Quick note in addition to my Wednesday blog: this week has been… a bit not good. Tough, even. I expected myself to Do Stuff to do with my permanent residency – something that I am beginning to accept might not happen, because as I do the research, it turns out that the way I worked, earned and survived might not be good enough for the British taxman. I am still looking into it, but also trying to let it go slowly. I wanted this. Settled status will still be a option, later. We will see.
It is a very strange thing to think of the years I’ve spent in this country – growing up, learning about myself, trying, failing, designing my artistic career – as a retroactive audition for citizenship. I certainly didn’t “perform” my life to earn a passport, I haven’t come over with that in mind. I’m not the most business-minded person, although I am working to change that: that means that when I registered as self-employed, it was to find out whether I could hack it as a performer and get legally paid. It doesn’t mean I had what is considered a “viable business idea” or knew how to realise such an idea. Or earned enough to prove that in retrospect I was The Correct Kind Of Potential Resident.
So many of us. Doing cash-in-hand jobs, floating, trying to be free, trying to survive, trying to be artists, performers, to add beauty to life. In this new world order, we are so vunerable, so unpractical, considered unnecessary and extraneous, of low value. Kafka-esque paperology. Good thing I know that my value doesn’t rest on it.
And today is Friday. So I went swimming. I love swimming. For now it’s enough.
It’s the middle of my working week – which starts Sunday evening and finishes Thursday afternoon – and I am pondering this query: what is a treat?
See, I like a treat. I enjoy treats a lot. I like a bit of chocolate, a frothy cappuccino, a drink. Sometimes I discover I don’t enjoy the taste of some of those things (down with milk chocolate!) as much as I enjoy the very idea of a treat.
To discuss treats, I have to mention what I eat; have to mention specific dietary requirements, so if you don’t like reading about any food restriction, maybe stop at this bit.Continue reading “What Is A Treat?”→
This week has been a week. I kicked ass at work if I say so myself – I feel more confident and overall better at the job, which is great; I got a haircut, which… suits me pretty well, but is a departure from my usual style and I feel a bit weird about it.
I also got my place into a kind of chaos: I flew to visit my Mum previous weekend, so there was no cleaning done – between the job and two quizes, I’m just happy I got away without a major organisational disaster. The only thing is, I got a bit sick as a result, so had to skip my swimming class today. Which I’m not happy about. But you can’t really cheat lack of sleep and this is how it caught up to me.
So what’s the first thing you do when you’re on top of Mountain Chaos?
The first thing you do is: rest.
Counterintuitive, I know. I get to the point when I feel quite aggravated by the mess, if overwhelmed by it. But today… today me and Manbear slept in and crawled out at some unholy hour in the afternoon. There was coffee, naps, conversations, I made fluffy pancakes, and somewhere in between all of it I felt myself unwind.
And that feeling, right there, is what Fridays are for. This is why I took a paycut from my (not substantial!) teacher pay; this is why I am creating a blogging habit and trying to cultivate things that don’t give me immediate career returns. Capitalist millennial bullshit aside, today is my day to breathe and maybe get my hair stroked, and watch last episode of Marie Kondo.
And if I just so happen to make a pot of tea, put a podcast on and meander through my room folding a random article of clothing, well – I don’t have to do that; nobody makes me do that. And that, all in all, makes a difference.*
*I have not in any way committed to folding any clothing. I might try playing the piano instead.
It’s Sunday. I have about 24 % on my phone battery and the charger point at my EasyBus seat is broken. I’m taking an A7 from Stansted to Waterloo, typing this up, because it’s the weekend and on weekends I blog. I need to close the loop, even if I’m tired and it feels like I have little to say.
I flew to Poland on Friday. It was my Mum’s birthday, and instead of sending expensive flowers I sent myself via a cheap flight. My Mum doesn’t really need extra Stuff that gifts bring, so I went all experiential. She was delighted. I should do this more often.
When I was on the plane I came up with a phrase “sexual loser”: provocative, something that gives me feelings and thoughts. I’m not in a position to write that essay, it feels: I don’t have the space required to approach it. Perhaps it’s possible to shove deep writing in the margin’s of one’s life, but I’ve never been able to do it with anything longer than a poem. This is an essay: I have mottos and quotes. Perhaps something to throw on my Medium profile when I resurrect it.
