Friday, 17 April 2015

10 Things I've Been Reading/Watching this Week (part 2)

6) 'The Emperor's New Clothes' Russell Brand

"Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed...." 

So begins Hans Christian Anderson's tale and so begins the film, with footage of the Lord Mayor in all his fine regalia, in a parade through the City of London, near all the dazzling mirrored towers where the financial industry lives. I was excited to be given the chance to preview this film on Wednesday, and I'm glad I saw it. As Russell Brand warns, none of the information is particularly surprising or revelatory, but he compiles it in his own way, navigating stories that take us from his birth town of Grays, back to the power towers of London.

I think the man is clever and has a lot of great things to say,  and I also can't quite yet forgive Russell Brand's previous comments about not voting. I also struggle with his 'cheeky chappy' persona - in part due to my own hangups - which shone through too much for me in some places. But there's a lot of good stuff in there, and a big wake up call to us... and it's timely! I'm really hoping that more people will start to push for some of the changes he recommends in this film. It can only happen through solidarity/ working together/ actively pushing for the neoliberal agenda of profits before people to be halted.

Details on its release can be found on the website. And watch out for the #ThingsCanChange hashtag.

7) General Election Debate (the one without our two current leaders)

Got home late last night after a friend's engagement party, and decided to check it out on iPlayer, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

[Yawns widely]

[Takes another whoshouldIvotefor quiz]

[Makes coffee/ gets beaten in online scrabble... again]

[Almost spits coffee out when Ed Milliband does the whole "I challenge you to a duel" routine, directed at David Cameron, looking intently into the camera]

[Sighs... and wakes up following morning with a headache]

P.s. if you missed the Lib Dems last night (Nick Clegg wasn't allowed to take part, apparently) then feel free to complain... there are guidelines on this blog post here.

8) It's Mum Joke Time... 'Don't Flop' Battle Raps

I love going to Bristol, not least because of its thriving spoken word scene. Every time I've gone up to perform, I've had a really warm welcome and always want to stay a little longer. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to Raise the Bar, which is a student poetry night at the university. The host, Danny, turns out to also be an aspiring battle rapper, Craft D. And over the weekend he sent me the video of his first battle rap.

Despite the intimate relationship between spoken word poetry/ poetry slams and the hip hop scene (Kate Tempest, Scroobius Pip, Harry Baker... need I say more?) I've never really been that familiar with UK hip hop, and most certainly not with rap battles. Standing opposite someone and having to deliver semi-prepared insults (and receive them), to the beat, isn't necessarily my idea of a good night out.

I was surprised at the slow tempo of this one, the absence of backing beats... and the obvious camaraderie in the room, fuelled by in jokes. I was also surprised to find out this one took place just down the road from me. I'm not sure I'll be entering the battle scene any time soon - and I've had enough confrontation and aggressiveness at previous jobs! - but find still find myself drawn to the challenge.

9) Disturbing videos... ('F*ck your breath')

I'll say little more, except if I see another person post a #BlackLivesMatter comment and someone else gets touchy about it, or corrects it to #AllLivesMatter, I will flip my lid. In the latest video, which I was unprepared for (can anyone who posts videos like this on social media give fair warning, so people can decide if they want to see or not?), a policeman shoots another unarmed black man... and we hear those callous words.

Of course all lives matter... disabled lives matter, teenage lives matter, women's lives matter and hey, even straight, white middle aged, middle class male lives matter. But the "Black Lives Matter" tag is to highlight the disproportionate level of black deaths in police hands and the complicity of the media and judicial systems to ignore, downplay, blame and belittle. Why do I care? 1) Because this country often takes the US lead on such matters and 2) because I believe in solidarity. Simple as.  

10) 'What I Mean When I Say I'm Working as An Artist' Harry Giles

This blog post includes a comprehensive audit of a poet's artistic life. I stumbled across part one when Harry originally wrote this two years ago and was pleased to see a follow up this week.

Tempted as I am, I'm not about to complete a full audit of my own time and money, but I think it's useful to be aware of both. I'm currently involved in several projects and now relying entirely on a freelance wage, for the first time ever (apart from a brief period in 2008-9).

I spend a lot of time on "soft" writing (see part 1 of this post for an example of what amounts to mucking about with my morning post) and admin (including anything from invoicing to (re)learning poems in front of the mirror or posting and 'liking' stuff on social media), with a fair amount of time on lesson planning and going to gigs/shows/exhibitions. Actual writing time isn't that much more than when I was working full-time, but I'm hoping it's more of an enriching experience making a solid commitment to writing.

I'm still reeling from a confrontation two years ago with a woman who was assessing some of my work. She was challenging me - and a couple of colleagues - on what she saw as time mismanagement. I complained that I struggled to prepare lessons, turn up on time to classes (I was teaching), do other part-time work, write for my own projects, perform at gigs and manage to be a balanced individual with a personal and social life. She was unimpressed, as a single mother of two children with a PhD in statistics. I sounded like a snivelling wimp when I told her about my frequent bouts of anxiety, my need for 'space' and my struggle to get organised. In some ways, she was correct in that a little organisation goes a long way to solving some of the more existential problems as a writer. But, she was wrong about everything else and I've now learned to stick up for myself and what I do. I realise I'm not lazy, after all. I have to spend more time reading and researching than writing, if I'm going to improve my craft. I also need to allow things to fertilise... and as a performer, I need to challenge myself in new ways or stagnate.... Some of this is hard to evidence; sometimes the fruits of what I'm doing don't bear until months or years later. I have to live with that and not constantly feel I have to validate my existence.

Now off to the library!


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