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Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Last in a Line of Beautiful Mistakes

Another photo of me from flickr.

...it won't be poetry, just poverty, my love.

Don't mind me, I spent last night listening to Jack's The Jazz Age and thinking about the ways in which we learn about ourselves. I always thought that Pioneer Soundtracks and The Jazz Age are two of the best albums I've ever owned. Both were critically acclaimed, but failed to sell. I'm not entirely sure if I'd describe them as an unsuccessful band for being dropped by their label and spurned by the record-buying public when the music they made had such a lasting impression on people like me. I know the words to all the songs on those two records.

Before we can say something or someone is a failure, we really need to be able to know what success would look like so we can compare. I don't think anyone, themselves included, imagined Jack would be the next big thing - and that their career was as doomed as the characters in their songs just seems apt, somehow. In the same way, if you're going to look at yourself and say that you're failing, you need to know what success for you would look like, and as such, you need to know if it's possible with what you've got to work with.

Knowing that means knowing yourself, which is a very challenging feat. I'm not sure we can easily say we know anything about ourselves without turning to other people for information or comparison and that's where this kind of data collection gets difficult.

Last night, I had the best kind of internet hook-up, where I went round to someone's house to teach them to crochet because that's what we'd been talking about and because I have a car. We spent ages talking about music and I taught him a couple of stitches while we chatted. To me, that's a really successful connection to make - it was funny and friendly. For others, it would probably seem creepy and weird. I guess I'm not other people.

Anyway, we were chatting about the Fourth Plinth and I was talking about Yinka Shonibare and the guy asked me what I saw as the place I'd like to end up with my work. It's a standard interview question, but it jarred me: I just couldn't define what I'd consider success; I couldn't say what I want. Now, I doubt I'm alone in this, but the guy I was teaching crochet to had built a career around his love of music and had many markers of success (a large home, big tv, interesting-looking kettle), so the contrast got me thinking.

As a child, I was a handful because I was precocious. I know, this must be a great shock to you all. I had the whole ADHD thing going on and I think that's reflected in the bizarre scattershot of my approach to working. At art school, I was a poet and photographer. I did my dissertation about moral philosophy of science. My career as an interpreter took me into different places almost every day for ten years. In the last couple of years, I've had exhibitions of photography and I've written the first draft of a play and started writing two very different books. I've created a participatory art project. I've had journalistic writing published. Now that I'm not able to fall back so easily on what was only ever intended as a fall-back career, I'm writing a graphic novel, I'm maintaining a single-panel web comic, I'm looking to exhibit drawings and photography, I'm getting work lecturing in art galleries and I'm really not sure which of these I really want to do anything with.

It's funny to feel the pressure to be able to transform your life into a convenient strapline.

I'm learning, though, that the rules for me aren't automatically the rules other people make for themselves. I've said before that much of my making a career out of careering all over the place was that I was so hard-pressed to even survive the cards I've been dealt. The experiences of my twenties make a catalogue of disaster that becomes almost comical in its scope. The migraine that lasted a year. The murder I witnessed in Leeds. The sudden violence that broke my face. Being bipolar to begin with meant that for the longest time, survival alone was a success and my flighty nature was what kept me alive. I couldn't wallow too long because something would distract me.

Now, though, I'm not defined by the struggle or the tragedy, I'm having to re-condition myself from a lifestyle of running away. What I want is pretty simple. I want to still be here in five years' time, sat in a garden under dappled light, with a dog at my feet and Jonathan laughing next to me. Anything else just seems like a means to an end. I want to finish the Badger book. I want to make money from my sketches. I want to finish Tales Men Tell in whatever format it needs to find itself. I want to have a book published. I want to share my love of art with others. I want many things out of the years ahead of me and I'm every bit the precocious child I was when I wanted to be an actor, a vet and Spiderman.

Central to it all is that vision of the dog and the dappled light; that feeling of not having to run any more.

What does success look or feel like for you?

3 comments:

czechOUT said...

Like now.

Having a lover whose favourite place in the world is somewhere in Israel (he is *not* Jewish).

So coming to holiday with him and finding I click with this place, Tel Aviv immediately.

And being surprised. I would never have come here ever. For what purpose?

Then realising that I shouldn't be surprised. After all, that's why we are lovers. We connect on all levels. Even those that I haven't yet known or experienced.

Trust

Shalom. Toda raba

Robin said...

I find the idea of success interesting, when it's applied in such a general way.

As I don't have a career, and my studies are on hold for the time being it's hard for me to know whether I am succeeding or not. Although just being alive, ticking over, seems enough quite a lot of the time. Though I would consider a degree of independence from the state some kind of success.

There's so much I want to learn, and I think that's something that never ends, so that isn't really a case of success / failure - thet process is as important as the knowledge at the end.

Similarly just being human, connecting with other people is an ongoing process, and there's no end result to speak of.

The dog and the dappled light sounds like contentment. I would be very happy with that. I'd like to share my life, in some way, with people that like to smell privet at midnight, stand in the rain, and watch the moon. To maintain relationships (in their many forms) would be a good thing.

Cazz said...

Totally irrelevant to the subject matter, but wow, what a lovely picture of you...

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