Thursday, 2 January 2020

A decade

A lot of people have been pondering their decades on social media and I wanted to do it too, albeit in a slightly more discreet/longform way. (I have really enjoyed reading all of your summaries!)

I'm going to do it mostly via the medium of visual diaries, but I only started those in 2013, so the first couple of years will be photo based...

2010

At the start of 2010 I was still at the University of Brighton, wrapping up my degree in Graphic Design.

I was living with my partner Martin, and our home life looked a lot like this:


It was cosy, and sweet, and comfortable, and I still think of him as one of my best friends, but around the time of my graduation, it became apparent that we wanted entirely different things from our lives. We had a happy three years together, but it was time for us to go our separate ways. I vividly recall us crying together for about a week, and then, he was gone, and… we moved on.


I did an art, and I graduated with a TWO TWO, which let's be honest, I am still bitter about.


I remember hating my graduation ceremony. There are lots of pictures of me pulling variations on this face.


2010 was the year White Night concided with the Zombie walk, and it was one of the most strange, magical, fun nights out I ever had. (They never let that happen again, too much chaos)


In 2010 I met Reggie, and he took me to Budapest. I still can’t quite believe that happened.



It was the first time I'd ever travelled abroad alone/without family, and it was a more 'exotic' (lol) place than I'd ever imagined myself going. I was terrified but, I did the thing. And I realised maybe I could do more than I thought. 

2011

In January 2011 I got my first ever 'real job', with Kings Education. (Spoiler alert, I am still there).


On, I think, my second day, my professional photographer colleague took me with him on a shoot. I got to go on a London tram for the first time. He took this picture of me. Look how fresh-faced and keen I am.

In January 2011 I met Ava for the first time. We had mutual friends and had been chatting on Twitter for ages, but I took them up on their invite for ice cream, because they were bored.

We got along well but were fundmentally unattracted to each other, which we both agreed was a very nice basis for a friendship, and proceeded to have a lot of ice creams together that year.


This is my having my first ever ice cream with them.


In July I had my first (and only) work in a London exhibition (in a tiny basement under a coffee shop). Here’s a bad picture of me with not my art, and two of my favs, Rosie and Heidi.

I spent quite a lot of time in London during 2011. Going on terrible internet dates, seeing art, seeing friends. It was a nice year. The latter part of 2010 had been marred by the stress of unemployment and lingering sadness of the breakup, but 2011 felt like hitting my stride as 'an actual adult with a job'.

On Christmas eve 2011, me and Ava decided that actually, maybe we were attracted to each other. The whole thing is probably a terrible idea but maybe we should just kiss a little and see what happens?

And so it went.


(I loved that flat, with its spiral staircase)

2012

I spent 2012 in new love.

When I first met Ava at the start of 2011 they joked that I only had three friends (two of them were Heidi and her partner Tristan, and the third was Ava.)

In terms of Brighton, it was technically true — though I had many friends distributed across the country — post-uni all my Brighton friends had either moved to London for work or moved back to their families. Very few people had stayed put other than me.

Unlike me, Ava couldn't walk down the street without bumping into someone they knew, and they rapidly initiated me into all their wonderful and beguiling social circles.


I met two of the best dogs (and their wonderful owner, Jess)


I got fed a rowdy Burns-night supper by a gang of life-models


I experienced my first ever truly hectic house party...

And much more besides.


I also got (relatively briefly) enthusastic about cycling...


And fell slowly in love with the crumbling anarchist palace that was Ava’s house (latterly known as the Maison D’Arc Manche).


Me and Ava got the train to Germany, which also felt very brave for me at the time.  I remember we booked the holiday around March and were like 'what if we break up before June?!'... But we did not, and it was a fun time.


In July, I moved in with Ava. A room became free in their house and I took it. It was a big, bright, beautiful space, in the heart of Brighton, and about half the price of my old flat that I'd still stayed in, alone, since Martin left.