Instead, I have this blogpost, sandwiched between commitments – as am I, between the window and my seatmate. I will get home via Tesco, hold the Manbear briefly and go do my Sunday night quiz. It is the stuff of my life, this pay-the-bills work, but today I’d like to read “Queer: A Graphic History” and be held and do some writing instead.
This is a post about when things go ever so slightly wrong and you can’t deal with them, because you PLANNED this and the plan was PERFECT and now everything is a DISASTER and…. what was this blog called again?
Yes. That. So.
I am ever so sliiiightly frustrated this week.
It’s half-term week. A week that, as special school teachers, we count the days to. Every so often, in that ten minutes before children arrive, we do the math of weeks and days and half-laughing, half-seriously say: can’t wait. Because the job is exhausting as well as f*cking magic, and beautiful and great. We count the days. We get tired. We get a week.
Being me, which means – set to productivity (a.k.a. a human brainwashed by capitalism, also ambitious and hungry for success); amazingly busy; with a lot of errands; – I made plans for half-term. Frankly, I made more plans than I knew what to do with. I made too many plans. I overplanned. But there were errands that needed doing, that I’ve been really dragging my feet about. I needed to buy glasses (done, FINALLY), do a blood test (nope, it’s been only 1.5 month now) and work on my citizenship stuff. Oh, and also, there was a gig.
As it happened, the week came to be dominated by The Gig. The gig in question was Sing It Wrong, a fantastic song parody night that I really wanted to do. I SANG TWO SONGS OKAY AND I AM SO PROUD, I DID A THING! First of all I sang about being in my thirties and looking for meaning of life, and I thought that it wouldn’t be funny, but it really was…:
The second song was The Song – the one I was most scared of, most excited about. The one that I stayed up to edit the soundtrack for, the one that I spent over two hours writing the lyrics. I rapped to Missy Elliott’s Work It. Specifically, I rapped about Brexit. To Missy Elliott’s Work It. You read that right.
The gig was absolutely brilliant. It also threw my entire week plan off the cliff.
The first two days of half-term I got up at 8, did an hour of work on citizenship from 9 (okay, on Tuesday I did 4 hours, I got a bit single-minded) and tried to rest or get errands done for the rest of the time. But Tuesday night I stayed up to mess around with Audacity (yeah, my Missy Elliott track was creatively edited). So on Wednesday there was no early morning or citizenship work. I did go swimming though, so one win there. But then!
I COULDN’T GET OFF THE INTERNET.
In addition to my typical post-gig hangover (no, there was no drinking, just a slight emotional exhaustion), I wound up watching my videos all the time and sending them to people. Artistic self-promotion is really tiring (and it was also not in my plans at all), but I suddenly had this very strong and manic need for Everyone To Love This Thing I’ve Done, Right Now. I was bursting with it, and despite being embarrassed, wanted to share it ith everyone!
(…I get that way sometimes when something creative just WORKS. The high tends to be directly proportional to how excited and nervous I was about doing something (in this case: VERY). I just kept watching this person on the screen being seemingly super confident with her clown persona (video 1) or with her sexiness and dancing (video 2), moving the mic stand about purposefully to fit her needs (something that I actually don’t remember doing, that’s how automatic it was). I couldn’t conceive how easy it all looked on the screen – even though I was so nervous during the second song that I didn’t HEAR people cheering. If you watch the video, mid-song I am asking the audience to “give me some love”, because I physically do not perceive it at that moment. But at the same time, I am clearly inhabiting myself in this larger-than-life way and it’s facinating.)
But here we are on Saturday and… post-gig exhaustion persisted on Thursday: a social day when I had meetings with friends. It’s lucky it included someone cooking me breakfast….! Whenever I was not with humans, I was looking at a screen. I relaxed my normal social media habits, because of course you get excited about a gig video and it’s been awhile since I’ve had something fun to share! But it quickly morphed into reading about Brexit, about women being discriminated against in design and OMG ALL OF THE THINGS ON ALL MEDIA. MY BRAIN. OW.
