Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Disengaged


Here’s a conversation I’ve been putting off for over two years now.

In Sept 2014, my boyfriend proposed to me. It was unexpected, but lovely. Personal and intimate. The only way I'd want to be proposed to.

The strange thing was, no sooner had I gained this new ‘fiancée’ designation, I rapidly came to realise that something about it made me uncomfortable. And it was disorientating.

In hindsight, I can see that I reacted oddly from the get-go. I insisted I wanted some time to enjoy it myself, before we announced it to the World, when in fact, I needed the time to process it. Even in those first few weeks, when everyone around me wanted to ask about potential dates, possible venues and dress shapes, I felt like I was struggling to match their excitement.

I would dread it coming up in conversation, which it did, regularly. I thought it was just in films where couples would start planning a wedding five seconds after getting engaged, but nope, apparently, that happens in real life too and it was mildly shocking that people assumed we would follow suit. Questions such as "Have you set a date?" and "Have you been pinteresting?" came thick and fast.

I had been pinteresting. I was pinning images of James Franco in his role as Allen Ginsberg for outfit inspiration and scoping out interesting new dinner recipes, but I don’t think that’s what they meant.

After two years when my ‘No” responses got boring, the question changed to “So, have you been thinking about starting to think any more about a wedding?” I felt like my answer was a let-down: “not yet”.

It wasn’t because I didn’t want to get married. I’m just not in any rush. For both of us, engagement has never been the end-goal. Together we are settled, content, and comfortable both in our space and with our pace. To me, we, as we are, feels more than good enough.

It seemed that there was an unspoken synonymy between eagerness to plan a wedding and the level of validation in a relationship and that was at odds with me.

Then there’s the whole matter of the ring itself.

After a while I’d got used to wearing it until one eve I took it off to apply hand-cream and forgot to put it back on. James was working away at the time. It didn’t take long for people to notice the next day: “Where are your rings?” “Oo whilst the cat’s away…”

It was said without any hint of malice. A wind-up muttered between three women who I admire and confide in daily. However, it caused an immediate pang of guilt. I felt icky. Is that what it means? If I don’t wear this piece of jewellery, I’m causing suspicion to creep in to the minds of others? Am I throwing a question mark over the trust and loyalty which has hung around so naturally for the past seven years?

I found myself folding my arms self-consciously, hiding the fact that I wasn’t wearing it for the rest of the day.

I love the ring. I adore that James took so much time and attention, visiting antique jewelers on his travels through America to find the perfect piece that I would love. And yet, rather than feeling like a treasure, it started to feel like a prelude to a scarlet letter – a sparkly beacon that suggested that, as a female, I was on a relentless mission to prove myself, not to him, but to everyone else.

Knowing that James wouldn’t have questioned it, it felt utterly ridiculous to even entertain any analysis over what it all meant, but I couldn’t help but ponder how odd it was that he would never have to justify himself in the same way.


There’s a balance in our relationship that I adore. We’re both independent and together at once. Before-engagement, we were equals. Marriage, I hope will be a partnership. To me, engagements feel imbalanced. I simply don’t enjoy the feeling of ‘belonging to’.

At first I thought that the new addition on my finger made me feel a little less me.

I realised that I never heard anyone admit to feeling like that – not in films nor fiction.

And it was this disparity between how I thought I should feel and how I felt, that continually played on my mind.

It became an elephant in the room – a catalyst of guilt and endless self-reflection.

In the days after the “ring conundrum”, an existential crisis ensued. One friend listened patiently as the unhelpful comparison hit fever-pitch: "Maybe something IS wrong with me? Why can't I do these things like everyone else?” "Why didn’t I rush out to buy a wedding magazine? They had the plans ready to go before she said yes!” “What does this mean? Am I a shit person?” “DO I EVEN DESERVE TO BE ENGAGED RN!?”

The self-reproach was driving me a bit insane. Soon after we’d got engaged, my beautiful, lovely godmother had so so so kindly kicked off our wedding fund. Two years later, the money is still safely stashed in a planner. I told my Mum: “I’m going to have to get in touch and return this money. I can’t keep it for the future, when I haven’t even started a pinterest board!”