I still love this house with all my heart.

For a while, I lived there with Ava and our other housemate Rachel, but later that year she moved out, and I managed to persuade my old school friend Alex to move in with us.

The PERFECT GANG in the PERFECT HOUSE.

2013

In 2013 I made the new years resolution that I was going to start keeping visual diaries.


To rapid critical acclaim...


I sought out CBT for my phobia of vomiting. It was hard and it has not fixed me, but it did enable a lot of progress.


I played a lot of Candy Crush Saga.


I started going to Quaker church.


And I met Alfred.

I didn’t want to go to his show. I didn’t know who he was. But Ava had to interview him and write a review of the show, and we were both tired and not in the mood but they asked me to go and support them, and… I agreed.

What ensued was probably the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to ‘love at first sight’. The moment we met Alfred, and began talking to him, I was lost.

But I didn’t take it that seriously at the time, despite the intensity of my feelings. I mean, he’s a moderately famous musician, he lives on the other side of the world, doubtless has a life all of his own. It was just nice to feel that way about someone (and an interesting first recognition that it’s entirely possible to fall for someone else without that diminishing the love in an existing relationship in the slightest.)

2014

In February 2014 I organised a big holiday with a weird gathering of people I love — Ava, our housemate Alex, three old school friends, Naomi, Sarah and Ieuan, and Ava's friend Justin.


We stayed in a big cottage in Whaley Bridge and played lots of boardgames.


Maybe I didn't do very much else in 2014. Funny how that happens sometimes. Me and Ava went to Germany again. When Alfred came back to the UK in November I asked if he'd like to hang out and he said yes, and it sort of felt like we were actually friends. Other than that, just existing, really.

I'm pretty sure at some point that year Justin moved in with us. I have no clear record of when I first met Justin, or when this happened, and I don't even feel like I knew him that well when he moved in, but he grew to become one of the most important people in my life this decade. (Not to mention the fact that through him I met a huge number of people who I've ended up also becoming great friends with, working with, generally being interested in the lives of.)


2015

In 2015 I decided I should try and get fit, and I tried to do that via the means of bouldering.


I kept it up for a few months too, until I (lol) hit a wall with it.


On January 12th I got my first ever bike puncture and I NEVER CYCLED AGAIN. True story.

Also in January, loads of people I love left (temporarily or permanently)





But hey, it's not all sad.


Ed! (We all got a bit optimistic about that didn't we. Oh, more innocent times.)



In truth I look back on the years 2013 – 2016 in something of a haze. I was just… working. And cooking. And drawing. And existing. And it was nice. I loved Brighton. And we had so many friends. It makes my heart soar to remember. The Maison D’arc Manche was a welcoming, warm house to so many. I would put a random shout on Facebook asking ‘who wants to come over tonight for pizza!’ Or Chinese food. Or boardgames. Or to help us garden in exchange for a big dinner. Or to do Christmas crafts. And… people would just come, even if they didn't know who else was coming. 3, or 4, or 5, or 10, or more. And we’d all squeeze into that ridiculous little living room with it’s 5 doors and play games and laugh and eat and drink, and in many ways, these were glory days. I look back and think I didn’t accomplish much in those years, but in truth, I was very happy.








We had another friends holiday — me, Ava, Justin (freshly returned from India on fieldwork), George, Jess and Ieuan. It was a canal boat holiday, and in many ways, I hated it. I don't like boats. No one wanted to do the boat stuff. Why couldn't we have just stayed in a hotel?! BUT, lovely people, and our trip passed through Hebden Bridge on a glorious summer weekend... Ava had been saying for a couple of years that we should move there. While I'd initially been quite dismissive of the idea, as our Brighton rent slowly ticked up, and Ava became ever more unhappy there, I started to see some sense in the idea.



Me, Ava and Justin went for a walk at the height of summer that nearly killed the three of us. 