Result: aside from my swimming class I did fuck-all on Friday. Well, except cooking and inhaling a large amount of food. Today (Saturday) I delayed leaving the house for two hours (and also slept eleven hours, what the hell). And now I’m writing the blog, not cleaning or doing laundry or whatever, because of all the things to do, this one was the most accessible. It is clear to me that I am tired. It is also clear that tomorrow’s date with Manbear (previously described as Gentleman Caller) will consist of me putting laundry loads in and dusting and things, and that’s kind of not how I pictured it.
Tally Of Frustration
This is the moment when I should probably stop myself and look at this week’s achievements. Look at me, being all mad because I didn’t clean and cook lunches. True: these things do matter in terms of setting myself up for a good working week (I think I have only one evening off!). But I’ve made considerable headway into my residence research, played a gig, chose a glasses frame (after months of dithering, because I didn’t like any of them. I just had to pick something in the end) and wound up getting some likes on the old Facebook page. Frankly, if I were in my depressed phase, making it to a swim class would definitely be enough of an achievement for one day! It’s just because I’m not, my expectations for myself are high. Too high maybe. Possibly the expectations don’t match reality very well.
In the end, half-term meant to be restful and all, I found myself missing my regulated work existence – 7 am wake-up, the same breakfast, the same hours. Waking up whenever and choosing a long-to-make breakfast is nice occasionally, but perhaps part of my anxiety is here simply because I’ve had too many choices this week. Perhaps at some point I’ll make like Obama or Jobs and have a set amount of the same clothing (I’m not far off with my work wardrobe). So it could be that the tally of frustration is here, because I had way too much choice and I need less of it. Go figure.
I’m still tired. And hungry. And a worthy human being even if today I struggled to get sh*t done. I have to keep writing to remind myself of that.
2019 is definitely an in-progress year. While that applies to all of them to an extent, I am putting a lot of things in place – new routines, goals, thoughts even – that will look amazing a year from now, but are rather unremarkable at present. Examples?
I’m writing this blog because I miss writing, and I’m unwilling to wait for it until I figure out what exactly the writing should be. I just hope that when I do, this burgeoning writing habit will serve me to achieve it!
I started swimming again, or more precisely realised my dream and signed up for a swimming class. It is absolutely awesome and my delight at being in water is only growing. On the flipside, I’m only three classes in: all the benefits of this habit (except the immediate unbridled joy!) will be visible on the other side of 12 months or so…
I have a job with a pension. What that means, exactly, is something I need to investigate – I always found these things rather overwhelming, but it’s time to bite the bullet and understand them. There are also financial routines being organised. I have binders with invoice print-outs. No, really.
In addition to sorting out my physical health (which, next to swimming, features physiotherapy, blood tests and a fearsome-looking foam roller), I am doggedly pursuing better mental health. I try to rest more (whatever that means), be careful about creating and maintaining mental health routines and manage my news exposure.
I am (kind of) (sort of) (maybe) growing my hair (a bit). It’s a strange, reluctant feeling. I don’t look like me anymore. I’ve changed on some deep level and I feel the need to reflect that in my hairstyle. I am a bit uneasy with it; not yet sure whether I like that brand new me… but exploring this new instinct the way a dog sniffs at an unknown object.
Perhaps the whole summary could be that I’ve changed and I’m trying to keep up with it.
Setting boundaries is a thing – particularly with myself. Sorting out how much I am able to work; how much I am able to own in terms of physical objects before I get overwhelmed; how much I can achieve, especially if I narrow down the amount of the decisions I make on the daily basis… all of this doesn’t happen spontaneously, it is legitimate painstaking work.
For all of that, I feel content with my life. It is small at present, but mine to own, mine to design. I may be an anxious human, prone to distraction and trying to do everything at once, but I’m also capable of learning. I am done with frustration, a feeling that has defined majority of my adult life: I’m finished being unhappy with who I am. The question isn’t what I could have achieved if things were different: it is what can I achieve exactly as I am.
It’s not going so well. Weekend is traditionally a work event for me. I do my artistic work, I work as a quizmaster on Sundays… gigs and catching up on admin, not to mention housework, are the name of the game. I also tend to see The Gentleman Caller on weekends (okay, totally borrowing the name off Captain Awkward…. I’ll write about naming confusion another time). Overall, weekends tend to be low on me-time and high on “clean up debris of the week/write some invoices”-time, with a date or a gig thrown in the mix. And I keep realising that this resting thing… I don’t know how.
