Thursday, 29 October 2015

UPDATE: End of October blabbering...

1. Throwback Thursday? 

This time last year, I was getting ready to go to Rio for FLUPP festival*, where I was to run a few workshops, perform at a show and take part in the International Slam. I came back with a tan, a trophy and a few more Facebook friends who I hope to see again in real life. I also came back determined to return there, and (secretly) determined never to take part in a slam again. What could top this??

While I was away, I was notified that funding had been awarded to one of my old universities for a new PhD programme. Scholarships for the arts are rare; the fact that the money, miraculously, became available made that rare thing possible. And if you've just won a slam and feel on top of the world, well, anything is possible. Of course, I applied; a few months later, I was accepted. Boom!

I'm now a few weeks in and cautiously (very cautiously) optimistic. I haven't yet got into my rhythm, but I will. I haven't yet worked out what I'm doing, but I will. These things take time. I know, for instance, that, in order to do my reading for tomorrow's lecture, I'll be up till the early hours of the morning; with better planning, I could have prepared that yesterday and be relaxing now. I'm not going to beat myself up over it.

2. What are you actually doing at university?

I find it difficult to talk about casually with strangers. But I'm actually doing a creative writing project with a research element to it. The focus of my research will be on the changing shape of Jamaican-derived Oneness Pentecostalism in London. I'll have lost some of my listeners on the creative writing aspect (I'm basically writing a novel), the majority by explaining what Pentecostal beliefs are (although there isn't a universally agreed definition) and the rest on the "Oneness" bit (it's to do with the concept of the Trinity). So basically, I lie about it.

Of course, a lot of my friends are "post"-religion and thus see its study as a little odd. The study of religion is a problematic field in any case. Having completed half this week's reading, I'm struggling to come to terms with the racist/imperialist history of this area of study. It originated from a very Western base that saw the "Abrahamic" religions as civilised and the rest as idolatry or savagery, or pre-historicpre-literate etc. Some of what has since emerged out of that paradigm** is an updated, slicker version of the same tricky standpoint, coated in less controversial language. My own interest is limited to the cultural impact of (Oneness) Pentecostalism and Jamaican migration in the 1950s/60s and the historic context of a movement within a movement that, in 2005, was said to be "the fasted growing religion in the world"***. As I explained to a friend last week, exasperated by all the intricacies in diving head first into a field I am primarily interested in for personal reasons as a fiction writer, I feel like I've walked into a busy room with an awkward atmosphere and I have to nod to the right people - and learn who hates each other - just so I can navigate my way to the back of the room safely, without getting accidentally punched by a fist meant for the person I'm walking next to. At the back of the room is a drinks table and my published book, which I'm excited about, but the room is kinda intense. The metaphor is a bit fuzzy but it makes sense to me. Maybe it'd be more useful to say it's like walking home through Camden High St and all the way up Chalk Farm road late on a Friday/Saturday night, at chucking out time (I've done this many times). You have to avoid the discarded kebabs, the projectile vomit, the random flying bottle/ broken high heels, the groups of drunk men blocking your path, the cabs making dangerous U-turns as you step into the road etc. etc. I've laboured my point. But then, once you're home, you're like: "is this it? Is this really all I've worked hard for? Shouldn't I be out, getting noticed somewhere, doing something different, not getting all cosy in bed, on my own?"

I'm writing a novel at a time when publishing is in trouble [source that later]. Even Prezzie Obama, for what it's worth, has just been saying he's worried that people are "overwhelmed by flashier ways to pass the time" than reading novels. I know writers who don't read novels. Novel writers, that is. And if I'm worried about the Western-centric history of the study of religion, well... when it comes to novel... No... I won't even...

And then, after seeing a post about the Zola story, I think... what if the future of fiction is in linked tweets, after all? What if it reads a bit like this (intriguing opener/ mysterious appearance/ road trip "quest" instigated/ shocking denouement/ build-up of drama/ persistent tension/ all within the context of a closed subculture... it's all there)? Of course, Buzzfeed reports that "everyone is having a meltdown over this story", which is more than a little dramatic. But the fact this story can instantly go viral, worldwide, in this format, can't be ignored.

If ever I feel insecure about what I('m trying to) do, there's a reason.

3. Hissy fit

If ever I feel really insecure about what I do, I seek validation. And when I don't get it in the way I want, it's dangerous. I remember one gig I performed at several months ago. I was feeling low, it was still winter, I was tired; things weren't going well...etc. I did a poem and got a few claps but no whoops. I wanted whoops. I did another poem and fluffed a line or two. I thought I heard someone slurp on their drink; the ice cubes knocking on the glass grated. I dithered over which poem to choose next, like choosing the right spell to cast that would either unleash the magic or turn me back into a mouse, but forgetting which was which (I know, it's Halloween coming up... If you can't beat them, join them) Evidently, I'd gone for mouse. The applause was polite, but lukewarm, and I was ripping my heart out and presenting it in verse! I wanted to be admired for it. I wanted to be the most powerful, wise poet in the room and for the walls to crumble and the earth to quake and all because I felt tired and lonely and perhaps, if I'm truthful, depressed. The next day, I couldn't get out of bed and I was furious with myself for feeling that way. It had nothing to do with the audience (I since got a couple of messages saying they were touched by a couple of my poems) and everything to do with me promising to do too much, with me feeling stressed, with me not taking care of myself beforehand.