She told me to stop being a dick. Not quite in those words. Thankfully, my mum is much less foul-mouthed, but she re-assured me that there's no rush.

Really? It didn’t feel like it.

Yesterday, on a phone-call that stretched across the Atlantic I shared my thoughts with James "I feel like a fraud and like I don’t deserve you because I don't feel ecstatic about being engaged. That said, neither of us are fussed about rushing in to the wedding planning, so why am I freaking out about this?"

Why do I feel like I am constantly explaining myself to arched eyebrows?

Understanding and agreeing he reasoned, “Why are you even worrying what it might make other people think? That’s never what you've been about, that’s why I like you. It’s just as valid to feel more excited about a trip or a book you love. "

It’s true. We’ve never done anything the traditional way. An engagement shouldn’t be the only thing we hold up on a pedestal. What about the smaller, day-to-day achievements?

After explaining my I-think-I’m-doing-it-all-wrong meltdown, another friend questioned: "What is it that you think you've fucked up though? As far as I can tell you've kinda nailed it."

I didn't ask them to elaborate but I fathomed they were referring to the metaphorical notches I'd knocked off the Ole Great Big Check List Of Life - A job I enjoyed, a roof over my head, a fiancé. yada-yada-yada.

But are those things the holy grail? I mean, yeah, those things do all make me happy but it’s not all that makes me happy. Maybe part of my quandary lies in the fact that I don't know what my personal big life check list is. It’s an ongoing thing.


I am all too aware that this is such a terribly wonderful problem to have but it’s something I’ve needed to try and articulate. If only, to release the whirlwind of thoughts that continually make me question myself. It was James’ idea to write it down.

I’ve been so scared of hitting publish on this post. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

I worry that people will scan read and come up with their own conclusions about what this all means. I worry that it will deter people from asking me about anything ever again. I worry that people who have been so generous and so kind about it will think I'm ungrateful.

I worry that it will make people who don’t feel confused in the same way as me, feel like I’m judging them. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

There's no final conclusion to this. I know my internal monologue is convoluted. The funny thing is, I'm half-expecting to change my mind on this whole thing as soon as this goes live. My brain is partial to a sudden U-turn. Like I said, I'm still figuring it out, but if I’m okay and the person I love is okay with the way that we’re doing it, that should be enough.

If this time tomorrow I find myself excitedly browsing Rock N Roll Bride, I’ll embrace it warmly. In the meantime, I’m going to stop putting myself through hell for not making it a priority right this second.

If there's one thing I've learnt in this past year - from experience, from others and from reading a shit ton of articles and literature by women I admire, it's that the world sometimes struggles with what to think about complicated, indecisive women. So easily are we made to feel ashamed if we are seen to slow-down or take a side-step when the traditional rule-book dictates, that we should always be pushing full-steam ahead.

I think that pressure applies in all areas of our lives.

Humans are by their very nature, complicated and fluid and indecisive. And I’m working on letting myself believe that it's ok to be that.

I am engaged but today I've removed the ring from my hand and added it to my necklace.

A small change, that means nothing and everything all at once.

L x
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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Soundtrack Of My Life...

 


Have you ever tried to write a blog post about songs you love without falling down a youtube rabbit hole? I tried and failed.

I was having a bit of a tidy up the other day when I came across old copies of NME  and the ‘Soundtrack of my Life’ features that they used to do. It got me thinking about the tracks that have stuck with me over the years or remind me of a specific period of my life, and I thought it might be helluva nice to collate them on here!

What do you think? Okay so it's pretty naff and narcissistic. To be honest, I want a written record of it so I can look back in another 10 years time to see how it compares. Are you all settled with a cuppa? It's a helluva long one and pretty cringe...



THE FIRST ALBUM I BOUGHT: BE HERE NOW

It was August 1997 and I had just turned 9. I'd obviously received birthday money which I excitedly took to my local HMV (it might have been Our Price - remember that?) with every intention of exchanging for the holy grail of Girl Power: Spiceworld. During that visit, my mum performed some kind of maternal witchcraft, persuading me that I would regret such a purchase as I would be "over it in a couple of weeks". That was to be a lie.  I came home with Oasis’ Be Here Now. I recall being v. dubious in the shop and even more dubious when I got home. My mum did buy me the Spice Girls album eventually… when I was 17. Noel, Liam; no disrespect but we all know what should have been at the top of this list.