There are articles on this. How millenials have to manage diverse career portfolios as well as actually survive, which – coupled with a capitalist outlook in which you should be productive at all times, and our constant connectivity (email 24/7!) – cause us to be in work mode basically every second. So that, plus my current model of life and work is a “muggle job” and my creative career and you can tell how that would mean some overtime. And all artistic role models I have ever followed tend to say the same thing, which is: YOU BETTER WORK. WORK HARDER. WORK HARDER THAN ANYBODY HAS EVER WORKED. And oh my god, I want to. But I might need some rest.
Over the years, I have tried several different types of work, creative and not. I feel the need to take some time and figure out what it is that I should be doing to survive and thrive. Has Beyonce ever taken a year off to Find Herself? I don’t actually know. I do know that my body has finally rioted, so I need to prioritise workouts and physio; my mind is not far behind, hence media fasts and getting recommendations for therapy; and every time I try to rest, I default to reading something on the screen, or doing more work (conversely, I often procrastinate when I HAVE to do work, which leads me to believe that I’m tired). I tried to take a nap the other day, it was so unnatural. I used to really enjoy drawing with a friend, but these sessions tapered off, and whenever I try to do anything like that, I get attacked by guilt because I’m Not Being Productive. There seems to be no way out of it.
I don’t mean to sound all that hopeless. But this mythical beast of Work/Life Balance seems exactly that, mythical. How do people do this? Some days I move seamlessly from one kind of work to another and it’s kind of nice that way – I’ll do housework, than admin, then cooking and I feel like I achieved something by the end. Other days, especially when I go to work for 8 hours (well, I leave 7.30 and come back 6 pm or later), it’s very hard to do anything more. I want to instill habits in myself – meditation, exercise, cleaning, frequent writing…. so far all I managed is a weekly blog. Which is a start.
Or maybe I’m just too tired? It’s hard to tell. So far, 2019 has seen me reduce sugar intake and increase exercise (hello, weekly swimming classes, how nice to see you), as well as change my contract from fulltime to 4 days a week. I quit one quiz. I hardly ever gig (and I miss it…). But I still feel the need to take time, to rest. What would it take for this life of mine to actually function? I have no answers yet.
Today is the day! It is time I end my media fast. It brought me some interesting thoughts that I’d like to share with you.
Down with Facebook! I found that I like not being on it quite so much. Letting the notifications pile up allowed me to see them for what they are: work for an online corporation that I put in for free. While I very much enjoy keeping in touch with friends, it has been useful to challenge my Facebook habits and I think I will keep this mode of more distanced engagement.
Less emotional upset. Thanks to my media fast I read less articles, political and otherwise. While I always enjoyed reading such content, in recent months I realised that it was taking a toll on my emotional state. The endless arguments on Twitter definitely raise my blood pressure and the Someone Is Wrong On The Internet syndrome is something I am happy to do without. So while I still read the odd article, there is less of it and I’m able to choose to engage, rather than devouring the contents of my timelines.
Really missed Netflix. Chilling with an episode of something Netflix-adjacent is definitely my preferred mode of relaxation. I also have favourite YouTube channels that I have craved! Having said that, when I was approaching burnout in the last months of 2018, watching this stuff functioned as a brain candy of sorts: it would help me not think about the immediate problems, but wouldn’t solve any of them. Disengaging has been helpful.
Haven’t read many books. I found that relaxing with an actual book is a thing I struggle to let myself to do. Somehow doing stuff on the screen, even if I’m reading, feels more like work and therefore more “allowed”? That feeds into a bigger phenomenon of giving myself permission to rest and switch off. The things I did read, I ended up bingeing, disrupting my sleep schedule. I sense that my next project will be devoted to my relationship with the written word.
Listened to some podcasts and albums. I didn’t have time to listen as much as I wanted to, but I definitely enjoyed listening to a curated album or playlist (although I had to be offline for that, even Spotify Premium sneaks in recommendations, thanks very much!). I also ventured into listening to podfic (podcast of a fanfic) and very much enjoyed that.
Paid close attention to my favourite newsletters. It was pretty good to actually read those; I signed up for newsletters to learn things and it feels good to follow through on that!