Also in 2015 I:
Hung out with Lump the dog a lot
Decided I was fat, bought a Fitbit and started religiously doing 10,000+ steps a day
Started the training process to become a Samaritans listening volunteer (which I would later sadly have to drop when we decided to move away)


I also started hip hop dance classes, to... limited success.

And (not pictured) continued to lurk in Alfred's peripheral vision whenever he was in the country...

2016


In 2016 I spontaneously got my nose pierced and immediately felt about 10x more powerful


For my birthday, I lavishly treated myself to one of Mike Meyer's hand-lettering courses in London, and it was an utter joy.



By this point me, Ava and Justin were very firmly established as like some kind of super-gang (truth is I did, and still do think of them as family)



Briefly went to therapy because I was feeling some general discontent as well as a couple of specific issues I wanted to deal with. She was entirely unhelpful and tried to get me to identify feelings as textures and colours and sensations in my body parts. I stopped seeing her very quickly.

June 2016 was a lot, do you remember it? I'll let some drawings do the talking:










I kind of feel like that month pinpoints the beginning of the time when everything (personal, global, political) sort of... sped up, somehow. Like a constant crashing towards a season finale that never came, and still, has not come...

In July we went to Amsterdam.


I really love Amsterdam, and in the wake of recent politics, semi-seriously daydream of trying to move there, but it feels impossible, and by this point we're pretty sold on the Hebden Bridge dream.


I keep lurking.


And I meet Charlie for the first time.


It feels vaguely ridiculous to mention individual day trips in a 10 year period, but on October 1st 2016, me and Ava and Justin went on what might be the most over-the-top day trip any of us ever have, or will go on. I even dedicated two pages of visual diary to it.



This adventure was in part undertaken because at this point we had made the decision that we were going to move to Hebden Bridge in the following January, and wanted to do lots of southern sightseeing before we went.

The latter part of my 2016 was spent making that move happen.





2017

I feel like since 2017 I've had a lot more situations where I've thought 'that might have been the most stressful month of my life', but... January 2017 might have been the most stressful month of my life.



Basically the entire month was drawings like this. It shouldn't take an entire month to empty a house/clean a house/pack a house, but the Maison was not just any house, it was a house with decades and decades of other people's detritus and filth layered through it, and it took all of my energy and determination to restore it to its correct state. (Ava was adamant we had to get our deposit back but sometimes I still wonder if it wouldn't have been better to have just walked away and called it a write off, but ho hum)


And then, vans, and trains, and boxes, and cleaning products, and stress and the whole thing is a whirlwind, and...


I live in Hebden Bridge now.



And almost immediately, Charlie came into our lives.


The following few months were a whirlwind of... questioning my choices, I guess? I didn't really openly admit to it at the time, but I did question whether dog ownership was a responsibility too far. I've always been very clear about not wanting a child, but here I am somehow with this little being who is in many ways just as demanding as a child (though WAY nicer to be around), and my life is now basically shaped around walking him from 2 – 3 hours a day.

And not just walking him, but walking him in the RAIN (ugh) in the COUNTRYSIDE (ugh).

But every time I weighed things up in my mind (and I did this a LOT), I couldn't see any other better pathway of choices that I could have made. Ava was so much happier in Hebden Bridge, I was SO much fitter from all the walking (which I really valued), I loved Charlie with all my heart, our cost of living was so much lower, and with my new work pattern of part time for Kings and expanding my freelance work, I was being both more productive (earning more than I ever had before) AND more creative.

These were definite, marked improvements, so why did I feel so unhappy?

It's just the shock of the change, I told myself. Things will get easier.




(Would really help if it stopped raining though) (There are literally HUNDREDS of visual diaries from my time in Hebden Bridge dedicated to how depressed the rain made me. This was a problem.)

One thing that did help was the huge number of people who came to visit us. When we said we were moving, loads of folks were like 'we'll come visit!' but I didn't entirely believe they would, because who wants to visit the countryside?! Well it turns out, a lot of people do.