THE LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP ALBUM: THE MILK-EYED MENDER

When it comes to Joanna Newsom, I’m in it for the long-haul. I remember first hearing The Sprout & The Bean on one of those free mix cds that NME dished out every now and again and thinking: “what the hell is this!?”. After a few listens something clicked and this album has been in my heart ever since. I LOVE HER. I love that she’s a harp wizard. I love that she’s plays a bossin' business lady momma in MGMT 's video for Kids and I love that she’s married to Andy Samberg. My favourite songs on the album are Peach, Plum, Pear and The Book of Right On, both of which are pure deliciousness. The Roots’ version of Right On is so blooming good too.


THE SONG THAT MAKES ME WANT TO DANCE: TROUBLE

Garagy-fuzzy goodness from Music Machine that makes me wish I was a Go-Go dancer.

THE SONG THAT MAKES ME HAPPY: ROCKOLLECTION

When we'd both moved back home after uni, my best friend Rhianna & I lived together in Twee Towers - the name we gave to the house we were renting to semi-justify the fact that we had painted the place in multiple pastel shades and filled it to the brim with vintage junk. It was during that time that the idea for the After-Dinner Dance Party was birthed.

Exactly what it says on the tin, this was the Post-Dinner dance time that we would give ourselves whilst doing the dishes and all those other monotonous house chores that grown-ups are forced to partake in. Whizzing around our kitchen floor, our weekly playlists were documented on our first blog She Dressed in Black. It would vary from pop-punk to French pop to songs about Flying Saucers but no matter what the theme of the night, the crescendo of every dance party would always be a manic boogie to Laurent Voulzy’s Rockollection. The first time we stumbled across it, we were couldn’t move for laughing so hard and it’s been our good-time dance anthem ever since. If you haven’t heard it before, I urge you to put it on RIGHT NOW.


MY FIRST GIG: THE LIBERTINES

Since local gigs don’t count, the first proper show I went to was to see The Libertines at Brixton Academy with my friend Heather. I recall going into HMV one Saturday and buying the album before hearing a single track from it simply because i'd heard the name banded around - did anyone else do that? The Good Old Days was me fave at the time and we were dead chuffed when we were sat in school a couple of months later, flicking through the library’s copy of the NME and we noticed our smiley, happy faces in the centre-fold poster of the gig.

THE SONG I WISH I’D WRITTEN: THE AGE OF THE UNDERSTATEMENT

I’ve never been a fan of musicals (soz, La La Land) but I have realised that almost all of my absolute favourite songs all have a real orchestral, film-score feel about them. The chorus of Gainsbourg’s Initials B.B is heaven. The Last of The Shadow Puppets’ ‘The Age of the Understatement’ first caught my attention with all its Morricone-esque rhythmic a-rumbling (that’s muso language, right?), but it’s Alex Turner’s lyrics that makes me wish that I’d written this song. I'm a nerdy English Grad and whilst my own ramblings would not reveal it, I’m always a sucker for creative diction; and boy, does Al know what he’s doing.



THE SONG THAT REMINDS ME OF BEING A TEENAGER: SONG 2

Ahh, Song 2. A song played by every half-decent local band during my teenage years. Those early days of  moping around it parks with friends, reckless plans and lengthy conversations about who’s kissed who. I believe this was also the soundtrack to the planning my first ever ‘Festival’ – a gathering myself and my friend Sam held whilst her parents went on holiday to France which involved pretending that we were 18 to local councils to hire out a hall (we were 14), “booking” four bands to play and staying out in a field all night because no one could convince their parents to house 50-odd teenagers who weren't supposed to be organising a festival. “Woohooo, when I feel heavy metal…” (sorry mum).