I learnt how to use Pixlr, a new photo editing app. Which is kind of fun, but I know I did it because I wanted something to do on my phone…. screen-free time is definitely a work in progress!
I wrote some fun poetry! It was definitely easier to write it in the first week of the challenge, but poetry has happened and there are plans for more of it… .
Somewhere along the way, I did my taxes, had friends over for a vegan brunch and turned thirty two: my life hasn’t suffered from my media intake choices, I just filled my time differently. I managed to make some important life decisions such as scaling back on work and choosing to focus on certain creative projects over others. Still ahead of me: citizenship debacle, not to mention Brexit itself. But for now, I will try and relax. It’s my birthday weekend, there is a certain someone who will cook me dinner tonight and my media fast is officially over. I’m not guaranteeing anything, mind you – but it might be time for Netflix and chill… .
I’m not sure when it started or what are its actual ingredients. But the symptoms have persisted through the years. That is, I may be bad at resting. Or maybe: my priorities can be really out of whack. Or maybe: if I can’t summarise it, I can’t tell it fully. But I can tell you the results.
Last two months of 2018 were the hardest ever, workwise (aside from first two months of 2018, but that’s a separate story). I had two shows, two pub quizes per week, an emotionally and physically demanding full-time job with autistic children and my own artistic practice. Rather tellingly, all the work I was doing required being very Out There for other people: whether I’m hosting a pub quiz or working in the school, there is always an audience that I perform for. And I love that; it plays to my strengths. And yet.
Above me in the shows: Behind The Scenes at Studio Mandelbrot (a charming improv sci-fi set in alternative 70s) and Snow Q (a blend of fairy tale, poetry and performance art, in which I was the solo actor). I loved doing both of those!
There are people who routinely work 70-hour weeks. I have the greatest respect for those people and I presume that it takes a unique combination of endurance, determination and balance in creating efficient work routines as well as building in self-care. This is something I understand in abstract, but when it comes to work, I just expect myself to take everything on and excel. To make this more complex, I really do enjoy a demanding, fast-paced environment: I cook lunches and organise myself ruthlessly and – thrive. But in the last months of 2018 things got out of control: my motivation was flickering, I was angry, sad and got sick all the time. I kept trying to rest; I reserved Wednesday evenings for soothing baths; I refused social invitations, because between quizes and rehearsals I was out way too much – but I was also missing my friends and had no time to see them. All of these attempts were too little, too late. I was hoping that I’d rest during Christmas, but despite a wonderful holiday I came back to work with a sense of doom and unhappiness.
And so I had to deal with it.
First week back to school I asked for risk assessment for my injury – something I postponed, because the injury didn’t seem very serious and me being put on risk assessment would put pressure on the rest of my team. I followed this by three days of sickness absence and a decision to go from full-time to four days a week. I quit one of my two pub quizes. I quit the improv team I was heavily involved in. I started quitting things left and right, and saying “no” to more things cropping up. I quit media (as you know if you read my previous posts), I quit reading about politics especially, I quit trying to make all of my art projects at the same time. I quit, I quit, I quit. And then I quit some more.
There is more to it, of course. I have injuries that needs physiotherapy and general dealing with. I’m in my thirties now, which seems like a good time to get some spine muscles and improve my posture: I will likely keep that spine for next 30-50 years, so it’d be nice to maintain a decent user experience. My mental health could also use a tune-up – another thing that I’ve been postponing, but inevitably will need more if I don’t look at it sooner rather than later. All these things require time and effort and I had to make space for them.
And there is British citizenship – something I keep being scared about and need to do research on. Miraculously, my tax return actually affords me the money to pursue it. I hope that’s a sign of some sort.
So what now? Last week was my first week on a 4 day contract. On Friday I slept in, did some admin and went on a date to a museum and to see a show. Saturday was taxes, Sunday – brunch with friends and quiz. I try not to worry about citizenship, if only because it won’t help. I think twice before accepting any invitations, but also have more energy to be social as well as some actual time to enjoy London. Chances are I’ll be earning less: on average this move cost me some serious money that I hope my freelance work will absorb a little. But overall, I am happy: my personal life is thriving, I have plans to finish a play this year and maybe learn how to apply to Arts Council. I found some small satisfaction in things being as they are. I keep reminding myself to enjoy it.