I drew them all over the time we were there, but April 2017 was a particularly busy month, I recall...






(I like doing several drawings in the same style in the same month when they’re repeating a theme)

Alfred came to visit. I didn’t believe he would. I asked, and assumed he’d be like ‘um no’, but… He came, and we walked, and talked, and I continued to find myself sliding ever more hopelessly into a fruitless attraction towards him that would never (?!) be reciprocated, but which was fun to feel nonetheless. (Charlie likes him too)


I regularly returned to Brighton and London during my time in Hebden Bridge. Every time I left, it felt like those places were giving me life, and returning to Hebden, to Ava (who, despite being much happier there than in Brighton, was struggling ever more with various mental health issues which I felt powerless to support them in — my failing, not theirs) was draining and depressing me.


In June I hit crisis point. Suddenly. I couldn’t take any more, and I told them I needed to leave. My failing though, was in entirely failing to have any kind of exit plan. We talked it out, figured out the ways in which we both needed to be better (as well as agreeing that we definitely were polyamorous, although only time would tell what form that would take), and agreed that what we had was worth fighting for.

Maybe I should have left then. Maybe it would have saved us both a lot of pain if I had. But I loved them (I still love them), and I didn’t know what else to do.


So, I kept going.

When I was in Brighton, my life felt like it was relatively constantly contented. Nothing big or remarkable was happening, I was just drifting along, liking my job, liking my friends, liking my house, liking my partner. It was good, but I don’t regret moving, because maybe drifting forever is unhealthy.

But in Hebden Bridge life felt like a slog. I felt very clearly that all I was doing was housework (which I went from generally quite enjoying, to resenting), working (which, while creatively fulfilling, I found myself approaching with a certain grim determination, working all hours a day because everything else felt futile), or walking or running with Charlie (which I relished for the strength I was building but hated because it was boring and tiring and time consuming, and the countryside is perpetually dull to me).

But unlike in Brighton, there were big highlights. I made sure I had adventures.

And maybe the best adventure of all...


It turns out, my LONG-DOCUMENTED feelings towards Alfred were reciprocated, and somehow through time, and distance, and life, and complications, this was actually something that could happen. I’m allowed to feel this way. And it gave me life. I cannot even describe how much.

We had a couple of wonderful weekends together in October, and then... who knows when next? But maybe it didn't matter (it mattered a LOT at the time though, let me tell you), because it reminded me that I was loveable, and worthy, and deserving of kindness and warmth.

2018

In 2018 our Hebden Bridge landlord let us know that he was going to evict us around June and so we'd need to find somewhere else to live. I PANICKED. I simply couldn't find a rentable house that would enable me, Ava and Justin to have the space we needed, and keep Charlie. We'd got lucky when we first moved here, but the rental market in Hebden is extraordinarily limited, and there was NOTHING.

I was at a complete loss, until my parents decided to tell me that actually, their long-term game plan had been to buy me a house (from the proceeds of the sale of my childhood home) and have me pay them rent, both to contribute to their retirement fund and give me a secure place to live. They hadn't planned on doing it so soon, but I was in need, so maybe the time was indeed now.

My feelings about this were... complicated.
a) I value my independence and had mostly managed to completely seperate my finances from those of my parents
b) On some level I knew I didn't want to stay in Hebden Bridge as permanently as buying a house there would force
c) But wouldn't it be nice to feel secure and not at the whims of some random private landlord?


And so, we did it.


Late Feb/early March 2018 was the coldest time I can ever remember. It was snowy for WEEKS. Mum came to visit and got stranded.


 

In March I went to Amsterdam and had a few beautiful days with Alfred. At this point, I recognise that travel has gone from being something that made me incredibly anxious, to something which I am broadly able to deal with, and actually feel incredibly positive about during and after.

