2015: The Year of Asking

No, it’s not a review of Amanda Palmer’s book. (Which I might read. I think it would actually be really appropriate to do so but I do tend to find myself disagreeing with her as much as I agree with her; while that opinion matters not a jot to her or hers, it is sort of important when you’re deciding what you should spend your time and attention on.)

But, this year, I’ve decided, will be my Year of Asking.

I’m one of those people who lives with a foot in two different cultures, and sometimes I don’t necessarily mine the best of both. Forgive me for resorting to some tongue-in-cheek stereotype here but I love that I enjoy wonderful Mediterranean foods and nurse a fabulously British passion for tea. I love an orderly queue, and also shouting at then television as if they can hear me. I love a bloody good argument debate, holding court on my favourite subjects and also glaring withering glares at people (*cough* my husband *cough*) who try to talk to me in the cinema. I sit poised between Greek drama and British reserve, and that can be a wonderful thing.

But it can also be an obstacle. For example, I’m really quite bad about asking for things. Not so much at work where the last few years have seen a continual and steady growth in confidence and that just goes from strength to strength – and thank goodness for good management continually prodding me to speak up and demonstrate my worth, with the result that I was promoted this year and actually felt I deserved it. And in the past few years I’ve got a little bit better at complaining – politely, of course – but it’s the proactive asking I still get super hesitant about. But in the (IRL) social world, even something as simple as suggesting a meeting with someone I don’t know can have me second-guessing myself and worrying that I’m somehow taking up too much space in people’s minds.

Some of this is probably leftover socialisation from growing up as a fat kid and literally worrying I took up too much space (tip: please don’t feel the need to tell me I’m not fat now, as a) yes I know and b) still kinda big though and c) that just encourages people to think fat is bad and thus the evil cycle of mental pain continueth). Some of it is probably because several generations of women in my family have very much been the type who worry what other people will think and say if… Some of it is because, resorting to stereotype again, British good form is really not to shout too loudly about oneself or be too proud of one’s accomplishments – and isn’t making your presence known basically a way of doing that?

I sometimes find myself wincing when people self-publicise or repeatedly tweet the same posts with “ICYMI!”. But honestly, why shouldn’t they? They’ve come to the point where people are waiting for their updates, and why shouldn’t they recognise that? What is so wrong with saying “I am here, and I am asking for your attention, because…”? And honestly, waiting in the corner for the Powers That Be (from the brand you want to work with to the person you want to make friends with or the company you want to notice your complaint) to notice you is several times more pathetic than just sticking your hand up and giving a little wave.

I’m sort of a believer in defining years by words because when I do it seems to work out for me as an excellent mental reminder to hop to it. 2013 was Decisiveness; I changed jobs, though I was a scared, and surprised myself regularly throughout the year with what I could set my mind to. 2014 was Creativity, and #100forchildsi seriously unlocked or unblocked something wonderful. 2015 is my Year of Asking – and I guess it started with asking you to read this.

Thank you for your time.

David Bowie at the V&A, and why my sister nicely ruins everything

My sister, in the nicest possible way, ruins everything. Take snow. I used to get excited about snow! And then she pointed out that it was fairly miserable for people with nowhere to shelter from it.

Then there was that time she ruined Together in Electric Dreams by pointing out that if the object of his affection didn’t smile until it was time to go away, then maybe they didn’t like Phil Oakey that much anyway.

Or the time that she snorted at the idea of conditions being remotely ‘normal’ in Enola Gay. I mean, honestly. Am I really supposed to think about things?!

And then she ruined 30-odd years of thinking perfectly nice but faintly indifferent thoughts about David Bowie (except as Jareth, of course, where he is the Best Thing Ever), by asking me to go along to the V&A retrospective about him.

Because actually, as it turns out, his body of work screams pretty much every life lesson worth knowing. The exhibition – lovingly curated and presented beautifully in an enjoyably immersive experience complete with headphones that play a soundtrack triggered by the nearest display – is not very much about David Bowie himself – except as he can be known through his work – but mostly about the art of and around his work. It includes sketches and lyric notes, a piece from the graphic designer about the creation of the cover for The Next Day, videos of collaborators and influences. It’s a massively rich collection, and it’s only a tiny slice of the massive volume that could have been displayed, I’m sure.

We stopped at one point, in the middle, already overwhelmed with the quality of what we’d seen – and before we’d even reached the man’s mid-20s.

“If you just completely commit yourself to it, and keep producing work so prolifically,” she commented, “you’re simply bound to strike gold more than other people.”

I thought about other vastly active artists – the obvious ones for me at this moment are Gaiman and Palmer – who might not always hit the target but whose monolithic archives mean that they are always producing something, and therefore are more likely to produce something excellent. And, besides, practice makes perfect, right?

I’m not suggesting that innate talent isn’t important. But as my former colleague Stacey, bassist for Axes, once said to me: “It pisses me off when people think this kind of thing just comes to you. Sure, I’m musical, but I worked my arse off to get this good.”

And, crucially, it’s not enough to be good on your own. You have to share it with someone else. Perhaps with everyone else. Because then it takes on a separate life of its own, too (here I think of Mark Billingham, author of the Thorne detective novels, who – rightly, in my opinion – figures “a book isn’t a book until it’s read”).

Basically, the brilliant, when it comes to what they are brilliant at, simply don’t do shy, even when it hurts, and they don’t do lazy, because that doesn’t make sense to them.

They also don’t have to do drama. Have you ever noticed? People like working with them, and hiring them, and talking about how easy they are to collaborate with. When you’re reasonably secure in your ability, and totally passionate about and dedicated to the production of whatever it is you produce, you simply don’t have to be an ass about it.

And so, back to Bowie and my sister. My sister, who ruins things by not ruining them. By, in fact, forcing me to think, and reflect, and love her ever so much for it,  even while I resent the nagging feeling that I should set my bar higher, and rise to meet it.

As we were leaving, she said to me, contemplatively:

“You get the impression that the world is just a better place for having had him in it.”

Now what a legacy that is.