THE SWEATIEST GIG I’VE EVER BEEN TO: NME AWARDS TOUR 2006

Now, I’ve been stuck in the middle of a Mars Volta mosh pit but nothing compares to watching Mystery Jets, Maximo Park, We Are Scientists and Arctic Monkeys in a small room at Leeds Uni and experiencing the beautifully gross phenomena of actual human sweat dripping from the ceiling like rain. IT WAS LIKE RAIN



THE SONG I SING ON KARAOKE: ALL THE ONES YOU SHOULDN’T SING ON KARAOKE

If there’s one thing you need to know about me it’s that I make terrible karaoke choices. There was the time that I performed Smells Like Teen Spirit to all my old colleagues after a too many beverages at my leaving-party. Then there was the time that my friend Jack wisely prophesied that a Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue wouldn't be best choice for that particular evening but I insisted (FYI Where the Wild Roses Grow WAS a mood-killer on New Years Eve). Though I am still proud that I know all the lyrics to Forgot About Dre and I will show-off about that wherever possible. Moral of the story: stick with Fleetwood Mac, Lauren. That’s all everyone ever wants to hear.

THE BEST GIG I’VE BEEN TO: PAUL McCARTNEY

Now in terms of atmosphere and all that malarky, I've definitely been to more fun gigs, but I had to stick with Sir Paul as the first time I saw him in Hyde Park, I cried because “he’s playing all my favourite Beatles songs and I will probably never have the opportunity to hear this again IN MY LIFETIME.” Then I cried all over again a year later at Manchester Arena because “okay here I am again but seriously, it’s ALL MY FAVOURITE BEATLES’ SONGS IN REAL LIFE




THE SONGS THAT REMINDS ME OF HOME: WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS

This Justice Vs Simian track came at just the right time. I had just finished Sixth Form and trying to avoid thinking about what my A-Level results would be I spent the days working in a supermarket and my nights shuffling around indie dance-floors with the best of buddies.

Another close contender for this title is The Kooks' Ooh La. When I was about 15 my pal Ben sat in our Art Class and drew me as a cartoon character with eyes too big for my face, holding a giant lollipop. The nickname ‘Lollipop’ stuck for about five years. This morphed in to ‘Lala’ (myspace days), then ‘Lola’ (Twee Towers days) and “Loli” (nowadays). Whenever I would come home from Sheffield or meet up with friends at uni there were a whole lotta: “ooh LA, she was such a good girl to me" being shouted in to the airwaves...

MY LEAST FAVOURITE SONG (EVER): DON'T STOP BELIEVING 

Seriously. Yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck yuck.



THE ARTIST I LISTEN TO WHEN I'M ON MY OWN: ADAM GREEN

I'm a bit obsessed with Adam Green. I bought the Gemstones album after accidentally catching him at Reading festival on my 17th birthday and the album is still on a continual rotation in my car. I just find his music so FUN. His lyrics can be quite fruity, so it's always a weird one to play in front of other people, but he's definitely in my top 5. Current favourite track is Baby's Gonna Die Tonight.

MY ULTIMATE DESERT-ISLAND DISC: HUNKY DORY

It was the album that cemented my love for Bowie. It’s my go-to for when I’m feeling: happy, melancholy, quizzical, chipper or just plain comme ci, comme ça.

Will you stay in our lover's story... ”

THE SONG I WANT PLAYED AT MY FUNERAL: INTO MY ARMS

Ending on a happy note! Inspired by Bill Nighy and his character's truly splendid funeral song-choice in About Time. The combination of Bill and Nick Cave makes me absolutely sob and when my time is up I would like my friends and family to sob about a similar amount (even if it is from how beautiful this song is).

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What would make it in to the soundtrack of your life? :-D Tag me in to your lists on twitter, I would love to hear.

Much love,
L x
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Sunday, 5 March 2017

A chat with Illustrator Merlin Evans

(Image: Self-Portrait, Merlin Evans)

I distinctly remember being very young - perhaps around six years old - and sitting on the floor of my Grandad's house watching the Lady of the Cold episode of the Moomins and being mesmerised by it but also, completely terrified to move.

Even now, actual shivers. 

Since then, I have been obsessed with Tove Jansson's illustrations and all of her tales about those whimsical, yet weirdly profound little beings. 