Over my many years of working for Kings, a lot of projects involved the promotion of our US locations, in Boston, LA and New York. Funny how spending many years looking at glorious pictures and positive words about places will make you intensely want to go there. Coupled with an ongoing passion for music from the US (LA specifically), and falling in love with an American, I had for some time been determined to finally visit. (I was taken to Florida aged 8 but I don’t feel like that really counts)…

For the first time in my life, all the elements combined to enable me to go: Just about enough money / amenable work situation / sufficient braves.

Still on conversational terms with Reggie, even after all these years, I mentioned to him that I'd be visiting, and would he like to hang out. He asked why, and I told him, 'a gift to myself, for turning 30'.

'Oh wow, let me get you your flights!' he responded.

And that's how I ended up flying business class to Boston in April 2018.



That trip was formative for me in many ways.

I travelled to Boston, New Jersey, New York and LA. I visited all of Kings locations that I had seen for so many years in photos, and met colleagues I’d talked to for years via email.



I pushed myself to be brave and see sights and exist outside my comfort zone. I had two brutal (caffiene induced) panic attacks in New York. I fell hopelessly in love with LA (and further in love with Alfred). 


But such richness of experience made returning home to a life I was unhappy with all the harder.


Everything wasn’t all bad though. I got to meet Justin’s new partner Dav, who has ultimately become one of the best friends I’ve ever had (despite maybe less than great first impressions on my part).


 Alfred came to visit me in Hebden Bridge again.


And I carried on regularly going to London and having ridiculous adventures with whoever was there at the time (this time, 2am dim sum with Reggie and his band from the Late Late Show, what a joy that man perpetually is)




And despite all my grumbles, I was building a life in Hebden Bridge.
It’s much easier to look back fondly on the summer months.
Since moving there I’d been regularly hanging out at the Egg Factory, Hebden Bridge’s ‘creative co-working space’. The community there welcomed me in and supported me both creatively and emotionally, every week at our Wednesday lunches and whenever I went there to do screen printing or other creating.

For the first time since uni, I felt part of a vibrant gang of other creative people who were actively pushing each other to do good work and think about things from different perspectives. Over my time in Hebden Bridge I was wildly prolific, constantly working on, if not paid work, then some new zine, print, Lino cut, tea towel design, or other personal work. I truly felt like I could turn my hand to anything I set my mind to. Despite (or because of?) other challenges in my life, my years in Hebden Bridge were glory days for me, creatively, which I can only dream of one day regaining.

I also made some wonderful friends outside of this circle — a few people in and around Hebden Bridge and even more in Manchester, and Leeds (I wish they had been closer).


In August I got my first tattoo.





On top of everything else in 2018, we got the keys to our new house (three doors down from our old house) in May, and then spent a further three months with builders in there, converting the loft. Managing that process was stressful, and managing the post-builders DIY and decoration was EVEN MORE stressful. I hate DIY and will be happy if I never have to pick up a roller again.


I may have claimed that January 2017 was the most stressful month of my life, but it was pretty on-par with August 2018 in terms of intensity.


And at the beginning of September, we moved. 'Let's never do that again', I thought. Lolsob.

I'm writing this with an awareness that I've written a lot more about the years post 2016 than pre 2016. Is that because they're fresh in my mind? Maybe? But actually it feels a lot like everything has been steadily accelerating over that period, a bit like the build up to a season finale, in terms of me, the people around me, politics, the world in general?



I’m sure everything didn’t used to feel this intense.


In December it was mine and Ava’s 7th anniversary. But I couldn’t keep going much longer.

2019

In January, I went to LA for three weeks. I needed to get out of the valley. I had spent much of the year daydreaming about returning. It’s the most beautiful place in the world. I had all kinds of magical adventures.