(Btw, there's no real moral to the story except that now I try not to judge people who throw what appears to be hissy fits on social media etc.)

4. Missing out

So I've decided to take care of myself by not promising to do any more poetry gigs for a while (with some exceptions). I need to have a life and pursue friendships and do my studies justice. I have a couple of events left in November, a couple in December and one in January and February (my Upcoming Gigs section is almost up-to-date). Aside from those, you can find me performing in the library.

While poetry gigs are where I find community, I need to make sure I'm doing my uni work first, before I venture out. I can always come back to the gigs. There'll always be a room smelling of stale beer above a pub where poets listen to each other. And I'll find that room again and again.

Meanwhile, despite telling myself that, I can't help feeling I'm missing out. You know that new poet? The one who has that one that can make you cry? She's only like 16 and she's been writing for a month but she's genius. Like seriously. You know that line she wrote which had that amazing metaphor and you're totally going to use that in a workshop at the school because it's perfect for the exercise you've come up with and anyway, you just found a YouTube clip of her and it's not really that great because the recording's dodgy and you can't really hear but she's a.m.a.z.i.n.g. and you know she's like performing in Dalston tomorrow, which is only down the road... you wanna come? We can always run to the other gig later and catch that other poet who's going to be doing a set too... And you don't want to miss him. He's legend.

5. Quick off the mark   

So far I've missed some really interesting events. And film screenings. And gallery openings. And loads of Black History Month related stuff (including events I was invited to perform at). And plenty of gigs. And plenty of free wine. And, there I am, at 2am, wondering how relevant I am being right now and whether I should just tweet my next genius ideas or find some new media to break. it. down.

And there I am, in the afternoon, tidying up at home and using the opportunity to see what's new in the world and thinking the trick is to be quick off the mark, right? Got an idea? Write it down yesterday! A news story breaks - best have an opinion ready.

And I can't help but feel astounded by the rapid fire response to Adele's new single 'Hello'.

This is the video, in case you haven't seen it:

And, pretty much straight away, this appeared:

And, then, if that's not enough, I was amused to watch several video responses... just going onto YouTube and typing "Adele Hello reaction" unleashes a massive list of videos ranging from this (standard, hyper-excited camp response) to this (how ruude!) which goes on for pages. And the song's only been out a few days. What's going on??!

6. Let It Go

And then I think, let it go. Relax. It's fine.

I'm sitting at the top of Primrose Hill rabbiting on to a friend about how there always seems to be yet another plastic shiny building polluting my view of this city and how each is a reminder of how I'm not welcome (in some of) this new super shiny London which is pretty much kicking out all but the mega-rich, one neighbourhood at a time... and this friend, who's just got back from Germany says 'you sound just like some of the people I know in Berlin who are always moaning... actually, you sound like some of the people I know who say "with all this migration I don't recognise my own country anymore"'. And I laughed.

I know I have triggers. Like the word "street food" which emerged as a way for (usually sit-in) restaurants to charge more for tinier portions on paper plates. The word "urban" before that, which was, initially, a less controversial way of saying "black" (we're returning to theme), and now denotes anything multicultural or vaguely trendy. I see them for the cynical marketing tactics they are. But, hey, things change. It's not that big a deal. If I feel secure about my own place in the world, if I've had one of those super days where I've written half a chapter and maybe a poem and I've called my mum and met up with some friends and I've rested and the sun is shining, none of that will affect me.

7. To Be Continued

It was here I was going to write a little about the whole tax credits thing. And the "migrant crisis", as they're calling it. And how the PM just got boyed**** at PMQs (I'm asking you for the sixth time!). But I'm going to finish my work and go to bed. The rest can wait.

Wish you were here.

P.s. just a reminder, if you want a signed copy of my new poetry pamphlet, just click the link at the top of the page, (or try this one here).

P.p.s. a brief update coming soon about a couple of projects in the pipeline... Stay posted!

*this year it's a favela in the South of Rio (near the beach) and I've just found out who's doing the slam this year and I'm jumping up and down in joy - and slight jealousy - for her.

**yes, I've managed to fit the word "paradigm" into a post! (en' I clever, mum?) Next week's word: "praxis". Better yet, I'll try something from the Academic random sentence generator (i.e.Pootwattle's meditation on the relationship between the ideology of the image and the emergence of the unnamed is insufficiently problematized).  

***will source later, in case you're interested.



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