discreet Music

Brian Eno is good to write to. I spent a lot of the year so far being scared of the re-write of Patience’s narrative. A new job has given me back some of the space in my mind, and a new perspective. The story I’m writing is now more complicated, but it’s also more human now, and more honest.

I set myself a task in the July Camp Nanowrimo: to write 30,000 words this month. I think I’ll mange 25,000 which is okay.

 

I’m not terrified anymore. I feel strong. The dark days of 2016 are receding with each new news story: not because they’re positive stories, but because I can feel something else behind them. A feeling that we’re going to get to the other side. Better days are coming.

 

Louis Wain Kaleidoscope cat

Take a breath, 2017.

Between watching video clips online of Barak Obama and Joe Biden, and crying a little bit as a result, I’ve been thinking about What Next for my own Stuff.

Last year, the infamous 2016, I became even worse at my work-life-other things balancing conundrum. But: I had some really nice feedback from a few literary agents about the Patience and Bridget book. I think I have figured out, finally, what Patience’s character arc is. Her story’s always been more word heavy than Bridget’s but more directionless. I was too nervous to go too deep into her story, maybe. Anyway. Time to fix it, armed with a print out of just her narrative, my laptop and my notebook.

 

2017, let’s go.

 

P.s. before 2016 is never mentioned again, here’s the animation that an amazing artist made from the-hobby‘s drawings:

The comic book that these drawings are taken from is available at Orbital Comics, London and online via Stars Dots and the New Junk.

 

P.p.s. Performing a remembering of a memory live as part of Forest Fringe‘s residency at Somerset House last year helped me to reset myself. Beautiful artists doing beautiful things and nice people being nice.

 

Nice pipes Tamika

The book I’m writing (very slowly as it is becoming quite personal) now has snuck its way into the first person plural. I loved Eugenides’ Virgin Suicides written in the ‘we’ and ‘us’ voice but I dunno if I’ll be able to pull it off.

My work practice is sneaking into my writing too. I’m writing and talking a lot about movement, memory, the performed and the moment of disappearance in the live. D and I made a kind of comic book ages ago together: kind of to try out the Cage/Cunningham model of creating something in different but related art-forms without the art-forms being subject to one another… so for Cage/Cunningham the choreography and the music were on equal ground. Neither one were in the ascendant to the other. So with the book/pamphlet/artist leaflet that D and I made. It’s since turned into something a little more concrete now tho. Stars Dots and the New Junk contributed a CD to go with it and it’ll be sold in Orbital comic book shop in Soho, London til the limited run we made is all gone. I shan’t tell you what it’s called though, as my involvement was always supposed to be a mute form of writing seen from the corner of your eye. The original object was meant to be anonymous and left around to be picked up by strangers, so if possible maybe it can still have some of that despite its 15 minutes of fame this evening at the music launch.

cool poster

Let me know if you think the first person plural is going to be a really bad idea.

If you’re going to be up North, then go to this exhibition. I had something to do with it. Despite that, it is very good.

Writing seems to be urgent now. What else can I do but document.

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

Asking

It’s an ‘Ask’. It’s what you write so that someone says ‘Yes.’

Proposals I’ve written in my dance heritage job sometimes don’t have a strong enough ask, or clear enough. They don’t help someone see why they should care, never mind give money or other kinds of support. It’s a skill to figure out what sort of Ask leads to getting what you need. I’ve been improving. Sometimes the swell of support has even breached its banks and I flip like fish unrivered until I get my regain my bearings.

What inspires a bound from No to Yes?

This week gone I’ve had to think of different ways to ask for a work trip abroad, to write a job description and, most difficult of all, I’ve had to think of a way to ask an agent whose client list I adore, ‘Will you read my work? Will you please?’

I went to the 2016 Curtis Brown and Conville and Walsh Discovery Day at Foyles, first page of Outrigger curled in my bag and a 30 second pitch memorised. Amelie* and I had the same time slot. We met first for lunch to calm ourselves down. We talked about work, about career moves, about trying to live in London when you’re not an oligarch. Becalmed we went to Foyles. Too calm. We were convinced that we were early when in fact we were about to be late, oops.

Foyles is a beautiful bookstore. We queued in its well dazzled by books. I was holding it together. Then I was shown to my agent, turns out she is my dream agent, ahhahaha yikes. And she asks me to pitch my book and my memory slips away, and I somehow reel it back and I am floundering but she likes my page and she says, ‘Send it to me.’

I can’t ask for more than this.

 

*(superstar writer you’ll read a lot about one day)