But increasingly in the run up to the trip I realised I needed some time and space away from Ava to figure out if I could keep going any more. Where my days were filled with fun adventures, my evenings, alone in my airbnb, were filled with tears, and anxiety, and fear. I phoned the New York Samaritans and sobbed down the phone for about an hour because I needed to talk to someone completely apart from the situation. I knew it was time. Me and Ava, at this point, wanted such fundamentally different things from our lives. I needed to be back in the city, while it was their worst nightmare. They so strongly longed for children in their life, while that was *my* worst nightmare. They didn’t respect my attitudes to work and money, and I didn’t respect theirs. I still love them so dearly and maybe they still loved me, but neither of us had treated each other with love for so long that we’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be kind to each other.


So I came home, and I told them.


The next few months were painful. Ava told me a lot of things about myself, in a number of painful conversations/arguments over the coming weeks. Some of them were true, and some of them weren't. I spent much of the rest of the year untangling what were actual fundamental character flaws vs. what were someone lashing out out of hurt and frustration and sadness.

I've never known doubt and fear like it. So far, throughout my life, I'd trusted in my own fundamental goodness. Sure, I'm sometimes selfish and easily distracted and I talk too much, but what if those are not just small character flaws, but fundamental major issues with who I am and how I interact with the world.



I continue working hard because it's all I know. Maybe too hard.


I go back to therapy. I'm not sure how good she is but I can't face trying to find another therapist. It's mostly just a space for me to cry a lot anyway.


But 2019 was also a year of wonderful friendship. Ava moved out in May but I carried on living with Justin, Dav was present most weekends and many weeknights, and 2019 was also the year I met Davey, who has turned into one of the best friends I think I've ever had. (He had a brief nearly-year in Hebden Bridge visiting from Montana, so we are now very far apart again, but him, Dav and Justin have felt like comforting, solid presences in my life while everything else is changing). We went on a lot of outings, ate a lot of chinese takeaways, laughed a lot and talked a lot.

And then, we were all gone.

Davey back to Montana, Dav and Justin to York, and me, to London.


I've wanted to live in London my entire life and I finally made it. I moved back in with Alex (and another housemate Beatrice). Although Alex soon has to move on himself, he was my gateway to the place I'd always dreamed of being, and I will be forever greatful to him for that.

London is divine, sublime, everything I've dreamed.

I spend the rest of 2019 manically doing all the things. All the live music. Seeing all my friends. (Many of whom have also ended up in London). Dating. Going to galleries. Eating delicious food. Selling a house (awkward).

It's mostly perfect, except:
1) expensive and
2) uh... am I burnt out?!



After nearly three years of frenetically, constantly working, I find myself a little adrift, creatively. I am doing the work. I am not completely unable to produce. But all of the joy and motivation has gone out of it, and I am really struggling to focus. It sounds like a case-study burn out, so I am trying to be gentle with myself and hope that I get back to my usual self before too much longer.

The decade has ended with me making massive changes in terms of my relationship, my location... I don't think I can face also having to rethink my career which is one of the main things I've always felt stability and security in all these years.

Who knows what the next ten years hold, though, eh...

But right now I am living in the place I have always dreamed of, doing the work I always wanted to do (even if it's a struggle right now), I have friends, I am loved (by Alfred still, I hope, as well as potential new romance on the horizon), and I am mostly out of the devastating self-doubt and sadness that has marred most of the last year. (And indeed, sadness for at least a couple of years prior). I have settled comfortably into dog ownership with the support of many friends and Charlie fans (it's not without it's trials though, see my last visual diary blog).
I feel hopeful about the future


TL;DR
I moved house four times.
I lived with seven different people.
I had two jobs. (Well, if freelancing counts as 'one job')
I kissed six people.
I have no idea how many gigs I went to, but I'd guess somewhere around 150.
I made a huge number of friends.
I ate a lot of good food.
I became vegetarian, then vegan.
I saw a lot of art.
I made a lot of art.
I played a lot of boardgames.
I rode on a lot of trains. And trams. And buses. (Carried on avoiding cars)
I travelled to six different countries (several of them multiple times)
I continued to fail to find 'my sport'.
I grew to like cats.
I honed my fashion aesthetic.