Thursday, 14 September 2017

20.17 Blog #30: Make it till you fake it (or: Say F Off to the Pay Off)

Life is not mathematics.  Energy + time + money does not = happiness/money/sucess

For a long time I think I bought into the myth, prevalent in the Arts for sure, one day you will 'make it'.  You will be the actor/writer/director that you idolise.  I sometimes feel, far even beyond politicians, that artists are placed on pedestals.  Glorification.

There's a constant phrase bandied around that your energy + time + money will 'pay off'.  Well, not always.  Some people are just in the right place, and right time.  Some people are thrown opportunities at them.  Some people have to work twice as hard because their have the world stacked against them in a sexist/racist/classist/ablist world.  Sometimes you work hard in the wrong direction.  Like a wonky swimmer splashing in the wrong direction:  land was off to the east.  Sorry, you spent hours swimming to the west and nothing but emptiness.

I wrote about this in another blog about The Land Of Should.  Expectations and assumptions are not always healthy for artists.  I should be getting paid gigs, I should be working on an album I should be getting up earlier, I should be healthier, I should be better.

And, yes, if you do put a lot of energy into a task you will get better.  Practising guitar or a new language.  Getting better at free-writing, getting better at learning poems, getting better at mic technique.  But career-wise, it's trickier.  We talk of 'paying off' like it's a reward.  It has its origins as a gambling term from 1905, only in 1951 recorded as meaning 'to be profitable'.  The greasy hint of money hovers around the phrase.

When does something 'pay off'?  2 weeks?  5 years?  When you hit 30?  When you don't worry about money anymore?  When you've impressed our 12-year old selves?  When you've impressed your parents?  When you win the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Essentially, I think there's a difference between a 'goal' and a 'reward' and a 'pay-off'.  Rewards imply you are given something for your service or attitude or achievement.  There's a power structure (maybe with Christian undertones) that someone with more authority 'rewards' you.  I don't like that very much.  Goals can be small  Goals can be achievable.

So the 'payoff' in a film is when you stick it out, and then something much more exciting happens at the climax.  You paid into the film, and the payoff is the end result of your attention.  But of course the whole time you are making and working should be a ups and downs and waves and slumps of experiences, not a journey leading to one single point.

I guess this is one of the lessons I need to learn for myself, and use this blog to remind myself:  The arts are bloody hard.  Don't expect anyone to hand you anything just because you did work in the past.  Just because your CV is impressive.  Just because you have put loads of time, energy and money into your projects doesn't mean at some fixed point there will be a specific, financial, appreciative career payoff where someone gives you ALL the commissions and ALL the awards and ALL the gigs and ALL the respect.  There is no magical point.

It's a road, not a upwards climb to a plateau.  But, along this road are many celebrations, victories and successes.  Try to acknowledge them.

Monday, 4 September 2017

20.17 Blog #29: Refresher on Freshers

10 years ago Tony Blair has just transferred from being PM to a memory, and Gordon Brown was sat in Office, continually making the mistake of not calling a General Election.  The following year, the Banks would crash.  ULP!

Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs were now well-established mainstream stalwarts and a hundred thousand white indie lads found other white indie lads to make jangly guitar pop in a great swathe of WHOA-OH-OAH-OHS.

Memes were just kinda like the little stick guy who goes ‘I see what you did there’ and ‘close enough.  No one had played Pokémon for 8 years.  UKIP were getting big, but they’d get bigger.


September I started University, a year after most of my chums.  I took a Gap Year, and was all the better for it.  Done a bit more travelling, discovered a bit more music, discovered a bit of more of drinking culture.  Read loads of Pinter and Beckett.  Its cliché, but I did ‘find myself’ in the fact I was more comfortable, much more of an adult now I was 19 rather than 18.

I didn’t go far, gentle reader.  York is only 25 minutes away on the train and my grandparents would visit with my Dad regularly, with gift aides full of biscuits and…biscuits.

After a year of being out of education, I was keen to get my teeth stuck into lectures and essays.  My course focused on the academic approach to theatre-making:  ideas, language, theory, concepts.  The physical workshops supplemented the seminars.  I enjoyed myself, and meeting new people.

Freshers week I joined a whole host of societies.  Student Radio, Student Newspaper, Film-making, Theatre, Tea-Lights (comedy), Punk, Rock, Music Library and probably a load of others that have slipped into memory, their membership cards lost to time.

So why am I typing this, for my own sweet swathe of nostalgia?  No, like most of my blogs, it’s a gentle outpouring of thoughts to try and offer some insight to the world out there.

University was hard for me.  It was brilliant, but also hard.  I had such a tight, beautiful friendship circle back home in York, it was hard to recreate anything resembling that network.  Even though I made some totally wicked mates I’m still in contact with today, I had to deal with an intense feeling that I ‘wasn’t doing it right’.
Though probably not true, my general anxiety (which I now understand more) meant I felt like I was always out of the loop.  I struggled to find somewhere to live in 2nd year as everyone else seemed to have found mates, a house and a new life like a breeze. It felt like parties happened on my periphery, I wasn’t always in the Theatre shows.  I was the weird one.  Obviously not true, but true enough in my head.

I hope not to offend any friends I had at Uni, you were (and are) rad super awesome people.  But the vastness of University was a hard slog navigating so much.  I think there were some moments which were the hardest of my life.  Certainly the hardest up until that point.

I was going to post a link to an article, but all you need to do is google 'student mental health' for a whole heap of stats which may be hard, if somewhat unsurprising, viewing.

So I’d like to offer some advice for anyone starting University, or restarting, or generally existing in a space outside their comfort zone:

·         It’s OK to think things aren’t going right.  They might be going right.  They might, in all honestly, be going totally wrong.  But it’s OK to feel like you’re failing, you’re not weak for acknowledging your fears and concerns.
·         Find a world outside Uni.  I went to a lot of music gigs and got chummy with people in the ska-punk scene, but also found solace in the theatre and spoken word/poetry.  The Uni scene is a bubble, it’s nice to pop out.  Same for visiting another nearby city, I was often jumpig on trains to Manchester, Bradford and Huddersfield.  Good space to think, trains.
·         It’s obviously depending on money and geography, but nowt wrong with visiting home.  Either as a special mega cool event, or just to sleep in your own bed for a change.
·         Don’t try and forcibly re-invent yourself.  But do try and think outside whatever box you currently felt like you were pinned in.  It is your chance to try something new.  This could be anything from going veggie to forming a band to getting involved in politics to dying your hair to going for nice walks to whatever. Or just making more pasta dishes, watching new films or doodling more often.
·         Having been out of ‘education’ for 7 years I have learnt two very very big lessons.
1.  Value those 3 years where you can learn, explore, feed and debate in education.

2.  Post-Uni, never stop learning.  Dictate your own education.