A couple of years ago, whilst at Latitude Festival, after we'd survived a near-encounter with death en-route (read more about that here) and we'd tired ourselves out trudging through the the thick mud in the main arena, James & I took a meander through the faraway forest and stumbled across a cute literary set up filled with Moomins publications and paraphenialia. Whilst browsing, we were told that they were just about to start a comic-book workshop hosted by Merlin Evans, who had just illustrated the latest Moomins books, so we took a seat and gave it a go! 

It was so much fun. We challenged ourselves to create characters, morphing them from heroes into villians through subtle changes to facial expressions and body language. 

It ended up being one of my highlights of the festivals so upon my return home, I decided to chance my luck and contact Merlin to ask if she would mind answering a few questions for this little space, and kindly, she agreed.

(Image: Boy Bat, Merlin Evans)


Now, I initially posted this interview up not long after (sometime in 2012) but I noticed recently that I'd lost a load of old blog posts (I think sometime during my blog re-design, so here's a transcript of the chat we had.

With hindsight, I wish I'd asked her so much more (I was conscious of being a fangirl nuisance at the time) but I think she is blooming great so I hope you enjoy and make sure you go and check out her work... 

Hi Merlin! For those who are not yet aware of your glorious work, can you tell us a little bit about what you do…?
I am a freelance illustrator that specialises in detailed hand drawn b/w pen and ink drawings, created whilst hunched over quite a bit. I also create etched comics (drawn onto copper plates) which I run through a fairly old printing press in West London.

The style of your illustrations reminds me of William Blake’s etchings; who do you draw inspiration from?
That is incredibly flattering! I love William Blake! I draw inspiration from so many things, but as a potted list mine would go as follows: old medical illustrations, Gustav Dore, Edward Gorey, Victorian etchings for goods and merchandise, Osbert Lancaster, Ronald Searle, Greek myths and legends, Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts, Durer, Escher, Matisse ... too many!

(Image: Self-Initiated, Merlin Evans) 

How did your collaboration with the Moomins legacy come about?
Well, I gained a place on this great comics/illustration internship at londonprintstudio which meant studying, drawing and teaching sequential illustration for 6 months. Part of the internship involved pitching to publishers (such as Jonathan Cape, Walker Books and Self Made Hero). I pitched some of my more detailed black/white illustrations to Emma Hayley (Managing Director of Self Made Hero) and she said that my style would suit this new Moomin book they were doing - and so it was done! Just a question of really good luck/timing I guess. The turnaround on this project was quite tight if I recall. I think it went from sketches to final inked drafts of all the images in about 2-3 weeks.

If you could illustrate any book in the world, what would it be and why?
I would like to illustrate Christopher Marlowe's 'Faust' as it's got everything in it - science, magic, and good dose of silly flirting and limb flailing. It's also just really beautifully written. Also, Christopher Marlowe is a quite cool.

What’s been the biggest highlight of your career so far?
I think probably getting my cushion designs sold in John Lewis was rather good.

(Image: Afternoon Deer Tea, Merlin Evans)

What’s spinning in your studio soundtrack right now?
Replace studio, with small bedroom with myself and 4-year-old daughter squashed in, and replace spinning with sort-of-playing-ish from a dodgy laptop. Song would be from 'Brave' soundtrack (daughter rules music roost). In an ideal world where I had a large spacious studio it would be nice if it was filled with First Aid Kit playing quite near my desk.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an illustrator?
I would like to say floating through space whilst working for NASA, but most likely, a Primary School teacher.

And finally, what are you looking forward to next?
I'm quite excited in general about so many things! I plan to do a project this year which involves drawing lovely museum objects and enlarging them to rather huge sizes, and depositing these paper creations about the place in London for folk who find it hard to get to Museums but would still like to see inspiring objects about the place. Perhaps it's a silly idea. But I'm very much looking forward to putting it into action.


(Image: Christopher Marlowe - After a few emails back and forth discussing our mutual love of Christopher Marlowe, Merlin also emailed me across this sketchWhat a babe.)

Much love, 
L x 
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